Freedom in Exile

Freedom in Exile is the autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I had read this book five years back but felt drawn to it again. The Dalai Lama has always captured my attention as a revered spiritual leader. A keen interest in Buddhism which was cemented by experiencing and practicing Vipassana (a meditation that has its roots in Buddhism)  has further fortified my deep regard for this amazing soul. Some books teach us new perspectives each time we read it. Well, to me this book was one of that kind.

True to all memoirs, Freedom in Exile chronicles the life of the Dalai Lama. And what makes it different is the remarkable frankness of the narrative along with glimpses of the Dalai Lama as a human being, yet, with values firm and steeped in the principles of Buddhism. Named Tenzin Gyatso, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the tender age of 2. He describes the very interesting process of how the reincarnations are found out through a traditional process of discovery which makes an interesting read. Thus at the age of 7 he went on to become the spiritual leader and at 15, the head of state.

Freedom in Exile

The story extraordinaire reveals the multifaceted personality of the Dalai Lama – his childhood days growing up to be the revered spiritual leader, youthful days which were spent with tutors, his love for repairing watches, the snapshots of Communist China and her encroachments into the sovereignty of Tibet, the rebel uprising, his exile and the travails of leading a government in exile, how he continued to inspire his countrymen even in the face of difficulties galore, his compassion and love for peace – the last being instrumental in receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989.

Reading the book made me feel so very good that India gave the Dalai Lama asylum. And to the Dalai Lama India is what he calls Tibet’s ‘Arya Bhumi’, or a land of inspiration. Today Dharamsala is where he lives when he is not travelling all over in India and abroad for talks on a variety of topics. Grateful for the warmth and friendliness of India, he is said to have described himself the ‘Son of India’ and has often been referred to as ‘a Tibetan in looks, but an Indian in spirituality’.

As an expatriate, I understand the innate longings one will have time and again for one’s motherland. Each time you go home, you come back refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired. Imagine then a life of being the spiritual leader and head of state of Tibet and not being able to go there at all – in fact, live elsewhere as a refugee! Yet, what captivated me most is that in the midst of all this, he stays positive. Tall order indeed.

So what is the significant takeaway for me from this book?  Be humanitarian. Serve the whole community. Practice the values of forgiveness, compassion and love to all sentient beings. True happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, cultivated through altruism and by eliminating anger, ill will and greed. “We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share, based on a good heart and awareness” (Page 298) says the Dalai Lama, and this is the only way to resolve the problems we humans have created for ourselves.

Needless to say I enjoyed re-reading the book. 5 stars for this one! If you lay your hands on this book, do read it.

One Part Woman

One Part Woman is an interesting read (I took close to a month only because I undertook a lot of travel during this time). A striking tale, it deals with the life of a couple – Kali and Ponna – and the tribulations they face for being childless. The jibes, the insinuations, the off the cuff remarks, the vituperative callousness of people – all shake the very foundations of their matrimony and push them to consider participating in the chariot festival of Ardhanareeswara ( Mathorubhangan in Tamil which translates in English to One Part Woman). The festival night is marked by a custom – childless women can engage in consensual sex with any stranger. What happens next is what the reader has to find out for I don’t want to be a spoiler!

One Part Woman

In olden days when there were no procedures like IVF, this probably was a sane way of overcoming the tag of being barren. Besides children born to such unions were called God’s children. Under this context one wonders why there should have been such a furore which eventually forced the writer Perumal Murugan to kill his Muse! Sad, it is not only Tamil’s loss but also to every Indian for there could have been more translations in English / regional languages to revel and regale in reading good books – for Perumal Murugan is a compelling writer.

The narrative technique used is perfect for the unravelling of the plot – it flits between the past and the present – as memories and realities of Kali and Ponna. It is striking that the novel begins and ends with the description of the Portia tree which seems to be the silent witness to the intricacies of the evocative yet suspenseful happenings that are narrated with urgency, poise and élan.

Am sure that reading the novel in Tamil would be a literary pleasure, thanks to the lyrical and intense nature of the theme. For me a Tamil read would be a struggle but not impossible – I could actually translate a lot of the conversations into Tamil and enjoy it better.

READING PERSEPOLIS

Cartoons and comic strips bring out the child in me. I enjoy reading them as well as have a good hearty laugh. But when I found Persepolis in my E-Library collection (I have collected many books over the last few years and was struggling to find time to read them) and started reading it, I realized I am reading a new genre – the graphic novel. A graphic novel presents the story in a comic strip format which is at the same time a long fictional work. What made Persepolis different is that it is not only graphic but is also autobiographical. This has made the narration in first person even more authentic and real. Besides her choice of opting for this format has aided her to use the graphics along with the text  – a powerful medium to convey the trials and tribulations, her struggles as well as tumultuous experiences.

Persepolis-books1and2-covers

I had read about the the pro-American stance of the Shah of Iran, the subsequent Islamic revolution, the deposition of the Shah of Iran and the coming into power of Ayatollah Khomeini who established Islamic rule with the interest of a History buff. However, that did not prepare me for what I read about being in Iran during those troubled times. Marjane Satrapi’s first hand experience of life in civil war torn Iran is heartbreaking and poignant.

The wild longing of a child to be free is curtailed and thwarted… The travails of a teenager growing up in a strife torn region is so alien to most of us… The aching pain of growing up as a child in a completely repressed society is something that those who have not experienced will ever understand. We take so much for granted, one of the starkest paradoxes of life, is brought to fore when we read accounts like Satrapi’s.

The throbbing agony of life in a war torn country is narrated with such stark vividness that it makes this beautiful graphic novel a most compelling read.

Five Stars to this awesome book! Do read it folks!!

Mahashweta: A Review

” The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man alive tremble.”
– D H Lawrence

The story of a bright, beautiful and talented girl living with her father, stepmother and step sisters who are not as pretty or brainy has plenty of vital ingredients for a potboiler. But far from it, Sudha Murthy in her compelling reader, Mahashweta, has converted it into a captivating tale of a woman who rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her own self.

Mahashweta - by Sudha Murty

Mahashweta – by Sudha Murty

Imagine this: After troubled growing-up years without your biological mother to share and care, meeting a dashing young doctor who is besotted with you and then that fairy tale love culminates in a dream marriage – it has all the trappings of a happily-lived-ever-after story. But not for Anupama. The edifices of her dream world crumbles when she discovers that she has an incurable disease. What happens to her after this revelation and the twists and  turns in life that she has to cope forms the crux of the story.

Sudha Murthy in all her grace and wisdom has succeeded in making Anupama a symbol of all women who fight against odds, both expected and the unexpected. As a reader, I loved the decisions that she takes in the end – they are perfectly in line with the character etched by the author. It is indeed a tale of hope, acceptance, and through that emerging victorious and much more stronger. Through this poignant story Murthy brings to light societal prejudices and stereotypes.

The best thing about the book lies in the postscript. And coming from somebody as respected as Sudha Murthy who is not only an established writer but also the trustee of Infosys Foundation, am sure it is only the truth. If with this book, if one person has moved away from the oft taken path, therein lies the success of the book. And if that is the yardstick, this book is a runaway success.