Saturday, 18 April 2015

Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy / Bloomsbury India

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

“A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Voices come and voices go, but rare are the voices which stay with you. They linger in your head making a space for themselves for evermore. Such is the voice of Sandip Roy in his debut novel Don’t Let Him Know. Hailing from the backdrop of Calcutta and ranging to the U.S. (published by Bloomsbury India) it is the story of a family whose members hold different personal secrets throughout their lives, trying to keep it enveloped within their heart by hiding it from others (the others, who are their own). Trapped in the complexities of love, responsibility and personal emotions, it is an intriguing tale, engaging the lives of multiple generations.   

The narrative begins with an unnerving conversation heading between Romola Mitra and her son Amit who has recently discovered a part of an old letter, the last page in fact, hidden in an old address book. He considers it a love letter from a long-lost lover of his mother, finding it signed by an unknown, without any address. According to the note, it is a man from past who tends to profess his affection for the recipient and at the same time shows his regret on being betrayed.

“Romola sat there in Amit’s armchair slightly stunned. After all these years how could she have been so careless? She knew she had saved the letter, unable to destroy it the way she should have years ago. She remembered reading it and rereading it, each word striking her like a sledgehammer, cracking her open over and over again. She had always meant to throw it away, shred it, but somehow she never could. She had hidden it instead – stashed away like a secret pain. But she had never meant Amit to see it.”

However, the truth is revealed in the next chapter when the readers find out that this letter was written to Amit’s father Avinash who has recently passed away. Avinash was, in reality, a gay man who married Romola, to fulfil his responsibility as the only son of his family, keeping his true identity concealed.  

It happens in Illinois, U. S., when Romola Mitra, the newly wed wife of Avinash comes to know about his secret affair with his childhood friend, Sumit, when she accidently opens the wrong letter while waiting for her first letter from home in India. Although, Avinash never gets any hint about the secret of his wife, who once upon a time romanced a dashing filmstar, Subir Kumar.

Whilst these larger than life seeming secrets, there linger many other secrets related to various other characters of the narrative too.

While the tale telling takes place in series of fast forward technique, the detailed description of Roy’s intriguing characters and captivating situations prove alluring, keeping the readers glued, until the  narrative ends from where it began –

Don’t let him know she liked them best
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Sandip Roy is Senior Editor at the popular news portal and blogs for the Huffington Post. He has been a longtime commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, one of the most listened-to radio programmes in the US, and has a weekly radio postcard for public radio in San Francisco Bay Area. He is also an editor with New America Media. Sandip has won several awards for journalism and contributed to various anthologies including Storywallah!, Contours of the Heart, Out! Tories from the New Queer India, New California Writing 2011 and The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India. Sandip lives in Kolkata. 

Reviewed by Varsha Singh

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Yamini Prashanth - In the Valley of Creativity

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

“All glory comes from daring to begin.” says Ruskin Bond in his book Scenes from a Writer's Life. However, the glory becomes far more glorious when you dare to begin at earliest; alike this thirteen years old girl, Yamini Prashant, who has made her life notable at a very tender age by becoming one of India’s youngest published authors.

Yamini wrote her first book Mishti (published by Unicorn Books) when she was merely eleven, an age when children think of far different things than this girl. Mishti is the journal of a daring girl with same name, who is a complete tomboy by nature. Set in a small town in central India, the story speaks about her simple yet interesting childhood, her neighborhood, her friends, her interests, the attractions of a small town and some of her greatest experiences and escapades.

Yamini’s writing capability is not amateur in any sense, as she skilfully holds proper grip over her characters, plots and narrative essentially. The factor which interests us the most in her writing is her seriousness, her detailed observation and candid portrayal of ideas and emotions, which are usually left unnoticed. Yamini is one of such talents who carry the unique flair of making simple things look extraordinary.

According to Yamini, “To me "Mishti" is just the life of a normal girl. It is my imagination of a perfect childhood and a perfect life. "Mishti" is inspired by Ruskin Bond. I am a huge fan of his and love the way he makes an ordinary person's life look so extraordinary and lovely. I wanted my main character to be simple yet, fun and interesting.”

Yamini’s second book is a collection of 20 short stories entitled Granny’s Stories published by Tiny Tot Publications. This book revolves around two children who are spending one of the most memorable weekends with their granny who lives in a beautiful beach house, but all alone. The children and granny undertake some pretty routine outings- to the grocery store, library, and the sandwich shack- but the most touching and interesting part of their trip is attached to the stories that granny shares with the kids. Although, this book is meant for 7-9 year old children, yet it must be read by the readers of all age group to understand the tender emotions which are somehow getting lost in the hullaballoo of modern lifestyle.   

In words of Yamini, “My passion for writing comes from my love for English and books. It gives a lot of satisfaction when you are able to convert your ideas into words and when you write you just get transported into another world. Your characters are moving all around you and you are both the spectator as well as the wire puller. I love to use different words, especially to express humour. Sometimes, sheer boredom steers me towards writing. When I've finished reading all the books at home, when my studies and homework are all done and dusted, when there's nothing even mildly interesting on television and the weather is awful outside- that's when I sit on my laptop and start working on my book. Being the hyperactive girl that I am, the only option left is some sort of creative work.”

Yamini has recently garnered the honour of becoming the youngest TEDx speakers of India and at present she is on the verge of launching few more of her creative writings. Keeping in pace with her life, she is slowly and gradually, with acute honesty towards her creative zeal, climbing the stairs of significance and recognition. 

-Varsha Singh, Managing Editor, Reviews

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Vihang A. Naik's City Times and Other Poems / AuthorHouse, U.K.

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV
City Times and Other Poems
A Must Read Pack of Poems with Five Blank Pages 

Prof. Vihang A. Naik, an inspiring teacher, a good translator and widely published, anthologized award winning contemporary English poet, was born in Surat, Gujarat on September 2, 1969. His collection of poems Poetry Manifesto (2010) Making A Poem (2004), City Times and Other Poems first published in 1993, Gujarati collection of poems Jeevangeet (2001), set the stage for his success. He also translates poetry written in Gujarati language into English, His poems have appeared in Indian Literature : A Sahitya Akademi Bi-Monthly Journal , Kavya Bharati , POESIS : A Journal of Poetry Circle, The Journal of The Poetry Society (India) , The Journal of Indian Writing In English , The Journal of Literature and Aesthetics and many more.

The City Times and Other Poems by Prof. Vihang A. Naik is a philosophical pack of poems, divided in six segments, i.e, “Love Song of a Journeyman”, “Mirrored Men”, “The Path of Wisdom”, “Self Portrait”, “At the Shores” and “City Times”. The uniqueness of the collection is that every title is nicely woven to its poems. The title of every segment and the poems do not harm the message of the poet rather both stands still with the poet, like in, “Love Song of a Journeyman” is a travelogue of fancies and feeling of the poet, carries seven poems and every poem tells a unique tale of the journey of poet’s imagination. The poet has exhibited a different poetic style in the very first poem. A reader can comprehend the intuition of the poet at the tail of the poem. The first song is all about the poet’s first surreal imagination…Your upholding downward look/ Dimpled shyness/ warmer breath/ Transparent eyes/ Flickering flames/ Ankle play. The interesting thing about the first poem of this section is that if a reader reads this poem from tail to head rather from head to tail, it does not affect the imagination of the poet. The message remains crystal clear. The expressions of the other six poems hover over the poet’s inner feelings and unmasked reality of the world. The poem, “The world shrinks within…”, “How long…”, “Time preaches mortality…”, “You broke petals….”, “The flower devoid of colour…”, takes a reader to the shores of reality where man has lost his way to humanity. The poet unpacks the book of absurdity which ends in nothingness and repeatedly warns his fellow beings not to take the road which leads to nowhere.

the road unwinds,
you’ll pick up
the race
and melt away
in the noises
of a city
whose streets
lead you nowhere.

The second section of this collection is titled; “Mirrored Men” comprises seven poems. Appropriately titled section throws light on the multi masked man of the modern world. The poet tells that how a man pretends to be wise and gives speeches and lectures to others to follow. In poems like, “Chameleon is not that great”, “Man as he is...”, “He is different behind …”, man has been portrayed  as a true image of folly, vice, error, deceit and what not. The man of the modern world has lost the value of truth and has become diabolic in nature. The second section is all about the changing colours of a man whose outer is different than his inner. They are actually two persons in a single shell.

He is different behind
his words of cream
and butter, it serves
his purpose. His language
curves like dark night
of desire, takes turns
with ambiguous intent…

The third section is titled, “The Path of Wisdom”. It comprises seven short poems. After going through it, one can say that these are the words of wisdom because the overall message of the section is appealing it takes a reader into a state of wonder that how can a poet be so appropriate and exact while writing the words of wisdom. Every poem of this section really gives us a glimpse to the philosophical probing of the poet and compels a reader to ponder over his next move in the game of life.
Listen! Death knocks
at the door
of your heart
or for a moment, imagine.
You may
then to enter
into life
really lived.

The next section, “Self Portrait”, consists of a very short poem and five blank pages, a unique approach of the poet. He gives a free space to a reader to register his feelings on these five blank pages or the poet himself feels blank because he begins the section as “I wake up to see my Self”, followed by five blank pages and ends with a phrase “discovered beyond thought”. After carefully going through this section, a reader concludes that they are not merely five blank pages, they are actually five appropriately titled books without the story and the responsibility of filling these pages has been put on the shoulders of a reader.

The fifth section, “At the Shore” contains seven beautiful poems. All the poems in this section deal with the poet’s sense of alienation and inbetweenness in the busy days of modern life.

The last section of this collection “City Times” is a collection of seven realistic poems. What remains interesting here is how the poet shows broken image of materialistic city life. The poet, Vihang, beautifully sketches the wicked city weather and atmosphere which has burnt down humans beings within, “memory stirs/the mugging parrot/cute companion/who died/by the sun’s/ scorching fireballs/even he had refused/to learn from men/parting/member’s name..”. The poem, “A Sympathiser for Underdogs” gives us a detailed description of our underdevelopment, poverty, naked population and blah blah… “from naked palm/the lifeline leads/to the skin/unclean/heart line/to half covered body/it strikes anyone”. The poet portrays  a symbolic character of a beggar who represents the sordid material greed and the mechanicality  that has crept into the behavior of people living in modern/metropolitan cities. He further qualifies the central idea of the poem as:

our cities
have scores of them
they catch hold
stick to you
look around
then inwardly
they do not
leave you so easily
they shall shower

The poetic onslaught on city life does not end here it further goes on. The poem, “City Voice” comes up with more lethal diction:

the gray haze distorts
noises of broken rhythm
railway tracks rattle
the wheel
strikes on road
look for signal lights
in crowded smoke
an old man coughs
the illness
of his age…

an inspired child
of nuclear war
the world shivers
a polluted planet
the ganga screams
for help…

The poet shows how wicked politics and opportunism tarnished the age old tradition of values, beliefs and customs. Such wickedness did not only harm the purity of thought but went even further to cause division and disharmony among fellow human beings. The collection, “City Times and Other Poems” covers all the universal themes. After reading this wonderful collection, one feels the divine relief and absolute satisfaction. The poet has succeeded in presenting a valuable gift to his readers which answers many difficult questions and reveals the truth about many mysteries.

Reviewed by Waseem Majazi
Research Scholar, Department of English & Foreign Language, Central University of Haryana

Antardwand - The Inner Conflict|Special Column

The Voice of Innocence 

By Purnojit Haldar

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

Painting Courtesy - Early Childhood by Donald Zolan
“Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
 -‘The Tyger’, William Blake

[The title of this article is ostensibly inspired by ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ by William Blake, a poet of unparalleled vision who lived in the 18th century London.]

Blake’s desperate plea to an indifferent mankind for rescuing ill fated children resonates in the air as we still witness children of our times, their innocence getting marred by worldly malice. To counter the incursion of the ‘evil’, Blake invoked the spirit of a ferocious Tiger in a child. Children of our times are on the verge of losing their innocence to experiences that lead to a chasm of vicissitude.

A few weeks ago, I went to a barber to get a shave. You must be aware how awkwardly the footpaths in cities like Kolkata are occupied by people with varied professions. I met the barber at such a place on the pavement just outside our hostel. An old rickety chair, a few bottles of lotions, shaving creams and mirror against the wall were the only things that formed his shop, with no shed or cover over the head from rain or sunshine. Some of the customers did refuse to sit without an arch. The barber arranged for some bamboo poles and sheets of plywood and plastic to form something that resembled a thatch.

On the open side of the footpath to the right, the bus drivers parked their vehicles, which helped the barber’s shop separating itself from the road for the time being.

The barber charged Rs. 10 for performing a shave. Just next to the shack, there was a cot on which the bus driver and conductors rested after having the midday meal at some wayside hotels where the filthy dust flew in. A stench from the hotel leftovers invaded the area mercilessly. This was where I saw the kids taking a nap on the cot, sharing with the rest of the bus staff. The men talked seedily, puffed at fags and uttered slangs at times, clearly not a place for kids who looked to the world with eyes wide open, surprised at everything they saw and learning from everything they heard. The barber’s kids sat on the cot after returning from their morning school, waiting for the food their mom would bring. As they sat, people looked at the kids furtively, sometimes with glances that proclaimed paedophilia or disapproval. And the father somehow couldn’t manage another place for them until he was done with his business of trimming and it was time to go home.

Usually those kids had nothing to do except for sleeping on the cot or playing inside the parked buses while their father works. Next time as I approached the barber, I asked him about his kids and their schooling. The kids studied at a nearby Hindi school, in addition to going to tuitions. But the barber seemed an unhappy man as he spoke, since the school did not teach in a proper way and all they knew were English alphabets, numbers and a few words. At this, I proposed to teach them and start over right from scratch. The father agreed to this. I took them to a secluded spot inside our hostel to teach as well as save from the uncouth glances. The textbooks they brought consisted of tough lessons. I decided to explain things carefully. But this was not really an easy going. The kids were sweet and they took interest in what I was going to teach them. Explaining from their “Paryavaran” book (“Paryavaran” means Environment) was often difficult, mostly because they had never seen a woodpecker pecking at a hole in the tree, or a chameleon licking the air, or a hippo wallowing in mud.

I thought about the lucky kids who have access to the 4th generation digitized classes. How neatly and adroitly the teacher could show images and videos of every creature and thing to the learners! And here I was, fidgeting about how to make them not only know things about nature but also make them see and feel. They had no TV to watch a cheetah chasing a gazelle or dolphins wagging their tails merrily on Animal Planets or Discovery Channel. Sad it was, for the heart of this metropolitan city is no longer made of nature but bricks, wires, skyscraper buildings and shopping malls. The city does not seem to have a place for nature and kids like that. I simply couldn’t arrange for a feasible way of talking nature into them, which seemed a terrible loss to me as a teacher.

I thought it would be rather a better idea to ask their father to buy them a slate-board so I could draw pictures of the flora and fauna to make the environment lessons interesting and explain the interdependence bonding nature and us. But the father could not afford it and I had to forsake the plan, unable to buy them one by myself.

Later as I pondered furthermore, I found that there was a huge, invisible chasm they were growing up in. The father had managed to provide them with minimal education. But what lies next is uncertain. No doubt, these kids were in a better condition than those who lived and fed at the railway stations, lacking the basic amenities kids need. But what could possibly be the future of these kids? I did not know. The boy might end up being a barber just like his father and the girl would work in some households or simply get married. With their non Bengali upbringing at home and Bangla everywhere else, these two kids vacillated between two languages and cultures at the same time. I checked on their mother tongue and was surprised to see how they had started to speak the names of fruits by their Bengali names, oblivious to their Hindi counterparts.

Over the weeks, the kids started to like me and consider me a part of their small world. Their jubilant faces reminded me of kids of my own villages whom I missed all the while and even more deeply I remembered my childhood days of fishing with a patch of cloth or making ‘firkis’ out of Banyan leaves, the secrets of which I was delighted to share with them.

While the NGOs work for the slum dwelling kids everywhere, these kids born to a part of a larger non Bengali families who migrated to a different state have remained uncharted. There are not much provisions available from the State Government. Seriously! What is the world actually coming to? A whole range of kids are going to turn into trash, unattended to their basic rights and requirements despite being in a metropolitan city. And the encroachment of an ‘evil’ version of kids will do away with all ‘songs’ of their ‘Innocence’ and ‘Experience’. It’s time we begin rethinking about it, because the smiling “Chimney Sweepers” and the ‘meek Lamb’ cannot survive in such a vicious world.

“So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There is little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back,
Was shaved, so I said,
‘Hush, Tom! Never mind it,
For when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot
Cannot spoil your white hair”

[‘The Chimney Sweeper’: William Blake]

About the columnist: 

Purnojit Haldar is a poet and freelance writer, hailing from Malda, West Bengal. He currently lives in Kolkata.  To follow his blog, click 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Antardwand - The Inner Conflict|Special Column

The birth of widows in conflict ridden Kashmir

By Tahir Ibn Manzoor

Reviews, Vol I, Issue III
Three sisters in particular, Ruqaiya, Zarifa and Shamima, lost their husbands to this conflict and have been destined to live alone. PHOTO: SHOWKAT NANDA

In 2008 and 2010, Kashmir witnessed the most severe and popular anti-India movement leading to the death of more than 200 individuals, mostly teenagers. The decade’s old conflict has given birth to many widows and half-widows. The men who died in the Kashmir conflict can never come back, but their memories bring joy as well as pain to their families who are yearning to see their graves.

 “Ro rahi hai yeh zameen, ro raha hai aasmaan.”
(The earth is wailing, the sky is wailing)

Three sisters in particular, Ruqaiya, Zarifa and Shamima, lost their husbands to this conflict and have been destined to live alone. But they did not lose hope because they decided to live for their children, to see them grow up. The widowed sisters reckon that their struggle has kept them strong enough to raise their children to be focused individuals with big dreams.
These three widows are the daughters of Abdul Ahad Lone who hailed from Sheeri, a village six kilometres away from the town of Baramulla in Kashmir. He was a retired peon who died in 2013 due to a brain hemorrhage.
During college days, when I was 19, Ruqaiya was a widow living next door whose 29-year-old husband, Nazir Ahmad Mir, a baker by profession, was killed during the 2010 unrest on July 30th. As per the media reports, Mir was shot in the head outside his bakery shop in Pattan, North Kashmir. Ruqaiya was married at the age of 24 and widowed at the age of 26. As her neighbour, we got to know her very well and she would tell us about her predicaments.
Thirty-year-old Ruqaiya may seem like an ordinary woman but she is unique and successful in her own right with a four-year-old son, Amaan, who was just 18-days-old when he lost his father. Mourners stood huddled around the coffin with bloodshot eyes.
A glimpse of what she faced and conquered in life defines success as the ability to stand strong in the face of adversity and getting back on one’s feet after suffering from a great fall. The chronicles of her life give an enlightening definition of success through a journey of heartbreak.
 “I am living the rest of my life for Amaan. I won’t marry again; we are not destined to stay happy. My elder two sisters, Shamima and Zarifa, have also lost their husbands as a result of this war. I would love to make hundreds of sacrifices in order to keep Amaan happy,” said Ruqaiya with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“We were informed by the police that he had died of a heart attack. But when his dead body reached Sheeri, the doctors who examined the body said that he had sustained a bullet injury to his head. I suddenly went numb and don’t remember anything after that,” recalls Ruqaiya.
Ruqaiya and her son are now living with her mother.
This is the story of the three widows.
On a beautiful summer day in Sheeri village, a soft tinge of green lent freshness to the cool breeze outside. I sat near a window in my room, sipping on tea and immersing myself in the beauty of nature looking at faraway snow-capped mountains in the horizon. Sheeri is situated in the North of Kashmir near Baramulla. It lies in the lap of mountains, surrounded by orchards and paddy fields, it paints a picturesque landscape.
I looked into my neighbour’s courtyard and saw Ruhi, a school going girl, chatting with Ruqaiya who was feeding the infant in her lap. Ruhi was holding a bucket filled with water and asked Ruqaiya for her son’s name.
“I’ll name him Curfew as he was born during the 2010 unrest,” Ruqaiya replied with a smile.
Ruhi broke into laughter and replied,
“Name him Azaad (free) since we are fighting for freedom since ages.”
The sound of clanking utensils, birds chirping, animals grazing and children playing filled the air. The morning breeze picked up speed. Leaves around Ruqaiya and Ruhi shivered. Ruqaiya told Ruhi with a smirk that the baby’s father is arriving by evening.
“We will both decide his name. I will let you know whether he’s going to be Azaad, Curfew or something else.”
Ruqaiya was oblivious to the events that would transpire in the coming hours.
She ended up naming the baby Amaan. He cried every time his lean mother, with swollen eyes and a scar on her hand fed him. It was afternoon now. The weather turned gloomy in the poverty stricken settlement. Puffs of clouds hung in the air like a curse. Darkness consumed the village. It was an unusual phenomenon.
I heard Amaan weeping. I had a strange feeling that something bad was about to unfold. I saw everyone running around and leapt for my pheran (a traditional cloak). I overheard that someone had died; another innocent life taken by the oppressor. The village wailed. I saw women mourning. Amaan’s mother fainted. Amidst the hysterical sobs, Amaan burst into tears. Blood curdling scenes from my neighbour’s courtyard made me teary eyed. God wept in heaven and it began to rain in Kashmir.
The gloom of autumn overshadowed the liveliness of spring in Ruqaiya’s courtyard. I felt paralysed as I watched through my window. Men were carrying a coffin on their shoulders. They entered the courtyard and placed it on the ground. A teenage girl could be seen amongst the wailing crowd, beating her chest and pulling her hair. She walked towards the coffin. She slipped, regained her balance and found her way to the coffin. She closed her eyes and opened the box. Nazir was lying peacefully in it; Ruqaiya’s husband and the father of her child.
His body was pierced with bullets. I could see his body through my window. For some, birth is joy and death is awful. One is born weak and can die powerful. Some die hungry, some die in joy, some in pain, and some for freedom. Death itself is a name, death is fame, death frees the soul, death is purity. The path to death can lead us to heaven or hell, as He has the key. The day shall come when the dead will come to life and set us all free.
Zarifa, Ruqaiya’s elder sister, got married in 1980 to a labourer, Mohammad Sultan. Among their three children, one son was picked by the army for having internal links with militants.
“Life has been a struggle, longing for my husband and feeding my children. My husband used to receive threats from militant groups to refrain from going to the army camp. But he was going there for his son, to get him released,” said Zarifa.
Sultan used to visit the nearby army camp every day in order to get his son released. After three months, his son was released.
“Just after finishing dinner, Sultan went to the bathroom and suddenly the electricity went off. I was searching for a candle in the room. I heard some men outside our house speaking in Urdu and yelling at each other. A minute later, I heard three to four gunshots and I hurried outside with the lit candle and saw my husband lying in a pool of blood. He was dead. I somehow dragged him inside and called for help.” recalls Zarifa while breaking down.
Ali Mohammad Bhat, also known as Sher Dil, was a militant turned Special Operations Group member in the Kashmir police. He was a hero for poor families in the Narvaw region of Baramulla district. Some alleged that he used to loot and plunder. Bhat was married to Shamima, Ruqaiya’s eldest sister, Shamima is now 47-years-old and they had two children, Tanveer and Nayeem.
It was one of the darkest days for Bhat’s family as the cold wave gripped the village. On December 28, 1998, Bhat was killed in an IED blast at Wagoora.
“When my husband and his aides stopped near a shop in Wangam Wagoora, after a few minutes, a grenade exploded and my husband died on the spot. My son and daughter did not eat anything for weeks.” murmured Shamima.
“In those days, I used to persuade him to leave his assigned job, begged him to live a normal life for the sake of our children. But he always refused saying, militants would kill him,” added Shamima.
Bhat’s son, Tanveer, left his schooling in 2007; almost a decade after his father was killed. At the age of 17, Tanveer started working at a medical shop in order to overcome the financial constraints faced by his family following his father’s death. Tanveer is now 23-years-old and supports his family as he is the eldest and only male of the house; hence the responsibility lies on his shoulders.
“I started working at a very young age, which would not have been possible if my father would have been alive. It would have taken me years to earn after finishing school. Also, I tried hard to stay in touch with my books, but it was not possible after my father’s death,” said Tanveer.
Shamima does not shy away from admitting that her son works at a medical shop to pay off the debts and earn for his family.
“A house without a husband is a challenge,” says Shamima. “I have taken debt from people and I have to pay it back. If my son won’t help me, then who will?”
She admits that work conditions are not healthy for her son but says that they do not have any other option.
“I remember when my sister, brother and I used to go for picnics, our father used to visit in his jeep to pick us and our friends. I wish he was alive to see his children prospering in life, and could see his daughter Kulsoom getting married,” recalls Tanveer.
“I hardly remember papa’s death as I was only two, but his death taught us a lot. We won’t let our mother face the difficulties alone. I want to become a social activist to serve my people,” says Nayeem.
At times, one wonders why widows like Ruqaiya, Zarifa and Shamima, amongst thousands of others live, their lives in misery. One should have a lot of admiration for them because they lead an extremely difficult life, a life nobody would want to live in this conflict-ridden region.
The three sisters never married again and have been living together since.

“A house without a husband is a challenge, living alone was in our fate.” – The three widows
About the Columnist: 

Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance writer/blogger from Indian-administered Kashmir. He tweets @TahirIbnManzoor (

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

UNBANGLED And Other Poems by Varsha Singh/ Authorspress

Not just in creative terms, but with great prudence, the poet, Varsha Singh, has come to redefine herself in her work as a potent social commentator on matters concerning long standing traditions. Through old customs, and stringent belief systems, such matters continue to promote restrictions on human rights issues including the individual right to exercise his or her free will to choose a personal redefinition of self without the censorship of culture. In her most recent collection of published poems, the poet has invoked her poetic licenses to create and use the word ‘Unbangled,’ as a noun instead of an adjective to initiate the title of her new book.

The word Unbangled has become the reoccurring theme vibrantly resonating in several of the poet’s works. It stands as a metaphor for change and liberty in the redefined self on the journey to self-actualization. It is the poet’s antitheses for the root word bangled. Neither form is listed in the dictionary.  However, the word, bangle, is listed as a noun suggesting a thing.  It is defined by Merrian and Webster as a stiff ornamental bracelet or anklet slipped or clasped on. The slipping off of the bangle may suggest releasing a mental shackle of perceptions in the pursuit of civil liberties. Varsha Singh has echoed the idea of the infinite self in the concept of the Unbangled much like her predecessor, William Blake, the great English Romantic poet and illustrator who once stated that “if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” 

Once again, through the Romantic artery, Varsha Singh has employed nature as a vehicle but in a metaphoric way to make a point about the human social conditions tempered by religion and politics. Several works like Beyondness, Foggy Wilderness, Breathless Sky and A Piece of Sky are some examples of the employment.

The infinite aspect of Being in such work as Beyondness, includes a spiritual experience surpassing all physical and mundane experiences in this life’s journey—perhaps the illuminating glimpse of light erupting in the Foggy Wilderness.  It is the unpunctuated question, “What if /stars create borders/far above the sky/and your turn then comes/to select/your bunch of sky, in the poet’s most profound work, A Piece of Sky. Here, the illuminations of borders are outside our realm, perhaps out of reach. It seems like the selection process is nil in the perception that the partitions are nonexistent in our space. In essence, the outreach to our Beyondness appears to become the uncharted depths of the poet’s notion of the Unbangling of our perceived being in Liberation Predefined. On the next page of her book, the poet then contrasts the idea of the active perceiver, the truly liberated being in the poem, Liberation Redefined, as the one perceived becomes the active perceiver in defining his or her actions in determining self.

The process of the Unbangled seems to be a complicated matter, as the poet attends to the conflicting, cocooned thoughts in her head—“each struggling for exactness,” she said in her poem, Struggling Thoughts.  Later, in another of her poems, Where the Mind is Fearful; the poet spells out the details of the bangled life of bondage. The fragmentations of a broken world, the tireless striving whose outreach is rejection, and sidetrack reason lost in the dreary desert sand are all images of bangles—the experiences of confinement in Wish-fulfillment:  “They wish to tie me/rope, like a cow/domesticated/and impound/when my will is/to fly high/liberated/in sky!” said the poet.

Varsha Singh appears also hopeful that the bangled experience is soon to become the Unbangled.  A few poems like Rescue, and Voices of élan, relate the poet’s moments of relief.  For example, in her poem, Rescue, she relates that salvation is nearing as the subject is saved from the darkness that was about to engulf him or her. The source of salvation at this juncture is unknown, but perhaps an enlightenment as hinted in the similitude citing a full moon.

In Voices of élan, the anticipated salvation seems close by the form of a felt energy or perhaps the oomph inside of us that leaps to free us from the bondage of the callous thoughts. Its presence is striking, as the poet draws on our senses of hearing and touch. “I hear the sound/ I feel its blow/ It’s coming soon/ with a huge bellow!” said the poet.

The ingenuity of the poet, Varsha Singh, is underscored by her poem, Country Within and Out—a stark comparison of her country from two vantage points.  Within, it’s a place devoid of caste, class, creed and section—all terms of division. Within, is also the sublimity of variations including culture, language, traditions, and celebrations.  However, Out remains a place marked by these terms of division—the perpetuated bangles in flawed perceptions, systematic rituals, absolute rules, and constant regulations in the practices of the archaic culture.

In retrospect, the poet has given us a prudent advice in her opening poem, Unbangled:
Keep them in bangles
Tighter and enclosed
threats they are
when unbangled!

I give my highest praise to poet Varsha Singh for the great efforts she has exhausted in this truly thoughtful, provocative and most sublime work that stands as a beacon of enlightenment. The work not only informs but inspires us—in effect, a good provocation in the argumentative mind.
Reviewed by Paul C. Blake | Independent thinker/writer