Sunday, November 13, 2011


Fremantle Press
Rs 768
Pages: 496
“I am stamped as an Aboriginal by the non-indigenous groups of Australia. However, I want to know the name of my original identity.”
These and several other related questions are tormenting the dear old Nan from Sally Morgan’s autobiographical My Place. Nan’s excruciating pain is loudly echoing in her persistent silence about her past. Only Sally’s (Nan’s grand-daughter) and Gladys’s (Nan’s daughter and Sally’s Mother) consistent effort to give Nan her rightful voice, helps Nan attain a peaceful death, while the world learns a new history from Nan.
Yes, Sally Morgan has openly slapped the official history of Australia and brought to light a new but a heart-rending truth about the Australian Natives. Natives like them call themselves “The Fourth World Countries within The First World Countries” as they are still unofficially colonised by the crown.
Alcharinga – or Dreamtime Stories of the Aboriginals have become almost invisible due to the rationalistic ideologies placed upon them. As they did not even have the laws on their side, the Aboriginal Native History was either buried or disguised in fictionalised stories by the law abusers. Sally Morgan bravely challenges these official records of colonisation by providing viewpoints of the victims. One of them is Nan, Sally’s maternal grandmother.
Through the autobiographical narrative, Sally introduces us to Nan with words of a different music. It may be said that this music comes from the heavenly spirits protecting Sally and her family. The entire novel has numerous psychic certainties, which are surely mocked by the outside world. However, trusting her spirits, Nan opens her secret doors for Sally. She does this with the intension that someday, someone will stop the brutal treatment given to her people and forever treat them as equals.
Right from her childhood, Nan faces cruel and depressing treatment. As she is an Aboriginal dark-coloured Native, she is helpless to fight it. Even her elder brother, Arthur can not save her from her blackened future. Nevertheless, she helps her daughter Gladys and Gladys’ children to live a happier life.
Nan and her “white” son-in-law Bill do not see eye-to-eye in spite of sharing the same roof. Bill – an ex-army officer leads a troubled life thanks to the gory wars he was part of. He drinks and worsens his and his family’s life, almost hurting them in his violence.
Bill hates Nan for her colour. Once, in the absence of Gladys, he also calls her ‘a bloody nigger’. Just for the family’s peace, she keeps quiet.
Nan is very conscious of her being a dark Aboriginal. To avoid any major issues, she instructs the children to keep their friends away from her and especially not bring them inside the house. Nan speaks in her mother tongue only with her brother – Arthur. She fears her language will display her identity, which will ruin her family. Through her silence, she protects her family. Nan’s silence about their identity is eating Sally from within. Thus, she goes on a quest to place herself somewhere and voice it out through her novel, My Place.
When Sally initially strives to bring to light her original Aboriginal identity, Nan shrinks back utterly scared. She has dark secrets about her past and does her best to conceal them, even from her family. She does not join her family up North for research with the fear of these secrets spilling out resulting in her own people hating and rejecting her. Nan is proved wrong, when Sally brings back the news that Nan’s people still love and remember her very much. That’s the bond an Aboriginal Native shares.
Due to her characteristic upbringing and experiences of life, Nan always fears the worst for her family. She fears that as they are Aboriginals, the government would separate them. That is why; during the former days, Nan and Gladys decide to tell the children that they are Indians and not Aboriginals, in order to protect them.
It’s only later that Nan opens the door of her past to Sally, slowly. Thanks to Sally’s efforts, eventually Nan accepts her identity of being an Aboriginal and also feels proud of it. It’s worth reading how Sally manages the Herculean task of unearthing Nan’s secrets.
Sally Morgan stands in a very subjective position related to her voice. She has no choice. It is her face of truth. Take it or leave it. Even her representation of the Aboriginal Natives is mocked at by certain natives. They say, she is a half-caste, thus her truth is not pure. Through her novel, we clearly see the efforts Sally has taken to compile the entire truth and offer us in just one platter.
My Place is a critique of Darwinistic Paternalism. It criticises the men who marry numerous times or abuse women, especially the Natives and then leave the children, especially the Aboriginals abandoned.
Thus, in My Place, through Nan’s intriguing persona, Sally Morgan seems to say that racism is not just an ideology in the abstract, but a very practical part of the lives of the Aboriginal Peoples for “the pain, the effect, the shame are all real”.
Above all, Nan teaches Sally and the entire family to forgive and move on. 


By Chetan Bhagat.
Rupa & Co
Rs 95, pp. 258
Cricket freaks, budding entrepreneurs and passionate patriots, here is a triple entertainment dose for you. Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life is just the thing to encourage your aspirations. Set in the Ahmedabad of late 2000, Bhagat light-heartedly brings to us the city’s aromatic khakras and dhoklas, zealous dreams and some quick business strategies in just one platter.  Through his use of first person narration, he sympathetically weaves in the crucial moments of the time, including the 9/11 incident and the feverish Cricket Series.
Through a vivid portrayal of the crazy cricket fans and the detailed explanation of the God-like worshipped game, Bhagat presents us the live Amdavadies. His characters swear, break rules, get emotional, enjoy booze and conduct blood fights, symbolizing the generation of the age.
The charismatic author leads you deep inside the protagonist Govind Patel’s rock-smooth life. Along with his two best friends – Omi and Ishaan, Govind opens a sports shop. Highly ambitious and a bit selfish, he is slapped down by a natural calamity – the 26th January 2001 Earthquake, a human-made calamity – The Godhra Riots and the three biggest mistakes of his life. With an agonistic business mind, Govind criticizes emotion as “… I hate a display of emotion more than emotion itself.”
Nevertheless, the novel is not a crybaby. Mr Accounts (as Govind is teased by his friends) after a long wait and immense turmoil with his friends, books a shop at the newly constructed Navrangpura Mall in Ahmedabad. He falls for Vidya, his student and Ishaan’s sister, breaking in the wrong way, India’s one of the most famous protocols of not dating one’s best friend’s sister. Due to his other best friend Omi and Omi’s Politician uncle Bittoo Mama, he also enjoys lavish meals with big Politicians.
As such Ishaan is hot-tempered and will screw anyone messing with his sister Vidya. However, he is blissfully unaware of Govind’s and Vidya’s affair. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading his reaction, when and how it is revealed to him. Ishaan himself a brilliant cricketer is a huge fan of Sachin Tendulkar. He deeply regrets not making it to the Indian National Cricket Team and thus starts coaching the neighbouring kids. Amongst them he finds a talented Muslim boy, Ali. He is poor but a gifted cricket player. Thus, Ishaan decides to dedicate his entire life coaching Ali, without any fees.
Lethargic and a little stupid Omi is a priest’s son. Nevertheless, he is very caring and helpful. He loves his friends Ishaan and Govind more than his own self. However, he is extremely religious like his Bittoo Mama and smirks at other creeds. This makes Govind wonder thoughtfully, “If Ish’s passion was cricket and my passion was business, was Omi’s passion religion?”
The camaraderie between these three friends is so strong that it also uplifts Ali’s life. While Govind secures his studies and Ishaan grooms him for his career, Omi feeds him healthy food. They also take him to Australia for a little polish and thoroughly enjoy the amazing trip.
Back home, during the Godhra Riots, when Bittoo Mama’s son is killed, he seeks revenge and attacks Ali’s parents. He also wants to kill Ali, but the three friends hide him. However, to know what the climax unfolds, you need to befriend the gripping novel.
With sentimental themes of tight friendship, young love, malice revenge, dreadful death and hopeful faith, the young author binds us to an immaculate story. Through his tale about Business, Cricket and Religion, Bhagat easily touches his readers’ hearts.


Macmillan, Rs 313

Does magic still exist? Some might scorn and say ‘No,’ but some might rigidly acknowledge its presence. Magic can be divine and beautiful, yet equally scary and brutal as proved by Eric Campbell’s The Year Of The Leopard Song.
The story is about two young lads. They are almost like brothers, but immensely unlike each other. One is an English Native – Alan Edwards, settled with his family near the foot of the Mountain Peak Kilimanjaro in Africa and the other is an African Native – Kimathi, a Chagga Warrior Tribal. Through their eighteen years of friendship, they have flanked the most dangerous areas of Mount Kilimanjaro risking their own routes, nevertheless, enjoying thoroughly.
The novel starts when Alan is delighted to be back at his African farm after a dull year at his school in England. He has missed Africa’s warmth, the peaceful greenery, his loving parents, his African house helper – Njombo, but most, his best friend – Kimathi.
However, soon his delight turns into suspicions as weird things commence. The first mark – CHUI (meaning ‘leopard’ in Swahili) impressed in blood inside his shed, shocks him, but he continues with his enquiries. His own African people evade him, even Njombo. Next, his buddy, Kimathi, suddenly disappears. Alan believes that either Kimathi is in grave danger, else seeking a solution to their local African problem in the quiet recesses of Kilimanjaro.
A cautious warning asks his father to take Alan away to a safer place. Nevertheless, Alan resolves to unravel the mystery and save his brotherly friend Kimathi. His clues lead him to the perilous yet equally enchanting snows of Kilima Njaro.
To make matters worse, the highest slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, where no animal has yet survived, recites the leopard song and miraculously houses a malicious leopard. The song captures Alan in a trance and lures him towards the blood thirsty leopard. Does Alan survive a fatal death? What becomes of Kimathi? The answers lie in this thrilling novel, The Year Of The Leopard Song with every page tightly gripping the reader until the end.
We are also acquainted by Campbell to people like Inspector Makayowe. He is an African Policeman, who does not believe in magic, but only believes in upholding his power. He is also termed as a ‘black man in a white mask’ by orthodox Africans. However, even his loyalties are tested at a crucial point in the novel, and for once; he does seem weakened by magic.
The book enriches the African Magic possessed by the Chagga Warrior Tribe. In fact, the mysterious rituals they follow and their secret legends sometimes have bloodcurdling effects. To understand African stories, a single reading is highly insufficient. The author lures you in the story, makes you feel the song and almost binds you with its magic. The novel loudly proclaims that magic can influence and overpower you.
Eric Campbell has beautifully described Africa and its snow-clad peaks, yet also emphasized the scary vastness of the huge continent.
Campbell, also the author of The Place of Lions, The Shark Callers and Elephant Gold, bases The Year Of The Leopard Song on a factual photograph. This photograph, dated 1920s, demonstrates a frozen corpse of a leopard at a very high peak, henceforth labelled, the Leopard Point. The 19,710 feet high Kilimanjaro’s western summit is named Ngaje Ngai by the Maasai. It is the House of God of Kilimanjaro.
No one knows why the leopard had gone there, where no animal had yet survived unaided. It looks like as John Reader says in his Kilimanjaro,
“Like a sacrifice to the superior force of the mountain.”


Manoj Publications
168 pages, Rs 80
Our present time, (also accused as Kalyug by many) has provoked pinching questions in each one of us. We are dog-tired of the socio-political and economic diseases inflicted on us. Be it corruption or recession, blasts or blames, we are all fixed in a huge rut. One way to jump out of it is to follow Guru Chanakya’s advice in Chanakya Neeti – lucidly explained, briefly commented and accurately translated by Vishwamitra Sharma.
Sharma rightly points out, “Chanakya was a great scholar, the economist, the strategist and the teacher. His erudite thoughts serve as Dos and Don’ts of the everyday life of any person who wants to make his life a grand success.” Thus people from Corporate Houses to politicians to the lay man all can easily benefit from Chanakya’s sharp thinking.
Though unappealing in looks, he was the epitome of intelligence, inventiveness, ingenuity, knowledge, subtlety, strategies and tact, the fruitful combination ever seen only in him. In fact, in his guidance, a simpleton child became one of the most successful Emperors, fondly remembered as Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya.
Through Chanakya’s ideologies we see the latter’s actions and gains. If his directions can lead a commonplace boy of the medieval times to become a victorious king of the nation, then they can definitely show us ways to live a more rewarding life.
     The most striking words by Vishwamitra Sharma are, “For Chanakya, the Emperor Chandra Gupta was a living testimony of his achievements and accomplishments of life.”
The author also goes on to say, “As Kautilya he wrote Arthshastra, a draft of a constitution of an ideal state”. Moreover, Sharma adds, “Due to his political wisdom and diplomatic skills in empire building, Chanakya is called ‘Machiavelli of India’.” Obviously, in a positive sense.
Chanakya Neeti – as the original text was written in Sanskrit. The Sanskrit Shlokas or couplets or quatrains are first precisely translated into English and then explained in the most simple and effective way. Often interesting examples are given to emphasis certain tactics applied by Chanakya. Through these Shlokas, Chanakya has given us the political understanding that he had collected from many holy writings in the form of a compact guide.
One needs to observe that though Chanakya’s tips are highly practical and easily applicable; his certain ideologies prove wrong and biased. He was highly prejudiced for Brahmins and against women, due to the stereotypes existent during his times. However, Vishwamitra Sharma has clearly objected them and placed a fair view.
Chanakya may have his flaws, but he is one quintessence of success, greatly required in today’s time. Several times our heart conflicts with our head. Quick decision-making capability, running after the right rewards, helping the needy yet surviving resourcefully has become a grinding challenge for all of us. In these tough times, if Chanakya or people like him can not govern or guide us, we can hopefully rely on Chanakya’s highly efficient Neeti (strategies) to direct us in our testing times.