Friday, March 21, 2014

Sermons in Stones: Theme Reveal for A to Z April Challenge 2014

A to Challenge Theme reveal blogfest
Image by Samantha Redstreake Geary

A Zen proverb says, “When the student is ready, the Master will come.”

So true, and yet ever so often, it is equally true that the masters sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting to catch our attention, while we, the students, dawdle. These masters don’t always wear halos around their heads, and they don’t always sermonise.

What’s more, a good many of them aren’t even wise. They have erred. Badly.

They have fallen flat on their faces and got goo all over it.

It is precisely that inexperience, that failure, that can teach us important lessons in the bargain.

If only we would learn from other people’s stories!

If only we paid attention to the things other people say.

Or didn’t.

It might expand our world view, don't you think?

What was that Shakespeare said about finding tongues in trees, books in running brooks, and sermons in stones?


                                        *   *   *

I took part in last year’s A to Z April Challenge with lessons for my two children, known on my blog as La 
Niña and El Niño. The challenge was a very special one for me. It brought me face to face with a whole host of bloggers. It was also my first experience of daily blogging, at least for 26 out of 30 days, which was a huge jump over my previous once-a-month posting habits.

Time to jump into the fray again. And see what this year’s challenge teaches me.

                                      *   *   *

All through April, I shall attempt to bring to you, 
arranged in order of the English alphabet, certain voices and perspectives:

a) That we know of but still bear repetition

b) That we take for granted and scarcely think about

c) That we’ve never thought about

Some of the voices I will present in these pages over the next month are those of humans. But there are many that are non-living, and quite a few that are completely intangible, and yet, in some strange, inexplicable way, totally real.

Hope you’ll join me as I journey from A through Z all through April.

While you wait for April 1st to dawn, you could pass the time in reading the posts I wrote as part of A to Z April Challenge 2013. You'll find them in the top navigation bar. For best results, I'd recommend starting from A is for Awe.

As Julie Andrews said, Let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start.

I just hope this pans out as good as it sounds right now inside my head.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An online market for Raghurajpur

Time is Money, they say.

I say, it depends on you are.

In 2007, the richest man in India earned Rs 10 per second. That equals Rs 2,59,20,000 over 2592000 seconds. A month, to be precise.

So his time is certainly worth a lot of money.

Now pit that whopping figure against a mere Rs 5000 earned by a humble craftsman in Raghurajpur in Orissa, for a month of back-breaking, wrist-straining, eye-stinging and head-hurting labour. While the villagers, every one of them a skilled artist, are adept at making a variety of handicrafts, the art that has catapulted this humble village to the limelight is Pattachitra.

Pattachitra literally means painting on leaf or cloth. These paintings are made by hand over a large piece of treated cloth. Colourful and intricate images of gods, goddesses and the abundance that is Indian mythology, not to mention the beauty of everyday life, are the hallmark of pattachitra.

Connoisseurs understand the value of these works, understand too the effort that goes into them, the legacy of centuries of tradition and culture that they represent. Unfortunately, while the art itself is celebrated, the humble craftsmen who literally gives up his life for his art, lives and dies neglected, impoverished, struggling to eke out a living.

The beautiful pattachitra paintings are bought from the craftsmen for Rs 5000, then sold for any amount between Rs 10,000-15,000. Ultimately, this buyer, only the middleman, will sell it for Rs 30,000 or Rs 40,000, an amount of money that the artist will have to slog six-seven months to earn.

Every stroke requires masterful accomplishment. Despite the lack of training, the art has been meticulously passed down the generations. In today’s age, however, few would wish this kind of a life upon their children. Any wonder then that many of the most crucial elements of our fine arts heritage are dying out.

If there is anything that has sustained the artistic tradition, it is no thanks to us. Much as we pride ourselves on belonging to a nation whose artistic and cultural tradition dates back thousands of years, we have not done anything to drive awareness about the plight of these artisans.

It is not easy for artists with no financial backing, to continue to battle obstacles in the struggle to keep their art and families alive.

Orissa has been unfortunate in not having benefited from the wave of development and progress that has enveloped other parts of the country.

These artists need support. Our support, if we would but give it.

Now Tata Capital has embarked on its Half Stories campaign. Stories of unfulfilled dreams, of deadends in the way of life’s journeys. Photographer Pankaj has been scouring the expanse of India, looking for stories to complete, using the power of crowd sourcing.

The fifth stop in the Half Stories journey, Tata Capital has hit upon the novel idea of designing, creating and establishing a website for the artisans. One that they can learn to manage themselves.

A website would take the Raghurajpur story to the world, to people who appreciate beauty. People who would value the hard work of the artist who spends his time and energy in creating something beautiful.

A website would bring in customers, prospective and current ones, face to face with the artists. It would foster a greater degree of appreciation for the craftsmen, ensure customization of art objects for the buyer and a steady amount of work for the artists.

A website can make it possible for the customer to meet the artists, without the middle man clogging the exchange.

Let’s make this website a reality for the artists of Raghurajpur and keep the pattachitra tradition alive.

Tata Capital's efforts have already yielded the amount required to build the website.

Now it is up to us to create awareness about this so that the artists can be assured of lucrative work once the website comes into being.

(This post was written for the Half Stories campaign held in association with Indiblogger.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Title: Death by the Book
Author: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 317

Death by the Book by Julianna Deering reminds us of the best traditions of Agatha Christie, the grande dame of murder mystery fiction herself.

Drew Farthering, a young heir to a fortune, loves reading murder mysteries, and is not averse to attempting to solve one himself. He is in love with Madeline Parker, an American, who, I gather, came over to stay with her Uncle Mason, in the previous book in the series. Uncle Mason, who was murdered in that book, was also the step-father of Drew.

In this book, Drew’s solicitor, Quinton Montford, is found dead with a cryptic note pinned to his chest, using a hatpin. The note is an allusion to the dead man’s profession Next, a doctor at the golf club is found dead with another hatpinned note on his chest. Deciphering the cryptic notes and tracing them to Shakespeare is a challenge that Drew enjoys tackling. Clearly, the killer is a Shakespeare enthusiast.

Later, Drew’s friend Roger is picked up as the suspect in the murder of Clarice, a bohemian girl he loved. This one too carries the killer’s signature style. Drew must find the murderer if he is to save his guiltless friend from being punished.

Drew, asked to keep his eyes and ears open in an unofficial capacity by Inspector Birdsong, spends his time hunting up clues. In this effort, he receives able assistance from friends Nick and Madeline. However, while Nick often accompanies Drew, Madeline is just a sounding board for his flashes of insight.

Before long, another body is found. By this time, it becomes evident that the bodies are showing up closer to home, and that the killer is edging ever so closer towards Drew or someone dear to him.

While everyone has a motive for at least one of the murders, no one has a motive for all. Nor do most people have an alibi for all the murders, leaving the field open for us in terms of the person to suspect.

While the novel reminds one of the best traditions of Agatha Christie, in that the killer turns out to be the one person you haven’t found guilty in your head, here the pace is far more laidback, with the romance taking up far too much time. Even when the bodies begin to pile up, you do not feel any sense of alarm or fear for the characters.

As a heroine, Madeline is ahead of her times. She admits to loving the “look, sound, touch, taste and smell of him (Drew),” a man who “always smelled like freshly laundered linen, new books, tea and honey.”

The dialogue is often witty and lively, especially that between Drew and Inspector Birdsong and between Drew and Madeline’s Aunt Ruth. There is a charming air of repartee that flows with neither willing to concede the last word to the other.

The beauty of Christian fiction is its ability to direct our attention to God and His indefatigable mercy in the face of the obstacles and challenges we face, as also our many failings, errors and hypocrisies. In Death by the Book, Christian elements such as the power of forgiveness, of no one being beyond the reach or need of God’s mercy, of the need to refrain from judging another unjustly or even harshly are scattered throughout this book. 

Drew is a devout Christian, and his interactions with the characters he encounters are imbued with his realisation that we are all guilty and that we all need His unfailing grace and mercy. Never have I read a murder mystery where the essence of Christ’s teaching was brought out so beautifully.

But of course, as far as pure murder mysteries go, there is still a flavour that is wanting. The killer’s motive for killing no less than four people is far from convincing. Also, while the notes pinned to the victims’ chests provide much food for thought, they are not strictly related to the killer’s motive, but only serve to exercise Drew’s mental faculties. A sort of elaborate game, if you will.

All said and done, I’d still recommend this one for being such a fun read. Who would have thought a murder mystery could be clean?

(I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. I read it on Netgalley.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Title: Baramulla Bomber
Author: Clark Prasad
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Pages: 316

I was curious to read Baramulla Bomber by Clark Prasad. Most reviews raved about its virtues in such glowing terms that I simply had to see for myself whether it was worth all that hype.

I have never been so disappointed in a book. The plot was a hodgepodge of subplots, all loosely tied together. It is almost as if an idea that might have been good enough for a short story, at the most a novella, has been stretched over the wide expanse of a novel. By the time you come to the end, it seems like much ado about nothing. Suspense created over what doesn’t seem that big a deal.

The story starts in the 1940s, where a secret group, known as the Cho Skyong in Tibetan, all descendants of royalty, is discussing the possible outcome of a declaration made by Nehru, India’s first prime minister, to the effect that the nation would initiate a referendum on Kashmir. This group, self-styled Guardians hailing from a lineage that has maintained order in the world since ancient times, decides to take action.

Cut to the present. Scientist Dr Nasir, once a student of Oppenheimer, works on the ability to kill through sound. He fashions a weapon that is tested in Kashmir’s Shaksgam valley. His aim is to free Kashmir, but the Chinese general and Pakistani general, who support him, have their own nefarious agenda.

Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Mansur, a young Kashmiri with a talent for fast bowling, is being groomed to be the Baramulla Bomber. Mansur’s girlfriend, Ahana Yajurvedi, is worried about the disappearance of her mountaineering friends. Following a tip-off from Karl, a Swedish intelligence guy, Adolf, his colleague, is sent to India to discover the truth about the Shaksgam weapon and to keep an eye on Mansur. But time is running out, and the good guys have to race against time to avert disaster.

I must give credit where it is due. Making one thread meaningful through the course of a plot is hard enough. Here Prasad puts together such disparate elements as cricket, metaphysics, history and politics, and the threat of war and terrorism. He shows well his knowledge of cricket and his research on the origin of sound and languages. He manages to get the action sequences right too. The chase sequence at the ski track makes for breathless reading. The wartime strategies also do a great job of inviting the reader in.

Prasad is clearly in his element when it comes to writing a thriller. He never loses his grasp of the tempo, even though the plot and the subplots seem farfetched and impossible. The technique of starting just minutes before the crux of the action in a novel, then backtracking to give the background, and later counting down to the disaster works superbly here. It keeps the reader expecting more.

But the fast pace alone is incapable of saving this book.

The language is far from perfect, and leaves a flavour that is wanting. It is strange to hear Indian colloquialisms out of the mouth of foreigners. The sentence construction is awkward, heavy and convoluted. Punctuation is often absent. The dialogue is weak. The incomplete sentences in the thoughts and speeches of the characters also put you off reading. It is also irritating when characters spell out all their plans in detail in their thoughts. The information rings a false note and completely overthrows the “Show, don’t tell,” dictum.

A thriller is not required to sport beautiful, lyrical prose like literary fiction, but even so Baramulla Bomber sees the reader stumbling over the writing.

Then there are the other errors. On one page, Prasad describes the Chinese general and the Pakistani general as compatriots. In another instance, it seems as if all the main characters are assembled at the United Nations General Assembly. Is the hall really open, as they say, to one-and-all?

Prasad displays his research and knowledge of physics, and his awareness of the Vedas and the Bible. But there are so many instances where the research is absent. Despite having a lead character hailing from the state, barely any ink is used up in describing the famed beauty of Kashmir.

Also, the likelihood that a Swedish or Norwegian Christian would sign themselves In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in Latin is zero at the best of times, let alone at the moment of his death.

Prasad has clearly neglected his homework in many other areas. While rigor mortis sets in a minimum of three hours after death, here two of the characters actually claim to feel the onset of rigor mortis, when they sense that the end is near.

All the cricket commentary was unnecessary in my opinion. It does nothing to take the story forward, and takes away from the thriller element of the story, particularly since this is not a cricket story per se. As a non-lover of cricket, I quickly breezed through the cricket game descriptions.

In one section, dating November 30, Dr Nasir thinks, “The world will see their leaders perish a slow and painful death and no one will know what to do but…I need to find a way to be immune myself in order to execute it.” Incidentally, the planned date of the execution is December 11, and as late as November 30, the man admits that he needs to work on his own immunity. It is the same level of unpreparedness, of not having thought things through, that characterises the writing of this book.

There is a twist, of course, and for all my annoyance at the demerits of this novel, I will concede that it was handled well with the turn of events taking us by surprise.

But the twist is not enough. The ending of the book is a huge letdown, with the climax being completely anti-climactic.

Having plodded through the 300 pages of what has been described by the author as “the world’s first techno mythology thriller,” I must say that this Baramulla bomber really did bomb, though not quite as Prasad intended it to.

The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on">The Tales Pensieve

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


The only thing I didn’t like about Echoes of Mercy by Kim Vogel Sawyer was its inappropriate title. It should have been better named as Showers of Faith, or Dollops of Prayer, because if there is any one sentiment that you take away after reading this book it is the fact that prayers are always answered and that God is always waiting to have a deep and intimate relationship with us.

I generally don’t read romances, much less review them, but this one stoked my interest because of the subject of child labour in which it was wrapped. The writing was good enough to pique my interest just about hundred words into the first chapter, and I couldn’t stop reading all the way to the end.

The plot is simple yet sweet. Caroline Lang is an investigator with the Labour Commission, who is sent by her mentor, Noble, to the factory of Dinsmore’s Chocolates to investigate the presence of underage workers there and to look into the suspicious death, in an elevator shaft, of Harmon Bratcher, one of Noble’s best investigators. Assuming the name, Carrie, she takes up a job as a toter in the factory.

At the same time, Oliver Dinsmore, the son of the owner, takes up a job as a janitor in the factory that he will soon take over. Posing as Ollie, his aim is to learn all he can about the business before taking over. Both Carrie and Ollie are eager to keep their real identities a secret from the other, and both have secret agendas.

Very soon, Carrie’s gentle heart causes her to become involved in the life of Letta, a 14-year-old girl who longs to study but is forced to work because her family needs the money. When Letta’s father dies, Carrie takes charge of Letta and her younger brothers, Lank and Lesley. Soon Carrie and Ollie’s lives are inextricably intertwined with that of the children.

Gordon Hightower is the chief hiring agent, manager and bookkeeper at the factory. He is a strict man who enforces the rules that he won’t follow himself. Guilty of sexual harassment and unjust practices, including stealing from the owner, there is no one to stop him.

As the story progresses, both Carrie and Ollie discover truths that sometimes find them deeply sympathetic with each other, and sometimes pit them on opposite sides on issues that they both feel strongly about.

The beauty of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s writing is that she makes her lead character so likeable by the things they say and do. Carrie is a strong woman, one who is not afraid of standing up for the rights of those who are wronged. She is brave yet gentle, and Sawyer does an admirable job of first revealing to us Carrie’s character through the fact that she isn’t thrilled at the defeat of the other potential toter.

Ollie’s character is a huge treat. Far removed from the male leads of average romantic novels, he very quickly earns a place in Caroline’s heart, and ours.

Even though Ollie and Carrie and the main characters, Sawyer also does complete justice to the three children, and we grow to be as fond of them as Ollie and Carrie are.

The suggestion that the past informs the present and the future is seen in Gordon’s and Carrie’s deprived pasts and how each chooses to live the present differently.

The story is told from the alternate viewpoints of Oliver and Caroline, with the occasional point of view of Gordon and Letta. The different perspectives don’t mention the same situations but take the story forward in each chapter. The change of perspective, and chapter, often happens in the middle of a heated conversation, taking us seamlessly from one person’s way of thinking to that of another. And that, in my opinion, is quite a feat.

The Christian element is not likely to seem obtrusive, even to the most finicky of readers. Caroline prays for others and seeks to encourage others to rely on God’s Help, rather than man’s, and to do and act in a matter that would please God, rather than humans. Prayer courses through the veins of this book, and serves to tie up the multiple plot threads together.

In the words of Noble, God is only a prayer away. In most works belonging to the mystery/thriller genre, characters who find evidence of wrongdoing are tied up and left with no option. Here, Carrie has the option to pray, and she does.

Even though this book is fiction, I have seen and experienced enough examples of answered prayers and God’s perfect timing to know that it is true. It was nothing that I didn’t already know, but reading this book at a time when I was going through a period of intense personal turmoil, the comfort and relief it brought was huge.

There are some sweetly funny moments here too, as when Carrie teaches Lesley and Lank the right way to ask Kesia for cookies, and when Kesia gets the men in the diner to stop talking so Carrie can say grace.

Reading Echoes of Mercy gave me the feeling of reading my favourite book by a cosy fire while the cold rain lashed on outside.

This is a sweet story that will stay with you. I hope you pick it up.

(I received a copy of Echoes of Mercy from WaterBrook Multnomah.)


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