Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: The Bear in the Cave by Michael Rosen and Adrian Reynolds

Title: The Bear in the Cave 
Writer: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Adrian Reynolds
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 32
Genre: Children's literature / Fiction
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback (includes Audio CD)
Suitable for: 2 years+

About the Book (from the website):

A very happy bear hears the sounds of the city from his quiet home by the sea and decides to find out what city life is like. Buying the ticket and travelling on the train is all very exciting. And so is the city! But after a while the bear finds the city a little too noisy and a little too busy - and people are beginning to laugh at him. He feels very sad and alone, until four children find him and show him the way home, with much fun along the way. 


I chanced upon this book while hunting for some good story books for my son. I was not aware about its celebrated author, Michael Rosen, of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ fame. But this book took me by surprise. It clicked with my 3 year old from the first day, and then we read it every day for about a month. He is still not tired of this book.

First of all the illustrations are gorgeous. I am totally in love with them. Secondly, the story is engaging and dynamic. It is interesting to follow the bear through the city in his adventure. Through the bear’s eyes, the young kids look at different aspects of city life.

Another very attractive aspect of this book is the use of onomatopoeia (yes, I just discovered this word, which means ‘a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes’). In simple words, the author has used similar-sounding, rhyming words. We all know how kids love such tongue-twisters. 

Sample these lines:

“And I play with the waves all day.
Splishety splash
Splishety splash
Splishety splashety splish.”

Or these:

“The sound of the city in my ears.
Vroomy vroom
Vroomy vroom
Vroomy vroomity vroom.”

Moreover, this book is a great bedtime book despite all the commotion and laughter-inducing repetitive / rhyming words because it slows down towards the end. After much splashing about in the waves, the kids and the bear go to sleep inside the cave, surrounded by the tranquility of the sea at night.

It is a must-read. You are going to love reading this to your kids as much as the kids are going to enjoy listening to the adventures of the bear.  

An Inside view of the book:

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Tips for buying children's books

Here are a few tips for people who are starting to build up their children’s books’ collection:

1. Learn about children’s books and authors by reading on the internet. There are a lot of websites and blogs dedicated for children’s books.

2. Don’t buy everything you read about. Make notes. Find more about the books. Evaluate on the basis of your child’s interests and level of understanding.

3. How to look inside the book, when you are purchasing it online? Most books on Amazon offer sample pages (2-3 pages) to give a peek into the book. You could search specific books on YouTube also. Many people upload videos of books and book readings where you can see the inside pages and find out more about the book. Another way is to do Google Images search of any book.

4. The easiest way to check best prices on various websites is any price comparison website like India Bookstore.

5. Online shopping websites like Amazon and Flipkart are undoubtedly best places to buy your books for their competitive pricing. Infibeam is another website where you would often find books not available on any other site but the prices may be a little higher. I have personally used all these websites.

6. There are also some places from where you can buy second hand books because let’s face it, international titles are expensive. I have used Passaro Pre-owned Imported Children’s Books (Chennai) for buying second hand books. 
They have good storybooks in the range of Rs 100-150. Apart from these, there are several Facebook Groups on Used Children’s books. Many metro cities also have booksellers selling ‘Books-by-weight’ which means they will have Rs X per Kg of Books.

7. Indian children’s books publishers like Tulika, Tara Books, Karadi Tales and Pratham Books have a wide range of books in very affordable prices.

8. In last 4 years I have learnt that one needs to be patient in buying books for kids. I have bought books for as much as 800 rupees. Honestly speaking, for regular people, this is not a sound practice. Be in the lookout for discounts in the range of 60% and above.

9. You can also select a price range. For example, I select books upto Rs 200 and then go about choosing books. Kids just need some good story books to read.

Image source: Google

You may also want to see: 

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child
How to start Reading to your Child
5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Start Reading to Your Child

1. Start Early
Remember: the sooner, the better, the easier. It is easy to form habits in very young children because you make the rules. Once they grow up, and start seeking independence; it gets more challenging. You can start even when they are in womb. Trust me, many people do it.

2. Read Yourself
My question is do you read? Personally, I read a lot while my husband reads zilch, but he still reads to our son. So, if you are trying to inculcate that habit in your child, chances are you are a reader yourself or at least you understand the value of doing so. So, be the role model for your child. Let him see you read. If nothing else, read children's books. You won’t believe how much you can learn from them, plus they are gorgeous.

3. Set the Mood
It is important to create an environment that encourages reading. Good books and opportunities to read are two important parts of setting the mood. If you want a habit to grow, you need to curb some of the other things like screen time (in the form of TV and tablets). Too much of screen time is not good for kids. Here is an excellent article on the subject.

4. Good Books (appropriate size and content)
If the kids are very young, say 0-1.5 years old, get them bright board books with minimum words. Books on Animals, Trucks, Construction vehicles or everyday objects usually work very well for that age group. Choose a size that they can handle easily like mini board books. Also, avoid paperbacks for very young kids. Board books are available in various sizes - from mini to lap size.

In this day and age, there is no dearth of good literature for young kids. There are several foreign and Indian authors and publishers for children’s books. The subjects are also exhaustive. You can also pick books on subjects that they are curious about or just plain entertaining stories. Besides, if you are confused, many people are writing about children’s books across the internet. You just have to look.

5. Movie to Books
There are books which have been turned into movies like the Gruffalo, the Gruffalo’sChild and the Room on the Broom. We read the books first and then watched the movies but you can do the other way round. There are books for ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘The Jungle Book’ too, besides many others.

6. Bedtime Routines
It is easier to make reading part of their bedtime routine because when they settle for night, kids usually want to listen to stories. Moreover, they are eager to do anything as long as they don’t have to sleep right away. I think one can start with familiar characters or subjects from animated movies which the child identifies, and then move on to others gradually.

7. Never make it a chore
Don’t make it another 'thing-to-do' in the list. It will put them off, especially if they are older. When my son was 1-1.5 year old, we did not have a fixed time to read. Like other kids, he would keep fiddling with stuff around the house; and I would just sit and read his books aloud. At that age, they want to do things you are doing. So, he would come and sit, and take the book from me. And now we read 5 books every day on an average.  

8. Give it importance
Many people don't think too highly of reading to kids. It is not just story-time, believe me. I already wrote why you should Read Aloud to your kids in my previous post. Take it seriously. 

You may also want to see: 

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child
5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Image source: Google

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child: a Personal Experience

Since I have been reading more of children’s books these days, I thought it was time to start writing about them here. I am amazed at the kind of literature there is for the young and very young kids. If you assumed that children’s books would be childish, you could not be more wrong. I have learnt so much by just reading to my son. And I love them as much as he does. 

As a book lover myself, I knew I wanted to raise a reader. Yes, he could become a reader on his own but on my part, I wanted to do my best.

I started READING ALOUD my own books to my son (yes, you heard it right) when he was a tiny baby because at that time kids just need to hear your voice and language. I got him the cloth book of ‘Fuzzy Bee and Friends’, and board books of ‘Squishy Turtle and friends’ and ‘the Very Hungry Caterpillar’ when he was 6 months old. 

In the beginning, books are just another playthings. He would not even sit on one place to be READ ALOUD but that was his age and not disinterest in books. I still continued reading to him. At that time, it felt may be he really wasn't interested in books but once when he was 9-10 months old, I asked him to get me ‘the Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and he did. It was such a thrilling moment for me.

From that moment to this day (3 years later), I can tell you from personal experience that there are only positives to reading aloud. There are hundreds of articles and enough research on why we should READ ALOUD to our children. You just need to Google. But here, I would share my personal experience:

Focus. When you encourage the habit of sitting on one place and engage your child with a story, where he looks at the pictures, tries to make sense of what is happening; you enable him to focus. Young kids are restless with high energy flying all over the place. But reading to your child develops focus and the ability to concentrate.

Learn new words and concepts. When you read books after books each day, you obviously come across several new words. A child is introduced to new words and concepts in a much better way than it can ever happen through videos and television. Even I have learnt so many new words while reading children’s books. Many times, when the kids are little, it is interesting to explain even simple words which they do not have life’s experience to understand.

Imagination. Books open a world of imagination for them, where even animals and machines talk and emote. Anything is possible in their books. Soon they start imagining their own stories with their own favourite things. The gift of imagination is priceless.

Love for Learning. Initially, what attract young kids to books are the pictures. Slowly they start noticing the words. I have observed that the kids who are read to, are more interested in learning the alphabets. My 3.5 year old can read words with simple sounds like CAT, MAN, MUG, etc., and honestly, I have never sat him down to teach alphabets. Of course, I tell him when he asks and correct his mistakes; but absolutely no rote learning. My goal is to inculcate the habit of reading and love for language, and I trust, rest everything will fall into place.

Bonding. This is the best part of reading to your children. It is a great one-on-one time. It offers the opportunity to sit with them and ask questions related or unrelated to the story. It offers the perfect chance to connect with them. And it is very important to connect with them, no matter what age they are in. 

You may also want to see: 

5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Image source: Google

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Title: The Newlyweds
Author: Nell Freudenberger
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 335
Price: Rs 399
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

From the Back Cover:

Amina met George online. Within months she has left her home in Bangladesh and is living in George’s house in the American suburbs. Theirs is a very twenty-first-century union, forged from afar yet echoing the traditions of the arranged marriage.

But as Amina struggles to find her place in America, it becomes clear that neither she nor George have been entirely honest with each other. Both have brought to the marriage a secret - a vital, hidden part of themselves – which will reveal who they are and whether their future is together or an ocean apart.

My thoughts:

The first reason to read this book was its cover page. I loved it. The title appealed to me too; however, the book is not about ‘newlyweds’ in the strict sense of the word. The story has been narrated by Amina Mazid of the time when she considers herself a newlywed. She clarifies that usually a couple would be considered newlywed till their first anniversary, which is the time they need to settle down in their new life. But in her case, until the time her parents join her in America she would not be truly settled.

Her parents’ only child, Amina wants to get away from her circumstances. Hailing from Bangladesh, her childhood and growing up years were difficult. She even had to drop out of school because the money was scarce. George, who is from America, embodies her chance to escape from the bleak future she foresees for herself in Bangladesh.   

Both Amina and George find their own reasons to believe that they would complement each other in marriage, but when they actually begin their journey, there are a few surprises in store. The book surely reflects the reality of an arranged marriage well. People keep their best foot forward; and when they actually start living together, the reality of how a person is a mix of several things - not all good, not all bad – dawns.

I am in conflict about the story. There is nothing spectacular about it and yet there are a few above average real moments. t is not very clear why George would want to marry someone from a dramatically different background, different upbringing, values and beliefs. Moreover, irrespective of the fact that it is about newlyweds, this is certainly not a romance novel. But, give it a shot.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

 “..wasn’t that what it was like for all newlyweds? ……. It felt strange until one day it didn’t.”

“It wasn’t that George was old but that he felt sorry for himself that drove her crazy. If her father was Thunder, then George was Smoke – and how could you argue with someone who began to disappear as soon as you opened your mouth?”

“What a strange thing, she thought, to find out one day that you had built your whole life on a mistake, and the next to discover that this fact would allow you to have your dearest wish.”

Image source: GoodReads

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Partitions by Amit Majmudar

Title: Partitions
Author: Amit Majmudar
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Historical fiction / India
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

From the Back Cover:

July 1947. India is torn in two. Violence erupts on both sides of the new border and waves of refugees flee the carnage and chaos.

Fighting to board the last train to Delhi, six-year-old Hindu twins Shankar and Keshav are torn from their mother and must begin a terrifying trek to find her again. A young Sikh girl, Simran Kaur, having escaped the honourable death planned for her by her father, dreams of a spiritual sanctuary at the temple of Amritsar. And Ibrahim Masud, a timid doctor driven from his home, treats all those he finds along the way as he struggles towards the new state of Pakistan.

This is the story of their journeys across a ravaged land, of the acts of compassion and cruelty that shape their new lives and their new nations.

My thoughts:

The first time I came across ‘Partitions’ by Amit Majmudar was while I was reading about ‘the Ice-Candy Man’ by Bapsi Sidhwa; and after having read both the books, now I know why the parallels had been drawn. Both the books are set against the partition of India in 1947. Both the books follow the changing circumstances of a set of characters before and after the partitions. What also connect these books are their unusual yet relatively neutral narrators. The former has been narrated by a spirit; while ‘the Ice-Candy Man’ has been narrated by a young Parsi girl.

‘Partitions’ is a fictional account of the plight of common people who were affected during that period in history which is often remembered for the extent of violence and uprooting of millions of people. The story has been narrated by the spirit of the twin children’s father, Dr. Roshan Jaitly. Although he died a few years ago, Dr Jaitly’s spirit still watches over his children because as a dead person he has the ability to foresee their future. In the beginning, the three stories run parallely taking the readers through the turn of events which eventually lead the characters to each other. These characters from different religious groups unwittingly come to each other’s succor, flouting prevalent suspicions for people from other religion. And therefore, irrespective of the painful circumstances, this story is surprisingly more uplifting than depressing.

The author has a beautiful, poetic style of writing. His prose is fresh and captivating. In a very well-handled back and forth between past-present-future and parallel stories of the four characters, he narrates a story that shows how humanity and empathy triumph over mindless hatred. Without having any personal connection with the partitions, it is commendable how he has been able to achieve a narrative that is so soulful.

This book will appeal to most readers of fiction, and more so to those who are interested in reading about what people went through during partitions.  

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

“Some killing must be done. It is a form of communication, the only kind that can cross the partitions between this country and its neighbor, between this world and the next. Their enemies must hear the deaths, and know rest.”

“She pauses there, filling with admiration and adoration. The imitation-love a kind-hearted stranger is capable of feeling for a beautiful child. Not love.”

“How little we knew each other, though for centuries our homes had shared walls. How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border.”

 “I can almost always get a clear read on people. Each mind swims in its skull before me like a fish in a glass bowl. But with Aisha right now…… I can’t see clearly how she feels about Simran. The water is murky, the glass frosted.”

“It’s such a miraculous device, a voice. I never knew how miraculous when I had one.”

Image source: GoodReads

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Aisle Be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya

Title: Aisle Be Damned
Author: Rishi Piparaiya
Publisher: Jaico Books
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Humour
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

The moment I saw this book, I was immediately taken in by its unusual cover page and the title. Both do justice to the theme of this book. ‘Aisle Be Damned’ is a work of non-fiction that finds humour in every aspect of air travel. The humour is not forced. What really works in this book is that the author has pulled out some common observations which anyone with air travel experience can relate to. I finished this book in one sitting and laughed a lot till the end. Every person who has done a bit of air travel will get the humour in this book.  

By virtue of being a frequent traveler, the author offers loads of wisdom and suggestions on how to make the most of your air travel, peppered with plenty of humour. He has thought of everything, right from the baggage trolleys to airport, the boarding strategies to seats one must opt for, trivia and funny anecdotes related to air travel from around the world, and several such pieces that will tickle your funny bone. He tells you stuff like when are the business tycoons likely to travel, how can you get your economy class ticket upgraded to business class, how to choose your seat well, how to handle immigration officer, etc.

The author confesses at one point that several publishers found this book niche, but air travel has become so common that I am certain there is a huge target audience for this book.

It was a fun book to read, except perhaps the last chapter [Commerce, Literature and Zen] which looks a little forced. The book is perfect without that extra chapter. You must pick it up if you are feeling a little down or feeling stressed, this book will instantly perk you up. This can also make a nice gift. The only prerequisite for enjoying this book is a little experience of air travel. It is one of those books which you can pick any time [even after you have read it], read random lines again; and it will still give you a few laughs.

Here are few funny lines from the book:

[During Immigration] He will languidly open your passport, look at the photograph, look at you, then look back at the photograph. You can see the nuts and bolts in his brain rasping, straining to draw some correlation to the grotesque face in the photograph and the pasted smile standing in front of him, but there is none…….He lets it go though – it’s not the right time or place to empathize with you on the shortcomings of your gene pool.”

 “I am always on a first name basis with anyone from Sri Lanka, neither of us being able to pronounce the other’s last name.”

“There is a sign above the basin that says the water is not for drinking. Okay, thanks for letting me know. Because I usually love to drink water from bathrooms.”

“An experienced pilot earns well over $100,000 and flies about 800 hours a year. That’s $125 an hour for essentially playing Flight Stimulator. He has no monthly goals, no boss and all his colleagues are hot. The job calls for some travel yes, but stay is at luxury hotels, meals are included and life is one long MTV Grind party.”

Note: The text in italics have been quoted from the book.

Review Book courtesy: Jaico Books 
Image source: Jaico Books 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Catching-Up Post

When I started receiving review copies, I must admit, I was overwhelmed initially. I was like ‘Whoa! I am getting free books to read all the time!’ But let me tell you, it is a vicious circle [atleast it was for me]. Allow me to explain why. In January this year, I emptied both my bookshelves into one of the balconies for the much-needed airing. [Before the baby arrived, it used to be one of my favourite activities.] That whole week, I spent a lot of time with my books – categorizing them, removing the stuff that I had read and would never read again, putting the rest back on the shelves [surprisingly despite removing more than 100 books, the shelves are still overflowing].

Not the Sunday secondhand book market;
 just a view of my balcony 

When I was going through my books, I realized what an amazing collection I had; and many of those books have been with me for a couple of years now. In reading review copies, I could not make time for my own collection. I must also confess that while I was reading review copies, I never stopped buying books.

To give you a perspective, I read 49 books in 2013. Out of those 49 books, 33 were review copies. And the truth be told, I would not have read many of those 33 books, if they had not landed at my place for review. When you get a lot of review copies, you feel compelled to review at least a few. Many times those books are not according to your taste, so you come out not liking the book; and the whole experience is unsatisfactory. When I review, I attempt to articulate what I liked about the book and what I did not like, because eventually, every person has an individual taste. For example, I love Sophie Kinsella's books and yet I don’t generally like to read chicklit. But I don’t miss her books because I have so much fun while reading them.

Anyways, I decided at the beginning of this year, I would stop taking any more review copies for some time. First of all, I need to review the books which I have read but never got around to reviewing. Secondly, I still have several review copies which I want to read and review. And the third aspect is my own collection, which I certainly want to read pretty soon.

Apart from that, I would like to start reviewing children’s books also. I have discovered this whole new genre after having baby. Since I am a passionate reader, I am doing everything to ensure that my son grows up to be one too. Reading is part of our daily routine. I never imagined I would enjoy children’s books so much. The biggest revelation is that they appeal as much to the grownups as much they do to the kids. There is a huge collection of interesting and attractive books for every age-group now. One can choose books from Indian publishers as well as foreign. Just take Alphabets for example; the variety of books available on just Alphabets is unimaginable. There is Alphablock, ABC3D, Eric Carle’s ABC, Eating the Alphabet, The Sleepy Little Alphabet, Alphabeep, Alphabet City; and I can go on and on.

Trust me, hunting for suitable and interesting books for the little one [and for myself] is one of my favourite pastimes. I can do that for hours. Our kiddie books’ collection is growing day-by-day and I enjoy them as much as my little one does. I have mentioned a few favourites here and here. Watch out for more reviews soon.

Another thing I wanted to bring up is that when I was in the process of sorting my books, I was also reading about minimalistic lifestyle. I would like to just say that finally I was convinced that I need not keep every single book that I purchase. I must let go to make space for new. So, believe it or not, I cleared over 100 books from my home. But I haven't given up on my dream of a home library or reading nook. It will take a couple of months for sure because right now [actually since January 2014], I have been de-cluttering my home bit-by-bit.

Did I tell you, I have started reading e-books? And frankly, they are not that bad. I have read just 2 books so far but I had a decent experience. Moreover, e-books align well with my new mantra of minimalism.

That’s all from me at the moment.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Recommendations: 5 Books for Toddlers

This post was first published on Parentous.

I love reading books. Naturally, if there is one habit that I would like to pass on to my son, it has to be love of reading. So, I exposed my son to books quite early. To a newborn you can read just about anything. They just need to be exposed to the sound of words. So, I would usually read my own books aloud in the initial months. Gradually, I introduced cloth books and board books. Initially, books are also playthings for little ones, so be prepared to see the books getting abused [loved, in their way]. Now at 28 months, I cannot say my son is a reader yet but we enjoy reading books before his afternoon naptime and going to bed at night. Since now it is part of his bedtime routine, he himself gets the books he wants to read. He would usually have a pick of few favourites at one time, and it is interesting to listen to his observations while reading those books.

Here is a list of 5 books which are the current favourites: 

This beautiful picture book follows a bunch of kids [8 of them] who are starting school – their first day, their second day, the first week and how they get used to the school. The kids are shown doing all sorts of exciting activities like playing with blocks, puzzles, colours, play dough or learning new things like reading, writing, saying prayers, etc; thus creating a fun and positive image of school. This book does not dwell into negative feelings like missing home or first day anxieties, and focuses more on making school a fun experience. A few things may not be relevant in our context like involvement of kids’ parents in different kinds of activities but those things can be ignored.

It was really difficult to get this book since it was out-of-stock on most websites. I finally found it here. Read more about this book in this review.

This is an attractive bilingual picture book from Tulika Publishers. All kids are fascinated by animals, and more so with their babies. This brightly illustrated book has bare-minimum text on each page [2-3 words on most of them] and educates about the action words like pounce, roll, drink, climb, roll, eat, sleep etc. “This book follows the playful adventures of three curious lion cubs while their mother is away. Minimal text and lively illustrations with an edge of drama skillfully introduce young readers to the fact that those we see as predators can be under threat themselves.” [Quoted from the book]    
Read more about this book here.

I am always on the lookout for Indian literature for kids. I found this collection of Indian Rhymes by Karadi Tales, and I knew I had to get it. I got Book 1 more than a year ago and it is still a favourite. I am getting the second Part soon. Book 1 has an interesting line up of rhymes very relevant for Indian kids. The most favourite rhyme from this book is called “Just like you’. It tells you about different people from different places in India, speaking different languages, and yet they are like us. Check out its video here. It is quite a catchy song. There are songs [or rhymes] about mangoes, crows, festivals celebrated in India, cricket, sari, flowers, Indian flag, etc. Essentially, the book attempts to capture the essence of India. My son makes me read all the rhymes in this book over and over again.

This book also comes with an audio CD which contains rhymes in the voice of Usha Uthup.
Read more about the book here.

I am convinced that playing with kitchen utensils and dough should be part of developmental milestones. I am certain every kid goes through that phase. Since my 2 year old loves playing with the regular dough on daily basis, when I chanced upon this book, I thought this was apt for reading to him. To add to the fun, we sometimes also keep some dough handy to make the things that the little boy, Neeraj, in the book makes.
This book is about Neeraj. He gets a little dough from his mother, and his imagination lets loose. He turns it into a snake, a mouse and a cat. This book is about how a child’s mind is full of imagination and creativity. The illustrations are extremely endearing.
Read more about the book here.

This book was a hit with our toddler from the first day. It is a lift-the-flap book. The text is minimum and prompts the child to lift the flap on each page, which reveals an animal inside. It is exciting for the child to lift the flap one-by-one and discover the animal.
Learn more about the book from author’s website.

You may also want to read: 5 Fiction Titles for Toddlers.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Meena Kumari by Vinod Mehta

Title: Meena Kumari - The Classic Biography
Author: Vinod Mehta
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 248 
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Non Fiction / Biography / Films
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I read about this book somewhere and then chanced upon a chapter in The Greatest Show on Earth. Life of a movie star is intriguing and there is a dearth of such biographies about any Indian film star. I don’t know why I wanted to read about Meena Kumari. I haven’t even seen too many of her films, and it was from my mother. I first came to know that Meena Kumari was known as the tragedy queen. In fact, people of her generation had started using the term ‘Meena Kumari’ as a word for ‘sad’ [in the way, the term ‘Devdas’ is still used]. So, when people would say “don’t be a Meena Kumari”! They would mean ‘sad and melodramatic’. Whether she was one of the best actors of all times is highly debatable, but certainly her life was intriguing.

This book was written in 1972, immediately after her demise [republished in 2013]. The author confesses “I found that it was impossible to collect even one ‘undisputed’ fact about this woman. Everything connected with her life had atleast four versions" [quoted]. He never met the actor. He admits that facts and opinions were piling up and weighing him down, and without being over-ambitious, what he sought to achieve was to offer a few glimpses of who Meena Kumari really was; for who can really claim to know a person completely.

The book begins with everyone’s reaction on Meena Kumari’s death. The chapter is interestingly titled “Lies” to connote how all the reactions by film industry as well as media were superficial. The various chapters in this book tell us about the circumstances she was born into, her family, her early life, her romance with Kamal Amrohi, her journey as an actress [which started at the tender age of seven] as well as her turbulent personal life, her various relationships, her addiction to alcohol, her self-inflicted depression, the most important movie of her life - Pakeezah, Meena Kumari – the actress, Meena Kumari – the woman, and her death [few weeks after Pakeezah’s release]. Even with her disturbed personal life and poor health, she worked relentlessly and did very well professionally.

“Despite unreliable lovers, despite unreliable alcohol, despite unreliable dinner, despite unreliable friends, she had Bahu Begum, Manjhli Didi, Noor Jehan, Abhilasha in various stages of completion. All of which goes to prove that India’s No. 1 tragedienne did not live by bread alone.” [Quoted]

Her alcoholism is legendary. But surprisingly, she drank seriously only for three years. What started as a small peg to cure her insomnia later became addiction. This continued till she died of cirrhosis of the liver.

“The question is how could she stop drinking. She had as she saw it, no emotional support; her family life was not exactly ideal; and the possibilities for the future looked extremely grim. In these circumstances she needed a crutch, and for people the world over in her state the bottle has been the most potent, if disastrous, crutch.” [Quoted]

Meena Kumari as a person was known to be generous, attentive and empathetic. The author believes that most of her pain and depression was self-inflicted because she felt she was let down by her relationships. She did not get love, and fell into the trap of her screen image. Perhaps she always missed a part of her life she never lived – a normal childhood. Isn’t it widely known the world over, the fate of most of the child actors?

“The great tragedienne Meena Kumari became the great tragedienne not only in front of the camera but behind it. And this is the real sorrow, she aided the latter.” [Quoted]

I liked the book. May be I haven’t read any outstanding biography to compare it with, but generally speaking, I liked reading about the many aspects of Meena Kumari’s life. There aren’t too many biographies or autobiographies of Indian film stars, and if you like this genre, I certainly recommend it. It is always interesting to know interesting people. 

Read an excerpt from the book here.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart