Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aruna’s Story by Pinki Virani

I picked this up because I picked up “Bitter Chocolate”, and do not regret it. This is yet another remarkable book by Pinki Virani, based on the true story of Aruna Shanbaug. I had vaguely heard about this case. This case received much media glare due to its relevance in the legal debates on “mercy killing” or “euthanasia”.

Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse at KEM hospital, Mumbai, is accosted by one of the hospital sweepers, raped and strangled by a dog chain in the basements of KEM. The sweeper had been reprimanded by Aruna a couple of times for not doing his job properly, not feeding the dogs, etc. This person was on temporary duty in the hospital. Aruna, who was supposed to go on leave from December to prepare for her marriage to Doctor Sundeep from the same hospital, falls prey to sweeper Sohanlal in November. That one day changed the course of her entire life. This story dates back to November 1973. Due to strangling, the oxygen supply to her brain had cut off and she lost power of expression and speech, and even eyesight. In just one twist of fate, her seemingly envious life, turned into an utter waste.

Surprisingly, Sohanlal had to serve only a 7 year term in jail for assault and robbery, and never for sexual molestation, rape of ‘unnatural offence’. There’s not much of his perspective in the book. It is said at the end of the book that after he served in jail, he was working in some hospital in Delhi.

You don’t know what to feel when you read her tormentor got away with just 7 years of imprisonment and on the other hand Aruna Shanbaug lay in vegetative state for the rest of her life. Due to the kindness of the staff of KEM Hospital, she is taken care of by them, but her own family abandons her. It seems that they leave Aruna to her state because they were not well-off and did not want an extra burden when they were already struggling to make their ends meet.

This book is yet another marvelous work from Pinki Virani. What stood out in this book, as also in her other book called ‘Bitter Chocolate’ is the insufficiency of Laws to frame the criminals. The way she has converted an incident into a full-fledged novel is commendable, creating fictitious conversations and handling the sensitive issue with utmost care, she never falters from her focus – telling Aruna’s story!

Read more in the following links:
The Hindu
Indian Express

(Image source: Infibeam)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mixed Doubles by Jill Mansell

Immediately after ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, I picked up ‘Mixed Doubles, giving in to the persistent observations be everyone that I am reading too many disturbing books. So, I thought, well, I have too many chicklits also, so let me just take a break from the heavy-duty books and get on with a lighter, no-brainer.

‘Mixed Doubles’ is about three friends Dulcie, Pru and Liza, each make a resolution on the New Year. Liza wants to get married, Pru wants to stay married and Dulcie wants to get out of her marriage. The whole book is about this. As all chicklits, the book is predictable but it is quite fast-paced. You can even finish it in a day!

Liza is quite popular. Every guy falls for her, but she gets bored of them all too easily. After several flings, this year, she wants to take the next step and get married to a suitable guy. The challenge is to find one.

Pru is married to Phil, and just wants to make her marriage work, no matter how her husband is. But her husband goes on and has an affair with their housekeeper. The story takes from their. No matter how hard you try, destiny may lead you to something else, and who knows, may be it is good for you!

Dulcie is the most idiotic of all. She has a nice husband in Patrick but he is always too engrossed in work and out of sheer boredom of her routine life, Dulcie thinks she should take a divorce. Well, fate has other plans for her as well.

I have really grown out of chicklits, even Sophie Kinsela, so I found it an OK book. But all those who like chicklits, it is good one for you! 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bitter Chocolate by Pinki Virani

Two weeks back, I went to Crossword to pick some books. I spent about an hour or so but could not find anything good. Then suddenly I chanced upon this book called “Bitter Chocolate” by Pinki Virani. The book was about “Child Sexual Abuse in India”. I skimmed through the book, and it came across as an interesting book that dwelt on the horrors of Child Sexual Abuse, while discussing the myriad of cases which have been registered and the relevant laws, the revamping of regulations required and so on.

Perhaps it happened for the first time that I bought the book and immediately started reading it, and finished it in 3 days. It was a well-written but deeply disturbing experience. There are about hundred cases which get discussed and one is worse than the other.

There are few observations about the book.

• The book deals with a controversial topic, but not even once does it become sleazy. It only evokes hatred for the people who do it. Pinki Virani, who has been a journalist for several years, has handled the topic very sensitively.

• It is shocking to know that Sexual Abuse has happened to children as young as 3 months also, and it has nothing to do with gender of the child as well. In fact, it has been reported that sexual abuse of little boys has been on the rise and apparently, Goa, Kovalam and Mumbai are hotspots for foreign tourists for this trade.

• It is also shocking to know how wide-spread this crime is in the society, regardless of the social strata the kids belong to, their gender or their age.

• It wakes you up to the fact the child today is definitely not safe anywhere. You need to keep your eyes and ears open all the time to the tell-tale signs, trust your child and invoke trust in her / him so that they open up to you for whatever they are going through

• It is also disturbing to note that even parents don’t pay much heed to this and feel that kids will not remember this when they grow up or think about the impact it can have on their stable / perfect lives. But the child going through any kind of abuse is scarred for life, and it definitely shows up in any form in their lives. In fact, it has been pointed out that several abusers have themselves been abused as a child. But that of course, is not justification for such heinous act.

• Pinki Virani also points out the legal angle to this. What the child goes through when he / she does come forward to give a statement – our courts are unfriendly to the child, the kid can be intimidated by the abusers and his slew of lawyers, the kid is made to repeat the details of his abuse over and over again

• The book has captured a beautiful yet touching poem by a 12 year old victim:

I asked you for help, and you told me you would

If I told you the things he did to me.

You asked me to trust you, and you made me

Repeat them to fourteen different strangers

I asked you for help and you gave me

A doctor with cold hands

Who spread my legs and stared at me

Just like my father.

I asked you for protection

And you gave me a social worker.

Do you know what it is like

I have more social workers than friends?

I asked you for help

And you forced my mother to choose between us.

She chose him, of course.

She was scared, she had a lot to lose.

I had a lot to lose too.

The difference is, you never told me how much.

I asked you to put an end to the abuse

You put an end to my whole family.

You took away my nights of hell

And gave me days of hell instead.

You have changed my private nightmare

Into a very public one.

This book is for everyone, and most importantly for a parent. We cannot close our eyes to what is happening all around us, no matter how disturbing. I did not know there was a play too on this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a disturbing story, this time from Afghanistan. I have read ‘Kite Runner’ and anyways all the reviews have been pretty good for this book, so when I saw it resting on my friend’s book-shelf, I picked it up. As it is quite obvious, I have been reading quite a lot of books in this genre, and what connects them all together is the fact that they were all about stories of women who went through quite a lot of ordeal. Not very pleasant books to read, as many of my friends have pointed out and loudly wonder, why have I been reading so many of melancholic books. But then, I see it differently. These are stories, many of them real, most of them disturbing, but that happens to life. One needs to deal with it. These days I have grown to love non-fiction quite a lot.

‘A Thousand Splendid suns’ is basically a story about two women, from almost a generation apart, who are thrown together by fate as wives of the same man. Half the book is about the backgrounds of both the women. The first one, Mariam, is an illegitimate child of a wealthy man. She loves her father, until she is married off hastily to a much older man by him. She used to look forward to the time that she used to spend a kid and as a teenager, never believing her mother even a word that she would say against him. But when she sets out to meet him, he does not meet her. And in a quick succession of events her mother commits suicide, she has nowhere to go and nobody wants her, so she is married off to a widower. The man turns out to be idiosyncratic and temperamental. But she learns to deal with him. It does not help that she is not able to bore him a child.

Second woman is Laila, who in a strange turn of events finds herself in Mariam’s home. Her father was particular about Laila’s education, and her upbringing was pretty liberal. But in a freak explosion, her parents are killed, and she survives. She hears of the demise of her boyfriend, Tariq. Finding herself 6 weeks pregnant with Tariq’s child, and knowing fully well, what happened to women with illegitimate child and women in general without anybode to protect, in Taliban, she agrees to marry Rasheed, Mariam’s husband.

This is their story, Mariam’s and Laila’s. I would say, I liked ‘Kite-Runner’ more, but this is not bad either. I found the beginning part, marginally slow, with too many pages dedicated to their growing up and reaching the main story. After a while, you get a little restless about reaching the main part of the story but towards the end, it is quite fast-paced.

I would definitely recommend it, and I think I would give it 7.5 out of 10. Read another review here.