Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald

Title: Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah Macdonald
Publisher: Bantam Books (Random House)
Pages: 320
Price: Rs 375
Genre: Non Fiction / Travel / Memoir
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I first read ‘Holy Cow’ in 2006 or 2007. It was interesting to look at Indian diversity and idiosyncrasies through the eyes of an outsider who wanted to make sense of the chaos. I loved it. But in order to appreciate this book, you must have the ability to laugh at India’s eccentricities. It is one of the very few books which I have re-read and enjoyed.

Sarah Macdonald, an Australian journalist, broadcaster and presenter, did not like India on her first visit and never wanted to return. But she returns to India after almost 11 years to be with her boyfriend Jonathan Haley. “Holy Cow” is more of a spiritual journey of the author which takes her through interesting experiences and people.

She writes right at the beginning: “India is Hotel California: you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

In her early days, her cynical self only finds the problems: widespread poverty, no respect for time, no sense of space and privacy, people gawking at western women, dirt and filth, the unbearable heat, poor medical standards, etc., etc. But soon she decides to make the best of her stay in India, since Jonathan was away most of the time for long duration owing to wok commitments. Sarah’s experiences were diverse: finding anything but peace in the spiritual ‘market’ of Rishikesh, brushes with death in the forms of earthquake and double-pneumonia, making sense of the Indian marriage scene (its close connection with family and honour), cleansing of mind and finding inner peace through Vipassana, learning about Sikhs and meeting a unique group of white Sikhs, grim realities of a paradise lost in Kashmir, experiencing Jewish rituals, getting blessed by Mata Amritanandamayi, meeting film stars, exploring Christianity at our Lady of Velangiri, to name a few.

There are several such books by western travellers / journalists / explorers but Sarah Macdonald has a distinguished voice. Some may find a few of her observations or comments offensive, but you must remember while reading this book, or any such book, that this is a personal journey of the author. In this particular book, we find Sarah Macdonald transform from an atheist to someone who begins to enjoy the expansive spiritual roads India offers, its many religions. At the end of it, she is humbled by India’s accommodating culture, affectionate people, diversity and experiences. At the end, if you really read it with an open mind, there is not a thing to offend. She sounds a little conceited in the beginning but I think, it is purely to bring out the contrast in her transformation from someone not amused by the situation in India to someone who had begun to enjoy the “organised chaos”. 

Few gems from the book:

About the Hindi she learnt from her teacher who scoffed at the use of street language:

When I thought I was asking a taxi driver to take me somewhere I was really saying, ‘Kind sir, would thou mind perhaps taking me on a journey to this shop and I would be offering you recompense of this many rupees to do so, thank you frightfully humbly.’ And I have been greeting filthy naked street urchins with, ‘Excuse me, o soul one, but I’m dreadfully sorry, I don’t appear to have any change, my most humble of apologies.’

These lines beautifully capture her thoughts on religion:
“I realise I don’t have to be a Christian who follows the church, or a Buddhist nun in robes, or a convert to Judaism or Islam or Sikhism. I can be a believer in something bigger than what I can touch. I can make a leap of faith to a higher power in a way that’s appropriate to my culture but not be imprisoned by it.”

She says about her trip to Pakistan:

“I feel like I’ve travelled between two divorced parents who are trying to outdo each other.”

About war against Afghanistan

This war has shattered my Great Australian Dream – the fantasy that I could be part of the world community with all its benefits but isolated enough to be safe and separate from its violence and brutality.”

And finally, her thoughts on India towards the end:

”India’s organised chaos has exuberance and optimism, a pride and a strong celebration of life. I truly love it. There’s no place like this home.”

It is an interesting book; and people who love to read about India, or Non Fiction in general or travel stories in particular will love it.

Review Book courtesy: MySmartPrice Books - Get the Best Deal on Books!
Image source: MySmartPrice Books

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: Who Do You Think You're Kidding? by Lina Ashar

Title: Who Do You Think You're Kidding?
Author: Lina Ashar
Publisher: Random House India
Pages: 304
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Non Fiction / Parenting
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback

‘Who do you think you’re Kidding?’ happened to me at the right time. I am a mother to an 18 month old toddler and almost-obsessed about creating right environment and providing enough opportunities to our son. Learning, education, parenting techniques, discipline, etc., are the buzz words that rule my thoughts and rock my world these days. Every parent would agree that parenting in this day and age is far more challenging than it was for the previous generation.

I am a book person. When I seek knowledge beyond the scope of Google, I pick up a book. I feel there is a dearth of good parenting books in India. There are several books from foreign authors but we need books that address issues and concerns specific to our country.

In ‘Who do you think you’re Kidding?’, the author, Lina Ashar, enunciates several concerns and challenges of new age parenting and offers solutions from her experience as an educationist and a mother. Children today have to deal with excess of everything – exposure to various media, information, competition, consumerism, to name a few. They need support and guidance from their parents to deal with them. And for that, parents themselves need to break out of their traditional approach to parenting and move with the times.

Here are a few takeaways from the book:
  • The kids of today are being bombarded with information through TV, Internet, Radio or Outdoor. There is no getting away. With technology influencing every facet of life and education, a child cannot live in a vacuum. It is imperative to teach children to use technology with prudence and responsibility.
  • It is important to develop a child’s self-esteem, which in turn depends on the kind of messages they receive from others about themselves, especially parents.
  • Intense competition is taking over the joys of childhood. Children should not be made to bear the burden of their parents’ unfulfilled ambitions. They should be allowed to choose their own path with support and encouragement.
  • A parent or teacher should incorporate a child’s interest area to make learning interesting and fun.
  • Whatever be our parenting styles, we should be aware / conscious about its implications on our child.
  • Role of a father or a mother in the life of a son or / and a daughter; and how we as a father or a mother can improve our relationship with our child. The book also cautions about the pitfalls of gender stereotyping.
  • Understanding the differences in raising a son vis-à-vis raising a daughter equips you in helping them realise their potential and encouraging them to try different things. It is not the same as gender stereotyping.

Many more such issues as challenges of early years, the beginning of learning, left brain vs. right brain, transition years (tweens and teens), exam anxiety, career choices, etc, etc. have been packed into 300 pages.

This paragraph (quoted from the book) best defines what the author attempts to achieve:

"Increasing levels of competition, reducing paradigms of space and time, evolving sources of information and entertainment, changing moral, social, and religious values is leaving us with an unknown future. The dilemma that every parent and teacher faces today – ‘How do I use the tools I have to prepare children for a future that I don’t know anything about? How do I prepare them to resolve issues that have not yet risen? What is parenting in this age of digital revolution and globalization?' These are the questions I seek to answer in this book."

There are no hi-fi fundas or tangential jargons in this easy-to-read book. Every parent will find resonance of their concerns in this book. The book is peppered with witty yet relevant illustrations to support the points, and very relatable examples.

A few words of wisdom from the author (quoted from the book):
“The advice I give parents is to keep opening windows of opportunities for their children – sport, musical instruments, theatre, dance, everything – and allowing them to decide what they like and want to pursue.”

It is certainly a must-read book for new age parents!

Here’s an interview of the author which will give you more perspective on the book.

Review Book courtesy:
Random House India

Image Source: Random House India