The Ancient Science of Mantras by Om Swami

I am born a Hindu; in an Arya Samaj family and for most of the time we were brought up in a bubble isolated from our own culture. I lack knowledge about Hindu mythology except for the limited lessons in CSBE text books. 

I do not know the reasons why I picked up this book. I think I was drawn towards it. And I must admit it was a fascinating read. It added to my limited knowledge about the Hindu mythology and the science of Mantras. 

I am a firm believer in Mantras, the importance of correct pronunciation while chanting them, the purity of mind and dedication of heart while practicing this meditative form. What I wasn’t aware was that there are numerous rituals associated with this Science.

Since I did not pick this book to learn the ways to practice Mantra Sadhna, so I took the liberty to read the chapters at random. Each chapter held my curiosity and endowned me with ample knowledge. The writing was simple, fluid and extremely informative. Each aspect of mantra sadhana was explained in detail.

I was fascinated to know that Mantra sadhana involves various hand mudras (gestures) while chanting the mantra. There are numerous ways in which the mantras are chanted: some silent, few loudly and others in a meditative state. The mantra sadhana involves tantric mantra (and practices) and some mantras are chanted near the funeral pyre too. All the mantras are not meant for every individual; there is a scientific way of selecting the right mantra. There is a method to invoke them and the material required while practicing them is also very specific. There is certain food to be consumed when an adept decides to walk this path. 

All this information and so much more…is given in this book. Om Swami writes about all the essentials and fundamentals of invoking the timeless mantras for material and spiritual fulfilment. He even asserts that in absence of a human guru, this book can work as a perfect guide (and a guru too!)

Since this is the first book I read about mantras, I am in no position to validate the information given but I enjoyed reading this book for its simplicity and the gyan.


Birds, Beasts and Bandits – 14 days with Veerappan by Krupakar and Senani

This book was highly recommended by someone in a ‘Book Reading Club’ on fb, just a few days back. I have a fascination for wildlife so I was drawn towards this book and intrigued by the mention of Bandits especially Verrappan. I ordered this book which seemed to be different and interesting.

Presumably, the book is a comic account of 14 days of being hostage to the dreaded bandit Verrappan and his companions. The two hostages were constantly kept on the move. During the move they witness the plant and animal diversity in the jungles of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They are in awe of Verrappan’s knowledge of the local flora and fauna.

The kidnapped photographers, Krupakar and Senani, who have also authored this book, become closer to Verrappan and experience the strange mix of cruelty and humanity in him.

To start with, I found this book extremely amateurish or maybe for the young adults. It lacked depth; about birds, about beasts and the bandits too!! Most of the statements are self contradictory. Though the writer claims that Verrappan had wide knowledge about the wildlife, he himself narrates accounts where frequently the bandits keep asking the writer about the birds they see on the move. The writers claim that they were constantly on the move but in 14 days, they changed only three camps and that too within Karnataka. They did not venture into Tamil Nadu though the book cover mentions their traversing the jungles of the latter state too.

In the very beginning of the book, Krupakar narrates the incidents where he interviews the people for Verrappan, of a van captured by the bandits because the kidnappers have no knowledge of Kannada. Why would a seasoned bandit lay his trust on two hostages whom he has kidnapped half a day ago? I could not connect with this idea. The writer has tried hard to make it into a funny account but he has failed miserably.

My verdict: I could have used this money to buy a better book! The book might interest teenagers, so I would lend it to them.Lastly, if you get attracted to the book cover which is indeed fascinating, don’t buy the book, borrow it from me!

Ever read books by Arun Joshi, Temsula Ao and the likes…

Today, I finished reading the book ‘Laburnum For My Head’ by Temsula Ao. The stories were short and crisp describing the lives of people of Nagaland. Every story was different from the other with a strong narrative. But this post is not a review of the book. After reading her book I felt compelled to write a post appreciating not only hers but the works of Indian writers and thus promoting them.

Laburnum for my Head by Temsula Ao.

I have become an avid reader since 10-12 years. In this (short) duration, I read books from authors all across the global and enjoyed devouring their contents. But I have also come to realise that sadly, like all other aspects, we undermine the talent of Indian authors too. If given a choice between two books on a topic, we prefer a foreign author. We lack the will to appreciate our own!!

We were ruled by foreigners for centuries and now our brains are ruled by their ideas and thoughts, they subtly ingrain through their writings, musings or anecdotes.

In the recent past I accidentally came across two Indian writers – Arun Joshi and now Temsula Ao; neither are their books promoted nor are they heard about in book clubs.

Though I would not make any false claims about Temsula Ao because this is just one book of hers that I completed reading today, for which she won the Padma Shree Award in 2007. But Arun Joshi, a writer from 1970s was a chance but delightful discovery. His works are crisp, well-articulated, powerful, bringing the imagery and characters to life. I have already read three novels he wrote and intend to read the rest of them in the near future.

Shashi Deshpande is another talented Indian author who won the Sahitya Akademi Award for her novel That Long Silence. She has aged and unfortunately has not written any books in the last 4-5 years. Nonetheless her previous works are a treasure trove, a treasure I have collected over the years in my personal library.

Timeri N Murari is an absolute favourite. If you want to read any of his works…borrow them from me. He has written on various topics. The novels are descriptive and the memoirs are heart warming. Though through his memoirs I have embarked on many journeys with him but I am pinning for the day when I actually meet him.

I apologise, for I got carried with the thoughts of my favourites. There are so many more writers whose works I have admired. Amongst them are Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sudha Murthy, Subroto Bagchi, J Krishnamurti, Susmita Bagchi, T Rangarajan, and many more. These Indian writers are a class apart. Their descriptions of our culture are precise and vibrant. They bring alive not only the lives of people but also bring forth Indian thoughts, insecurities and prejudices to the surface. So, indulge in the works of Indian authors (too). They may not be celebrated writers, nevertheless their writings are distinguished. Indulge in them and you’ll be delighted too!!

This post by no means tries to draw a comparison between the Indian writers and others. It is merely to draw your attention to the wealth of our country which we otherwise tend to overlook. Give our Indian authors their due and let’s be appreciative of our own. Next time, when you are out to select a book, make the effort to dig out one from the lesser known Indian authors.

Also, do share your recommendations with me. I’ll be more than happy to hear from you.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

I had ordered this much talked about book because I presumed it was related to the life of a westerner in the Himalayas and later in Tibet, which has always been the hub of Buddhism. I thought that the author had visited this place, was impressed by the lives of monks and turned into an ascetic himself.

To be very honest, I was disappointed to find none of it in the travel account of the author. And yet, I enjoyed the book. It was a fast paced book enumerating the difficulties faced by the author and his fellow inmates who escaped from a POW camp, reached Tibet and stayed there for few years.

The travel account starts while he was on an expedition to capture Nanga Parbat. He being an Austrian mountaineer, travelling in India when the second World War broke, was caught and detained as a POW in an army camp. He writes about his escape from the camp and later his difficult times in the unfamiliar and rough terrain of Himalayas while he was on the run. For days together he travelled during the night to evade capture. His adventurous streak did not let him give up in the face of adversities. Believe it or not, but it took him 20 months of arduous travel in the barren lands and mountains of Tibet to finally reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

The author gives a vivid account of life in Tibet. He was amongst one of the few westerners who were allowed to reside in Lhasa. During those days, the Tibetans did not appreciate the interferences of the outer world, be it in the form of technology or visitors, into their domain. Though the author and his friend Aufschnaiter did not get permissions to stay in Lhasa but they slowly won the hearts of Tibetans and eventually become an inseparable part of them.

The author has at leisure described the lives of monks, Regents, abbots and even the Dalai Lama. The decisions and life of people in Tibet are dominated by religion and the verdict of the Oracles. Though the Tibetans were accommodating to all other religions, none the less the supremacy of the Dalai Lama and Regents were maintained at all costs.

While in Lhasa, at one point the then 37 year old author had a strong association with the 14 year old 14th Dalai Lama which continued to grow even after he left Tibet. Heinrich, the author had the privilege to tutor the ‘God King’ in English, Maths and Geography. I wanted to know more about these meetings and their time together simply because I find Dalai Lama to be one of the most enigmatic persons in the world. The author claims that Dalai Lama was charismatic both as a person and as a literate monk even at the tender age of 14 years.

The author stayed in Lhasa for about 5 years after which he was forced to leave the country. The Red Army of China had invaded Tibet.

This travelogue has enriched me, given an insight into the lives of Tibetans and made me realise my folly – every book on Tibet or Himalayas is not related to monks and Buddhism!

White as Milk and Rice – stories of India’s isolated tribes by Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

India is not only a vast land but also unique for its diversity!! Even a lifetime is not enough to explore and experience the beauty of our country. I always felt fortunate that since my father was in the Army, we made home in the different and (mostly) secluded parts of India. Our prolonged stay gave us a close look of the culture and tradition of those places.

But when I read this book, I felt my knowledge about them was so shallow. We were posted for three years in Bangalore and never did I hear about the Halakkis of Ankola (Karnataka) or the Kurumbas of Nilgiris.

There is a distinct culture throbbing in every nook and cranny of our country. This book is a beautiful collection of stories of isolated tribes of India and gives detailed accounts of their lives. The stories are about six tribes from different regions of India – the Halakkis of Ankola, Kanjars of Chambal, Kurumbas of Nilgiris, Marias of Bastar, Khasis of Shillong and Konyaks of Nagaland.

The author enumerates the daily activities of the tribal people and the ways adopted by them to sustain life. These tribes have been living in harmony with the nature and the immediate environment. Though they lead a difficult life but they are at peace. The city life is a lure for a few and some have already taken to it.

Here again the author empathetically writes about the challenges faced while the tribal people embrace life outside their close knit tribe. They are mostly ostracised and do not find easy acceptance. Some of them thus rebel and even join the naxal movement.

This books gives insight about how looting and killing was a way of life for the Kanjars. The Maria adolescents practice sex as an institution before marriage but with rules. The Konyaks, of Nagaland took pride in killing and collecting human heads. The Halakki women sing throughout the day. Each tribe has its own religious beliefs which predominantly gives importance to forests and their produce. These Adivasis still live in forests and hills and represent the cultural wealth of our nation.

Though I enjoyed reading this book and it took me on a journey to different places but I found something amiss. I realised I was unconsciously comparing it with the writings of William Dalrymple and Gerald Durrell, which are far more impactful. Nevertheless, this book is a must have for anyone who wishes to know more about Incredible India and its people!!

I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish

Live life as it comes…and we live each day cribbing about our life!! The everyday woes, complaining about the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of Indians, the bad ass bosses, the low salaries, the arrogant maids, the demanding children… (and the list is endless!!)

Even though I have changed over the years and my tagline has become ‘Every Experience in life should make you Better and not bitter’ but given a chance, even I turn on my ‘Crib Mode’ every once in a while.

And then I read this book ‘I SHALL NOT HATE’…it moved me, it is changing my perspective of our lives in our under-developed India, better known for dirty politics, dirty roads and now the polluted environment. If you read this book by Izzeldin Abuelaish, you would realise that we are living in Jannat.

This man describes his life in Gaza Strip, where he was raised in a refugee camp, he started to work hard from the age of 5 years to support his family and later his studies. There were constant conflicts with Israel, the pain of displacement from their homeland and humiliation on the hands of Israelis and Egyptians even for basic amenities that we take for granted in India.

Everytime the Palestinians take 5 feet forward, they are thrown 15 feet backwards in an abyss. The region has witnessed numerous wars and constant unrest…and yet this man who became a doctor while fighting against all odds, remains positive. He lost his three grown up daughters to these conflicts and yet he has a heart to forgive so that he can lay the foundation of peace in this part of the world…

A must read for each one of us…

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas by Arun Joshi

It’s been a day since I finished reading the book. Though I am short of time but I am sitting down to write this review before I come out of the spell cast by this novel. Or maybe I will never come out of this spell for I, myself don’t want the magic to diminish.

This novel was recommended in a reading club and instantly I was drawn to it. There are many books in my ‘to be read’ books but this one did not end up there. I simply ordered it the very same day. I was intrigued by the title, the reviews on Goodreads and certainly drawn towards it.

It is a short novel of 176 pages but the writer manages to lure you into the world of Billy Biswas with his vivid writing and descriptions. Getting hooked to the story is inevitable.

There is a shade of normal and abnormal in each one of us. We suppress the abnormal and continue to live a normal life though we are normal only on the surface. Billy Biswas is just the opposite. He is ready to experiment the abnormal but unfortunately Billy Biswas, the weird anthropologist disappears when we he goes on a field trip to the tribal areas of Chambal.

While his friend Romi, an IAS looks for him in the interiors, the author describes these pristine places with great detail so much so that the reader unknowingly becomes a part of the journey. Together they step into the wilderness, watch the moon rise and bedazzle the treetops. The Chandtola hill takes on many hues as the narrative touches upon the supernatural.

The narrative unfolds in quick succession, afterall the author has written a thin book to narrate the unique story of Billy Biswas. It is hard to predict the pace of the novel and it also makes you traverse into the unknown. It is a thought provoking book. Though it describes the inner tussles of the protagonist, it resonates with your own feelings. Also, the author often talks about the energies in the atmosphere which are hard to define yet difficult to ignore.

This is the first time I have a read a book by the Sahitya Akademi Award Winning Author, Arun Joshi. Needless to say that I’ll be reading more of his books in the near future.

Aye Aye and I by Gerald Durrell

When I picked up this Gerald Durrell book, I realise it was yet another book about his expeditions into the wild to collect mostly the animals who were on the brink of extinction. I have written many book reviews about his expeditions so I was sure I would skip this one – afterall even though I enjoyed his writings and I would (in my thoughts) invariably pack my bags and tug along with him to breathe in the tropical humid air, witness the most pristine surroundings, meet the rare and endangered species around the world and learn techniques to catch them and breed them in captivity but nonetheless it was getting repetitive!!

But after I read this book I could not stop myself from writing about one main aspect touched upon by Gerald Durrell. In this book, the author time and again writes about his heart wrenching feelings when he witnesses the deforested areas of Madagascar. He was on a trip to catch the elusive Aye Aye there.

On the the way to his destination, everywhere he notices patches of deforested areas. Needless to say he was disappointed to see the forest cover shrink to accommodate paddy fields and agricultural land. He was of the opinion that if such destruction of forests continues, we would loose many species of flora and fauna and it would be detrimental for the whole world.

This book was written way back in 1990. And in these 30 years, the human race has not stopped itself from self destruction. We continue to cut forests and the governments continue to look away from the problem at hand. They do not intend to find a long term solution to the problem or frame stringent rules. No wonder we have lost so many invaluable plants and other creatures. We are experiencing global warming too!

I hope that we put a full-stop to our self destructive habits and minimize our carbon footprint.

Dream New Dreams by Jai Pausch

Most of us have heard about the book ‘The Last Lecture’ by Randy Pausch where he writes his account of the battle with pancreatic cancer. But have any of us read the memoir by his wife Jai Pausch?

I was fortunate enough to accidentally lay my hands on this book when the Landmark bookstore was about to close down and hence I got a deal…five books for 200 bucks!

It is just the right book for the caregiver of a terminally ill patient. We always feel sad for the dying person but how often do we realise the emotional trauma a spouse goes through in such a depressing period. The patient needs constant care due to the illness and also psychological support to accept the approaching death. Jai Pausch had to not only support her dying husband but also look after her three children, the eldest being just four and a half years when her husband’s illness was discovered. Jai was constantly juggling between chores, dealing with grief, trying to maintain her sanity and fighting to preserve a sense of stability for her family.

This memoir is frank, deep moving and inspiring. Jai opens her heart when she documents her pain, stress, loneliness, grief, healing and later a new found independence. She shares not only her traumatic times but also her will to move on in life.

Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to go back to work after the death of her husband. She could stay home with her children. She has learnt to maintain a healthy balance between the children’s needs and her own.

She continued to support pancreatic cancer education and research but more importantly she worked to foster awareness about the needs of caregivers. She had seen the lowest times in her life but that did not stop her from dreaming. And in the end she inspires each one to ‘Dream New Dreams’

“Life is a precious gift, and I don’t intend to waste a day of it. Have I experienced tragedy? Yes, I have. But it would be another real tragedy if I didn’t recover from the sadness I have felt and thus missed many happy moments along the way. Was my dream crushed? Yes, it was. And that will happen again. But when it does, I will pick up those pieces and create something new. I will always dream new dreams.”

Jai Pausch

Wari – A Collection of Manipuri Short Stories by Linthoi Chanu

This is a perfect book to give you a glimpse into the lives of Manipuri people. Even though my father was in the Army and we relocated many times, we never had the chance to go beyond Siliguri in West Bengal. So, the moment I came to know about this book, I ordered it.

The stories are short and crisp and introduce you to the culture, folklore and life of the people. I liked the way the reader is transported into a different decade altogether with each story. On one hand, the book has age-old-stories about magic, the local deities and deep cultural beliefs, on the other hand it tells stories of young gripped with substance abuse.

Amity in Queue, is yet another contemporary story about the problems faced by the Manipuris due to ‘blockade’. Well, you might ask what is a ‘blockade’? The writer has beautifully explained these aspects after each story so that the reader has a better understanding of the things unique to this state.

The writing is amateurish and seems to have many flaws. I had to reread the sentences to grasp their meaning. The writing can’t keep you engrossed but the stories makeup fo it! It is a quick read!