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Book Review: Spirits in a Jar by Sarina Kamini

Food is an integral part of any culture. From birth till death, milestones in life are often marked with celebrations – and food forms an important part of these events. Relationships are built on food. It is also an inseparable string that binds one to their roots. Food can also be cathartic, and also a great anti-depressant.

A recently-released Bengali fantasy film is also based on the concept of food driving the basic emotions of a person. So, seven spices – after the colours of the rainbow – depicted the seven basic emotions in the film. ‘Spirits in a Jar’ by Sarina Kamini takes the thought to a much bigger scale.

As the blurb of the book says, “food is love, love is faith, and faith is family.” The book recounts the tale of an Indian-Australian woman coming to terms with her mother being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She finds solace in food.

Her mother’s old cooking recipes help her heal her wounds and rediscover her Kashmiri roots. She wins over her grief and loneliness by seeking solace in spiritualism. The spices are her medium – she revisits the core beliefs of Hinduism and personalises God in her own way. In the process, she learns the value of acceptance and love.

While the book is predominantly about food, it also touches upon socio-political issues – like the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The author explores how this flight from one’s homeland bore an impact on several generations thereafter, and changed lives.

To her credit, the author has beautifully crafted the characters. Each of them are enamoured with layers and complexities of emotions – which makes it very easy for a reader to connect to them. The author has also established a complex web of emotions centred around the mother-daughter relationship. The juxtaposition of the protagonist’s relationship with her mother with that of her children gives us a glimpse into the generational shift in parenting as well.

Kashmiri food is delectable and the lovely recipes that this book has make one immensely crave for food. However, like the absence of a key spice makes a food bland, ‘Spirits in a Jar’ fails to connect with the reader beyond the food. At times it is tiring. Overall, the book serves a staple diet of rice-daal when you were expecting pulao.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Westland Books

DISCLAIMER: All Images In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
No.
By slowly becoming everything.

 

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was perhaps the first novel by a modern Indian author that I had read. It was the first book I ever bought from College Street and always remained special. The wait for her second fiction was thus a long one. Having been a regular reader of her essays and columns, one can proudly say, you might disagree with her views, but you certainly cannot stop marveling at the manner in which she puts them forth.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a story of people living on the fringes of our society. It is an ode to those who struggle, day in and day out, to survive in this world. It is a saga of resilience, of strife-torn relationships and the hope for a better tomorrow that keeps us going.

Arundhati Roy has the knack of writing the most mundane things in the most picturesque and sensuous way. There is not a moment in this book when you would feel let down. As she herself says, “the air was full of thoughts and things to say. But at times like these, only small things are said. Big things lurk unsaid.” The words, weaved with a magical charm, leave you craving for more. Anjum, Tilottama, Mussa, Miss Jeeben and others become your companion for the time.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of Kashmir. It is the story of Dandakaranya. It is the story of Jantar Mantar. It is the story of love. It is the story of longing. It is the story of acceptance. It is a story of lament. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of fulfillment.

Of course, Arundhati touches upon contemporary politics of India. From 1984 (in her own words, “how can one not remember 1984) to Gujarat ke Lalla, the Anna andolan to the mass graves and torture camps in Kashmir, she lets her angst flow in words. No, the references are not opinionated like her essays but they do strike a chord. The pain of the father writing a letter to his dead daughter at 4 AM in the morning cannot leave you unhinged. The near-death experience of Anjum in the 2002 riots would certainly leave you rattled.

Conflict is the perfect space for art. Art for the sake of it is meaningless. Arundhati Roy’s writing masters the art of conflict. That is why the unrequited love of Biplab Dasgupta garners a sigh while the love-making of Mussa and Tilottama aboard HS Shaheen transcends into a lament. “In battle, enemies can’t break your spirits. Only friends can” – only Arundhati Roy can inculcate such a profound thought in a dialogue between two lovers after sex.

Roy has the ability to turn even random constructs into deep, melancholic pronouncements. Who else could have defined a relationship as “He knew that she knew that he knew that she knew. That’s how it was between them”. Who else can have the conviction to say, “In Kashmir, the dead will live for ever; and the living are only dead people, pretending.” In fact, I am sure anyone reading this books would go over the portions of ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of English Grammar and Comprehension for Very Young Children’ again and again just so the words sink in!

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is thus an experience you wish never ended. For a society that chooses to gloss over those who do not fit in, this book is cathartic.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

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