Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Book Review – Wings of Courage by Sanjay Kumar

The blurb of Sanjay Kumar’s ‘Wings of Courage’ introduces us to Saksham, the protagonist of this novel. In the few lines there, Sanjay portrays him as a truth-seeking hero who is desperate to bring about changes in his socio-political milieu - today’s Delhi of rapes, politicians and sting operations. The introduction makes us believe that Saksham is the messiah, the ideal human with the courage, passion and fortitude, who will show us the way out of the dirt and drama that surrounds the aam aadmi. Our expectations from Saksham’s ‘quest for a more humane world’ are sky high even before we have begun reading the book!

To be honest, the story does not seem to be the point of the book, but since there is one let me give you a quick brief. 

Saksham is son to a rich business family with a group of interestingly contrasting friends in college. An MBA seems the logical next step and joining his father’s enterprise the path cut out. However, Saksham’s mind is on a different path. The initial few chapters wonderfully portray his self-examination, with existential questions like ‘Why is there so much pain in this world?’, ‘Why did I let it all happen to myself?’ and those to do with identity and the meaningless of life. Professor Sen’s class on The Golden Rule of Ethics help forward this latent thought-process to envelop within its folds the causes and effects of social evils like rape, murder and corruption. After an accident, Saksham supernaturally wakes up to a realization of a purpose so different from his comfortable living that he decides to fake his identity and work with an NGO to help those in need. With Sneha, his love, and limited time on his hands (I say no more), the scenes move from villages in Maharashtra to politicians’ living rooms to police stations to moving buses to portray places where any form of crime breathes, and how. (And which, of course, Saksham is fighting against.) The story is not a typical page-turner and moves slowly from scene-to-scene for the most part of the book, only to spiral forward in the final chapters. 

That the story was written with an intention to convey something and what it ends up conveying form the good and the bad bits of ‘Wings of Courage’, respectively.

The Good – Intention and Realism

When Saksham, at some point in the book, fails to nab a criminal, Sneha says to him: 

What we appealed for was not success or failure. It was intention. And your intention is as excellent as it can get.

The same can be said for Sanjay writing this book. In a world where market dictates everything from the book’s content to the book’s commercial success, an author deciding to create a piece of real-fiction knowing it does not fit the bill of a typical success story is extremely laudable. That is because, he had an opinion to voice to his readers; a clear-cut intention, and a seemingly personal one. Without hiccups he lays bare his own mind, as he speaks through different characters in the story. Saksham’s journey of courage is meant to make us see with clarity the muck we live in, and why we continue to live in it. It is a book with an aim that exceeds one of mere entertainment. 

Then, detailing incidents of famous crimes from New Delhi’s recent past lends the book with a realism so dark we just cannot ignore it as fiction. Each incident is used to point at larger issues of citizen responsibility, apathy of the authorities and role of the media – the three top themes which rule the discussion roost on social media these days. It is this that makes the book a relevant contemporary read, for those who feel ‘shackled by the inertia of your self-imposed ineptitude’. For some, like it was for Saksham, seeing the idea of ‘evolution is action’ in action may just be very inspiring.

The Bad – Supernatural and Tilted Opinion

Two broad ideas make the book falter in its intent - the use of the supernatural and the lop-sided anti-establishment fervour. Let me explain them in detail.

Sanjay Kumar includes a supernatural element in his plot as a backdrop to his whole novel. To me this angle was completely  not required. Saksham, before his accident, is already thinking along the lines of serving others and solving crimes. Why Saksham needed to go on a ‘mission’ with the ‘Almighty’ escapes me, as does the complete illiteracy which the creator of the world projects about a world He Himself created. (The very human Dr. Sen knows more about the world than He does. Foreknowledge is dead!) Then, the conversations between Him and Saksham either read like essays on environment or surveys of global NGOs. The supernatural dilutes the realism that the rest of the book rests on and adds a degree of implausibility which ends up relegating Saksham to a super-hero’s avatar; almost borrowed from a movie and probably where the cover of the book was picked from.

Thinking. Is this the author’s way of saying we cannot have a humane and compassionate living being fighting for injustice without divine intervention? That for all Sakshams to pronounce ‘my life has finally found a purpose’ with an awakened conscience on hospital beds we need none other than God Himself? I don’t know!

The over-arching opinion that the book is largely propagating can be summed up as – anti Government (‘evil minds’), pro society (helpless pawns) and saintly NGOs. Which is to say, the enjoyable opinion that you and I love to share over gins and Tweets as we forget citizens' role and put the onus on those in authority for rape, murder and corruption. Sanjay makes all efforts to redeem society, to the extent that while the word ‘corruption’ is used numerous times (and often in the same breath as rape and murder) the word ‘bribe giver’ is not, not even once. Sanjay hangs all the blame on constitutional failures of politicians, parties, police and whole governments. Except a stray ‘we have learnt to betray our hearts’ for a society which turns its face away on seeing a naked rape victim on the road, Sanjay’s book seems uncannily unwilling to hold a mirror to all aspects of humanity. With similar naivety NGOs have been aggrandized beyond any dubiousness. The anti-government fervour comes down like a house of cards when at various places you realize that governments are in fact doing what he is making NGOs do in the book. 

Sweeping brush strokes like saying that within the police service ‘authority is favoured over rational and creative thinking’ and that for our leaders ‘it is a perfect world for them already; they have all the luxuries they ever wished for. For them, changing the world is like shooting in their own foot’ make the opining seem simplistic. The author in turn seems to want to create two homogenous sects - of Authority on one side and People on the other. Is that possible, really?

The only thing I wanted to know now was what alternatives the book was offering to do with all that is amiss with the country. Which then takes me to a very grey area of the book!

The Grey – When courage means to kill

For all the talk and deeds of conscience and humanity that the book begins with, in Saksham and in Prof. Sen it strangely ends up endorsing cold-blooded murder in the name of justice. If the book was a self, this would be its contradiction. This also seems to be the only ‘solution’ that we are being offered against corrupt politicians or for juvenile rapists who have been allowed to walk free. 

It may with you, but this ‘freedom fighter’ idea does not agree with me. I have a problem with donning a Bhagat Singh mask and shooting at will. Because, isn’t letting a well-meaning citizen shoot down a criminal (who the courts set-free) actually a creation of an alternative system of individual authority which is as arbitrary and whimsical as the judicial system is made out to be? (When I say Khaps, do you understand what I mean?) 

Each Youtube video that Saksham creates to rouse the public conscience is so similar to political speeches and those of inspirational gurus that one cannot help but smile at the irony, especially because a murderer by all constitutional standards was now propagating (I quote) ‘meaningful action’ and ‘virtue of humanity’.  The final nail of irony is hammered down when Saksham, the police man who murdered at will, pronounces at the end of the book – ‘Are we more answerable to our seniors than our Constitution and our duty?’ 

Thus, when I finally read Saksham’s solution to eradicating the evils that beset us (‘crime, corruption and bad governance’) I could only read in wonderment him using ‘the path of moral constitution – humanity, unity and excellence’ as a way forward. Or laugh when, in his defence, he equates killing as an act of violence with embezzlement, inefficient governance, polluting rivers, mediocre health facilities, etc.  

While I was still undecided if Sanjay had tried to create an anti-hero in Saksham, I realized it had become impossible for me to read the message in this bottle any more.


Never before have I felt the need to recommend a book I had so many problems with as ‘Wings of Courage’. I recommend it precisely because its ideas and opinions, theories and solutions and even armchair idealism need to be read about, mulled over and discussed and discussed. It promises to provoke your thoughts and at so many places provokes to be discussed (look how long this review is). Pick it up to see where you stand in the grand scheme of things, for as it sums up our surroundings for us it might just prove to be a call for action for those who agree with Sanjay’s version. 

For me, ‘Wings of Courage’ failed to rise above popular opinions seen in social media forums to give the reader a thought-out judgement of why what ails our society and how we can get rid of it. It is for this reason that I say the book is not for a niche audience but actually for all of us who like to discuss a little bit of sarkar with our morning cups of tea! 

Author: Sanjay Kumar
Publisher: Notion Press

[The review was commissioned by the author. The views are my own.]

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Ab Montu Bolega; A campaign by Strepsils

What’s new? Montu!

Montu is someone who speaks his heart out, you know as they say ‘Khol Ke Bolo!’ He is someone who cares not only for himself but also for those around him, and so he speaks up for what is right! Is he you? Could be, why not! There is a Montu in all of us. We all, in our little ways, can motivate New India to raise their voices for the good of others and speak fearlessly. 

But Montu, as a face of the youth of India, needed a face. That is where actor Saqib Saleem of “Mere Dad Ki Maruti” and “Hawaa Hawaai” became him, in order to lend his voice to the recently-launched campaign “Ab Montu Bolega”.

The Campaign

As the global leader in consumer health and hygiene, RB (formerly called Reckitt Benckiser), has launched a new campaign on Strepsils “Ab Montu Bolega” – a digital campaign encouraging people to speak their mind with a ‘healthy voice’. Love the connection how Strepsils, the leading sore throat medicine, is encouraging people to speak their mind without any inhibitions.

Bollywood celebrity, Saqib Salim, steps down from his starry pedestal to become just another man-next-door, called Montu, who expresses himself to family, friends and colleagues san any inhibitions. The campaign captures his journey through various interesting situations in his life where Strepsils provides him with a healthy voice and courage to speak up on issues which matter the most to the youth today.

The campaign is digital at heart and resides on an exclusive online platform www.abmontubolega.com.

The aim of the Campaign

The campaign is essentially a platform to connect, build trust and help create support for citizens to speak up for what they think is right! The entire campaign is designed keeping in mind the few most important pillars of our society like Education, Women Safety/Empowerment, Environment, Infrastructure, Cricket and many more.

So, would you too like to join Montu in his honesty, fearlessness and will to help others?

Visit for more – www.abmontubolega.com
Find out what's up on - www.facebook.com/strepsilsindia

Friday, 17 October 2014

The fault in our laughs, on Karvachauth

Let me begin this post by a status update Sfurti Sinha shared on the morning of the Karvachauth fast. 

Whether I am fasting or not - NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Whether my husband is fasting or not - NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. My life is mine, not yours. You are not in my marriage. Freedom and equality in true sense means choosing whatever I want to do, whatever makes sense to me. There is a fine line between having an opinion and sounding judgemental. Your opinions should be the basis your life, they shouldn't sound like a judgement on others.

On a day when she had much else to take care of, Sfurti was ‘driven’ to vent publicly thus. If I wasn’t around in the same place last year, I would not have understood why. But I was. So in a way, I have been meaning to write this post since a year now. I waited because I wanted to see if rituals other than Karvachauth garnered loud amused laughter too. Not that I noticed any and certainly not equal in magnitude to the humour that surrounds a woman observing a fast for her husband. 

Here is me now, thinking aloud.

Humour is important. We have all read its various forms in different genres of different media. For instance, Theatre has used ‘uncomfortable laughter’ in the audience as a way to hold a mirror to their lives – political, social and even marital. Slapstick comedy shows a man slipping on a banana peel with similar intent; it could be you up there. Scatological references make us laugh because shit and spit is best seen on the other’s person. On television, we see stand-up humour including in its funny tentacles commentary on the government, the news channels and the entertainment industry.

While humour in the various arts was named and came with a larger purpose, the picture in the tweeting-updating social media is often like a mock-epic of what was once classic. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is no crime, but then really, what may be the point? Except wondering at the end of a virally-sharing day - whose line was it anyway?

On Karvachauth day, it doesn’t take much to realize that loose laughter is not just directed at the patriarchal ritual of fasting for a husband. The butts of the jokes become the women following it. Those laughing? The women who do not believe in it, of course. While what’s between the husband and the wife stays where it is supposed to, between them, everything else associated with Karvachauth occupies centre stage and space in the minds of those who have half-baked ideas about the ritual and none whatsoever about the fasting woman’s idea of it.

Thinking …

Is poking fun the best way to ‘guide’ a woman out of a deep-rooted patriarchal discourse? Isn’t it as unfair a ‘peer pressure’ as was given to her by those who made her embrace those traditions in the first place? How does our lackadaisical ‘promotion’ of an antithetical thought-process towards a redundant tradition differ in lack-of-substance from the stoical one of far Right. Are we, in our fun and games, creating but a poorer alternative even if at the other end of the spectrum? It is for this reason that I liked #FastForHer movement. It did nothing to do away with the day. But for now, it got men into the fray. A constructive step towards re-examining the necessity of it all by being a part of it. From inside the circle. A much better, more understanding way, to reverse trends. More sensitive too. 

Because …

We are not providing that line-towing woman sensible alternatives to a symbolism codified over generations, one she has believed in and which provides her with comfort. A kitty of jokes may get us a few giggling followers, but nothing more. The shell we want to break is built on three very thick layers – obedience, belief and comfort. If we are so desperate to break it, we'll need to know more about it.

But, why do we laugh?

Are we, in the larger scheme of things, trying to show her sense or poke fun at what we see as obsoleteness that she surrounds herself with? A bid of one-upmanship and modernity, maybe.  At the same time, furthering lines of difference based on our ideas of modern and ancient, tradition and revolution. Disservice is what we are doing, by making her feel outdated, conscious, stuck and worst of all outcast in lobbies which don’t fast. When the idea of feminism grew this mocking army amidst all the painstakingly-built theories and practice I know not, but I wish we remember what the movement we so glibly use essentially stood for. One word – Choice, as Sfurti’s status above signifies. 

Interestingly …

The tray that a woman carries for her Karvachauth puja holds a few symbols of matrimony. Most of those objects are found in most women’s dressing drawers that you and I anyway may use as a matter of routine, or during festive times. The difference is, she wants to spend a day with them while you may freely reserve the biggest bindis for your designer saris or Durga Puja times. (Yes, you may include that idea of a parlour visit in this, which for so many is one of the greatest social outlets in a year). To not eat is not so much of a suffering as it is made out to be, that too by those who are eating their three meals anyway. Concern doesn’t mock. It helps. But first, it has to try to understand what is wrong to understand the ‘victim’ of it all.

Did you who jest know … 

We don’t have to dress up as brides on Karvachauth. We don’t need to use sieves to look at the moon. Henna is not compulsory and neither is touching the husband's feet. I blame popular media for propagating limited understanding of this tradition. Which does mean, more groundwork needs to be done before the laughing party decides to become a mouthpiece carrying the cause of fasting women on its shoulders.

Manjulika did this for her mother-in-law.
Tanya created 'American Karvas'.

I think … 

Humour cannot alone help cut through years of nurture. Not even shake the idea of obedience to elders and fear of Gods; especially for rituals created around husbands’ well-being, because they are based on a relationship. It also will never stand ground against the idea of Choice, which women like me make when we decide to fast or not fast. If we are to liberate minds, we need to show them how our freedoms are worthy of emulation. In all the mindless cackling, the voices of sanity who seek to deliver women from coerced and oppressive rituals get drowned and lost. 

We need to question traditions to see how they affect gender narratives and we need to reinvent some of them to better suit the changing times, or do away with those which we no longer agree with. How we do it is the point, and the key to it is in each one of our hands or in our homes.  Read these lines shared by Hrishikesh Bawa:

Fasting does not lead to anything … Love and respect for each other is more important," said a woman’s mother-in-law to herI think a hero is not just the guerilla rebel. Sometimes, she is the one who is a part of the system too. Likewise, the one who impulsively jumps out of the ancient window might just have been a hasty fool.

This was probably my last year of observing this fast. My husband’s tank of patience with it is full. I no longer have to give company to my mother-in-law – in deed or in spirit – by not eating with her and enjoying the evening katha too. Next time, I will probably go to the other side of the fence, well aware of what made me follow the Karvachauth ritual and promising myself not to forget it. Perhaps, that will help me remain sensitive towards those who wish to do as they please.

Because you know as well as I do how private choices get played with on public trampolines all in the name of jest.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Community Service - Your entire community — however you define that; your hometown, your neighborhood, your family, your colleagues — is guaranteed to read your blog tomorrow. Write the post you’d like them all to see.]

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