What I am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow: Conversation With Survivors of Abuse, Nighat M. Gandhi: A Review


When I met Nighat M Gandhi at Svaraj Vidyapith, Allahabad, I knew nothing of her. And that was a great misfortune. Discussing mental health in women, the taboos and troubles associated with it, Nighat’s discussion along with other members of Stree Mukti Sangathan and participants of the discussion group Prabodhan, opened our minds to look at this struggle of women’s azadi (freedom), mispronounced by many, including the government as empowerment, in a context that remains unmentioned. The hysterias, depressions, anxieties, PTSDs, eating disorders that women develop are pushed under the rug rather than being acknowledged.

There is more chance of a woman in India suffering from mental illness to be beaten or tortured by a tantrik as compared to men. Mental illness in women is seen as advent of the Goddess and this Goddess needs to be subdued. She is dragged by her hairs, tied in chains and beaten. Men, on the other hand, get to see a doctor and if the people around him are extremely superstitious, he is worshipped, never beaten or tortured.

Coming back to Nighat, she is the citizen of a nation, divided by colonialism and united by its mutual struggle for liberty. Nighat was born in pre-independent Bangladesh (East Pakistan), her parents moved to Pakistan in 1971 and later she moved to India. As a woman, a mental health counsellor in a smallish town like Allahabad, a Muslim and a Pakistani Muslim* at that, married to a Hindu in India, the questions she might be facing, the suspicious looks and stares and glares she might be getting and the things she might be hearing, and more so in these trying times of nationalistic jingoism would be enough to drive her to become a reluctant fundamentalist or an angry cynic at the least. But she remains a humble and jovial figure, hospitable, considerate and willing to fight for herself and women around her.

But why am I talking about Nighat when I should be discussing her book? You are here to read the review of course not a character analysis. I understand and respect that. This conversational book, both figuratively and literally, has elements of Nighat’s ponderings on her identity, her place in society, her responsibilities as a feminist and an activist and place of spiritualism in her life. And thus it becomes quite important to look at the narrator’s life in respect to her characters. As a privileged woman, compared to those whom Nighat interviews, what are the challenges she faces? And are they same as those of the interviewed? Do they share a spectrum where they both could stand equally as women challenging patriarchy or there are certain subtle differences between them?

What does it mean to be a woman? The question is persistently present throughout the book. It is asked again and again through its eight main characters and other subsidiary characters, through its narrator and writer, who happen to be same, and through the reader who becomes a witness to the lives of nine women, eight interviewed and one interviewing. The question is many-layered and each layer is deeper and more potent than the one before it. With its flexible ideas of womanhood and motherhood, the stories of lives of eight women progress to a culminating point from where they look back upon the journey they took. The milestones that came across their path, the trees that sheltered them and the thorns that pierced their skin, all are laid bare. Do the women smile or regret their decisions? You need to read What I Am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow to find that out.

A woman is not born but made, said so that great sassy feminist Simone de Beauvoir to whom all of us look with reverence when we discuss the feminist issues. Who do we look to in the Indian context? The Indian feminist movement is very different from that going around in the west. The thing to note here is that, by India we mean Indian subcontinent. The struggle of freedom of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh was same, same was their oppression and same is their continued struggle of azadi. Indian women did not have to fight for the right to vote like the women in west. It was granted to them. They did fight for independence, no doubt. But like most Indians they were told that they have achieved what they were fighting for. And they believed.

What’s interesting about What I Am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow is that despite being research based it has no academic jargon. It is a collection of wonderful tales of courage, resilience, bravery and strong will wonderfully and simply told. The will to strive, to seek and not to yield these women show once they leave their abusive marriages is inspiring and though not everything these women do is to challenge patriarchy, their struggles against it do define those of women who suffer silently. It gives them hope and a little affirmation that the quest of women’s azadi is not in vain.

This feminist tale of eight women and their struggles to forge a path for themselves is a must read.

If you liked this review, please check others here.

  • After Nighat read this piece she mentioned that she considers herself more of a South Asian than a Pakistani. In her own words, “I would still assert that I am a South Asian…..but if you insist on using Pakistani……you place limits on who I want to be.

“[P]ersonally, I’ve never been subjected to hatred in all the years I’ve lived in India. [T]he subject of curiosity and questioning [I] may be, but hatred, never.”

I agree with her completely.

An Ideal Wife, Sanjay Grover: A Review


Let’s begin by saying this is not my kind of book. Whose kind it is, we will come to that a little later. Let me first tell you how I came to review this book. Sanjay Grover, the author of ‘An Ideal Wife’ is a Facebook friend and had posted asking if someone wanted to review the book. I volunteered. When the eBook came to me, I was quite busy with my papers and had to wait a little while to read it. And when I read it, I read it in three sittings.

Now, the story begins and a series of jokes are cracked which range from normal to misogynistic to homophobic. There are more jokes to come through the book, and a lot of them would be misogynistic. Let me also point out that misogynism is so subtle and deeply embedded in our society, that many people do not know they are being blatantly misogynistic. [I’ve used misogynism four (now five) times in this paragraph, it’s more deeply embedded than that in our society, and most of the time it’s not, as I said, clearly visible.]

If it was just the idea, I could have still said it was a good book, like most of us agree that despite being blatantly racist and slavery apologist, ‘Gone With The Wind’ is a classic. But the language has some discrepancies as well. It feels too verbose at times, the author tries very hard to be funny at places and the dialogue tags halt you at places. The dialogues are sometimes conversational, at other times, not so much. There is although a redeeming factor about the language. Many colloquial terms, Mumbai terms, and famous Hindi phrases have been added, which add a flavour to the book, which if, would have had been combined with a little sensivity in portryal of ideas and characters, would have made a wonderful book. Which reminds me, the story is good, it lacks sensitivity of course, but it is good.

Another good thing of story has to do with representation of police, criminals and their inter-personal relationships. It is complex and brutally honest.

Sameer, the hero, is a cool macho man. And easily fits into the definition of masculinity which popular media has constructed over the years. Athelete? Check. Handsome? Check? Lover of the elderly and children? Check. Helping collegues? Check. The woman he proposes rejects and ‘friendzones’ him? Check. He is, in short, a typical Bollywood hero.

The story has many troubling scenes to offer (which are supposed to be funny). Example: ‘There was a decidedly feminine flick of his hand as he said this, and I couldn’t help but smirk at that.’ Message: Being feminine is bad, degrading and of course, funny, even in heaven. But the scene is more complex than the blunt statement I made. See, the person who says the above dialogue is a dwarf God, no, not as in ‘less powerful’ but as in ‘physically small’. He is often mocked by other Gods and God aspirants (there is whole lot of politics going on in heaven, which is in quite the similar fashion as of Indian politics and thus a powerful satirical comment on Indian political scenario), yes, even by the feminine male God.

This discrimination reminded me so powerfully of yet another such scene. Minal Hajratwala in her ‘Summer, Manhattan’ writes,

 

“On a doorstep a black man shouts at two white men.

Sitting close together: ‘I dont’t want no homos in my

neighbourhood , go on over to the West Side.’

A white man shouts back: ‘You calling me a homo, you

Fucking nigger.’”*

 

Whether Sanjay does this intentionally or unintentionally is yet another issue, so is the fact that this discrimination is not as explicit to show that it is discrimination but done in such a way as to induce humour. What Sanjay achieves here is that he manages to show, even if unintentionally, that we all discriminate, even Gods.

I’m not sure if I’m revealing the story, my motto is not to, but this story needs to be dissected as it raised many questions for me. Ironically, this was supposed to be a light reading, a fun story. Some of the things which are funny according to author are, a man being touched and groped by women in public, and of course since his wife ‘isn’t jealous’, she laughs, a woman wanting to have sex is also funny, and her husband like a sanskari (cultured/traditional) man is embarrassed by her unsatiable sexual drive, he even wakes up screaming he doesn’t want sex.

The fact that almost all men ogle at women, more so if they are ‘beautiful’ (which is taken to mean tall, thin, white and/or other media advertised characteristics) is present in the book and it is uncomfortable only to the woman’s husband because she is ‘his’ (Grammar lesson, that’s a possessive pronoun) wife. Men can and do comment on (read ‘catcall’) women and again it’s not a problem to anyone. According to the storylne, not even to the women. (Yeah, I know!) But that’s the problem with us. We don’t see the problem.

You may be wondering if the book was as horrible, as I say, why did I even finish it? But then it was, as I had said, not totally horrible. It is funny at places. A Bollywood masala story, not Ekta Kapoor style, thankfully, but of course in the line with those hit stories which claim to be different. I’d like to maintain, however, that the hero is a douchebag and remains that till the end.

Should you  read it? That’s totally up to you. If you are comfortable with what popular media shows, you will love this book. It has that plus Gods and politics. If you can get around the problems I mentioned, you will ‘like’ this book. It is, after all, supposed to be a fun read and to some extent it is. But if the representation of ideas and characters is troubling to you, you’ll be baffled yet again at popular media.

One last thing, I do not know how I feel about using a product name (positively and of course with a view to promote it, and in case you were wondering, a matrimonial website) in a book. But then, market factors are influencing a lot of things. Many movies do that. Why not books?

*Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction by Pramod K. Nayar

Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell: A Review


Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

But what if even that isn’t granted? What if the oppressive regime wants not only that two plus two do not make four but also that if they so desired it would mean five?

Dear friends, Nineteen Eighty Four happens to be the most challenging book I have read so far. Challenging, not in the story or plot structure (though that is very well construed and I will talk of that quite later) nor in the language, which by the way was lucid and fluid, but in the ideas. The ideas are so strong and the world view it represents so scary that no matter how you try to find a way out, you fail. You are bound to fail. And it’s scary because it’s true.

Thoughtcrime, already exists. Not in seemingly undemocratic countries of Middle East or Africa* but even in a fast developing country like India (it does exist in European countries and America but it’s so subtle that many inhabitants fail to see). Don’t believe me? Ask Urdu writers. National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), has recently asked the writers to sign an agreement which in essence states that concerned writer will not criticize either the government or the nation-state, if they wish to seek its favours.**

 

Let’s although focus on the course of book and not on current political scenarios across the globe which at best could be described quite trumpish. The story begins as many stories often begin with our protagonist’s life and we see the world through his viewpoint and come to sympathize with him. There is love. Not the way we have known it but differently. And love itself is a rebellion, a force potent enough to threaten the Party, to bring it to its ruin.

What Orwell achieves magnificently in the story is that we know this is not a happily ever after story and yet the charm and hope is so strong, the faith in human nature is so strong that we believe that no matter what something good will happen. It is only after three fourth of the book is over that we realize there is no good in this story and all that appeared to be good was a malignant trap.

For those of you who haven’t read Nineteen Eighty Four, my review may seem as absurd as possible because there is too much to say and the story is so complex that you cannot understand or fully appreciate it unless you read it yourself. Oh boy! I sound like the supporter of IngSoc. You cannot, they say, fully appreciate the ideas of English Socialism if your view was formed before the Revolution. The socialism of this dystopian world is not only totally different than the ideals of socialism but in fact opposite and contradictory.

A masterful and savage criticism of the then political scenario and the path it was taking, Nineteen Eighty Four may have spoken directly to all those who speak of freedom and equality. Even today, it stands very relevant. People do get picked up by police and military and are never found. Not in North Korea or Somalia (prejudice again!) if that’s what you were thinking but in America, Russia, Britain, India, China, you get the picture. Precisely the reason why Harold Pinter’s masterful play The Birthday Party remains relevant. (On a totally irrelevant note, I am in contact with someone who has worked with Harold Pinter and next year I may announce something huge. Don’t jinx it though. OK, you can.)

What we see in Nineteen Eighty Four is not only a scathing criticism of the Socialist-Communist regime but it goes a step further than Animal Farm, which showed the evils of a Communist regime, and we face the fact which we somehow always knew that all revolutions are bound to fail to fulfill the promises they made. French Revolution with its promise of equality, liberty and fraternity gave way in the long run to Napoleon, Industrial Revolution with its promise of eradication of unemployment and widespread prosperity paved way for the extreme pollution that we see, Enlightenment with all its Scientific Revolutions made possible the weapons of mass destructions.

I know, I know you will say I am looking at the revolutions from a rather crooked angle but the fact of the matter is that it is true that any revolution which involves violence no matter how subtle and small is bound to fail. Only a completely non-violent, which is rather a negative term, and I am looking for a more positive term which would mean a revolution guided by compassion and love and people who are willing to adapt to different ideals as the time might be; would be able to fulfill its promises.

To the people who have read the book I think I am making sense, to those who haven’t read it believe me I’m not praising the book without meaning. I’m quite vocal about the books I don’t like, I still haven’t read that nightmare of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Even Fifty Shades with all its shitty grammar and horrible writing couldn’t deter me from not finishing it. (Okay fine, that just means I’m a creepy pervert, but still.) I have been thinking about Nineteen Eighty Four predominantly ever since I finished it. Twice. In a row. Even while I was reading Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja, which is a wonderful and powerful narrative of atrocities done by majority on minority.

Though it [Lajja] gets quite boring when it starts presenting statistics. Horrifying of course, but boring. No one picks a novel for a list of names and numbers of people killed, tortured or abused. There are reports for that, more reliable and specific. I pick a novel for story and fluent language. Lajja has a story, not a very outstanding or beautiful one, but a story nonetheless. I can’t say about the language as I read it in English and not in original language it was written, Bengali. And the translator I believe did not do a very good job. All the hype around it maybe because of it has been banned in Bangladesh. I found it an average book and not a masterpiece as has been often claimed.

Ah look! A review within a review. I’m not sorry at all. What did you expect from me? A normal review? Yeah, that’s not happening.

And while we were discussing language, Nineteen Eighty Four has immensely beautiful and poignant prose, almost poetic. It moves stealthily and rhythmically and the reader is captivated in some sort of trance at the choice of words. Here are a few examples:

‘…he sank as suddenly as though the [bullet] holes had let in the water…’

‘It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried the human heritage.’

‘All this march up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour.’

‘The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour.’

‘To die hating them, that was freedom.’
So do our characters die hating them? Read to find out! Because this is one book you mustn’t not read.

Like this? Check my other reviews here. Oh and please hit share if you loved this. Or not. Whatever. I’m not desperate. ~makes puss in boots eyes~

*I am not saying that these countries are more undemocratic than others, that’s just a prejudice I am invoking to make a point. And by ‘undemocracy’ I mean violation of principles of equality, liberty and fraternity which happens all over the world.

**This clause was taken back before this article went online.

 

Daughter of the Drackan by Kathrin Hutson: A Review


ISBN: 0692549757
ISBN-13: 978-0692549759 (Exquisite Darkness Press)

Product Description on Amazon: Book One of Gyenona’s Children, born of humans, but raised by beasts, who despises the legacy of men, Keelin is the only one who can redeem, or destroy the future of both races. Keelin is the only human fledgling, weaned by the Drackans, of the High Hills and given their instincts, ferocious strength, and fierce hatred for humankind. But even the Drackans closest to her cannot explain why she has violent blackouts from which she wakes covered in blood. A desperate, reckless search for the source of this secret brings her face to face with the human world and memories from a locked away past, long forgotten. Keelin becomes a terrifying legend among human assassins, while she hunts for answers, and the human realm’s high king is murdered. While a sickly steward hides within crumbling walls, commanding her every move with a magic he should not possess, Keelin’s journey to track him down threatens her loyalty to the Drackans who raised her. The rogue who crosses her own terrifying bloodlust and forcing her to consider that there may be something human about her after all. Mother of the Drackan, Book Two of Gyenona’s Children is set to release in early 2016.

About the Author from Amazon: Kathrin Hutson has been writing Fantasy and Sci-Fi for the last fifteen years. She started the two book Fantasy series, Gyenona’s children, in 2007 and has finally brought it to the world of Indie Authors! In addition to writing dark and enchanting fiction , Kathrin spends the other half of her time as an Independent Editor through her company KLH CreateWorks as Chief Editor for Collaborative Writing Challenge, and as Editing Director for Rambunctious Ramblings Press, Inc. She finds just as much joy and enthusiasm in working closely with other fiction authors on their incredible novels as she does in writing her own. Kathrin lives in California with her husband and two dogs, Sadie and Bucewillis, and is constantly on the lookout for other upcoming authors, great new books, and more people with whom to share her love of words.

Sidenote: Kat is a wonderful person, charming in conversation and witty. The kind of author you would like to have morning tea with, on a balcony overlooking the winding road, on both sides of which stand tall and leafy trees.
Meet Kathrin on Facebook, LinkedIn and her Website or visit her blog here.
I am sort of at a loss as to what to say about this enchanting book. Keeping up with the policy to not reveal anything of the story from my side and yet give you a satisfactory review seems to be hard for this book. It has so much passion, thrill, adventure, emotions, that it’s impossible to say anything without revealing some part of the story. But, I’ll try my best.

Daughter of the Drackan, Book One of The Gyenona’s Children is not only a dark fantasy but a saga of love and friendship, journey of not only our heroine Keelin in search of her roots but also of a woman in finding her dreams and her desires. It is a story of a woman above anything else and though she finds this world strange and unfit for her, she struggles with ease. It would be no exaggeration to say that for her one look, civilizations will fall, because they will.

But let me not give away too much!

There are some books which start with a prologue and then there are some which do not. My own book Droṇyāksha and The Rise of Asuras has a prologue. Some people like to read them and some don’t. Also there are some good written prologues which excite the readers and some which bore them. Kathrin’s prologue is one of its kind. Crisp and to the point. It throws off all our whims of earlier non-concentration of a book reading and makes us want to plunge deeper into the book. So let’s plunge in!

Drackans are, as you may have guessed from the book cover (which I do not like AT ALL, I love the title though and the text on cover is mind-blowing) a variant of Dragons (and a quick Google search shows that they have been known to the world for quite some time). They have some interesting features which would be revealed throughout the book, their galak is fascinating and Keelin’s acquiring of one is a story worth rooting for. The Drackans are much more than Dragons. They communicate through telepathy and have an organized living. What was not so attractive for me was, their use of colour to talk. Yes, they send green, red, blue, yellow, orange to show their emotions.

The action sequences of the book are carved as tactfully as can be. The jumps, the attacks, the movements, the turns, the kills were all breath-taking and fast-paced, thrilling and enchanting. It was, and I know I’m going a little overboard, but it was a 3-D experience. Not only the characters, but everything, the wind, the city, the animals, all were developed with much care and had unique arcs.

There is something else which you must know before you get the book (and Thou shalt get the book), which is, you’ll love how Keelin and Kaht-Avmir are one and the same person and yet when you see deeply in their characters, they are somehow different, opposites. One is rejected another almost revered. One is feared another belittled. One is the weakest, another strongest. Who? Find out!
But before you do, I just wanted to share some of the lines which pulled a string in my heart:

I don’t think I have read any better descriptions of humans than this!
They were arrogant and selfish, bent on guarding their possessions and struggling for power in both offensiveness and volume.

And all of us know this to be true!
Dogs were easily much smarter than humans.

Beautiful description:
The sun sank as a heavy heart behind the mountains,…

True that!
Most of the world was simple, ignorant, and could not see the importance of finer things.

But don’t get the idea that humans are shown as lowly creatures only, there are many characters, strong and resolute, complex and brave, and they will take you along on a fun-filled ride that this book is.
When I read that Kathrin queried for over two years and traditional publishers rejected her, all I could say was, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’ It is one of those books which I’ll have on my TBR shelf at least twice. And if you know anything about me, that’s way TOO much. To give you an idea, Harry Potter had been there thrice and Pride and Prejudice five.

So yes, I can’t literally wait for Book Two and though I love Winter more than anything else, I am wishing for it to come and go as soon as it can because in Spring comes the Mother of The Drackan!

Care to read other reviews? Here you go!

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster — A Review


I know this is way more than late but as I had said I was very busy writing my novel Droṇyāksha and The Rise of Asuras which is coming along very nicely. I have sent first 20K+ words to a few close friends and the answer is more than encouraging. In the meantime I read Lord of The Rings and The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi! I may do a review of the latter later. I also read Inferno by Dan Brown and am currently reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Here now is what you have been waiting for, a great review of a great book, ‘A Passage to India’!

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In my review of Tranquility by Laurie Gardiner and in a self-defaming post I mentioned I am reading ‘A Passage to India’ and am planning to give a review of it in as much detail as I can. E. M. Forster has managed to captivate his readers and deliver an enchanting tale in this 300 + page novel set in British India of 1920s. Though many would have already read it I am quite sure some of you have not, so relax because there will be no spoilers. I intend to keep and if possible increase your desire to read the book.

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The language is rich and fluid. Easily capturing the mood and scenario of Indian mindset under British rule and exposing the hypocrisy of the ruling class. Our main characters are Dr. Aziz, Mr. Fielding, Ms. Quested and Mrs. Moore. But other characters that come maintain a strong hold and play their parts wonderfully. Those of you who are serious about writing must read this as it shows how characters develop and undergo various changes in course of the novel. There is perhaps no villain or if there is one, it would be different for everyone who reads it.

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E. M. Forster worked on this novel for nine years and this was his last novel. Why he did not write anything else after this is not very clear. Scholars have given conflicting views and it is not easy to accept any view as truthful. The remark of Forster himself could be accountable. He claimed he had become bored with the novel form. If that is true, though highly improbable, we could understand why he decided not to write further.

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The book is dedicated to Syed Ross Mahood, former chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and friend and student of Forster. Forster was in love with Mahood and Mahood being heterosexual could not reciprocate his feelings. Though Mahood was not his only love interest, he surely held massive impact on Forster’s thoughts and writing. The frustrated relationship of Mr. Feilding and Dr. Aziz is seen by some scholars to be an echo of Forster’s relation with Mahood. But I disagree. There is no doubt a frustration in the relationship of two friends in the novel and it may reflect to some extent the relationships of Mahood and Forster but it is not an echo of the writer’s relationship with his friend, as nothing I read and interpreted gives this idea.

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Let’s now talk on other aspects of the book. ‘Echo’ when you read this novel will stand out to you, it’s a word that slowly takes form of a character, not a comforting one and certainly not a villain but a disturbing one. You will not hate this new character but I doubt you will love it either. Your best hope would be to hope for a lingo. You would wait and when you would reflect on what have you just read I’m quite certain ‘echo’ will stand out to you.

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One of the prominent questions of the novel is, ‘Is it possible for an Englishman and an Indian to be friends?’ The friendship of our two main characters goes through a lot and can by no means be called ideal. The question is one of ethnicity, can two people with different mindsets and different backgrounds be friends? My experiences have been varied. I have found wonderful people both outside and inside my community who I can call friends and yet the question is still poignant. Once you read the book and analyze other motifs and themes, please do come back to this theme and give a thought. I would love to hear from you.

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One of my friends said she did not like the book, now her reasons were solid and so I must tell you if you are not into reading anything like this which is now at least hundred years old you must stay away. Although the story becomes more potent and charming for it has survived the test of time and still rings true to many.

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There is a charge regarding the mention of Indians as stereotypical. This charge holds some value as the characters are not entirely as the writers has shown but leverage can be given to him if he has stayed true to the story form which he had, and developed the characters well, which again he had.

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I have certainly mentioned some of my favorite lines from the book but that’s not it. I have tons of it and here are another few ones:

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* Opening his eyes, and beholding thousands of stars, he could not reply, they silenced him.

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* You can’t eat your cake and have it, even in the world of spirit.

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* There is no such person in existence as the general Indian.

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* There is no God but God doesn’t carry us far through the complexities of matter and spirit; it is only a game with words, really, a religious pun, not a religious truth.

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* You cannot say “The rose is faded” for evermore. We know it’s faded. Yet you can’t have patriotic poetry of the “India, my India” type, when it’s nobody’s India.

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* There is something in religion that may not be true but has not yet been sung.

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* One man needs a coat, another a rich wife; each approaches his goal by a clever detour.

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* God si Love. Is this the final message of India?

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* ‘I am an Indian at last,’ he thought standing motionless in the rain.

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* The air was thick with religion and rain.

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So, what do you think? Are you going to read it? You must, it’s worth it. Let me know what you think and please check out other great reviews here.