I seek it every time I glance at the self in the mirror, to tuck an errant hair strand in place. I seek it each time I slip into a traditional outfit that I know will wow the extended family. I seek it each time I choose the comfort of a sensible shoe over a shiny, glamorous pair of heels.

I’ve sought it in the numerous sunsets that have moved me to tears of gratitude. I’ve sought it alone, atop a mountain, bereft of internet connectivity. I’ve sought it in a roomful of well-meaning friends.

I’ve searched for it, with a magnifying glass, in the many job profiles strewn across the internet. I’ve searched for it in a neat and tidy home (the mother would have been proud!). I’ve searched for it in the eyes of my lover.

I’ve combed through stacks of photographs, mark-sheets and certificates, and snail mail. I’ve scoured the insides of umpteen ice cream bowls and wine glasses. I’ve rummaged through emails, memories and the many regrets that the heart holds.

I’ve looked for it in sly, furtive glances across the table, secret text messages and heaps of 3 am phone conversations.

And one day, I found it. In a bookstore, on a Sunday morning, selecting books for strangers to savour. The books weren’t mine to give. Neither were the words they held. Only the selection was mine. Almost like I was sharing a piece of myself with someone whom I was yet to meet. And surprisingly, it felt really good.

A warm rush of contentment embraced me, and the lips could barely frame a coherent sentence.


Book Review: Zoon

Title: Zoon
Author: Selina Sen
Pages: 375
Price: INR 399

51nym4qsp2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_Zoon by Selina Sen is a beautiful read on Kashmir, love and longing.

Yes, before you ask, zoon is an actual word. It means moon in Kashmiri and is a popular name for girls in the Valley.

Our Zoon is the 16th century Kashmiri queen, poet and musician, Habba Khatoon. She is the protagonist of Bollywood director Shantanu Rai’s magnum opus. And by and by, we also realise that Zoon is a metaphor for the Kashmir Valley, which is, today, marred by curfews, barricades, despair and immense anger.

It’s the late 1980s, and Kashmir is a paradise for tourists. Rai transports his entire crew, including an internationally acclaimed film personality, to the romantic landscape of the Valley to shoot Zoon. Joya, freshly graduated from film school, is also part Rai’s production unit. She is to work alongside Rashid, a young Kashmiri historian.

At the face of it, they make an odd pair. But they soon find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other, while Kashmir serves as the perfect backdrop. Until a shocking incident of terrorism alters their lives forever. The shoot is abandoned, the Valley is gripped by terrorism and militancy and Zoon once again lies buried in the forgotten pages of history.

A decade later, Joya is inspired to complete Zoon and returns of Kashmir. She is there to make amends. To say that it is a struggle is an understatement. But Joya is determined. And perhaps, it is only Zoon that she lives and breathes for.

I enjoyed Zoon. I savoured all the bits set in Kashmir and Joya’s emotional turmoil felt like my own. There’s despair and disappointment all around but love keeps her intact. Just the very thought of it. It was ephemeral. But it was all she had. Perhaps, it was all she needed. And Zoon is her victory.

Read it for Joya and for Habba Khatoon. But also read Zoon for Kashmir and its despair.

Learn more about Zoon.

A Precious Memory

I remember that evening well. Not just because I had laughed myself silly. Mostly because I had waited a long time for it. He was all of a year old when I first set my eyes on him. And I just wasn’t able to break the ice with him. I had tried candy, toys and all sorts of goofy faces. But he just wouldn’t come to me! On a good day, I’d be greeted with a reluctant smile and half a wave, gently prodded by his well-meaning parents. And it bugged me to no end!

Until one evening, he accompanied his father into our living room. He took his time to acquaint himself with his new surroundings. He wandered in and out of rooms, and finally made his way towards me. I saw him take tentative steps, my heart brimming with joy! He apparently wanted to play.

We went to my bedroom, the air laden with expectation. I scrambled to locate some remnants of a childhood I hadn’t spent in that room. A not-so stuffed tortoise and a teddy bear crafted out of cardboard came to my rescue! The tortoise was the last of the stuffed toys the mother had given me. And I wasn’t ready to let go, just yet. The bear was a colourful reminder that the room still belonged to a kid!

For the next hour, we alternated between the two toys. He wanted to why the tortoise was so thin. Did he need to eat more? Why was he unable to bend the bear? What had I named them? Could he take them to school with him? I tried my best to keep pace with the storytelling. We communicated in very functional English, but exchanged a lot of nods, smiles and laughter that evening. I had finally crossed the chasm and become an ally.

He took the toys with him home that night, in protest that our time together had been very short. And I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face!

Book Review: Amir Khusrau – The Man in Riddles

Title: Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles
Author: Ankit Chadha
Pages: 96
Price: Rs. 299

amir-khusrau-the-man-in-riddles-original-imaezzrrv4jvkzygAnkit Chadha’s Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles came to me wrapped in a yellow envelope, sooner than I was expecting. And it was tough to let go of it, as soon as it revealed itself.

Part verse, part prose, Amir Khusrau is an absolute delight to touch, to read, to admire. Beautifully illustrated by Urmimala Nag, it is a mélange of colourful motifs, intricate patterns and evocative imagery.

In the introduction, we are informed that “Khusrau would often compose verses to describe each collection of poetry he wrote. When taken together, these introductory verses can form an ode or a poem of praise.” Therefore, Chadha selects 20 riddles (each attributed to Khusrau) to introduce Khusrau to the modern reader and acquaint us with his poetry and legacy.

We learn that poetry was only one of the many facets of his larger-than-life personality. And Chadha highlights that Khusrau’s poetry is typically layered with two meanings: One, which refers to the daily hustle-bustle of life, and the other that touches upon the spiritual aspect.

A riddle is a puzzle, wrapped up in words, which we have to decipher. “Each word is a clue, visual, a tiny part of a larger picture.” There is some amount of wordplay and one must pay close attention to the imagery that the words evoke. The answer lies close to that.

Every riddle, a few lines each, (with an accompanying English translation) is followed with insights and snippets of information that reveal Khusrau’s personality and the era he lived in. It is a little bit of history, a little bit of literature and a little bit of culture. I fondly recalled all my history classes in college!

Did I solve all the riddles? Nah! I only got a few.

But Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles is easy to read and follow. I flipped through it in less than an hour. But the soul wasn’t satiated. So I reread it. And once again. I read bits of it aloud, to enunciate and savour each syllable. But it got over too soon. Next, I imagined how Chadha would have recited these lines (I’ve watched him perform the Dastangoi, and it was a treat)!

The Notes at the end of the book will help clarify and dispel a few doubts that readers might have upon reading the verses.

I leave you with my favourite riddle.

Jiske wo pairon padi,
Uska jee ghabraaye
Bahur dukhon se qadam uthey
Aur raah na nibdi jaaye

Whoever’s feet she touches,
He is left to seethe
Makes it tough to take a step
Or find a way to breathe

Do take a minute to decipher it. Also note how well the translations read!

Solve the riddles on your own, take a friend’s help or simply savour the sound of each word. And you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the life and times of a fascinating poet, mystic and musician.