Gendered aspects of the Kashmir conflict. BEHOLD, I SHINE by Freny Maneksha

Gendered aspects of the Kashmir conflict. BEHOLD, I SHINE by Freny Maneksha

Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir's Women and ChildrenBehold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish this book was more well known and more widely read than it appears to be, even though it is written by a well established journalist who has a significant body of work.
So, I am glad to have chanced upon it during one of my browsing binges on Amazon.

The author seeks to explore the assumption that women in Kashmir have not suffered the brunt of direct violence as much as men have, and in doing so brings out stories and experiences from Kashmiri women, old and young, which tend to be more difficult to access not only due to the prevailing ‘haalat‘ or circumstances but also the deeply entrenched patriarchal social structures that they live within.

In the wider context of the ‘Kashmir issue’, the author tries to answer questions like:
– does militarisation harden patriarchal structures?
– what happens to a woman when her husband ‘disappears’? does it change her status in the home?
– does she have the right to accept or refuse remarriage?
– how has the conflict impacted their freedom to safely move in open spaces?
– how does a male dominated society view women who have been assaulted and seen to have brought ‘dishonour’ to their family or community treated?
– how do women deal with and under these situations?

Through first hand accounts of tragedy and resilience, one begins to understand how deeply the conflict has impacted lives of women and children, who are left behind to fight for information, justice and closure – many of whom have been doing it for decades.

As someone who wasn’t too familiar with the history of the Kashmir conflict and why it continues to persist, I feel the book provides a fairly objective understanding and historical context. It also helps one understand why Kashmiris view India’s presence there as an ‘occupation’ and why they continue to fight for ‘azadi‘. I learnt about ‘Ikhwanis‘ for the first time through this book too – captured/surrendered militants turned into pro-government gunmen, nursed by the State and turned on civilians to extract information, often savage in their methods. This created a severe atmosphere of distrust and suspicion amongst Kashmiris, who no longer knew who they could trust or confide into.

As I read these stories, one thing that stood out for me in almost each one, and which is summed up in the very last chapters is the gender divide – that despite all the voilence and the loss of loved ones that families endure, instead of coming together to support the women (especially daughters in law), who are either victims of sexual assault or half-widows (whose husbands have ‘disappeared’), archaic patriarchal norms kick in stronger at such times and many women are abandoned or asked to leave, as they now bring dishonour to their families. Women who refused to back down from investigating the disappearances of their husbands or sons are also seen as trouble makers and asked to leave.

The book does well in disclosing and highlighting the gendered aspects of the Kashmir Conflict. It also makes one aware of how removed we are from the Valley’s struggles even though we have been hearing about them for over two decades, and how despite the political narrative and the means of maintaining control, we must consciously ‘humanise’ our awareness about the conflict and the people who bear the brunt of being the collateral damage in the proverbial crossfire.

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Strange, creative and a little eerie, NAOKO by Keigo Higashino keeps you guessing, literally!

Strange, creative and a little eerie, NAOKO by Keigo Higashino keeps you guessing, literally!

NaokoNaoko by Keigo Higashino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an absolutely odd and strange story. A little silly, a little tragic, a little dark, a little haunting and in the end a little ruthless – but overall creative and completely unpredictable.

More than two thirds into the book, I was still wondering where the plot was going and what conclusion the story was moving to, so in that way it really is mysterious and kept me guessing up to the very literal end. Perplexed is what I felt going through most of the book. I guess that is why they gave it the Japan Mystery Writers Award.

I’m a Higashino fan, I’ve enjoyed all his other books, and loved two especially (Journey Under the Midnight Sun and Malice – both of which are brilliant in their own right). He really is a master story teller.

This one, though, is not a quick read (the reason I give it 3 stars and not 4).

It moves slowly, but pulls you in wanting to understand where things are going and what is going to happen in the seemingly mundane lives of the Sugita family of three. But really, what a strange story it was, until of course it all became clear, near the very end.

After 3 years of having it on my shelf, I’m glad I have finally read it.

The mystery is finally finally over 🙂

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If you have nothing else to read NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland is passable

If you have nothing else to read NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland is passable

Need to KnowNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard this book recommended on the Just the Right Book Podcast: Episode 61 and it sounded really interesting and promising. But it falls quite far from that description and review.

I would call this a page turner yes, a good book to read when you’re travelling
if you don’t have anything else at hand
if you’re looking to break your reading slump.

Reminds me of the Twilight series, not great but keeps you hooked till the end.

Entertainer – can totally see this being turned into a film.

I didn’t connect with the protagonist at all, story and characters not memorable, and I really wish Vivian’s character learnt to be less naive because CIA analysts like her would be the nightmare of the American intelligence machinery.

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A life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures and prejudices. BALUTA by Daya Pawar

A life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures and prejudices. BALUTA by Daya Pawar

BalutaBaluta by Daya Pawar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Baluta is a collection of memories. Memories of a life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures. The frustration and helplessness of being born a Dalit, and the inner conflict that roils in the writer’s mind as a result of his education, something he thought would be the means to an escape from his downtrodden life, but ends up being the agent of his lifelong distress. At one point, feeling ashamed of living off his old mother’s earnings despite being educated, he says

“What was her work? The hardscrabble of collecting and selling paper? What dignity did society offer her for her labour? The question of dignity had been put into my head by my education. no one around me seemed much concerned by it. When you don’t know that you’re supposed to be unhappy, you can chug along quite well; only I was being hollowed out from within, as a tree by termites.”

The blurb on the book’s back cover describes how the book, when it was first published in 1978, hit upper caste readers and critics between the eyes, with its graphic and candid narrative, holding nothing back. But as I read the book, I realised that even though I sympathised with Pawar’s condition, the details of his plight did not “hit me hard”, and his story did not emotionally move me.

I wondered what that said about me or us as a society living with the privilege of not being born Dalit. Are we so far removed from the oppression of the caste system that we fail to acknowledge or recognise the realities of those who never had a choice in the matter? Or are we so overexposed to these inequalities that it has taken on a normalcy to the extent that we have become numb to its existence? Or is it just an inconvenient truth that we’d rather not deal with until it affects us directly.

I don’t think there is any foreseeable solution to the deeply entrenched and prevailing caste system in India anytime soon; there are too many vested interests and power dynamics that won’t allow it to end. But I do think that books like these have an important role to play, because they force us to see what we’d rather not and compel us to ask ourselves some difficult questions that might in some small way change how we operate in our more privileged lives and contexts, and not contribute to the existing caste divisions and prejudices.

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Just another reading game to entertain myself… The GOODREADS TOP 3 CHALLENGE: FICTION Complete!

Just another reading game to entertain myself… The GOODREADS TOP 3 CHALLENGE: FICTION Complete!

One of the things I’d planned to do this year as part of my Reading Framework was to read the GoodReads top 3 voted Best Books of  2017 in the Fiction, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Debut categories. The idea was to diversify my genres (in this case moving towards more Sci-Fi and Debut), get a chance to catch up with the most popular titles from the year and at the same time also do my own ranking to see if the order of the top 3 changed for me and why.

I love GoodReads and the peer reading community that it supports. So the results of the GoodReads Choice Awards are always something I look forward to (even though there is a small glitch in the voting system that needs sorting, which I talked about here).

Though I’d set this challenge for myself quite eagerly, eventually I wasn’t too sure if I was going to be able to finish even one category, what with my wildly untamed reading moods and my thirst for new titles that throw me off-track all the time. But 10 books and two months into 2018, I’ve managed to achieve 25% of my GoodReads Top 3 target and I’m so glad because it made for some really great reading. 

So, the GoodReads top 3 voted books in the Fiction category in 2017 were:

I LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng with 39,077 votes

II BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman with 38,268 votes

III ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman with 32,156 votes

As you can see, the top two come really close and the third is behind by quite a margin, so there’s a clear popularity choice coming through. All three books are extremely well written and have very unique plot lines, which is refreshing. I was particularly enamoured by both Beartown and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but something about Little Fires Everywhere fell short for me.

So here’s why I think they should have been ranked as follows:














1. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

BEARTOWN is a brilliantly translated Swedish novel about an obscure town whose culture and identity is tied to its local ice-hockey team, its only ticket for recognition and validation. When a crucial incident occurs, it threatens to destroy everything the community has worked for – years of sacrifice and dedication, and brings age old loyalties, friendships and ethics into question. The atmospheric characteristics of this remote, freezing town form the backdrop for a really introspective narrative for all the characters in the story.

Though it is not meant to be a mystery, the story is quite unpredictable and has many compelling plot developments that keep you hooked and thinking about what decisions a character is going make. Backman writes with a lot of wisdom, developing extremely complex but relatable personalities for his characters, in a way that you understand the psyche of each one. There are no black or white / good or bad people, everyone has a perspective that they operate from. He captures and expresses some of the most common and obvious though unmindful behaviours that we all practice or observe in our lives but seldom take the time to deeply think about. This is a great piece of contemporary fiction that I would recommend everyone to read.


A story about a misfit, a socially awkward woman who finds a new lease to life when she opens up to an unlikely friendship. This book gave me a fuzzy, warm feeling in the nicest most un-cliched way. I am not one for mushy romances, and this is exactly not that kinda book. Even though it deals with themes of loneliness and depression, it does it with so much sensitivity, and a whole lot of wit, humour and heart. This is a book about emotions, relationships and the importance of being accepted for who you are. Its a wonderful,  meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book that must be read sooner than later 🙂


I am not sure how I feel about this book anymore, even though I rated it 4/5 on GR. The story revolves around the themes of identity, belonging and rebellion, pitching the perfectly planned lives of native American residents into sharp contrast with the lives of Chinese-American immigrants, who struggle to make ends meet but fiercely protect what is theirs. When I think about it now, I am left with a sense of the story being dark and heavy.

Celeste Ng writes extremely well and I’ve been a fan since I read her first book Everything I Never Told You, which was brilliant, but I think with this one, I wasn’t able to form a connection with any of the characters. I also feel that the context was “too American” or “too suburban American” and somehow as more time has passed since having read it, its turned out to be less and less memorable. That said, it has been voted the most popular fiction in 2017 and has also got many rave reviews in America – but for me, it wasn’t better than the other two.

So those were my thoughts on the Best Fiction from 2017. I now look forward to getting on with the other categories. Until next time, happy reading!


A book that is so much more than the sport it is centered on. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

A book that is so much more than the sport it is centered on. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say about this book that won’t sound like an understatement.
I would give it 10 stars if that was an option.

I thought I wouldn’t enjoy a book about a sport much, and that too one on ice-hockey, which I know nothing about and have no interest in. But it was so much more than a book about a sport. It took me by surprise. Backman’s writing is beautiful – some of his lines are statements that hit home like a bullet and some are questions that make you pause and think about your own perspectives.
When a story has more than 20 characters and you end up feeling like you completely understand all of those 20 people, and even really start to deeply care about a few, it speaks volumes about the writer’s abilities. I finished the book under an hour ago and I already miss Beartown, I did not want to leave.

This is a ‘human’ story about friendship, loyalty, family, community, ambition, loss and love, about the emotions, and secrets that people carry around in their hearts, about suppressed silences, the things they say and everything they don’t and the extent to which they find themselves go to take a stand when a community’s ethics are tested. I marked endless passages in the book, re-reading them over and over.
There were many wow moments.

Some quotes that gave me pause,

There are damn few things in life that are harder than admitting to yourself that you’re a hypocrite.

Hate can be a a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.

There are few words that are harder to explain than “loyalty“. It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.

Having gone through such brilliant writing, I am at a loss of being able to properly articulate what made this book so awesome, but the one thing that really made this book shine was the excellent translation by Neil Smith. Its so good that it feels like it was written in English.
This is not one to miss!

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How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story – INFERIOR by Angela Saini

How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story – INFERIOR by Angela Saini

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the StoryInferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As far as we’ve come into the ultra-modern 21st century, we are still women living in a man’s world.

Inferior is a well timed book that explores why the gender dynamic works the way it does, across cultures, generations and professions.
How did women come to be in the social positions they currently live in?
Who decided what roles men and women must have? And what were these based on?
Why are women believed to be inferior to men?
Are we biologically built to be lesser humans?
Do our brains have lower intelligence capacities?

Through really extensive research spanning neuroscience, psychology, medicine, anthropology and evolutionary biology, Angela Saini delves deeply into the question about women’s position in society, revealing hard scientific evidence that somehow never gets the limelight, but definitely questions the one-sided superiority argument that has favoured men in areas dominated by men.

The book lends a lot of perspective to the historical and social constructs, where “women have been systematically suppressed over the course of human history by men and their power structures“. It take a critical look at how we came to develop these traditional gender stereotypes of the breadwinning father and the stay-at-home mother, and if these are really part of our biological makeup. I think it’s a really interesting and important study into our evolution as the “social animals” we so like to label ourselves.

My favourite chapters in the book were Chapters 1 and 7 because they present such interesting insights into the patriarchy led socio-cultural control system that confines women within a desirable boundary of acceptable behaviour. These are norms that define our “character” or “characterlessness” for that matter, and we all still live by them today.

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