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Bagman: Podcast by Rachel Maddow – Review

Bagman, a podcast by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, is not only providing an amazing peek into history during the #Nixon Presidency but is certain to keep the listeners riveted. A film is in the making, written by Adam Pearlman and Mike Yarvitz and with writer, director, producer, Ben Stiller.  Bagman tells a true story of one of the most brazen bribery and extortion scandals ever to happen at the scale it did. But lest you believe this was about the #Watergate scandal, it was NOT. This was an entirely independent crime concurrently happening at the same time that the country was occupied with the Watergate scandal.  

The subject of this scandal, the “individual 1” was not Nixon but who then? The year was 1973. Just the previous year, Richard Nixon and his running mate Spiro Agnew had handily defeated their opponent Senator George McGovern of South Dakota in a total landslide, receiving all but 18 of the 538 electoral votes. For the time being, let us keep the name of the chief perpetrator a suspense here. Despite President Nixon’s initial lack of knowledge about this crime, he soon learned about it and participated in covering it up with support of several Republican senators, including future President George W. Bush. 

Besides telling the incredible story of the chief criminal, the podcast also focuses in equal measures on a team of young federal prosecutors, Tim Baker, Ron Libman, and Barney Skolnik who started this investigation miles away from DC, in local corruption happening in Maryland where they found that local officials were taking thousands of dollars in cash kickbacks from companies that were awarded federal contracts. While the country was increasingly riveted by the Watergate scandal, these prosecutors were far away from the White House. But as they got deeper into the money trail it led them directly inside the White House. 

As these prosecutors began collecting evidence, they found that their case was becoming rock solid. If it was any other individual, that person would be indicted and in jail in no time. However, given the status of the perpetrator and the venue where the crime was opening occuring, they were stumped in how to proceed. We have often heard the expression that behind every successful man, there’s a woman. But perhaps behind a criminal man there are hundreds of women, enabling him and here was a criminal sitting at a top leadership level in the country and enjoyed high popularity among women from the Republican party. 

These prosecutors took the case to their boss, George Bell and together all four of them drove to Washington D.C. to see Nixon’s AG Elliot Richardson. They fully expected to be told by Elliot Richardson something that would amount to shutting down the investigation. Elliot Richardson is the same AG who made history later that precipitated what came to be known as the Saturday massacre in the Nixon Presidency. At that time, President Nixon asked Richardson his AG to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox and Richardson refused to do so which led to him being fired by Nixon and then other events followed. But that came later. At this time, Richardson met with the four prosecutors from Maryland with the stunning news of a totally independent crime taking place in the White House. Richardson gave them full cooperation to continue their investigation. 

As the investigation progressed, the perpetrator realized that he was in an incredibly deep quagmire. He got his assistant to call an attorney and keeping the name of the client a secret, the attorney was requested to come to a secret location. The attorney was informed that the client was someone at very high level in the Government. How high, asked the attorney? Very high, came the answer. A Congressman? asked the attorney. Answer: higher. Q: A senator? A: Higher. Q: A cabinet member? 

As the indictment seemed imminent, the news broke that “Washington was stunned today by the disclosure that the Vice President, Spiro Agnew is under criminal investigation by federal authorities in his home state of Maryland on serious charges of bribery, extortion and tax evasion. The country was already embroiled in the chaotic Watergate occurrences when this shocking news about the Vice President broke. 

Let us not forget that President Nixon and Vice President Agnew had won in a landslide and if they were both to go down then who would become the President? A secret 19 page contingency plan remained locked inside the personal safe of the Democrat Speaker and Congressman from Oklahoma, Carl Albert, as he feared he may be first in line of succession during this tottering presidency and scandals.

Meanwhile, Agnew went to appeal to Congress to impeach him. He felt that would be a better fate than being indicted criminally. He was laughed out of there. During all this while the prosecutors were in total agony as they were racing against time. Just as the Nixon Presidency was unraveling, Nixon’s exit looked increasingly likely and that meant the next in line of succession would ascend to the Presidency UNLESS they sped up the investigation and brought charges or reached some kind of a deal to get Agnew out.

And while President Nixon supported his VP Agnew and even participated in attempts to obstruct justice and shut down investigation into Agnew’s criminal conduct, he now perceived Agnew as a threat to himself and therefore wanted Agnew out. Not to be outdone, Agnew on the other hand, went on national television and confessed that he feared for his life on account of his own President and President’s law enforcement agencies. Can it get more juicy and shocking than this? Every juicy detail and most of private conversations are corroborated in the podcast with cross references and many from the tapes that Nixon himself had planted.

This podcast marvelously recounts the details of this scandal concurrently happening at the same time while Nixon’s own karma was bringing him down. It is so riveting that once you start listening, you will not want to stop until the end. I highly recommend it – it is a piece of history so beautifully narrated, incredibly well researched, impressively presented and packed with information and details, some of which has never before come to light. This is a must-hear podcast not only because it brings important piece of history to light very comprehensively BUT there are also many lessons for the present and likely for the future, at anytime, when our democracy comes under threat.

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બુદ્ધિજીવી અને સંવેદનશીલ: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austin – Review in #Gujarati

જેન ઓસ્ટીન નામની લેખિકાએ 18મી સદી ના ઇંગ્લેન્ડને લગતા ઘણા પુસ્તકો લખેલ છે. મોટા ભાગે તેના પુસ્તકો રોમેન્ટિક વિષયને લગતા પુસ્તકો છે. તાજેતરમાં તેણે લખેલ પુસ્તક સેન્સ એન્ડ સેન્સિબિલિટી ઉપર બનેલું નાટક જોયું તો તેના પુસ્તક ઉપર મારા વિચારો દર્શાવું છું. 

તે બે બહેનો ની વાર્તા છે. 18મી સદીના ઇંગ્લેન્ડ માં મિલકત માત્ર પુરુષ વરસદારોનેજ મળતી. જો કોઈ વ્યક્તિ ને દીકરો ન હોય તો તેના ગયા બાદ તેની મિલકત તેની પત્ની અથવા દીકરીની બદલે તેના નજીકના પુરુષ વારસદારને મળે. તેવી સ્થિતિમાં અચાનક સ્ત્રીઓ બેઘર બની જાય અને નાની યુવતીઓ યોગ્ય અને લાયક પાત્ર શોધવા લાગે. કેમકે તે સમાજ વ્યક્તિના વર્ગ, દરજ્જા અને ક્રમ ઉપર નિર્ભર હતો. આવી સ્થિતિ માં કોઈ યુવતીને તુરંત યોગ્ય પતિ ન મળે તો તેને ખુબ ગરીબીમાં, આજીવન કુંવારી અવસ્થામાં જિંદગી પસાર કરવી પડે તેવું પણ બને. 

સેન્સ એન્ડ સેન્સિબિલિટી એટલે કે બુદ્ધિમાન પ્રકૃતિ અને સંવેદનશીલ પ્રકૃતિ. આ વાર્તાના મુખ્ય પાત્રો બે બહેનો છે. પિતાના અવસાન પછી મેરિયન ડેશવુડ અને એલિનોર ડેશવૂડ ની જિંદગી અસ્તવ્યસ્ત થઇ ગઈ. બંને બહેનો અને તેમની માં રહેતા હતા તે ઘરમાં તેમના ભાઈ અને ભાભી રહેવા લાગ્યા અને તેમની ભાભીએ તેમના ભાઈને સમજાવ્યો કે બંને બહેનોને તેમના લાયક નાનું મકાન શોધી આપવું જોઈએ જેથી તેમને સામાન્ય સ્થિતિમાં રહેવાની આદત પડી જાય. તે સમયે ઇંગ્લેન્ડ માં આવી સ્થિતિ માં આવેલ સ્ત્રીઓને કોઈ સગાવહાલા પાસે નાનું મામૂલી કોટેજ હોય તો તેઓ તે બહેનો ને તેમાં રહેવાની વ્યવસ્થા કરી આપે. ડેશવૂડના કોઈ સગા એ તેવું મકાન રહેવા માટે ઓફર કર્યું અને તેમની ભાભીએ તેમના ભાઈને સમજાવ્યો કે તે તેની બહેનો અને માં ને તેમાં રહેવા જવા માટે સમજાવે. ભાઈના કહેવાથી તેઓ તેવા મામૂલી મકાન માં દૂર રહેવા ચાલ્યા ગયા. તેમના સગાઓ અને તેમની માં તેમના માટે યોગ્ય પતિ શોધવા લાગ્યા.

મેરિયન ડેશવુડ સંવેદનશીલ, લાગણીશીલ પ્રકૃતિ ધરાવે છે, તે સ્વયંસ્ફુરિત છે, પ્રેમ માં જેટલી ઝડપી છે તેટલીજ તેના વિલાપમાં ઉતાવળ છે; તેને ઋતુઓનું પરિવર્તન, પ્રકૃતિમાં આનંદ અને સૂકા વિખરાયેલા પાંદડાઓમાં કવિતા દેખાય છે; તે ખુબ રોમેન્ટિક પ્રકૃતિ ધરાવે છે, પૂરા દિલથી પ્રેમ કરે છે, નિખાલસતાથી ખળભળાટ હસે છે અને નાટકીય રીતે વારંવાર રડી પડે છે. મારુ માનવું છે કે તેના જેવી સ્ત્રીઓ ઘણીવાર સમાજમાં જરૂરી ફેરફારો પાછળનું બળ હોય છે. જ્યારે મિલકત તેના ભાઈને આપવામાં આવે છે, ત્યારે તે તુરંત તેની બહેનને પૂછે છે, “શા માટે? શું તે એક કર્તવ્યનિષ્ઠ પુત્ર છે તેથી કે તે લાયક છે એટલા માટે? જો કે તે બેમાંથી કંઈ નથી.”

મેરિયનની બહેન એલિનોર ડેશવુડ પોતાની લાગણીઓને વ્યક્ત કરવામાં ધીમી ગતિ ધરાવે છે અને વિચારશીલ છે, તેની ટિપ્પણીમાં પણ વિનય, વિવેક, નમ્રતા અને વિચારશીલતા છે, તે પોતાના વિચારોમાં સંયમિત છે; તે સરંજામ અને ઔચિત્યની વાત કરે છે; અને તે હંમેશા વસ્તુઓને અન્યના દ્રષ્ટિકોણથી જોવાનો પ્રયાસ કરે છે અને પોતાને તકલીફ વેઠવી પડે છતાં અન્યની સંવેદના નો ખ્યાલ રાખે છે. મારુ માનવું છે કે તેના જેવી સ્ત્રીઓ, ઘણી વખત સમાજમાં વ્યવસ્થા જાળવવામાં અને અરાજકતાને રોકવામાં નિમિત્ત બને છે. માત્ર પોતાની લાગણીશીલતા ઉપર સંયમ અને ધીરજ જાળવીને જ નહિ પરંતુ અન્ય વ્યક્તિઓને પણ તે સલાહ આપે છે અને જીવનમાં આવતા વંટોળને શાંતિ અને સંયમથી સામનો કરતા શીખવે છે. આ વાર્તામાં મેરિયન તેની માનો આધાર બની જાય છે. લાગણીશીલતા ઉપર કાબુ જાળવવાનું તે તેની બહેન મેરિયનને પણ સમજાવે છે. મેરિયન એક વાર કહે છે, “મારી બહેન આશા રાખે છે કે તે મને મારા પોતાના અતિરેકથી બચાવે”.

મેરિયન વિલોબી નામના યુવાનના પ્રેમમાં પડે છે. વિલોબી પણ તેના જેવોજ સંવેદનશીલ યુવાન છે અને થોડાજ સમયમાં તેઓ સાનભાન ભૂલી ને પ્રેમમાં બંધાઈને એક બીજા પ્રત્યે વચનબદ્ધ થઇ જાય છે. પરંતુ થોડા સમય બાદ વિલોબી અચાનક પલાયન થઇ જાય છે. તે સમયે ઇંગ્લેન્ડ માં જો કોઈ યુવતી કોઈ પ્રેમી જોડે વચનબદ્ધ હોય અને પ્રેમી તેને છોડી ને ચાલ્યો જાય તો ઘણીવાર બીજા કોઈજ યુવાન તેની જોડે લગ્ન કરવા આગળ ન આવે તેવી સ્થિતિ ઉભી થઇ શકે છે. બીજી બાજુ એલિનોર ને એડવર્ડ નામના શરમાળ યુવાન પ્રત્યે લાગણી છે. એડવર્ડ ને પણ એલિનોર તરફ ખુબ લાગણી છે. પરંતુ બંને ધીમી ગતિ ધરાવતા પ્રેમી પંખીડા મનોમન પ્રેમ કરવા છતાં એકમેક સમક્ષ પોતાનો પ્રેમ વ્યક્ત કરીજ નથી શકતા અને એડવર્ડ ના લગ્ન બીજે થવાની વાતચીત ચાલે છે. 

તે દરમ્યાન કર્નલ બ્રાન્ડન નામના જવાન ડેશવૂડ કુટુંબ ની મદદે આવે છે અને મેરિયન માટે વિલોબીનો પત્તો લગાવે છે. વિલોબી આખરે બહેન એલિનોર પાસે શોક વ્યક્ત કરે છે કે તેમની આર્થિક સ્થિતિ માં તે મેરિયન જોડે પરણી શકે નહિ અને તેથી તેણે પલાયન થઇ અને પોતાને યોગ્ય પત્ની જોડે લગ્ન કરી લીધા છે. મેરિયન આ સમાચાર સાંભળતા બેહોશ બની જાય છે અને પછી તે બીમાર પડે છે. કર્નલ બ્રાન્ડન આ સમયે પણ તેમની ખુબ મદદ કરે છે. આખરે બીમારીમાંથી સાજી થતા મેરિયનને પ્રેમનો સાચો અર્થ સમજાય છે અને એ પણ સમજાય છે કે ધીમો પ્રેમ ક્યારેક ખુબ ગહન હોય છે અને તે અને કર્નલ બ્રાન્ડન લગ્ન કરે છે. આ બાજુ આખરે એડવર્ડ હિમ્મત ભેગી કરીને એલિનોર પાસે તેનો પ્રેમ વ્યક્ત કરે છે અને એલિનોર પોતાની લાગણીઓને વાચા આપે છે અને બંને લગ્ન કરે છે. 

લેખિકા ઓસ્ટીન ની વાર્તામાં એ તો જરૂર સમજાય છે કે કોઈ એક તરફ અતિરેક યોગ્ય નથી. માત્ર બુદ્ધિજીવી જીવન જીવી ન શકાય અને સમય અનુસાર લાગણીઓને પણ વાચા આપવી અને દર્શાવવી જરૂરી છે. તેમજ અતિ સંવેદનશીલ પ્રકૃતિ યોગ્ય નથી અને લાગણીઓ ઉપર સંયમ રાખવો જરૂરી છે. પરંતુ અનેક વાર ટિપ્પણીકારો ને ઓસ્ટીન ની વાર્તાઓ માં તેવું લાગે છે કે ઓસ્ટીનનો પક્ષપાત બુદ્ધિજીવી પ્રકૃતિ તરફ વધારે છે. વાંચીને તમારો અભિપ્રાય જરૂર જણાવશો. 

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પ્રેમચંદ મુન્શી ની વાર્તા નિર્મલા ની સમીક્ષા – #Gujarati & English Review of Premchand Munshi’s Nirmala

પ્રેમચંદ મુન્શી ની વાર્તા “નિર્મલા” ધારાવાહી ની સમીક્ષા

Munshi Premchand: a prolific Indian writer – EDUpub

પ્રેમચંદ મુન્શી હિન્દી સાહિત્યના ખુબ મોટા અને જાણીતા સાહિત્યકાર રહ્યા છે. તેઓ એક નિષ્ણાત અને વિશેષજ્ઞ વાર્તાકાર છે અને તેમની વાર્તાઓ ધારાવાહી સ્વરૂપે યૂટ્યૂબ માં જોઈ શકાય છે. વાર્તામાં બોધ હોય તે બાળકોને ગમે પણ મોટાઓને તેવી વાર્તાઓ પસંદ ન પડે. પરંતુ મુન્શીજી એ પ્રકાર ના વાર્તાકાર છે કે તેમની વાર્તામાં બોધ હોય પરંતુ તેઓ ક્યારેય તે બોધ ને સમજાવતા નથી. વાંચનાર પોતાની મેળે અને પોતાની સમજ પ્રમાણે પુરેપુરો બોધ તારવે કે થોડો તારવે કે જરાય નહિ તે વાંચનાર ઉપર છે.

નિર્મલા કરીને તેમની વાર્તા છે જેમાં એક 45 જેટલી ઉંમરના વિધુર એક નાની 17વર્ષ જેવડી કન્યા જોડે વિવાહ કરે છે અને આર્થિક મુશ્કેલી માં પડેલી મા તે વિવાહ કબુલ કરે છે. આ સાન 1925માં લખાયેલ આ વાર્તામાં તેમની સુધારાવાદી કાર્યસૂચિ દેખાય છે. લગ્ન કરનાર વિધુર ના 5, 8 અને 15 વર્ષ જેવડા ત્રણ છોકરા છે. નિર્મલા વિધુર જોડે ખુબ વિનયથી વાત કરે છે પણ તેમનાથી અળગી રહે છે. ત્રણ છોકરાઓની તે ખુબજ સંભાળ રાખે છે અને ત્રણેય છોકરાઓ તેને મા કહીને સંબોધે છે. છોકરાઓ જોડે નિર્મલા નો સબંધ ઔપચારિક નથી અને સરખી ઉમર ને કારણે તેઓ એકબીજા જોડે ચર્ચા અને મસ્તી મજાક કરે છે અને 15 વર્ષના છોકરા પાસે નિર્મલા અંગ્રેજી શીખે છે. પોતાના 15 વર્ષના છોકરાને નિર્મલા સાથે જોઈને વિધુરને ઈર્ષા આવે છે અને તે છોકરાને હોસ્ટેલ માં મોકલે દ્યે છે જ્યાં પૌષ્ટિક આહાર ન મળવાથી અને બીમારીમાં બરોબર સારવાર ન મળવાને કારણે છોકરો જીવન મરણ વચ્ચે જોલા ખાય છે. ત્યારે વિધુર નિર્મલા ને આજીજી કરે છે કે તું છોકરાની જોડે કૈક વાત કર અને હોસ્પિટલ ના કાર્યકર્તાઓને કહે છે કે આ તેની મા છે. વિધુર ના એ બે વાક્યમાં કરુણા વહે છે અને વાચકો તારવી શકે છે કે વિધુર છોકરો ગુમાવવાની અણી ઉપર આવ્યા છે અને તેમને પોતાની ભૂલો સમજાય છે.

1920 થી 1940 ના સમય દરમ્યાન ભારતીય સમાજ માં સુધારાવાદી પરિવર્તન ની જરૂર હતી તે મુન્શીજી ની વાર્તાઓ માં દેખાય છે. બોધ આપ્યા વગર, સામાજિક માન્યતાઓ, ધોરણો અને સામાજિક વાતોને મુન્શીજી એ પ્રમાણે રસિક રીતે રજુ કરે છે કે તેમની વાર્તાઓ આજે પણ વાચકોને પસંદ આવે છે. તેમની વાર્તાઓમાં ગામડાઓના ઠાકુરો અને બ્રાહ્મણ પંડિતો દ્વારા થતું ગરીબ ખેડૂતો અને કામદારોનું શોષણ, અસ્પ્રુશ્યોની સાથે થતો અન્યાય અને ઉતરતી ગણાતી સ્ત્રીઓની સાથે થતી કરુણ ઘટનાઓ જોવા મળે છે.

Short English Synopsis Of Premchand Munshi’s Nirmala on Youtube

Premchand Munshi has been an incredible and excellent storyteller. He wrote in Hindi, during 1920s to 1940s time frame. In his stories, Munshi shined a light on subjugation and plight of women, exploitation of poor farmers and daily wage workers by wealthy landowners and learned Brahmins and holy men in the villages and inequities and abuse suffered by the untouchables.

In his short story, Nirmala which is available on Youtube, Munshi shines a light on plight of women. About 16 or so years old poor girl is married off to a widower of her father’s age. Widower has three boys, ages 5, 8 and 15. Nirmala is very respectful towards her husband but she is uncomfortable with intimacy, is formal with him and maintains some distance. She takes very good care of the three boys and they are also respectful towards her and address her as a mother. However, being of similar age, the boys are also close to her and joke with her and she is also trying to learn English from 15 year old. When the father sees his own son with his young wife, in jealous rage, he sends his son away to a hostel. Due to non-nutritious food and illness, son falls ill and is on the verge of dying. At that time, the widower requests Nirmala to talk to the son in the hope that maybe he may respond to her and he explains to the hospital personnel that Nirmala is their mother. In two simple sentences at the end, uttered with distress and shame, one can see the regret that the father is feeling due to his various mistakes, when he is on the verge of losing his beloved elder son.

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – Book Review

African-American just married coupleA young couple, Celestial and Roy are living the American Dream. Roy is a young executive and his new bride Celestial is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. Roy observes, “all my life I have been helped by leg up programs – Head Start when I was five and Upward Bound all the way through. If I ever have kids, they will be able to pedal through life without training wheels, but I like to give credit where it is due”. You read these lines in the very first chapter and you feel incredibly proud of what American has achieved. Acknowledging the incredible progress America has made, Roy observes, “if you’re going to be black and struggling, the United States is probably the best place to do it”.

Silhouette of a businessman climbs up the stairs and another businessman pushes this ladder. The concept of inequality and injusticeRoy was determined to live out his American dream as up and coming, hungry young black professional, reaching for the stars, but never forgetting his roots. He says, “but with my mother and Celestial, I was actually split down the middle. Olive (his mother) brought me into this world and trained me up to be the man I recognized as myself. But Celestial was the portal to the rest of my life, the shiny door to the next level”. Although he came from the deep South, Roy felt that the American dream was in his grasp. Little did he know that the America that brought him Head Start and Upward Bound, still retained in the recesses of the deep unconscious, strong biases that can splinter young lives.  It seems in America, being black means never forgetting your race. As Kamau Bell once said, “being black means the exact same thing in the current era as it meant throughout the history of this country, that at any point a white person can harass you for no good reason, and you kind of would have to take it”.

A man in jailThe unfounded optimism about how far the country has come in eliminating racial prejudices, sometimes takes young black people by surprise. Unguarded and trusting, they fall prey, first to people’s biases, false eyewitnesses and testimonies, and later to society’s complex legal system. Held for days and weeks without a trial, without the help of appropriate legal attorney to navigate the complicated legal labrinth, it impacts entire families for generations. Roy and Celestial’s young lives are soon shattered when Roy is accused, arrested and sentenced to a crime he did not commit. Roy slept behind bars one hundred nights before he was even brought to trial and was then sentenced for twelve years. But Roy and Celestial had faith. Celestial says, “maybe that’s what innocence is, having no way to predict the pain of the future”. Getting arrested and getting sentenced unjustly, was not even half of the pain they would go through as they navigate through life; one a free bird with all kinds of new opportunities for the taking, and other behind bars, suffocating as if life is slowly being snuffed out of him. What happens to the love that formed the center of their existence, now finding expression in soul baring letters? Celestial writes, “a marriage is more than your heart, it’s your life. And we are not sharing ours”. Celestial is outside in the real world where sharing a life looks very different than it does to Roy, who is inside.

Image result for american marriage, tayari jonesRoy and Celestial’s journey touches our souls. Tayari Jones is a master storyteller. She lays bare before the readers, the simplicity of the young couple’s pain. And at the same time, her compassionate observations of the complex characters in the story, make their pain even more searing, even more real. First, there are hard questions about injustice and betrayal, a man’s responsibilities and demands of parents’ eternal love. Then there are heartbreaking complex softer issues like, who defines the propriety of our responsibilities and desires, and what does one do with wounds that may never heal.  American Marriage may not provide the answers, but this book will hold your attention, make you marvel at the richness of the language and from time to time, will stir your soul at some deep level where truth is….. just truth and humanity is humanity, regardless of race, class or color.

I would like to make one final point about unjust imprisonment and in 2018, all the emphasis that is being put on “law and order” but comparatively much less so on compassion, understanding and humanity. To address problems thus will continue to keep our society splintered and lives shattered, including black lives, lives of those seeking asylum, lives of children who cannot speak for themselves, lives of LGBTQ community that are often marginalized. Problems cannot disappear because children are taken away and put in cages or refugee families put in military detention centers or young black men taken away and put behind bars or young couples are not allowed to cement their love because they are of the same gender. Problems cannot disappear because people are made to disappear, left dead, broken or marginalized. That patriarchal solution treats the symptoms, giving a false sense of security. I hope we start thinking about it more wholistically and offer systemic solutions that are also compassionate and humane. One can’t underscore the importance of effective leadership at national level, to bring this dialog at the forefront in a constructive way, with less divisive rhetoric and with appeal for broad engagement towards more compassionate systemic solutions along with heightened individual awareness. 

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“Little Night” by Luanne Rice – Book Review

Image result for little night by luanne rice“Little Night” by New York Times Bestselling author, Luanne Rice is heart-wrenching family drama, centered around two sisters and the abusive man who wrecked havoc in their life.  Frederick finds a vulnerability in the older sister, Anne and almost within days of meeting her, proposes to marry her.  Almost immediately he begins to lay down the rules in their relationship, insisting that marriage is a special bond between two people.  To young Anne, this older and confident man’s proclamations felt like he was “offering me a new contract: I would be his, accept his pronouncements, and in return, never be alone, never be unloved”.  

Very early on into the relationship, Frederick saw the closeness between his wife Anne and her younger sister Clare, as a threat to his ability to control and claim Anne completely.  He began to drive a wedge and soon Clare was unwelcome in their home and unable to contact Clare.  It took Clare several years to understand that “Frederick had laid down the law, and, even more horrifying, Anne had signed on to obey it”.  But long before she gets that insight, Frederick nearly ruined Clare’s life when Clare showed up unexpectedly at their home, wanting to see her sister.

Image result for domestic abuseAfter that devastating episode, Frederick took Anne far away and more isolated and alone, Anne learned to walk on eggshells to please Frederick.  Any little thing by Anne or their two children, Grit and Gilly, could throw Frederick into his dark and menacing mood.  Initially, Clare nurtured a hope to get away from Frederick and promised her children freedom.  But gradually, it became a pipe dream with an understanding that communication only occurred only through “intimidation and fear”.  And yet, even Anne’s showing any fear threw Frederick into a rage; “you make me feel like an animal when you act like that”, he said, “as if you’re so afraid of me”.  

Image result for owlMeanwhile Clare had picked up pieces of her own life, marred by Frederick’s interference, and was living a quiet life an urban birder and nature blogger, learning to find both comfort and peace in her work and with her boyfriend, Paul.  The story takes an unexpected twist when Anne’s daughter, Grit shows up at Clare’s door, ready to move in with her.  She explains she is working on a project that has “everything to do with resurrection, restoration and resurgence”, as found in nature.  As they unravel tangled family ties buried in secrets, healing and freedom begin to appear, albeit at a price.


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Stan’s Leap by Tom Duerig – Book Review

This book was recommended to me by my friend and author, Tom Duerig.  Tom Duerig is a scientist by training, specializing in Nitinol, a shape memory alloy.  He is the founder and president of Nitinol Devices and Components (NDC).  This was his first book of fiction and he asked me for my honest, unbiased opinion.  I found the book so wonderful that I decided I needed to write the review.

I will say that the best parts are a bit slow in coming, but they come and eventually it becomes a sheer page turner.  As the book progresses one sees that the author matures as well.  After the first few slow moving pages, the first 35% of the book is interesting with lots of good information.  The story gradually becomes more interesting as it becomes clear that 20 or so vacationers initially looking for total immersion in polynesian resort experience, now are finding themselves stranded without any hope to reconnect with the outside world.

The resort experience that was supposed to be a short enjoyable vacation and a fun challenge at the beginning, now became a survival issue.  Learning the skills became essential for their survival.  There are plenty of good lessons, should you ever get stuck on an island without any modern amenities, including phones, radios, clothes, tooth brushes, shoes and everything else that you can think of.  You can make torches and ink from candlenut trees, rope from hibiscus, use ti plant to wrap food for cooking, use tutu trees to make pareos or cloth and so on.  Where the story comes up short initially is in character development.  The reader somehow does not feel connected enough to care for the stranded people.  

All that changes dramatically at about 50% mark, as Adam, son of Jenny and Stan, emerges as the main character and also the narrator, as the story moves forward.  All other characters now emerge with their own personalities and depth.  Story also starts moving at a faster pace as the stranded group moves from stone age to the age of metal and tools.  Aspiration grows among some group members, to learn about the outside world.

When the contact is finally made with the outside world, the stranded vacationers who had moved back to the stone age of the past, now find that they have the future to catch up to.  Two major companies Google and Yahoo had gone out of business and the younger generation did not even know what internet was.  This book takes the readers on quite a journey and the lessons in sailing and surviving on an island, come as added bonus.

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“How to be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran — Book Review

With provocative images, words, and language, Caitlin Moran advances her feminist agenda in what is clearly a prescriptive book, “How to be a woman”.  Some people in my book club were not amused; perhaps by the crude language.  But let’s face it; would you rather have yet another preachy feminist book or a sarcastic, sardonic, witty, and funny one?

The book is part memoir and is interspersed with her own experiences of growing up in a crowded home, with five younger siblings. A home so crowded that Moran concludes that it is “far more sensible and much quicker to cry alone” about all the issues accompanying “growing pains”, as she grows from a girl to a woman.  When it comes to subjects concerning women, Moran tackles them all, controversial, provocative, and seemingly superficial; from teenage angst, obsession with the body, sex, love, work, motherhood, cosmetic interventions, and yes also birth control and abortion.   

Regarding the teenage angst of discovering hair growing in odd, inconvenient places and the pain and cost of waxing, she says, “we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a vagina”; and panties and thongs that are constantly getting skimpier and more inconvenient, they “should be bombed back to the stone age”.  With the same fervor, she tackles uncomfortable, bad for the legs, high heeled shoes and dozens of highly expensive brand name handbags that women must have.  As for clothes, Moran says, “women are judged on what they wear in a way men would find incomprehensible”.  “Normal women buy clothes to make them look good; whereas the fashion industry buys models to make the clothes look good”, says Moran.

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm stiletto heels. Category:Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then there are deeper societal issues.  Sexism, she says, used to be overt and everywhere.  Now there is subtle sexism and it is more pernicious and damaging because there is an “element of doubt involved”.  And if you previously did not know it, by the time you read her account, you will be convinced that pregnancy and childbirth are not for the faint of the heart.

Recounting her own experience, Moran says, “My water is unbroken – they break it with a crochet hook.  My contractions have stopped — they jump start them with a pessary.  My cervix is unyielding — painfully, they sweep it, just as a contraction starts.  It is a sensation a little like being diced, internally, at the start of a slow murder”.  This is just a start of the description of her difficult childbirth process, during the birth of her first child.  I will skip more gory details here.  However, speaking in favor of motherhood, Moran says, “once you have experienced that level of pain, the rest of your life becomes easy.  However awful an experience, it’s really not wasted”.  Moreover, if you do get mentored in a women friendly environment and can use the magic of gravity then the task of child birthing becomes “simple, amazingly simple”!

Mother and Child (Gordine)

Mother and Child (Gordine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regarding child rearing, Moran says, “the sheer emotional, intellectual, physical, chemical pleasure” of children, being “high on ridiculous love” is “awe-inspiring”.   “It’s like being mugged by Cupid”, she says.  But Moran does not shy away from saying that for all women and at all times, this may not be the most appropriate vocation.  She says, “Our view of motherhood is still so idealized and misty — Mother, gentle giver of life — that the thought of a mother subsequently setting limits on her capacity to nurture and refusing to give further life seems obscene”.  In fact, Moran candidly shares her own moment of decision, when abortion was just the right choice, in her life.  She says, “the stakes are far, far too high.  I can’t agree with a society that would force me to bet on how much I could love under duress”.

“How to be a Woman” takes a stand against sexism, without being moralistic and without apologies.  From provocative observations of women’s lives, from the impact of wearing high heeled shoes to getting Brazilians, to being pressured into having an unwanted child, Moran weaves a narrative of what it means to be a woman, in a society where sexism exists.  And in doing so, Moran reclaims the word “feminism”.


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“The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong – Book Review

Primarily set in Paris in the 1930s, in “The Book of Salt”, we get to understand life through the perspective of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and her lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas.  Binh is a shrewd observer and in equal measure, he is creative in recounting the life of his famous mesdames, as he is candid in telling about his own place in the world.  If you are looking for a story with a beginning, middle, and an ending with a climax then the story might disappoint you.  His is a story that must be enjoyed as as a journey, without yearning for a destination.  The beauty of language in how the story is told is striking.  Enjoy below a few interesting quotes from the book and read it to enjoy more.

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: P...

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: Porträt Gertrude Stein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vocabulary of servitude is not built upon my knowledge of foreign words but rather on my ability to swallow them.

Communicating in the negative is not the quickest and certainly not the most esteemed form of expression, but for those of us with few words to spare it is the magic spell, the incantation, that opens up an otherwise inaccessible treasure trove.

Only the rich can afford not to eat their animals.

After years of the imposed invisibility of servitude, I am acutely aware when when I am being watched, a sensitivity born from absence, a grain of salt on the tongue of a man who has tasted only bitter.

In order for his new business to thrive, he needed to be within walking distance of poverty.  Abject was not required.  That would be overdoing it.  He needed just a paid-on-Saturday, broke-by-sunday kind of poverty, a deep-rooted not-going-anywhere-soon kind of insolvency.  

He was a cook, after all.  For tenderness, we all know that braising is better than an open flame.  

She believes that it is possible to be humane even when one is behaving brutally.

A bridge belongs to no one because a bridge has to belong to two parties, one on either side.  There has to be an agreement, a mutual consent, otherwise it’s a useless piece of wood, a wasted expanse of cement.  Every bridge is, in this way, he explained, a monument to an accord.

Regarding sea sickness………
My body had to first let go of land before it could survive at sea.  It is the body’s stubborn resistance and violent refusal that are solely at fault, producing sham symptoms.

Charity that has to be repaid?  Wouldn’t that make it a loan?

She sat still and received from her mother a rare gift of tenderness, which for the girl would always mean pain.

Wives are never geniuses.  Geniuses are never wives.  GertrudeStein, therefore, has no use for them.  

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pinch of salt, according to my Madame, should not be a primitive reflex, a nervous twitch on the part of any cook……..

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others.  The true test of salt – the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack — has been lost, according to my Madame, to be centuries of culinary imprudence.

A “memory” was for me another way of saying a “story”.  A “story” was another way of saying a “gift”.

For a traveler, it is sometimes necessary to make the world small on purpose.  It is the only way to stop migrating and find a new home.  

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, whe...

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, where Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) lived with her brother Leo Stein and later with Alice B. Toklas. Many artists and writers came here to visit her between 1903 and 1938. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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“Minefields of the Heart” by Sue Diaz – Book Review

Praying for safety and security of all our Veterans and their families #VeteransDay #VeteransMatter

Darshana Varia Nadkarni's Blog

“War is hell”.  Most of us know this however, from a certain safe distance, except those who are in it; in the physical hellishness of war.  Towards the end of the book the author discusses another book “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick, an account of one platoon’s descent into madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death.  Diaz says, he writes a factual and fair account of “lonely outposts, insurgent safe-houses, cold canals, farm fields crisscrossed by enemy fire, and streets as dangerous as they were dusty”.  This is the physical hellishness of war that despite being gruesome, is, for most of us, at a certain geographical safe distance.

Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for ... Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for disposal. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is clearing it’s minefields of outdated mines in accordance with President William Jefferson Clinton’s directive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in this book, Minefields of the Heart, Diaz writes…

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“The Dog Lived and So Will I” by Teresa J. Rhyne — Book Review

“I was hideous.  Hideous.  In preparing for chemo I’d thought about the hair loss, of course, and concentrated on the fact that it would grow back.  I thought about losing my eyelashes and decided eye shadow and liner would work miracles.  I knew of the bloating weight gain the steroids could cause but told myself that was better than nausea and again it was temporary; after all, Seamus (dog) had gained 20 percent of his body weight and just as quickly was back in fighting shape.  Menopause would come, sure, but it was going to do that sooner or later anyway, and before it happened I was no more aware than anyone else of the true meaning of hot flashes and how you burn from the inside out, so that hadn’t bothered me either.  Somehow I had overlooked skin rashes as a side effect and never, never had I given thought to what these side effects would all be like together.  Not until that moment, face to mirrored face.  …….. How does one recover from this? Impossible. ……. I can’t do this.  I can’t”.

Heaven forbid and if one ever has to go through cancer treatment, having read this book not only would help one navigate the morass of health care system, but also giver clear hope that not only “it too shall pass” but it is worth waiting for the “cookie moment”.

Teresa poured her heart and soul (not to mention her hard earned money) to take her beagle, Seamus, survive through an aggressive form of cancer.  She cried buckets of tears, took him for his biopsy and chemo appointments, rushed him to the hospital when his white blood count dropped dangerously low, and stood up to the neglectful veterinarians, to get him the care he needed.  However, in one of life’s cruel ironies, before long she discovered that she had a lump in her breast and the biopsy showed it to be the one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, a triple negative breast cancer.   How does one survive such traumas?  The answer is “love”.

Some may consider this a story of surviving cancer, but this is a story about the rock, the glue, and the toast.  After being divorced twice, Teresa had a new boyfriend Chris, ten years younger, smart, funny, wise, and infinitely kind.  Little did they know that he would be the rock (the pack leader) on whom she would need to lean during both Seamus’s and her own illness and treatment.  When Teresa is completely dejected and feels she can’t do this anymore, he bakes her cookies at four in the morning, drives her to all her medical appointments, tries out wigs with her, and in solidarity as she looses her hair, he grows his hair, making a deal that he would only cut when she needed a cut, after the regrowth of her hair.

Camry the beagle

Camry the beagle (Photo credit: laRuth)

Teresa for her part is the glue that holds their family together.  She leans on him but gives him space.  She is infinitely grateful and brings her and Chris’s family into the fold, eventually bringing them to meet each other.  Seamus who loves toast, steals people’s hearts with his cuteness.  He brings much needed joyful respites to their little family.

I cry easily but this book did not make me cry.  I teared up often reading this touching tender story, but I also laughed a lot.  Deep grief is wrapped in smart, witty, humorous, funny anecdotes.  And then there is treasure trove of information about little questions that are hard to get answered.  Is it painful for the radioactive tracer to be injected in order to locate the tumor for a biopsy, how long it takes for a chemo treatment, how long does it take for radiation, and more.

And while majority of the health care personnel and physicians are compassionate, committed, and are deeply dedicated to the welfare of their patients, there are some who are clearly uninterested, detached, and neglectful.  Teresa stands up (unfortunately not always succeeding) for her right as a patient to get timely information and reasonable care.  One of the physicians who rarely sees her patients, leaving actual care in the hands of the nurses, assures Teresa (about her dangerous white blood count crash), these side effects are very common, and the nurses know how to deal with them.  We deal with this stuff all the time.”  Teresa points out, that the nurse did not have the answers on how to deal with them and says, “it’s not common to me.  I don’t deal with it all the time”.  Contrarily, she is enormously grateful and highly appreciative of the compassionate and thorough care she received at the UCLA cancer center and particularly Dr. Amer Karam.

This is an engaging, funny, sweet, uplifting, heartwarming story.  After all, who would not like to read about a cute dog’s hilarious antics?


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