EAT PRAY LOVE: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia /Author: Elizabeth Gilbert /Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

A magazine assignment took a 30 something woman from NY to Bali where a ninth generation medicine man prophesied her return. She keeps her appointment because he said she would but also makes fresh plans; putting her old life on hold, signing up for an extreme religious experience in India and enrolling in language courses in Italy – because she realized she should.

‘Exhausted by the cumulative consequences of a lifetime of hasty choices and chaotic passions’, Elizabeth Gilbert will leave the ruins of her former life (nasty break-up & all) and head out into the wilderness for some very unusual R&R. Her spirits demand an instant pick me up and a dramatic makeover.

This voyage of self discovery requires that she take a year off, trading in the comforts of home for the comforts of Europe and the discomfort of the third world. Somewhere in another book she has described her foray into the unknown as ‘an experiment with solitude and self accountability’. Most people seeking spiritual rehabilitation probably would not have plotted such an elaborate course to enlightenment. Most people might also have had some trouble lining up eager publishers willing to purchase their book about these experiences beforehand. Moreover, they would think twice before taking their private demons out for a public walk.

Elizabeth is different. Not only does she provide an unflinching portrayal of her post break-up self but she also allows readers to accompany her on a retrieval mission starting from the dreary base camp littered with the debris of wrecked relationships all the way to the summit. And she still manages to make most of it sound funny, which is remarkable.

Here is someone struggling to find her way back, first through food, then with meditation and finally with love and more meditation. She engages in conversations with the Almighty, herself, her mind, invisible dead Guru’s, visible Balinese healers etc. She falls head over heels with a pizzeria in Naples and makes friends with people who have names like Luca Spaghetti (no offence intended). She talks to herself in a notebook, and the notebook talks back.

Indonesia is about learning to ‘hold steady in this chaotic world’ from the good Balinese – global masters of balance. Italy is simpler. The closest Elizabeth gets to art is in the ‘National Museum of Pasta’ which is fine since she just intends to savour their ‘beautiful food’ and rich language. India is, of course reserved for that all important transcendent experience (that will ‘transport her from portals of the universe’ taking her to the centre of God’s palm). At every terminal she checks in demons along with her baggage. After each stop, she summons a new-found spiritual discipline to vanquish these unwelcome travel companions.

A wonderful assortment of friends, family and well wishers are stationed throughout bringing basket loads of humour, advice and insight. There will either be a Richard, Elizabeth’s Texas Yogi – helping her become more anchored or Iva, her Lebanese friend back home, who comes with ‘an Iva-only Bat-Phone to the universe & an open-round-the-clock special channel to the divine’ making her understand the mysteries of the world.

An article called ‘The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon’, chronicling Ms. Gilbert’s experiences as a bartender became the basis for ‘Coyote Ugly’ – the movie. And now the quest for divine communion and Italian food that drove her halfway across the world is the basis for another.

ISBN: 9781408810101

No of Pages: 382

Price: Rs. 695

Available at Liberty Books

Afrah Jamal is a Columnist for Daily Times.

Email: afrahjh@hotmail.com

Blog: http://afrahjamal.blogspot.com/


THE POWER by Rhonda Byrne / Book Review by: Afrah Jamal

 

Like Po the Kung Fu master wannabe discovered in ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – there is no secret ingredient, so shall the readers. The power that has created such frenzy lies in one word.

Rhonda Byrne believes everyone has power over their circumstances, and yet their lives careen out of control. Throughout history, anyone with a good life has, knowingly or unknowingly, used the ‘Power’. The rest are oblivious to its life changing potential and mope around sadly.

The premise here is simply – if you want something – it is yours for the taking; health, wealth, happiness, career, successful relationships – all yours.

Finding this power does not require any major suspension of disbelief. Ancient records attest to its existence. It manifests itself in the form of inexplicable moments like a charmed life, that incredible comeback, a miraculous recovery, an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Those who have seen it in action may know it by different names – will power, faith or serendipity.

For Ms. Byrne it is simpler. The secret that the world has been waiting with bated breath to hear is the love that resides within each of us.

Wait what? Love! At first the revelation comes across as a bit of an anticlimax. All the secrecy, that incredibly moving you tube video, the label announcing that this is the ‘handbook to the greatest power in the universe’ – that was about l’amore?

Rhonda does not refer to love in vague terms but equates it with other forces of nature like gravity or electromagnetism. Their existence is indisputable and love happens to be in the same category but is far more formidable.

This love is not just a feeling but a positive force, the only one of its kind and governed by laws of attraction which happen to be the most powerful laws in the universe. Properly harnessed, it can give complete control over every little aspect of life. She assigns extraordinary powers to emotions. ‘Positivity’ begets ‘positivity’, and vice versa.

Apparently, this is science and not some kind of voodoo.  “Whether your thoughts and feelings are good or bad, they return as automatically and precisely as an echo”. She asserts that such emotions have magnetic frequencies and this magnetism attracts everything towards you. Feelings also determine the polarity of this field (good feelings = positive frequency of love), attracting people, events and circumstances that happen to be on a similar frequency. Job (3:25) backs her on this. “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me”.

It is like that old adage “you are what you eat”, only here “you are what you feel” and what you feel is what you get. Taking feelings off auto pilot is therefore recommended because reacting to the negative with bad feelings attracts more negativity. She then takes it further – one can have anything just by visualizing it. “Imagine it, feel it, receive it.” Personal experiences follow on the heels of this startling observation.

This sounds suspiciously easy. One just has to be happy and give happiness to receive happy things, and by occasionally wishing peace and goodwill for mankind, ones hearts desires will magically appear at the door?

Well, yes. And no.

There is a process. Using ‘The Power’ calls for engaging with the Universe and making it a part of every day life requires major adjustments. One must take hate, greed, envy, malice, irritability, despair, doubts & insecurities out of business and put love in charge.

This is not the first time Rhonda Byrne has made such claims. A few years ago she came across a secret that had been passed on through centuries. Sharing that knowledge in her bestseller (appropriately named ‘The Secret’) made her an instant phenomenon. That knowledge has reportedly transformed tens of millions of lives across the globe. ‘The Power’ unearths patterns in seemingly random events adding another layer to the tale.

As for financial security that everyone craves but not everyone gets – her analysis is that majority of the worlds’ wealth is in the hands of a few percent and redistributing the money will not alter this ridiculous fact. Money will find its way back to a select few who magnetize it back to them. “The force of love moves all the money and riches in the world and it moves it according to the law.”

The solution? “Change the way you feel about money, the amount of money in your life will change. The better you feel about money, the more money you magnetize to yourself”. Apparently desire for money is not enough. Money will stick only if it is not being repelled by ones insecurities. Constantly worrying about it is a repellent. Generosity is always nice.

Her guide to getting career, relationships or health back on track advocates letting love dictate terms instead of other emotions. She is joined by historians, prophets, philosophers, scientists, poets and playwrights who appear to have some inkling of the Power’s potential.

So if people were to subscribe to this notion, they would go around being nice to everyone – all the time. They would stop complaining and be grateful for every little thing. They might get their dream house, job, spouse, car, horse, life simply by willing it. They would be able to manipulate their age and take control of their health by reprogramming their bodies. Jet lag, for instance would be a thing of the past. Mind over matter would always be in style. Sporadic acts of kindness would be the rage. Man would be one step closer to finding salvation.

‘The Power’ promises to help everyone who has a rendezvous with destiny, keep their appointment just by changing their outlook.

ISBN: 9780857201706
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 270
Price: Rs. 1,495.00
Available at Liberty Books

Afrah Jamal is a Columnist for Daily Times & former Editor Social Pages

Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War by Megan Stack | Book review by Kamila Shamsie | The Guardian

“Only after covering it for years did I understand that the war on terror never really existed.” That’s a bold statement, three pages into a book about a journalist’s experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia starting days after 9/11. If the war on terror doesn’t exist, what is the glue that holds together these places?

It soon becomes evident that Megan Stack herself is the glue. She tries to downplay this as far as possible, realising the absurdity of trying to put herself at the centre of stories of benighted nations, but nonetheless this is a book which follows the chronology of her travels. She is the journalist being sent from one place to another, propelled by the media’s belief that such a thing as the war on terror does exist, that there is a unifying principle that connects all these countries to each other, and to the idea of America’s safety. Stack comes to understand that actually there is merely “a unifying myth for a complicated scramble of mixed impulses and social theories and night terrors and cruelty and business interests”, but that does nothing to undercut the horrors that she witnesses. There is not one war, yet there is a seemingly endless supply of terror, often tangled up with US foreign policy, and if you move through it, from nation to nation, something in you will probably break.

Stack does not seek to tease out the links and disconnections between the various and varied nations of which she writes; it’s a relief to realise that she isn’t going to try to place, for example, Afghanistan and Egypt into the same crucible of analysis (if “the war on terror” is a myth, so is “the Muslim world”). What she does instead, with her fine journalistic eye, is capture what she sees and hears, and present it alongside enough taut analysis to move her accounts beyond the merely factual.

It doesn’t always work. There are times when her language seems to come right out of a 19th-century imperial text. A group of Afghans are “slippery, wild-eyed figures”; Lebanon is a country marked by “its dagger-in-teeth warlords and its slick shiny liars and its endless capacity for blood and more blood”. She is also prey to the notion that there comes a point at which people from different regions of the world are simply unable to understand each other. She can’t understand the Iraqis who support Saddam, and her Iraqi friend Nora can’t understand the US soldiers who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib. “We were both just crusts of deep and complex icebergs,” Stack says, by way of explaining the mutual incomprehension. Putting aside the question of what makes an iceberg complex, this statement reflects a “never the twain shall meet” laziness of thought. In truth, it doesn’t require very much time and effort to understand either side of the Saddam-Abu Ghraib equation. Even more egregious is her claim that “Egypt rippled with tension between Islam and democracy”, which comes right after she describes, in great detail, how a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood is denied victory at the polls because of vote-tampering by the secular yet dictatorial government.

These failures of imagination, the slippages into received reactionary ideas, are particularly jarring precisely because so much of the rest of the book is illuminating and compassionate. When she’s writing about Raheem, her guide and companion through southern Iraq, whose son Mohammad was killed by US snipers firing without a specific target, or about the Iraqi reporter Atwar Bahjat, who was assassinated by her countrymen for denouncing sectarianism, her anger at the suffering and loss is as clear as her great regard for the people who live through hell with both dignity and courage.

She is aided by a prose style which, though occasionally given to melodrama or tangled metaphors, is more often sharp and evocative. In a single sentence she can conjure up mood and atmosphere, for instance in Amman, where “wilting wedding guests dragged themselves over the floors, old men muttered into cigarettes, and late-night playboys in dark suits chased their own laughter into the darkness”.

She is at her best when considering the one region in which she isn’t an outsider: war-reporting. She is all too aware that a great many of the dispossessed continue to hope that someone in the world will hear their stories and be moved to assist; it makes people eager to tell her their stories, and she writes them down knowing that no one will come to help. In one horrifying episode, a young Iraqi called Ahmed comes to meet Stack repeatedly, with his girlfriend, in order to tell his story. All of them know the dangers. One day he and his girlfriend are recognised by someone with militia connections; Stack is never able to contact him after that, and remains haunted by the idea that both young Iraqis were killed because they were seen with her.

She knows she is among the privileged, the ones who can go, the ones whose country isn’t tearing itself apart, and this privilege starts to eat away at her (though she fastidiously avoids the impression that she’s asking for pity) until she finally makes use of it and leaves. But before she goes she has reached the point where journalistic detachment has given way to this cry in Lebanon (or is it Afghanistan, or is it Iraq?): “Oh god, just make it stop. Make the bombs stop.”

This review was published in The Guardian.

The book is available at Liberty Books stores and website.

Book Review: Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs – By Muhammad Yunus with Karl Weber

In the early 1970s when an academician from a third world country came across the victims of a moneylender, he did what good Samaritans usually do in such circumstances: he took charge, paid off their small loan, securing a temporary release. Then the academician did something many probably would not have done. He decided to put the affected community members (residing in rural Bangladesh) in charge and sought a permanent end to their financial woes. Since the only government-sanctioned weapon needed to combat this menace (banks) flatly refused to help (and the good Samaritan was neither a millionaire nor a magician), he decided to forge one on his own.

That a paltry sum of $ 27 could make such a difference in 42 lives caught in the moneylenders’ net led to the development of an intriguing concept, one that advocated that extending a financial lifeline to those deemed to be non-creditworthy makes good business sense. So, under the direction of academician-turned-humanitarian Muhammad Yunus, the first Grameen Bank was set up.

A financial institution that introduced the concept of micro-credit, lending tiny sums of collateral-free loans to destitute families (mostly women), does more than simply bail them out of trouble. This was a bank for the poor and owned by the poor, giving them a real shot at life and setting them up with economic opportunities in the bargain, besides of course putting the exploitive members of society out of business.

Muhammad Yunus’s work was not finished; other problems beckoned him and he made it his life’s mission to change the foundations of a useless system, one social business at a time. Muhammad Yunus, now a veteran, has a new vision and in “Building Social Business…..”, he looks back at past achievements and ahead at future possibilities. But first he sets out to explain his precious concept to the mystified public, who are hearing the term for the first time.

A social business model is devised with a twist; it does not recognise the traditional lines set by conventional businesses, and takes profit out of the company equation. Except for the profit part, a social business is just like any other business and modelled on the same principles. But, as Muhammad Yunus will tell you, it is very different from other charitable institutions.

He goes to great lengths to differentiate between charities, cooperatives (co-ops), NGOs, foundations or the corporate social responsibility side (CSR) of businesses and his pet projects. A social business is self-sustaining, the needy are the sole beneficiaries, and anyone can be a social businessman; starting small is encouraged, research is imperative, and “impatience” can be a virtue. Also, social benefit and profit are compartmentalised; the twain shall never mix and the poor take all.

One man has made a sustainable business model that quietly challenges the established ways of doing business. It already has a global seal of approval, having been emulated all over the world. He admits that his idea does not signal the end of profit maximising businesses, but widens the playing field, giving “new options to the consumers, employees and entrepreneurs and raising social awareness among the business community”. Where other systems have come close to crashing or, in the case of developing nations, failed on a spectacular scale, Yunus can put his string of successes on display for those shopping for new ideas.

After the successful field-testing of financial services, he branched out and partnered with other companies to launch projects like Grameen Danone (offering nutritious food products), Grameen Veolia Water (solving the arsenic laced water supply problem by providing clean drinking water), and Grameen Healthcare, while creating jobs in the process.

Social business has many admirers: Adidas, BASF, Intel, Otto GmbH are some of the major players involved with Grameen projects. But it has not always been smooth sailing for the banker to the poor. He includes the lessons learnt from his 40 years experience, and takes aspiring social business owners through the steps of not only building a successful business, but also rebuilding society in the process. He also leaves behind a nice little template for motivated individuals ready to take their first idea for a spin.

Yunus may be an astute (social) businessman, but he also has a savvy side. He is quick to point out that working for any social business does not mean lowering one’s standards, for they offer employees competitive salaries and benefits; it simply means not profiting from the poor. Social business owners normally step in where governments fear to tread. The global ambassador of the poor teaches humanity how to take their natural altruistic impulses forward properly. M Yunus has a Nobel Peace Prize 2006 (shared with Grameen Bank) to show for his efforts, and is already playing around with the building blocks of a new poverty-free world order.

Published in Daily Times under the title of ‘Business with a catch’.

Format: HardBack
ISBN: 9781586488246
Publisher: Public Affairs
No of Pages: 254
Price: Rs 1,795
Available at Liberty Books

Afrah Jamal is is former Editor Social Pages & a freelance journalist who blogs at afrahjamal.blogspot.com. She can be reached at afrahjh@hotmail.com

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush | Book review | Books | The Guardian

First, the prime ministership or presidency. Then the all-important memoir. And as political wives are increasingly thrust into the spotlight, to be ogled as a mix and match of celebrity clothes-horse, social worker to the nation and loyal spouse, there is a growing market for the story of what life is “really like” at the centre of power.

Such memoirs tend to be drippily titled, but are often quite a riveting read. Cherie Blair’s Speaking for Myself was a pacy if passionately partial account of her 10 years in Downing Street. Sarah Brown, with her million followers on Twitter, surely has an eager readership ready to devour her take on life at the top, due out next year.

Spoken from the Heart perfectly fits the personal-is-political template. There is a lot of detail of designer dresses worn, official meals enjoyed, furniture and wallpaper restored, tours conducted and, of course, important political people encountered. Tony and Cherie are particular favourites, as is Nicolas Sarkozy, of all people. Vladimir Putin is given the occasional dressing down on the importance of democracy. Barack Obama is chided for his personal attacks on George during the 2008 campaign. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and “Condi” Rice are all portrayed as utterly delightful.

So far, so Republican. Yet Laura Bush emerges as a substantial figure, quietly sure of her views on abortion and gay marriage. Admired where her husband was derided, she reveals a steely loyalty to George and traditional family life and a prodigious appetite for independent good works. In generational terms, she stands as the bridge between the Pat Nixon/Norma Major model of political wifehood and later, more flamboyant figures such as Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama. Interestingly, she is resoundingly silent on her successor.

The book is elegantly written – the Bushes frequently being “helicoptered” to various locations aside – and begins with lyrical accounts of the harsh Texan landscape, “a land of magnificent distances and empty range”. An only child, little Laura Welch was clearly much cherished. But like so many American families of that postwar generation, a blend of stoicism, puritanism and middle-class mores frequently resulted in damaging silences about life’s deeper difficulties. No wonder they all drank so hard. To the end of his life, her father kept photographs of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp he had helped liberate during the war, yet he would never discuss what he had seen there. Her parents never spoke of the three babies they lost after Laura was born, including a baby son who lived for a few days.

When, age 17, Laura was involved in a car crash in which a childhood friend was killed, that too was never talked about. She did not attend the funeral or ever speak to her dead friend’s parents – omissions that she now deeply regrets. Yet her own daughters only learned about the crash from their secret service detail when the story became public during the first term of Bush’s presidency. She here describes the accident in painful and moving detail, but it is one of the very few personal areas where she risks full frankness. In fact, much of her account of these early years is unwittingly overshadowed by another book entirely: Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2008 novel, American Wife, based on many of the incidents and passages of Laura’s life, including her grandmother’s alleged lesbianism, her 20s as an unmarried school teacher, her sexually explosive relationship with the carousing son of a Texan political dynasty and subsequent difficulties integrating with his extended clan.

Sittenfeld’s novel is so brilliantly imagined that mere autobiography pales in comparison. Which is rather unfair. Is it really so surprising that we learn nothing about Laura Bush’s sexual life with George, or that she skirts around his early alcoholism or deploys diplomacy in the story of her relationship with Barbara Bush, the clan matriarch? Laura Bush acknowledges that there were some significant early tensions with “Bar”, but claims the two women eventually bonded over a love of art – and George. Good for them, but a bit of a yawn for us.

The other shadow hanging over Spoken from the Heart is, of course, politics. The further the book progresses the clearer it is that Laura Bush has her man and his two-term record to defend. This includes two unpopular foreign wars, accusations of gross mishandling of a major natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) and the collapse of the banks in the autumn of Bush’s second term. George himself stays largely in the shadows, but Laura never misses an opportunity to defend the actions of his presidency.

Her account of 9/11 and the shadow it casts over America’s skies is well told, but she quickly elides the punishment of Afghanistan with a quasi-feminist mission to save Afghani women from the brutal repression of the Taliban. On Iraq, she presents a picture of a mounting nuclear threat to the west. Yet once the invasion has begun, the American presence is somehow justified on ever-shifting grounds, including the murderous treatment of the Kurds and the barbarous cronyism of Saddam Hussein’s family. In a chilling aside, she describes how, when US troops captured the palace of Saddam’s son Uday, they found the walls plastered with pictures of the Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna – although, rather typically, the girls were not told of the grotesque find.

Bush’s much-criticised failure to visit a devastated New Orleans after Katrina is explained on the grounds of presidential selflessness. “With people still trapped in their flooded homes and thousands not yet evacuated from the Superdome, George did not want a single policy officer or National Guard unit . . . to be diverted from the rescue efforts.” Inevitably, such passages read like lame justifications of generally acknowledged political failings. George fades even further from the centre of the narrative as the story moves to a close. The wife of the US president has unparalleled global reach and influence; even so, we should tip our stetson to Laura Bush for her unflagging work promoting women’s education in Afghanistan, literacy in general, combating Aids in Africa and gang culture in America, and speaking up boldly against military tyranny in Burma. Not bad for the shy young teacher/librarian who only agreed to marry her politically ambitious boyfriend after he had solemnly promised that she would never have to make a campaign speech.

This review was written by Melissa Benn and published in The Guardian.

Spoken from the Heart is available at all Liberty Books outlets and on our website.

Reality bites – The Express Tribune

I know what you are thinking — yet another book on the Taliban. And you would be right. Over the past 10 years anything bearing the word ‘Taliban’ on the cover was bound to sell, or at the very least bring some recognition.

And why shouldn’t these books sell? ‘Who are the Taliban?’ This question has obsessed policymakers and the public alike in the last decade. It has topped other historic mysteries like the Kennedy assassination or the moon landing.

But this is not just any book on the Taliban. First of all My Life with the Taliban is not just about the Taliban, it is by the Taliban. This is the autobiography of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior member of the Taliban. His memoirs, translated from Pashtu, are more than just a personal account of his extraordinary life.

In this truly exceptional text, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, offers an honest account of his personal worldview and a first-hand history of the Taliban movement. The remarkable editing of Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn allows non-specialists to fully understand the context and cultural references that support Zaeef’s narrative. And while many may say the book is partisan, and they may be right, I cannot help but praise the editors for their quest for authenticity and their courage at spending the amount of time that they did in Kandahar.

The real value, of course, is that to the best of my knowledge, this is the first and only memoir penned by an important figure in the Taliban movement, offering a perspective into a unique worldview.

Reading Mullah Zaeef’s book reminded me how valuable it is to read about a movement like the Taliban from its own perspective. The real intelligence in the book lies not in its details but in the texture, perspective, assumptions and narratives that it provides from inside the Taliban leadership — a very rare perspective.

And while the book is basically an autobiography it provides valuable insight, for those who seek it, about a scenario which makes it easy for a young man to think that joining the Taliban is the best choice available to him.

Zaeef describes growing up in rural poverty in Kandahar province. Both of his parents died at an early age, and the Russian invasion of 1979 forced him to flee to Pakistan. He started fighting the jihad in 1983, during which time he was associated with many major figures in the anti-Soviet resistance, including the current Taliban head Mullah Mohammad Omar.

After the war Zaeef returned to a quiet life in a small village in Kandahar, but chaos soon overwhelmed Afghanistan as factional fighting erupted after the Russians pulled out. Disgusted by the lawlessness that ensued, Zaeef was one among the former mujahideen who were closely involved in the discussions that led to the emergence of the Taliban in 1994.

Zaeef then details his Taliban career as civil servant and minister who negotiated with foreign oil companies as well as with Afghanistan’s own resistance leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Zaeef was ambassador to Pakistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and his account discusses the ‘phoney war’ period before the US-led intervention toppled the Taliban.

In early 2002, Zaeef was handed over to American forces in Pakistan, notwithstanding his diplomatic status, and spent four-and-a-half years in prison (including several years in Guantánamo) before being released without having been tried or charged.

My Life with the Taliban offers a personal and privileged insight into the rural Pakhtun village communities that are the Taliban’s bedrock. It helps to explain what drives men like Zaeef to take up arms against foreigners foolish enough to invade his homeland.

Be prepared to be surprised however, when you read the book. Nostalgic talk about the bygone Afghan monarchy is common, but one doesn’t expect it from a founder of the Taliban and one of its most prominent officials. Nor do we expect mild talk of secular education or foreign tourists.

In this and many other ways, My Life with the Taliban is a fascinating book. But be warned: it’s a discomfiting read. It’s bound to complicate one’s view about the men who helped drive the Russians from Afghanistan, ran a harsh fundamentalist Islamic state for five years and, in 2001, became our enemy.

This article is written by Khurram Baig and was published in the Express Tribune.

My Life with the Taliban is available at all Liberty Books outlets can be delivered to anywhere in Pakistan if ordered through our website.

THE NEW ANTHEM-THE SUBCONTINENT IN ITS OWN WORDS, Edited By: AHMEDE HUSSAIN Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal

The oft ravaged Subcontinent has been through a silent revolution. Deep below the churning waters, past the shifting sands, under the staggering weight of century’s old bias and primeval beliefs, resides a wellspring of concentrated energy.

The freshly inducted members from the South Asian literary hall of fame tapped this reservoir and have been pushing boundaries with their fiery prose for years. They have been hailed for their refreshing new voice and scintillating style. ‘The New Anthem – The Subcontinent In Its Own Words’ is a literary cocktail compiled by Bangladeshi author – Ahmede Hussain to showcase a galaxy of new-born stars.

22 writers, with a shared past have left a profound impression on South Asian literature. Their sentimental trek across time stops often to relay the exotic beauty of the land, stripping away layers of history to reveal its true character. These disparate sounds, striving to he heard above the usual din bring the Subcontinent to life.

One is accosted by the regions turbulent history over and over again. This particular memory lane is full of sobering thoughts.  Both ‘Cyclone’by Khademul Islam and ‘The Fragrance of Cuticura’ by Amitava Kumar bring back that feeling of oppressiveness. ‘The Barber Lover’, and ‘Laila and Leela’ play with the spiritual while Carl Bloom takes readers down ‘The Alley’ forcing them to confront the ugly side of life in his adopted home.

Wistful voices from the Diaspora also join in the chorus. They explore a range of emotions, breaking away from tradition and cheerfully launching into the realm of political incorrectness. Liberalism creeps in stealthily in ‘The Straight Path’ by Bengali-American writer Abeer Hoque; the price of rebellion is paid in Rachael Khan’s grim tale –‘Foreign Exchange’.

The rest of the composition is equally compelling – if a little bewildering.  Altaf Tyrewala can get rid of unwanted babies but not the voices in his head while Razia fences unsuccessfully with the new cook in Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Surface of Glass’.

These samples demonstrate the collective wealth of the region introducing us to writers who are about to embark on their first major literary expedition alongside those who have already arrived.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh still have some bitterness leftover. Ahmede Hussain’s new book is unconcerned with the (excruciatingly) slow pace of recovery and finds something to celebrate from each nation. Their spirited new anthem is in keeping with the changing reality.

  • Book: The New Anthem: The Subcontinent in its Own Words
  • Author: Ahmede Hussain
  • ISBN:9380032455
  • ISBN-13:9789380032450, 978-9380032450
  • PAGES: 336
  • Price: Rs: Rs. 750
  • Available at Liberty Books

Reviewed for Liberty Books

Email: afrahjh@hotmail.com

Blog: http://afrahjamal.blogspot.com/