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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review : 'Gautama Buddha' by Sonia Mehta

Talk of coincidence, but I just remembered that I had this book, after I got back from Dharamshala, a place where Gautama Buddha is a huge factor.  I got back home and read it. I mean, of course I did know of Gautama Buddha but I had the book and it was here for me to read. This book, Gautama Buddha was a super way to end the trip,  with much thanks to the author, Sonia Mehta.

In a kingdom called Sakya, many centuries ago, Queen Mahamaya gave birth to a boy, much to her husband, King Shudhodhana’s delight. Sakya was small tribal kingdom, in present-day Nepal. They named the young boy, Siddhartha. 

Wise men, who saw him, told the king that he would become either a king or a Buddha. A Buddha is someone who has attained Bodhi, or wisdom, or enlightenment. The king, who wanted his son to become only a king, like him strove to keep him away from anything unpleasant. So, Siddhartha was brought up, in incredible luxury kept away from away from anyone or anything poor or suffering. 

He was only 16, when he was married to Yashodhara from the neighbouring kingdom, who having heard of the swan he saved, took to it with much delight and happiness. In spite of the fact that her father had warned her that he would become a monk, one day. But Yashodhara never doubted that he was the one for her.

For thirteen years, the two of them led a very happy life. She was very supportive of him and his feelings. But, in this peaceful life, there still was a sense of unease in Siddhartha’s life. One day, he walked up to his father, and expressed his wish that he wanted to step into the city. His father though reluctant, agreed to it and asked him for a few days. Ordering, the city to be transformed into one of a very pleasant one and free of everyone and everything especially, diseases or poverty, he agreed to Siddhartha going into town.

Finally, Siddhartha walked into town. But suddenly, a beggar from another village walked in. He was old and frail, and he seemed to be begging for food. Next day, he was out again, and this time he met a sick man. His charioteer dragged him away and told him of leprosy, which that man had. The next day, Siddhartha did not tell his father and went in to the city again. This time, his encounter was with a few men carrying a dead man.

Now, again he was out into the city. He saw many people, happy, sad, and healthy and some even sick. Then he came upon, a person dressed in orange attire, with only a stick and a bowl, and a smile on his very calm face. He sat under a tree, and Siddhartha soon found out who that person was. He was told that he was a monk.

Siddhartha, after his adventures in the city, went home to hear that his wife had given birth to a son. Everyone was busy celebrating, but Siddhartha decided to make the move. That night, he was gone.

Siddhartha walked on and on, moving from village, to town to city. He walked into King Bimbisara’s kingdom, where the king himself came and asked him to give up. Siddhartha only told him, of his mission which was to find out how we can be free of death, and only when he found out, would he stop. So, he went on in quest for spiritual teachers. One such teacher taught him, how to meditate and he moved on to another teacher, whom again, he asked questions on suffering, old age and death.

For long years he kept on trying to find out and put his body through all kinds of torture, before finally he realised something. He sat under a peepul tree and shut his eyes in meditation. He saw himself, in earlier lives, saw his own death many times, the good, the bad and desires and wants and finally when the body, become one with the universe, he attained Nirvana.

Sonia Mehta (Author from Penguin)
He went on to teach several people, and from place to place he went. The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path were all known as the Dhamma or Dharma. The knowledge and practice of these factors was all Dhamma.

It is a good book for everyone to read. Because there is so much more to learn and this book would at least guide us, along the right path. So much else to read and learn from this book and it is only a start.

You can Buy the Book, right here...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Author Interview : Neelima Pudota, author of ‘From Everest, With Love' (Part 1)

Neelima Pudota
Read up, part one of the Interview with Neelima Pudota, mountaineer and author of 'From Everest, With Love'. This book gave me an all new sense. A sense, which kind of took me with it, took me to the mountains and left me there to understand them better, to feel them better and to discern it all better.
In this part, she tells us how she first fell in love with the Mount Everest, how she brought out her personal story and managed to blend it with what she has written, how her medical, social and economic backgrounds affected her writing. She also tells us, what the kind of research was, that was put into the book and what she feels is different about the book. Much more to this interview, and it will definitely come through next week,  Folks...

How did ‘From Everest, With Love’ first happen?

It happened the first time, I saw Everest (in 2015). 😉
It took me a while to realize that this book was in the making ever since I first crossed my gaze with Sagaramatha in complete reverence. It is not in my limited human capacity to write such a story. As much as this answer sounds spiritual and philosophical, there is little we can explain the logic behind the making of this book.
I was always fascinated with what was happening to me. I was aware and knew that some Magic was happening but was not able to put it in the right words. I struggled with 2 other versions before this book. One titled Mountains of my life and the other Find your Everest, each discarded after a significant work and time spent on it. When my mom finished reading the letters I wrote to her, she suggested to me to give it a reading. I randomly 
opened to read a page and just knew that this was what the book will be.

How did you bring out your personal story and blend it into the entire subject?

Because the book is a collection of letters to my Amma, the personalization was inevitable. In fact, the first set of edits went through my mom (who also happens to be an editor) with a series of discussions as to what can be kept in the book, how much of a personal life can be shared with the readers and how vulnerable I can get while opening up personally with the readers.
The second session of editing was with my Editor Varsha Naik, who introduced the technical jargon and a lot of stuff that my Mother knew, but the readers might not know. So, we had to blend the technicalities into the personal story for readers to understand better. It was the other way around.

How did it feel to write about yourself and your loved ones, as characters? 

It felt very Natural. Everyone became, just characters. None of my loved ones, who stood by my side, were with me. Only their spirit (read as character), was with me. I felt like a character out of a story too. The whole experience often felt so surreal.

How did your medical, social and economic backgrounds affect your writing?

Medical - ? (I’m looking at this as health) During the time period of writing the book, I had no health issues but I did take a break from my training. But it was a conscious decision to give all of myself to the book. I knew I would have a tough time when I’d restart my training, but that struggle and the pain is part of writing the book. You have to make sacrifices.
Social - I had to zone out myself during the time, I was writing this book. My phone was almost all the time in “Aeroplane Mode” while I was sitting to write. That’s almost a year. I allowed only my close Family members and friends to linger around me. Coming back to be a part of a normal social life after writing the book took some time.
Economic - Like I mentioned before, I put everything aside to make this book possible, just like training and climbing the Everest. This book has to be considered a part of the consolidated Everest experience from training, execution and documentation of this dream. I planned my economics for supporting myself during the whole period a lot ahead.

What kind of research was put into the writing of this book?

It’s a whole life; I have invested in the research. Let’s try to sum that up with the 3 Rules of Mountaineering – Its always further than it looks. Its always taller that it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks.
The book is not just about writing; it’s also about Technical details in Mountaineering, the physical and mental training it takes to be there, seeking of the unknown, unseen, unheard, forbidden and the impossible.
Mountains are the deepest teachers I’ve encountered and what they teach you cannot be measured. I have always shared my innumerable experiences and these lessons with my mom after every expedition. It is what I decided to share with my mom through these letters too. And I still feel there is so much more to share.
I’ve undertaken professional Mountaineering courses in institutes affiliated to the Ministry to Defence, India and I still feel there is so much to still learn.
I’ve read so many books, interacted with Mountaineers, Sherpas, Mountain Doctors and guides. But I still find my research (read as Love) so insignificant and there is so much more to know.
The Mountains are truly overwhelming for a research subject.

What according to you is different about your book?

Every story is different and everyone’s perspective is different. No two books are same. There is no comparison. What makes the readers select a book is the connect they try to form with the story of a Non-fictional book. People already know the story and want a detailed account of it. In that sense, my book is different purely based on its story. 
A story of a woman jostling, to make some space among men in a male dominant sport and every system that she goes against to fight and become the first woman to have climbed the Everest from her state. A story of her relentless pursuit that pushes the Government to allocate funds for Adventure sports for the next generation simply because she broke open new avenues of opportunities.
All that, and going beyond the summit to think of her Sherpa and to take accountability of every situation up there on the Mountain. To have gone back to him and confronted him. To have made peace and moved on. To have been grateful for this whole experience. And to have known that it’s a rare story and that needs to be told.
Whatever sentence in the above has rung a chord with you will make you want to read this book. You just need one reason to buy it and this book has so many of them.
You can Read the Review and Buy the Book, here as well.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review : 'From Everest, With Love' by Neelima Pudota

I began this book, on the way to a few hills. I guess it made sense, since I was going to Dharamshala, and this book was about the Everest, ‘From Everest, With Love’ by Neelima Pudota. 

I boarded the Delhi flight, when I started the book. I was ¼th  done when; I stopped to get onto the Dharamshala flight. I was done with the book, as soon as the flight reached Dharamshala, and I kept telling the author, Neel my progress with the book. She was surprised to hear that I was done. And I loved telling her all about how much I enjoyed it. The review is on, right now!!

Earlier, I met this girl in February, 2018. I spotted her in the garden, sitting! I later heard that she was a Mountaineer, and guess what? She was the first woman, from Andhra Pradesh, to have climbed Mt Everest and that too in May 2016! 

Obviously, she had my interest and to think that almost a few months later, I would be holding her book. This book was one I had actually bought at her book launch, the first I had bought in almost six years, ever since I started reviewing!! So, I started it off…

On April 25, 2015 Everest, the mountain shook, it was a miracle that she and her team came back, alive. Prior to this, there was a time when she was diagnosed with TB. It was just her inner strength and her willingness to come through that saw it all disappear.

Now, begin the letters… these Letters were from her Everest journal and usually they began with the words, ‘Dear Amma’ and ended with ‘Love, Neil’.

It spoke of her beginning of the journey on March 22nd 2016 and her landing in Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. It spoke of everybody she met during her journey, from every Sherpa and every friend, even the small animals she had met, to all the people from all the countries, they were from.

She also wrote about all the times, she felt cold, the times she looked and really saw mountains for what they were, chilly, cold, how it transformed her from a vegetarian to a vegan, to a non-vegetarian, to somebody who had started to eat anything now! All the times, when she managed to catch some sleep, the walks and even the hikes she took up, and the times, she would manage to get a good breakfast, even. The visit to the monastery and how peaceful it felt. The lunches and dinners and all, whatever little or lot, she ate. The times she vomited and even the shivery sleep, she caught.

Neelima Pudota
Her journey from the Everest Base Camp to the Advanced Base Camp is all recorded in her journal. Most of her team members, had self-funded, or had received partial financial support. The best thing was she was the only female, Indian mountaineer and part of an international team, which had six others from China!

Because this book might just give you the kind of strength, it holds. Neil also took it up on herself to save her Sherpa’s life; it is a story of significance, through friends, family, of love and of understanding and of lessons, to us, even. This book also contains pictures of her journey, and also a few poems. It was all worth the journey to Sagarmatha, as she calls it.

 You can Buy the Book, right here...

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Book Review : 'She Persisted Around the World' by Chelsea Clinton and Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Chelsea Clinton wrote this book and it was illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. The book spoke of so much but then again, it kind of stopped me, with its cover itself. The book, spoke of Dr Mary Verghese, an Indian doctor, it also spoke of an African professor, Wangari Maathai but then again, it spoke of a girl in a wheelchair, who am guessing is Mexican writer, Sor Juana Ines. 

One can guess that from the girl with a pen and a writing pad, but I still do not get her in a wheelchair…? I did read up about her, but I really cannot find out, why. If anybody can point me in the right direction, then I would be happy to change it. Yet, it was a good book, as it spoke of some of the best women across the world. 

Sor Juana Ines focused on her writing and poetry, despite being born in a place where as a girl she was never allowed at a school, as it was disallowed for women. She ‘persisted’ in finding tutors, who did not mind teaching a girl. Her first published argument, for women’s right to be educated in the Americas, along with her poems and plays was among those, published.

We also have little Caroline Herschel, who although had typhus, which left her at four feet reached for the stars. She left her native Germany for England, where she became the first woman to discover the a comet. Today, there are quite a few comets that have her name.

Marie Curie is a supremely popular scientist, who worked in radioactivity and became the first woman to ever win two Nobel Prizes, in the world. I remember reading about her in school, and what struck me was the fact that she won one in Physics and one in Chemistry.

Dr Mary Verghese, who despite being in a car crash, where she lost both her legs continued to care for women, who have lost the use of their legs. Or have had accidents or illnesses that could affect their working. But she did so, in spite of needing to work from her wheelchair, and founded the first functional rehabilitation centre in India.

Wangari Maathai, was first woman in East and Central Africa, to become a professor at the University of Nairobi. She was the first African woman to win a Nobel Prize, and her legacy includes 50 million trees the Green Belt Movement, had helped plant and also, helped protect and defend rights of fellow Kenyans.

The two people, I was struck with are JK Rowling, with her acclaimed ‘Magical’ series of Harry Potter, with 400 million books in print. And also, Siseide ‘Sissi’ Lia do Amor, who strove to play soccer in her country, Brazil. It was not allowed at that time, and she became known as the Queen of Brazilian Football. Doing something, so different from everyone else.

Malala Yousafzai was only 11, and you have probably already heard of her. She wanted to get an education at her native Pakistan, and some girls there were not allowed this. She was just fifteen, when a man boarded her school bus and shot her,  because she wanted to go to school and she was the only one with the courage to stand up for a ‘girl’ to study. She won the Nobel Prize, while she still is at school and is now in the USA, though.

Chelsea Clinton (Wikipedia)
Alexandra Boiger (Wernick&Pratt Agency)
I have missed out a few but; hey this is a review, right? The most interesting part of this book were the illustrations. The book was of children or better yet, women in activism, arts, education, sports, and even science. It was well put together by Chelsea Clinton and even better drawn out by Alexandra Boiger. It speaks of 13 women, who have changed history and the world itself, all in their tiny ways and their brilliant ideas. 

You can Buy the Book, right here.