Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Invention of Wings

Author – Sue Monk Kidd

Publication – Tinder Press

Genre – Historical drama

Rating – Excellent read

The book is included in Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club and I must say her choice is excellent.

Set in the 1800’s in the background of slavery in South America, the book draws its inspiration from actual history and is about the Grimke’ sisters – Sarah and Angelina; daughters of a prominent Judge – John Grimke’. They were born into aristocracy with all its trappings including a house full of slaves. They were among ten siblings and were destined for the cushioned life of the Southern ladies which is – maintaining a pristine home, fine clothes, endless rounds of socialising, having children, looking after every need of their husband and managing slaves.

While remaining true to the fire of abolition and women rights that the Grimke’ sisters courageously campaigned, the author has taken several fictional liberties in telling the tale.

Sarah Grimke’ was an unusual girl child; she was the girl with ambition. Listening to her father and brothers, she wanted a real education and was left starry eyed when her father remarked that she could make the best lawyer in Charleston at a time when it was unthinkable for a girl to have a profession.  A girl with unusual ideas, she was against slavery from her childhood. The shock of a slave beating at her household she witnessed when still a child, lead her to stammer all her life.

Charlotte worked on a patchwork quilt
in which she embroidered the story of her life
As was the custom, on coming of age she was presented with a personal slave. She tried very hard to resist this present and even appealed to her father. Her efforts came to naught and she ended up owning a human being.  Her present was Hetty or Handful as her own mother- Charlotte had named her. Seamstress to the Grimke’ household, Charlotte had an ache in her heart to be free. After she received the one legged punishment (One leg and neck are tied together and the slave is whipped if they fall) the ache became the fury in her eyes. She started to go out of the estate without her mistress’ permission and take orders on the sly. The penalty was another lashing or worse the work-house (A place where convicts worked off their penalty). Charlotte still took the risk. She was saving money to buy her freedom. Charlotte even caught on to Sarah’s feelings of guilt on owning Hetty and made her promise to set Hetty free in any way she could.

The promise rankled Sarah and she set out to educate Hetty as she personally saw education as a way to freedom.  Hetty was a fast learner. But she, as eleven year olds are wont to, was careless. She wrote on mud, signed her name and did not rub properly. She was caught and got a whipping. Sarah was punished with banishment from her father’s library and denial of a proper education. All Sarah’s hopes of becoming a lawyer came crashing down.

Meanwhile, Charlotte was caught out of the house by policemen. Being hauled on a wagon and taken away was the last that Sarah and Nina, about the town that day saw of her. Then she went missing. That was the last that anyone heard of her.

Handful ‘s sorrow knew no bounds as the only person she loved in the world was taken away from her. She walked round the courtyard in her sorrow and at last sat finishing the quilt in which her mother had been sewing the story of her life. Seeing the world after her mother vanished, Hetty realised she had been promoted to chief seamstress and her hands were soon full. Sarah has successfully returned her human present to her mother. But in doing so, she had condemned Hetty to an inconsiderate mistress. For Sarah’s mother was a strict disciplinarian and her steel tipped cane came down on the slaves at slightest of provocations.

In the meantime, Sarah’s father fell ill and the family wanted to send him for treatment to Philadelphia. Unable to stop Sarah influencing Nina with her radical thoughts, her mother sent Sarah to accompany her father for his treatment. Unable to come up with a cure, the doctor advised sea air at a small village along the coast of New Jersey. The judge never recovered. He died a peaceful death far away from his home. Sarah however, was far from peaceful. In a meeting that would change the course of her life, she met Israel Morris. Israel Morris was a Quaker. All Quakers rejected slavery and lived a frugal lifestyle. Against the grain of the Southern way of life, this religious sect was looked down on in the South. Sarah felt drawn to their philosophy but was loathe joining them due to social stigma.  However, Israel made a deep impact on her which was not limited to his philosophy. She felt a deep attraction towards this man. However she knew it would not be reciprocated as he was married and father to six children.

Back home, slavery hit her like a whiplash in it’s cruelty. Cruelty which, the southern women did not want to look, acknowledge or worse thought the slaves “deserved it”. She was joined by her sister Nina in speaking up for the slaves. But an incident where she was booed by a crowd of people for standing up for the slaves drove her to leave for the North. Especially now that she got the news that Israel’s wife had passed away.

She took boarding in Israel’s house at countryside in Philadelphia, teaching his children. But his ever vigilant and zealous sister noticed the romantic underpinning between Sarah and Israel and forced Sarah to vacate the house. Here too Sarah could not let her ambition go and started preparing to become a minister with the Quaker community. Israel later came and proposed marriage to her but was not ready to accept her becoming a minister. Sarah chose to reject the proposal and chase her dream.

Meanwhile Nina, her little sister, now a grown woman, suffocated by the slavery and cruelty around her made her way to her elder sister. Where Sarah was contemplative, Nina was a firebrand. She spoke her mind on all issues. She wrote a letter to the leading abolitionist magazine of the day.  On being printed, the letter raised a furore in the North and the South. The south felt betrayed by one of it’s own – a woman no less. The North felt it had found a voice at last which could connect with the Southern audiences. The two sisters were enlisted on a country wide tour to talk to audience against slavery.  Battling her speech impediment, Sarah and Nina toured the country extorting woman to rise up against the cruelty in their backyards. The South denounced the two sisters and a warrant was issued should they return to their home-town. However, there was another impact of the speeches. So successful were they that men in large numbers thronged to hear the sisters speak. Now this was unprecedented. A woman speaking among women was fine, but a woman speaking to and being successful among men was unheard of. The Quaker community tried to dissuade the sisters from speaking to mixed audiences. However, the sisters disagreed and this added a new dimension to their campaign – that of woman’s equal rights. The sisters campaigned relentlessly over the next years.

Back home however, the dream of a slave free country was still a dream. Hetty’s mother Charlotte had come back bringing Hetty’s sister – Sky along with her. Charlotte had been taken by a slave trader and had had a cruel master. She had been branded and beaten as she continued to revolt, running away thrice. But when the master eyed her thirteen year old daughter she got ready to run away again and this time she vowed they would die trying. However, Charlotte had reached the estate to die and leave Sky in Hetty’s care. When Hetty learnt that Sky was to be sold, she made up her mind to run away with her sister and wrote a letter to Sarah. Worried, Sarah came back home with the intention of trying to buy out Hetty and her sister. When Sarah gave Hetty news of her unsuccessful parlay with her mother, Hetty resolved to go ahead with her plan. Helped by Sarah she transformed her mistress’ mourning dresses for herself and Sky, plastered some white dough and set out for the journey of her life across the sea towards freedom.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Travelogue of a Lenten Pilgrimage

I joined a group of 100 parishioners from Good Shepherd Parish, Sanpada on a cool and beautiful morning on 12th April 2014 for the annual Lenten tour. The plan was to dedicate an entire day to the Stations of the Cross and make then in 14 different churches across South Mumbai.
We set out at 8.00 am from Sanpada with a prayer on our lips, a hymn in our hearts and the Lord’s cool wind in our hair.

Alter of St Ignatius Church
The 1st station – Jesus is condemned to die
St. Ignatius Church, Mandvi.
Established by Capuchin Fathers in 1897.  This church was built primarily for the Koli community living in the neighbourhood.  In this small but beautiful Gothic church, we contemplated on how Jesus accepted his Father’s will to sacrifice himself for all of mankind. Fr. Terrence D Souza, blessed the visiting congregation and inspired us with his talk on the choice of two different life paths – One of Care, Non violence and Compassion and the other of Control, Conflict and Indifference. I examined myself for the humility, patience and love to accept my cross without complaint.

The 2nd station – Jesus carries his cross
St. John the Evangelist Church, Ballard Estate.

Dominated by the crucified Jesus and flanked by Mother Mary and the apostle John, the church like it’s namesake had a humble and honest personality.  In it’s humane atmosphere, we contemplated on how Jesus took upon himself the crushing weight of the sins of all humanity as he took up his cross. I examined the depth of my gratitude and love for Jesus as he took up the heavy burden. 

The 3rd station – Jesus falls the first time
Holy Name Church, Colaba.

This century old church is also the seat of the Archbishop of Mumbai. The church is resplendent with graceful arches, vibrant frescos, life-like statues and a dignified high alter. In its awe-inspiring premises we were reminded of God’s glory and his Son biting the dust to uphold his Father’s glory in his dearest creation – Man. We remembered the weak in our society who fall and yet know no respite from their suffering and are roughly hauled up again to carry on.

The 4th station – Jesus meets his Mother.
 St. Joseph’s Church, Navy Nagar, Colaba; also known as RC Church.

Set up in 1853, this was the first church for British military (Roman Catholics) in the cantonment. In it’s hallows in front of the striking white altar, fed with sunlight, bathing the church in a stunning glow, we meditated on the mother and son who had put their entire trust on God. “Look how God repaid us”, they could have said. But even in this phase they trusted God and obeyed his will drawing strength from each other. I remembered my own complaints and resolved to trust the Father.

5th station - Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
Open Alter at Cross Maidan
An open alter with no doors, windows or walls and Christ’s crucified hands inviting all of humanity to celebrate his Father’s creation. Under the open sky we contemplated on Jesus’ helplessness at his inability to carry the cross alone and was in despair when no help was offered voluntarily but was pushed on him in the person of Simon. I examined my willingness to reach out to the marginalised and my frustration at not being able to fulfil my duties.


The 6th station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Lady of Dolurs Church, Marine Lines, New Sonapur. 
How fitting it was that we made this station which features an act of kindness at this small but beautiful church in the hustle of Marine Lines. Our Lady of Dolurs Church was like a balm to the weary traveller, just as Veronica’s kindness was to the suffering Jesus.  Have we the strength to be kind to the dregs of humanity I asked myself? I examined my humility and strength to follow Veronica’s example.

The 7th station – Jesus falls the second time
St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul.
Established in 1872, this is a historic site and was formed by the joining of two churches - the church of St. Sebabstian and the church of St. Francis Xavier. The Church has a nave (central space) in which is placed the statue of St. Francis. Right above this is a beautiful blue-tiled dome. Adjoining are statues of Mother Mary and Jesus. The church houses the relic of St. Francis Xavier and this is opened every year for public viewing.

On this historic site, we turned over the page where Jesus stared at his weakness at falling even while getting help. When one is so weak that even his will can carry him no more.
In the adjoining St. Sebastian Goan school, the weary pilgrims received a sumptuous meal and were refreshed for their next station.

The 8th station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
St.  Theresa’s Church, Girgaun also known as Girgaun Portuguese church. 
The central figure of St Theresa is flanked by St. Joseph and another saint. The alter features a beautiful Last Supper painting. The figures of Jesus and Mary dominate the area before the pews. An otherwise stark church; it inspires its people to examine their purity and to be humble like St. Theresa. At this station Jesus gives a message to all women, “Weep not for me but for your children”.

The 9th station – Jesus falls the third time
St. Stephen’s Church, Cumbala Hill.

In this Spartan church build in a semicircle design with a stained glass painting of the risen saviour raising his hand to bless the people, we contemplated on the suffering, broken Jesus, on his knees for the third time. Is this the Son of God? Strength shines through not in his ability to repel but to withstand. Life is so, sometimes it requires us to snap back sometimes to bend. When love is the force, the outcome is God’s will.

The 10th station – Jesus is stripped of his garments
St. Ignatius Church, Jacob’s circle.
 Dedicated on 1st Jan 1913, the church was initially run by the Jesuit fathers and was later handed over to the Diocesans fathers.  In this beautiful Romanesque church with it’s beautifully painted dome depicting the Last Supper and stained glass painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus above the main entrance we contemplated on how Jesus’ humble adornments were shorn away from him. What does it mean to be defiled in our body in which we take so much pride in. We reflected on what Jesus willingly gave away to save us.

The 11th station – Jesus is nailed to the cross
Our Lady of Glories Church, Byculla, also known as Gloria church.

Originally built in 1572 and later reconstructed at its current location in the shape of a Latin cross in 1913, Gloria Church exhibits Gothic style architecture. Under its 160 ft steeples, beautiful altars, divine statues and colourful stained glass windows, we reflected on how Jesus, weak and humiliated was nailed on the cross. How mighty is God and yet he joined the lowest ranks to take us out of our sinful selves.  It is this mightiness that I aspire to be joined to. A mightiness built on love and compassion which, every sin against it’s source pulls me away from.  

The 12th station – Jesus dies on the cross
St. Anne’s Church, Mazagaon.
St Anne's shcool

Our parishioners Mr. Vincent and Mrs Alzira Rocha got married in this church. This beautiful church was once a private chapel and was later extended to a church. It is 130 years old. We looked up to the crucified Christ along with St. Anne and Mother Mary and made our 12th station. The small high vaulted church infuses one with a feeling of lightness and beauty, an opportunity to soar and reach the skies. We contemplated on the suffering, broken Jesus. All our hopes pinned on the sacrificial lamb. When will I be able to stand up and take the responsibility for my own sins instead of looking for sacrificial lambs. And yet, this lamb opens its arms wide to invite the sinful.

The 13th station  - Jesus is taken down from the cross
 St. Josephs’s Church, Umarkhadi.

A beautiful church with a alter backdrop of Jesus’ foster father Joseph carrying Jesus in his hands and a dome with two angels supporting the crucified Jesus against a glorious sun; we were reminded of our Father, both worldly and spiritual. Jesus, the obedient son was dear to both. With his ultimate sacrifice, the son glorified his Father and left a legacy for us to carry on.

The 14th station – Jesus is laid in the tomb
 Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Dock Yard Road.

We made our last station in the bosom of our Lady. Built in 1794, the church has a warm, comforting, familial atmosphere. Believers are welcomed by the heartening sight of the outstretched hands of Our Lady welcoming them into her Son’s church. The same hands which had held her dead son in her arms. A son who had died for us. In this church, we contemplated on how the few people who had the courage to stand by even at his death, did not leave Jesus to the birds but laid him with dignity in a tomb. Jesus showed us that Death is not an end. It is but a transition where our true self, devoid of its physical shell returns to the Father.

Thus it was with hope that we returned. Not with dread of death but with hopes of a glorious reunion with the Father. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Harry Hole series, Jo Nesbo

Titles – Red Breast, The Bat, Nemesis, Devil’s star, Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, Police, Cockroaches, Phantom

Author – Jo Nesbo
Publisher – Vintage Books
Genre – Thriller
Rating – Very Good

Last time I wrote on this blog was last year..... I read daughters of war and didn't get to writing the review.
Jo Nesbo, Gillian Flynn, Keigo Higashino, Jussi Adler-Olsen to name a few had set my pulse racing.
Cud'nt put down till the last page, cud'nt wait to open another book. 
The adrenalin rush these thrillers give is addictive. And this is my purgerance. To write about and get them out of my system.  
Why is human frailty so hard to not observe?   
Jo Nesbo 

Jo Nesbo is being touted as the next Stieg Larsson of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” fame. As gripping as his tales are, he still has some catching up to do in the dexterity and twists in his tales. Especially at his closures, Nesbo tends to spill the beans in the 2nd last chapter itself. He laboriously explains the entire sequence of events and leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination. Most stories have a second sub plot running in parallel. While this does confuse the investigation and the reader, one gets used to this after the first couple of reads.

Then why did I rate it “Very Good”? 
Fascinating plots, twisted insights into human behavior, thousands of motives for who dunnit and a tragic love story.

Nesbo delves into the criminal’s mind with compassion. A realm I'm personally uncomfortable with because I want to judge this person, not get into the whys and whatfors. Delving into his motives, one realizes the criminal is also human. Yes, the outcome of his actions is one which is unacceptable but one wonders whether this man/ woman deserves sympathy or punishment!

Jo Nesbo  works with certain beliefs about serial killers – that they take to this extreme form of punishment on society to feel normal about themselves. In so many ways an individual may feels isolated, humiliated, barred. But where is the tipping point?
To what extent do these societal norms contain human bestiality and where does it cause it to spill over? Should all behaviors to be considered normal? So that no fringes are caused to spill and turn into beasts? Or should such divergents be expelled and kept separate from a society that follows its norms? When we imprison our criminals we are doing just this. Formerly no one bothered to probe into the question why. Those who knew kept quiet.

So who is the criminal?
A Government which authorizes carpet bombing of an entire city or a survivor who comes into the former’s gardens and kills its civilians?
Parents who humiliate their child on discovering his/her aberrant sexual behavior or the grown up child who rapes and silences at will?
The police officer who takes law into his hands to punish criminals who would otherwise escape the law or the lawmakers who make lenient rules and give multiple chances to correct.

The world is changing. A person is no longer the inhabitant of a village or a city. We are all global citizens and expose ourselves to global trends and perspectives. 

Stage one is done. We were brave enough to open ourselves to the onslaught of different cultures, religions, philosophies, rights and wrongs ... Now are we strong enough to withstand it?