Category Archives: Writings

Shivani Ahuja

June 8, 2017

The Book of Buddha_Book Review

Author : Arundhathi Subramaniam

Publisher : Penguin India

Published in : 2005

The Book of Buddha is an account of the journey of Gautam Buddha and his teachings over the past 2500 years, from being a seeker, to gaining enlightenment under a peepul tree in Bodhgaya, to having 300 million people across the world considering themselves beneficiaries of his insights. But it is no cliched account. It highlights the teachings of Buddha in a very impactful manner that will often have you stop and ponder.

This book gives a lucid portrait of Buddha as a sage with an ‘air of untroubled interiority’, who neither patronises nor needs weak-kneed veneration. He even offers unsettling home truths, and ‘articulated the human predicament with…lucidity, psychological acuity and unsentimental precision.’ He says that life is dukkha, suffering, but at the same time he gives a solution, and charts an exit path from dukkha, a way to find the truth, that is available to all who care to reach for it.

The books takes us through various life stages of Siddhartha, who from a seeker becomes Shakyamuni the Sage upon arriving at the realisation that ‘suffering alone exists, but one who suffer; the deed there is, but no doer thereof; Nirvana there is, but no one seeking it; the Path there is, but none who travels it’ The book goes on to trace his journey when he attained supremacy as Tathagata the Master, and finally went from death to immortality as Jina the Victor, the Buddha.

Arundhathi Subramaniam, while writing this book, took a leaf from Buddhas’s book, and gave a clear portrait of him and his role in offering searing insight and astringent clarity about the human life. She very rightly states that we are attracted to him and his teachings because Buddha lives through all of us, as he seems to ask the same questions that we ask—about the human suffering and impermanence of life—and he, from his own wisdom, tells us that there is a way for transferring adversity into freedom, brokenness into wholeness, the chaos of our mind into flawless peace.

She explores the transcendence of his teaching, and affirms that Buddhism constantly inspires all that are ready to learn to be free from suffering. Before this book, I read about Buddhism through Harman Hesse, but Arundhathi’s is a book that spoke of Buddhism in a language that I understood, a language clear and bold, which is what makes her writing so impactful. Her seventeen-year self thought that she could be friends with Buddha, and with that confident  tone of familiarity of a friend, she goes on to describing his quest to enlightenment and beyond.

Like Arundhathi, I turn to Buddha time and again and look for answers to life-related questions, and this book, a carrier of the words of the enlightened one, brought me solace, and reminded me, too, like the writer, of his generous invitation to all humanity: ’Look within you, you are the Buddha.’

A must read for people who’d like to read about the philosophy of Buddhism, and get answers to many of their existential questions, and be inspired to be ‘light onto themselves’.

Happy reading!

Shivani

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho – Book Review

The Alchemist - Book Review

Publisher: HarperOne

Published in 1993

The Alchemist is a story about a boy named Santiago who goes out on a quest to find a treasure that keeps calling to him in his dreams, a boy to whom ‘knowing the world was more important than knowing God’, so he gives up being a priest, as his parents desired, and becomes a shepherd who travels the world. He lets his dreams, which speak the language of his soul, guide him on his journey from his home in Spain to many mystical experiences in far away lands.

He meets mysterious people who guide him on the way, like a Gypsie in Tarifa, who interprets his dream, and a mysterious old king in a North African market who tells him that ‘the soul of the universe is nourished by people’s happiness…And when you want something, the whole of the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ Ultimately in the deserts of Egypt he meets an Alchemist who helps him find spiritual enlightenment, and shows him that his soul and that of the world is the same, and when one follows one’s heart with persistence and without being distracted by the comforts of the world or fears of the mind, is when one finds his destiny, his treasure.

Paulo Coelho, in a very mystical way, talks about the common thread of energy running through various beings and things, like the surreal connection between Santiago and his sheep. Paulo often uses simple metaphors to describe complex human conditions and struggles, and with the same simplicity of his writing, he moves on to tell tales of how the universe gives everyone signs and omens, and how paying the The Language of the World its due heed makes all the difference in how well you know yourself and the universe, which in turn decides how happy you are. Such writing makes one stop and ponder about the reality of one’s life.

To me this book is a source of inspiration to rise beyond accustomed grounds, and follow my heart’s desire. It tells that even though our attachments tug at our heart to ‘make us forget the joys of carefree wandering’, we ought to wander and follow our heart and our dreams. For it’s the possibility of a dream coming true that makes life interesting.’

A lovely read to be inspired, or to get familiar with the mystical concept of how every element of the universe is connected, and hence every sign in the universe is decipherable if one has the clarity and belief. A must read for those who believe in or are intrigued by the driving power of love and the language of the heart.

Happy reading!

Shivani

Psmith in the City, P. G. Wodehouse – Book Review

Psmith City_Wodehouse

Author: P. G. Wodehouse

Cover illustratioin by Ionicus

Publisher: Penguin Books

Published in 1970 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published by A. & C. Black, in 1910)

Psmith in the City is a comedy about P. G. Wodehouse’s beloved character Psmith, a hilarious and witty Etonian with his love for all things debonnaire, and his friend Mike, a cricketer.

Psmith and Mike, two country boys, by the play of Fate, land up in the lumbering relay of work in a bank in the city of London. Mike’s good-intentioned but rash actions and Psmith’s light-hearted schemes jeopardize their carriers and wind them into brawls, uncomfortable social situations and office soups as per Mike or any regular person’s judgment; but Psmith takes it all with a carefree Noblesse-oblige attitude, wishing to make comrades out of them all including their bank’s reluctant manager, until they stop working for the bank. After all, Mike would rather be out playing cricket, and Psmith would rather partake in Les petits plaisirs de la vie.

P.G. Wodehouse with his witty style of writing hits the bull’s eye when it comes to giving words to one’s emotions, but of course he does it with a light-hearted flair. He shows how a be-all, end-all situation has a silver lining easily attained through equanimity and a little sense of humor. Wodehouse’s ludic writing entertains and, in a way, opens up a reader’s mind to insincerity of seemingly grave situations, and to living in the present.

To me this book was an absolute entertainment. It is not difficult to fall in love with Wodehouse’s unusual characters, especially Psmith, who through their reasons and actions reflect how life is nothing but a game of words and wits.

A must read for people looking for an amusing read.  Though the writer himself says that his style of writing novels is ‘making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether,’ but I, on the contrary, think that Wodehouse not only does not ignore real life, but shows it in a different light, surpassing the gravity of trivial things, floating high to get a bigger picture.

Happy Reading!

Shivani Ahuja

The Outsider (The Stranger), Albert Camus – Book Review

The Outsider - Albert Camus and Sandra Smith (Translator)

Author: Albert Camus

Translated by Sandra Smith

Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics

Published in 2013 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published in 1942)

The Outsider is as straightforward as it could get. It is the story of a man named Muersault, whose will to act is as simple as being guided by one’s first instinct, however departed it may be from the conventions, and of which he willfully takes the responsibility in all its bareness. He does not cry or act sullen at his mother’s funeral, he allows himself to happily start dating a girl a day after the funeral, he befriends a hooligan, he kills a man upon being agitated by the heat and glare of the sun, all because he doesn’t find a reason not to do so, all because that is what he feels like doing then from the objectivity of his mind, and all along, he does not justify himself. His not-so-normal ways and reasons, not in-line with conventions, meet a gloomy fate at the hand of judgmental men of the world, who, rightly so, do not look beyond the conspicuous facts or reasons that his actions announce.

Albert Camus, has aptly personified the philosophy of existentialism in the bareness of the inner instincts that the protagonist identifies with, acts upon and takes responsibility of, though it is incomprehensible and reproachful to many people living with their tender indifferences, which, ironically, the protagonist, in his objectivity, wistfully opens up to or becomes compassionate with. Camus’ candid writing leaves a great impact; the complete clarity-of-thought of his characters prods the readers into deep musing and also, at best, introspection.

To me this books was a revelation to a school of thought that is not just pure and objective, but encompasses a deep understanding that every man is completely responsible (of entire mankind) for their decisions, their will—unveiled, unjustified, unapologetic—purely manifested through their actions; that, action does speak louder, and only we make what we are.

A must read for people looking for a good piece of literature—well-written and deeply conceived. If one is new to the theory of existentialism, then, this might be as revolting, thought-provoking and revolutionary, all at the same time, for you as it was for me.

Happy Reading!

Shivani Ahuja

Mussoorie – I Gotta Feeling..

Have you ever seen people’s facial expression coming right from the pit of their stomach? the dance moves emerging out of the naughtiest corner of their hearts? The dialogues appearing and disappearing all at once and yet leaving a flutter of imprint on your mind?.. Have you ever felt the overwhelming urge of ordering the universe to freeze everything there and then? and for the time to keep shaking the dice but to never roll it.. EVER!.. The time, when no matter how much you try, you can’t manage to reduce the size of your smile which has started looking creepy after a while.. Yes! That’s the kind of joy I am talking about..
This trip that I am going to take you to, lasted as long as the two spins of earth, and they were two spins too awesome and too crazy..

To start with, I’ll give a background picture of the cast of this accidently well directed feat! There were four childhood friends.. Aashish, Shruti, Shivani (me) and Mohit.. plus shivani’s brother Mahir and cousin Kartik, and Mohit’s brother Raghav.. and let me tell you that we all together, are part of a much larger Gang of not so Wasseypur..

For the love hate relationship that we all share, we certainly know one thing that we complete each other’s ‘basic’ need of crazy.. and we come together now and then to do each other the honours..

So one fine day, Mahir decided that we all leave for a trip the very next day and we did.. yeah, you wish that it was that simple, but I’ll spare you the description of the sincere efforts put by all of us in bringing it to the point when seven of us were in a car ‘Driving down to Mussoorie’..

The drive from Delhi to Massoorie is about 320 km. We started from Delhi at 11:30 PM, and crossed Delhi border around midnight..

There begun the journey and simultaneously, our search for the ‘truth elixir’,( which we literally discovered towards the next day’s end).. basically, we with our driver Satish Bhayiya, were earnestly looking for a Theka (wine and beer shop) on the highway from 1 AM till 4 AM (when we finally gave up on darting our eyes from one potential sign of an alcohol shop to another), and then indulged in not so earnest games of forging imaginary, crazy and hilarious stories starring Aashish, two horses and a bull.. ok fine, a girl too.. ;D. and then went on, singing and interrupting others from singing to get to sing ourselves, intermittent with sessions of tea and nature calls on the way.. till we all had spent every last bit of our energy and dozed off..

The morning came with a beautiful blueblack sky skirted with a freshly dyed horizon with the hues of orange going deeper and blending in the fresh silhouettes of the emerging mountains.. the sun sprouting out every minute and finally taking it’s Augustus possession over the entire scenery, making it brighter and beautiful.. Dawned upon us, the celebrated day of EID!..

With our lazy yawns and excited hearts we reached Mussoorie at 8 in the morning and… SLEPT!. Yes sir! We go on a trip to a hill station where people wake up early to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the beauty around.. but we my friend, do not believe in indulging in such petty pleasures.. we rather stooped to pettiest … ‘Sleep’ (at least me and Shruti did.. can’t explain what happened in the other room,, well no one really can actually.. ;).. )

After our sleep (and the ‘not apt to be mentioned’ crocodile experiences by the boys..) we explored the Queen of the Hills in the chilling weather, guided by Mahir’s expert and constant one liners which never missed a cue, Shruti’s unbeatable laughter and all the guys’ grading of all the birds in town which started getting contagious to the girls by the next day.. By the evening we were all tired and exhausted with finding and losing our ways on the mall road, and finally directed our energies to putting together a wonderful feast for the night.. we ordered special Biryani and fried chicken from the Nizam’s kitchen near the Masjid near Gandhi point, invincible chilly chicken from our hotel’s (The Ashok Continental) kitchen, and a variety of drinks from the nearest source available..

The night began with the awesome ‘truth elixir’ produced by Shivani (yup that’s me) and directed to perfection by Mahir.. (we finally found it! For the recipe, you may contact me or maybe not.. ;)..) one shot each of the notorious drink had us all in mood, and we all probed and wilfully confessed the deepest and wildest truths of our lives.. and then danced to the tunes of Ooo Womania (found a rockstar in Raghav).. sang all the songs from the bottom of our hearts, professed our love for each other, shared the wisdom of the new found prophets in us.. and did everything that you read in the beginning of the story.. the facial expressions, the dance moves (by Shruti and Aashish), the dialogues, the smiles, the petitions to the universe.. and to end with.. the legendary barf-laugh or laugh-barf (dunno what came first) by @#$% (can’t name the person for the fear of a life threat.. ;).. ).. and then after a bone chilling walk at midnight and enjoying a starlet view of Dehradun from the mall road we slept to gain our energies for the following day..

This day was mild compared to the last, yet not so modest.. We did some awesome bargaining and shopping from the Tibetan flee market (check out the grumpy night suit I bought..).. and then drove to K-empty Fall which was amazing and not so ‘empty’ as you can see in the pictures.. Here more than enjoying the drizzling water and gushing wind, the guys enjoyed a whole other view of the flocking birds.. and of course, Shruti participated with the boys in giving them grades based on various parameters like looks, dressing sense, future potential, etc.. (well the grading system is pretty elaborate..)..

Started our journey back home, which was no less fun.. It was marked with some more remarkable discussions on our lives and future plans, gossips about random people, reminiscing the entire journey, strewn with never stale jokes on Aashish (who takes them all as a good sport..most of the time.. ;))… we even almost nudged our driver to participate in our crazy..

Finally, ended our trip with a feeling of ‘What a wonderful world!’.. coz we all were overwhelmed with the entire experience that went so fast with so much that happened in such short time.. all the laughter, talks, teasing, fun, sharing and knowing each other yet again was just beyond what we ever thought of taking from this trip.. So here we are with our hands full and still feeling the thrill of it all running through our veins.. Just one word. BLISS !!

With Love
Shivani Ahuja

A Cotton Journey – Madhya Pradesh (MHOW)

Hello peopleThis time I am going to take you to MHOW (military headquarters of war) in Madhya Pradesh, India.. but this story is not about soldiers or wars.. well in a way it is.. It is about a place where farmers work day and night to produce cotton and other main crops.. these soldiers in the villages of India, fighting a war to earn their livelihood have very less choices that force them to adhere to farming methods that are cheap, but very harmful to sustainability of their farms, their health and ecology at large.. I am also going to tell you about the experiences that me and my friend Kritika (kittu) had on this journey.

Well i am a little late in writing this blog, actually almost a month, but every bit of it is worth telling. It is about a journey that showed me some of the new and surprisingly adventurous thoughts and feelings that I had in me..

It all began with my Minor project for this term, on which, me and Kittu are working together ( as I have told you before, these projects are not so minor. 🙂 ). One fine day we both discovered our love for sustainable fashion and decided to work together. Upon consulting our mentor, Mrs. Pritika Bawa (NIFT), it occurred to kittu that her uncle is the managing director of an organic cotton producing organisation, BioRe India, in Madhya Pradesh, and surprisingly when she asked me if we should go there for some research, i said yes before my next blink.. That is one of my new sides that I discovered on this trip, being super spontaneous..

So we booked our train tickets on my birthday (22nd march), and I guess it was my birthday luck and kittu’s super skills that we managed to book tickets 2 days before the journey.. After two crazy days of my birthday celebrations and no sleep, we embarked on a journey to Indore on the third day with a lot of unanswered questions and without any return tickets (trust me.. it requires some guts to do that when you already have short attendance in one subject in college… ) .. but we still decided to enjoy the trip with our new found courage and adventurous spirit .. 😉 .. On the train, we watched India-Australia World Cup quarter-final match, and everybody on that train was enthusiastic and celebrating as if they knew everybody else.. (One advice for the politicians.. if there are riots in India, schedule a Cricket match, as it is ‘The game’ that can unite this entire country…) Later we dozed off to sleep after an unsuccessful attempt to watch a movie, which we thought was inappropriate to be watched in a public place.. ;).. lol..

Next day with some interesting and entertaining conversations with a fellow passenger, who was ready to file lok sabha complaints on all the things possible, we watched some ‘appropriate’ movies and later boarded off at Indore station. We were received at the station by Ritu Aunty. Ritu aunty and Rajeev uncle were our hosts for the trip. Their house in MHOW was an hour drive from the station, and upon reaching there I realised that all the stories that kittu had told me about that place were amazingly true… One certainly falls in love with that lovely house and its people at the first glimpse.. (Oh i think I missed one detail.. aunty and uncle are Kittu’s childhood friend’s mom and dad…). So, after an introduction with everybody and a round of admiring that wonderfully built house amidst beautiful fields, we had a delectable and filling lunch and dozed off to sleep… ( these are two of the routines that occupied maximum time in the itinerary of our trip.. ) In the evening we went to attend a dinner party at Preet Uncle and Neelam aunty’s house (one of Rajeev Uncle’s friend).. A beautiful family and an equally wonderful house, where I got a chance to meet some more lovely people, and trust me, more than the place, it is the people living in MHOW that make you fall in love with that place yet again..

Next day was the most important day of the trip.. Early morning, we had breakfast and left with uncle and aunty to learn about the working of BioRe, the ways and methods they adopt to produce organic cotton, and how they contribute towards creating a better life for the society.. It was the start of an overwhelming day, on which we not only learnt about the working of the organisation, but also saw the true soul of India, its farmers putting their sweat and blood in producing the basic and the most important things, food and clothing, for those who live in the cities and who put so trivial values on them. After a wonderful drive past wonderful fields of wheat and cotton, when we got some valuable insights from uncle and aunty, we reached the Cotton Ginning unit of BioRe.. We were welcomed by ‘the most beautiful sight’ for a fashion student, a mounting heap of raw cotton that looks like a snow cloud with a little dust on it.. obviously me and kittu dint miss our chance to climb on that heap and take some pictures.. After that we were taken for a round inside the ginning unit, and Rajeev uncle showed and told us about the safety measures followed during the entire process.. After that, Ritu aunty showed us the Mobile health unit of BioRe that takes care of medical needs of the farmers in the nearby villages where proper medical advice and treatments are not easily accessible..

Following a trip to both of these facilities that where state-of-the-art, we drove to the training centre, where local farmers are trained on the ways and methods of producing Organic Cotton without the use of any pesticides and fertilizers. The spirit of work and restructuring the conventional methods that ran through the people there was so strong and contagious that one becomes bound to give a thought on how important it is to think.. to think about how you can do things better, to think about how you can help the people around, to think about how you can work to save the world from that clouding ghost of selfish interests and power. People there had two words running through their veins, and they were ‘organic and sustainability’, everything they did revolved around creating a better tomorrow or adding at least one spec of a second to earth’s life.. After some valuable lessons, refreshing lunch & sleep, and some shopping at Aavran (the handloom unit of BioRe foundation), we headed back home and visited the research centre en route.. (not to forget, kittu’s entertaining dance on all random songs on radio.. yes! she can dance in a car too). Upon reaching home, we freshened up and got ready for another dinner party at Zaal and Anaita’s house.. This beautiful Parsi family has a wonderful house that is more than 150 years old.. Not to say, but we enjoyed every bit of our time there and had amazing dinner (courtesy Anaita and Zaal’s aunt, Dinu), after which we bid adieu to everybody, as we were scheduled to take next day’s afternoon train to Delhi.. (but lemme tell you that our train tickets were still not confirmed..)

In the morning, we packed our bags and clicked some random pictures in that beautiful house (not to miss those unbelievable views of the fields around and a golf course in front).. we came downstairs for breakfast.. and upon checking the status of our train tickets, which felt like waiting for our board exam results, we got to know that we did not get the confirmation on our tickets, and kittu was inconsolably sad for being ‘one down’.. Well I am sorry that I cant tell you that story, else i will be publically killed by her.. lol… Anyways.. then we thought of taking resort to our newly invented interests.. eating and sleeping.. :)… , and after sleeping the entire day, we went for cycling, and the smartest thing that we did was to leave 20 minutes before twilight.. (I said the word ‘smartest’, as there are no street lights in that area and most of the vehicles that ply on that road are military and village trucks and buses..).. So by the time we rode till the end of the road, that was some 800 meters far, we were out of breath and low on day light… But still we had a speck of energy left to click pictures, after which we rode back in dark, with only way to alert other vehicles of our presence being the dim moonlight and our camera’s flash.. On returning back in one piece, we silently thanked god, as we both tried putting up very brave faces on the way back home.. and then we went on to freshen up and change for another dinner party.. well we were just lucky to land up at uncle and aunty’s place when they had a stream of parties to attend… So we went to Rupa and Harry’s house which again was a lovely place.. most of Rajeev uncle’s friends are former army personnel who have classic army living style and houses.. We enjoyed yet another delicious dinner with those amazing people and finally said bye to them before returning back home..

In the morning, we woke up to say bye to uncle and aunty who were leaving for the training centre, and then we had breakfast and packed our bags and went out to explore the fields around.. (we gave up our urge to doze off again and finally decided to be a little adventurous) .. We took some wonderful pictures around and then bid adieu to the place and its people and drove to Indore airport to take a fight back home… Well not to miss, that was my first flight ever, and kittu was more excited than i was.. but that is how she is… always high on life, and happy for others.. It was a great experience to get those unbelievable views of India from the height of 10,000 mt from a plane.., we landed in Delhi 1 and half hour later around 2 :30 pm..So here we were, back in Delhi, with more in hand than we ever thought to learn, with some unforgettable memories and wonderful lessons of life that we certainly are going to remember forever..

It is always great to share my experiences with you all. Take care and I hope to take you to some more interesting places and experiences in the magical land of India, where thousands of stories are waiting to be told..

With Love

Shivani Ahuja