Kumarasambhavam by Kalidasa
Author: Kalidasa, Hank Heifetz (translator)
Publisher: Penguin Publications
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780670086894
Rating: ★★★★☆
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After some days had passed, though it was hard,
Siva began to change the ways of his beloved
and, as she came to know the taste of pleasure, step by step,
she gave up the hesitancies she had in loving.”

Kalidasa

The greatest long poem in classical Sanskrit by the greatest poet of the language, Kumarasambhavam, celebrates the love story of Siva and Parvati.

The Kumarasambhavam has come to us in the form of eight sargas out of the seventeen sargas found in some manuscripts. However, only the first eight can be judged, on evidence, to be the original work of Kalidasa.

The eight sargas have a completeness of their own. They develop not exactly a love story, but a story of inevitable union between male and female played out on the scale of supreme divinity.

The poem begins with a description of Himalaya, both mountain range and living god, his daughter Parvati, destined to be the consort of Siva, which is however disrupted by Siva’s renunciation of sexuality after the death of his first wife, Sati. But Parvati is Sati reborn and the marriage is desired not only by Parvati and her parents, but also by the gods. The destined child of the union, Kumara, the Young God, also known as Skanda or Kartikeya- will lead the armies of gods to victory against Taraka, an Asura (anti-god).

Kalidasa also makes mention of Kama, the God of Love, and here we learn of the power of the third eye of an enraged Siva. Indra, the king of the heavenly Gods, sends Kama on a quest to launch one of his flower arrows at Siva to bring an end to Siva’s renunciation of sexuality, but Siva discovers Kama and burns him to ashes with his third eye.

An entire sarga is dedicated to the grief of Rati (Sexual Delight), Kama’s wife. Kalidasa has with acute observation and diction seemed to call on his own experience of grief when he describes the lament of Rati after the destruction of Kama.

Where have you run to and left me,
whose life rests in you, our love cut off in a moment
as a lotus can be left when
a flood of water breaks through a dam?

India is exceptionally intolerant, especially when the subject of religion arises, and if you mention romance or the word ‘sex’ in the same sentence with the name of a god, you have committed blasphemy.

Kalidasa has made use of the final sarga to depict the lust and romance which captures every newlywed couple. Siva and Parvati were no different; the eighth sarga of the possible seventeen concludes with the lovemaking of Siva and Parvati.

Moralistic critics in medieval and modern India have severely censured Kalisdasa for depicting the lovemaking of gods. Many editions of Kumarasambhavam have been published without the eight sarga, however, the depiction is vivid and beautiful.

Though, as they loved the moon suffered when she seized,
his hair and they tried to outdo each other scratching
where nail marks should not be made and Parvati’s belt-string
easily opened to him, still he was never satisfied.

The love making depicted is not something to cringe at when read or to be looked down upon. In the religion of the Hindu, Siva is indeed the perfect male or the closest one can imagine, when he meets Parvati, his destined wife.They become two elements naturally and intensely unified. Siva and Parvati’s nights of love embody the idea of completeness, transcends every emotion describable and depicts the image of cosmic union.

Hank Heifetz needs to be commended for his efforts in taking on Kalidasa, the greatest Sanskrit poet ever. Even an attempt to translate his greatest work is truly admirable; Mr. Heifetz has given us a wonderful and excellent translation.

Kumarasambhavam is not just a poem, it’s what one can actually term as India’s rich literature. The sargas excite you and will also make you grieve. The modern reader needs to read this poem with a heartfelt desire to understand the story of love, marriage and lust between two people, two gods and most importantly, two forces of nature bringing balance when combined.

Read it, enjoy it and see for yourself the true magic of Indian literature.

Need more Kalidasa? See our review of Malavikagnimitram and decide for yourself! 

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Half Girlfriend
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788129135728
Rating: ½☆☆☆☆
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The new Chetan Bhagat book is the latest in a series of fertilizers with which you can hope to get half – results.

The book is very craftily titled “Half Girlfriend”. The title made waves on social media, but alas, this was a case of false advertising. Allow me to tell you that this title very cleverly camouflages the story, which is not about an English-challenged boy who falls in love with an upper-class girl who only wants to be “frands” with her “half-boyfriend”. Two minutes of silence for people tired of this stereotype.

Sorry, I lied. I can’t actually remain silent for two whole minutes. So I will continue with my rants. This book is not a love story, strictly speaking. This is a Chetan Bhagat book which contains a major plot within
the main subplot. It is about a boy – nay (hold your breath for the soul sucking twist) a poor Bihari boy who once upon a time was a prince of Dumraon. Well, he still is, but instead of the rich raja he should have been, he now lives alone with his queen mother in his desolate and crumbling bat enclave a.k.a. The Haveli. This is a story of how he followed his heart. It is also about youth empowerment and rural development. In other words, the same themes prominently featured in each and every book by His Holiness.

The plot then goes on to how the world’s richest man, who has plagued the face of this Earth with a poorly programmed and bloated Windows OS, is roped in – Bill Gates, henceforth referred to as Billu Bhai. So Billu Bhai got his sequel after making a dramatic entrance in One Night at the Call Centre.

The remains of the story contain some meticulously planned escapades which will set your pulses racing – in desperation. The vivid imagination with which our Hero stares at the girl while he is busy dribbling the ball, ladies and gentleman, hold your breath and die.

The “half- boyfriend” tries hard to impress his rebellious “half-girlfriend” who is so confused that she will make you cry out loud in exasperation. The progress of their relationship makes Ross and Rachel’s on-again-off-again affair look like the speed of light.

I started reading this book in a metro journey to escape. After an hour of half-conspiracies and the excitement when Billu enters the game, I found the mundane metro crowd far more interesting than the book itself.

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Review: Korma Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

October 13, 2014
Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

Author: Pamela Timms
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9789382277149
Rating: ★★★★☆
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In her book, ‘Korma, kheer and kismet’, Pamela Timms walks us through her romances with the streets of Old Delhi and their hidden savories, beaming with an energy and love, only a foreigner can carry for India.

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Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

October 9, 2014
o Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Author: Joshua Ferris
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780241003831
Rating: ★★★★½
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To rise again at a decent hour is the recollection of the past few years of a Dentist Paul O’Rourke’s life in the Big Apple – New York. With a well settled practice and a satisfying career, Paul is driven by loneliness.

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Reviews of all Man Booker 2014 nominees!

October 7, 2014

Booker fever has started! On October 14, a panel of judges will choose the best of English language fiction.This year marks the first time that American authors have been allowed on the list and also, unlike last year, focuses on novels that are ‘contemporary, not historical’, with two novels flirting with the theme of social media.

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Review: J by Howard Jacobson

October 6, 2014
J by Howard Jacobson

Author: Howard Jacobson
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780224102056
Rating: ★★★★☆
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J is a love story set in the future, cacotopian period of oppression and commonplace brutality, which is recovering from a catastrophe, conceivably similar to The Holocaust.

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Book Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

October 4, 2014
The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan

Author: Richard Flanagan
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780701189051
Rating: ★★½☆☆
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The Narrow Road to The Deep North is about a group of Australian POWs during World War II who were used as disposable labour by the Japanese army and forced to construct the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. A third of them died of hardship, disease and malnutrition.

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Review: How to be Both by Ali Smith

September 29, 2014
How to be both

Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780241146828
Rating: ★★★★½
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How to be Both is not just a book. It is an art form by itself. Depending on your luck, you might get one version of the book, or the other. Your understanding of the story could change, depending on which version you happen to read.

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Review: Birth of the Bastard Prince

September 26, 2014
Birth of the Bastard Prince by Anurag Anand
Author: Anurag Anand
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788129134547
Rating: ★★½☆☆
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When I picked up Birth of The Bastard Prince, the titillating title dominated my choice. And it certainly lived up to its name. In this sequel to the widely acclaimed Legend Of Amrapali, Anurag Anand has captured an important fragment of history with his raconteurial abilities.

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Marriages : Love or Arranged?

September 23, 2014

It is hard not to feel cynical about both love and marriage, when the papers are full of horror stories about women being tortured and killed over dowry, or honor killings in which two youngsters who dared to fall in love are butchered to death. One wonders if love and marriage ought to be relegated to the trash heap!

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