A Book Review, by Shahana Qureshi
We cannot judge a book by its cover alone. To understand what lies inside it – what's written, the writing styles, the experiences of the writers and how all these were created – can only be known once we run our eyes through the book, so that we can know the book not only from outside, but also from the inside. Then the book doesn't remain unfamilair to us. Yes, but a relationship of not completely knowing still remains. How can we know for sure which and how much of someone's experiences are revealed by them to adorn the pages of a book?
I have never thought about the writers whenever I have read a book. But today I have before me this plastic box, with ten booklets in it. No two booklets are of the identical colour, but a set of three is in shades of the same colour – from light to dark. Though I have tried many times, I haven't been able to understand why the gradation of shades for the booklets has been decided the way it has been!
Ten small booklets, with sentences for titles, English on the front cover, and Hindi at the back. The words of the sentences compel an onlooker to pay attention. They say, “Don't just look at me. Inside me are anecdotes of past experiences. Experiences that are born all around you – in your home, your neighbourhood, feelings inside your being”.
I'm spending too much time on how the books look! I'm looking at each book one by one. And I can't decide which one to read first. That's because the writers are all kown to me, they are my friends. Yes, there are some texts in these books I haven't heard from my friends before.
The writers, who have strung together their words to give them beautiful shapes, and so gifted us, in texts, questions, difficult situations, a care for living, are present among us. These books are about, and belong to, people who live in working class settlements, and they will always remain so. This is where the writers have learnt about life, have gained their experiences. It is from here that their words have got their clothes. This reality peeps out from the words. These experiences are not owned by any individual, they are ours.
I read the booklets over five to six days. Some texts in it reminded me of how they had been written, and others surprised me with their newness. For instance Lakhmi's text which takes us back to his school days. When I read it, I was transported with him, among his school friends and their mischiveousness. And I wondered, didn't my peers and I also have similar experiences? Just as our schools were different, so were their environment, and also the memories we have of it.
Sometimes, in some of the texts, what becomes very apparent is where the writer was sitting when they got written. What was the time? In reading these texts, then, the physical space gets created around us. This happens most in Azra's texts, which are cast in a simple language.
In all our lives, there are phases when we are lost in ourselves, entangled in questions to which we can't find answers. There are of course questions to which we find answers, but then there are such answers as well which become questions in themselves! I think Shamsher is presently going through such a phase in his life. These questions don't necessarily have to do with age. Sometimes, certain incidents or moments leave us with nights, or days, filled with questions.
Some texts are like a cool breeze and a light summer shower. Their words betray a desire to unravel knotted strings. This is specially true for Yashoda. Her words, thoughts, experiences are unique to her, but they infect and animate those of our experiences and reflections which lie hidden in the recesses of our mind. While we might think it unnecessary to allow them to emerge, the key of her pen gently unlocks them.
The simpleness of some of my peers is reflected in the simpleness of their writings. They skillfully depict life around them, and tell us their thoughts in their texts.
This book with the black cover is special. It contains webs of words. http://www.sarai.net/community/cybermohalla/book02/pages/pdfs/wordnets.pdf
These webs were created over time, by all of us thinking together. One word is the king among them all. That's the word we begin with. Then we think of words around it, which link with it in different ways. They are like the king's public! Together they create their own universes.
I remember, sometimes we would select five words and write around them. One of these booklets contains such texts that were written through stringing together different words.
I travelled to the days we wrote such texts, when I read them in the booklet.
I read twice two texts that Neelofar had written with all of us. When she had first read them out to us, they had brought smiles to all our faces. Those same smiles returned today and touched me. Neelofar creates in words the worlds she sees and senses. She writes almost about anything! Like the text about her brother, which she has written as she has considered best, with her practical reason as her reference and companion. Neelofar is a fearless speaker.
These feelings that I have shared with you could be mine alone. Everyone will have different ways of thinking. Where I seek depth, someone else may find dryness. Everyone thinks differently, just like everyone has a different sense of Self. Our measures of things are different.
The writers of these books have given their texts their own distinctiveness through their own modes of writing. Their texts carry the imprint of their personalities. I have not found the simpleness of language I have found in these books in any other that I have read. This is the specialness of these books.
These books may be a collections of different peoples' experiences, but just as these diverse texts have been strung together in one cover, they have strung together different people through a relationship of having thought together, and grown together.
My friend Babli Rai would like to speak now about how we work at the labs.
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