Review of Mumbai Postcards: Notes to a Grandson

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Jaituni Sanghavi
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Review of Mumbai Postcards: Notes to a Grandson

Post by Jaituni Sanghavi »

[Following is an official review of "Mumbai Postcards: Notes to a Grandson" by Harsha V. Dehejia.]
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4 out of 5 stars
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I am sure you may have seen postcards in your life at least once, or maybe even a picture of them, if not for real. However, have you ever come across a book that has been written in a postcard format and, moreover, has the physical shape and dimensions of a regular rectangular postcard? Well, if you haven't, then Mumbai Postcards: Notes to a Grandson by Harsha V. Dehejia is a book you should consider reading.

This book presents to us short essays, contemplations, and thoughts of the author written in the form of postcards or letters, the theme of which is the magnificence of Indian culture, traditions, way of life, and much more. The author has written these postcards with the intention of addressing them to her grandson and sharing with him how rich the Indian culture and way of life are.

However, as she says, these postcards are not just for her grandson but for every Indian youth—those living in India and those living in Western countries. For the Indian youth living in India, this is an opportunity to explore and refresh their traditions. And for those in the West, this is an invitation for homecoming to know their roots and nourish them. The author, having lived in both parts of the world (the West more) and drawing on her experiences of 60 years, is, in my opinion, the perfect person to write this book. Being an Indian myself, I believe the author has hit just the right spots throughout her book, and I’ll explain how and why below.

The author begins the book with a postcard that recollects the time of the ‘COVID-19 pandemic’ and shares how everyone in the West was extremely scared, whereas in India, people were less fearful. This lack of fearfulness, she explains, was not due to being negligent of one’s health but to the overall Indian environment in which one grows, for Indians are known to have fearless mindsets in the face of challenges.

She then talks about how doctors, scientists, and the like perform a small ‘puja’ or take God’s name or chant a prayer before executing their work, be it performing an operation or launching a rocket. This reflects how Indians carry science and religion together and do not leave the latter behind, which may be lacking in Western culture. Even on the dashboards of most Indian cars, there’s a mini shrine wherein God is placed, reflecting how important a role God plays in every Indian’s life.

The author further talks about the rich culture, beliefs, and essence of India. However, while doing so, she does not try to demean the Western culture but instead tries to show us that the Indian culture is so powerful that if the Western culture were given less importance and the Indian more, a lot of problems such as climate change could be solved, for the solutions to it are already contained in the ‘Rig Veda,’ which has existed for over 5000 years now. Through this, Harsha tries to draw attention to how rich our culture, traditions, and scriptures are! Everything has a meaning behind it. For example, the ‘Kalash (a pot),’ in India, is made of all five elements that make up our environment, which are: earth, water, air, space, and fire. It's interesting, isn’t it?

One part of the book I truly liked was that of the ‘Bhava Pradhan’ view of life and the ‘Buddhi Pradhan’ view of life. ‘Bhava Pradhan’ view of life is basically an emotional way of looking at life, and ‘Buddhi Pradhan’ view of life is an intellectual way of looking at life. An example the author shares in this context is when once she asked an Indian artist about why he painted the way he did, to which the artist replied, “Do you ever see a straight line in nature?” Harsha was struck by this answer and agreed with the artist fully because isn’t it true that in nature we have lines with twists and turns, that sing and dance, and that spiral up and down, thus creating beautiful and varied forms that we admire, like in leaves, flowers, birds, bees, rivers, and clouds? This is exactly the ‘Bhava Pradhan’ way of looking, which an Indian mind usually does, as it gets delighted to see these curvy, wavy lines throughout nature. On the contrary, without generalizing it, the Western mind usually prefers a straight line, which suggests rationality and an arid intellectual ‘Buddhi Pradhan’ view of life.

I also liked and agreed with the part where the author shares how the Western view is to search for answers outwards, whereas the Indian view is to search for answers inwards. However, as Harsha says, that does not mean we ignore the outward view and the material world; it means to start outward and then ultimately turn inward because that is where your real self is.

A few other things I liked in the book were that of the third eye of Shiva, which urges us to move from ‘avidya’ to ‘vidya,’ that is, from ignorance to knowledge, or the part where the author talks about the concept of cut flowers on a vase, which is a common artistic motif in the West, but it is not so in the case of India because Indians believe in continuity and organic whole, which does not allow for fragmentation and division.

Moreover, in the latter part of the book, the author very well explains that India should still learn from Western modernization and accept it too in order to improve in the areas of socio-economic limitations, but at the same time it should make sure that it is not accepting the Western concept of modernity with its godless secularism. India does need Western technology, and so it must remain a devotee in the temples of science in the West, but that is where it should stop. India’s gods, mythology, mystical thinking, and traditions must not play second fiddle to the modern West because that is India’s strength and heritage. I strongly agree with this as well!

I can keep going on, but I have to stop now and let you read the book to explore more of India’s richness and essence. Considering how much I liked this book, which is clearly reflected in the above-mentioned paragraphs, I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. Had the typographical errors not been present, this book would have received a full rating from me because I disliked absolutely nothing about it. Moreover, I loved how almost every alternate page of the book has a high-definition picture of Indian postboxes, post offices, or a postcard amidst an Indian backdrop. The use of glossy paper made reading this book an even more delightful and, I might say, rich experience.

However, there is one suggestion I’d like to make: do not read this book in a single go; instead, read 4 or 5 postcards a day. I say so because only then can you absorb the true essence that lies within them. They are filled with a lot of profundity, thought, and meaning and require contemplation.

This book is more suitable for Indians living in India and abroad in order to realize how beautiful and rich their country is and not go behind Western culture, which is increasing with time. I would also recommend this book to Westerners who have an open mind to criticism and are interested in exploring Indian culture and way of life.

Mumbai Postcards: Notes to a Grandson
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Areena David
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Post by Areena David »

I appreciate your kind words and your detailed review of the book.
Overall, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in Indian culture or seeking insights into life in India.
Sandre Lamar
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Post by Sandre Lamar »

This book beautifully talks about the essence of Indian culture and traditions through heartfelt postcards to her grandson. The view on perseverance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the integration of science and spirituality in daily life portrays reflections on cultural richness and values.
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