The feeble sound of that quiet voice
Review of ‘It doesn’t hurt to be nice’ by Amisha Sethi
This book isn’t a novel and yet it is full of stories. This book isn’t a boring sermon and yet it has lessons that stand on their own legs and walk straight into your heart. This book isn’t mythology and yet it takes a reader on a ride into the sublimity of the ancient texts. This book isn’t shouting at you and yet ‘the feeble sound of that quiet voice’ that is within us all, is activated and ready to lead us on.
Yes, this book by Amisha Sethi is about moments where most of us will murmur: It doesn’t hurt to be nice, which incidentally, is the title. I guess this book fits rather well, the definition of hybrid literature that its proponents are always talking about. There are pictures, sketches, doodles, and even poetry to add to the story that Kiara, a ‘dynamic thirty-something’ protagonist of the book is telling the readers.
As I read on, I realised that there are concepts that even I have believed in for ages… and they are ideas that have given me a lot of happiness. For instance, the idea of giving unconditionally has given me more happiness than even when I have won prizes that matter. What I liked best was the author unequivocally adding that ‘if the input is not with selfless intentions, the output can never be right’ and goes on to write that giving unconditionally makes one eligible to receive unconditionally. Now this is precisely what I have always believed in and giving includes not just things that money can buy, but even intangibles like happiness. She writes: ‘When you ask for happiness, try to ask not just for yourself, but for everyone. Can you imagine how amazing you would feel if someone out there is secretly wishing you bliss and hoping that all your desires are getting fulfilled by the universe in abundance.’
Now, if you’re beginning to think that this slim volume by Amisha is doling out advice and is just a step away from resembling a text-book, you’re wrong. Kiara, the protagonist, has enough examples from her personal as well as professional life to emphasise a point. What a lesser writer would have converted into a text that preaches becomes a set of tales woven expertly into a series of learnings that are not completely unknown anyway.
I guess I will be almost correct to say that the book is a set of stories that wrap around thoughts worth following. One such story is where Kiara talks about Henna who is bent upon allowing a relationship to hurt her… and she drives to her place in the dead of night after getting a rather cryptic SMS that reads: ‘Keep smiling Kiara. Take care. God bless.’ Now these are moments that come packed with panic and the protagonist doesn’t sleep over it but takes proactive action. When Kiara rings the bell, ‘she opened the door finally and there she was, a total wreck. I had not seen her for the last three months. Her beautiful face looked like that of the actress in The Exorcist. For a minute I was scared.’ Anyone would be in such a case… but Kiara goes one step ahead, calls up the person who has played with her friend’s emotions, and tells him to ‘don’t ever call her again. And one ore message on any freaking messaging platform on the planet, I am going to turn you into CH3CH2OH and put it in my martini with a dash of lemon.’ Who will say the book doesn’t have its share of creative and bold solutions to problems that might appear common place. Well, the author goes on to connect this incident with Lord Vishnu teaching a lesson to the demon Mahisasura… and she doesn’t stop there. We also have a verse from the Kamasutra where true love is likened to a cosmic alignment of one’s body, heart, and mind. And thereon, the author’s philosophic banter moves on to serenity and detachment.
There were times when I felt I was reading a watered down version of chapters written by Deepak Chopra but I realised later that Amisha tended to stay in the present and embrace a contemporary setting in her examples and even her forays into the old texts are largely simplified with all complex contexts removed. The language and the expression, I mean, is unpretentious.
No, there is no plot and no line of characters to keep a track of as you read this book… in fact, there is a probability that you may go back to chapters that concern you and re-read them. Depending on what concerns you, you can even open a particular chapter, say, on fear… or the reason to believe in God… or on trust… or kindness… or on thankfulness… and you’d have begun a cycle where you end up discussing the chapter in your mind. The chapters interact with you and allow you to discuss. As a reader I was tempted to even wake up Specky, my wife in the dead of night to read out a passage and then discuss its correctness. Well, most of times we smiled and said, ‘Isn’t this thought cloning what we have been thinking all these years?’
Well, I think if I say that the book is a clone of our thoughts, I will really be encapsulating the charm of the book in a single sentence. Not many books are capable of doing this.
Title: It Doesn’t Hurt to Be Nice
Author: Amisha Sethi
Publisher/ Imprint: Srishti Publishers & Distributors
Price: Rs 175/- (in 2015)
You can read this review on The Tales Pensieve as well…
Published in ‘The Tales Pensieve‘ on 21 September 2015