More Updates on the Big C

I know it has been a while since I came around to posting anything but there was too much going on in the life and time was scarce. Most of what was happening in the life was a good; some minor hiccups here and there but for a change nothing to get my life off kilter and most of it was good – celebrating all the Indian festivals, travelling, meeting people and all that that makes life good! But I did want to pop in for a few updates.

To begin with, as of last Friday, I have completed my chemotherapy and per my CA Marker tests, as of now there seems to be no evidence of disease. I may have to undergo some minor radiation in January but that is again preventive and the doctors are still debating whether I need it or not. Of course I will be on medication for a while with exhaustive medical check ups every three months. Also I have been advised that my Chemotherapy side effects, especially the fatigue, body ache and weakness may last upto a year and I may continue to have some bad days; however for all events and purposes, I am well. I am healthy and I have been living life pretty much like I used to before I fell sick! This in itself is one of the greatest and most awesome blessing and I have so much gratitude for this fact!

Celebrating the last of the Chemotherapy Session with my amazing Medical Team & Sister at the Hospital

Now through my journey, I came across a lot of misinformation, myth and a general casual or complete horror approach to this illness. Most folks seemed to think that being diagnosed with Cancer was end of the road and I may as well wait for the sword to fall. While several others inundated me with nonsensical information and a certain section of people whom I considered friends , abandoned me, perhaps thinking that I may need assistance or whatever. Since my diagnosis I have spoken to several other cancer patients who tell me of similar experience and ghosting is one common social side effect of Cancer. Needless to say there is a need to spread information and raise awareness and more communities to not only help Cancer patients but also caregivers or even people not directly affected but in some way touched by the disease through illness of a friend or a relative. These are not happy or pleasant things but t as data shows an increased rise in Cancer diagnosis across geographies, these become increasingly important things to be told! As a result of all this I started an Insta page to support some of these myth breaking conversations, provide general information about reducing cancer risk and caregiving 101. I also followed it up with a blog page ( work in progress ) and you can find me here ( Insta ) and here ( Blog ). It would be an honor if all you could drop by and follow and most importantly share some feedback and thoughts on what I can do more!

For now I am just grateful that as I approach my birthday on 23rd of this month, I am healthy and well and can live every moment like I used to and like I would want to. I realize this as one of the greatest of all blessings and am humbled and saddened to think that many are denied this everyday! I am truly lucky, here and now and that alone is best possible gift of all times!

Some Joys Rediscovered…..

The Big C is now an integral part of my life; while I am recovering very well, the fact remains that now life will marked with regular visits to the hospital , watching out for any physical ailment & aberration & constantly being on my toes! It does not make life any less rich or fulfilling, just that the approach needs to change to adapt to the new normal & make the best out of it. And speaking of best, I have discovered since diagnosis of this illness, simple pleasures that I had forgotten! It is almost like Cancer has heightened my senses & the joie de verve is rushing through me, running madly, as if I have awakened from a long slumber & I find enchantment in every small everyday things I come across! I have always been a happy soul, but the joy I feel lately in simple tasks is unmatched & somehow life seems so much better than before!

Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow (1916–1919), Musée Marmottan Monet
By <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Claude_Monet&#8221; class=”extiw” title=”w:en:Claude Monet”><span title=”French impressionist painter (1840-1926)”>Claude Monet</span></a> – Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, Public Domain, Link

Thus I wanted to share some of the things that has been making my life joyful over the past few weeks –

  1. A good head wash, with shampoo, conditioner & the works. Trust me after 3 weeks of recovery from surgery with a no shower mandate, there is nothing more soothing or gorgeous than a head wash with free flowing water & all the soap you can use! Yes, you are losing hair, but what the hell, there is still some left & someone needs to do a study on the therapeutic benefits of a head bath!
  2. A well made toast dripping with golden butter, perhaps accompanied with a cup of tea. For several weeks I was unable to eat not because I did not want to but because eating anything caused so much physical discomfort. And now to luxuriate with bread & some butter is perhaps to highest degree of joy, better than any other epicurean delights in the world.
  3. A rainy Monday during my recovery period. I did not have to log in for work & instead I spent the day watching the rain falling, reading a book & nibbling whatever my sister served me. It is not like I have not taken Monday’s off but this was already planned & I did not have to call anyone or explain anything; all I had to do was focus in that present moment.
  4. Discovering I can carry of short hair & look good with it! Hair, that one thing that worries most of us than anything else through the journey of Chemotherapy. Maybe we are really vain or maybe that is one physical vestige of dignity we want to hold on to; whatever may be the reason, losing hair is a big deal & when you have nearly waist length hair, it does take an effort to be stoic about it! I have never had short hair & I was not sure how I will look; but surprise, surprise, I look quite good & am seriously contemplating sticking to this style for a while!
  5. Waking up to pictures of flowers & adorable doggies posts & just the most heartwarming messages from this blogging tribe of mine, after I had posted that I was not having a good day on Instagram. There is nothing more wonderful or more encouraging than knowing someone cares! The text has an infinite power to soothe the nerves & make everything better. And then things go another level higher, when someone from the tribe takes the time out of their crazy schedule, to write emails after emails, explaining what chemotherapy feels like, what medicines help & what food to it! There is no greater wonder than this!
  6. My Chemo room as I have mentioned is a picnic zone more than a medical room! Add to that the hospital has a chef who is out to prove that hospital food can be both delicious & healthy! Eating Penne Arrabiatta while the Chemo drip is on, may sound, well different, but trust me when I say you have to eat that Pasta to understand what I am saying!
  7. Coming home after the Chemo to my yellow colored wall apartment, filled with books, music & pictures & memories of all the wonderful times I have had with my family, friends & so many other people!
  8. Writing again! I am scribbling on odd ends of papers, on One Note in my phone, in my journals, on social media; basically everywhere & anywhere I can lay my hands on. I have always loved writing, but work, life & everything in-between had made it difficult for me to concentrate to put something down on paper. I have made several restart attempts & some were more successful than others, but since May, I have rediscovered the joy of writing, anywhere & everywhere at any time of the day!
  9. Waking up early in the mornings! I have never been much of Morning person & my work which requires me to support Markets like US & UK required me to work late in the night. But due to this illness, I have made a conscious effort to not work long hours & sleep at a reasonable time, circa 11:30 pm or so. This in turn allows me to wake up early around 6 ( Yes! that is early for me!) & the joy of looking out of my balcony to the valley it overlooks & the sun rising or the rains falling, just beautiful!
  10. Friends dropping in on the weekend! Most of them even get food so that my sister & I don’t have to be bothered & then we settle down to a long fun conversation. The Sunday before my surgery, we had slew of visitors, morning, evening & night & that helped me so much to take my mind of things to happen on Monday & Tuesday. These visits give me so much joy, add energy to my sense of joie de verve & reminds me truly of all that is important!

In the end, in the voice of Julie Andrews (& Roger & Hammerstein lyrics & music) , these are a few of my favorite things! And these are things sustain me when the dog bites, in my case pain hits! What are the things that bring you joy?

Life with Big C

Life takes an interesting turn everyday and when the community is inflicted with Plague ( COVID 19 is again rising in India ) & you have been diagnosed with a cantankerous illness, aka Cancer, the experience becomes even more “colorful”. So here I stand, a little over a month since my surgery and still wonder, by which turns & unexpected paths, did I manage to reach this stage of life & how come I have this disease? But reality as always sets in & I have just have to look at my hands, marked with all kinds of intravenous & canula insertions, and know well, this is a fact & I have to not only live with it, but also learn to thrive with it.

Thriving of course involves medication to keep this ridiculous sickness at bay & that includes the “fun” thing called Chemotherapy. My first session of Chemo happened exactly a week ago. Again I am fortunate to have found an amazing set of doctors and a great hospital where the aim is to not only make the patient well, but also comfortable through the journey of getting well. The Chemo room is a day care center and maybe the hospital administration consciously put in charge nurses who are gregarious, bursting with life & enthusiasm. The whole mood of the room feels like a picnic more than a sick bay & there is Alexa playing upbeat music, a huge Television displaying the latest game of Cricket ( India runs on Cricket ) & my funny, crazy & extremely competent nurse convincing me to have the Pasta in the menu along with a chocolate brownie because they are the chef’s specialty! I was there for 8 hours and it did not feel long or painful. My doctors are all chatty, sharing funny stories but also always attentive to my condition with great advise on managing the side effects of Chemo. My awesome nurses ensured that I never felt any pain during the process, while keeping entertained with hilarious anecdotes. And my wonderful, elder sister never left my side, keeping me company, making me laugh & taking care of all hospital logistics, so that I do not need to worry about them. Needless to say, not only did I have a smooth & comfortable session, but actually a fun one.

However Chemo even when dispensed with utmost care is Chemo. It shall make it’s presence felt loud & clear to all & sundry & ensure everyone is aware of it’s “magnificence”. The initial two days after Chemo, thanks to a 500 ml Iron intravenous that was given at the hospital, I felt absolutely glorious, living, breathing as never before. Then on Monday, the side effects kicked in; Monday was nausea, bouts & bouts of it, but thankfully I had been proactively prescribed medication to combat this if & when needed and by evening things were good. Then I had a happy, comfortable & uneventful Tuesday but Wednesday brought more developments. I woke up with an wrecking back pain; walking , sitting, eating, any & every movement became painful & despite taking painkillers to address this, the relief was temporary. But I crawled through Wednesday & Thursday was an improvement. Finally I sit here on Friday & today is a good day, where again, all my body parts feel like they belong to me & are not hosting a rebellion. The simple joy of having a body free of aches & pains; I never really appreciated the blessing until lately! Compared to many my pain is nothing & I am extremely grateful to the doctors & the forces that might be for ensuring that while I face my trials, I am given enough strength & support to make it a comfortable effort. I have resumed work for more than a week now, I am meeting friends ( those who come over, my travel is still limited ) , cooking a bit, taking walks ( my doctors tell me that the more active I stay, the lesser the side effects ) & writing. Slowly the pieces are coming together; though the big picture has changed very much!

I now understand that life for a while will be made of good & bad days. Good days when everything will feel right & I can touch the sky & bad days when I just have to be patient & bear out the day until it passes. More patience & the need to make most of the moment are the guidelines which would define my life as I know it & hopefully ensure that I continue to live & thrive! I know I am getting well & these discomforts are temporary & I am being cured of the actual disease. I am much better, physically, intellectually & spiritually than I was even 6 weeks ago & I have much to be grateful for!

Among the many things that has helped me heal, is the constant texts, messages, pictures & outpouring of affection & support that I received from my blogging family. I call all of you my family because, though we may have never met in person, your standing by my side & cheering me on is nothing short of what a family does. My days are made so much better, when I wake up to messages & emails from all of you, bringing me hope & giving me infinite courage, to battle this demon out! I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for all your efforts & can only humbly say thank you! I am so blessed to have this tribe in my life!

Update on Big C

I wanted to share an update on the Big C situation in my life. I am blessed to have such an amazing blogging tribe whose affection and support is seeing me through this latest crisis and I know many of you are concerned about how I am faring.

So here’s the latest update from the C Ward –

I had a PET scan and Biopsy done in late June. The Biopsy revealed two illuminating facts; one I had two, not one tumor. One in my Ovary and another one in my Uterus and it was all Stage 2. It also came through that that both tumors were malignant and were different types of cancer, adding a whole new layer of complexity in an already difficult case. The PET scan revealed that most of the cancer was localized as in around the reproductive and abdomen area and not spreading too fast. Based on this my doctor kicked into action. My amazing gynecologist, Dr. Aruna Kalra, who does not lose her head nor believes in dilly dallying, had a plan set out immediately and a week from the biopsy, sat me down and explained the plan of action. She is someone who firmly believes in letting the body do its job with minimum medical intervention. She suggested we go for a debulking surgery, which would take out the tumor and any other cancer cell and then based on what the Tumor histogram suggests, the doctors would do a few rounds of Chemo. She then set up a meeting between me and the Oncologist Surgeons and I met Dr. Vinay Gaikwad and Dr. Jyoti Bhat, the men who would cut me open and try and ensure that I become well again. They were wonderful and as things progressed, I would also understand that they were kickass doctors, the very best in their job and more importantly, few of the nicest, kindest human beings I would have the good fortune to meet. They explained the entire surgery process to my sister and me; they did not hide any facts; they called out that this would be a complex surgery, that there are some inherent risks when a surgery, any surgery happens, but they also stated that they were confident that I will pull through.

As per plan, I was admitted in the hospital on July 5th and on July 6th, 8:30 AM, they wheeled me in for pre-OT procedures. My sister was petrified of the future and I despite all the kind assurances of the doctors from previous night, was so so scared. I was given a local anesthesia, then an epidural injection and then a general anesthesia. I only recollect to waking up groggy, looking up at the faces of my sister and Dr. Jyoti Bhatt and I knew that I had made it to the other side, I had survived the complex surgery and in that vague state of semi consciousness, I knew that now I can make it to the rest of journey to full recovery. They kept me in the ICU for the remaining day, moving me to a room the very next morning. My doctors, both Dr. Gaikwad and Dr. Bhat while the kindest souls do not believe in molly codling; they made me sit up for several hours the very next day of the surgery; there I was with 14 different pipes hanging out of my body and I do not know how many stitches across my abdomen and cervix, sitting pretty. They made me walk on the second day and made me eat food the third day; by the third day evening, they came in, told me with a lot of pride, affection and joy that I was doing splendidly and could go home the next day.

Poppies (also called Poppy Field), oil on canvas by Claude Monet, 1873; in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I met them twice post coming home, and I was advised that my recovery was marvelous and that it gave them infinite pleasure to see their patient “walk in” without any aid, barely 10 days after the surgery. My stitches all came off earlier this week and I have not felt this good and strong in several weeks. I still have an odd muscle pull here and there which I have been told is a natural consequence of losing so many tissues and other minerals due to the surgery but otherwise I am on top of the world. These amazing healers, were able to take out all the cancer impacted parts. They also did a highly difficult procedure while I was in surgery called HiPec, which very simply put is giving Chemo to kill all cancer cells not visible to human eye. Because of all these efforts by the surgeons, I have to go through only 6 rounds of Chemo, which will start on Aug 2nd and that too for preventive purposes only, they managed to take all Cancer impacted body parts and ensure I was completely well.

I cannot count my blessings for these brilliant, kind set of doctors that I found and who helped me through the shadow of valley of death. Later in conversation with the nurses and junior doctors who assisted the two surgeons would I understand how hard they had fought to keep me alive and get me well. The surgery went on for nearly 7 hours and the nurses tell me that they got tired but not once did Dr. Gaikwad or Dr. Bhat flagged. I had been told at one point my Blood Pressure kept free falling risking a heart attack and somehow, they brought me back to being stable. 3 bottles of blood had been set aside for my operation, but my blood loss was so high, they ended up using 6 bottles. And yet, despite all this, I am well in less than 2 weeks. I am hale and hearty like my old self; I felt no pain post the surgery, none at all. There was some restricted movement because of the stitches, but nothing else. I was as comfortable as one can get. All of these, because I stumbled upon two miracle workers. I keep saying they are wonderful humane beings not only because they healed me, but because, of the way the treated my loved ones. They kept my sister and family informed, proactively, of my health when I was in ICU or OT and not in a position to speak to them. Dr. Bhat would despite his crazy schedule ensure he checked in with my sister as to how I was every alternate day, once I came back home. Every time I meet them, they make me laugh, give me strength, and affirm my faith. Dr. Gaikwad tells me that it helps his fight against Big C when he has cheerful, optimistic patients like me; he tells me this is one disease where the mind has to triumph and unless it does that, the disease cannot be expelled. Therefore, he is always so proud of my courage, but I tell him, so much of this courage, this optimism, comes because I am in his hands and he along with Dr. Bhat had led me through the darkest hour and I stand indebted to them forever. If I am able to post this blog today, it is because of these two men and my wonderful gynecologist Dr. Kalra who set the ball rolling and did not stop until she saw me sitting up and smiling to her!

To end, I am well. Very well. I am glad to have made it here today and I appreciate my good fortune. Yes, now there are Chemo rounds to face off and that is a whole new battle, but I am hoping to overcome that part as well and come back stronger than ever. Thank You for checking in on me constantly, for your encouragement, your affection and your book recommendations. Your thoughts and prayers did as much good for me as these doctors. Thank You for standing by me!

January Notes….

There was a time when I would bemoan the onset of January because that meant, all festivals and holidays were over and we would have to wait atleast another 9 months for the next set of celebrations. However with time comes perspective and January, I realize need not necessarily equate to end of joy; for joy is where you find it and you do not need much to to find it either! So here we are, on the first day of the year, celebrating January

“January is here, with eyes that keenly glow,
A frost-mailed warrior
striding a shadowy steed of snow.”
―  Edgar Fawcett

“Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday’s dusting of snow.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow.”
―  Nelda Hartmann, January Morn  

Hendrick Averkamp, Winter Landscape with Skaters (1608)

“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

“The first day of January always presents to my mind a train of very solemn and important reflections and a question more easily asked than answered frequently occurs viz: How have I improved the past year and with [what] good intentions do I view the dawn of its successor?” ―Charlotte Brontë

“I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.” ―Jerry Spinelli

“Leaving any bookstore is hard . . . especially on a day in January, when the wind is blowing, the ice is treacherous, and the books inside seem to gather together in colorful warmth.” ―Jane Smiley

 Paul Gauguin, Breton Village in the Snow (1894)

“Little January
Tapped at my door today.
And said, “Put on your winter wraps,
And come outdoors to play.”
Little January
Is always full of fun;
Until the set of sun.
Little January
Will stay a month with me
And we will have such jolly times –
Just come along and see.”
–  Winifred C. Marshall, January

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
  Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
  The years that through my portals come and go.
I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
  I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
  My fires light up the hearths and hearts of me

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Poet’s Calendar

So what does January mean to you?

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to People

I know I have completely gone MIA after all those heavy words on being diligent and regular in my posts! I even bailed out on Cleo’s House of Mirth Read Along; a totally unheard of action. But life often gets in the way of our plans and despite laying them out well and meticulously, a gust of wind is all it takes to make the towers go crumbling. And that is what happened with me. While work continued to be what it is; a tight rope walk. balancing and managing people and relationships instead of focusing on the work, things in my personal life took a turn for worse! There were much drama both in my sister’s life and mine, breaking the rhythm and pushing us into turbulence, from which we barely emerged. And then what as everyone knows is my favorite month December dawned, my father had to be hospitalized, not once but twice. The emotional, physical and financial exhaustion of this last year is enough to make one pack one’s bag and head to the mountains for a life of a hermit! However , as I have been told, and I know from experience, that you cannot run away from your problems. You have to stand tall and face it and face it I shall and live to fight another day!

So here is to good will, hope and happiness for all of us from everything that worries us, bogs us down or just saddens us! To good times and good vibes in 2020!

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.”

– Ian Frazier, The New Yorker

Tis That Time of the Year…..

Here we are, on the very last day of 2018 and it’s time to reflect and wonder, where did the year go? Of course, you may have already done this and that shows you are more practical, attuned to the demands as well value of time and over all circumspect in your approach. If that is so, then I hold you in admiration, if not, well, you have my company in the last minute reflections!

I cannot quite say I will miss 2018; I have always held the belief that even years are better for me, however 2014 and 2018, seem to really challenge this hypothesis. 2018, was in every possible way a horrid year, filled with all kinds of disagreeable happenings. In fact it was so bad, I went headlong and rushed an event, just so I can get it over and done with it this year, rather than let it fester in what I would like thinks is a brand new page. With an exception of one desperately sought professional movement, this year been blackest of black, with not even a tinge of grey to break the blackness. Thankfully, there were friends and books to see me through, yet again!

And this brings me to what is actually at the heart of this post, the 18 best books that I have read in the year! As is my tradition, based of the year number, I select that many books from my reading repertoire, in what can only be termed as one of the bestest reflections of the year. Therefore without further ado, here we go, in no particular order-

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva – This 11th century collection of Indian short stories was a significant departure from the traditional scholarly/spiritual texts of Sanskrit. In this earthly collections of tales, Kings and Courtiers, Queens and Maids, Priests and Merchants, Lions and Jackals, all battle it out for material gains of love, money, power, without managing to sound didactic or moralizing
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot, simply cannot enumerate the brilliance of John Steinbeck or how wonderfully he translated it all in this book – the saga of the Hamilton and Task families in the turn of the century Salinas Valley, where the most vile is redeemed, by the sheer power of choice.
  3. The Diary of Nobody by George Grossmith – My second re-read and what is there not to love about this middle aged bumbling man in his new house and old wife and friends, as he meanders through his own life, while trying to steer the lives of his loved ones, in a most hilarious, uproariously funny writing ever!
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – In this now celebrated and seminal writing, Ms. Woolf put down the very basic needs that remain unfulfilled for women, making them economically dependent and thus weaker, among the sexes.
  5. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot – I have never been a fan of Ms. Elliot and though her novel, Middlemarch is considered by many the best possible English Novel; she is one author, I just could not get through and constantly struggled with. Until on a whim, I picked up The Scenes of Clerical Life and fell in love with the three short novellas that constitute this novel. The prose, the plot and the characters, all wove together, to create one of my best reads of the year. This book was powerful enough to goad me to try another Elliot – Daniel Deronda, through which I am still plodding!
  6. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – This funny, ironic and downright crazy narrative of a Lady living in Provincial England in between the two wars, is an absolute delight! While our narrator battles the various requirements of the Lady of the house, to various persons, including her laconic but practical Land Agent husband,the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants, not to mention her demands at the Woman’s Institute, as a reader, your are swept away by the  everyday life  and challenges which are as real now, as they were in 1930s and cannot help but appreciate Ms. Delafield’s ability to them on their head, and make it all look like one gigantic joyride. This was such a wonderful read that I ended up reading this twice in the year! 

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  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – I discovered Arkady Renko very late in my life but having discovered him, I wasted no time in falling in love with this fictional hero. Set in 1980’s Soviet Union, the story follows the investigation by Renko, an investigator in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office as he hunts for the identity of the three murdered victims, whose bodies are found in a cold April afternoon in Gorky Part and their killer, taking him across USSR and US, and changing the very complexion of his life so far!
  8. February by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrey Kneller – Boris Pasternak was another non favorite. I could not, simply could not make myself like Dr. Zhivago or his unending whining about Lara. But while reading Gorky Park, I realized that Pasternak was appreciated in Russia more as poet than a novelist and that prompted me to try and read some of his poetry. This turned out to be one the best literary decisions of my life as I can now understand, why Russians love Pasternak. I quote directly from my post on this collection, as I simply have no other way to describe the sheer power of these poems – “Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!”
  9. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. PearceHelen has introduced me to great many books and Dear Mrs. Bird is one such book for which I will be eternally indebted to her. This novel about a plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column, that brings her success, challenges and one of the ultimate tests of life, is one the best new books of the year, according to yours truly.
  10. The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull – This little gem is something I stumbled upon sheer chance and what a find it was! The author in a reverse narrative, actually let’s the reader on who is going to murder whom and then leads us on a merry ride of adventure, fun and a unique take on English life and times in early part of 20th century! An absolute marvel.
  11. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian – If I had to pick one book which elevated me, made me cry and enriched me as a human being, teaching me some important lessons, it would be this absolutely scintillating memoir by Ms. Brittian tracing her youth, her struggle for education and finally the heartbreak of war. This book is a lesson of things we must NOT do as people and as responsible adults, who should bequeath a better world to the younger generation. This book forces one to think and challenge one’s belief system and then no matter how hard, work to better the world, in whatever small way we can!
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Another book which came very close to Testament of Youth and enriched me as a being! This story of coming of age of Francine Nolan, her struggle for education, the constant challenges of poverty and an incapable, albeit bright father and a fierce mother, to her final tryst to college on the eve of US joining the Second World War, is more than a story of young adult. It is about determination, it is about dreaming and of never letting go what you truly want, no matter how daunting the obstacles.
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Yet another author I was wary of reading, but I finally managed to read and of course love. I, Claudius traces the early years of Claudius, the future Emperor of Rome, nephew to one Ceaser and brother to another is hardly a typical hero but Robert Graves with his deep research and brilliant writing, makes him a memorable character, with kindness and intellect, who could be a straight arrow or a diplomat as the situation demanded and whose these very skills, and not one of physical poweress will make him survive one of the most difficult and suspicious history of Roman History, to become one of the longest ruling Ceasers.
  14. The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – There are books, that really do not have a nail biting plot or a sensational character or an epoch making historical event to serve as a background. Yet, in the setting, the characters and in the narrative, things come to together so well, that they are just right and tug at your heartstrings! The Flowering Thorn is one such book.  Lesley , the young woman about town, has everything that she wants, but is somehow unhappy. On a whim, she adopts an orphan and begins life in the country with all the challenges of keeping a cook, managing a house, not becoming and then becoming friends with the Vicar’s wife and of course taking care of young being, leading to a life that comes in an enriched full circle. Beautiful, poignant, and just lovely, I will forever be grateful to Jane for introducing me to this book!
  15. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – One of those highly cried up books of 2017, that I meant to read, but did not want to, because mostly such books are such disappointments. However I am glad I sloughed on this one.This story of Count Rostov an unrepentant aristocrat, who is punished by the Socialist Government in 1917 Russia to be confided in an attic room of the Grand Hotel overlooking Kremlin as the most volatile era of modern Russia evolve, is more than just another historical fiction. It is a deep insight into the Russian society, the changing of the guards and love that comes from the heart, without any blood bonds. I do not have enough words to describe this intellectually and emotionally illuminating book. You have to read to experience it!
  16. Final Meeting by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Andrey Kneller – Yet another book of poetry picked from the reading of Arkady Renko series. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry shines and glitters through the desolation and heartbreak, both at what happens to her personally and to her beloved Russia. It is often said, that the best poets experience pain, to write the very best poetry. I cannot even begin to fathom, the amount of pain, Ms. Akhmatova must have gone through, for such amazing works like Final Meeting, Epilogue etc. Mr. Kneller’s translation as always is appreciable in keeping the integrity and the essence of these poems very close to the originals in Russian
  17. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Torton – All stories after a point are more or less similar, and there can only be so much one can do with a murder mystery….right? Wrong. You need to read this absolutely shocker for I have no other word to describe this completely mind blowing work of Mr. Torton’s. Innovative, twisted, with a punch at the end of each chapter, only a book as this roller coaster could have helped keep me doom and gloom at bay, and help me get perspective back. Very rarely do I use this sentiment, but this book definitely calls out – Vi Va Mr. Torton!
  18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell  – I usually love most of the woman authors and their works who published some of the best pieces of fictions between 1870-1950 and am greatly indebted to many of my blogging friends for introducing me to their work. But Angela Thirkell despite all the commendations, I held back, because of what appears to be slight class consciousness in her writings. However on seeing this book listed by Cleo as a Christmas read, I decided to take the plunge. And am I glad that I did. Laura Moorland is a successful author of paperbacks for woman readers which has enabled her to raise her 4 sons, the youngest of whom, Tony is now the only one in school. Her work has also enabled her to get a flat in London and a cottage in the country, where she is headed with her son, this Christmas, to get some rest, write her book and meet old friends in High Rising. But there is a newcomer who is upsetting the serene settings of this countryside and Ms. Moorland must gather her wits, to ensure, peace continues to reign. In this she is ablely aided by many of her friends, including the village doctor, her publisher, her secretary and her formidable housekeeper Mrs. Stokes.  Unique character, uproariously funny dialogues and a plot that without being outstandingly different, neverthless holds your attention and flows smoothly! Great book to end the year with.

These then are my 18 favorites of 2018. A special shout out to Adam whose challenge,  The Official 2018 TBR Challenge, helped me read a lot of books that have been lying in my TBR forever, but from one reason or another, I did not venture forth. While I was not able to finish the entire planned 12 books, 5 of the 18 books listed stem from this challenge, which goes to show you need a friend to give you a push, always!

I cannot think of better ending for this long post and and even longer year than this piece by Ian Frazier, published a couple of years back in New Yorker  –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.” 

A peaceful, happy and bookish or whatever ish makes you happy 2019 to everyone!

New Year, New Plans

It is a brand new day in the new year and I kick start my 2018 blogging adventures with a new approach. As many of you know, at the very beginning of every month, I write the very first post of that month, detailing what books I am planning to read for the same month. However, this year, I have decided to change my game plan a bit. Again as many of you are aware, I have been superlatively busy for the last one year, and while the forecast this year does not look so bleak or bad, I am hesitant to say anything, knowing life springs quite a few unexpected and not always pleasant surprise as we go along! As a result, frequently I have not been able to stick to my reading plans. If I complete Book 1 then I am unable to move to Book 2 because work got crazy or something else needed attention and I finally read something completely outside the map! Thus, in change of approach and piggy backing on the posts that I see Helen does, I have instead decided to do a month end review of the books I read for the month. That way, I have pretty much a free will that can operate on the choice of the books I read instead of scrambling to keep pace. Furthermore, it allows me a more comprehensive review of the kinds of books I have actually read for the month versus what I had planned and allows me to make more informed choices when I do the next set of book picking!

This idea also works well as this year, I am not doing ANY Reading Challenges, except TBR Pile Challenge to help clear off books awaiting in my Kindle as well once on my bed side table, and writing desk and on the floor and …er….pretty much all around the house! I do want to read a bit more History and Ancient Literature, including Sanskrit, Greek and Roman Literature, and I will be a bit more aware of these genres when I make my choices, but, I cannot make promises so I do nothing, but say, I will try! Furthermore, I am quite sure, as the year trundles along, I will find books that others are planning to read, especially Cleo and hop on with them! Therefore, without having the particulars, I have perimeter in which I will play this year!

So that’s that! January is here and there is much to be done and accomplished and as we get back to our busy lives, I leave you with some humor, to get through the first days of the year with some fun –

 

A Year In First Lines….

Among the many awesome things that I have learnt from Jane, this is one of my favorites. Based on the idea of the The Indextrious Reader, Jane shares with us “the first line of each month’s first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year”. Her lovely post is here and I now follow her excellent example; though in my usual way, I go overboard and do paragraphs instead, but nevertheless –

January :: Ah! Well, the much looked forward to December is now gone and January beckons! Without breaking into my usual song and dance histrionics about the misery of getting back to routine and moaning the loss of much beloved vacation time, I must say, I do not feel too bad, not too perky either, but more like zen, knowing that this too shall pass!

February :: The first month of 2017 is now over and to think 2017 had started! Time flies when you especially need more time! Don’t ask me why!

March ::Winter in this part of the world is officially over and the brief Spring is here. I can like this season had it not been the harbinger of the terrible Indian Summers!

April ::While my friends in the Northern Hemisphere rejoice the Spring, here’s the sweltering unrelenting heat of the Indian Summers are beginning to be felt. 

May ::The much dreaded Indian Summers are here and much as I would want to hide away and never really come out of igloo styled hibernation, there are bills to be paid and work to be done! So May, do thy worst, I shall live for October!!

June :: As I read other posts, on glories of Summer, I am hard pressed to find one good thing about this damm season in this part of the Geography! Heat, dry and unceasingly stifling beats, down on all in the Indian sub continent and those of us able to afford air conditioning count our blessings. But what of those who are barely able to manage a roof over their heads, let alone any cooling instrument to give relief?

July ::Finally July…Fall is only 3 months away and I survived yet another horrid Indian Summer. Actually, there are 3 more months to go, but these are technically the Monsoon months, where it rains and floods and while it is quite pleasant when it rains, immediately after that the humidity soars and the baking heat now with high humidity, makes life, well miserable to say the very least!! But like my oft repeated motto, as long as there are books, life will always look up!

August:: I think this recent hiatus from the world of bloggers has been my longest. Unfortunately work and more work and now an added certification for which I signed up is taking up 37 hours of the 24 hours!  My reading is down to a crawl and to say I am neglecting housework is the a mere understated understatement. Oh! the joys of adulthood!

September :: September is here, which means, October and by that extension, Fall is around the corner and atleast for next couple of months, Winter, lovely Winter is in season!! Yay!! Another Summer gone and another year is coming round! Time does fly , but I honestly cannot say that I want to go back to January 2017 and would much rather move to December 2017!

October ::In the words, of L.M. Montgomery, via Anne of Green Gables “I‘m so glad I live in a world where there are October“. I cannot think of a more perfect way to show gratitude for the month of October…fall is here and winter is on its way. It means relief for the searing heat of Indian Summer, wood fire smokes, festivals and celebration and finally a year end, where for the mad year of 2017, I can slow down a bit and take a breathe to read and write!

November ::Ah!! November, glorious November, how I look out for thee, every year! It is in thine hope that I passeth months, that be March to September!! Finally, cold weather, holidays and celebration; what I ask is not like about winter coming? Atleast, winter in my part of the world!

December ::December, glorious December! How I love thee! You are the only month in the calendar that helps me survive, January to November! Ok, maybe not November, but for sure January to October! And finally this glorious, wondrous, joyous month is upon us, and boy! do I have plans!

An Act

I was planning to share my July reading plans but decided to share this instead…

It was a wonderful balmy monsoon laden evening in this city of South Asia; the capital city of this delta ridden region, the most prosperous city of this debt ridden country. It was Friday and Faraaz looked into his mother’s room before leaving to meet his friends! “Ami, I am going! I will be back in couple of hours!” Faraaz’s mother, an extremely attractive and elegant 48 year old lady turned and smiled and said “Be home on time. You know we leave early tomorrow to meet your aunt and her family. They never see you unless you come home from your University!” Faraaz smiled and nodded and ran out to the driveway, where his car was parked – a gift from his father on graduating with honors and then getting through to Business school at _____ University, Georgia US. In 10 mins, he had reached the cafe, the ‘in place’ of the city, “the place” for some delectable croissants, crème brûlée tart and coffee. He got a corner seat and waited for his friends to join him. One was his classmate from the University and she was bringing another friend, who was planning to go to the same B-School and wanted advise on the how tos. It was already 7:30 in the evening and the Cafe was filling up real quick. Faraaz hoped his friends would come soon before someone came to borrow the empty chairs at his table, as the weekend crowd of various age, nationality and background started filling in. Just has he had been served coffee; Abinta came in with a younger girl. She spotted Faraaz and headed for his table. “Sorry we are late. My fault really…I wanted to pick some muslin for Ma back in US and I just lost track of time. Poor Tarushi was waiting outside her house for more me for an hour. But you know me and fabric” said Abinta rolling her eyes. Faraaz laughed and said ‘Oh! Yes! Why do you think I gallantly declined accompanying you to the bazaar? God! You are crazy!”  Turning to the girl who was called Tarushi, he said “Hi …I am Faraaz and you must be the one dying to get through to B-School.” Tarushi smiled and replied “Dying is the word! I am the only girl in the family to make it to a college in US and now B-School is the next thing on the agenda. After all I am a Jain, you know the business community of India and commerce is in my blood, so B-School for sure and Abinta tells me you are the guy to tell me all the ref. needed and the SOPs and the code to cracking it all.” Faraaz laughed and decried any especial genius but offered to help in any way he could and was about start questioning Tarushi on her grades and plans when Abinta interrupted them saying that they could first order as she was starving and then launch themselves into the geek world. It was while deciding on what to order, they heard a hustle and crash and were suddenly surrounded by deafening voices of “Allah ho Akbar!” Thinking this as some kind of joke, the three young people turned around to see themselves and the other cafe patrons surrounded by atleast a half dozen men carrying arms. Cold fear ran through them, as they realized that this was not a joke but a reality. One of the armed men started talking and it was some time before all 3 grasped what was being said – they had been taken hostage and the purpose of this armed group was to demand release of their leader who had been arrested by the government and the establishment of true religion. One by one, they started going round the room and deciding and declaring who should stay and who should leave, who could recite the holy book and who could not. They came to Faraaz and asked for identification for all three, which they handed over. After looking at their papers, one of the armed men, turned to Faraaz and said, “You can go. You are our countryman and a man of the religion.”  Faraaz turned to the two girls and then back at the armed man and asked “Will my friends go as well?” The armed man looked at the two girls and said “No! They are unbelievers and not of the country. They will stay“. Faraaz then looked into the man’s eye and said “Then I will stay!

Through the night the army and police force played a hide and seek of bullets and negotiations with the armed men. Finally after more than 16 hours of intense conflict, the army was able to break in – 13 hostages were rescued, one of the militant was captured alive and 28 people killed ; 6 militants, 2 police officers and 20 civilians were the price of this religious fanaticism. Among the twenty killed were Faraaz Ayaaz Hossai, Bangladeshi and a Muslim, Abinta Kabir, an Indian origin – American and Tarushi Jain and Indian Hindu-Jain.

This is a not a piece of fiction, though I have wondered about Faraaz had said before he left for the cafe and what plans the three were making that fatal evening of July 1 at Holey Artisan Bakery, Gulshan, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Faraaz, in your brave act in refusing to abandon your friends, you defeated those bigoted morons and showed what religion truly is!

#Dhaka

For more information –

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/asia/bangladesh-hostage-standoff.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/dhaka-bangladesh-restaurant-attack-hostages