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!

The Big C

I know another huge disappearing act; but what can I say? Life just keeps throwing lemons and I am trying to make the best lemonade I can. To start with the months of March and April left India reeling with a devastating second wave of COVID 19. While I and my my immediate family were saved from direct impact, I have lost too many friends and relatives and sound of the ambulance through all hours on the main road next to my apartment block still makes me break into cold sweat. Things are better now but we have a long way to go and experts warn of a Third Wave in the country and I cannot even begin to fathom what that will bring.

While I was not impacted by COVID, I have been very unwell for more than 2 months. I have intermittent fever, severe weakness and a feeling of bloating and something not right inside me. I went through a round robin of doctors and pointless tests and I was told I am suffering from Calcium deficiency to IBS. But no medicines that prescribed worked and I continue to grow week, losing 12 kgs in 2 months. Finally in a fit of inspiration I reached out my gynecologist who recommended an Ultrasound test and then life began to unravel.

I am 38 years old and I have been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.

It took me a few days to let that sink in. I have never smoked in my life, never drank, let alone smoking up other substances. I ate good home cooked food, did hikes and generally faced life head on and with a lot of optimism, and this is my reward for playing by the rules No one in my family has a history of the big C. This was one curve ball I just did not see coming my way!

But life is what it is and we have to fight what comes our way. Good part is Ovarian Cancer treatment is highly advanced and this was caught well in time . My doctors are convinced of my full recovery and it still very much contained. Most importantly, like everything else in my life I shall fight and conquer this, come what may. This shall not destroy me; I shall conquer. I am blessed to have an older sister who has rolled up her sleeves and decided to throw it all to get me through this and friends who take up my fight on those days that I cannot bother to get out of bed. They have left no stone unturned; they are getting doctor appointments, ferrying me to and fro from tests and hospitals, getting second opinion. All I do no is rest and read; while everyone takes care of me with their own lives on hold. With so much love, how can I not come through this? How can I not win. I will win!

One help that I do seek from you is book recommendation – I have long hospital hours mapped out infront of me and I really need good engrossing reads . I am not picky – Classics, History, Non Fiction, Virago Collection, British Mysteries, Historical Fiction; anything will do as long as you all feel, they are good reads. So please humble request, please please share book recco!

I promise to stay in touch and keep you all posted.

The German Guard

I am as many know obsessed with History and the World Wars are especially close to my heart, because, well simply because I do not understand how men and women could have been so cruel to their own kind and secondly, most importantly, I am sometimes scared, that we as a species never learn from our mistakes and we are going down the same path! This urge to read up on the subjects leads me down to various paths of Fiction and Non Fiction and sometimes, I find myself with a book, I would not usually venture to read, had it not been set on this premises so close to my heart!

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is one such novel. I have not seen the film, but I have heard rave reviews about both the novel and the film and both were highly recommended by many people whose opinion I respect. However I could not quite bring myself to read this one; the idea of sexual relations between a 15 and 36 year old, somehow seemed to have hints of pedophilia and even my broad, live and let live philosophy had trouble digesting! So I waited and procrastinated and then one Sunday afternoon, I found myself at lose ends, challenging myself to do something different and suddenly The Reader found me!

Set in the early years post World War II Germany, The Reader, traces the lives of Michael Berg, a lawyer and Hannah Schmitz, a former guard at Auschwitz. Micheal first meets Hannah, a streetcar conductor, when he is 15 and falls ill, near her house and she assists him with aid, before sending him back home. Once recovered, he goes to thank Hannah and they begin a relationship. One key aspect of the relationship is that Hannah expects Micheal to read to her, every time he visits. One day however, Hannah abruptly leaves town and Micheal is left with the guilt that it was his conduct that drove Hannah away! After a gap of several years, while attending a seminar that follows the trial of some of the former Nazi guards and soldiers, Michael meets Hannah again, only this time she is one of the accused, held responsible for the death of many Jewish woman and children, who died in a church fire where they were being held captive under the supervision of Hannah and several other women guards, when an allies bomb stuck the church trapping the women and children in a horrific fire, killing all most everyone. As the trial progresses, Micheal realizes that the evidence is circumstantial and a good lawyer, would have disposed off the whole thing in a couple of days. However, Hannah seemed to willfully volunteer information, that held her, more of the accused guards responsible for the death of those women and children and agree on matters that may not be wholly true. As the trial progresses, Micheal wonders about Hannah’s behavior and action, until stumbling on the secret that holds key to Hannah’s action and in protecting that secret, Hannah accepts all that is thrown her way, leading to unintended consequences!

Like I said, I was not comfortable with the premises of the book, because of which I held of on reading it for a long time. There is no denying that there is streak of eroticism that is there in the book, but as I rushed through its pages, I realized it so much more than that! The guilt of the war of the post war generation of Germans, comes searing through the pages, as Michael speaks for a whole generation, that could not believe that their parents were capable of the kind of brutality that Nazi Germany unleashed. Their struggle to ‘love and respect” the elders comes clashing with the historic reality of their elders and the struggle to somehow make peace or distance themselves from that past is heartbreaking! The burden of this generation with what to condemn and who to condemn and how to make sense of it all, is tragically and beautifully described by the author, capturing the pain, the guilt, the confusion and raging anger!Hannah’s secret that symbolizes the German population during the Nazi rule, is at the very heart of the book, that questions on how the common man could turn away from what was truly an abhorrence in the name of mankind and live to exist with it everyday! This sheer negligence of moral responsibility and how that generation tackled this, forms the very essence of this novel. Sensitively written, in some of the most heart rending prose, the book offers no apology for the Nazi Germany, but rather a bewilderment of how a nation and its people can go so wrong and its consequences that echo on the future generation. With a deep understanding of his country and the people, Schlink, wrote on what can only be called a masterpiece that makes us question our sense of morality and the option of “no alternative” that hides behind it the complete and utter failure of moral courage!

I did not love this book, but I was touched by it. It remained with me for a long time and I needed to distance myself from its overwhelming difficult questions, to write an objective review. It is not an easy read; I do not mean in terms of word count, but in terms of message it brings. But it fulfills the most important criterion of a novel, the ability to make the reader hold up a mirror to his or her face and question the most important principles of life! It is a book that needs to be read, if for no other reason, than simply because we need ensure that we do not commit the same mistakes as our predecessors!

The Eternal Joy of a Funny, Brilliant and Humane Mind….Sir Terry Pratchett!

As the world knows by now, that Sir Terry Pratchett had a recent visitation from DEATH and in his language has “moved on”. I mourn his loss as much as other Pratchett fans and know that life on the third planet from the sun, without his wisdom, humanity and funny bones would simply be not the same. However knowing him, I do not think he would have appreciated ‘mourning’ and would have found much hilarity at the professed grief of folks who have never read his work, let alone appreciating it. He would instead read his true fans a riot act for being cast down when he was simply “getting on with things”. Therefore instead of doing an obituary post, I thought of blogging about some of best reasons why we all adored Sir Terry Pratchett and his Discworld!

  1. The Great A’Tuin and Discworld – Why? Give me one good reason why you would want to live on earth, when in the parallel trousers of time you could inhabit a world which sits atop four giant elephants who in turn stand on the back of the great big turtle A’Tuin….I mean earth just spins on its Axis while Discworld swims long gently rotating on the back of these creatures…far! far! Better I say!
  2. DEATH – YOU GOTTA LOVE DEATH. HE RIDES A COOL BIKE, CARRIES A SCYTHE, CAN WORK AS A HOGSFATHER WHEN THE NEED ARISES AND IS ALWAYS HELPFUL ABOUT THE TRANSITION THE LIVING BEINGS HAVE TO MAKE FROM ONE STAGE OF LIVE TO ANOTHER.
  3. Lord Vetinary – Not only is Discworld way cooler, but the leader of its greatest city Ankh-Morpork is the coolest dictator ever. A trained assassin, he knows the use of all kinds of people and has a finger in each pie (as in spy). He keeps the order, ensures the city makes money, provides a quick and easy end to any troublemaker and is indulgent for the right causes. He is never threatened, (Yes! Captain Carrot could be a potential kingly candidate) but Lord Vetinary could not care less and is more interested in understanding why Captain Carrot along with his superior Sam Vimes cannot hold peace in the city for longer duration!
  4. Ankh-Morpork – How can you not love Ankh Morpork, the greatest city of Discworld? How can you not hate Ankh Morpork, the greatest city of Discworld? Its rich, its crooked and its mad bad city like all big mad bad cities of world!! We love em’, we hate em’ but we cannot live without em’
  5. Ankh Morpork City Watch – The entire cast of characters led by formerly alcoholic, street talking walking cynical Sir Sam Vimes (One bottle is one too many) the very ideological and completely incapable of grasping sarcasm Captain Carrot, the gorgeous and seriously and I mean seriously deadly Angua and the amazingly none too bright pair of Fred Colon and Nobby Nobs…You love this watch and you want them to be the watch of your city….they are always late to the crime scene, they take forever to solve crimes, but they always get their man/woman/creature in the end, something our real life coppers have yet to master!
  6. The Witches – Bring on the drumroll and I am sure Granny Weatherwax would disapprove, but bring them on nevertheless!! The absolutely ruthless, rough talking, no-nonsense Granny Weatherwax who is not particularly fond of people, but she will stand by them, well because you gotta stand by them! Nanny Ogg, the gregarious, alcohol loving, bawdy song singing Nanny is the “mother” as likes to think of the gang. The third have beens with their unique perspectives: Magrat Garlick who loved herbs and nature and became the queen, the fat Agnes Nitt with a voice of gold and Tiffany Aching!!
  7. The Footnotes – What are these books without the footnotes – a detailed explanation to all that is caustic, funny and convoluted of complex and not so complex issues of Discworld. Like my flatmate/best friend says they are a parallel plot unto themselves and you truly cannot imagine the Discworld without these gentle and not so gentle references!
  8. The Parodies – Oh! My! Did Sir Pratchett make a parody of Sir William Shakespeare or Gaston Leroux? It is said that parodies are one of the highest forms of flattery; I am not sure if Sir Pratchett meant to flatter either of the “greats”, but he did make “Wyrd Sisters” and “Maskerade” a whole lot funnier and intellectually palatable than “Hamlet” or “The Phantom of the Opera”!
  9. The Moral Brand – Sir Pratchett was for all his imagination and humor a humanist. Anything mean, discriminatory or stupid got onto him and came out as scathing lashing critique of the utter stupidity of mankind through his pen. His City Watch was a testimony to his belief that all creatures are born equal and that no one was lesser or superior basis birth. He was intolerant of anything remotely resembling racism or xenophobia and was caustic in his condemnation of nations of their greed and power mania (Jingo is a prime example) and religious narrow mindedness (Small Gods). What made him a genius instead of a boring pedagogue was his ability to convey his point through humor, wit and a strong dose of irony!
  10. The Humor – What can I say? The caustic ruthless and absolutely funny humor! I will let Sir Pratchett do the talking himself – “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” “Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. Thats why they’re called revolutions.” “The enemy isn’t men, or women, its bloody stupid people and no-one has the right to be stupid.”My flatmate/bestfriends favorite“Our stars are entwined,” said Casanunda.”We’re fated for one another. I wants your body, Mrs. Ogg.” “I’m still using it.”

I was first introduced to Terry Pratchett’s world when as a bumbling and confused sixteen year old, I picked up Maskerade from the Library. I then knew I had found true love when he wrote about Agnes Nitt’s reaction to comments on her fatness, being constantly told that it’s what inside that’s important, “as if people fell in love with a good pair of kidneys.” That love has never wavered and funny as it may sound, I have found solace, wisdom and a lot of distraction every time I reached out for one of my much loved Discworld novels, in moments of greatest distress and trauma.

Thank You for helping me through the journey called Life, Sir Pratchett…I am so much a better individual for having met you. You will live on with us, while DEATH takes you to the next phase!

Exceptional Women and More Exceptional Women and Some More Exceptional Women….

A very Happy Women’s Day to all the ladies and a special mention for all the gentlemen across the world who display sensitivity and generosity, supporting equality and standing by us while we fight our battles! While I don’t believe in “particular day” based celebration, but considering we as women, have more than 5000 years of bondage to throw off, a special boost does no harm, I guess!

Naturally, I wanted to a do special post on focusing on woman, and considering I draw all inspiration from books, I decided on strong women characters – I don’t mean to go down the road and list some of the strongest heroines and do a regular cliché cataloging; but rather I wanted to take this moment and identify top 10 women in “supporting cast” across various works of fiction, who are more humane and identifiable than the central heroine ( because most ‘heroines’ have it all – beauty, brains, courage, etc etc) and yet a critical to the plot, without whom the novel would fall apart, pretty much like life. After all life does imitate art…

Here we go then…

  1. March from Little Women – I have mentioned about her in one of my previous posts as well and while the book is about her five daughters, there is no getting away from the fact that Mrs. March is what holds them together; her kindness, fortitude and silent courage in face of extremely distressing circumstances, keeps the March brood together. She is not perfect and she claims to have struggled with her unbiddable temper for a long time, but what makes her stand out is her innate ability to overcome this shortcoming.
  2. Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice –True Jane seems to have it all – beauty, kindness and a cheerful disposition; but it cannot be fun constantly living in the shadow of a brilliant and witty sister, who is her father’s favorite and with a mother, who favors her only for her beauty. But Jane Bennett rises above all that is petty; to appreciate the good in all and feel blessed for the love she gets, in whatever form or manner. When Bingley leaves her without a word, she promises Elizabeth that she will not regret or pine over her loss for the sake of all those who love her. In an age of increased awareness about individuality and the “I” factor, it is still worthy to honor sentiments of others and do something for their sake!
  3. Rosa Hubermann from The Book Thief – Outwardly Rosa Hubermann is brash, aggressive, nagging and pretty much a termagant. But she is also the pillar of the Hubermann family, providing food on the table, taking good care of her adopted daughter and standing by Hans no matter how difficult the circumstances. While Liesel has a far more bonded relationship with Hans, there is no denying that Rosa Hubermann acted as good strong surrogate mother to her foster child.
  4. Mellissa Hallam from Lucy Carmichael – The best example of a girl best friend; she describes Lucy as – “She taught me how to enjoy myself … Lucy forced me to believe that I might be happy. I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy.”It’s not just about what she says about Lucy that is significant, but what it says of her own character – strong, devoted, loyal and brave enough to admit her flaws and get past them. Mellissa and Lucy’s friendship endure various test of time and all the natural emotions of knowing that friends see you through when they see you through. Mellissa stands by Lucy through all her ups and downs, with maturity, sensitivity and the everlasting knowledge for the other that she will always be there for her!
  5. Mrs Burden from My Antonia – Generous , kind and supportive, she is there even when she is not wanted, (Remember how the Shimerdas react when she first comes over to their farm to help them) helping in all the little ways so that those whose fortunes are less than hers, can better their lives and become more complete individuals. She knows that her good nature is often exploited but she lets it be, if there is some good in the end. She is the principle person who helps Antonia in attempting to shape a better life for herself beyond the farm. If you ever need a model mentor, Emmeline Burden is a shining example of that!
  6. Molly Weasly from Harry Potters – She is perhaps the most unconventional of the great mom’s literature. She yells at her children when they step out of line; she is generous in her love when she adopts an orphaned Harry in her family, caring for him like her own sons and a roaring tigress when anyone harms her brood! (Remember her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) She is one fierce woman demonstrating the best of motherhood – pride, kindness and protectiveness.
  7. Ellen O’Hara from Gone with The Wind – Ellen’s life revolved around Tara and the O’Hara; the perfect mistress, she took care of her family, the plantation and the dependents with kindness, wisdom and determination. She embodied the very best of what was considered the highest standards of a “lady” and seemed absolutely contended with her life, never letting anyone know the very depth of her heartbreak and despair, when she lost Philip, the one man she truly loved.
  8. Cheery Littlebottom from Feet of Clay and other Discworld Novels – No one knows she is a ‘she’ until she decides to step away from the paradigm of what constitutes a female dwarf. What makes her really endearing is that her rebellion is not without angst; she is afraid of breaking away from the mores of traditional societal norms, but she still marches ahead and thumbs the nose to the world, while quaking in her boots! And oh! yes! She is a brilliant chemist, a contradiction in itself – brilliant and a Chemist? Now who would have thought of that???
  9. Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables – Marilla is a traditionalist, a conservative and she seems to have absolutely no room for imagination. Yet as the book progresses, we are touched by all that is kind, warm and filial in Marilla as embraces Anne’s unusual look of life with a strong sense of humor and resilience for all the upheavals that life throws at her!
  10. Sita from The Far Pavilions – The iconic Ashton Akbar Pelham Martyn would not be Ashton Akbar Pelham Martyn had it not been for this uneducated, poverty stricken woman. With no resources at her disposal and only her subsuming love for her surrogate son which drives this humble woman to a display of courage, strength and intelligence; the end being only to ensure the survival of young Ashton, through the mayhem of 1857 Mutiny and the intrigue of 19th century indigenous kingdoms, even if it cost her, her own life!

There are so many more I want to include in this list, but space constrains along with time limitations, force me to end here. However before ending, one last virtual toast to all these and other brave women, both in fiction and the  real world, thank you for inspiring us and paving the road for the future generation of women.

Ahh…The Glorious Autumn is Here….

I think by now one and all are aware for my love and obsession about Autumn – Winter. Like the true winter child that I am, I thrive in these 6 months, while I wither and die in Spring/Summers. (Yes! I know it’s unnatural to be depressed about spring, but in my mind, it heralds summer, which I CANNOT tolerate!) Therefore I take a break from my bookish musings to scribble some of my all-time favorite poem/film/music/book about autumn. I will do the same exercise in the month of December to celebrate winter. Without further ado, here goeth the list –

  • Poem – I have already mentioned this in one of my posts, but I love the lyricism of William Blake’s To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

  • Film – ‘Autumn in New York’ is to clichéd, besides, I did not like Winona Ryder in the film, not to mention, I had a lot of difficulty in digesting Richard Gere having a fling with the mother and then many years down line, falling for the daughter!   So my choice is choice and I LOVE this film is Autumn Tale  – a sometime funny and sometime heartwarming tale of widowed 30 something Magali, a lonely winemaker, whose friends secretly set out to find a husband for her. The film has the most breathtaking shots of France in Autumn, especially the acres and acres of vineyards!
  • Music – Simple, classic and elegant…Viva Vivaldi

  • Books – I realized when I was surfing the net, before last week’s post that “Rebecca” is a much looked upon as a perfect autumn novel, why, I sit and question. Anyway, my favorite autumn book is a toss-up between (I know two is cheating, but this is MY game) “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and “Ann of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. Classic coming of age books, set at the start of autumn, which till dates teaches us much about courage, kindness and faith!
  • Thing – While this is true for all seasons, the big mug tea and the blanket, aah…that just adds perfection to the book and the bed!

Bs

So what are your Autumn favorites?

P.S. We got some press today for our project – http://www.mid-day.com/articles/reclaiming-a-forgotten-food-culture/15712156. Our website is also up – http://cogitofilmsindia.wix.com/idenityonapalate

I would again urge all to please help us in supporting this project, that will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

Serching for Truth in Victorian England

I know this review comes a bit late, but I guess better late than never!! I finished reading my second Margaret Kennedy book for Jane’s Margaret Kennedy Week yesterday, but between one thing and the other could not blog about it! So here’s my take on ‘’The Wild Swan” – It is absolutely remarkable! I know all you believe that I begin swooning just by reference to Margaret Kennedy and have lost all discerning abilities, but I cannot help it! She was a wonderful author and I cannot but feel that it’s a crying shame that today not too many people know of her work! Now back to the book!

kennedy-badgeThe Wild Swan opens with Roy Collins, a 25-year-old cynic with immense talent who works for BBB (Blech Bernstein British) as a script writer. He is ambitious and wants to become a director, but knows that the road to that position is not easy and compromises have to be made to reach it. He has developed a style of smooth talking and a sham personality to get along with everyone and get everything done, without any authenticity of character. His current assignment brings him to Bramstock, where he is to assist play right Adelaide Lassiter and critic Alec Mundy put together a script on the life of Dorothea Harding. Dorothea was a Victorian novelist, who wrote prim romantic novels set is historical backdrop which were a great success in her days, but now are complete forgotten! It was believed until about 20 years ago, that she led a completely blameless as well as color less life, until Mundy uncovered some of her poetry and a diary based on which he wrote a book claiming hidden passions and sinful love for her brother-in-law, who was her sister’s husband. Based on this book, Adelaide Lassiter wrote a play about their “affair” and this play was now basis of the film. Dorothea Harding’s current family, the owners of Bramstock, are not particularly interested in how their relation is portrayed as long they can get the money for allowing filming on the estate. Roy himself is not much interested in the work – he has never read any of Dorothea Harding’s work nor is he really concerned with what gets presented on the celluloid, as long as he can get his job done and get back to BBB headquarters and pursue his ambition. However certain incidents and discovery of some new letters, force Roy to realize that not everything is as it seems, and the truth runs deeper than it initially appeared and this one time, it is imperative to bring the truth forward, regardless of the cost – even if it impacts his ultimate dreams!!

The plot is wonderful, you are plunged write into the truth of Dorothea Harding’s life right at the start, but in a distinctive narrative style, it takes a while for the readers to actually put the whole jigsaw puzzle together and the ending, which is so simple, that it becomes extraordinary in a landscape of unreal or fairy tale like climactic endings. The characterizations, which I now realize is Ms. Kennedy’s core strength, blew me away. Dorothea Harding, lovely spirited and free, is woman after my heart. Her hopes and ambitions contradicts the norms of her society and when her plans are thwarted, she still has the moral courage to go on and continue to be good and generous. Roy is absolutely wonderful, a good boy turned jaded soul turned honest man; you feel the triumph of human spirit when he decides to follow the truth, despite all odds! The only character I could not warm up to was Cecilia Harding, but then I think Ms. Kennedy wanted us to feel that way about her and I do understand the frustration of being immensely gifted and not being able to use it because of lack of fund. My favorite character was Adelaide Lassiter – she alone stands for all that is innocent, brave and honest. She may not be the smartest or the wisest, but she knows what is right and never a moment, not even at the very peak of her success, does she lose sight of that! The language as always is wonderful and I could quote lines after lines from the book, but will contend myself with only a few – “Why should I be loaded with luxuries I don’t care for and be denied the one thing for which I crave – my leisure?” “I think she meant that happiness is really a prison and our gaolers are our preferences. We think we like one person or one place better than another. We regret the past, and we fear the future. But to a broken heart, all places are the same, there is the same grief to be encountered everywhere. And time is not important.” Wow!! The book is filled with such che-ching and the coin dropped moments!!

What a joy you are to read Ms. Kennedy!

P.S. In other news, please do remember that I am currently running a crowdfunding project and we need your support to make it happen. Details are found here.

There are a couple of ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A Plea….

I write to all of you on a matter of a whole different nature from my usual rumblings of books! As you all know, I have a day job – of a Project Manager and a night job of a writer. Recently this avatar of a night job took a twist of faith and I found myself as a writer, researcher and a co-producer of a documentary film. (Don’t ask me how I ended up here, it’s a long story and I am sure I will bore all of you off your socks!!) Anyway, I wanted to share some insights about this film and seek some support!!

In the midnight of August 15th 1947, India declared her independence from the British Empire. However this independence was not without its price; West Punjab and East Bengal were partitioned to create the state of Pakistan. In the shadow of this partition, this drawing of artificial boundaries separating one land into two led to an “Indian Exodus”. The Hindus living in these regions left their traditional lands and homes to cross the now effective borders of the Indian state and to live in India, while many Muslims similarly crossed the border to live in the new state of Pakistan. My family, i.e. my grandparents, along with millions like them, moved from the then East Bengal to re-start their interrupted lives across Ganges to what is now called West Bengal. But the transition was not smooth and after the swell of violence had ended, the angst of displacement remained, and with it came the slow awareness that the East Bengal migrants were slowly but surely losing their identity. East Bengal, the traditional land of this migrant population was/is a rich land, thriving in fisheries, granaries and a host of different kinds of vegetation; naturally identity to these people came from the food they consumed and in which they traded. Special foods for special days of the month, festivals celebrating food and songs rejoicing the many kind of dishes! Needless to say, we were one food obsessed tribe! However this migrant population soon realized that they could not replace their original identity across the border, simply because across the border, the things which defined their identity, the ingredients to their exotic cuisine were no longer available. The succeeding generations brought up on this side of the world, assimilated and while they heard stories of the food and culture of their parents, never really knew what it meant. Today, as a third generation East Bengali, my claim to understanding of this unique food and culture is borderline and bare. On the other hand the first generation of these migrants are a fast thinning crowd-many have ceased to live, while some have degenerated beyond remembrance. This film is an effort to record this dying culture that was defined by foods, an effort to collate what is left and to share with the world a unique story of a population which celebrated their joys, sorrows and life itself through food!

This project till now has been completely self-funded which included travel, cost of equipment, purchase of necessary hardware and software and occasional production crew employment charges. We have conducted extensive research for this project, both from primary and secondary resources. We have also garnered a number of first generation interviews to understand the primary narrative and how to integrate it with our core vision of this film. We have logged and organized about 10 hours of footage by speaking with close friends, family of the first generation migrants. Our next steps would include concluding the production work effort with  more interviews and narratives  from second and third generation East Bengal migrants, belonging to different districts as well some scholars and government official to get a 360* perspective of this phenomena. We would need help of a trained camera crew with sound engineers to make sure professional industry standards of documentary film making. Travel would be a part of this effort to gain diverse perspective and enhance the richness of the narrative. To fund for all and more, we have opened a campaign on Indiegogo and need your support and assistance to make this happen!

There are a couple of things that can be done to make this attempt successful –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate) or by clicking on this hyperlink –https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/identity-on-a-palate
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

I realize my presumptuousness in imposing this on all of you, but I am also aware of your beliefs in things like freedom, culture and identity and therefore seek your help boldly without any inhibition!!

Please do help and Thank You again!

To end, I leave you with a snippet on one of the interviews series of this project, where the first generation migrants recount their journey across the border, the food that they left behind and the festivals that are now almost forgotten!!

A House on the Hill…

As part of the RIP 2014, The Estella Society organized a Readalong – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. While I was only planning to take part in Peril the First, but scrolling through Carl’s post I came across this reading event and I just had to be a part of it!!

I had never read any works of Shirley Jackson before and I am usually skeptical of books that belong to the horror/supernatural genre. I am usually very disappointed in the endings of such genre and I do never feel even a twinge of fear and in fact find some plots absolutely laughable. However I had heard some great things about the The Haunting of Hill House and though I had not seen any of the movies based on this book, I knew it was rated very high among 20th century literature. It had been part of my TBD for a long time and the Readalong came as a great opportunity to finish at least one book out of the ever-growing list.

The book opens with a description of the Hill House and Dr. James Montague has undertaken to conduct a study on the supernatural phenomena surrounding the house. He is joined in this investigation by three other members, two of whom he has himself picked – Eleanor Vance and Theodora along with Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house. Dr. Montague on their first night at the house reveals that The Hill House was built by Hugh Crane who hoped his family would live in the house; however his first wife died while coming up to the house when her carriage crashed in the tree on the driveway and he lost his second and third wife as well. Hugh Crane’s two daughters were brought up in the house and the younger one married and the elder one continued living in the house with a companion, a girl from the village to whom she finally left the house. There were antagonism between the villagers and the younger sister versus the companion on this and soon the companion complained of thieving incidents and other such events in the house, before committing suicide. Since then anyone who has rented the house has never managed to complete the duration of their lease and have always moved away in a hurry. As the four participants settle in, events begin occurring in the house that disturb and threaten them. Soon Eleanor Vance begins to experience phenomena that others are oblivious to and slowly begins to lose grip on reality as she becomes subject to more such episodes. Finally concerned, Dr. Montague forces her to leave the house, though she resists such eviction. As she drives down the driveway, she crashes into the large oak tree.

The characters in the book are minimalistically drawn but are very real. While the author does not spend to many lines in describing her protagonists, their actions bring out the nature of their character far more illustratively. There are some marvelously humorous events that take of some of the stress after the intense action and offer a much-needed relief in the chilling narrative. The star of the book naturally is The House – from the very beginning it dominates the plot line and all the other characters are just supporting this mammoth. It creeps and shudders and laughs and plays and thunders and booms making it well know that the house and the house alone is what matters and no one can tame or ever truly own it. The beauty of the book lies in the fact there is no blood or gore or horrifying monsters; but rather the use of subtle psychology and the feeling of things creeping behind you that makes it a terrifying read. There are no loud incidents, no clutching of throats or ghosts rising from the graveyard, but a far more petrifying phenomena – when one realizes that one alone is being subjected to supernatural things while others continue to live out their lives as normal. The understanding that you are holding the hand of a friend while sleeping only to wake up and realize it’s someone else’s hand or sitting in a room while something thunders and threatens to enter your room, a nameless horror, but never does, and you wait for it to come back again another night is truly terrifying and distressing.

The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!