Much Ado About Siblings….

Today is World Sibling Day and I thought it would be fun to share some of the “fictional siblings” that I think makes for great reading and showcases some of the best brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood. So here goes –

‘Piti Teina (Two Sisters)’ by Paul Gauguin, 1892, Hermitage.
Source – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%27Piti_Teina_(Two_Sisters)%27_by_Paul_Gauguin,_1892,_Hermitage.jpg
  • Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood – As a devoted Austinian, I cannot help but start with the incomparable sisterhood of the Dashwood sisters. Simply in terms of descriptions vis a vis the relationship between sisters, I feel the Dashwoods outshine the Bennetts. For years, I have been told and I agree with this assumption, that my older sister was the epitome of Eleanor and I Marianne. Their relationship seems real to me at so many levels; there is love, there is a unique brand of humor which can only exist between sisters, and there are difficult moments where they get on each other’s nerves or fail to see the other’s point of view, all the while standing by each other. I personally feel that Ms. Austen being the younger sister herself, took a slice of her life with Cassandra and wrote about it in this novel.
  • Jane and Elizabeth Bennett – Now that we have accounted for the Dashwood sisters, can the Bennetts be far behind? While the younger three evoke a variety of emotions ( I especially feel bad for nerdy Mary – I really think she had potential ) the fact remains , the elder two are absolutely peerless. I know many people are convinced of the brilliance of Elizabeth’s character, and there is no question that she is brilliant, but I do feel that she shines so bright, because she has a contrast in Jane. I have shared this in the past, but growing up, of course I wanted to be Eliza Bennett but as I came of age from a Marianne, I became more of a Jane, trusting everyone and failing to see the obvious pitfalls. I am still a bit like that, but then my Eleanor is also a bit of an Elizabeth ( Yup! She is BRILLIANT!) and usually is there is to rescue me from fools and mercenaries!
  • The March Sisters – Across the Atlantic, another sisterhood gave us joy and hope and was again a very authentic portrayal of the bond that exists among sisters. Theirs was a real relationship filled with joy, some mean acts, love and support. That act of cutting up Joe’s book, haunted me for days, not because I did that to anyone and my sister would NEVER do that to me, but just the fact that in a moment of anger we can commit such grievous acts where we hurt those nearest to us. Beautiful and heartbreaking ( Like Joey in Friends I want to keep the book in fridge every time I reach the part of Beth’s illness ) Ms. Alcott created one of the most outstanding sibling novel ever!
  • The Finch Siblings – Would we have adored Scout so much if there was no “wiser” older brother Jem who had to think of his younger sister whenever he was scared? Yet another very real portrayal of siblings especially during childhood. We lived through the young adolescents of Jem Finch who would tell Scout Finch to stick to her set in school or break up any fights she got into. And we were Scout Finch when our siblings fell ill or were hurt, mentally or emotionally! To Kill a Mockingbird is as much a story of the brother and the sister as much their father, Atticus Finch.
  • Shanta from Ramayana – I close this piece with a Shanta, the elder sister of Lord Rama, the doyen on Hindu Gods, and a forgotten sibling in the larger narrative of the epic The Ramayan. Mythology says that she was the neglected daughter of the King Dasharath who gave her away to be adopted by another king to save his land from draught. She agreed to the adoption so that her father would be given a boon from the Gods, that would allow him to father sons. She marries Rishyashringa, a sage whose celibacy causes drought in kingdom of her adoptive father and with her marriage, there are rains and an end to the draught in the region. The reason why I wanted to add her to the list is because she was the only one who critiqued her brother, the almighty Rama for abandoning his loyal wife because of street gossip. She is the only character in this mythology that saw the failing in this perfect Man-God and displays a key element of any authentic relationships – the ability to call out what is wrong even if it’s your own blood and even if no one else questions it!

That is my list! What are your most memorable “fictional” sibling relationships?

March End Notes….

Well the month of March was a blur to say the least! As I had mentioned in the last post, there was just too much going on and the tempo did not ease through the last weeks either; but all of it was good, so all well worth the time spent! On top of continuing to support the local community with mentoring women entrepreneurs with limited education in business and strategy, I have also been collaborating a lot lately on my cancer awareness page ( you can find it here )and while it gives me new learning everyday, it also takes away a lot of what is essentially limited time. Besides this, my family came visiting and we all went for a small break to the Himalayas (Yes! Again!) and then there was parties and social evenings! I continued to be Chemo sick for several days and that did put a spanner on all the good things, but like someone told me lately, one’s simply got to roll with the punches!

The first thing that took take a hit because of all my whirlwind activities this month was my reading. With a full time job and all these side hustles and getting the apartment back in shape and getting the family settled, well, there was simply no time! Also some days the sickness got so bad, that words and sentences made no sense and every concept was foggy and illusive. Those days I could do nothing except read Tintin and Asterix comic books and I thank the powers that be for this simple and undiluted pleasure which saw me through those painful hours! In the end, a very dismal month from a reading perspective, though qualitatively speaking I thoroughly and completely loved reading these 4 books! I hope to read a bit more in April and have a few chunksters lined up!

March brings a very brief spring in India but while these two -three weeks last, the trees burst into colors and it’s seems like someone took a bucket of paint and splashed it all over them! It is a sight of unmatched beauty and a swansong before the burning summer overtakes the plains!

A dear friend of mine is spending a few months with his parents in the southern most state of India, Kerala and in March they have a week long celebration in honor of the local deities . It is a sight to behold and I am sharing some pictures and videos from one of the events , with his permission. The stately pachyderms are the highlight of the festival, respected, cared for and revered as symbol of good fortune !

With our family visiting, a trip to the hills is a mandate and Kasuali is a lovely sight to behold! This small Himalayan town is quaint and eccentric and is one of the oldest military cantonments of India. This is a place for leisurely walks and stopping for coffee and soaking in the sun, all the things we did and had great fun doing it! The highlight of the trip was the resort we were staying in; nestled among the woods it’s USP was the fact that the entire hotel was built around the trees, without cutting them down. That meant we had a full grown Himalayan Oak tree right inside our bedroom!!!

It was also my sister’s birthday month, so there was flowers, food, cake and many celebrations! Perhaps the best ever way to end a month!

It has been a crazy month, but a good month with new learnings and perspectives! I end with what I think is a very apt poem by my most favorite Ms. Emily Dickenson –

Dear March—Come in—
How glad I am—
I hoped for you before—
Put down your Hat—
You must have walked—
How out of Breath you are—
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest—
Did you leave Nature well—
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me—
I have so much to tell—

I got your Letter, and the Birds—
The Maples never knew that you were coming—
I declare – how Red their Faces grew—
But March, forgive me—
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue—
There was no Purple suitable—
You took it all with you—

Who knocks? That April—
Lock the Door—
I will not be pursued—
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied—
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame—

To March by Emily Dickenson

About Guilty Pleasures …..

When I was young, I used to choose books expressly based on whatever seemed to have a good story. From Enid Blytons ( Yes I know she is many ist things now ! ) and Anne of GG to all my Nancy Drews to so many other books that I cannot even recollect. The ultimate reason for picking up a book was to be told a good story, a yarn that would entertain me, take me away from the mundane and would allow me to fanaticize about time and places and people, that had no bearing on reality! I was the 4th friend with George and Bess with Nancy in River Heights or going on picnics with Ann of GG at King Edwards Island. Good stories and interesting characters were the mainstays of what I chose to read and it led me eventually as a young adult to To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, East of Eden, War and Peace and Tagore’s novels. And they blew my mind away! I discovered Literature and life would never be the same; this is what art and writing was about – ideas and expressions and mankind! But I also discovered that which was not “Literature”, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robins, James Hadley Chase and Jeffrey Archer! And oh! yes, Mills and Boon romances.

The Library (1905) by Elizabeth Shippen Green; Source https://www.librarything.com/pic/7275994

The reaction I often get when I mention the above line up is usually a wrinkled nose along with a very condescending “Really?” . That inevitable look of surprise on people’s faces when scanning my book shelves, where tucked among Charles Dickens and Umberto Eco, they discover a historical romance novel! The idea is if I read Elizabeth Gaskell and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I cannot really read a Judith McNaught novel and vice versa. It’s almost as if I have some kind of reading disorder and cannot truly be a sensible reader. And this is where I have a problem. I make no superior claims of literature or ideas from these authors; but do we always have to read something superior? Yes, great literature elevates the soul, makes us sensitive and opens our minds to new thoughts! But do we need greatness constantly? Do we not need some fun, now and then? Is not greatness better appreciated when you take a break and come back to it, like all good things, that improve in some temporary absence? Don’t we love our classics a little more, after having read a popular or a modern fiction? And ideas? Is it something that exists in an exclusive commune, available only in certain kind of books by a certain type of author? I personally completely disagree with the thought that ideas can only be absorbed from the so called great works. Sidney Sheldon gave me the the first understanding about Jewish persecution (Bloodline); I was a 13 year old living in India, absorbed in Indian culture with a detour to everything English as part of the colonial hand me down. World War was taught in school and there were chapters on Holocausts, but it was a pulp fiction novel that made me realize what persecutions means in flesh and blood. The Spanish Civil War and the Cold War politics, both came home to me via again Sidney Sheldon novels, Sands of Time and Windmills of Gods respectively. I learnt about South American politics from Harold Robin’s The Adventurer and more facts about turn of the century America from Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel than in my standard school textbooks, getting a regular A in history all through high school. I went on to get a Masters degree in one the most prestigious universities of Asia, that only admitted 40 students across the country every year for their International Politics course. All those pulp fiction novels laid the foundation for my interest in international affairs, introducing me to the larger world, beyond my regular ecosystem and set me up in a path of eventual academic excellence. Yes, I built upon those nascent concepts by reading many classics and thought provoking books, but the path, many a times was lit by such “light reads”. And this is not just about academic success; I first became acquainted with Bach’s music in a Mills and Boons novel, The Shadow Princess; and have been in love with it ever since. My parents were both very musical and Hindustani Classical and Indian popular music along with a lot of 60’s-70’s Pop and Jazz always played on in our home. But the whole world of Western Classical burst upon me , thanks again to my non highbrow reads. My life is infinitely richer because when I looked, I found great ideas in every book. Besides, who am I to judge what someone else reads and vice versa again! I think I can safely say I am literature connoisseur , but some books hailed as masterpieces, still do not make sense to me. (Gustav Flaubert’s Madam Bovary & Middlemarch by George Elliot! Sigh! ) Reading therefore, I firmly believe is a very personal affair between a reader and their book and what works for some, may not and will not work for others. And unless you read all kinds of books, how will you know, what works and does not work; and what entertains and what educates? Finally, at the cost of sounding cynical, in today’s day and age of digital blitz, I feel thrilled to simply see someone pick up a book and read it. Do we really need to make a case of reading casteism now? Is it not simply enough that you are reading a good story that entertains you even if it does nothing else? Is entertainment not important? Does it not refresh us and help us face life and its challenges better? Is it not a fact that many multimillion dollar industries of films and series thrive on the concept of entertainment? Then why do we look down on entertaining books? Why are they a guilty pleasure? A good story that delights you is a value in itself, even if does not add a single additional word to your vocabulary.

To end, read Voltaire, who was a far more erudite and learned man than yours truly and is a “great” writer and a defines classic literature, and you may believe him! He wrote “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” So let people read! Read even if it’s for the sake of amusement, it will not do any harm and by my experience, may end up in fact doing a lot of good!

The Year That Was …..

I had made my mind that I was not posting any 2021 year end, bookish notes; I am trying to after all be footloose and fancy free in my reading and writing ( hence no reading challenges and goals) But the very inherent nature of being fancy free is to do what you want to do, when you want to do. And today, when I stumbled on Diana’s blog, I knew this was one FUN 2021 wrap up post I wanted to; nevermind we are all most one month over in 2022.

Woman Reading in a Forest, (1875) Gyula Benczúr, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The rule is very simple; we must complete the sentences below using the titles of the books only read in 2022. Diana tells me that this was originally started by Adam (Roof Beam Reader) who I know is the at helm of may such innovative and joyful reading ideas.

Therefore without further ado, I present My Life in Books : 2021 –

  • In high school I was Kissing Toads (by Jemma Harvey)
  • People might be surprised by The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (by Jonas Jonasson)
  • I will never be The Foolish Gentlewoman (by Margery Sharp)
  • My fantasy job is White Magic (by Muireann Maguire)
  • At the end of a long day I need Small Pleasures (by Clare Chambers)
  • I hate The Wrecking Storm (by Michael Ward)
  • I wish I had A House in the Country (by Ruth Adams)
  • My family reunions are Whirlwinds (Ponniyin Selvan 2 by Kalki)
  • At a party you’d find me with All The Single Ladies (by Rebecca Traister) planning to become Women Travelers (by Mary Morris Ed.)
  • I’ve never been to By the Banks of Tungabadra (by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay)
  • A happy day includes The Feast (by Margaret Kennedy)
  • Motto I live by There is no Place like Hope (by Vickie Girard)
  • On my bucket list is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (By Mark Manson)
  • In my next life, I want to have Vittoria Cottage (by DE Stevenson)

I had such an amazing time making this list! I do hope some of you will share your life in books and spread the joy!

New Year, New Thoughts…..

Happy New Year Everyone!! Here’s wishing everyone a happy, healthy and strong 2022!

New Year is naturally a good time for new resolutions but I am a old hand at this and I know that these things never hold. Therefore I have no new resolutions; instead stemming from the lessons I learnt ( and shared ) last year, I would want to make an effort to lead a more complete and enriching life. That of course is the plan; we do not know what the fates hold, but if I have a boring non eventful 2022 then not only will I be one grateful soul, but I will ensure I adhere to the idea of leading an enriching life.

Almond Blossoms by By Vincent van Gogh – dAFXSL9sZ1ulDw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21977493

Some thoughts on how I will do this –

  1. Generally slow down a bit instead of intensely rushing through the days. I have always been excited about life and what each moment brings, but I think the time has come to turn that excitement into appreciating one moment at a time and just not running constantly.
  2. Lose weight; I have always been obese and that has never stopped me from living my life. But now living under the shadow of cancer, I know that losing weight is critical to reduce the risk of reoccurrence, so that I and my loved ones are NEVER put through this circus again. It may still happen but that will not because of my lack of preventive efforts.
  3. No GoodReads Reading Goals. In an effort to slow down, I want to read more, and read more slowly and enjoy it more. I think GoodReads Reading Goal is great to have a reading discipline but that is one thing I do not need. So I will read what I want , when I want and probably not worry over how many!

That’s about it! No real plans or ideas. If things hold constant, I would want to travel more, write more and most importantly move forward with my Cancer Counseling page / insta, to help anyone who is new to this journey and is as lost as I was. But beyond this, I am not thinking too much nor am I planning anything ( an immense departure for an OCD me! ). We will go with whatever comes our way and see how the year pans out.

What are your 2022 thoughts?

22 Things….

Usually my year end posts are about the best books I have read in the year and similar bibliophile adventures. But 2021 has been highly unusual; it is very different from the years I lost my parents or went through heartbreaks or other distressing circumstances. All through those tumultuous times, I could and did depend on the integrity of my body to help my mind and heart through those circumstances. But this year, that very body, which I took so much as a given, called it a strike and then my mind had to lead the charge and my body followed. I have learnt so much through this year, re-discovered joys, learnt to be more grateful, especially for those who had the courage to stick by me through my medical adventures. It has not all been fun and games – there are days of never ending illness and pain ( they continue despite my chemo cycles being over ), I have lost a number of friends and had to readjust to new social set up and of course I had to give up or re-align many of my life goals. But it has nevertheless been a year where I have learnt and learnt so much, gaining new insights, re-affirming the old and facing my demons. So I thought that as I come to close of this very interesting year, I should document 22 life lessons learnt through this year which I hope will guide me through 2022 and beyond!

Saint-Georges majeur au crépuscule By Claude Monet ( 1908 )- Beyeler Foundation, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5765797
  1. Your body is one of your biggest allies; look after it. Do not take it for granted.
  2. You may do things with the best of intentions, but they may be perceived very differently by others. It should not deter you from doing what you think is right, but it is important to be cognizant of the fact that others may not see things in a similar vein.
  3. Embrace the uncomfortable changes especially when it comes to relationships. It is perhaps the most difficult change to adapt to because it impacts how we think or what image we have of ourselves. There is of course the pain of separation and of parting of ways, but also a change in your belief system of how you thought of your self vs. what it really is.
  4. Reaffirmation of the most basic truth – those who truly love you, will love you and stand by you without you making an additional and extra effort. Your you will be enough for them to stay invested in that relationship.
  5. Accept and embrace the shit like you accept and embrace the good. Shit will happen; it is inevitable and the only real truth of life! But if we accept it and welcome it, no matter how hard, the end result is that the shit does pass more comfortably without an everlasting impact or trauma.
  6. If you stay strong, everyone around you stays strong and together you hold on to what is at the core and important.
  7. Enjoying your own company
  8. Accepting and adapting the shortcomings of your physical and mental health. Only when we accept and not fight it, can we begin improving on it!
  9. Tagging a relationship with a socially defined name has no real importance. Just because it is not in a traditional. socially approved set up, does not mean it is any less deep, meaningful or joyful.
  10. The definition of success is different for everyone and is constantly evolving. Furthermore, there is no one defined path to that goal; it is personal and will change as your goal evolves.
  11. Focusing on what is truly worthy and long term is important rather than chasing short term instant gratifications or goals and getting frustrated with them. Good things, the best things need time and patience.
  12. Enjoy the physical activity – the walk, the yoga, the run; whatever sails your boat!
  13. Home cooked meals are the best.
  14. The best, most meaningful things, the ones worth striving for are actually very simple – a good night’s sleep, a long luxurious head bath, a phone call with your best friend, a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night!
  15. Life is truly better and so much more saner with a cup of tea.
  16. Being independent physically and to some extent mentally, is a boon and needs to be cherished and strived for.
  17. Every time you have a body image issue, remember the things you have and you take for granted – the hair on your head, the eyebrows, limbs that are normal and functional; everything else is just accessories.
  18. Getting a good medical team is a stroke of luck; but getting a great medical team is a matter of angels showering buckets of gold and silver on you.
  19. Help comes from places you least expect; just believe that when all doors close, a window will open and you may not know just how close you are to your goal if you don’t look out of that window.
  20. Reaffirmation that reading and writing are the best ways to a good mental health.
  21. Those who enlist with you in your life’s challenges, who stick by you voluntarily through your journey on the rocky roads, are the people you need to hold on to & are your single biggest motivation to live and live well.
  22. Despite everything, it is the greatest gift to be alive and well!

I hope to remember some of these things now and forever! It has been an illuminating year and though I have no idea, what 2022 holds and I am kind of anxious about the unknown, face it I shall, armed with an open mind and these lessons.

\What have been some of your learnings this year?

A New Mountain…

Since I promised, I delivereth! Last week, being my birthday week and a birthday year that saw literally my re-birth, my sister and my best friends decided to make this extra special by taking me to those mountains whom I love and run to always! The Himalayas. They looked up the place, the hotels, the things to do, the itinerary and just about every single logistic, including food, food, more food and some more food. All I had to do was sit in the car and enjoy some magnificent views with loads of chatter and laughter!

The place is called Sirmour in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in Northern India. The resort we were staying in was some 700 hrs. drive from Delhi and we made a pit stop in Chandigarh ( about 5 hrs from Delhi ) to pick up our other companions and have a wonderful lunch with their family, with some awesome treats cooked by my friend and her mom in law. We reached Sirmour the same day in the evening and primarily spent the evening in eating, drinking and relaxing. The next day after a 10 different courses for breakfast, we set off for Renuka Lake, a 45 mins drive from our resort. This is the largest lake in Himachal Pradesh (660 m) and is regarded as the embodiment of Renukaji, the wife of sage Jamadagini and mother of Parshuram, one of the ten Avtars of Lord Vishnu ( One of the 3 most powerful trio in the Hindu Pantheon; the other members of the club is Lord Brahama, whose lotus fell to create the lake we visited last week & Lord Shiva, the rockstar God of Hindu Mythology) . Shaped in the profile of a woman, legend has it that Renuka was beheded by her son Parashuram, following his father’s instructions. Renuka had earned her husband’s fury for not dutifully filling up water in the clay pot for his rituals, as she got distracted and infatuated by the sight of Gandharvas, who had taken the form of men, bathing in the river. Thus infuriated, he ordered his three sons to kill their mother ( Don’t even get me started!) Of the three sons, only the third son Parashurama agreed to execute the father’s orders. Later, pleased by his obedience, Jamadagni bestowed a wish for fulfilment upon his son and he prayed to his father to restore his mother back to life & thus Renuka was brought back to life! While I have many many issues with this legend, the fact remains the lake is beautiful, the wooded walk gorgeous and the temple dedicated to Renuka Devi peaceful. We had an amazing lunch and then headed back to the resort for some bonfire, drinks and snacks and at 12 in the night a birthday hoopla for me ! There was cake cutting, gift opening and a brilliant birthday video put together by these lovely people with birthday messages from all my friends and family ( these best gift ever! ) The birthday day was a lazy day spent eating a long breakfast (again 10 course ) in the sun , followed by more soaking in the sun, a delicious lunch at a quaint open air café and some more bonfire shenanigans’. The next day in the afternoon, we headed back to the city with memories of a delightful and joyful birthday, with many things to be grateful for – my health, these generous friends, who put their plans on hold for my sake and my most awesome sister! It is good to be alive and well and that in itself is best celebration of all!

I leave you all with pictures of people, places and food from this adventure!

Needless to say, these few weeks have a le grande! I am now spending some quiet time before the start of a new year which will bring what it will bring, but for now and here, things are just perfect!

p.s. Himalayas are the youngest mountain range in the world hence the title , a New Mountain!

An Old Lake…..

In celebration of having finished Chemotherapy, I decided to throw caution to the wind and do some impromptu traveling. I just returned for one such trip and I have another one planned next week; the trip planned next week is to the home of my heart – Himalayas and about which I think I have bored one and all enough, but for today the agenda is to talk about this small town in the north west of India, near the great Thar Desert called Pushkar and share a bit about it!

Pushkar located in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is an old, old town, older than the memory of mankind. Legend has it that it was created when Lord Brahma’s ( one of the many Gods of the Hindu pantheon and one of the top 3 in the hierarchy ) lotus slipped out of his hand and fell to the ground, creating the Pushkar Lake. This lake has been mentioned in the epics like Mahabharat and the depiction of this lake has been found in coins dating back 400 BC ( which compared to the whole breadth of Indian history is like day before yesterday but still!) Needless to say this is an ancient town with many myths and legends. In the days of yore this town was famous for its annual festival called the Pushkar mela or Pushkar fair, where the highlighted event was camel trading but various other crafts and entertainments were also at display. The fair fortunately continues till today though in reduced capacity as these ancient tribes, take on more “modern professions” and leave their traditional nomadic lives behind.

We spent three very happy days exploring the city, it’s culture and it’s food. The township is really small compared to the other places in India. Nestled in the valley of the granite mountains of Aravalli range, the best way to explore this place is on foot. Dotted around the lake are several temples of greater or lesser importance. The most heartening sight is to see a temple, situated adjacent to a mosque and facing a Gurudwara ( place of worship for the Sikh religion ); people forget that everyday people just want to live their lives peacefully and quietly and this is the essence of mankind and my country specifically. We took a wrong route to the lake ( thank you Google ) but that led us to a more secluded part of the lake with a grand vista and none of the craziness of people and business, that are a feature in other banks of the lake. We spent some hours on this quiet spot and then began a leisurely and glorious walk through the lesser known temples, admiring the architecture as we made our way to the commercial part of the town. The Bazaar is filled with some gorgeous handicrafts of metal and leather, the latter being a specialty of this town. The most spectacular feature of this is place is as you keep walking, among modern building and commercial outfits, there is a wide door, and as you peek inside, a magnificent, awe inspiring temple structure greets, you, totally unexpected and completely taking your breathe away! Another memorable item of this trip was the food; we were fortunate enough to have a found an amazing hotel with a wonderful warm staff and a brilliant chef ( Must stay a Hotel Brahma Horizon if here! ) and while all our meals were remarkably delicious, one particular lunch where we had the traditional food of this region was wow! The Rajasthani Thali ( literally meaning plate) that was served to us had 7-8 dishes, displaying the best that this place had to offer! Rajasthan is an arid zone unlike the rest of the more fertile areas of the country and agriculture products are mainly millets and legumes; yet out of these sparse resources, the people of this region have been able to develop a delicious, nutritious and a varied cuisine which we got to sample as part of this thali. We ate Dal Batti ( wheat dumplings with legume curry ) soaked in Ghee ( clarified butter) with Churma (made of flour, sugar and dry fruits ) , Bajra roti ( pearl millet flatbread ) , gatta curry ( steamed dumplings made from chickpea cooked in a spiced yoghurt sauce), Mangodi curry ( deep friend moong bean dumpling curry made with ginger, asafetida and other spices) , panchmel subzi ( mixed vegetable curry ) were some of the items in this meal. One of the best I have ever eaten!

Needless to say, this was an amazing way to close out my chemo affair! I absolutely loved this city and I leave you with some pictures of my adventures.

So I Have Been Reading …..

September is here and thank goodness the cooler weather has began to set in my part of the world! Things are so much better in Autumn and Winter, atleast in northern Indian plains. September also means that the RIP ( Reader’s Imbibing Peril) reading event is underway with RIPVII hosted by Heather @capriousreader and Andi Miller-Dunn @estellasrevenge, taking over from Carl V Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings, the original mastermind of this event. The idea is get in the groove of the fall season & all ghosty, witchy spirit by reading/listening/watching everything that is scary, gothic, mystery, thrilling, horrific and ghostly. The event is running from September 1st to October 31st with some amazing channel discussions on Discord, a Bingo event and a Shirley Jackson’s (The Sundial) read along in October.

I have always participated in this event, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. But this year, despite everything, has been a great reading year and I have great hopes of reading quite a bit through this event. In this month so far, I have managed to read the following –

Sovereign by CJ Sansome – A Matthew Shardlake mystery, from an author and series that I totally love. Set in Tudor England, after the suppression of the Pilgrim of Grace rebellion, Henry VIII is visiting Yorkshire, the center of the revolt, to seek submission from the people. Among his vast retinue, is Master Shardlake with Jack Barak by the request of Archbishop Crammer to support petitions to the King and other legal matters that are being put forward by Yorkshire people for King’s review. He is also expected to undertake a secret mission of ensuring the safe transportation of a prisoner from Yorkshire to the Tower in London. Things however do not go as planned and a murder leads to revelation of certain documents that may plunge the country again in civil unrest as it questions the very legitimacy of the Tudor rulers and their birth. This book is as always with all the books in the series, replete with details of history that are either overlooked or widely unknown. The author captures the the 16th century England will all it’s luxury and all its poverty beautifully. Despite being a 600 plus page novel, the narrative keeps the reader engaged with knotty plot twists and interesting characters. An excellent read from beginning to end.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I guess with Fairies and magic, this book is a bit stretch into the RIP collection, but I went with it anyway. There has already been so much said about this novel, about the conflict between two magicians in 19th century England that traverses through Napoleonic Wars and other such historic events, that I will only share my views. The plot while simplistic, has been wedded with a lot of imagination and creative writing to make the reading complex and rich. There is a lot of wit and the old world charm that comes alive in the presentation style. The slightly academic way of writing with footnotes and stand alone stories of magical past in England brings an additional depth to reading and reflects the love of the artist for the art. However for all the details and crafty telling of the story, I still felt that it did not merit 1000 pages; the characters were thin and it was difficult to understand some of their motivation. There seems to be on the part of the author an effort to leave some sub plot & character futures unanswered ( in hope of sequel?) but they just do not bring that effect & does not make one intrigued about what happened next. It is a good read, but hardly one which would merit a re-read

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights , Museo del Prado, Madrid (Public Domain)

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu – This was my second reading of this novella and I must say that this time I enjoyed it far more than my first attempt. Young Laura, the daughter of an Englishman and an Austrian lady, leads a happy but lonely life in the remote village in Austria. Their peaceful everyday existence is interrupted when a carriage meets with an accident, and Laura’s father is left in charge of a young woman, Carmilla, who seems to be hurt, while her “mother” continues the journey in the carriage. Soon there are people dying in the village and Laura becomes aware of certain strange and embarrassing emotions that Carmilla beings to express. The original vampire story ( Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more than 2 decades away) the narrative is unconventional, filled with eerie scenes and tensions with an element of feminine sexuality, which must have made for an adventurous creative writing in early 19th century. Its a brilliant piece of fiction, gripping and unnerving.

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell – This is my very first reading of a Ruth Rendell and it also happens to be the first book in the Inspector Wexford series. An ordinary housewife Margaret Parson is reported missing by her husband and a day later, her dead body near the woods around a farm, someway from the town where she lives. Inspector Wexford and his team start investigating the crime which seems to have no motivation until, he discovers some expensive edition of classical poetry in the attic of the dead woman, all signed by a person named Doon. After all the swinging adventures of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this very British, very practical, very classical detective story made for wonderful read with interesting changes in the plot and a sharp, edgy narrative. My book carried an afterword by Ms. Rendell herself, and the key to enjoying this mystery written in 1964 is like the author herself says, to read it as a historical fictions instead of a contemporary writing. A completely enjoyable book!

White Magic – Russian Emigre Tales of Mystery and Terror edited & translated by Muireann Maguire. The book contains a wide variety of tales from the first three decades of 20th century, capturing the urban as well rural stories set in the backdrop of both the pre revolution and post revolution Russia. The short stories are eerie, gothic and some extremely strange. The Russian landscape that brings with it not only awe inspiring magnificence, along with deep fore brooding and sad beauty is wonderfully captured through all the short stories all while retaining a certain sentimentality and sensitivity despite the running theme of horror.

This is what I have been reading lately! I have a few more CJ Sansom’s lined up for this event, as well a re-reading of the brilliantly written The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I found this amazing anthology (thanks to a great review by Ali) of Murder Mysteries with the theme of books, Murder by the Book edited by Martin Edward that is also in my next reading queue. Outside of the RIP books, I am reading a powerful novel, based on true events in 1940s Germany, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Also based on an excellent review by Karen, I am reading the gorgeously written, part biography, part travelogue, Footsteps by Richard Holmes. In October I plan to participate in the 1976 Club hosted by Karen & Simon (yet to decide a book), besides reading And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov as part of Classical Club’s October reading event ( scary books or books that you are scared to read; I went with the latter). In November, among other things I will join Brona’s AusReading Month, though again I am not yet sure of what I will read,

This year so far has been a year of reading through everything that comes my way – fiction, history, travelogues, politics and I have enjoyed the journey immensely. As the holiday season comes closer, I hope to make the reading journey more interesting, reading more variety and more unusual voices, atleast that is the plan! What are your reading plans for the remaining year?

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?