Those Green Trees…

Reading contemporary literature, especially fiction is a tricky thing. There is either some frivolous angst related plot for characters who have no reason to be angst, or they try and say profound things, which all just gets articulated as someone trying very hard to be stream of consciousness or they are written solely to propagate an ism; regardless of the narrative arc etc. No wonder like my friend Cleo says, one feels the constant urge to stick to classics. But sometimes you do have to venture out to the modern world and find out what are the current going ons.

I have been reading some very good reviews about Greenwood by Michael Christie; the plot appealed to me; it was a an interesting mix of historical fiction with some futuristic apocalyptic overtones. But mostly, what really intrigued me was the personality of the author. Mr. Christie seemed to be a very hands on environmentalist. He is a former carpenter and a social worker and now lives in Galiano Island, with his family in a timber house he built for himself. Mr. Christie seemed to know about tress and I had a feeling if nothing else I will learn about trees.

The book begins in 2034 in an apocalyptic world where all trees have died out due to an event called The Withering, a fungal infestation, that has killed all plants and green things. Most of the population is reduced to living in slums with extreme pollution and air filled with noxious gas and other poisonous substances. This causes various illness and diseases including a cough that kills children’s by breaking their ribcage and has shattered the global economy. However the rich continue to be rich and live in huge climate controlled buildings and take vacations to some of last remaining forests and clusters of green acres with fresh air. Jake Greenwood is a guides in one the last bastions of nature, a small island in British Columbia. She has Ph.D but the Withering has wiped out her future as a probable professor of Botany along with her savings, leaving her riddles with a student debt and a pitiful existence. The fact that she shares her last name with the island name is nothing but a coincidence. Until an ex-boyfriend, arrives with a fantastic tale of a timber tycoon Grandfather, who once owned this land and a story of a family, that started a tryst with wood and forests that went back generations.

This is not a perfect book. Some of characters and their actions seemed to have no correlation whatsoever. The plot at times, was slow and I had thoughts of abandoning it. While not a linear narrative, some of the threads did not always tie in very clearly. Having said all of that, it is an important book and a must be read. It made me think deeply about trees and our environment much more deeply than I had ever thought, though I am someone who is very conscious about sustainability and the quality of life of our planet. It made me more than ever appreciate the green planet that we had the privilege to be born into and are now wantonly destroying! It made me uncomfortable about my present and worry about the future. It is that kind of powerful book! There are many good things about the novel from a purely work of fiction perspective as well. While I could not understand the motivation of some of the key characters, others like that of Temple and Liam Feeney, left me moved and touched and amazed at the ability of human kindness and honor, both qualities in short supply in real life! The plot did drag a bit and then suddenly it picked up midway and had me running through the pages as fast as I could. Finally the prose is beautiful and Mr. Christie has an absolutely awe inspiring ability to write about tress without being poetic in the traditional sense. The book is filled with, as I expected, a lot information about trees, but it never reads like dry history and in fact brings humans closer to these marvelous giving creatures, whom we have destroyed with a vengeance. And while the main theme is our environment, there is beautiful sub theme of what it means to be a family, of relations through blood or otherwise and loyalty. This aspect of the book especially resonated with me and added a complex and enriching layer to narrative . I strongly recommend this book, both for its storytelling and the message it tries to drive home. A wonderful wonderful book.

This Day, That Year!

Oh! Joy! Oh! Celebrations!! Tis time to rejoice!!

And no, I couldn’t care less about Valentine’s Day and similar gobblegook shenanigans!

Today, 10 years ago, 14 February, 2012, I started this blog! And today we are all of 10 years old!

This is a huge milestone for at so many different levels. I made it past 10 years when I honestly had no idea what I would post the next day or next week or next year, when I began in 2012.

Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry Blossoms by Katsushika Hokusai, 1834, Public Domain. The bullfinch is used in ceremonies conducted at the New Year all over Japan to protect against misfortune in the coming year (Source – https://learnodo-newtonic.com/famous-flower-paintings )

10 years ago, I had very different expectations from life, most of which did not come through (though that is not necessarily a bad thing! ) What I did not expect was to see Mockingbird, Looking Glasses and Prejudice complete 10 grand years, gather a loyal following and help me learn and survive all the curve balls of life! But here we are and still going strong and I am so gleeful to have reached this moment! I should really do a thank you speech, but these days, I am always in a reflective mood, so instead am sharing some things that happened to me over the years thanks to this blog –

  1. I learnt to read outside my comfort zone. And how!! Before I started this blog I stuck to English and maybe some Russian fiction and some travel writings. But since I started this page, I have read Non Fiction copiously and loved it; I have read poetry and developed a deep liking for it. I have read about all other countries of the world and learnt a bit more about this great community of Homo Sapiens and how we are all very same in so many different ways!
  2. The blogging and the interactions with everyone has made me more aware and more curious about my own country and culture. Every time I did any event like AusReadingMonth or saw any posts on NordicFinds events, I grew curious about similar literature I had in my part of the world and I wondered at parallels and the inputs from everyone made me think more deeply about my own history. In a way, as I learnt about the world, I discovered more about my own world.
  3. My mind opened to new ideas and I believe I became more compassionate and more tolerant. I do not agree with everybody on every book and everybody does not agree with me on my thoughts. But we all exchange our ideas freely and agree to disagree respectfully and share a laugh at the absurdities. This for me personally has been an important growth both emotionally and intellectually and I could not have done this without this blog.
  4. This blog is my stress release zone, my safe place, my zone out corner. I have always had this piece of world to share my angst, my heartbreaks, my fears without any fear of judgement or wondering how it will be interpreted. I have often found my sanity, and my ability to face another day through this world.
  5. My booklish blogging tribe, you are my biggest gift of this 10 year journey. You all live in different parts of the world, work in different places and have different lives, but every time I had a crisis, you found time to send me a kind word, share a sensible advice and a virtual hug. Thank You for sharing your personal histories, for the recipes and book recommendations and the virtual flowers! You have stood by me through my heartbreaks, my parent’s deaths and last year through my Cancer. You have cheered me on and lifted me up and did everything you could to make my world better. You all are part of one of the best things in my life and if for nothing else, these 10 years have been so worth it, because I have found you! Thank You Stefanie, Brona, Karen, Mudpuddle, Marian and Cleo! You all enrich my life everyday

I have read more, written more, became more aware; all thanks to this wonderful journey, started a decade ago! I have evolved in so many ways that I cannot even begin to articulate. This blog truly has been a gift that keeps giving! So here’s to 10 years and more! To new reading adventures and more writing expeditions. And to blogs, that unites us and holds us all together!

Update – Shout out to my another blogging friend and mentor Jane, who along with Stefanie, guided my initial blogging adventures. Jane is taking a break from Blogging world and I thought she may need some time out but she commented and I thought, I must atleast share with the world, how awesome she has been, supporting me through all my life adventures and introducing me to some of my favorite authors like Margaret Kennedy and Margery Sharp.

The Epic Other Women…..

Karen is always at the forefront of some amazing reading events and all of them have helped me read books out of my comfort zone, open my mind to new ideas and generally learn more. The #readindies event that she hosts along with Lizzy, every year with is one such event. Often in the media blitz of the bigger publishing houses and colossal corporates like Amazon, the Independent publishers and bookstores get lost and with them we lose on unique distinctive narratives that move away from mainstream or popular culture and speak of things not common. Reading fundamentally, more than just being one of the best entertainments, is about living many lives, exploring uncharted places and making you face things, away from your home ground. It is essential for an enriched soul and a thinking mind and a sensitive heart and these aims are fulfilled when we read what is popular but also what is different, and subaltern or alternative. And reading independent publishers who give voice to this section of the society, atleast in my part of world, therefore becomes even more critical.

This brings me to the independent publishing house of Westland Publications and I want to talk about them a bit before I get into the book I read. Westland Publications was one the first and premier Indian publishing houses of independent India wholly owned and run by Indians. It started way back in 1962 as distributer of books before branching into publishing garnering great reputation among Indian authors and Indian readers for several years. In 2013 it was bought by the Tata Group and in 2017 it was sold off to Amazon. While it became part of larger conglomerate, the spirit of being the voice of India continued unstintingly; they kept catering to what was often not part of the popular culture under the prolific and far sighted leadership of Gautam Padmanabhan, son of the founder, KS Padmanabhan, both icons of Indian literary world. However on Friday, February 1, Amazon announced it will be shutting down Westland Publications. I am sure Amazon can back up with data and numbers as to why it makes sense to shut down Westland, and I am sure they all make perfect business sense. But for Indian readers and authors and the literary world, this is a heavy blow. Westland was a unique agency of bringing forth the nascent world of Indian English literature and powering the publication of books in other native languages. While Penguin and other such giants continue to publish the bigger names of Indian authors, for the marginalized, a strong platform has disappeared taking along with it, many unheard voices and stories. I chose Westland because in essence it has always been #indie in every sense of the term and it’s recent ill fortunes make it even more important, that her books be read and her voice continues to be heard, whether they are physically available on shelves or not.

Now back to regular programing!

Ramayan along with Mahabharat are two of the epics of Indian subcontinent and East Asia. They are the Iliad and Odyssey of the East and every household has atleast one copy of each. They provide religious counsel, philosophy, political insight and entertainment. They have been translated in innumerable languages and been made into films and series and even animation. However what usually get’s narrated is the one of the standing theme of the epics, the battles, and often the other stories which actually give a far more comprehensive picture of the life and times and the philosophy of life, gets left out, providing a very skewed narrative. Ramayan is ostensibly a linear tale of a great virtuous Prince, Ram, who is exiled from his kingdom due to family politics; his stepmother wants her son to be the crown prince and the new ruler of Ayodhya. Ram goes into exile with his beautiful and loyal wife Sita and his youngest half brother Lakshman. In the jungle, a female “giant” becomes enamored of the two Princes and proposes to first Ram and when he spurns her, to Lakshman. Lakshman, the angry young man, is affronted at the audacity of this female giant in making such a suggestion, and chops off her eyes and ears ( A simple No would have sufficed!) The insulted woman, goes back to her brother, who is the King of the powerful state of Lanka, Ravan, who promises to seek revenge. He then plots to get Ram and Lakshman away from their cottage and kidnaps Sita. A battle ensures between the two forces and naturally the “good” forces , i.e. Ram and friends win and return to Ayodhya to take their rightful place. This is the broad outline of the mainstay of the epic , but there are several other associate stories that led to this final plot development, many other voices and several other characters, who were pivotal to this story. And this is what Anand Neelkantan tries to do, in his book Valmiki’s Women.

Valmiki was a dacoit and an anti social element, who had a change of heart and became a hermit. One day, he decided to write an epic that would become Ramayan. Mr. Neelkanthan’ first story reimagines the circumstances that led to Valmiki writing this epic, with the running themes of women, land and sacrifice. His next story explores the life of Shanta, the little known and often ignored older sister to Ram and his brothers. Their father King Dashratha is obsessed with the idea of having a son and in that quest, he ignores his only child, his daughter Shanta. The story traces Shanta’s life, highlighting her relationships with her father, her step mother Kaykei, who trains her to be a warrior princess and the final act of obedience, that she is called on to display, to help her father realize his ambitions. The second story focuses on the life of Manthara, lady in waiting to the second Queen of Ayodhya, Kaykei. It is said that it was the constant brain washing by Manthara, that led to Kaykei, demanding that King Dashratha keep his long given blank promised to her, to give her whatever she wants, that led to exile of Ram. In this re-telling, the reader gets an insight into the distressing circumstances Manthara was born into; she was a hunchback and that has traditionally been a subject of derision or suspicion alternatively. The story follows as Manathara is selected to become a governess cum lady in waiting for the young princess, Kaykei and her life as she follows the princess to her married home, the exile of Ram and her last years. The third story is told from the point of view of another “giant” Maricha, who narrates the story of his mother, Tataka, a “giant” princess who had married a man of the forest and with the advance of the Aryan or Ram’s civilization into the natural habitat of northern India, died protecting the flora and fauna. The story follows Maricha’s plan of avenging the death of his parents and how his “disguise” lured first Ram and the Lakshman from their cottage, leaving Sita alone to be kidnapped. The book closes with the final story of Meenakshi, the female “giant” who was besotted by Ram and had to pay the price by becoming disfigured. The story follows her life as she meets Sita who is now about to be exiled alone ( This is the epilogue of Ramayan; where local gossip imputes that Sita was not loyal to Ram when kidnapped, though it is beyond question that she has been so. Embarrassed Ram disowns her and sends her to exile where she bears him two sons and would ultimately be called back. Only she refuses and instead is “gives herself to be enfolded in the earth.”) This interaction between Meenakshi and Sita and a woman from one of Indian tribes closes the narrative, again bringing it back to the theme of land, women and sacrifice.

This is already a long post so I do not want to eulogies on how well written this book was. While there has been a recent trend of re-telling of Indian mythologies and epic, most are sensationalist without any real insight to offer. Mr. Neelkantan does a fabulous job in managing to narrate complex tales in lucid and sparse prose, while making it gripping and wholly absorbing. He is not afraid to break away from the mainstream narrative and give voices and provide perspectives to the marginalized and often demonized characters of the epic. He subtly makes the political point on how Aryans coming from North, i.e. Iran would have viewed the indigenous population of India and branded them as monsters and giants. (India had a flourishing civilization, called the Indus Valley Civilization circa. 5000 BCE. Aryans were actually Iranians came in hordes to India and settled here around 1500 BCE and from them emerged the two epics) He beautifully illustrates the conflict of two different civilizations, without losing his grip on the main story. Most importantly, his compassion for all the overlooked elements of the society, that continues to live on its fringes even in the present day, through the iteration of an age old epic, makes the reader aware of how much still needs to be done for their fellow humans. Simple yet gorgeous, this book is must for anyone interested in India.

The House….

I read Susanna Clarke’s much acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in September of last year. ( Yes, I was late to the party!) While I found a lot of great things in the book, I felt it to be needlessly verbose and the character’s problematic and once I finished reading it, there was nothing but a sense of relief that I survived till the end! Naturally this foray into the fantasy world left me convinced that Susanna Clarke was not for me and there are some books and authors that do not work for and you should not spend your limited time on them.

Then I heard that the author’s second novel had won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction and this book was not as cumbersome as 1000 plus pages and instead was a mere 200 something; again belonging to the magical-fantasia genre. I heard great things about the book from everyone but I was once bitten, twice shy and I was NOT going to attempt a Susanna Clarke so soon. I needed recovery time

The one bright morning, around the last few days of 2021, I stumbled upon Brona’s excellent review of this book. I really respect Brona’s tastes when it comes to reading and her ability to discern a good narrative from an average pretending to be excellent type of writing. Besides being an excellently nuanced review, there was particularly one phrase that stuck to my mind –

In our Covid-19 pandemic world, where isolation and solitude have become the norm, Piranesi’s approach to living in his infinite world can be enlightening. His deliberate day-by-day living, paying attention to every small detail, caring for his environment and honouring those who came before him provide him with sense of peace and connectedness.

In the last 2 odd years, I have closely come to understand what this feels. First COVID and then Cancer confined me to my house and made me appreciate the simple joys of everyday things, around me. I was always a homebody but these years taught me the value of sitting in the sun in my balcony, of crisp fresh sheets on the bed, a perfectly boiled egg for the breakfast and finding contentment in them, beauty in them. This part therefore resonated especially strongly and before I knew it, the books was bought and I began reading , what I never thought I would read atleast not at such close quarters after the Mr. Strange reading .

Piranesi lives in a huge house with infinite halls that are filled with all kinds of statues. The house is divided into 3 layers; the lowest being that of oceans, the second of living beings and solid land and third being the level of the sky and the clouds. Piranesi leads a peaceful and an engaged life, fishing fish and seaweed for his sustenance from the lower levels, taking care of the other being of the house, birds or dead humans, documenting his journal and in enjoying the process of discovering the house. There is another human inhabitant in the house, The Other, who is Piranesi’s colleague and together they are in the quest of A Great and Secret Knowledge that will give them power and immortality. As Piranesi works through the halls of the house, calculating the tides and documenting the stars, that will help in the discovery of this Great and Secret Knowledge, he begins to realise that there may another person in the house. Soon he starts finding evidence of another life, finally unraveling a past and forcing choices that Piranesi did not even know existed.

I loved this book! I loved its themes of kindness and generosity and of finding joy and fulfilment in everyday life. I loved Piranesi’s character which seems to embody all that is sincere and honorable and most importantly the child like wonder that he has towards the house. His gratitude for what the house gave I think can serve as an example for many of us, stuck in a constant consumerist, where we do not stop to appreciate what we have or all the wonderful things that nature provides us. I also appreciated the moral struggle that Piranesi experiences against doing evil to someone who has done him the same; a dilemma that many grapple against everyday and not many who are able to make the right choice. There is not a usual defined plot arc; there is plotline and a sense of suspense, but there is so much more to this book that to say it is a thriller or a fantasy book. The prose is lyrical and there are philosophical insights as to what is meaningful life. This is multilayered book, that like Brona says needs a re-read, maybe several, to fully appreciate it’s narrative, beyond the obvious.

This was a magnificent start to the bookish adventures of 2022! There are very few modern authors who have provoked such sentiments in me, but this book is a keeper, an almost metaphorical tale on some of the essential truths of life!

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?

More Updates on the Big C

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

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

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

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

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

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 Unspoken Voices of Partition……

One of the often-overlooked aspects especially by the Western Historians and even some India scholars is the Partition of India. With the exception of Israel, no other state in modern history was created on religious grounds and there is no precedent in history to such mass scale killing, migration of population and loss of property that happened with the announcement of division of India in 1947, into two nations, Pakistan (created for the Muslims) and India. This artificial drawing of boundaries separating peoples and communities that have resided in the same way for a thousand years led to not only economic and political upheaval, but also lives lost, including rapes and abductions marred the joy of India finally “gaining” its freedom from British rule on August of 1947 and continues to echo till date.

Lately there have been some scholars from the subcontinent who have started looking at this epoch moment of history, The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan and Partition, The Story of India’s Independence and Creation of Pakistan in 1947 by Barney White – Spunner to name a few; most of these books focused on “what happened” at the political level that led to division of India in two parts. While it is important to understand these politico-economics dynamics, it is also critical to understand people’s history and the story of the common folks who had to leave everything they knew as a way of life and with nothing except the clothes on their back and start a journey of 100 miles to a new unknown but apparently safe future. Among these narratives, however there are certain voices missing, like those of the partition Women, who were perhaps the biggest victims of the mass rioting that broke out in Punjab and Bengal, the two impacted states of the partition; losing not only family, but also subjected to some of the most brutal violence and heinous sex crimes in the recent history and then silenced either through death or forced conversion and marriage.

Urvashi Butalia, now one of the most respected scholars and publishers of India, began her work by trying to fill this gap by writing about these silenced voices, in her brilliant book, The Other Side of Silence – Voices of Partition of India published 1998. In 8 chapters, Ms. Butalia captures some of the most intense oral histories of men, woman, children to bring together a people’s history of what partition did to everyday men and women. She begins the book with by sharing how while helping some friends film a documentary about Partition, she became interested in the subject. This subject became even more personal as she takes us into her own family and how it split her mother’s family in two – her mother and her siblings choosing to make a dangerous journey to India on the eve of some of the worst violence and her mother’s younger brother who chose to stay back in Pakistan, convert and marry and settle there. In subsequent chapters, she explores narratives of women – women who tried to commit suicide rather than be raped and violated or “honour” killings, where girls and women were killed by the families to prevent them from being abducted and sexually exploited by fathers and brothers. She also talks about the children of the partition, those orphans of the conflict or those who were product of rape and kidnappings. Finally, she looks at the “Untouchables” the lowest in the Hindu Caste system and their stories during this time of history.

Ms. Butalia manages the remarkable feet of keeping the narrative empathetic and soulful, while remaining factual and scientific in her approach ensures that her book never descends into high drama story telling. Her voice is clear and concise and her honesty in acknowledging her own emotional turmoil, especially the story of her family adds another layer of depth to the book. Non judgemental and deeply human, she never blames any religion or the people, instead she subtly directs the readers to think about the political mechanizations that went on that time and the “leaders” who were could be seen as “responsible” for this catastrophe. She is not afraid of calling spade a spade, but instead she focuses on the main principals of the books, the overlooked others. Her nuanced and sensitive story telling picks on so many unspoken actions that speak not only of Partition but all marginalized groups across history. She speaks about how women who survived Partition were never allowed to speak to her alone and was always surrounded by family, to the extent, that at times even answers were given by family members who may not have actually witnessed the conflict. She gives voices to things left unsaid, the old man, who does not mention his mother, because she could commit suicide  ( the wells were filled up and women could not drown anymore) and of the lack of choices for the woman – when they were honour killed  or abducted and forced to marry or when after being settled with the new family for more than 10 years, they were forced to go back to their old families where they were disrespected on account of having lost their “purity” by the flick of signatures of the governments of two countries that embarked on a repatriation program. She speaks of little acknowledged facts of history  – of the amazing middle class women who came together to set up camps and provide shelter and occupation for their lesser fortunate sisters and their children; these women from well to do families had their own griefs to deal with of lost and murdered families but they put their own personal tragedies aside for greater good and till date remain the unsung heroes of the country. She speaks about the “Untouchables” who were stranded in Sindh and Pakistan would not let them go to India because they formed the complete sanitation workforce and, in their absence, the already struggling hygiene of the city would totally breakdown and the lack of initiative by the political leaders of India which allowed this population to be lost in annals of history. The book is not a complete history of the “other” voices, the author herself acknowledges, that she has not captured the stories of Bengal focusing instead of the impact of Partition of Punjab. But in her limited scope, she is able to convey many things and provide a profoundly deep and disturbing chapter in the tumultuous history of this 5000-year-old nation.

This is a difficult book to read but it is an important book to read. The stories of what women were subjected to is harrowing and heart-breaking. The fates of the abandoned children are beyond distressing. But it is book that needs to be read so that we do not forget and we do not repeat!

Traveling Through America

September is coming to an end and it’s time to discuss the book that was spun for me through The Classic Club Spin #24

I was very fortunate to get to read one of the books that had been on my TBR for a very long time by an author whom I admired and whose books had defined my formative years. I speak of none other than John Steinbeck and one of his last books, Travels with Charley.

In 1960, after recuperating from a heart attack, against the explicit instructions of his Doctors, John Steinbeck set off to explore America again. As a writer of people, he felt that he had lately lost touch with his own country and its people, about whom he had written prolifically at one time and he set out to correct this miss! He started with meticulously organizing for the road trip, which included a customized Camper which he named Rocinante , furnishing it with all the books and maps he could not possibly need, stocking up food and other essential supplies and then choosing a traveling partner, his 10 year old, extremely pragmatic French Poodle – Charley. The trip started from a ferry at Long Island which was to take Charley, Rocinante and him to Connecticut from where he would start his actual “road” trip. He drove through Maine, New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, then onto Montana, through Seattle and Oregon and California, Salinas where he grew up. He then headed back home via Texas and Virginia and then New Orleans where heart sickened, he proclaimed that his journey was technically over and he was just now heading home. He saw Niagara Falls and drove through Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast and the Yellowstone Park. He met small store clerks and motel owners who yearned to take off like he did and he spoke to migrant farmers who came over from Canada to help out during the autumn pickings and the supervisor of a ranch who would be seduced away from the wild beauties of the land to a secure albeit boring job in the city, at the behest of his young wife who wanted luxuries.  He wrote of the “plastic” culture that decorated each motel and of the upwardly mobile aspirations of the people he met. He drank coffee and whiskey with strangers in a trailer park and spoke to them about the country, the upcoming elections and their aspirations. He was saddened by the people at Sauk Centre, the home town of Sinclair Lewis who failed to appreciate his genius and at one time had treated him as pariah until his death, made the town a lucrative tourist destination. And finally, he was completely heartbroken by the hatred and venom he witnessed from people opposing a newly integrated school. He felt that his journey ended with this episode and he drove home to New York summarizing that the country and it’s people had changed dramatically, moving directionless, away from all that which was real and good into an industrialized and material living frenzy, that did not brood well for the future.

John Steinbeck as always is deeply observant of human nature and the book is replete with many insightful and in some ways prophetic remarks. On watching migrant farmers from Mexico, India , Philippines work on the crops, he is reminded of the lessons in history where Carthaginians hired mercenaries to fight their wars; Americans bring in migrant laborers to do the hard work and he hopes that one day, they are not overwhelmed by the hardier race, in mighty foretelling of the future. He captures narratives from people who are comfortable living in mobile homes and not worried about not having roots, for they are convinced that obsession with building roots stops progress and moving forward. He muses “Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient the is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else  The wonderful thing about the author is his ability to see two sides of the story; while he misses the more personalized way of doing things prior to the industrial boom, he also acknowledges that “I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days.” and therefore nostalgia is presented with a pinch of salt. The rediscovery of America is always sombre, but there is much humour that only a master craftsman like Steinbeck can bring to a book, that is a difficult narrative – his conversations with Charley are downright hilarious, filled with laugh out loud moments. Charley is an intelligent dog and Steinbeck never forgets this fact in his 4-month long journey and the intellectual parley’s he engages in with him. His sense of irony is equally powerful when describing a quiet and enjoyable Thanksgiving, at a Texas millionaire’s place, talking a dig that the incorrect representation of Texas as loud and ostentatious. The language is flowing and despite being a travelogue, not once is the reader exhausted wondering when this journey will end. In fact, his description of the landscapes he covers is vivid and lyrical that brings alive the places and the reader is swept away with them! There is so much I can say about this book, that to end, I would only say that I read some essays which state that Steinbeck took several artistic liberties in writing this book, and this work is more fictional in nature. Be that as it may, his insights about life and humanity holds good now as it did 60 years ago and his deep heartbreak at people not being able to internalize respect for fellow creatures and the mad race of consumerism holds true today more than ever!