July End Notes….

Well it’s August finally and I am glad that the end of the year is finally here. As most of my old readers are aware, I always have an affinity for the Autumn – Winter part of the year than the Spring – Summer months! Onwards, I say!

July was a much more productive month than most. The month infact saw two whole weeks of being chemo side effect free and I was able to get a lot more reading and writing done as well as socializing as always!

The reading this month was very good after some of the dry spells, the previous months. White Spines was an amazing read that only bookworms can appreciate; the joy of collecting and finding small treasures within the pages, especially if they are bought second hand. Greenwood made me think a lot, about the environment and you can read my thoughts here. Tomb of Sand blew me away; 3 weeks after having finished the book, I am still processing it to be able to write a full length review. Animal Farm is always a thought provoking book to read, as relevant today as when it was originally published. All in all a great reading month; I have a few reading in progress that is spilling over in August; Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, On Writing by Margaret Atwood and Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn. I am also excited about doing an in depth reading of Persuasions and Mansfield Park as part of Austen in August , hosted by Adam Burgess.

There was a lot of eating and merry making this month as well long walks in the evenings and here are some glimpses of all the fun that was had!

July finally saw the onset of the monsoons in this part of the world. I wrote a post about it on my Insta page, and I cannot help but duplicate some of that here, considering how vital this season is to the Indian sub continent. Monsoon brings many things to people of the Indian subcontinent besides of course relief from unceasing heat, that storms down from the heaven and rises from the earth, suffocating all living things in-between! It has many socio economic benefits – it is one the primary source of fresh water. It has a major impact on the crop cycle which in turn has a major impacts on the economy of an agricultural intensive country like India. And naturally Indian culture is replete with songs, poems and prose about this natural gift. Raag Malhar is a collections of Raags that is supposed to induce rains. Meghdoot, meaning the cloud messenger is the play of plays written by Kalidas in 5th century AD where a banished nature spirit asks a cloud to take his message to his wife. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore has written profusely about rains and monsoons in this region. Bollywood has films after films that showcased the importance of these rains in the life of an Indian farmer, besides of several rain song numbers. Every home in the region has a special menu associated with Monsoons, fried fritters, tea and many local delicacies. Monsoons are not simply a season in the subcontinent, it is an emotion, it is an expression and it is integral to the identity of this region and her people.

I spent most of July listening to Jazz and more Jazz . I love the old Jazz classics and rediscovered my love for Glenn Miller and have been playing his albums in loop these past few weeks.

July then was truly a wonderous month, but I am so glad its August. I leave you with a poem for August called August by Mary Oliver –

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

How was your July? Do you have any special plans for August?

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.

June End Notes

And just like that, 6 months of 2022 are over! I am quite undecided if I like the fact that I am moving forward in time or I regret the passing of time. The pre 2021 me, would have loved the fact that Summers were finally receding and soon Autumn will be here. The post 2021 me also is really excited about Autumn and Winters as always; but since being diagnosed with Cancer, I know that every additional day, a day when I am healthy , as in not Cancer sick, is a gift. And I want to hold this time in my hand and stretch it out as long as possible, because I still have so much to do and so many things to experience and I want to do it all.

Speaking of doing it all, June was a tad bit more managed despite 2 solid weeks of being Chemo sick. I got a lot more done – read more, wrote more and worked on Insta page a lot more. Also managed to socialize and get a huge work project off the ground. Getting things done has always been a thing with me and with all the sickness and low energy that comes from all the funky medicines, I feel especially chuffed for the months, when I am able to get more than my new usual done!

I completed 4 books in June and started off on a few others which I hope to complete in July. My TBR lists keeps growing, but that’s not new and let’s be honest – there is something infinitely joyous in speculating about what book to read next. It’s like being served all the best desserts in a platter and then you pick and choose per your mood and taste! Absolute bonanza!

Reading in June was very rewarding! Re-reading The Book Thief is always such a perfect joy! I really enjoyed the very cleverly crafted murder mystery of The Appeal. And non fiction reading for the the month was beyond brilliant with the travel memoirs of Dervla Murphy and her daughter spending the Winter of 1972 in the desolate mountains deserts of Baltistan in Himalayas. The Scared Geography was a very well written scholarly book on Hindu mythology and the history and culture of pilgrimage of India and how this forms the core identity of India, well before British imposed a western concept. The reading good fortune continues early in July and am in-between several good books with a few more planned over the next few weeks!

June was a also a month of a LOT of socializing. There were book buying expeditions, birthdays of friends and then I was very fortunate to be invited for a book launch of an author, who has since become a friend and whose book I reviewed in my last post.

June was primarily very very hot (it is every year but this was exceptionally so) but I survived thanks to a drink called Aam Panna. Its a cooling drink made out of raw mangoes that are roasted and then the pulp mixed with water and spices. My sister and aunt also cooked a lot of typical Bengali delicacies over the month. My sister cooked what is called Dry mutton and my aunt cooked Egg Devils, which are very different from the Scottish version and made out of eggs and potatoes stuffing and deep fried. ( Yes, once in a while its ok! ) So the eating this month was especially GOOD!

The month was busy and there was of course constant illness to deal with; but despite all the sickness and all the petty annoyances as I near my 1 year anniversary since the diagnosis and surgery, I can say from the very bottom of my heart, that I am supremely grateful to have made it here! And I leave you with these July thoughts –

This is the place that I love the best,
A little brown house, like a ground-bird's nest,
Hid among grasses, and vines, and trees,
Summer retreat of the birds and bees.

The tenderest light that ever was seen
Sifts through the vine-made window screen--
Sifts and quivers, and flits and falls
On home-made carpets and gray-hung walls.

All through June the west wind free
The breath of clover brings to me.
All through the languid July day
I catch the scent of new-mown hay.

The morning-glories and scarlet vine
Over the doorway twist and twine;
And every day, when the house is still,
The humming-bird comes to the window-sill.

In the cunningest chamber under the sun
I sink to sleep when the day is done;
And am waked at morn, in my snow-white bed,
By a singing bird on the roof o'erhead.

Better than treasures brought from Rome,
Are the living pictures I see at home--
My aged father, with frosted hair,
And mother's face, like a painting rare.

Far from the city's dust and heat,
I get but sounds and odors sweet.
Who can wonder I love to stay,
Week after week, here hidden away,
In this sly nook that I love the best--
This little brown house like a ground-bird's nest?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

To The Everest

In everyday, urban saying sort of thing, a frequently used saying is your vibe attracts your tribe. Now I know this to be wholly true because , look at this book tribe I have !! And this holds true for my non bookish world as well. At a recent professional women’s event , I met a tribe member, who loved food ( so me! ), travel ( me again ) but more pertinently, shared my abiding love for the mountains, especially the Himalayas. As we bonded over the treks and the lesser known pathways to the Himalayas , it came about that Saachi Dhillon had written a book on her trek to Everest Base Camp. Naturally the book now needed to be read!

Everest for the non initiated is the highest peak of Himalayas and also the highest point on earth. The route to this peak is challenging and downright dangerous and many have lost their lives in the quest of the Everest (George Mallory of course comes first to one’s mind). The trek usually happens in many stages , the first being reaching the Everest Base Camp. And though it’s called the base camp, the trek is nothing but difficult and not recommended for first time high altitude hikers. However Saachi believes in living on the edge and the Everest Base Camp was the initiation right she chose to kickstart her high altitude trekking adventure.

Dreaming of Everest is an account of this adventure. Saachi’s journey starts off from the small Ramechhap Airport in Nepal and with the ultimate destination being the Everest Base Camp. It follows her journey as she meets her hiking group, walks through pit stops where everything is available for an exorbitant costs to small hole in the place where only few basics are available. She would watch the film Everest at the sitting at base of the the peak and be almost thrown off by a yak. She would lose things and find many insights about herself including the courage to continue when her body was ready to give up. And through of all this, the Everest beckoned and kept her company!

This book is one of the most honest books I have read about such endeavours in a long time. There is always glorification of all kinds of extremities in such genre; everything presented through rose tinted glasses of “struggles and triumphs”. Saachi avoids this kind of literary trope completely. She writes about the challenges but there is no romanticising them. The trek is hard. After a point food options are limited. Ill health makes an arduous climb even harder, taking a toll on your health physically and emotionally. There is no shower for days and fear of germs. These are realities that Saachi does not shy away from sharing. But there is no eulogising them nor crying foul. They are things that happen through the course of the travel and that is all there is to it. Her narrative does not digress from the main theme – the trek and the Himalayas. In fact she captures the stunning and startling beauty of these mountains beautifully. While there are valleys of flowers and beautiful sunsets, there is an awe inspiring aspect of Himalayas thats does not allow simplistic idyllic narrative. These mountains are formidable and the author’s writings leaves no room for doubt that this is not a walk in a park. She expertly blends in the cultural aspects of this geography with several insights into interaction with the local populace and adding a colorful flavor to what would otherwise have been a dry retelling of an amazing adventure. I also enjoyed the little interludes of the kind of music she listened to while hiking or the food she ate, and all of this added another layer to the storytelling. Finally the story of her own personal evolution is wonderfully interwoven with the everyday adventures. And in a stroke of good hard common sense , the book is replete with good advise for first time hikers.

To end , for a short book, it packs a powerful punch. To read it is truly start dreaming of Everest or at the very least, the other peaks of this formidable mountain range !

Once Upon a Time in India….

This week Karen and Simon are hosting another one of their amazing reading events – the 1954 Club. I love these  events as they force me to read outside my genre and explore more literary styles and authors. However with frequent Chemo side effects days ( where each part of my body felt like it belonged to someone else ) and work being ridiculously crazy again, I was not sure if I would be able to read, let alone finish something in a week. But I did manage and here I am posting a review only one day late!!

I went through the list of all books published in 1954 and after much deliberation ( there were many great publications that year ) I decided to pick up Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. The book blurb did not appeal to – another story about poverty in India but something about the book felt that this was an important read. Also I had been curious to read Kamala Markandaya for years. She was the first Indian author to write in English and one of the most premier writers of modern India. Therefore with the idea of now or never, I plunged ahead with this book which her first novel.

The story is narrated by an old woman called Rukmani, the youngest and educated daughter of the village headsman and follows her life after her marriage to Nathan , a tenant farmer. Nathan is very clearly lower in the social ladder than Rukmani but he proves to be a kind and thoughtful husband and together the couple start building a life together. A daughter named Ira, is soon born to the couple but the much desired male offsprings until years later when Dr. Kensington, a British doctor who had treated Rukmani’s mother gives her medication. Soon Rukmani has 6 sons but providing for the children becomes a struggle but Nathan and Rukmani make do until a new tannery factory is set up near their village and things begin to turn.

The plot is exactly the reason why I was not initially interested in reading this novel. Set somewhere between 1930s to 1950s India, the novel pivots on the beaten track of the struggles of farming community in India. In fact there were slew of novels that were published during this time that focused on this theme , some considered modern classics of Indian literature. There is no doubt that this was an important subject; until the Land Reform laws and the Green Revolution, farmers struggled between debt and starvation thanks to the gratuitous commercialization of land to produce only profitable crops like indigo by the British colonizers. Most these British colonizers and traders were more interested in making a quick profit, forcing farmers to grow crops that will not feed the populace and then sell them at pittance. This kind of brutal exploitation lasted for a few hundred years until India gained her independence and along with it a horrifying legacy from those years – huge fiscal deficits with majority of her people living below the poverty line. This was important theme for us to understand our past but I had read enough of this plot line and was not keen to take up another harrowing read especially when ill and irritated. But this where I made a mistake in underestimating the power and ability of Ms. Markandaya. The story does follow the struggles of Rukmani and her husband but the book is filled with hope and simple joys. Even when things are at the lowest, there is an effort to live and live to the best one can and to plan for a better tomorrow. The genius of Ms. Markandaya comes out strongest in her ability to portray this philosophy without sentimentality or dramatics; there are no miracles or swooping rescues from a knight in white armor, rather like real life if things can go bad, they do! But she weaves her story through the small everyday actions that actually adds value to life and the strength of character that resolves on never giving up. She captures the struggle between the old world and the new rising industrial world accurately; the change in societal order and mores are depicted subtly without getting pedantic or going into any ism. There is a nostalgia for the older more simpler way of life, but that is all it is and also a realistic acceptance of what the future would be like  The characters are superbly etched out – Rukmani , not a loud character or even markedly extraordinary, shines bright through her quiet courage, her ability to love and the complete lack of judgement when choices are forced on the family. She is way ahead of her years in understanding the value of education and more importantly, in accepting that sometimes life happens and a straight jacketed black and white is not the correct lens to see things. Her husband Nathan is a perfect foil, dignified and self reliant. He goes through his life with wisdom and kindness. The thing that makes his character stand out is his constant display of emotional intelligence; not only in accepting and respecting a wife who is a social superior in every way but also the ways of his children, who carve out lives very differently from his own life and beliefs. The supporting cast and crew  also are brilliantly drawn with each character standing independently, a remarkable achievement, considering the novel is action packed and is only 200 pages. The narrative is simple and linear but never for a moment does the pace flag; while I understood the plot arch, it was written so well and so tightly, that I finished the book in one sitting. And finally there is gorgeous prose of Ms. Markandaya , both sparse and lyrical, capturing the country and it’s culture vividly, bringing it alive in all its beauty and beliefs.

I am so immensely glad that I read this novel. Beautiful, enriching and memorable, one of the best books I have read lately! Exactly why despite everything I make it a point to be part of these reading events!

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?

Between This and That …..

After the brilliant kickstart to the reading year, March so far seems to be an off book radar kind of month. One too many things taking up time and energy, but mostly in the words of Mark Manson, these are good problems.

I am trying to diversify my interests and while it is enriching, it is also time consuming. I am exploring a few different opportunities within the local community, supporting local women entrepreneurs who do not have formal education through mentoring in management and helping them developing business models that are sustainable. I have also been involved in some Rising Cancer Awareness initiatives and that has also been keeping me busy. All of this along with BAU day job! 24 hours is really not enough!!!

There have have also been several mini home renovation projects, which are also eating into my non existent time. The water pipes of our apartment needed fixing as did the smaller bathroom and many such non glamorous home improvements that will never feature on architectural digest, but are critical for a comfortable living.

The Chinese Robe by Richard Emil Miller
Source http://www.artistsandart.org/2010/05/richard-emil-miller-american.html

Between these projects and the fact that I had several doctor appointments and tests lined up this month, reading has been really slow. I am trying to read In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova translated by Sasha Dugdale and there are parts I really like, but it is book that needs focus and focus is currently in short supply! I am also struggling to complete The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; I think the violence of the real world is making me shy away from a narrative set in similar conflictual backdrop! But I will get to it, sooner rather than later. I did manage to complete, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and I hope to share a review soon. Every other reading is between this and that and the only thing I have been reading consistently and eagerly are Tintin comic books! I hope to find my reading groove soon and must at times remind myself, I read because that is my “thing” and do not need to stress about so called “lack of progress”. I am sure I will soon find “the book” to shake me out of my reading slump.

The highlight of these last 12 odd days has been that I had my first full body scans and extensive blood works done since I completed my Chemo cycles in Nov 2021. And the great thing is, it all came clean!! I have fatigue – sick days as side effects still, but overall I am doing very very well. This alone makes me so grateful and count my blessings.

So here’s to good health and good problems and good books!

February End Notes…..

Its the end of the second month of the New Year and if we are standing on the brink of third month, can it be really be called a new year anymore? Does the newness of time wear off after some time? But is not the start of day, a new day and maybe in terms of time, we never really lose the newness? I would like to think so; there seems to be such possibilities is this kind of belief!

And speaking of possibilities, February was a great month in expanding and exploring new material for reading, very different from January! There were several interesting and thought provoking reads this month, along with a few, what-the-hell-was-the-author thinking bookish mishaps! This is how February reading month finally looked like –

I am glad to have had some some variety in my books this past month, with a few non fiction, one play and an Indian author reads. I really enjoyed Valmiki’s Women and Anna and her Daughters as well as re-reading The Thursday Murder Club. I have a LOT to think about after reading Humankind by Rutger Bergman and will try and post about it soon! March looks to be similarly fulfilling, I have another #ReadIndies 2022 book finishing up for Karen & Lizzy’s event ( so relieved they extended the deadline till March 15th ). I have also finally gotten hold off Amor Towles’s latest book ( not latest anymore, but you know what I mean ) and Lincoln Highway seems to hold on to all the promises of a Amor Towles’s book; history, deep insightful emotions wrapped in a great story! I am also reading an extremely interesting revisionist history, called The Dawn of Everything by Dr. David Graeber and David Wengrow. And I need to also complete my long overdue Classic Club Dare 2.0 reading, The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens!

February has also been kind of sick month ( Yes! Chemo side effects is still rocking & rolling ) but I still managed to have fun and do the things I needed or wannted to do.

February marks the end of winter and the start of spring in our part of the world and naturally, this is a cause for celebration! The festival is called Basant Panchami , Basant meaning Spring, Panchami refers to the 5th day in the lunar fortnight of the Hindu calendar. The day also marks the occasion of Saraswati Pujo; Goddess Saraswati is the patron God of knowledge, wisdom, literature and art. Naturally, she is one of my most favorite among the pantheon of Hindu Gods ( Yes, we have several choices here, God of Power, God Destruction, God of Wealth, God of Success; you name it, we have it! ) and we celebrate this festival every year! Some pictures of the “Pujo” , the worship ceremony and the special food that is cooked on the occasion – Kichudi, it is mixture of Rice and legumes, cooked with spices and clarified butter, some tomato chutney ( Sweet) , a side preparation of a unique vegetable dish made of 5 winter vegetables without onion or garlic and finally, the pièce de résistance  – Hilsa fried fish. The East Indian culture in India, offers fish for all auspicious occasion and Hilsa is consider the queen of the fresh water fish in the Indian Subcontinent, available only for a few months in the year and tasting like heaven! It is offered at this festival and will not be eaten again until the monsoon season sets in!

This year 7th February marked what would have been the 49th marriage anniversary of my parents and their 58 years of being together. They met through my Aunt ( my father’s sister ) who was my mum’s friend. They were complete opposites in everything they did or liked from books to food to travels. They loved music, Hindustani Classical to Jazz ( only people I know who went to all the hip Jazz clubs that were swinging in Kolkata in 70s) and hosting dinner for friends and impulsive travels. They weathered storms and patched up their differences and had their moments. Even death could not keep them apart too long; Baba followed Ma just 5 years after she passed away! The first photo was taken in Sikkim, then an independent Kingdom in 1973, a few months after their wedding. The second was taken in 1993, when we were on a family vacation to the Himalayas.

Food was always, a major love of my parent’s life and though they liked diametrically opposite cuisines, eating was always an occasion to be enjoyed. We celebrated their anniversary with Chicken Kati Rolls. Wikipedia describes this food the best; it says, Kati Rolls s a street-food dish originating from Kolkata, West Bengal. In its original form, it is a skewer roasted kebab wrapped in a paratha bread.

My phone has been given me trouble lately ( like a year!) but I loath to change gadgets, so I have been dragging the poor thing along for a while. I could not hear anything, the apps took forever to open and the display screen gave away and yet I continued using it. Finally it decided commit hara kiri and simply not work and I had to get a new phone. Mandate in the family, that we take one selfie, every time, my sister or I get a new phone and this one marked the start of this gadget journey!

My sister and I have been doing Sunday movie nights religiously these past few months and one of the best films I have seen lately was Harishchandra’s Factory. The film tells the story of the founding father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke and traces the life of his and his wife’s lives during the time they tried to put together, the very first film of India. Beautifully shot, using both voice and non voice narrative, to move the story forward, capturing the life and times of India in that era authentically. The nature of the subject could have made the story telling into a depressing pedagogic film, instead it shimmers with joy and humor and is a treat for the soul!

February despite several hiccups, turned out quite all right, and it is one more month down in the goal calendar! I am super excited about March as its my sister’s birthday and we will have family visiting! But for now leaving you all with one of my most favorite poems for February by Hilaire Belloc –

The winter moon has such a quiet car
That all the winter nights are dumb with rest.
She drives the gradual dark with drooping crest,
And dreams go wandering from her drowsy star.
Because the nights are silent, do not wake:
But there shall tremble through the general earth,
And over you, a quickening and a birth.
The sun is near the hill-tops for your sake.

The latest born of all the days shall creep
To kiss the tender eyelids of the year;
And you shall wake, grown young with perfect sleep,
And smile at the new world, and make it dear
With living murmurs more than dreams are deep.
Silence is dead, my Dawn; the morning’s here.

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!

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.