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

What Have I been Up to? April – May End Notes

It seems odd to write about April and May end notes when July is only 10 days away. But that means at the very least I will make an effort to put another post for June. So for now its April and June. Needless to say I have been supremely busy, work finally became crazy work and long hours again has become a norm. I am more than ever at it on my Cancer Advocacy page on Instagram. There are mentorships that I have been doing and writing some pieces on the side, include this one. Family has also been visiting as well as friends. And of course, it does not help that I keep getting sick ( overall well; chemo side effects continue ) and that takes away a lot of time in what is already a short pool of time. Even reading was limited for a while and blogging non existent. But I have been close to the edge of the other side and I must say that while I do regret blogging not enough and resolve to manage time better, I am very glad and supremely grateful to be living again and living a full life!

Now about reading, like I said, it has been slow and May was horrible. I seemed to have spent May being in the middle of many books and never finishing anything. And almost nothing seemed to hold my interest.

But I did immensely enjoy The Nectar in the Sieve about which I posted here; and I was absolutely enthralled by The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. The plot could have been a bit more cohesive and the character evolution was patchy in places, but the prose and the writing integrated the Native Indian history and inheritance was brilliant. It is a book I want to go back to and read again and soon!

April was the month when the Bengali ( Eastern India ) new year is celebrated, so instead of cooking, the family, my uncle, aunt, sister and moi, we went out for a grand dinner. The food was magnificent, as was the company and of course, new outfits for the occasion never harms!

And of course despite much promise and self discipline on spending, there were outings to the book store and some coffee shops.

Most importantly after much heartburns and anxiety and several days of dealing with self esteem issues, I finally have hair on my head. While it is short, it is still real and I cannot wait for it to grow long again!!!!

That was then my two months, spent in books, food and family, besides work and more! I end this post with two short poems for April and May!

The moon comes up o'er the deeps of the woods,
And the long, low dingles that hide in the hills,
Where the ancient beeches are moist with buds
Over the pools and the whimpering rills;

And with her the mists, like dryads that creep
From their oaks, or the spirits of pine-hid springs,
Who hold, while the eyes of the world are asleep,
With the wind on the hills their gay revellings.

Down on the marshlands with flicker and glow
Wanders Will-o'-the-Wisp through the night,
Seeking for witch-gold lost long ago
By the glimmer of goblin lantern-light.

The night is a sorceress, dusk-eyed and dear,
Akin to all eerie and elfin things,
Who weaves about us in meadow and mere
The spell of a hundred vanished Springs.
                         
                          An April Night by LM Montgomery 

There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:—
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.

               May and the Poets by Leigh Hunt

And that is about it! What all have you all been up to, while I was away?

Much Ado About Siblings….

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

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

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

March End Notes….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To March by Emily Dickenson

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.

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.