The Big C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Years Ago,

So here we are – February 14th 2021 and it is a BIG day! Atleast for me it is a BIG day. 9 years ago, without a clue as to what Blogging entailed or even why I was trying to do this, I started this page; I had no idea if I would write about books or other things or even if I would last out a month. But now standing here after 9 years, I am immensely glad that I started on this journey. I have so much to be grateful for and they are all linked to this blog – I have read books I never thought were my genre, I have opened up to new ideas and became aware of a bigger world and I have developed a strong network of friends, who come from varied parts of the world and I have never met them personally and maybe do not know their dog’s name. But they have stood by me through some rough times, shared experiences which helped understand life a little better and made me smile when there was really nothing much to feel cheerful about.

This virtual family is my biggest gain and today, I want to share a shoutout to all these people who enriched my life in so many ways –

Stefanie – In India, we end up tagging those close to us with a relationship, like an extended family; going by that tradition, I think of you as a wiser sister, showing me how life can be made better. Thank You for introducing me to Science Fiction and Carrot Ginger soup, gardening and inspiring me to adopt a more sustainable living lifestyle

Brona – Thank You for introducing me to Australia all over again, thank you for some amazing books and most importantly for sharing your life and insights and giving me the confidence always, that I am doing ok!

Mudpuddle – When I grow up, I want to be you. Erudite, generous, thoughtful and an expert of rare old books, I look upon you as my virtual mentor, sharing your wisdom and experience that helps me navigate life a lot better!

Jane – Thank You for introducing for the English Literature beyond Victorian era. Many troubled times have been smoothed over because you told me to go make friends with EM Delafield, Margaret Kennedy and Margery Sharp. I would have had a very incomplete reading of England and her writings in the absence of these women!

Karen – My TBR over the years has lost all semblance of control or sanity thanks so much to your wonderful reviews. But you have opened me up to a world of books, outside of mainstream publication and fiction and made me aware of the bigger world and global history and heritage.

Helen – My historical fiction reading would have been so tame had I not known all the good stuff from different periods and genres that you showed me. From obscure to more well known, you opened up a vista of books for me and I am so grateful for your companionship in this adventure

Marian – My inspiration to read classics, my cheerleader when I take on a book, I am not entirely sure about and my tag team for all insta fun. Social media is a happy place for me largely thanks to you!

Ruth – There are so many many things I can say about you and still not do you justice, so I will keep it simple, you inspire me every day with your courage and your belief. Also, I love your perseverance; for those uninitiated, just take a look at her Educated Mind Project, you will know what I mean

The Classic Club – How would I have known literature with you all???? Thanks to your spins and letterheads and so many other activities! The best club ever!

Cleo – I think some things are fated and I was supposed to join the blogging world because I was supposed to find my soul sister all the way across an ocean and 13000 km (we of the commonwealth shall use kms!) Thank You for all the bookish adventures, all the recipes, all the candid discussions and for holding my hand virtually through some of my darkest days! Who says you need someone in person to form a bond; we defy that and shall continue to do that!

Thank You you all, for making these 9 years brighter and better!

While I was Away…….

I know it’s been some time while I posted…..yet again! I even read two books for Karen’s 1956 Club, but never got around to posting anything, because, something called Life kept happening. Nothing major, no ah-ha moments, no life stage changes; just the usual, sick aunts, working for a international financial conglomerate during a Credit crisis stirred by pandemic, plumbing disasters at home and other inconsequential and minor irritants, topped by the realization that it is the festival season in India, and my Dad who loved all the festivities (not the religious bruhaha) the eating and partying and gifting is no longer around to enjoy it! It’s kind of shifts the ground beneath one’s feet and I am still trying to figure out, why when Mom passed away, 5 years ago, I was much more stoic while now, I am falling apart every alternate day! I was equally close to both my parents so kind of weird all this emotional upheaval!

Anyhow I have complained long enough and while yes, all of these events consumed a lot of energy, there were other happy adventures at play as well. I have been lately cooking with a vengeance, expanding my repertoire for all kinds of Indian cuisines. There is no national cuisine in this country, though many people do think it’s Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala, neither are truly representative of the food cooked in this country for hundred thousand years. The other thing most people do not realize is whole breath of food available in this country. What you eat in North, is way different from what you get in South and they have nothing in common with either the cuisines of East or West. So I have trying out a lot of flavorful lentil dishes from West, cooking fish in the traditional Eastern style like my grandmothers and chicken like southern India. I have also mastered the art of making a Chappati (see here); this staple has been my albatross for years and finally I was able to crack the code of making them soft (easier) and round (IMPOSSIBLE!) This by far has been one of the few personal best of what can effectively call a miserable year!

Claude Monet, Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil, 1873

I also started training for hiking again! Many many moons ago , I had taken this with the serious intentions of losing weight as well getting in shape for some treks I wanted to accomplish. But crazy work hours and sick parents often disrupted the training. The only good thing for this year is this Work from Home environment which saves me commute time and allows me to do a lot more and accomplish a lot more and I am happy to report that I have been on track for 3 months now and lost 9kgs and have considerably added on to my stamina

Finally, Marian like a true friend directed me to the launch of a amazing online journal specializing in fictions, essays and histories. You have to check out Post Modern Journal if you have not already. I have loved their posts and discovered that they are open to accepting submission from general public. I did send of a short story and they have accepted and I promise to inflict the link on all and everyone of you once it is published. Lol

What else, Fall is finally here and I cannot get enough of this season followed by Winter. We in North India have a short window to actually enjoy these seasons but we try and make the most of it. The smell of woodfire smoke, the chilling breeze and all the gur patties (see here )to gorge on. Is there a better way to describe perfection than this?

I leave you with this short piece in honor of November –

November Night

BY ADELAIDE CRAPSEY

Listen. .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

In Memorium….

It seems like yesterday that I was writing a similar post for my mum, but this time round it’s for my dad! After a prolonged bout of illness, Papa suffered from a brain hemorrhage on Monday evening and passed away Wednesday. He had been in a lot of pain lately and was but a shadow of his former self and now I know he is in a better place and in no pain. However the reality is still slowly sinking in and I keep thinking that he would just call me or ask me to make him tea or just generally lecture me of better savings schemes. He was the one who read to me when I was a little and in the words of Scout Finch, I do not remember when his moving fingers became my own words to read. He taught me to have an adventurous taste in food and all my wonderlusting came from him taking me on trips on when I was apparently 3 months old. My first wine was his present on my 18th birthday. We did not always agree and there were many difficult, trying moments and a lot my life choices were in rebellion to his actions. But he was my Dad and I cannot seem to forget the tall man who took the little girl by hand to the park every evening and brought her all the ice creams she could eat.

In the end, there was this eminently forgetful novel I read when I was 14 by Danielle Steel. The book was nothing, but the opening had this one poem about fathers and I always, since reading that novel, associated those lines with Papa. Therefore, I leave this post with those lines, in the memory of an unforgettable Daddy!

First Love,

First Son, or perhaps a precious daughter

their laughter swift and sweet,

his hand so sure,

his love so pure,

his loyalty to them amazing

his patience vast

and his heart wider than the heaven

the leaven of their lives

the bright sun in their skies

the one to whom they turn

the man for whom they burn, the light of love so bright

his wisdom always right,

his hands so strong, so seldom wrong,

so sweet, so near, so dear,

so much the hub of all,

and once upon a time so tall,

his love for them never waning,

always entertaining, handsome, dashing,

teaching, reaching for the stars,

driving funny cars,

a loving hand and heart,

for every lass and laddy,

beloved man, eternal friend,

how lucky you are sweet children,

to have him for your Daddy!

 

Once Upon 7 Years Ago Time…..

Many many moons ago, when the world was still young and so was I, circa. 2012, in a fit of absolute outrage at abundance of everything red and white and fluffy, I took to writing a blog post sharing my disdain at the circus called 14th February, and Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices was born! It seems like yesterday, that I tentatively started figuring out what I should write about, feeling conscious when I began following some of your blogs and commenting on your posts and constantly wondering if I can really do this long term. Ah! well!

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This blog was supposed to encourage me to write and develop a more polished way of communicating through words, which in turn would help me pen my novels, essays and many other literary adventures! I have really not done much in that respect; I have gotten the one odd short story published in some journal or other, but beyond that, while I have sought publishers, nothing has really come of it! But then I have gained so much more, especially in terms of things that are so intangible but so very valuable. I have made friends, across the world, who are so much part of my life without having ever met them in person. Through all my lows and personal challenges, this blog has given me an outlet to share my grief and helped me heal. I have shared and celebrated my triumphs and all my travels, making those moments even more memorable! I have had the extreme good fortune of talking to authors and sharing and exchanging ideas with them about their works, opening my mind to whole new way of thinking! And then, I have read – I have read books, I never would read, I have read works which I never knew existed and I have had the courage to reach out and read those genres which I was sure I will never like, completely thanks to the bookish family that I have developed via this blog over the years!

There is so much for me to be grateful for; this blog which now is an essential part of who I am, is more than just a literary outlet – it is that key part of my life, whose absence  is sorely felt and which is an inherent fabric of my existence. Like every other valuable part of our life, I have not always been consistent to this blog, often sacrificing a post, at the alter of a “more pressing” needs, always to realize later, that the sacrifice was truly not worth it and the “more pressing” need could have been accommodated along with a blog post! But such is life, and despite my carelessness, I cannot help but acknowledge the inevitable,we made it to 7 years now and I think I can safely say, I am here for some more time, to put it mildly! Thank You to all my wonderful readers and friends, who have shared this journey, which has enriched me, empowered me, evolved me and made everything so much better! Cheers to all of us!

An Act

I was planning to share my July reading plans but decided to share this instead…

It was a wonderful balmy monsoon laden evening in this city of South Asia; the capital city of this delta ridden region, the most prosperous city of this debt ridden country. It was Friday and Faraaz looked into his mother’s room before leaving to meet his friends! “Ami, I am going! I will be back in couple of hours!” Faraaz’s mother, an extremely attractive and elegant 48 year old lady turned and smiled and said “Be home on time. You know we leave early tomorrow to meet your aunt and her family. They never see you unless you come home from your University!” Faraaz smiled and nodded and ran out to the driveway, where his car was parked – a gift from his father on graduating with honors and then getting through to Business school at _____ University, Georgia US. In 10 mins, he had reached the cafe, the ‘in place’ of the city, “the place” for some delectable croissants, crème brûlée tart and coffee. He got a corner seat and waited for his friends to join him. One was his classmate from the University and she was bringing another friend, who was planning to go to the same B-School and wanted advise on the how tos. It was already 7:30 in the evening and the Cafe was filling up real quick. Faraaz hoped his friends would come soon before someone came to borrow the empty chairs at his table, as the weekend crowd of various age, nationality and background started filling in. Just has he had been served coffee; Abinta came in with a younger girl. She spotted Faraaz and headed for his table. “Sorry we are late. My fault really…I wanted to pick some muslin for Ma back in US and I just lost track of time. Poor Tarushi was waiting outside her house for more me for an hour. But you know me and fabric” said Abinta rolling her eyes. Faraaz laughed and said ‘Oh! Yes! Why do you think I gallantly declined accompanying you to the bazaar? God! You are crazy!”  Turning to the girl who was called Tarushi, he said “Hi …I am Faraaz and you must be the one dying to get through to B-School.” Tarushi smiled and replied “Dying is the word! I am the only girl in the family to make it to a college in US and now B-School is the next thing on the agenda. After all I am a Jain, you know the business community of India and commerce is in my blood, so B-School for sure and Abinta tells me you are the guy to tell me all the ref. needed and the SOPs and the code to cracking it all.” Faraaz laughed and decried any especial genius but offered to help in any way he could and was about start questioning Tarushi on her grades and plans when Abinta interrupted them saying that they could first order as she was starving and then launch themselves into the geek world. It was while deciding on what to order, they heard a hustle and crash and were suddenly surrounded by deafening voices of “Allah ho Akbar!” Thinking this as some kind of joke, the three young people turned around to see themselves and the other cafe patrons surrounded by atleast a half dozen men carrying arms. Cold fear ran through them, as they realized that this was not a joke but a reality. One of the armed men started talking and it was some time before all 3 grasped what was being said – they had been taken hostage and the purpose of this armed group was to demand release of their leader who had been arrested by the government and the establishment of true religion. One by one, they started going round the room and deciding and declaring who should stay and who should leave, who could recite the holy book and who could not. They came to Faraaz and asked for identification for all three, which they handed over. After looking at their papers, one of the armed men, turned to Faraaz and said, “You can go. You are our countryman and a man of the religion.”  Faraaz turned to the two girls and then back at the armed man and asked “Will my friends go as well?” The armed man looked at the two girls and said “No! They are unbelievers and not of the country. They will stay“. Faraaz then looked into the man’s eye and said “Then I will stay!

Through the night the army and police force played a hide and seek of bullets and negotiations with the armed men. Finally after more than 16 hours of intense conflict, the army was able to break in – 13 hostages were rescued, one of the militant was captured alive and 28 people killed ; 6 militants, 2 police officers and 20 civilians were the price of this religious fanaticism. Among the twenty killed were Faraaz Ayaaz Hossai, Bangladeshi and a Muslim, Abinta Kabir, an Indian origin – American and Tarushi Jain and Indian Hindu-Jain.

This is a not a piece of fiction, though I have wondered about Faraaz had said before he left for the cafe and what plans the three were making that fatal evening of July 1 at Holey Artisan Bakery, Gulshan, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Faraaz, in your brave act in refusing to abandon your friends, you defeated those bigoted morons and showed what religion truly is!

#Dhaka

For more information –

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/asia/bangladesh-hostage-standoff.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/dhaka-bangladesh-restaurant-attack-hostages

The Big Fat Indian Wedding Contd.

And I am back with more photographs as promised in my last post. These photographs capture the last phase of the big fat Indian wedding that saw a mix of North, South and East Indian rituals, besides enough chaos and cacophony to last one’s life time. I have said this often, that in India it is never about two people getting married, but rather two families becoming one, to cause more stress, more confusion and somehow surprisingly considering the confusion, a whole lot of fun! Once again the photographs are all copyright of Durga Natrajan, my second cousin and my first partner in crime!

Part -3 :: Grihapravasham – This happens the day after the wedding. The bride comes to her new home for the first and is welcomed by all the senior women of the groom’s house especially the mother. Once the bride crosses the “threshold” so to speak, the family and close friends come around to give her gifts and bless her in the traditional Hindu style.

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Part -4 :: Reception – The final gala night of celebrations! Food, Drinks, Dinner and may be dance….you get the drift! The last night of non-stop partying before we all settle down to our boring regular lives, until someone else decides to walk down the alter!

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Thats all for tonight folks! Next blog will definitely be bookish!

The Big Fat Indian Wedding….

I know I had planned this post long back; however I was kind of dependent on the photographer. Immediately after the wedding she moved houses and then was  busy setting up her new home and then getting the Wi-Fi Connection going, before finally sharing the photos. Then I got stuck preparing for the interview and the home renovation and other stuff. Finally our stars align and I bring to you the photographs from my cousin’s wedding. All the photos are taken by my second cousin and first partner in crime – Durga Natrajan. Durga….thanks a ton for letting me share these memories.

Part -1 :: Mehendi Night – This event happens before the night of the wedding. The ladies of the both the houses get mehendi which is henna patterns worked on their hands and feet before the singing dancing starts. Mehendi is considered  auspicious and supposed to symbolize the sacrosanity of the marriage.

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Part 2 :: The Wedding -This was a Hindu wedding – but a mix of North India/South India and East India rituals. The cornerstone of this ceremony are the vows exchanged by the bride and groom in front of the holy fire, post which they are considered man and wife.

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There are two more ceremonies post the wedding, but I will keep them for next week, considering this already maybe an overdose of the big fat Indian wedding

On The Glories of Summer and Reading in May….

Aha! Here is May and my least favorite season has begun – Summers! How I hate thee! When I was in school, we used to get two months off, because of the blazing heat made going to school quite impossible; that atleast gave this season a saving grace. But as an adult, there are no such deliciously long vacation, only the dry, unforgiving burning earth and the effort to live life as normally as possible in such pleasant conditions!! To think there are some people who actually eulogize about Indian Summers….they are only worth eulogizing when you are sitting in cozy cottage way up in Himalayas!

Anyway, I can continue in this vein, but that will not cut short this weather, so bear it I will; though I absolutely refuse to be stoic about it! Moving on to other items of discussion, the big fat Indian wedding is finally over. Was it nerve wracking? Absolutely! Did I have fun? Absolutely! Had a blast! It was wonderful meeting old friends, reviving old relations and generally merry making with people you like and love! But now that it is over, I must confess, I am really glad to be back to my more sedate pursuits. I came back late Sunday, and my reading has resumed enough vigor to finally give me hope!

Speaking of reading, Reading Plans for the last couple of months have become a farce. I have barely been able to read anything and all my books from March and April are now carried over in May. Reading for last two months had become more of an in-between activity, instead of the main event. However, now that things are slowing down, I am hoping (fingers crossed) I will be able to resume significant momentum in finishing nearly a dozen unread/half read stuff. I do have an interview looming for which I need to prepare (Yup! Only I will apply for jobs that require hard core studying!) especially stuff like Research Methodology and Six Sigma principles, but I am not going to lose sleep over it and hopefully this prep, should not be too much of a herculean task, that takes me away from my books too much!

So what am I finally reading in May? Well, like I said, I continue with books left over from last two months, but there are one or two additions! (Ya! Trust me to take on more, before I finish what I already have on my plate!) I am doing the Beowulf Read Along with Cleo. I am so loving this poem, this paean of all that is brave and virtuous! I am also doing the Gone with the Wind Read Along all through May-August with Connie. When I read it as a teen, I did not like it. When I re-read it last year, I seem to like it better, therefore it made sense to try and read it a third time and discover if there are some nuances I have missed (I have already discovered a few). Finally, I have been neglecting my Reading England Project grievously over the last couple of weeks, so I had to finally start some kind of remediation and have decided to read Howard’s End by EM Forester this month!

That’s all for today folks! I know I promised some pictures of grand mad wedding and the official photographers assure me that it will be delivered by this Saturday. Hopefully my next post will be an onslaught of Indian Wedding pandemonium!

P.S. Cleo….the bride did dance, but she did not prepare, so it was all impromptu!

On Lack of Reading Time and Thereof….

I know I have been away from blogging for a while, but the fact remains that I have been barely reading stuff lately. For once it is not my work which is to be blamed or health, in fact it is rather a happy occasion, despite the fact that it is keeping me away from my well-loved books! It is a wedding in the family – one of my cousins, someone whom I am very close to is getting married on May 1st; we were born only 20 days apart and have fought, argued and became comrades –in-arms from childhood to adults.  Now this cousin of mine who for 32 years of his life has been confirming and swearing by lifetime of bachelorhood, has suddenly discovered love. In a short span of 6months of meeting, woowing and getting woowed in return, he has finally decided to take the plunge and thus, May1st is the D –DAY! The only thing he forgot, was that this is India, and here it’s not about two people getting married, but two families. Add to that just dash of multicultural-multilingual rituals; stemming from the fact that my aunt, i.e. my cousin’s mom is from Eastern India, like rest of my family, but my uncle, my cousin’s Dad is from South India – the family has been settled in New Delhi (You with me still) and the bride is from North Western Himalayas. This is one melting pot with three different rituals, customs and expectations! Welcome to the big fat wedding of cosmopolitan modern India! For the last couple of weeks, I have been on numerous shopping trips with my aunt (Ugh!!!)have visited and tasted more catering options than I can recall and have sat through long discussions on what is considered most pure and most auspicious per Hindu laws of ceremony rituals. My cousin the poor soul is exhausted and exasperated and thinks he should have eloped (I quite agree with him). My aunt is having hysterical fits, a la Mrs. Bennett style (Yes! My aunt belongs to that crazy branch of the family, whose genes I want to surgically remove, if I could!) My uncle is trying to be stoic and failing miserably and the bride, a lovely girl with wonderful sense of fun, is losing her good humor by the minute and often calls me to ask me if this as in all the madness is normal…I have to be heartless and tell her yes..welcome to the family of loony bins! The boy is still very sane and very good…hope that gives her the much needed silver lining! Hence, my reading has completely come to a halt, I am trying to sneak in and finish The Awakening, but my aunt, at whose place and company I am spending significant weekend time, does not approve of the book. She read the synopsis and thinks it’s a most inauspicious read before a wedding ceremony (I told you that branch of the family is crazy!) She does not even approve of Road to Oxiana because per her only the frivolous ricj have the money to hike all over the world and then write books; while I cannot disagree with her on the frivolously well off piece, I have tried pointing out that they do write amazing stuff, but Robert Byron is beyond redemption as far as my aunt is concerned. That’s a slice of my life for the last 10 odd days. I will try and sneak in a bookish review one of these days soon, but don’t hold your breath. In the meanwhile, I go back to the family meeting of planning the reception menu for the 1846th time!! What Joy!!! I leave you with a Bollywood wedding song and dance – this ACTUALLY HAPPENS!!