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Book Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black: A Ghost StoryThe Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When some people write, you want to take a book (preferably hardcover) and slam them repeatedly on the head while yelling “What the hell is that sentence supposed to mean!?” That was the recurring thought in my head while I read Susan Hill’s Woman in Black. Let me elaborate.

I picked up the book because of the tantalizing abstract at the back of the book. A lawyer who had to look into the financial affairs of a deceased old lady ends up in a remote English village where he encounters a strange woman in black. His curiosity is aroused but none of the villagers would talk to him about her. Unfortunately for me, my curiosity was pricked too.

I knew I wouldn't be able to sit through the movie version of it since it starred little Mr. Harry Potter himself (how can anyone see him as anything but a nerdy wizard?). If I wanted to find out anything about the mystery, I would have to read the book.

The very first sentence in the book was literary blasphemy. A long meandering sentence that started somewhere, roamed about a bit here and there and ended somewhere else. And the trend continued throughout the book.

It could be forgiven if it didn't interfere with the story itself. Sometime she would describe where the hero was, which direction he was running to, something happening in between and suddenly he’s somewhere. And it is bothersome because there‘s a ghost on the loose and you need to know where the damn guy is!

It was not just the length or the lack of direction but the random usage of words that got to me. Every sentence was speckled with unnecessary period specific words; a trick that a true litterateur wouldn’t dare to try. And this woman has actually won awards?

As for the story play, the less said the better. Would you for instance, go to a random house, which you realize is haunted and then keep going back to prove that you are brave? Especially when you have no interest in ghosts, there is no audience for your bravado and you are actually a gigantic coward!

The worst was the way in which the book ended. I’ll tell you this much, it had a scene where the ‘scary’ ghost in a billowing black gown dances in front of a horse to scare it. The books wraps up pretty quickly after that scene. Almost as if the author was relieved to be done with all the hard work she put into writing this nonsensical book. I wish the person who wrote the abstract had written the book, he or she would've done a much better job.

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Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger"s WifeThe Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Téa Obreht weaves a mesmerising yarn strung together by a chain of beautiful stories. She manages to skilfully convert old fables and folklore into a much more personal story of a country at war, a young girl trying to come to terms with the impact of it and her bond with her ever optimistic and entertaining grandfather.

The tiger’s wife is not a book that requires you to ponder over anything in particular. It simply lets you sit back and relax as the many characters engage you in wonderful stories spanning over hundreds of years, many bordering on what can only be fantasy but tempt you to believe they could be true.

The story of the Deathless man is both mysterious and humorous and you wonder till the very end how his story will unfurl. I was moved by the tale of the merchant’s daughter whose inspiring spirit is touching and the plight of her sweet sister, the tiger’s wife. And then there’s the tiger himself, beautiful, powerful and wonderful. For anyone who has stood and admired a tiger at any point of their life, this tiger is one you can directly relate to.

Téa makes you feel that she experienced all of the events first hand and you tend to believe her sane voice as she recounts them to you. There’s so much maturity in her writing style that you simply cannot imagine that she could be as young as she is. I’m looking forward to more work from her, she has charmed me with this wonderful book and I know that anything she ever writes will have the same magical quality as this book does.

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Book review: Haunted by Chuck Palaniuk

HauntedHaunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted is simply crazy. It’s a whirlwind of a book that takes you through several incredible journeys, many of which you wish you never ever went on. But that’s the beauty of it; a gory horror fest scripted by one of the most talented writers of our time, Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame). No ghosts, vengeful spirits, just the terrifying exploration of the depths of human depravity under severe duress.

The books premise is common, a couple of people ‘escape’ for 3 months, to what they think is a writer’s retreat, to lounge about, explore their creative geniuses and piss off the rest of the world, who have no clue where they disappeared off to. They were promised comfortable living quarters, food, clothing and were instructed to bring nothing along but what they absolutely needed to create their masterpiece.
Instead they were trapped behind steel doors, walled off from reality. Whatever means of refined living were available (phone lines, heating, plumbing) were quickly destroyed by the hostages who sensed a chance for fame as tortured victims. What followed was a plummet to decadence, self mutilation, cannibalism, starvation all forming the background to the stories of personal horror of the individuals who tried to run away from the world for a good reason.

I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone but those who can look beyond the disgusting imagery and see the message within. The message itself is surprisingly enlightening. The first story, “Guts” starring the impossibly bony Saint Gutfree, is a good indication of the general feel of the book. If you can get through that, you may make it through the rest of the book. If that is too much to digest (pun intended) don’t bother proceeding, it gets worse, much worse.

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Book Review:The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An incredibly heavy read for a book about lightness. Milan Kundera makes you ponder over all those questions that you don't dare to address yourself, simply because it is too painful. He dissects his characters one by one leaving nothing to the imagination. Every fear, dream, hope, secret desire, disappointment of theirs is explored, not without sympathy, even a certain degree of empathy, but never with pity. They are who they are, his creations, and he is not ashamed of them. As a reader one also feels for these flawed creatures who are as real as humans can be.
It took me a while to read this book. I dreaded facing the harsh reflection of myself that I saw in his characters so I kept putting off reading the book although I carried it with me every day. I feel an incredible amount of relief now that it is over and done with and have quickly moved onto a highly implausible horror story book just so I can delve back into a nonsensical world to shake off the tension created by the all too real one.
It's a real masterpiece. One that took me on a long journey and finally put me right back on my feet, feeling a lot more human.

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I’ve always wanted to write a travel blog. Wait that seems too simple. I’ve always wanted to host a travel show! Travel to fantastic places all over the globe, comment on food, shopping and sightseeing locations, mix with the locals and speak the language. Sometimes I think that’s exactly what I was born to do :D And on that note here’s a piece on the mind blowingly awesome trip I just went on, to Italy, for 9 days with the love of my life - my darling hubby!

The ‘Travel to Italy’ idea sprang to mind when I saw a picture of Cinque Terre; this picture to be precise

Courtesy: The Cool Hunter

5 villages perched on a hill side with heart stopping views over serene blue waters. Simply magical! How could a place like that not calm a troubled soul, worn out from the exhausting task of running the daily rat race! So I started plotting and planning, vacation days, travel dates, cheap flights, places to stay, articles, comments, reviews... Interestingly we didn’t end up going to Cinque Terre after all. Too many mixed reviews and a ‘it would be too boring for a jumping bean like you’ comment later I set out looking for other places.

That’s when a friend suggested Sardinia. Ah Sardinia! What words can I say to express how my heart leaped and my grin widened as I gazed at the pictures on Google images (Google Costa Smeralda) Crystal clear blue-green water lapping white sandy beaches. I set my radar to Sardinia. And then, you probably already guessed it, we didn’t end up going to Sardinia either. It turned out to be a pretty difficult location to travel around for two people with no driver’s license. Yes you read that right, we don’t have a license. We are very environmentally conscious :D Ok ok we just never got down to getting a license but it’s going to happen, sometime, hopefully, I think.

Back to topic at hand, the process of deciding where to go in a country like Italy is only compounded by the fact that there are so many options! There are regions like Umbria, Puglia and Toscana. Cities like Rome, Naples , Genoa, Sicily and Florence. Sites offering advice and accommodation options like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, Booking.com and Zoover.com. It became so hard to make a decision till I saw this picture:

Courtesy: Vissershuis Comomeer

It grabbed my heart and attention in one go with its ‘Awww ’ factor. Look at the cute blue arrow! A little apartment in a tiny village by a lakeside in the very north of Italy. A perfect getaway from the mad rush of everyday life with its needs and requirements. So that’s where we went for 4 nights; a village called Nesso on Lake Como in the Lombardia region

Dotted with stone paths running up and down the hillside, cute arched bridges, ducks swimming lazily in the clear water, waterfalls popping up unexpectedly while lazily wandering about, coupled with a comfy modern apartment overlooking the water, Nesso was exactly what we were looking for. Not having a car wasn’t really a problem since the village could only be explored on foot anyway.

We also took advantage of public transport (rickety crowded buses and spacious relaxing hour long boat trips) to access other cities on the lakeside. Como turned out to be a tourist haunt with nothing much to offer. Bellagio which was even touristier had a lot more charm, beautiful gardens (Villa Melzi) and a fantastic restaurant (Ristorante Bilacus). Check out the King prawns below

We followed up the 4 days at Nesso with a 3 day trip to Rome. Big grand bustling impressive Rome. The city is truly Alive. Hordes of people of unknown origins throng the Metros and buses, going from one end of the city to the other, continuously in motion. Rome takes the idea of being Metropolitan really seriously. And in spite being a major tourist attraction it is really a functional city where people live, work, eat, chit chat and party!


There are two major Metro lines that service the whole city and we stayed at a little hotel (Hotel Appia) mere minutes away from a Metro stop with the kindest hosts I have ever met. The hotel itself is tiny but has a class of its own. But I may be biased because of the courtesy we received (free drinks and treats in the room’s cool bar and we were even allowed to leave our luggage in the room hours past check out time).

We decided to tackle Rome region by region. First stop was Monti, a former red light district and childhood home of Julius Ceaser, which is now a hep urban area known for its edgy fashion boutiques and village vibe. We had the best pizza of our lives at an impressive bakery called Panella l’arte del pane. The pizza al taglio (pizza by slice) took its own sweet time to arrive but when it did, it was really hard to choose. I had a fresh mushroom pizza while Sam had one with pumpkin, gorgonzola and walnut.

SAM_8258 SAM_8259

We also gorged on pastry filled with cream and orange compote. Trust me, I’m only getting started!. Next stop was the oldest gelateria in Rome, Palazzo del Freddo di Giovanni Fassi. A spacious ice cream parlour, with a huge number of people and enough marble top tables to accommodate all of them. With an impressive list of flavours including Riso (creamy rice, with chewy bits even) served with a dash of fresh cream it’s no wonder middle aged men in suits felt free to walk in and feast on yummy ice-cream!

Next stop was that evening was the Trevi area where Sam and I looked on unimpressed by ogling crowds clicking endless pictures of what felt, at that moment like a grand but soulless monument, the Trevi fountain. For me it is simply not possible to find a spot romantic when you are told to do so and are surrounded by hundreds of other people who have been given the same instructions. And luckily I’m married to someone who heartily agreed. So we drowned our disappointment in more icecream. Il Gelato di San Crispino. A small outlet, selling miniscule quantities of superb icecream. If you do go, take a risk and try new flavours. I tried apple, and after that day, I will never look at an apple the same way. It was perfection.

The next day we set out for glamourous Tridente, an amazing shopping haven for Prada and Gucci lovers as well as the rest of us who want to class up without pauperization. Here too we saw the famous heavily photographed Spanish steps, made skeptical faces, took pics of our skeptical faces and moved on. Lunch was at ‘Gusto, which didn’t really impress us much but then we visited a favourite coffee haunt of the Prada princesses, Café Gina. A classy, pretty café where we had impressively good pastry chocolate and cheesecake.

For modern art lovers with a leaning towards street, pop and comic art, Mondo pop is a must visit for inspiration and perhaps like us, nice mementos that you can’t find elsewhere. The surprise hit of the day was a vegetarian restaurant called Margutta RistorArte. Attentive service, creative menu and a delectable array of dishes. Needless to say my veggie hubby, who opted for a 7 course Spring Menu, was almost reduced to tears and declared, humbly, that it was the best meal he had ever eaten.

Day three began at a relaxed pace. We headed to Italy’s left bank,Trastevere. It’s not easy to access but that’s where you get to see the city at its relaxed pace, with winding streets and old buildings dotted with greenery. It rained while we were there but the rain had a refreshing quality, it made us and everything around us feel fresh and new. We had authentic Roman pastry from paticceria Valzani, pizza from wood fired ovens at Forno la Renella and finally dinner at an Indian restaurant (which I won’t bother to mention since the food was average and was a quick compromise because of the time and the weather)

The most wonderful part was the trip to Orto Botanico, a botanical garden spread over 30 acres with some of the coolest plants I have ever seen. Varieties of palm I’ve never seen before, rose gardens, Japanese garden, city views and greenhouses. But the most impressive for me was the elegant bamboo forest where I stood alone for a full 5 minutes mesmerized by the tall shoots moving to the gushing wind and the leaves ruffling far above my head. It was hypnotic and I was loathe to leave it and move on. Here’s a video clip so you can see what I mean

Gastronomically speaking, it was mostly hits and a few sore failures but it felt so good to have covered so many areas and to have really gotten a sense of life in Rome. Of course we played it smart and stayed away from museums and gazed upon the Colosseum from a distance instead of doing the big tour of it along with the Roman Forum and the Palatine. I honestly don’t know if we really missed anything.

But the big surprise was the final day at the Vatican.My Lonely Planet called it the ‘home of the world’s longest queues’ and boy oh boy were they right! I decided that St. Peter’s Basilica was a must visit and headed out to witness it, on a Sunday, of all days. We got off the metro and started walking towards Vatican city and ran into what Sam called Zombie mobs. Huge gangs of people moving at the same pace towards and alongside us. We tried to walk as quickly as possible into St Peter’s square hoping to escape them only to meet a much worse fate. The longest queue I have ever witnessed in my entire life right there at the Basilica.


And that is just a tiny fraction of the continuously growing queue. I read somewhere that the Basilica could accommodate 20,000 visitors a day. I was just hoping that it could hold that many people in one go because there were certainly that many queuing up to get in. More maybe! So we stood in queue in the hot sun, sweating our asses off for a grand total of one hour and fifteen minutes. Why you ask? I think it has something to do with ‘once in a lifetime’ and ‘mass mentality’. The Basilica did not fail to deliver.


Larger than life marble statues, enormous pillars, gold gilded ceilings. Sheer power and craft. I was speechless for a considerable period of time, opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish. I tried to take as many pictures as possible. Interestingly I have at least one Chinese person in every picture. Fact not racial joke :D

IMAG0510 IMAG0514

Finally hungry thirsty and really tired we left in search of food and rest and then realised, that we would probably starve. It was a Sunday in the Holy city so of course most places were closed. We also had a flight to catch and after much confused babbling, ate bone dry sandwiches at the train station before picking up luggage and taking the train to the airport.

I wish I could say we ended our stay in Italy with a magnificent pizza but we did have pretty good Arancina (fried balls of rice cooked with meat or veggies) at the airport.  

There’s one part I have left out, Milan. We actually ended up in Milan because we got a cheap flight there. Thanks to too many articles criticizing Milan for its pricey setup, designer clothes and posh crowd I figured it wouldn’t be worth really exploring and just didn’t bother doing any research. I was sorely mistaken. For anyone who likes the urban vibe of a city, Milan is glorious! The crowd is young and vibrant, the streets are posh but accessible. The beautiful Gothic cathedral Duomo, the largest of it’s kind in the world, is totally worth the travel.  Lesson for next time, don’t trust the guide books, just go and make up your own mind.


And thus ended my trip to Italy. Near perfect food, gorgeous views, warm weather and jovial welcoming people. Quiet and solitude of a village by a lake combined with a tantalizing taste of a world class city. And like it says in the title, don't be afraid to be yourself. They love it if you can speak a few words in Italian (I got quite a lot of sweet smiles for my attempts) but even if you can't utter a word you will still be welcomed. If I could, I would do the trip all over again in a heartbeat. Italy, you have really won me over!


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The Lost Art of Creativity

It’s been a really long time since I blogged. And again, so much has been happening around me, which does mean I have less time than before to talk/write about it. But here’s something that has been bothering me for a while, Creativity.

I’ve been told me whole life that I’m creative. Must say I believed that I am what one would call a creative person. But if I think about it, in the last few years, I can’t recall doing anything I would call particularly creative. The day to day tasks of waking up in the morning, getting to office, working, getting home, having dinner and sleeping., and of course a little bit of socialising on the side is just about all I do. Nothing creative there. So where did the creativity go?

Today I watched this fantastic video on TEDTalks about creativity titled Schools Kill Creativity. It’s an easy going, light hearted take on a very serious issue

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities”

I must say to a large part, I was lucky when I was in school. My parents were the sort of people who believed in bringing up well formed individuals and allowed my brother and me to dabble in any artistic activity we were interested in. I experimented with dancing, painting, playing the piano, debating, public speaking, quizzes, singing, sports...What my education system missed out on, my parents more than made up for by being indulging. Hats off to them for having the foresight! By the time I got to college though, the opportunities reduced but did not totally disappear. After college, it just plummeted. As an adult I was suddenly expected to go to work, work, come home and repeat the routine. In my free time, I could hang out with friends, watch movies, eat out or go clubbing. Where did the creativity go!

The video really got me thinking. It’s probably just the way the system is built. It’s quite unlikely that you will be encouraged to be different or to explore your uniqueness. I got a few job offers because my ‘uniqueness’ was identified as a fascinating factor but I’ve been quite clueless as to how to take it from there. It feels as though there is no wide open room for creative adventures at the work place. But for mundane day to day tasks there is indeed a lot of room and definitely no barriers.

"All children are born artists; the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up"

I loathe believing that the creative edge is lost! When I write this blog, I feel like I’m finally expressing myself again. But even then, I wouldn’t call it a truly creative act. It’s more a comment on something I‘ve seen or experienced rather than a brain process that constructs something shiny bright and new. More Reactive than Proactive. Then again perhaps this is actually me being creative and I’m just too hard on myself.

I few days I was using an app to scribble on my smart phone with my finger (isn’t it awesome that you can use your mobile as a digital tablet?) I must say it wasn’t as easy as I had expected A few years ago when I saw my college class notes , overrun with all the sketches I had done, I was amazed at how much I had done and how little I remembered of them. Not just doodles, real sketches. I couldn’t stop sketching. But sitting there, with a cool app at my disposal, I was having Sketcher’s Block. I couldn’t think of anything to sketch. I finally started looking into the comic book my hubby was reading and drawing characters I saw in it. It turned out pretty ok actually, for a finger sketch ;) Here they are

And here’s one out of the blue. That just appeared, out of nowhere. My creative juices expressing themselves on e-paper

And maybe that’s just the key. Do what you used to do, back when you were a kid! Pick up a pencil, crayon, chalk or a smart phone and just draw! Or think of something random, a fictional character you wish existed and just write about him/her/it. Pick up that old guitar or piano or flute and play the songs you used to play. Maybe at first you will wonder why the quality of your work is so childish, but I think if you just keep going, your brain will find a way to rewire itself and before you know it, you will be a Creator par excellence! Just imagine how fantastic it would be if you could just make that breakthrough. Good luck and let me know how you are faring; in the meantime I plan to re –invent the genius in me!

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Oct. 26th, 2011

So here’s something strange I’ve been up to off late. I’ve been reading comic books. And guess what I’m hopelessly addicted :D

So here’s how it all started. I had been for several years, like many other nerds before me, reading interesting, intellectually challenging, literary masterpieces of the non bright-coloured-wicked art sort from back in the day of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree (which is still a classic I wouldn’t mind reading all over again) And then I bumped into, not quite by accident (thanks a lot my darling Sammy Vooren!) a comic book called Y: The Last Man. It had a simple but interesting premise; an unknown disease kills every living man on the planet except for one guy and his pet monkey. In the absence of men, civilized society collapses and women have to deal with the loss of their loved ones as well find a way to pick up where the men left off figuratively.

Now before you think this is a feminist piece of literature, let me quickly correct you. It was more of a comic book for guys than anything I’ve ever read. I mean just imagine, if you were the last guy on earth and every living breathing woman wanted desired and lusted for you how would you feel! But then being the last of anything may have dire consequences.

Is Y: The Last Man a literary masterpiece? Perhaps not. A lot of the plots and subplots are designed to keep adolescent males hooked; tooth, drooling mouth and claw. But is it an interesting take on what society is built on, how humans function and what is ultimately important? Oh yes! It was all out entertainment packed into a series of beautifully drawn, brilliantly coloured and wonderfully lettered books that showed me that sticking to Bookers and Pulitzers would mean I would miss something equally, if not more brilliant.

After this adventure I moved into a series of comics, some of which I’ve completed and some are still being written by the author. And here they are:

The Walking Dead – If any comic book can be called a brilliant novel, this is it. Robert Kirkman, the series creator, took the kitschy zombie comic concept and elevated it to all new unprecedented heights. The books are not an extended thesis on the many ways zombies can attack and devour humans. It is not about blood, gore and spilled intestines. To start with they aren’t even in colour. Instead it’s a stark grim peek into what drives a man, the thin line between right, wrong and murder, And how man can survive in the midst of calamity, loss and starvation. There is a new TV series based on the comic which does to some degree capture the essence of the book but looses a lot in the attempt to make it ‘popular television’. But this is one series I would sincerely recommend to everyone who isn't afraid of delving into what it means to be human and perhaps getting a tad depressed along the way.

100 bullets – Again a smart concept, brilliant dialogues and edgy art work. This series is about crime and revenge. If you were offered a box with absolute proof that one person is solely responsible for ruining your life, a gun and 100 untraceable bullets to off him/her with, would you do it? The rule is there are no rules; if you shoot and the bullets are found at the crime scene you will not be prosecuted. Of course an offer that perfect is never that simple and as you read book after book the plot becomes increasingly clear. I must say that at some point I stopped reading this one. Perhaps the violence level was a bit too much for me to handle and the plot felt like The Godfather on xtasy. But if you can take the constant bludgeoning, this is a really good series to get your blood pumping.

Runaways- This seemingly innocent looking book for teens (it seemed), about teens turned out to be actually frighteningly adult. Main characters, many of whom you grow attached to, are killed off unexpectedly but in keeping with the storyline. If you decide to try it out, check out the first three books. The third, for which a new writer was commissioned, was a dud.

ChewWhat a series! What an infinitesimally intelligent series! Every bibliophile out there who has never tried a comic book, this is your modern day Jeeves meets Huckleberry Finn kind of comic . The artwork – brilliant! The dialogues – sharp, the storyline – well ummm maybe we need to talk a bit about this. Tony Chu is a cop who is Cibopathic (one of the many words invented by the writer, John Layman). Which means the moment he tastes anything he gets an idea of its entire history till the moment of consumption. This holds true for dead humans as well. He’s not a cannibal, just a regular guy who is forced to ‘taste’ things, including humans at times, to solve crime. He hates it, his homophobic gay boss hates him, and his partner pretends to hate but secretly adores him. There’s also a bizarre take on what would happen if the government banned chicken consumption due to an outbreak of bird flu. A fresh cast of characters, a wickedly twisted storyline all make this one helluva series to follow!

Ex Machina-Sometimes you read a book that’s big, ambitious and has a storyline that makes you wonder, ‘how is this going to end?’ And you keep reading because you want to know what happens next. And finally when you reach the end, it falls flat. Ex-Machina is not one of those books. In fact its plot is so grand that you wonder if it is possible to write an ending that would do the series justice and then when you finally reach the end, you realise that the ending is what made the series, everything was just a means to reach it. Simply Brilliant! The protagonist is Mitchell Hundred, who thanks to a freak accident acquires a special ability. He can speak to machines, anything from a toaster to a gun. His plan to fight crime as a super hero doesn’t quite take off and he decides to run for mayor of New York City and makes it. So far it sounds like a regular Marvel comic hero story. But there’s a subplot, Mitchell didn’t get his powers by chance. There may be other powers at play who would love to make him their pawn, perhaps not human powers. Check out this series and walk with Mitchell through an alternative NYC which seems familiar and alien all at the same time.

Some others that I’ve tried and are worth mentioning are The Preacher (have read only the first book so far but I’m hooked), Fables, Scarlet, Black Panther, Powers (found this one lacklustre), Hack and Slash (B-grade entertainment for those who like slasher movies), Pride of Baghdad (one of Brian K. Vaughan less impressive works)

I’m back to reading big novels again, but I’m so happy to know that when I tire of reading page after page of the printed word, there’s always the sketched one to entertain me. Btw if you are a comic aficionado, feel free to talk to me about any and all comics (except Manga). Cheers!


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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a book that has deep personal meaning for me. For one, David Mitchell is my favourite author; no one can seamlessly combine fact, fiction and fantasy to create a brilliant believable book, as beautifully as he can. The main character Jacob de Zoet (pronounced Yakob the Zoot) is a lovable Dutch guy who goes through a life altering adventure. I started reading the book on the 1st of August, the day I joined my first job in the Netherlands and finished the book yesterday, the day I got my first ever pay check! And thanks to my hard work and persistence in learning the language, I can actually read the names of the characters the way the Dutch would pronounce it!

Although the tall red haired, green eyed Jacob seems to be the chief character, the real protagonist is the weird and wonderful land of Japan where the entire story unfolds. Japan in the 1700’s was an island cut off from the rest of the world. The Dutch, known even today as the sharpest tradesmen in the world, managed to set up a trading post on Nagasaki. They had to agree to a plethora of conditions but the trade in copper was considered vital for the survival of the Dutch East India Company.

Into this largely unknown world, stepped Jacob, with his ambitions, Christian ideals and (like every other Dutch person) bag of principles. But just as it is today, what is considered normal in Japan can make the rest of the world cringe and what is normal elsewhere is considered eccentric in Japan. As a reader, you begin to settle in to the environment, get comfortable with the settings and before you know it, you have been sidetracked into another weird unrecognisable setting and you start all over again.

The story is populated by Japanese scholars who have spent years learning Dutch to communicate with the Dutch traders, Dutchmen who are forbidden to learn Japanese and are confounded by the strange environment they habit, Japanese women have no real social standing and aristocrats who believe in honour and pretty much nothing else. So as expected, book takes you through page after page of a riveting story that makes you wonder where the line that divides right from wrong lies, if indeed such a line exists.

It takes liberty in portraying people as they are; some stereotypes abound and may cause offence but the larger picture is as honest as it gets. European greed which desired to possess the entire world’s wealth is examined closely from the perspective of the French, The British and the Americans.

At the end of the book, I felt like I had been on a journey myself, something so personal that I wondered if I should share this book with anyone at all. I thought that I should keep it to myself, like a precious discovery that is not for the world to see but for me alone to savour. But then sense prevailed and here I am!

I must admit that I’m a bit biased thanks to the Dutch and David Mitchell angle but I sincerely request you, if you see the book, pick it up; you won’t regret it. And don’t forget to let me know what you think. Happy Reading!

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Jobless and feeling the pinch

I wish I had words to express the torment angst and frustration within, but I doubt if I can even manage to do justice to how torn up I feel. But as always I’m going to try. If anything can help me, it’s putting my feelings into words

I got a call for a job interview. It’s tomorrow. I know I should be beside myself with delight but what I know is that I can’t have this job. I don’t doubt my ability to talk my way through an interview. I think the job profile is something that really fits my experience too. But the fact remains; I don’t have a job permit. And God alone knows how long it will take before it is finally processed and handed over to me. Till then, even if Donald Trump wants to hire me I still can’t work. As far as I know the interview is for a position that needs to be filled as soon as possible and from the info I have, my permit will take at least 3 more freaking months before it will be done. Not because the papers aren’t in order, not because I’m a criminal in my country of origin, not because I’m an illegal immigrant, but just because that’s just the way the system works.

It’s really killing me. The whole idea of being able and willing to work and instead being forced to sit at home and do nothing! I have been told to think of this as a vacation of sorts, write a book, watch TV, explore, experiment in the kitchen. I tried all of it the last three months, and I’m tired of it. I feel useless, can’t find a reason to justify my existence! For someone who has spent the whole of her adult life earning a steady paycheck, this state of being is really intolerable. I understand if you think I’m egoistic or proud but I really hope you understand how gutted I feel. I really wasn’t mentally prepared for such a long wait.

I can’t spend a single buck without feeling gut wrenchingly guilty about it. I just had a haircut that cost 5 times more than my last haircut in Bangalore. I’m not kidding. I don’t feel I have the right to spend that sort of money. I needed a haircut for at least a month now. I’ve an interview tomorrow and didn’t know any hairdresser I could go to. So I went to the first one in the neighbourhood I could find which looked ok. I have no clue if the cut was worthwhile, because I can hardly stand to look myself in the mirror.

This was followed by yet another attempt to look presentable. Since I spent the last three years following my office’s informal wear dress code, all I have is a collection of jeans, T shirts and party wear. I really needed to get formal wear. So I went to the city, shopping. Probably the biggest mistake I made was to underestimate the cost of everything. Living in Bangalore has really spoiled me. I used to think that things were quite expensive in namma city, but its dirt cheap compared to what I see here. All I needed was a formal shirt. I wandered from shop to shop searching. I couldn’t find anything! Most things within budget looked cheap and translucent, and the few I could probably wear were for people much taller than me. So I ended up with sore blistered feet and no shirt. Really don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow. Then again, why bother, it’s a job I can’t have!

I regret every moment that I took my old job for granted. Every minute that I complained about having to go to office. Every moment that I said I didn’t earn enough. In office, I had friends I could talk to, people to share my thoughts with, to have a cup of coffee with, to brainstorm over ideas with. My job ensured that I would have some money in my bank account. Also it meant that I was counted.

I regret every moment that I thought my friends weren’t good enough. They held my hand when I was down, laughed at my crappy jokes, went with me to the hospital when I melodramatically told them that I was dying, went shopping with me and told me that my boobs are not too big. And always always always were delighted to have coffee and a chat with me whenever I needed them. I miss them more and more each passing day and chatting doesn’t help ease the distance.

Whenever anyone told me that they had moved countries or continents after getting married and it was pretty tough, I always thought that when the time came, I could do it. How hard could it be? It is hard, very very hard. No amount of reassurance from your partner can make you feel any better. If you ever have to make a decision I’d honestly tell you, you would need an extremely high level of maturity and self acceptance than I do to get through this. Well, you can also make it, if you close your eyes, pretend that this is all a bad dream, life isn’t all that serious anyway, and sleep walk through it.

Right now, I would give anything if I could pick up the phone, ask one of my friends to come over and give me a hug, and actually have them come.

If any of you out there are going through the same thing, please let me know that I’m not alone. For the rest, I don’t want advice. Please don’t tell me what to do. Just tell me that you understand me, if you do. 

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Sex, Death and the Gods

I saw a disturbing film on BBC4 yesterday. Sex, Death and the Gods, is a film by Beeban Kidron of (Bridget Jones fame) about the Devadasi women of Karnataka, South India, who are ceremoniously dedicated or married to a god while they are still children and on reaching puberty are sold for sex. Devadasi literally means servant of god. It’s illegal in India, but at least 30000 Devadasi are still there in Karnataka alone. Although I knew about it, it was still gut wrenching to watch a little girl talk about her dreams of getting married , knowing that she can never marry and will become a prostitute.

I tried to get the video on BBC, but it wasn’t viewable. Here's a link to a trailer of the movie on youtube

Video source:Youtube

No matter how long I’ve lived in India, how much I’ve read, how many people I’ve spoken to, and all that I have experienced,  I still can’t say with any amount of confidence, that most things about my country makes sense to me. I can sympathise, empathise even, but I can’t understand it.

The basic mindset of most Indian women in an Indian household is so different from her western counterpart that for an outsider looking in, everything would seem like a regular dosages of unimaginable atrocities. But when one understands that for these women, they have convinced themselves that this is life, their life and have much less value for it as compared to that of a man’s, it may make sense eventually. I still feel like an outsider looking in and I’m struggling with what I see.

Image source:blog

Sample this.  A mother living in poverty decides to dedicate her young 3 year old daughter to a temple as a Devadasi because she gets money in return. The girl grows up not knowing that she will never be able to marry and have a family. Her sister’s husband takes a shine to her and offers money to her family to ‘have’ her every weekend. She’s still a child. Her mother accepts and every weekend he forces himself on her. If she refuses, her mother and sister abuse her. He is their source of income, if she doesn’t go, they will starve. In the mother’s words, it was the only way to keep him. The girl is now a woman and does not blame her mother for what became of her life. She understands it. I do not!

Image source:thesprout

Another woman who is a Devadasi, sits beside her boyfriend and says this is the life she chose for herself. She doesn’t have to marry and be a slave to some man and play to the whims of her mother in law. She says she’s a free bird.

Imagine a world where being a prostitute is better than conventional domesticity.

In an interview with the filmmaker, Beeban Kidron, she explains the paradoxical situation in place. She says that if you think of it as a mother selling her child, you will go nowhere. It’s much deeper and even honour-bound. She is selling her daughter for a god. And that’s what complicates it all. She also says that former Devadasi who work as  prostitutes in the city, earn more than the villagers and insist on sending their daughters to school and educating them. They know the freedom an education gives.

Image source:southasia

People here in the West think that Indians are not sympathetic to suffering and poverty. That things like the riots and deaths in Egypt and Libya have no effect on us. I think we are sorely misunderstood. If you think about what the average Indian knows about the issues in our country and the helplessness we feel, you can understand how we can appear so cold. There is just so much injustice out there, almost all of us face it in some form or the other. To go on living, it is necessary to pretend that we don't see most of it. For us, I think, it is just a way of life.

I’m sorry but right now, I find it difficult to argue in favour of India Shining Bright and the emergence of socially conscious youth of my generation that I always rattle on about.  I feel defeated and borne down by the weight of centuries old tradition and sacrosanct beliefs that bind and torture my people. I don't know how we will manage to lift ourselves up and bolster each other to a new tomorrow while these vines entwine and choke us. I hope, for the sake of India that we we will find a way soon.

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