The Random House November Book-bag and an Anniversary


So November marks one year of writing reviews for Penguin Random House for me. I have received tons of beautiful books, lots of great stories and have been introduced to some astounding new authors. Not only have the wonderful people at Random house sent me great books, they have sent them to me at three different addresses as I travelled around the country with nary a complaint. I thank them for the opportunity and for giving me many evenings of being blissfully ensconced with a book in my favourite nooks around the house with an additional pile of books at my elbow.

PicMonkey Collage

Well, you can see my hoard for the past year and I am suitably awestruck by it myself now that I see them all together. Thank you so much Penguin Random House for making a girl’s dreams come true.

Also, I would like to thank all the readers who took the time to go through my reviews and made me feel I could do it. At times when I have felt my writing may not be doing justice to the ideas that I wish to convey, your comments and well wishes have pushed me to push myself and not give in to self-pity. I also send out a cosmic hug to all my fellow blogger friends from all over the world who are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to me.

This month I received two books from Penguin Random House, both of which I have been very eager to read for some time now.


  •  J – Howard Jacobson (of the Finkler Question fame)
  •  Personal – Lee Child.

Happy Reading!


The sweet life of Dharma and Greg runs again on Romedy Now

A young boy and a little girl come face-to-face for the first time on the subway and manage to give each other tentative smiles before they are whisked away by their respective parents. Years later they bump into each other once again in the subway and this time decide to take matters into their own hands, or at least Dharma does. When Greg, who is a district attorney, reaches his office still moping about the fact that he didn’t have the courage to stop and say ‘Hi’ to this beautiful girl he met on the subway, he finds Dharma waiting for him, comfortably ensconced on his table – his picture was in the paper that day. They go out on a date there and then and by the time the sun goes down, they are married.

This is where the story really begins. You see, Dharma is a flower child, a daughter of free-thinking parents who are still living the hippie lifestyle. The name Dharma is actually supposed to be derived from the Indian word ‘Dharam‘, a term that means one or all of the following – duty, religion, responsibility and morality. Although Dharma is loud and impulsive, she is also shown to be a kind, trusting, honest and perceptive individual. Greg on the other hand belongs to a rich, snooty and rigid political family with not a whiff of ‘free thinking’ to cloud their minds. Coming from a privileged and protected background, he is not always comfortable with situations that he does not understand and is not so open to trusting other people. However, he loves Dharma unconditionally and is willing to submit to her will on most topics. What follows this unlikely partnership is a hilarious mix of misunderstandings or complete discord between the two sets of parents and also Dharma and Greg as they struggle with the differences in their ideologies and beliefs. Dharma and Greg were the quintessential example of ‘opposites attract’, a maxim that every girl held close to her heart in those days – the days before internet had become a household luxury and we were still relatively innocent and naive. In a perfect couple, the girl was supposed to be bubbly, outgoing and a mounhphat (outspoken/a person who blurts out what he/she is thinking/ forthright), whereas the guy was supposed to be the strong, silent, slightly bewildered and completely bewitched by her type.

Rule 1 of marriage - Always knowing how to make your partner feel better

Rule 1 of marriage – Always knowing how to make your partner feel better

Dharma and Greg was the perfect romantic comedy for an Indian teenager at the time it was released in 1997. It fuelled fantasies of walking in from work one day and telling your parents you had met your soul-mate and married him in the few hours you were out of the house. Strangely, the face of this mystery man was never clear in these fantasies, but the faces of mom and dad were always crystal! It was impossible to imagine anyone like Dharma’s parents in real life, with such a carefree and trusting outlook on people and life, except on the ‘establishment’ – loosely used to represent anything related to the government. Greg’s parents were actually more Indian in their outlook, although definitely more restrained! Although, I suppose, if Greg’s mother was not prone to drinking so much she may well have had a histrionic reaction on par with that of most Indian mothers whose sons brought home a daughter-in-law of another class/caste.

Rule No. 2 in a marriage - Disagree in a loving manner to avoid undue conflict

Rule No. 2 in a marriage – Disagree in a loving manner to avoid undue conflict

After all these years, Romedy Now , a channel dedicated to bringing you a daily dose of romantic comedy, presents the reruns of Dharma and Greg once again.  How is it that nobody thought of this concept before, considering that most of us have friends, sisters, younger brothers, girlfriends, wives, husbands or daughters who are suckers for stuff like this? Every woman who was a teen in 1997 is sure to watch the series with a sigh of nostalgia, dreaming of the days when you waited to meet your soul-mate for the very first time. Greg played by Thomas Gibson was of course the perfect example of what a man should be – loving, loyal and easily manipulated. The men will probably just watch it for the beautiful Dharma played by Jenna Elfman. Dharma and Greg was the first comedy to turn an expletive, ‘shut up’, to a cute greeting among friends, which quickly became the cool catchphrase for all girls in high school. There were tense moments all around when you forgot yourself and said this to your mother at home until she realised it was the new phase, usually after administering a blistering tirade, and forgave you.

Such Noble Ideals

Such Noble Ideals

There is nothing like the old-time comedies to wish away the stress of your daily commute and work. They are a reminder of the times when things were simpler, although New York in 1997 feels pretty much like India today what with mobile phones and subways and lots of people around. Maybe they are just a reminder of when we were young and of first impressions that shaped our likes and dislikes. Or when going to school and homework were the biggest burdens on our heads. Whatever the excuse, a smile and a laugh on Romedy Now at no great cost are preferable to me rather than the disturbing and often scary new-age vampire and zombie sagas airing on most channels every evening.

So go ahead, kick up your heels and cuddle up on your sofa for an evening with Dharma and Greg at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays at Romedy Now and laugh your weekday evenings away. You can follow Romedy NOW for more information to their sitcom lineups at http://www.facebook.com/RomedyNOW or tweet them @Romedy NOW.


The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah


I have always been a sucker for sequels and when it comes to authors I love, I lose all will power and good sense. More often than not sequels have always disappointed me, but I still persevere. When the Agatha Christie estate announced that they had commissioned a new Poirot novel I was equal parts appalled and excited – because having read so many sequels to the works of so many great authors by other great authors I have realized that it is almost impossible to replicate a particular style of writing, and yet hope springs eternal in the heart of a bibliophile.

So, I got my hands on the Monogram Murders as soon as possible, which was not fast enough for me. The gold and black cover design is very chic and stylish and reflective of the cufflinks that give the book its name. The silhouette of the beloved, slightly portly Poirot on the cover is a nice touch, though I was not a fan of the body shaped outline in the shadows. The book is priced very competitively and even more so on Amazon.in, which is always a major consideration for the Indian market, and still manages to be printed on good paper and have a classy cover.

Hercule Poirot has taken lodgings just opposite from his home in order to get away from the constant flow of petitioners who keep popping up at his door. While there he makes a new friend in Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, who is the other lodger and the narrator of this story. Poirot makes a weekly outing to Pleasant’s Coffee House in the not so upmarket part of London in pursuit of the perfect brew and his dinner. On the Thursday evening that we meet Poirot, his dinner is interrupted by a distraught and frightened lady bursting into the cafe. Since she appears to be terrified of something or somebody Poirot takes it upon himself to inquire if he may be of any help.The lady confides in him, makes a very cryptic comment and after proclaiming that she is about to be murdered rushes out of the shop, leaving Poirot suitably worried. On returning to his lodging, Poirot encounters the distraught Catchpool who has just returned from an inquiry into three murders that have occurred in the Bloxham hotel. Each dead body has a monogrammed cufflink in his/her mouth. Poirot immediately concludes that the two events are somehow linked to each other and undertakes solving Catchpool’s murder mystery for him. Catchpool is more than happy to let Poirot take over as he has his own set of limitations when it comes to dead people. Their inquiries lead them to the village of Great Holling and the dark secrets that reside there and to a famous portrait painter. The Bloxham hotel plays a recurring role throughout the book and is the theater where the last act of the tragedy takes place. The employees of the hotel are presented as the sweetest, most co-operative people to have ever worked in the hospitality industry and surprisingly I found myself wishing for a hotel manager like Lazarri.

My feelings about this book are extremely mixed.

The Poirot that we have grown up falling in love with is definitely missing from the pages. Sophie Hannah’s Poirot is more English than he ever was in the original Christie novels. He speaks much better in more complete sentences than he did before and he ‘smiles to himself’ a bit too much. There are occasional mentions about his moustaches and a token one about his need for symmetry in his surroundings. After going through almost half the book, I realized that if the author had named her detective something besides Poirot I would have actually been satisfied with his character. Even though he is present in every chapter in the book, his presence never really registers over that of the plot and its main characters. But for Poirot, all the other characters are superbly etched. Catchpool, Fee, Lazzari and the rest of the cast are easy to like or loathe depending on their criminal orientations.

Edward Catchpool is the most irritating Scotland Yard detective I have ever read about. His psychological problems with dead people make me question how he has ever survived in the police department for 6 years, two of them in Scotland yard. The author keeps harping about a childhood incident that has scarred him for life and yet it did not elicit even a small drop of sympathy for him from me. He is always horrified or just about to faint whenever anything remotely shocking takes place or is even told to him secondhand as evidence. He is so skittish around witnesses and situations that it is a wonder he hasn’t managed to hurt himself in the process. Hastings was never such a morose, sickly fellow. Perhaps, someone should have suggested to Catchpool that given his revulsion towards the dead and uncomfortable situations he would be better served working as a lawyer’s clerk or a gardener.

The plot itself is not so bad. It is complicated and takes into account human nature which was a favourite theme in Agatha Christie novels. However, maybe it becomes too complex by the same measure. A number of deductions that Poirot manages seem to be no more than excellent guesswork. He leaps from one deduction to another without any discernible clues. In fact, the deduction about the blue basin in the portrait seems debatable to me. The basin links a suspect, who works as a servant, to the village of Great Holling and so must be painted over. The basin in question has been painted into the portrait of a lady who provides another suspect an alibi. It is assumed that the painting was done before the murders took place and the servant disappeared from the house. My question is why would a lady get her portrait painted in a servant’s room where the basin is kept in order to get it into her portrait? After a while, you are just as eager to get to Poirot’s dissertation in front of an audience of about a 100 hotel employees to be able to derive some sense of the puzzle in front of you. Of course, it is all neatly tied up in a bow in  the end and all questions are answered, except the one about the blue basin, and you can finally sit back and take a breather. Also missing from the narrative is the characteristic, subtle and unexpected burst of humour that was a staple of all Agatha Christie books.

Agatha Christie wrote books that seemed so superficial and simple at a glance, but the clarity and completeness of her characters and her plots were never compromised. She never seemed to dwell on explanations of the psychological hang-ups of her characters, instead stating them in a matter-of-fact way and moving on, which is not the case in this book. Dissecting deep psychosis in lead characters is a modern concept and works well most of the time, its just not very Agatha Christie-like. Also, if Sophie Hannah chooses to continue the series, I would suggest losing Edward Catchpool at the first opportunity, not because she has failed him but because she has described him so well that it is impossible to fall in love with him.

So,my verdict is, I liked the plot but felt let down by the almost insipid Poirot in the narrative. Would I read another Poirot book by Sophie Hannah? No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. Probably yes.


Private L.A. – James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

Private LA

This book was sent to me courtesy of Random House India in exchange of an honest review

This would be the third James Patterson thriller I have read in the past few month and once again, I am proud to announce, it hits all the correct spots. Its always a gamble that you might happen to pick up an author’s not-so-great effort the first time and dismiss his other works on the basis of that, as happened on my first outing with Mr. James Patterson. Thankfully, I decided to give him a second chance and am glad that I did. Although, I will still continue to shy away from the Alex Cross series and stick to his other works for the time being.

Private is the name of a detective agency with headquarters all over the world, hence the names of the books. When I read the blurb on Goodreads about the famous Hollywood family that disappears, I wondered if it would have a bit too much of the glamour quotient for me to handle. However, the author is smart enough not to harp on that aspect overmuch and move on with the story instead. There are two or three story lines running parallel to each other and at one point I was sure they will tie up together in a neat bow at the end. That did not happen and that was a twist in itself.

So, we have a disappearing Hollywood family, a group of highly organized terrorists on the loose and a twin accused of murder. The Hollywood family has just finished a long shoot in Vietnam and have taken a few days off to recoup before jumping back into work. Two days into their 6-day break the entire family disappears from the ranch. With the family lawyers and publicists being uncomfortable with police presence, Jack Morgan from Private is asked to step in. As his firm tries to unravel the mystery, they realize that all is not as it seems in the perfect world of the starlets. At the same time, a group of terrorists have decided to hold a city to ransom by shooting a few innocent people every day. Once again, the fear of publicity and loss of political face forces the management to ask for the Private’s help, who will also serve as convenient scapegoats in case of things heading south. The terrorists are highly trained and have a hidden agenda that they manage to carry out at the last minute. An old lady plays a very important and unexpected part in their reign of terror and somehow manages to outshine the entire cast of expected heroes in the book. The twin is an alarming individual for sure, especially since he turns out to be Jack Morgan’s twin and accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. He is malicious and cruel and absolutely scary. I was left wondering what anyone could do in a situation where one’s own blood is determined to hurt you in the worst possible way. Walking away is not as easy as it would seem. And as matters are not completely resolved between them in the end, I might have to go and pick up the next book in the series soon.

I liked all the characters very much and finally understood what CrossFit actually means. Just reading about one of the characters doing those grueling exercises at 6 in the morning made my joints ache at the same time as making me fantasize about beating everyone else at a program like that and running around in short shorts. That the character is a woman and manages to save her life just because she is supremely fit even though she has no killer instincts may also have played a part in fueling my imagination. The amount of things that I learn from my books never fails to amaze me and quite often those around me.

The book is one of those unputdownable one-night thriller reads, so remember to pick it up on a weekend.


Seven Wonders – Ben Mezrich


This book was sent to me courtesy of Random House India in exchange of an honest review

Seven wonders follows in the proud tradition of the slew of Dan Brownesque novels that have flooded the market in recent years. It is amazing when an author creates a work worthy of getting an entire genre named after him. In normal parlance, these novels would probably fall under the archaeological-detective-religious iconography-thriller-Indian Jones genre. Yes, calling such books the Dan Brown genre is just easier.

The cover of the book is a map of the world superimposed on gears which is a nod to the content of the book and does the job adequately. The yellows and reds are eye-catching.

The story begins when Jeremy Grady, a socially awkward MIT genius, finds that the Ancient seven wonders of the world and the Modern wonders are enantiomers of each other and present themselves mathematically in the form of a double helix. Even as he is musing on this discovery, he is brutally murdered. Enter his twin brother, Jack Grady, who is a field anthropologist and an Indiana Jones-like explorer, to try and figure out the reasons for his brother’s death. He is usually joined by two of his graduate students on his jaunts around the world to ‘raid’ ancient sites in pursuit of a degree. When he is informed of his brother’s death, Jack takes it upon himself to find out the reason for this by the simple process of stealing evidence from the crime scene. That he does not ask to look at security footage but simply rushes out to solve a thrilling puzzle that will in no way get him to his brother’s murderer but surely ensure his tenure is something I worked out halfway through the book. In Rome, Sloane Costa, a botanist, evades guards and manages to get inside the Colosseum’s restricted area to discover an ancient vine that conceals a mural of Amazonian women and an artifact. This leads her on the trail of Jack Grady, the leading light on Amazonian culture and instead of just making a call she follows him half way around the world. Not just that, she then joins him and his graduate students in a mad dash all over the globe to desecrate the most important heritage sites of the world as their resident botanist. Her presence with them never really makes complete sense. That they are never caught or even spotted by any officials as they destroy protected property is only logical. That they manage to evade trained assassins time and again is also a matter of course. The only jarring note is that it seems their trip around the world is funded by their universities, which is just unbelievable. Can you imagine universities who as a rule weep when doling out money for a single light bulb actually funding an illegal treasure hunt? Anyway, as the chase moves from country to country like a global treasure hunt, none of them are really aware of what it is that they are chasing – and unfortunately neither are we. The villain is a powerful woman descended from a line of Amazons, or so we are given to believe, who instead of simply following orders from a faceless organization that seems to send secret messages to all its followers, goes rogue and decides to use her money to find everything even remotely related to the Amazons. I don’t really blame her. After all, I was just as eager to figure out what the organization was trying to protect. Why the Amazons have to remain a secret is beyond my ken. And when the clues lead to the most improbable place of all and the even more improbable discovery there, that is the point when you realize that none of your answers are ever going to be answered.

The book meanders aimlessly through grandiose locations and fantastic premises and yet is never able to create a truly ‘aha’ moment. The most disturbing aspect of the book was the impunity with which the characters set out to destroy ancient artifacts in order to fulfill their ambitions. When professors who study history are so ready to destroy it, can we really ever blame the poor adolescent boys who carve lovelorn messages on monuments. It becomes tedious and boring very soon. The worst bit is not knowing what the characters are really chasing. How will solving an ancient puzzle find the murderer, unless you knew that he/she will be present at the end of the trail as the trophy. There is some extremely good guesswork happening all through the book and at times it is also hilarious – like in the end when all the bronze pieces come together to form a sort-of centipede which when placed at the foot of a sphinx slithers into a hole like a live snake. The idea that the Amazons knew about the double helical structure of our DNA and decided to go to the trouble of painting murals and hiding brass clockwork tablets all over the world to hide the first perfect DNA falls spectacularly flat. Why hide it being the foremost question leaping to the mind? No explanations forthcoming by the way.

In the bit about the visit to the Taj Mahal – even allowing for the artistic license given to all artists – after reading his description of India and Indians I was seriously worried whether I should believe anything else he wrote about the other places that his characters visited. Oh, I agree that Delhi is crowded, really hot, has dirty streets and lots of beggars but is that all that you can see. For one thing, he talks of men in ‘traditional Indian garb (of) flowing white, brown and gray shirts and pants tied at the waist’. I am at a loss to figure out what this ‘traditional garb’ is or where he found men dressed in it. Thankfully, he doesn’t call us snake-charmers – instead, he adds the twist of a rabid, 18-inch-long pet rat on a leash as compensation. We have been inured to Westerners referring to our beloved Lord Ganesh as the ‘Elephant God’ – he isn’t the God of elephants or an Elephant who is a God – but to refer to him as a ‘her’ just shows incredibly poor research. In this age of internet and information explosion to get such a basic thing wrong is just unacceptable and disrespectful. Especially when you are trying to mimic a writing style which was based on mingling fact, fiction and research. The author keeps referring to the loot of idols and jade Buddhas from ‘tombs’ in India, which is an alien concept since we did not build tombs or keep idols in them as far as I know.

So, in case you didn’t figure it out as yet, I didn’t like the book. I agree that it is a creditable effort but for the genre that it aspires to, it misses hitting a lot of spots.

I am truly sorry if the review seems too waspish, but it just seems to be flowing that way today.


The Children Act – Ian McEwan

 This book was sent to me by the wonderful people at Random House India in exchange of an honest review

The minimalist and yet, wonderfully eloquent cover of ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan does complete justice to the story that follows. The image of a young boy jumping over a puddle on a very subtle blue cover gives the impression of a bird in flight viewed from afar. You can do little but admire his carefree grace and pray for his happiness in his innocence to last him a lifetime.

‘The Children Act’ opens with a husband asking his wife the dumbest question a man can probably ask a woman – namely, ‘mind if I have an affair with a younger, firmer woman to spice up my sex life?’ It would be hilarious, if it weren’t so sad. In creating Fiona’s husband, the author very subtly mocks the compulsive need of academics and intellectuals to ‘talk about’ and ‘discuss’ every thing in a ‘logical’ and ‘reasonable’ manner. As he sips his scotch and sits cross-legged in front of his naturally affronted wife, you can almost feel the waves of male academic superiority leaping off the pages of the book to smack you on the face. He discusses his ‘need’ for enlivening his sex life with such a well-meant air and appears so tragically martyred when he doesn’t receive the answer he expects that I almost burst out in an involuntary giggle. Only then, I turned around to look at the intelligent, over-achieving wife who is stuck to her chair in anger, horror, shame and guilt for driving him to say such things to her. And I realised what the real motive of the author in writing this essentially essay-like short story really was. It is a satire on our so-called intellectually progressed and spiritually elevated human beings who are actually as much the victims of the social norms that bind and rule us poorer souls. So, the wife is worried about pity from her colleagues and her friends more than how her husband’s callous decision/ lack thereof affects her. She seems to be the one in the relationship who loves deeper and so is naturally more hurt and more vulnerable. When she refuses the husband’s ‘request’, he leaves anyway. As predictable and understandable her decisions are up to this point, those that she takes succeeding this event  - regarding her marriage – are disappointing and, yet, just as easy to fathom. It is a testament to the fact that the most intellectual beings in the history of human civilization have been brought down by such an un-measurable entity as human emotion. It obviously takes much more than intellectual awareness to rise above petty human emotions in the majority of mankind. And, as cliched as it sounds, it the surfeit of money or the complete lack thereof.

This was actually the backdrop to the actual storyline. Fiona, the betrayed wife, is a High Court judge in Family court. Every day she takes decisions with regard to the lives of families torn apart by bitterness, hate or simply apathy. ‘Being fair’ is her major concern and she carried out her duties to that affect admirably. Until, that is, the day she comes across a case where despite taking a judicially accurate decision, she finds herself bothered by questions of life, religion and mortality – also leading to the eventual sex deprivation suffered by her husband. Ruminations on the relevance of religion on life and death choices in young adults or children occur throughout the narrative. The various cases mentioned in the novel deal with religion pushing individuals to choose between a death that supports the tenets of their beliefs and the joys that life will provide if they do not. It was immediately reminiscent of the case of the Hindu woman in a Catholic country who died because the doctors not only refused to perform a life-saving abortion of a dead fetus but also chose not to advise the family to fly across the pond where the operation could have been carried out. As much as I was impressed by the story, I was just as bowled over by the judiciary of a country that takes life altering judgement in 2 days and a social conscience of doctors that will do anything to save a life! When, if ever, will we see something like this in India?

Fiona’s judgement to save the life of a young man against not only his family’s beliefs but also those of the young man himself sets into motion a chain of events that end in tragedy and loss. Fiona’s guilt and inability to understand the essential innocence of a sheltered young man lead her into making choices which do not turn out to be correct on hindsight. But, it is again absolutely churlish to blame her – she is simply following the norms laid down by society and is, sadly, not unconventional enough to stick her neck out just like a majority of her accusers. How far beyond the limits of duty and short-lived empathy would you move to help an individual, especially if you have taken an embarrassing misstep midway?

The Children Act forces you to think back on all the little, tear-streaked faces you walked by in your hurry to work and ask yourself if you could do something to make a life better. And yet, it also asserts without punching you in the face with it the decree that this well-meant thought will again simply pass through an evening of academic discussion and brainstorming and into a forgotten anecdote the next day. The Children Act must be read as an essay on the very human condition of our world and of mistakes that may never be corrected by virtue of that condition.


Being Short in a Tall World

I am short! Most of my family and members of my state are too. We come with our very own unique set of problems.

The first problem that all parents repeat ad lib to their short daughters is that of getting them married. That one is easy. We just develop awesome personalities, which makes tall men fall for us like tent pegs and, since love is blind, it works out pretty well for us (I caught me a 6-footer).

This C/N-neck is by choice! Not everyone is that brave!

This C/N-neck is by choice! Not everyone is that brave!

Buying clothes is always a heartbreaking challenge. Especially, dresses and tops that are V-necks for average-sized individuals, which become C(leavage)-necks or even N(avel)-necks for us. One can chop off a long dress from the bottom, but what can you do with the necks. So we resolutely fit our beautiful, brand-new dresses with bands of cloth to cover up, destroying the beautiful lines of the dress in the process, or just leave it in the shop with a few tears (from our eyes – I told you we develop great personalities and are not mean). Over time we learn and adapt, going for elegant boat necks and backless dresses.

Yes, some people have to bend their knees to look out their doors

When the doorbell rings, I can’t check to see who is on the other side because the peephole is too high for me. In a city where robbers are known to ring the bell during the morning and afternoon hours to do their tough jobs, this is a severe handicap. Yes, you didn’t think being short could actually be a life-threatening condition, did you?

Why restrict yourself to the bar when you can spread spindly, tall chairs all over!

Why restrict yourself to the bar when you can spread spindly, tall chairs all over!

Bar stools are a potential death trap. One is invariably dressed in tight-fitting, or, if you have good legs, extremely short, uncomfortable clothes and exorbitantly high heels – another concession to short stature – to visit the pub. To add to this when one has to maneuver one’s, not always, ungainly buttock onto a chair that is almost three-fourth of one’s height in a graceful manner, fun rapidly begins to fizzle out of the evening. If the heel slips on the thin, absolutely inadequate footrest on the stool or you miss the seat of the chair on the first hop up or if, due to your bad grasp of physics, you distribute your weight unevenly, you and – God forbid – your shape-wear drawers are liable to become the entertainment of the evening for a lot of people. This aspect usually leads to us being the designated drivers, since when you hop up you also have to hop down and you need all your faculties around for carrying out this delicate operation.

Public transport in India is a widely distributed and over-zealously used commodity. When I travelled in buses in Himachal, I didn’t really figure out this bit of problem since most of us average around the same height and the buses are built around those specifications. Plus, the buses are usually so jam-packed that one really doesn’t need to be holding onto anything. Also, the winding roads mean that drivers go at a steady speed and you are braced like a sailor on a ship for the gentle to and fro swaying motion of the bus. Then I moved to South India. The average height for women here is 6-7 inches more than that in my state. Therefore, the overhead bars for the unfortunate ones who are unable to snag a seat in a bus are about 6 and a 1/2-feet off the floor. The few times I travelled home from work in a bus, I found that I could just about reach the overhead bar with my fingertips. It was a horribly precarious position, considering the tendency of the drivers to speed up between traffic lights in an effort to catch the next green one, invariably lose that battle and then screech to a halt sending you headlong into the passenger standing in front of you. As I was jostled to and fro, I also found to my eternal regret that my height brought my face at the exact level of the armpits of my fellow travellers. Summer, sudden halts and the law of physics which states that a body in motion stays in motion led to the most embarrassing and sadly depressing bus rides of my life. The only solution to this was to give up cheap bus rides as a mode of transport forever.

The sad, colourless sailor

The sad, colourless sailor

I have lived with my short height for long enough to get used to all of that, but imagine my frustration when I decided to paint a vertical full-page watercolor. Since I am an amateur painter and don’t paint on an easel, it became almost impossible for me to even finish the preliminary sketch work. I tried standing the work-board against a wall, tried keeping it at an angle with all the pillows in my drawing room, sat up on my knees and even tried to sketch upside down. I finished the sketch a week ago but, unlike pencil, watercolor cannot be erased so easily, and I shudder to think how I will manage to paint this ambitious project without letting the colors drip down or smearing them with my clumsy hands and elbows. Worse, I might also fall on it, as I did repeatedly while sketching it, lending a human-sized stain to my boatman and his gondola!

Well, life sure teaches you new things every other day.