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Palampur Book Club – Month of Poetry

Palampur had a welcome surprise for me this time around. It welcomed with its very own official and freshly minted book club! The book club meets every third Saturday of the month at the local Coffee Day at 11:00 am. The ladies choose a book each month and their greatest triumph has been the ability to source the books they require from Flipkart, which otherwise does not deliver to our little hill town. The group is an eclectic mix of women from different professions and backgrounds. There are those who are extremely eloquent and sorted in their views and in their understanding of the tomes they read and there are those who simply read for the joy of reading a story.

August was poetry month and everyone brought poems that resonated with them at some level. The poems were a mixture of both English and Hindi. The choices ranged from poems on angst, pain, philosophy, humour, patriotism, depression and (my favourite) romance.

The best recitation for me was the poem entitled ‘Chand’, a romantic poem by Pakistani poetess Parveen Shakir, in which the poetess compares her love to the moon. I think listening to the poem from someone who was so passionate about poetry and romance and the love of life was the cherry on top of a very decadent cake. There were a few witty and surprisingly thought-provoking poems by Spike Mulligan. I liked the one entitled ‘Me’.  Then their were a couple of poems by Sylvia Plath entitled ‘Morning Song’ and ‘Mushrooms’.

Yours truly chose a poem which is not very deep or philosophical, but one that I read when I was about ten and that I never forgot, through all the bits of war poems and Robert Frost, William Wordsworth and Tennyson that followed. Its entitled ‘A white rose’ by John Boyle O’Reilley and I first came across it in a story in Reader’s Digest. A man proposed to his wife with a ring inscribed with the last few lines of the poem and I guess blew her off her feet. I have secretly hoped one day someone would do that for me since then and still do. Oh, how the romantics spoil the expectations of little impressionable young girls.

The red rose whispers of passion,

And the white rose breathes of love;

O, the red rose is a falcon,

And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rosebud

With a flush on its petal tips;

For the love that is purest and sweetest

Has a kiss of desire on the lips.

The book next month is ‘Cuckold’ by Kiran Nagarkar. The premise of the story seems highly promising; alas I won’t be here for the book discussion.

All the best to the Palampur Book Club! May they have many lovely discussions over a cup of coffee in the months and years to come.

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Flavours from the Kangra Valley – A Himachali Cookbook

After ages of waiting for a book on Himachali food, I finally found one. I would have almost missed it if my uncle, who loves to cook, hadn’t saved an article from the Tribune about this new find. The book unfortunately is not available in bookstores anywhere in India and must be ordered directly through the author/publisher. I am not sure how that business model works, since one is sure to miss out on the casual browsers in bookstores who are the ones who tend to do impulse buying. And what of all the Himachalis spread out all over the world who are not so sure about the recipes from back home and have no access to the Tribune – how does one tend to tap them? One thing is for sure, the price of the book will deter most local Himachalis to invest in it – we are a much too frugal race for that you know.

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The book is beautiful with some wonderful food photography. (Although the introductory photograph taken from the top of a valley of what I presume is the Neugal Khad manages to make a crematorium its focal point. Talk about being unfamiliar with the local customs and prejudice.)

The dishes are mostly simple ones that an average Himachali would recognize immediately and, knowing the culinary skills of a lot of my friends, would be most appreciated.  I immediately turned  to my favorite, the Mandra, and was a bit surprised by the recipe, not boiling the chickpeas – which is a first for me, but maybe I will give it a try one of these days. I think it is safe to assume that each dish will give you the basics and must be tweaked according to individual tastes and preferences. There are no non-vegetarian dishes here, which is a big drawback when you consider the love of chicken and mutton in the average Himachali heart.

A sample can be viewed here:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153515746035190&set=vb.521570189&type=2&theater&notif_t=video_processed

All in all, it is an excellent effort and is most commendable. Now to just market it properly and give all those Himchalis starved for a flavour of home a chance to try and make these wonderful recipes in their own kitchens all over the world.

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On leaving unfinished projects behind

I began this acrylic work a few days before we left for our 3-month-long vacation. It needs about two more coats to get a little bit of the effect that I want in the finished painting. For one thing, the Daler Rowney acrylic colours are so ….. vibrant ….. I suppose. Each color is just too rich. A good artist would probably know exactly what to do with that, but for someone like me who is struggling to get shades and textures right in the short time span before the paint dries on the brush or the palette seems like a waking nightmare. The effect I was going for is supposed to be much more mellow than what you see here.

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I did struggle with the depth and distance here and I had made some creditable progress in that direction. I had no time even to get one more snap before I left home to show the little bit of work I did on it after taking this one; that’s how rushed I was to pack and move.

998I miss having all my stuff around me on my holidays. That is how materialistic I am. I need my bits and pieces to surround me as I work and play and feel comfortable. That is also the reason why my husband always ends up paying extra on baggage claim every time we travel. Every single time!

999I was playing around with my trusty PicMonkey and just happened to click ‘black and white and I thought the effect is really lovely. I wish I had thought to do it in these wonderful shades of gray.

I wanted to emulate the feel of the cover art on the James Herriot box set by Pan books. Those were beautiful works.

I picked up this project from that wonderful book for beginners ‘Painting with Watercolors, Oils, Acrylics and Gouche’ by Wendy Jelbert,  Sarah Ainley, Ian Sidway and Simona Hill. I have picked up a lot of tips from this book over the past few years.

I miss my paint books and my brushes and my papers and canvases and my very amateur paintings.

The human condition of the grass and greenery.

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Fade into Red – Reshma K. Barshikar

This book was provided to me by Random House India in exchange of a fair review.

I am not a big fan of chick-lit, although I respect the fact that it is the stuff that fuels most teenage girls’ dreams and aspirations. At one point they did the same for me and I wanted nothing better than to loll around on summer afternoons with my latest pick and daydream of walking through cobbled streets and falling in love with a mysterious stranger in a panama hat. Now, I am too old and have read too many tales and can’t fall into the same trap once again. I picked up this book with a sigh, expecting to know the plot beforehand – you know, rich girl goes backpacking with friends and meets a handsome foreigner working in a vineyard who then forces her to break the cage of her Indian restrictions and live free. Boy, was I wrong!

The cover is nice, but I wish it had been more Van Goghesque since the main protagonist is given to those type of imaginings all through the book, given her art history background.

We are introduced to the heroine of the tale, Arya (lovely name by the way), an investment banker with a degree in art history, living in Mumbai, travelling all over the world for on-site inspections, with a love of expensive shoes and clothes and belonging to a middle-class south Indian family. In fact, she is just like so many women I know; intelligent, independent, loves her family and given to a weakness for the more luxurious materialistic pleasures of life. She gets engaged to her boyfriend and childhood friend in the beginning of the book and the story picks it up from there. She loves her job but she loves art history more and when given a chance to help a client buy a vineyard in Rome, she is unable to say no even at the risk of throwing the spanner into a major family get-together. I loved all the secondary characters in the book as well. Arya’s best friend Narina, which I kept reading as Narnia; her boyfriend/fiancee Karthik, a nice Indian boy – the kind you are proud to bring back home; her boss Sandeep, the boss who is your friend until the day he decides he isn’t; the client’s representative Vikram Malhotra, bossy and with that hustle of a true Indian businessman with flashes of a deeper intelligence than given credit for; her father, who is just as lovable as most dad’s are; and even the very eccentric Malama, the indolent household help. I thought the descriptions of her very broad-minded south Indian family were beautifully executed and very spot-on and again reminiscent of people and households I have known, including the cooking frenzy that takes over at family gatherings and the brightly colored silk sarees.

And the vineyards. The descriptions of the vineyards they visit, of the wine-making techniques and of the different types of wines from the different regions are in themselves worthy of classifying this book as a travelogue for aspiring world travelers. The author manages to capture the spirit of the people who have been doing this for centuries and translate it seamlessly into the web of her narrative. One should read the book just for the wonderful descriptions of the locales and the wine-making industry in Italy. It seems a bit unfair and restrictive to classify it as Chick-lit when it is so much more. A travelogue, an Indian story, a romance and women’s lit all rolled into one.

I like the author’s crisp narrative style and the lack of pretentiousness in the story. She has refused to succumb to the ‘template’ of a novel for young Indian adults, without the addition of the unnecessary ‘obligatory’ characters and has given us a story that is as whimsical as a fairy tale but is also something that can plausibly happen to a middle-class Indian girl. Arya’s character is that of a likable, serious person with a dreamer hidden inside. She is a bit too sensitive and easily overwhelmed at times, but then being a pampered child will do that to you I guess.  The author has the freshness of the early Sophie Kinsella books when she was writing as Madeline Wickham and I hope she manages to retain it in the next ventures she undertakes.

Stop : Spoiler Ahead

Ishaan is the ‘other’ man she falls for. I can’t quite make up my mind about him. He comes from a very privileged background and is given to expecting most people to toady up to him. He has just opened up a new business and is working hard to get it off the ground and is extremely passionate about it. But, apart from his physical beauty, I thought he was least interested in anyone else except for his work. I never felt his passion for wines translate into one for Arya. I sincerely hope he turns out to be a crush, a monumental one no doubt, but just a crush for Arya. I felt her deep connection to Karthik all through the book and although I understand the attraction to a handsome, troubled-looking young man, I am praying that she doesn’t end up with him and truly thank the author for giving me that loophole of hope at the end. Most people would never agree with me, and I apologize, but that’s that.

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Excerpts of a conversation between Mom and Me

We Begin!! Courtesy - The  Internet

We Begin!! Courtesy – The Internet

Me: Hullo… Ma!!

Mom: How many times have I told you not to throw things on the kitchen floor!!

Me: Ummm….

Mom: Oh not you.. I was talking to the maid. What are you up to? Is your nose blocked??

Me: Nothing much. Caught a cold.

Mom: How? What were you doing?

Me: It’s so cold here at 2000 meters above sea level Ma….. haven’t seen the sun in a week, continuous drizzle and the cloud that refuses to lift leaving us with a visibility of less than 20 meters. It was inevitable.

Mom: But, what were you doing? Why won’t you wear warm clothes or take a quilt at night?

The opening volley!! Courtesy : the Internet

The opening volley!! Courtesy : the Internet

Me: Ma the quilt is damp and not really very clean it seems.

Mom: What do you mean it’s not clean? They are all clean! I have put them in the cupboard.

Me: Ma.. remember I am not at home?!

Mom: Ohhhh yeahhhhhhh…. I don’t know why you want to do that?? Catch colds in summer, not wear proper clothes…. never listen to me….

Me: By the way Ma… Happy belated Anniversary!

Mom: Ohhhhhhhhh .. SO you remembered now! I was waiting to see when you would.

Me: Ma….

Mom: Your Dad never remembers! In all these decades… never once! Only Golf, Golf, Golf!

Warming up!!! Courtesy : the Internet

Warming up!!! Courtesy : the Internet

Me: Ma….

Mom: Even your Mosa (Uncle) was here that day… He also had no idea!

Me: Ma….

Mom: Rusty (my little cousin brother staying with mum) and Abhinav (my brother away at college) will always stay in their own worlds.

Me: Ma.. do you want to say ‘Same to you’?

Mom: You!! I expected better from you! You called me that day and spent an hour telling me all your stories, but you never remembered! I was waiting to see if you would!!

Courtesy : The Internet

Courtesy : The Internet

Me: MAAA! Do you want to say ‘SAME TO YOU’???

Mom:……….silence………….

Me: Maa???

Mom: heheheHAHAHAHEHEHEHEheheheheh(gasps) hohohohohehehe

Me: Ma…

Mom: hehehahahaha…. RUSTYYYY..(sounds of running feet toward Rusty’s room)…..hehhehehehe

Me: Yup! People who throw stones must check the strength of their glass walls!!

Mom: Nonononono!! Ask Rusty! Me and Rusty and Papa called and called you guys, but your phone was not reachable! Who told you to stay in those mountains??

Rusty: YES WE DID!!

Me: Ma… I also called you and Rusty that day. Both of you spoke to me for an hour each with all your stories and never remembered.. ok?!

Mom and Rusty: sotto voice  Mom: Why didn’t you remember?

                                               Rusty: Why would I remember?

                                               Mom: Hah! Otherwise you remember everything!

                                               Rusty: She is your daughter!

                                                Mom: She knows we didn’t call.

                                                Rusty: Don’t admit it!

Me: I can hear both of you… you know!

Mom and Rusty: …….Silence…………

Me: Well?!

Mom and Rusty: ……….snorts and giggles …….. HOHHOHHOAHAHAHAHAHAHAHEHEHEHEHEHE

Me: ……Sigh…….

P.S. Mum’s and Dad’s wedding anniversary was on the 19th of July. Mine was on the 24th of July.

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Manhattan Mango – Madhuri Iyer

This book was sent to me by Fingerprint Publishing in exchange of an honest review.

I was very appreciative and extremely honored that Fingerprint Publishing thought of sending me a copy of their book for review.

First, I thought the cover is really eye-catching and does complete justice to the story line. For example, I immediately know its a story about the friendship between boys, which is a completely different animal from that between girls, and is set in New York, the city of our dreams thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker and Karan Johar.

The book is extremely fast paced and my immediate thought was, ‘Who bought the movie rights?’ Essentially, the story revolves around three young men, for they are certainly no longer boys, who have been friends for years and now find themselves in the land of opportunity in the city that the world loves almost as much as Paris and Mumbai, although definitely for completely different reasons. It is a coming of age narrative in its simplest form. Neal is the most handsome, most extrovert and the apple of his gang’s eye, but I just wanted to give him a slap or two and tell him to grow up. He feels entitled to most things in his life, fawning females included. It is almost ludicrous to see how shocked he feels when he actually meets a few women who don’t immediately fall at his feet. It will be terrible if whoever directs the movie decides to give him maximum footage as the main hero of the book. Shanks is the quintessential South Indian guy, loves his mom, is serious about his job, wants to marry the first girl who smiles at him, and is loyal, responsible and honest to boot. And the idea of a staunch Tamil Brahmin marrying a Chinese woman is absolutely hilarious. I can almost feel the millions of South Indian readers cringe in sympathy when he falls for her in anticipation of the blood-(tear)-bath that will follow. And then comes Shri, the one with the dark secret (which is not very hard to guess) and the one who holds the group together with his down to earth attitude and yet needs some off-time for his own anxiety attacks. Then there is Shefali, the rich Gujju girl who joins the group and adds another angle of glamour to the gang. She turns out to be surprisingly intelligent and practical for a rich girl and I found myself rooting for her throughout the book.

This book definitely falls under the ‘Chick Lit’ category even though it is about men. It covers all the essential talking points for the new generation, marriage to a guy of your own community, job insecurity, peer pressure and the freedom of living in a completely uninhibited society. Although I wish at least one of them would have had an affair with an Indian; its a bit too rebellious for the entire group to reject the possibility of being with any Indian partners. It is a quick and fun read and, even if it feels a bit stilted and over-the-top at times to an oldie like me, I am sure most young people will simply love to gobble it up.

I saw the front page citation by non other than Sonam Kapoor and, to tell you the truth, I detest that spoilt brat so much that I almost did not read it. I am sure there are many who absolutely swoon over her, but I feel a recommendation by no one is any day better than one by her.

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The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons

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

The tagline of the book, ‘Do some people deserve to die?’, is one of those moral questions that never seems to have a clear answer. There are many who would say that mere mortals are not qualified enough to pass judgement on the crimes of others, however heinous they may be, whereas others stick to their philosophies of an eye for an eye. But how does one decide what is adequate punishment for someone like the butchers who killed Nirbhaya. Should they receive a quick, humane death after first living through possibly decades of appeals in rent-free accommodation with free food and lots of company? Or should they be released on a technicality which the whole country knows to be false? What about those who kidnap little children or young women and keep them as slaves for years together? Should they be thrown into a dark cell for the rest of their days with minimum rations and no outside contact and tortured on a daily basis? The decision seems impossible in the face of the myriad ways with which the human mind makes up ways to commit atrocities. The debate remains academic for most of us as long as the victim is an unknown name on the 9 o’clock news and will probably continue in this way leaving every individual to make their own choices if fate should ever choose to test them.

The plot of this book definitely had me agreeing to the question. Sometimes forgiveness just does not seem to be the correct answer.

After two very different and chilling introductions, or a prologue and an introduction, the plot opens with a man who has been brutally murdered in his office leaving the police scrambling for clues. When another murder occurs in much the same way, it is decided that there is a serial killer on the loose. The brutal and terrifying prologue of the book gives the reader enough of a clue to be almost 10 steps ahead of the police for a part of the story until they also figure catch up to what we already know . Max Wolfe has just been transferred to the homicide unit after managing to stop a terrorist on the basis of pure gut instinct. I am not sure whether that is a promotion or a reprimand as he acted on his instincts and against the orders of his superiors. Max is just too human a superhero, as is confirmed by his getting beaten black and blue by villains, also managing to get stabbed and then shot in the face on separate occasions. He is kind to his young colleagues and not very confident at times, almost seeming to be ready to fade into the background even as he goes about doing his work. He comes across as a thinker, one who would be most comfortable behind a desk and it almost feels wrong to see him in confrontational situations that seem out of his league. He has a daughter and for most of the book I thought the mother had died in some tragic incident that has left him the way he is, sort of as a switched-off person. He seems to be a good father, although he worries about not being a proper family for his daughter’s sake and sometimes for his own as well. Also, he is a bit of a chick magnet I think though he certainly does not seem to encourage that behaviour.

I found the name of the book ‘The Murder Bag’ slightly incongruous. It didn’t seem to tie in with the rest of the story and I never understood why the murder suspect had one with him. And who goes to a museum to look for clues nowadays? Any and every kind of information is available on the internet. The frequent trips to the museum were frankly a waste of time, or so it seemed to me, just to lend credence to the somewhat debatable title of the book.

However, but for that little hitch, it was a great read and I felt the author has done justice to all his characters, right down to the daughter and the dog.