Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland

Booker short-listed 'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri is another one of her Kolkata-USA transitional novels, the kind she specialises in. Two brothers born in pre-Independence Kolkata, through the troubled naxal revolution times. Then one brother (Udayan) becomes a Naxalite, and the older brother (Shubhash) moves to study in USA and hence, their heretofore joined-at-the-hips lives develop in completely different ways. 
Obviously, tragedy strikes when the younger brother is killed and then starts the journey of Subhash with his brothers pregnant wife, who he marries to save her from an uncertain future. 
But it does not stop here. Bela is born and raised, and then she has a child and it goes on and on. And on.
Which brings me to my problem with Jhumpa Lahiri novels. They dont seem to end. Her short stories are works of genius. Pithy, hard hitting, and perfectly simple, they are a joy to read. But her novels tend to meander along heavy slow routes, leaving their original course, getting into unrelated territory, never seeming to end. So goes this story. Bela's mother is an intelligent woman but cannot love her daughter. It is never clear exactly why- because she loved Udayan too much? Or because of what Udayan did before he died? Why did she leave? Bela turns into a hippie of sorts, has a child out of wedlock, but comes 'back on track' and gets a boyfriend in the end. While Shubhash's life goes on, with and without his parents, with and without his wife, with and without his daughter (not really, his brothers daughter), with and without his friends and colleagues.
Now to what the novel started with, the Naxal revolution in Bengal and Kolkata, the first part of the novel, the part which actually is interesting, heart wrenching and close to home. I have been brought up in Tollygunj, where in my growing up years, the Naxal revolution was still clearly remembered, deeply felt. There were still parents left who had lost their children. Trees under which someone was murdered by the police, fields where someones son or brother had been asked to flee, escape and then gunned down mercilessly. Just like Udayan. Ive met people who have seen such things. I lived by the Tolly Club, and we, as kids used to enter the club through a hole in the wall, and play inside. My mother had done the same when she was a child... and she and her rowdy group had been caught by a guard and given a couple of hidings. I basically lived in the Lowlands. The Technicians studio is close to my house, and the mosque, the lanes, are just as Lahiri describes them. It was so close to home that I was a bit angry to read her, it was as if she had entered MY territory, "I" am the one who is supposed to describe it, "I" live there. I have studied in Presidency, my closest friends were in Jadavpur University, College Street where Udayan and

Gauri's love blossoms, was second home for 3 years.
"I" know the people, the stories... and yet, she is a Booker nominee for having told my story! 
But I wish she would stay with the Naxalites, not go into so much detail about Shubhash's life, Bela's life, 4 generations... why? How does Udayan's death affect the fourth generation? I didnt get that. It affected Bela's childhood, and that's it.
So much possibility... its a piity.
My verdict... or my bet, however you put it- the Booker for Lahiri? Not this time.

Also see: http://kolkatacitydiaries.blogspot.in/2013/10/my-kolkata-in-jhumpa-lahiris-lowland.html

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Salvation of a Saint

From the wonderful 'The Devotion of Suspect X' to the intriguing but bland-ending 'Naoko', the fall was quite wide. 
However, I was excited about the second English translation of this Detective Galileo series, as it is called. Keigo Higashino is Japanese and allowing for some loss in translation, this is still my favourite detective series currently. 
Salvation of a Saint has an amazingly tricky plot, and with new additions to the main plot in between, one is left guessing till the very end. 
What I loved about this book is, the murderer is announced at the very beginning, yet the reader is second guessing throughout, not just about the murderer, but the motive and the method. Ultimately the detective work is about the method, but the motive itself is in question till the end. 
When you get to the point where you can guess things, it becomes so exciting, so intriguing, that the pace of the book itself seems too slow. Your brain will work much faster than the climax of the book, and that is the only thing that can be complained about. 
For any detective fiction lover, I suggest this book as a not-to-miss.

Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

I just loved the irreverent humour and the innovative style of Moth Smoke, similarly the experimental style of Reluctant Fundamentalist interested me, and I loved the story line. So I HAD to read his third novel. This is also an unique tone, addressing the protagonist as "you", the narrator being the writer explaining to the protagonist who is the reader of the 'self help' book, how to get rich.
I was left skipping pages and often felt bored of the narrators tone. The parts where the story emerges are interesting, but it is not much of a story after all. And in the end, one dies inevitably, so whats the point of being filthy rich. Wait... was that the point? Who knows!?

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

I'm a sucker for murder mysteries. I used to be called Miss Marple in school, and not just for attempting to solve mysteries like 'who stole the pencil'. I've read too many to not have guessed the murderer in this one. Its almost Christie-esque in its solution and that fills me with glee. For I love being proved right about a murderer!
When no one knew Robert Galbraith as J K Rowling, someone commented about the description of clothes and fashion in this book to be feminine. I find this rather amusing, this point about if you realise if a man has written a book or a woman. Its a moot point. Only rarely does it not show... yes this book is very much written by a woman. And not just any woman, one who surely, is one of the most brilliant minds of this age.
The story starts with the introduction of a new (Yummy) detective, Cormoran Strike (Cant wait for the next Strike mystery now), the war veteran with a checkered past, just broken off from his supermodel girlfriend. (The only 'male' point of view here is that Strike gets to date only supermodels!!). Then comes Robin, the trusted sidekick, as every detective worth his salt should have. (Robin is also hot.) The victim is also a supermodel who apparently committed suicide and Strike is hired by her brother to prove that it was a murder. Anything else I say may turn out to be a spoiler so I desist.
My only complaint about this book is, it should have been limited to maybe, 300 pages. Agatha Christie is still eminently readable, again and again, simply because they are that pithy, thin spined and easy to finish in one day, flat! The Robert Galbraith in JK Rowling should plan to write 20 more Strike mysteries and make them short enough to finish, with complete satisfaction, on a flight!

Book Review: Bring up the Bodies

The second of the proposed trilogy by Hilary Mantel is much more lucid to read. And took a lot less time to finish! 
Cromwell has made Anne queen and Henry has already started the break with the pope. Here Cromwell is at the peak of his power, in the king cannot do without him, and he is building strong enemies. 
Bring Up the Bodies starts with Anne at the helm of her own powers, as a queen who might still give England an heir. If only she could, history would have been different. But either the king's accident (he fell from a horse and was unconscious for a long time) or his relationship with Jane Seymour, already in the reckoning, caused the miscarriage of a 3 month old pregnancy, supposedly of a male fetus.
 The king is already enamoured of Jane Seymour, a polar opposite of Anne Boleyn, quiet, calm, meek, where Anne was quarrelsome and bold. After this miscarriage the king, with the help of Cromwell plots the downfall of Anne, with a web of stories, lies, deceits, until Anne is finally executed for adultery and high treason. 
The language takes one back to the era and it is as if one can see it happening in front of ones eyes. There is a sense of vindication, as Cromwell avenge the death and degradation of his one time master, cardinal Thomas Wolsey. 
Tight woven, descriptive and clever, this book deserves the booker as much as Wolf Hall did.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wolf Hall- Hilary Mantel

Maybe I have read Indian writing in English a tad too long. Yes, I heard my sister say that it is a tough book to read, but I thought, how tough could it be. And then I spent one month ploughing through of this vast tome of historical fiction. And the one reason I didn't keep it away is that, I couldn't- the story is itself riveting. The language of the book has often been critiqued as too dense and confusing. But I feel, given the period that has been portrayed, the archaic language brings out the historical validity of the novel. While the story starts with Cromwell's childhood, probably less material makes Mantel move quickly to adulthood. However, I wish there was more on that time of Cromwell's life. Its a pity.
First, the title. Wolf Hall is where Jane Seymour was born, the third queen, after Anne Boleyn... and the house itself does not feature in the novel, nor does Jane in any significant role- yet. I am guessing she will have a bigger role to play in 'Bring Up the Bodies', the second part of the proposed trilogy. However, we all know the history, and Anne's ambition to be queen, as held against the impending disaster she will face makes the title itself like a death knell for her. 

But this is neither the story of Wolf Hall or Jane or Anne Boleyn or even Henry VIII. This is the story of the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner, blacksmiths son, into the highest echelons of the English court, a favourite of Henry and a trusted aide of Anne herself, who he later brought down cruelly. Cromwell have been written in countless novels and studies in countless shades, cruel, sharp, ambitious, cut throat... and here, we see yet another side to him, not normally seen. The family man. The husband and father and uncle and good Samaritan. Who not only rises fast in court and becomes a king's favourite for his charm and diplomacy, his skill as lawyer and law maker, his acumen with numbers, but also one who thought rationally in an irrational fanatic world. On the one hand he reveres Thomas More, for his capabilities and power of mind, on the other, his hatred for More's methods (where he tried and executed countless intellectuals for heresy) are evident in the novel, towards the end, when it is Cromwell who tries More and brings about his execution.
I have always loved historical fiction, and this satisfies every requirement on my list. The characters are varied and numerous, and only a very skilled storyteller like Mantel, will be able to bring every character to light and draw them into the plot. I never liked Cromwell much, especially since his loyalties were always suspect... he helped Henry divorce Katherine and gained Anne's trust, and then brought the downfall of Anne without much of a qualm. This book brings out where Cromwell's loyalties may have laid- in his King and his Country. 
Lastly, the oft repeated point of a woman writing from a man's point of view... this is truly an example of such a book where the gender of the writer is not evident in the writing. It is strong writing, it is a male point of view, Cromwell's point of view. And you will never once think of the sex of the writer WHILE you are reading... the prose is just too perfect, too tightly bound and you,as a writer will think, I will never be able to write like this, construct like this. Read this one for the history, for the story, for the language, for the characters, and my favourite in any court drama- the sexual politics. I already have Bring Up the Bodies in my hand, and cant wait to launch right into it

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fathers Day Gifting: home made gift ideas for different ages

 Fathers Day is on Sunday, 16th June. Some super ideas to make gifts at home for our super dads.

1.    A collage card (From toddler to teenage)
What you will need:
·         Card Paper or A-4 size sheets
·         Sketch pens
·         Craft paper in different colours/ or you can colour them yourself
·         Glue
·         Scissors
How to:
·         Decide on a pattern to make: you can choose flowers, boats, kites, fishes, hearts or anything that dad loves.
·         Take the craft paper and cut out small shapes of decided pattern. You can cut white paper and have your little one paint them in different colours.
·         Fold any A-4 size sheet into two to make a card shape or take your card paper
·         Stick the patterns on the paper
·         Write inside

2.    Hand painted Coffee Mug/ Soup Bowl: (From toddler to teenage)
What you will need:
·         Solid colour coffee mug/ soup bowl. You can even use plates or glasses for this if you want.
·         Permanent Marker/ fabric paint
How to:
·         Decide on a pattern (Polka dots, hearts, the message “DAD” or “Worlds Best Dad”)
·         Take your mug (or any other utensil) and paint with the permanent marker. (Your toddler can just write “dad” or scribble anything on the mug. This is a fathers day gift, not a fine china set!)
·         Add the year and write “Happy Fathers Day” in small letters.
Image from http://meowchie.snydle.com/fathers-day-gift-ideas.html/fathers-day-gift-ideas-10

3.    A hand printed book (8-12 years and teenage)
What you will need:
·         A few A-4 size sheets in white or different colours.
·         Scissors.
·         Colourful pens or sketch pens.
·         Photographs you can cut out and use
·         Tape
How to:
·         Design the cover of your book and create a title “The book of Dad” or “Dad the Greatest” or “My Dad and I”
·         Second page will contain name of the creator “Made by …”
·         Rest is mostly up to you. Here are some ideas. You can start with “My favourite things to do with Dad”, then go on to favourite books, places to visit, things you want to do together etc. Older children could make it Dad’s life story with pictures, like an album.
Staple pages together and tape over staples at the edge.

4.    A pen holder for Dad’s office desk (From toddler to teenage)
What you will need:
·         An old plastic cup/ glass
·         Fabric paint
·         Craft paper
·         Old photographs you can cut out
·         Strong glue
·         Sketch pens
How to:
·         Get any old plastic cup, ceramic mug etc. Use fabric paint to paint it an even black all over.
·         Cut craft paper half the size of your cup and wrap all around at the center. Glue to stick. You can use more than one photo.
·         Take an old photograph you like and cut it in shape. It should fit into the craft paper strip.
·         Stick with strong glue till firmly in place.
Image: Supermoms 360

5.     Palm print poster (From toddler to teenage)
What you will need:
·         Poster colours
·         Desired size of chart paper
·         Paper plates (to pour colours)
·         Sketch pens
How to
·         Pour out the desired colours into paper plates. You can use any number of colours.
·         Take your chart paper and cut into any size you wish
·         Dip your hand on the plate so that your palm is evenly coated with colour. Press on to the paper till the colour is evenly transferred.
·         Make designs, or use as is, with a message.
·         You can make trees, heart shapes, birds etc with your palms.

6.    World’s best Dad medal (From toddler to 8 years)
What you will need:
·         Card board
·         Scissors
·         Sketch pens/ permanent markers
·         Ribbon
How to:
·         Cut the cardboard into any small medal shape. You can make a circle, hexagon, square, star or any other shape.
·         You can thicken the medal by sticking two pieces together.
·         Draw border with dark sketch pen
·         Write “Worlds Best Dad” or “No 1 Dad”
·         Punch a hole on top and string in the ribbon.
Image: macaroni Crafts

7.    DAD photo frame (From toddler to 10 years)
What you will need:
·         Cardboard
·         Scissors
·         Blade
·         Old photo you can cut
·         Sketch pens
How to:
·         Trace out the word DAD on a cardboard
·         Cut two pieces of the same shape.
·         Leave one as it is. On the other, trace out the central portion of the D, A and D.
·         Cut them out with a blade.
·         Paint in bright colours or make patterns.
·         Stick your and dad’s photos
·         Take a bit of cardboard and stick at the back to make a stand
Image: http://www.marthastewart.com/274629/fathers-day-crafts-for-kids/@center/307033/spring-holidays

8.    Love you Dad heart shaped car ornament (From toddler to 8 years)
What you will need:
·         Card board
·         Ribbon
·         Paint
·         Sparkles/ glitter
·         Scissors
How to:
·         Draw the shape of a heart on the cardboard
·         Cut out two pieces of the same shape and size and stick together
·         Colour in bright red and scatter glitter or sparkles
·         Punch a hole on top with a paper punch or needle and string in the ribbon.
Image: Zazzle.com

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Top 10 places I will miss in Chennai

As I leave namma Chennai here are the list of top 10 things I will miss sorely in any other city. I am sure Mumbai will have a lot to offer, much more than here, and some say you are moving from a village to a city... but I have come to love Chennai and especially these...

I will miss the clothes shopping in the cheap shops by Elliots, I will miss chili cheese fries at Funk Jazzs, the doughnuts at Donut House, the stakes at Mash, and ice cream at Ibaco (erstwhile Arun Ice cream). The whole beach face is serene and lined with restaurants and clothes shops. Costa Coffee is also opening its doors, there's KFC, there's Subway, there's Thalapakatti, there's Murugan (which deserves separate mention) and the ubiquitous Cozy's.
1. The Elliots Beach: Two minutes from the house, this beach has been my savior, my friend, my go to place for all things relaxing for the past 4 years. So many evenings my daughter has enjoyed the rides on the beach, some of the cheapest thrills you will get in the world. For the past 3 years, every evening, for one hour I have walked to lose some weight, right here.  My favourite place in the whole world!
2.  Murugan Idli shop:
This is my breakfast heaven. I love hot piping idli and no other restaurant gets it just right like Murugan does.
Oh, how I will miss the soft as clouds fluffy as air white as love dumplings, with their coconut chutney! And their sweet pongal... warm gooey mass of temptation on a plate.
Chennai may argue which is its best idli-dosa joint, but my vote is always and forever yours.

3. Amethyst Cafe: 
Lovely garden setting, lots of greenery, perfect for the kids to play while you enjoy their coffee and food. 
Strawberry white chocolate cake, in fact if you have a sweet tooth, try all their pastries. Their breakfast platter is really good, so are their pastas and pizzas.
Women beware, their jewelery collection upstairs is addictive, to say the least. You can spend a whole morning here, just lounging, reading magazines and shopping for trinkets to your hearts content. And parking is easy, important in Chennai!

4. Tryst Cafe, beside Gatsby on ECR

The best pastries ever. Love their quiches too. And the ambiance is lovely for a nice chat with friends or family or even a business meeting over coffee.
5. Bella Ciao
You can sit inside or out, in the garden... make sure to carry mosquito repellent for the kids if you do.
Great pizzas, and you get Breezer here!!! Lovely dessert too.
6. Tuscana:
Italian at its best. Their attached cafe is a must visit... have the  profiteroles there.
My choice, the mutton pizza with their strawberry mint drink and this... their heavenly berry panacotta.
7. Chennai Children's Park: No its not the best park in the country, but its got an amazing bird cage. But what I will miss about this place is the deer which roam free.

7a. Crocodile Bank near Mahabalipuram: The best place to view hundreds of crocs of all shapes and sizes. If you are lucky you can catch the giant croc JAWS.
JAWS the giant croc which is rarely seen.

OK now the places Ive been near Chennai which I wont get anywhere else. Goa or no Goa, these places have their own charm.

8. Mahabalipuram
The rock carvings all around this tiny town is breath taking. Visit all the temples and do some rock climbing to visit the caves. Its worth it. Definitely go after 4 pm in summer months or early morning. Closes at 5.30 so dont be late. The summer heat can  be killing, to say the least, so go prepared with sunscreen, umbrellas, hats and lots of cool water.
Must visit for sea food lovers, they serve drinks including Breezers.  Their prawns are quite lovely!
Got some money to burn, stay at the GRT or Radisson. Great resorts.

9. Pondicherry: Been there so many times but I will still miss going there. Auroville is worth
visiting, for its ambiance, the matri mandir, the cafe, and the general feeling of bonhomie with the citizens of the world. This is a separate country btw. Stay at any of the modern resorts and make use of their swimming pools, or lounge in the heritage hotels. In the cooler months of October- February you can go church and temple hopping. In summer, go out in the evenings, the afternoons will kill you. We visited and enjoyed Coffee.com, La Terasse, Madam Shante's, Rendezvous, Le Club and Le Cafe. But if you are expecting a Goa ambiance you will be disappointed. The food is good, just enjoy the sea food and the drinks.

10. Kanchipuram: For its grand temples, and sarees. Plenty of saree shops, we went to Prakash. No great place to eat, try the GRT for passable lunch. It is good for a day trip.
The temples range from breathtaking grand, to awe inspiring old. If you are an archaeologist or historian at heart, you will love this temple town.