Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Great Indian Epics - A Bibliophilic Journey - Part 2

A brief about this series if you are reading this part first -  The Great Indian Epics series is a multi part post on the Mahabaratha and Ramayana. More specifically, reviews on the books based on these two epics (those that I have read so far). The intention is to encourage readers to pick up a few themselves, enjoy and benefit from knowing about these two epics that are verily epitomes of our culture and to feel proud of our great and ancient history. 

You can read Part 1 here.

Mahabaratha being a personal favorite between the two, I start with that :)

Mahabaratha -  By C. Rajagopalachari

To be able to read extrapolations of sub plots and creative re-tellings, one must first know the original version. I recommend  'Mahabaratha '- By C.Rajagopalachari for this purpose. The Mahabaratha is a huge epic and the himalayan proportions of names, relations between them, and sub stories can puzzle any reader. 

In his book, Rajaji tells us the main story with the most important details along with the necessary sub plots. Very well written and an absolute page turner, this book can be the one to educate the reader about the epic in totality. I read this book when I was in class 6 and to this day, this one remains to be my favorite version. Today,as I write this post, I can still see in my mind's eye,  the scene of Arjuna shedding his disguise as Brihanalanna, twanging his Gandhiva as the chariot rolls into the battlefield and shooting arrows at the feet of Bhishma and Drona as he passes by, as a sign of respect. I can still fell the goosebumps that sprouted in my hands and the awe that filled my 11 year old self as I read it. So vivid and enthralling is Rajaji's storytelling. 

I strongly feel that especially children who are going to read the epic for the first time must read this kind of a relatively puristic version before they start thinking about how it could have otherwise been. It creates a sense of awe and respect for our country and it's culture before it is put under scrutiny and validation. It is certainly not wrong to do so, but one must know well before questioning, is it not?!

Yajnaseni - By Pratibha Ray

'Yajnaseni' is Mahabaratha retold from Draupathi's perspective.As the title suggests, Draupathi or Yajnaseni (the one who emerged from the Yagnyakunda or the portals of the sacrificial fire) is the protagonist in this retelling.

Drapathi is addressed as 'Krishnaa' in the book, a name she gets because of her dark coloured skin. As a dark skinned beauty, a voracious reader and a woman with high intellectual prowess, she stands out amongst the 'usual' royal women who are drunk with vanity and revel in their pampered lifestyle.

One of the main themes of this book is Krishnaa's love for her Lord Krishna. She is the lord's 'Sakhi' who pines for his company and her devotion for him shines forth in the book.  Pratibha Ray also highlights Draupathi's sense of helplessness over her destiny. She makes the reader thoroughly empathise with the lady whose wishes are always overruled by what is meant to be. 

Another strong emotion that is felt by the protagonist and makes a lasting impression on the reader is the futility of war. The book beautifully brings this out through Drapathi's thoughts, as she watches the massacre, its aftermath and the pointlessness of a kingdom won after so much bloodshed. This is something we will all do well to have in mind in the present day world too.

The book is very well written and is a beautiful extrapolation of the epic from the eyes of one of the most important characters of the epic.

Note - I read this book about ten years back and have highlighted whatever my memory has retained. Originally written in Odia by Prathiba Ray, the English translation by Pradip Battacharya is a delight to read. 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Great Indian Epics - A Bibliophilic Journey - Part 1

The most priced possessions of our country's ancient culture have been passed on to us in the form of our two great epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha. The stories grip readers to this day. The moral dilemmas faced by the various characters resonate with our hearts and the path that each one of them took, hold a lot of relevant lessons for humanity even today, after hundreds of years.

That apart, the characters themselves are so colourful and multifaceted. Some of them are bold and strong, some meek and quiet, a few others enigmatic. Having so many sub plots and branches, they are also full of scope for interpretations and re-inventions.

We now have quite a handful of modern authors trying their hands at re-painting these ever fresh stories with colours of their own perspectives, interpretation, imagination and of course, extensive research. While the original story itself seems to deal with majorly black and white situations and characters, the modern authors tend to paint more of a grey picture that finds greater acceptance in today's world.

Sita is not just a demure, husband abiding chaste wife but has a strong voice of her own which she makes sure is heard, when needed. Her following Rama to the forest is not just an act of wifely chastity but a stubborn refusal to part with her husband.Kunti is not wholly a goodness personified mother who follows dharma relentlessly, but also a woman who plots quite a bit to keep her sons united and victorious. The Pandava brothers do have their differences but simply choose to stay united.

Also, a lot of characters who are just mere mentions in the popular re-tellings of the epics, become protagonists in the modern versions. Their role, strength of character and lofty sacrifices occupy an entire book. Another common trait among all these books is the awe inspiring lessons to be drawn that serve as a good reminder and inspiration for our everyday lives. 

All these apart, we also come to realise how advanced we were in the fields of science, astronomy, medicine, architecture and weapon science, to name a few. As against the popular notion of India being a 'developing' country, these epics prove that we were the most developed nation then. And that too at a time when the 'developed' nations of today were still hunter gatherers.

We have sadly lost the connect with our past and have grown to believe that everything western is superior. Even more appalling is the fact that we question our own history and call them 'myths'. We need to change this public opinion and modern authors are doing a great deal towards this cause by kindling the interest of India's young readers with their books.

Being a great fan of these mighty epics and having enjoyed reading quite a few versions of the original epic and modern extrapolations, I would like to reminisce the reading experience by extending it to the written word too! What follows is a series of reviews on all the books that I have read related to the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha. I hope you enjoy reading them and in the course, pick up some of the books to read them yourself. Come, let us embark on a wonderful journey through our rich past!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A way too long hiatus and the pen beckons ..

Image Source: Internet
Even as I type this, hiding inside a room with the door locked, I can hear my child wail outside as my husband frantically tries to feed him dinner. My heart palpitates faster and I dread hearing a harried cry - ' Aarthy, chapadamatengaraaaan' (He is refusing to eat).
Sigh.. Life has come to living for myself in intervals. Steal some time to read while the little one sleeps, clean the house when he goes to school(2 hrs is too less I tell you!), savour 10 minutes of shower time like it was an exotic holiday..

It is quiet outside. I assume meal time has kicked off well. Yay! I can finish this post!

So why did I take such a long break? I could say I was busy raising my 100% dependent baby or was too harried to do anything other than sit and stare into blank space whenever I got some precious off time. But, it all boils down to lack of will. Period. Sad but true.
I have been doing other things too - besides housekeeping and child rearing. Just that writing took the back seat for a while. A long while. Anyways, am back. And as I write, I realise that writing remains to be as therapeutic as it always was!

I have loads of travel posts and book reviews to write. My kid is already two and half and the last post I wrote about him was his first step. As a new addition, I have parenting musings too. Its all getting too heavy inside my head and I fervently hope to go on an unloading spree. Oh what would I have done if not for this dear blog who patiently listens to everything that I have to say!

Did I tell you it would be a record worthy event if I managed to finish this post uninterrupted? Not to be! Child wailed, the dad wailed even more and I just came back after finishing the last phase of kid's dinner and a tantrum.
Mind Voice: Do you really think you will manage to write?
Me:Yes.I need to. I will. Let me give it a shot atleast?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Book Review : Losing My Virginity - The Autobiography - By Richard Branson

I classify this as one of my most phenomenal reads and I think it is because of the extraordinary life that this book is about. Richard Branson's autobiography has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster - runaway success, adrenaline rushing adventure, unbelievable conspiracies, poignant moments and heart warming incidents of humane kindness.

In 'Losing My Virginity', Branson recounts how he went about creating the mammoth Virgin group, brick by brick.We also get to know about the kind of person it took to build the Virgin Empire. As I read on, I was completely in awe of his hunger for challenges, the way he embraces change, moving on from one industry to another, success close at his heels. All has not been easy of course. The perseverance with which he has braved the huge inevitable challenges as he runs his businesses leaves the reader spellbound. His ability to pursue adventures alongside his demanding entrepreneurial journey is truly inspiring. The way he has put his neck on the line more than once during his epic attempts at flying hot air balloons around the world, creating records prove to be a nail biting read.

But amidst all this, it is his sense of social responsibility that really won me over. One can sense his sincerity when he writes about his empathy with the hardships of the less fortunate and with people during times of crisis like war. The projects he has undertaken to help out this section of society is a source of inspiration. His concern over the world's fast depleting natural resources  and other burning environmental issues and his commitment in the form of initiatives to find a solution to these is commendable. Branson has really used his financial resources and contacts to contribute towards making this world a better place to live in.

Overall, this book proved to be a very awe inspiring and informative read. I found it easier to read it alongside other books rather than taking it up at one go. It does take some amount of patience and perseverance to get to the end of the book considering the size and subject matter but it is totally worth the time it took. I recommend this to you if you like reading corporate/business stories. Even otherwise, you could read it just to enjoy knowing the life of such a multifaceted personality and get inspired!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Baby Diaries: That Magical First Step!

Milestones in a baby's life are special. And being present to observe them when they happen for the first time is absolutely magical! Some weeks back, the little man had just learnt to stand up without support. Then, all of a sudden, one fine day, he stood up still for a while, put one little foot forward, lost balance, stood up again and walked three steps forward. Hurray!!!!

I have always felt that those ads showing teary eyed moms proudly watching their children achieve is all exaggerated drama. But that moment when my baby took his first step, I must confess that I almost choked and had a tear in my eyes and couldn't stop raving about it when my husband came back from work :)

Giving full time baby care can make a mother feel stifled, bored and frustrated at times. Days run into weeks and months with the same schedule of bathing, changing nappies, feeding, putting to sleep and entertaining. Throw in a few exasperating challenges like sudden refusal to eat and constantly walking into danger, you get the full picture.  I confess, there are times when I have wondered why I signed up for this at all! But then, watching my baby grow up first hand and these lovely surprises that present themselves every now and then keep me going. Thank God for these small yet precious rewards that render meaning to the very tough journey that motherhood is!

PS: As usual, I wrote this post a few weeks back. Now, the little man is confidently walking all around the house. Almost through his waking hours :) And there is a constant background music of his meaningless babbles that never fails to make us smile. What's next? Need to wait and watch!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Notes from a Bygone Era - A Trip to Kolavara Heritage Homestay

Once bitten by wanderlust, the disease is incurable. The symptoms start showing if you have not indulged for a while and if you ignore those also, it just erupts - you turn a blind eye to constraints and just do it! And life after a baby has no dearth of the said constraints. Beginning from the selection of place to mode of travel and planning an itinerary that does not interfere with his sleep, planning a trip is one huge challenge. But we had stayed out of holidays for quite a while and could stand it no more. Picking up baby and baggage, we set out on a trip to Shimoga. Father in law joined us this time and granddad and baby had a blast all through! We also got some much needed time away from the little one , that too while on a holiday!

Our first destination was Jog falls. Though out of season, we planned to visit it for the sheer reason that the train we took stops there at a more earthly hour than Shimoga which meant the little boss's night's sleep would be complete. There, I told you about constraints, didn't I? Jog falls was quite pleasant when we reached the place in the morning. We took a walk around the area in the cool morning time and did boating in the hot afternoon. Evening saw us drive down to Shimoga where we planned to stay for the night. Lady luck smiled at us and we got an upgrade to a presidential suite at The Royal Orchid Hotel! We checked in and after a sumptuous dinner, sank into the super soft beds. The little man slept through the night without his usual night time adventures around the bed and we slept like logs. Bliss it was! I hadn't slept like that since my baby's birth and that was 8.5 months then!

Next day, after breakfast, we set out to go to the Kolavara Heritage Home Stay.  A two hour scenic drive along Areca nut plantations and the Thunga river took us there. As we alighted at the beautifully manicured front lawns and stepped into the house, I got the feeling of having come to my grand mom's place. With its open to sky central courtyard adorned with a pretty bonsai thulsi plant and the surrounding veranda decorated by tastefully chosen ethnic chairs and joolas, Kolavara opened its arms to welcome us to a very homely holiday.

The Scenic driveway 

The pretty central courtyard

The Thulasi bonsai

Tastefully decorated hallway around the central courtyard

We were then shown into our rooms. With a wooden low ceiling from the olden days, a cloth hanger designed like in the 80s and a bathroom with steel buckets and 'chombu', the rooms were a slice from a nostalgic past.The backyard opened out to Areca nut plantations as far as the eyes could see. Pretty sit outs decorated this quiet scenic place and the corners were dotted with beautifully crafted Bonsai plants.  The entire gardens are tended by Mrs. Kalavathi, the lady of the house. True to her name, she tends the gardens, cooks the sumptuous food served at the resort and makes wine out of many fruits that grow in the Plantations! Here are a few pictures to take around the home stay.

Sit out

A lotus pond inside the property

Well tended bonsai plants that dot the exterior walls

Post a wonderful lunch, we napped a bit and took a walk around the plantation in the evening. The setting sun and an early moon shone myriad lights and shadows among the trees and we walked on feeling one with nature. All the while, the little man was letting out bursts of baby laughs, playing with his dad and granddad.

Areca nut Plantations

An early moon

As night fell, we sat in the quadrangle talking with the Narayanamoorthy family(the people who own the heritage home and surrounding plantations.They run this home stay) The most special thing about a visit to Kolavara is that it feels like you are a guest visiting Mr. Narayanamoorthy and his family and not on a paid holiday. The husband and I sang songs at their request and then we sat chatting for quite a while before dinner.

The next morning, we went for a trek up a small hill. After a point, the thicket became dense and the path quite rough. So the little one and granddad returned to the resort while the husband and I carried on. We reached a hill top and the view was well worth the trek! We sat there for a while, taking in the stunning panorama and our quiet time away from the little one. We had forgotten to take the camera. Here are a few mobile phone shots we managed.

The hills at the far end was a breathtaking view

View of the Kolavara heritage home from the hilltop

In the evening, we went for a swim in the Thunga river. The water was quite shallow and we took turns holding the baby and plunging in the cool waters. After a refreshing bath, we returned to the resort to pack and post dinner we bid a goodbye to Kolavara and the Narayanamoorthy Family. This holiday turned out to be a very memorable one for the stay in an aesthetic heritage home, the consistently sumptuous Malanad cusine, the warm interactions with the resident family and the abundance of nature all around.

I recommend this place to all of you. There are a lot of places to see at a driving distance. We did not venture out since we had a small kid. The tariff is reasonable and the place is very well maintained. The only grouse was the lack of air conditioning. We went in the month of June and it was quite hot. Monsoon or post monsoon would be a better time to go. So if you want to revel in nature, stay in a heritage home from a bygone era, enjoy malanad cusine and do some sightseeing too, Kolavara is a good place to go to!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Book Reviews

The School of Essential Ingredients – By Erica Bauermeister

This was a one of a kind book for me. The narrative style is so different and the language, absolutely delightful. I had my misgivings about food memoirs before I tried my hands on ‘The Dirty Life’ which I found really enjoyable. ‘The school of Essential Ingredients’ clinched this genre as one of my likes! 

This book has a central theme - how food can touch the soul, change lives and transform relationships. It takes cooking to an exalted status of an art (which it sure is! These food memoirs have made me realise that.)

Now for a brief about the story. Lillian is the owner of a niche restaurant that people throng for the soulful dishes served and she also conducts a weekly cooking class. The entire book revolves around the life stories of Lillian and her students, a chapter dedicated to each of them. The narrative switches between the past, which is about the defining incidents in each one’s life so far and then seamlessly flows into the present, that is the happenings at the cooking class. Each chapter literally draws you into it and throws light on the reasons behind the present behaviour of the associated character. At the end of every chapter we find out how food and cooking transforms the individual and his/her life.

All the characters in the book are brilliantly painted. The descriptions of cooking processes, various dishes and the eating experience is soul stirring and touches the heart. I am not at all a foodie but I still found reading about food very enjoyable because of the lucidity of the language and the images it manages to conjure. The simple tools of simile and metaphor have been so poetically splashed on the pages of the book and reading them was sheer delight!

On the whole, being a conjunction of so many art forms like food, narrative style and language, reading this book was a very enjoyable experience. Thanks TGND for introducing  this genre and book to me! I in turn recommend it to you all.

The Dirty Life – By Kristin Kimball

‘The Dirty Life’ introduces the reader to life in a farm. Not life during those holidays spent in a farmhouse but to one lived as a farmer which is probably one of the toughest professions ever! 

The author narrates her real life story in this book. Kristen, initially a journalist in New York, visits a farm to write about it and ends up falling for the farmer. The book is largely about how she adapts to the hard life of a farmer – learning to wield the ropes from her husband, racing against time, doing intense physical work and living long days that begin well before dawn.

While reading, we get to appreciate all that goes in for that plate of food that we see before us every day. The author has beautifully captured her inner turmoil at every step, as she goes about making such a huge change – from a typical city life to a completely rural one.  The book is also liberally peppered with food descriptions. Though a vegetarian, I did enjoy these descriptions for what the language managed to evoke. The author’s lucid writing again scores highly in favour of the book.

Reading this book also made me question my perception about professions. We all tend to think so highly of white collared jobs that earn us quite a handful for working in swanky air conditioned spaces. ‘The Dirty Life’ taught me the importance of every single profession from being an electrician or a mechanic to animal husbandry and farming, in the ecosystem of human existence.

Farming is all about living in unison with nature. It is also about competing with nature when it threatens to destroy all the hard work with its vagaries. ‘The Dirty Life’ takes you on a rendezvous with a farmer couple as they work their way through the world of soil, seeds, animals and tastefully rich food. A recommended  read!