Saturday, 28 June 2014

Book Review : An Affair to Remember - By Harkeerat Anand

 In an effort to try and be a person who should be able to see the good in everything, let me start with the positives. 'An Affair to Remember' is quite a well written book and the author has certainly proven her ability to write in a lucid manner.Secondly, the ending was quite unexpected as all the reviews claimed. But after the doles of negativity that the author feeds the reader with through the book, I was quite exhausted when I reached this 'fabulous, unexpected' ending and was in no mood to appreciate it.

Cynicism and disrespect to the reader rule, throughout the book. The author has taken great pains right from her dedication and prologue to tell the reader how insignificant and unimportant he/she is to her and how 'she doesn't care' . Thank you, Harkeerat Anand, for saying those kind words to me after I took the effort to buy your book and worse, spent my time reading it because I bought it anyway. This is something probably no author has ever done to her readers. The prologue goes on to drone about how bad things have happened to her many times and by the time I finished it, there was a very bitter taste in my mouth and I regretted buying the book of an author who herself claims that I am beyond help because I had chosen to buy her book!

Coming to the story, it is about a young man who is stuck in the corporate ruckus of long hours of pressurizing work, peanuts for salary and bosses taking all the credit.How he gets back at the system is what the book is all about. But amidst the mangled mess of scenes that keep shifting back and forth between the confused happenings of the real world and the protagonist's even more confused mind,  the main plot is hardly visible. Am I an unintelligent reader? Maybe, and the author has anyway repeatedly told me that throughout the book. Numerous detailed descriptions of various chemical reactions that can cause explosions (which, by the way, you and I being commoners unlike the author, would never know about - yes, she says that) do not add to the already failing 'charm' if any. Add to all this, continuous negative opinions about the city of Bombay, the protagonist's frustration over his pointless existence, repeated references to urinals and male private parts and viola!! You get 155 pages of negative energy for only Rs 67 if you buy from Flipkart. Oh yes, that can be quoted as a positive - the book size and the price. Though I now wish I had spent that money on a bar of chocolate or ice cream. I would have at least enjoyed them.

I feel sad to write such a negative review on someone's effort to write a book and have it published too. I may have forgiven all the cynicism and negativity the author has passed on through the book if she had not repeatedly belittled and disrespected her readers. Where is the need for this in a book? Is that what I get for taking the effort to encourage her debut novel? However, both Good Reads and Flipkart are filled with positive reviews hailing the book. I seem to among the minority who did not like it. If you have read this one, do tell me what you think about it.

All this apart, I have learnt an important lesson from the author. And that is to never willfully spread negativity if I can help it :) So I shall finish on a positive note. My next read is 'To Sir, With Love' - by E.R Braithwaite. It comes across as a very heartening story and I am really looking forward to read it! With ardent hopes that my next book review will be a positive one where I can exhort you to read, I sign off for now :)

Sunday, 15 June 2014

An Everlasting Bond

My sojourn with books began as a very small child. Even before I learnt to read :) With a dad who reads extensively and an elder sis who had already been drawn into the world of books, reading caught my fancy quite early in life. As a little kid who could make no sense of the letters in a book, I would simply take one, turn pages and chant a line which I had learnt from a TV ad, pretending to read. Funnily enough, the line was 'No more bathrooms' :). It featured in an ad from a company that sold luxury bathroom fittings I think and I somehow took a fancy to it. So every night, when dad and sis buried themselves in their books and so did mom for she had no other choice, I would also sit with a flashy book, turn the pages and religiously chant 'No more bathrooms' much to amusement of all of them. I'd do this exercise for about 10 minutes, announce that I had finished the book and only then would I dutifully go to sleep.

In spite of this encouraging beginning, I had trouble learning to read when I was in class 1. I still remember the trepidation in my heart on the day when we had to read a page from the story 'Hansel and Gratel' for an oral test. I knew the contents of only the first page, not that I could read it, but because it was a simple one liner that I had heard many times in class.I was roll number 1 and was frantically hoping that the teacher would call out to read in the roll number order so that I could simply say the one liner from memory and get away. But as luck always has it, she started according to seating order and when my turn came, I got a huge paragraph which I could make absolutely no sense of ! Yes, I could individually make out the alphabets but had no clue how to read them when put together. Now if I think of it, I can only wonder why :)

Finally it was mom who taught me to read, not my teachers in school. After she got a complaint from my class teacher, we both went together all the way to Higginbothams  in Mount Road, bought Hansel and Gratel and exercised with it until I could read all the pages. In fact, I was given so much practice that I started reciting the book with eyes closed after a few days and defeated the purpose :)

After that, there was no looking back. The library that we regularly visited as a family and had simply been a monument of un-understandable books until then, opened out an arena of new possibilities. Sis picked the first book for me. It was titled 'Amelia Jane' - a story of a very naughty toy in a toy cupboard. It was about how the other toys had a tough time dealing with her and how they finally set her ways right. With Amelia Jane followed by Noddy, the reading bug won over me. I became a happy part of the amazing world of books and slowly graduated like all kids do - from Noddy to Enid Blyton's adventure tales to Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew mysteries and then diverged into multiple authors. Books began to engulf my life. I still remember how much fun I had reading the Naughtiest girl series and fancying a lovely boarding school like the one that features in the book and enacting Nancy Drew's mysteries with my friends.

To this day, one of the greatest pleasures of life for me are the hours spent at the library or a bookstore. It feels very much like being among loved ones. To be lost among the shelves without any regard for time is such a luxury. The exhilaration that sweeps over when I find a book that I may like is simply priceless. Even if I I walk out without picking any book, the exercise is so therapeutic. I can perfectly understand all people out there who love window shopping :)

Even though we now live in the world of flipkart, amazon and kindle which have made books a lot more accessible and buying a lot easier, I would still say that the smell of books in a well stocked library and the experience of holding a physical book is unparalleled :)

I am so glad to have been drawn into this priceless world of books. Beyond entertaining the reader, books open up the mind and broaden one's perspective. There is a limitation to the experiences we can get, the places that we can visit and the people we can meet during our lifetime. But books can give you exposure well beyond this physical limitation. I could attend boarding school with Elizabeth, be a part of Jane Austen's bygone era and English society, live in Harry Potter's enchanting magical world and peek into the brahmin housleholds of Vinayk Mudali Steet without having to actually live in those times or visit those places. Apart from this, I strongly believe that reading enables you to understand people around and evaluate situations that you face in life in a much better manner. It shapes your thinking and character and enriches your personality to a great extent.

Books have been my constant friends in life, crossing the hurdles of age groups, place and time. They have changed along with me and evolved in the same pace. And yes, these best friends of mine do sometimes elude me very much like their human counterparts. There are days of frustration when I am unable to lay my hands on the next good read and go groping in the dark, stumbling and falling. But nevertheless, the next gem does come and land in my hands, transporting me to a different world and refreshing my mind, intellect and soul. This is a very special bond that I will treasure for life!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Travelogue - A trip to the royal land of the Ranas - Part 3

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

We woke up to the beautiful view of the sun shining over the shimmering waters of the Pichola lake dancing merrily right outside our window. It felt heavenly to sit and watch the lake and the palaces across in the early morning light. After a short period of time spent thus, we headed to the yoga session that is held everyday morning at the hotel. Post an hour of relaxing yoga, we went down to get ready for the day and hit the restaurant area for breakfast. We chose our favorite alcove like spot in the dining area for that morning. 

Sitting here and dining transported us to a different world ..
As soon as we settled in, a cute little cake arrived commemorating my birthday, taking me by surprise. Sitting inside a palace situated in the middle of a beautiful lake with a birthday cake in front of me on my D-day, I felt immensely special :) The husband had really hit it off for my first birthday post marriage!

After a nice cake cutting ceremony and photo session, we settled down to have a sumptuous breakfast. Post that it was time to pack and say goodbye to this dreamlike place. We were winding up our packing in the room and lo! Another cake arrived, this time an ethnic one with an elephant printed on it and decorated with ladoos.

The ethnic birthday cake :)
After enjoying this second celebration, we arrived at the reception with bag and baggage. The hotel staff gave me a lovely gift of Agarbhathis that represented aromas from different parts of India and a framed photograph of the cake cutting. They thus made our trip a truly memorable one.

As we stepped into the boat that was to take us to the shore, we felt like we had traveled back in time to live in a past era of kings and queens for a day. We then sailed away from the palace to the mainland and to the present, bidding a fond adieu to the Lake Palace.  

Back in mainland, we had a full day of sightseeing in front of us. We started off with a museum that had vintage cars of the royal family on display and then headed to the city palace. It was extremely huge with winding corridors, claustrophobic stairways and really small rooms. And we were given a dose of the blood stained history of the royal lineage through paintings and accompanying stories all through. It hit us that being a king is not all glamour and royal living after all. With life and kingdom under constant threat from even near and dear ones, how much of the pageantry would they have enjoyed? 

With these thoughts zooming in our minds, we next headed to Sajjan Garh, a palace built on one of the peaks of the Aravalli range. The building of this palace was started off by one of the kings who died early in his youth and hence never got to see it to completion or live there. It was completed by his successors and was used as an astronomical center to watch monsoon clouds and as a resort for the royal family. The palace has the most stunning panoramic views of the huge mountains around, the lakes and the city below. The sight outside every single window just took our breath away!

The Sajjan Garh perched atop the Bansdara peak

Each window framed such stunning views

A panaroma of the city as seen from Sajjan Garh
From there we headed to the Nehru park located in the middle of the Fateh Sagar lake. Before taking a ferry to the park, I filled my hungry stomach with yummy ragda patties from a road side chat shop. No trip to any place is complete without tasting the street food after all!

At the park we walked around enjoying the greenery within and the surrounding expanse of water. 

Nehru Park  
After this long yet relaxing and enjoyable day of site seeing, we checked into a quaint little hotel called Jaiwana Haveli for our last night at Udaipur. I would recommend this very professionally run hotel if you ever go to Udaipur. It is a bathe and breakfast kind of place but very neatly maintained and  managed by two brothers who are extremely helpful with all the information and directions you may want about the city. The food is good and the highlight is the mind blowing views their open air restaurant has of the lake and the lake palace. The husband and I spent 6AM to 8:30 AM at the restaurant next day morning and still couldn't have enough of all the beauty we saw around us. I have never seen such a beautiful shade of blue painted all over. I will give a rest to words here and let the pictures speak. 

This was the most beautiful view in the entire trip!!

Soothing blue wherever the eyes turn
To experience the flavors of the real Udaipur, we visited a nearby temple which had festivities going on well past midnight! Old women were singing and dancing away to glory and it was a nice sight to watch :) It was also really spooky to walk back through the dark lanes to reach the hotel at midnight. But fun nevertheless :)
Next day, we walked the bazars, traveled by local transport and I had my fill of shopping. I bought the famous bandhini and some pretty accessories.

We then bid goodbye to this historic and royal city. After an enjoyable bus ride that took us to Ahmadabad, we flew back to Bangalore and hit the bed at around 2 AM. I was in office next morning by 10 AM with red eyes and a huge smile speaking for itself about the wonderful trip that this one was :) One of my most memorable birthdays indeed!