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!

Friday, 3 July 2015

A Tribute to Diversity

Image source: Internet

The birds chirped in unison
Creating divine music
The fish swam in the water
The very epitome of unity

The ducks paddled away in groups
Defining beauty itself
A pair of eagles swooped overhead
Gliding with ease and grace

The soothing winds blew
And the trees swayed in symphony
The flowers fell down in a shower
To form a carpet of softness and colour

Each of them was a thing of beauty
But the crystal clear water
Mirroring them all in one canvas
Was the most breathtaking sight

PS:  My poetry collection mostly comprises of the kiddish ones with rhyming words that I wrote as a child :) I am writing a poem after several years. This one was written for a contest. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Baby Diaries : My little boy is polite!!

Image source: Internet

Look into his cradle as soon as he is up and there it is, in spite of him being just half awake. Peek at him when he is restless for food or sleep and it peeks in too. Talk to him while he is in deep rumination over something that his baby mind has seen and it comes instantly. Call out to him while he is at a totally involved try to crawl or is experimenting what all he can do with his hands –it would still flash on that lovely round face- eyes light up and the cute little rosy lips curve – into the most beautiful smile I have ever seen!

If we are lucky, we’d even get to hear a full fledged baby laugh. When he is about to fall asleep, his face usually gets all serious and he just stares at my face listening to the lullaby I am singing. Many times, that serious expression would make me smile and there! He would immediately flash one back in spite of all the sleep that is overpowering him .

The little man has a curious habit though. When he is terribly sleepy and his cheeks hang about his face with eyes reduced to a mere slit, he very easily slips into fits of laughter. The other day, I was rocking his cradle and singing bhajans one after another. Suddenly, he burst out laughing for one of the songs from the midst of his sleepy stupor. I then realized that he found the word ‘Vittala’ funny. The song was full of that name of the lord and for a few minutes, baby and mommy forgot all about sleep and enjoyed the singing accompanied by baby laughs :)

All the clockwork routine of feeding, bathing and putting the baby to sleep numerous times a day becomes completely worth it just for these surprise moments that ‘interfere’ with the schedule.  For, it is amidst the chugging along chores that these are hidden – Cute baby talk during bath time, spitting out food and smiling, laughing from the cradle as a sign of total refusal to sleep, tiring you out completely and then flashing an innocent smile-the list is a huge one. I would happily walk this continuous clockwork routine and not mind all the constraints that a baby imposes on life, just for these priceless moments.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Baby Diaries : Milestones Galore !!

The little man is 6 months old and it has been a downpour of milestones for quite a while now! With my sisters' kids and all of my cousins' kids, I have seen and celebrated only the major milestones like rolling over, starting to move, walking and talking. But I now realise that when its your own kid and you spend all of your time with him, you tend to notice every little change and the baby steps he takes towards growing up.Observing each of them is such a pleasure and makes me wonder at God's creation. How well babies learn and progress in that same order!

With the little one, it is now the season of loud laughter, experimenting with various sounds ranging from mouth bubbles to shrill screams, lots and lots of that adorable gummy toothless smile and incessant biting of fingers and anything he can lay his hands on. His babbles are getting cuter by the day and he talks his baby tongue whenever he catches sight of something interesting. He holds quite a bit of conversations with me and his dad too in that adorable baby lingo! He is also slowly beginning to recognise faces. If anyone else holds him and his mom and dad are not anywhere nearby, he pouts and begins to cry. Same happens if he suddenly meets too many new people and one of them pick him up.

When he was less then two months old and I was really struggling with baby care, the husband once said "You will cherish all this someday". To which I simply rolled my eyes and said 'Impossible'! But now when I see him growing up so fast, I feel like its all slipping away from my fingers too soon. I am going to really miss this stage when he babbles, screams, rolls over, lifts his head and looks up to flash a smile. When he is interesting and yet cannot move much which makes taking care of him a not so tough task.When he sleeps for enough time giving me breaks in between to spend some much needed 'me time'.

With cooking, bathing and feeding the little one, playing with him, cartloads of laundry, keeping the house running, reading and writing when I can, my time is pretty much taken up. But as I write this, only one word flashes in my mind - Contentment.

PS : I wrote this post a while ago but delayed posting it. And I already need to edit. But I am reserving the new happenings for another post for I want to record these wonderful days in as much of detail as I can. For, I know I am going to cherish reading them one day :)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Reminiscence, Some Thoughts and a Travelouge - Part 2

You can read Part one here.

For the next day's stay we had chosen a nature resort called Camp Noel. Situated away from the main town, the resort is a set of pretty bungalows nestled amidst beautiful mountains and tea estates. The ride to the resort itself is an off road adventure but our adventure began well before that. We reached a place called 'top station' from where we were supposed to call the resort to get directions. As luck would have it, the place was completely mist covered, the roads were slushy and our mobiles lost signal. There were three men huddled around a fire, making tea. One drunk man from that lot had a BSNL mobile that miraculously still worked and he offered to call the resort and direct us there. We accepted both tea and help from him and he came with us until a certain point from where we were able to go on our own. Mist covered mountains, rain, mobiles with no signal and a drunk man for company! I shudder if I think of it today but on that day, we were both cool as a cucumber :)

By the time we reached the resort, it was already dark and the place looked extremely eerie. Our place of stay was a two bed room bungalow with just fireplaces for giving warmth - no heaters. Somehow in all that darkness and quiet, all the people looked so scary and shady and our footsteps sounded like thunder on the wooden flooring. I threw a fit and decidedly told the husband that I was scared to death and we should vacate first thing the next day morning. And for some strange reason, he was highly amused. Hmph .. Men!! Another newly wed couple came to visit us in our cottage sometime later and were having very similar experiences. With them, the wife was actually threatening to sleep in the reception!

After a very restless night, morning dawned and ... Camp Noel transformed into  the most beautiful place I have ever seen!

Camp Noel nestled amidst green mountains

As we sat at the doorstep in the morning, the beauty of the lush green lawns, the randomly situated cottages and the highlight -  a huge mountain filled with tall trees as a backdrop completely took over our senses. We sat there for both morning and evening tea, talking and getting to know more of each other. Those moments will be fond memories for ever.

We also went for a trek in the nearby tea estate. The views were beautiful and encouraged by the friendly estate workers, we tried our hands at cutting tea leaves too!

Panorama of the tea estate we trekked

The food in the resort was really good and personalized. You could ask for what  you wanted even if it was outside the menu. As part of our package, they had arranged a candlelight dinner that night in our cottage. It was so dark and we could hardly figure out the dishes in each bowl. The husband actually ended up eating chapathi with curd rice instead of the intended side dish! Post dinner, we spent some time chatting near the fire and then called it a day.

Next morning, it was time to leave and head home. We stopped at random scenic spots on the way back.

An elephant family grazing lazily. Just the day before, we had walked on the same lawn. The sight of these animals in that very place sent chills down my spine. What if, they had turned up then!!

With the trip coming to an end, I started thinking of all that lay ahead. This was honeymoon after all, but how was real life going to be? Will we be such good friends always or were we simply being nice like two new people who had just gotten to know each other. Will time fade out all the charm and will we start bickering, nit pricking and get bored?

The answer so far is a big resounding No!! We are still the best of friends - beyond the disagreements we sometimes have, beyond the idiosyncrasies that each find in the other, beyond the small everyday irritations that we unfailingly fling at each other :) One of the many people we met soon after our wedding had told us 'Enjoy while the magic lasts'! Then what about the time thereafter, which is the rest of our lives? Is it impossible to enjoy married life once the 'just married' phase ends?

I think the secret lies in never allowing everyday humdrum and the wheel of monotonous daily activities to eat up life. Even in the midst of running the household, going to work everyday and raising children, we should take the time to sit in the balcony to watch the sunset together, cook a special meal and enjoy it, do the small things that the other person values and watch them get happy over it. We must encourage and support each other to pursue individual interests, try out and enjoy activities that the other person likes, travel and explore new places. I strongly feel it is up to each of us to consciously maintain the freshness in our relationships.

So rather than 'Enjoy while the magic lasts', I would say - Make the magic work forever!!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Down the Alleys of Memory Lane

Whatever stage of life we may be in today, we all cherish our past, don't we? Childhood, the teenage years, the single young adult life, newly wed state - each phase has its own special memories and souvenirs that we associate with it. A few days back, I stood in my balcony, looking out at the distant city lights with the chilly wind whipping my face, listening to to this song.

As I listened, I got lost in the memories of my teenage years when I was a huge fan of indipop. Chitra's melliflous voice transported me to Madras and into my home in the apartment where we lived for nearly 10 years. I could see my sister and Archu(my best childhood buddy) sitting with me, enjoying the song and discussing the ambiguous ending.

To me, music is the most powerful connector to my happy past and the greatest reinforcement of my joyous present! I then listened to the songs that the just recruited college grads in my Bangalore workplace used to play in office. Instantly,I could feel the freedom of my just married life flow through my veins once again. The hour long bus journeys when I would read, listen to music or simply stare out of the window to drink in the sights of the new city that I had just began calling home, the team outings and our boisterous discussions about every other topic - I smiled as all this came rushing back in my mind. I treasure these experiences all the more now, when I cannot imagine leaving my baby to go out anywhere by myself.

And when this 15 minute long reverie ended, I was feeling content and refreshed. I had found a great de-stresser to unwind after a long day! My next visits would be to the carefree couple life and the numerous trips that the husband and I went on, whenever we felt like it. A few years down the line, I guess I would fondly recollect my little one's infant and toddler days. And yes, I am banking on music to play the apt background whenever I go down memory lane!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Book Review - Mom In the City - By Kausalya Saptharishi

Mom in the City is the story of how a single mother manages to re-establish her life when the world suddenly starts to crumble under her feet. Ira is flummoxed when she finds herself all alone with her little son Abhi in the US after her cowardly husband leaves them both one fine day, without preamble. The book traces Ira's personal journey where we see an initially devastated woman pick up her courage, make clear cut decisions and re build her life.

The author has very beautifully brought out the challenges faced by Ira in all aspects of life - career, finances, society, support system and parenting. But if you ask me for the winning point, I would give it to her for capturing all the emotional turmoil that the single mom goes through. Be it the anxiety pangs that grip Ira when she thinks about being solely responsible for her child, the loneliness that sweeps over when she sees other women being duly supported by the men in their lives or the heart vs mind clash when her college crush suddenly re-enters her life, Kausalya captures them in such a genuine manner.

The story is fast paced and written in impeccable English. It does have some bollywood style twists in it but that serves to add traction to the story.This book is also hailed as a first in the Mommy Lit genre in India. Though it is classified as a 'chick-lit', I found it quite profound for the realistic issues it deals with. I am a reader who detests reading heart rending reality of any kind but Kausalya has packaged it so well that it made me empathize with what she has written without getting depressed about it. This book was certainly time well spent for me. Do pick it up if you are searching for the next good read. This one will most probably not disappoint you.

PS: I had initially planned to post a couple of book reviews together as one post. But given the little time that I have to grab to write by sacrificing precious sleep at 11 PM while the little one sleeps(knowing fully well that he will be up in a while to be fresh and active until until 3 AM. Sigh .. Another post for that), I have decided to publish as and when I manage to write at least one review. 2015 may turn out to be a year of short posts but I do hope to keep up the frequency and ensure that I do not go into a blogging hiatus. Wish me luck and determination. May my love for writing prevail over the time challenges!!