Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Dislikes

I am an indiscriminate book reader. My reading philosophy is very simple – has a story, will read. I have given up – that is, not finished reading them – on only two books in my lifetime.  I finish what I start even if I do not particularly like it.

Even so, there are some things which grate on my nerves and sometimes prevent a good book from becoming my favourite. I think, all the book lovers have such criteria of categorising a book. Mine are simple and perhaps quite common too.

  1.  A perfect hero / heroine: Think of your favourite book and its central character. Was he / she a paragon? A saint so virtuous that everyone absolutely loved or canonized him / her? It is unlikely that that would be the case. The greatest characters may be larger than life but they are always human. They may be perfect for the situations they are thrown in but as people they are flawed.  Think Sidney Carter, Darcy, Howard Roarke, Heathcliff or Portia or even Harry Potter. None of them are perfect. They have their shortcomings – be it a temper or arrogance or simply a callous attitude. Absolute perfection, to my mind, is extremely boring, bland and lifeless.  
  2.  India as an exotic land / quagmire of poverty and ignorance:  There are few things which irritate me more than modern Indian writers of English who sell India as an unpalatable mix of snake-charmers, arranged marriages, call centres, Bollywood and loud, brash relatives. This trait is more common among Indian chick-lit (I dislike that term but there’s no help for it) writers and Chetan Bhagat. Then there are those who portray India as a land with no hope – a country with new, swanky malls in the cities and farmer suicides, deaths from hunger and Maoists in its hinterlands. The largest democracy where the common man, the middle classes lead an extremely depressing life. If you have read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance or Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, you will know what I am talking about.
  3. Pedanticism: Some really good authors suffer from it. Like Salman Rushdie. I have read two of his books – the really interesting Midnight’s Children and the relatively lesser known Ground Beneath Her Feet. In both the cases, the storyline hooked me. The characterization was great. I could practically see the events playing out in front of my eyes – from Veena’s descent into debauchery born out of a stubborn love to a lost Salim in the wetlands. But what ticked me off was the constant showing off by Mr. Rushdie. His narrative has this annoying stage-whisper in author’s voice permeating it: “Look how much I know. I know India’s history. I understand its present crisis. I know it all.” Agreed, a good author should have a good understanding of his setting but really, must you shout it out loud? 
  4. Moral Science lessons: I hated the subject in school, although I loved GK (General Knowledge) with which it was usually clubbed. So, it is no wonder that I cannot abide it in a book of fiction. Paulo Coelho loves stating moral of the story. I know, The Alchemist is often cited as the favourite book by most of the intellectuals, celebs and what have you. But seriously, I found the book difficult to read, despite it being rather short in length. Sure, it had some gems like the one Farah Khan shamelessly copied in Om Shanti Omif you wish for something with all your heart, the whole universe conspires to make your wish come true. But I detested the preachy tone of the book. I have not read any of his other works except a short story or two but they are written in the same manner. So, he is not on my authors-to-read-by-default list

That more or less covers it. There are some slightly lower order irritants, but the above seriously put me off a book. Yet I, almost always trudge on, unless the book is either really, really vulgar like the Shobha De novel I gave up on after reading thirty-odd pages or if the book suffers from all the maladies that I described above. Thankfully, neither of the two are common occurrences. Ergo, I almost always read a book to its end.

I wonder, if there are any other points that really irritate ardent readers? Do let me know :-)

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

From a Summer Morning

Gather a handful of stars and blow them away with a whisper so that they swirl around your skirt, like fairy dust, keeping rhythm as you dance to the sighs of the night and the tinkle of church bells settling in for their daily rest.

An image which simply floated into my vision on a hot, sultry morning in a polluted, crowded city. Today.

A Winter Interlude

It is a quiet winter evening. Not quite lazy. But quiet. There are noises. Of the distant traffic. A child cries having been denied what he wanted. There is the almost rhythmic hitting of the mason’s tools in an under-construction building close by.  A dog barks. But underneath it all, is a quiet that makes me feel so content but also a little edgy, as if to be content is unambitious, as if to enjoy and even long for this quiet is a sign of stagnation.

But I push these treacherous thoughts away. Because tomorrow will come soon enough. With its ambitions and anxieties and grouches and destined to stay longings and desires. But the quiet has begun to dissolve as the cacophony grows louder to intrude upon the solitude. The traffic runs faster, telephones sing, the hammering is louder……and the interlude becomes just that. An interlude. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunshine and Butterflies

I am a little rusty – there has been so much happening in my life recently that I have not had the time or energy to formulate a single cohesive line of thought. Actually, this time has made me realize how one, single incident can change how I do things.

Anyway, this post is not for brooding. This one is to remember some of the bright, unexpected spots of warm light that I have come across in my life. In them, I may have been merely an observer or a silent participant. But that does not prevent them from becoming some of my favourite memories.

Best Friends

I had just begun at my new job. The office was pretty far from home and I had to change transport thrice to reach on time. The last leg of the journey involved an auto-rickshaw ride in the bylanes of an area which I did not know very well. In fact, I had heard its name for the first time when I had visited my office for the interview. 

This particular morning, a mother with her two kids shared the auto-rickshaw with me. The son was older and at about ten years of age, clearly the man in the family. His mother was taking  him and his sister to school.

There was playful banter throughout the ten minute ride. But what I found most endearing was the relationship that the mother and son apparently shared. They were friends first and the son very clearly considered himself, his family’s protector. He advised his mother on the route to take back home, what to do and what not to. His mother listened with affectionate amusement but never took his words lightly. There was discussion on budgeting and places for good bargains. The little man held his kid sister’s hand and occasionally disciplined her with “Don’t poke your head out” or “Sit still”.

It was not the most scintillating conversation that I have eavesdropped upon but it was one of the most intriguing. There was so much love and concern that the little child felt for his mother and sister. It was as if he had grown up already and decided he was responsible for the well-being of his family. Also, very clear was the mother’s belief and pride in her son. He was her hope of the future and the sun and the moon of her life. I got the feeling that she felt safer when he was with her than at any other time.

The ride was over a little too soon but that mother-son duo – more friends than contemporaries – has stayed in the box marked as rides to savour.

Trusting Imps

Ever since I started working, I take a two-three vacation once a year to visit a place I have never been to before. Last year, my siblings and I hired a car and travelled across the lovely Himachal. After we had visited all the expected spots at McLeodganj (that’s where Dalai Lama stays), we had our evening free. So, we drove down to Dharamshala, which was only an hour away and arrived at Army Park.

This park was built in the memory of the martyred Indian soldiers. It sprawled over a large area with a monument inscribed with the names of the martyrs at its heart. The setting sun winked through the dappled brown trunks of the tall trees. The air had a pleasant nip and chill that we, residents of the plains, really enjoyed. The river flowed down the slope, silently gurgling its way through the park. The birds returning home chirped and cooed. There were not too many visitors and the near solitude was a rare gift. The best part, however, was the serenity that had settled over the park like a content lullaby.

Meandering aimlessly, we arrived at a small stone pergola beyond which a mini-playground for children had been set up. There was a slide and seesaw that were sitting at a little distance to each other. A swing set had been put up farther away. The architect of the playground, however, had overlooked one crucial fact. This being Dharamshala, the entire park was sitting atop a small hill. So, if you walk for long in one direction, you would reach the edge of some slope or the other. The swing set was installed rather close to one such edge. Nothing that an adult would fall over easily. But if you put kids into equation, the location became a little alarming.

When we arrived at this spot, a local family was already there, enjoying the evening. A grandmother had brought her three little grandchildren – two girls and a boy – to play there. The kids ranged from ages three to six-seven. The sisters were happily occupied at the seesaw, with the grandmother overseeing their antics. The curious and rather intrepid brother approached us strangers, who were watching their shenanigans from the edge of the pergola.

We said “Hello” and smiled at the child. He, in return, said something in a garbled tongue. We asked him to repeat what he was trying to say a couple of times. In the end, the grandmother interpreted his words for us. “He is asking you,” she said, “not to go there. Monkeys hide there.”

“Where?” I asked.

The boy pointed in the direction of the swing set and said, “There.”

We looked at the grandmother in puzzled askance. “The swing is very close to the edge”, she explained. “So, we have told him that there are monkeys near the swing. That acts as a deterrent. Please don’t tell him otherwise.”

I smiled at her in reassurance and was inordinately touched by the little guy’s attempts to warn us of danger. We were people he had never seen before and probably would never see again. And here, he was, trying to save strangers from his own personal bogeyman. 

As I sat there, watching the charming little tableau that the kids presented along with their adoring grandma, the dusk gathered slowly in her arms the last crimson vestiges of the setting sun and left me with a forget-me-not.

I am lucky to have more such gems sprinkled across the expanse of my memory. When these happen to me, I remember that life is not just a mundane chore with me at its grinding centre. When these happen to me, I feel blessed and content. The feeling may be momentary but it is cherished forever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

BBC's Top 100 books

Have been tagged by Scarlett. Given below is the BBC's list of the top 100 books of all time. According to them an average person has read 6 of these books.
I'm marking the ones that I've read...

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserabl
es - Victor Hugo
My count stands at 41..... I am looking to add to it, but like my friend and fellow blogger Supernova, I am surprised too that Ayn Rand does not feature on the list and neither do writers like D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe. And not to forget R K Narayan, who I think, is the best Indian writer of English prose.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


As I bid adieu to one of the most precious people in my life, I find myself, like most other people, dwelling on philosophy. What happens to a person after death? Is there another life? Reincarnation? Or is it simply the end?

For me the questions are not so much about what actually happens and the proof thereof. They are more about what gives me the most comfort – comfort that the one I love is safe and happy. That she is not in any pain. That she has found peace. That she has regained the vitality that disease treacherously stole from her. And that she would always be with me.

As she sits in a regal pose in her photograph and looks out at her large family, her children and grandchildren, I pray and hope that she becomes a star, a shining presence in my conscience, guiding me and my family. That she becomes our guardian angel, always watching over us – proud of our achievements, smiling at our little foolishnesses and holding our hand through difficult times.

So, I will not bid her farewell. I will not say good-bye. Because I believe that she lives on in that world beyond the skies and will do so forever.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Love So Grand – Part II

Being the oldest child of my clan and an only child for several years, I have been pampered and indulged by a bevy of uncles and aunts. But more so by my amma (paternal grandmother). And she therefore has a very, very special place in my heart.

Since we lived in a joint family, my mother felt very comfortable leaving me in the care of my grandparents whenever she travelled. And if I go by the accounts that she gives me often, I never missed her even at the tender age of one. In fact, while she was the disciplinarian to a stubborn I, my amma was my refuge – a shelter from my mother’s temper and dad’s strict standards.

But let’s make no mistake. Amma’s a true matriarch, despite her leniency towards me. I remember my mom and aunt asking amma about the menu for lunch and dinner. What vegetables were allowed to be cooked and when. This was especially important when it came to onions because in our household like in scores of other homes in UP and Rajasthan, onion was considered an impure vegetable. In fact, I remember once asking amma about why it was so. After all onion is also a vegetable and therefore can be a part of vegetarian diet. She told me how when Lord Vishnu (he is one of three most powerful gods in Hindu mythology) once sat down for his meal, a bulb of onion fell off his plate. And from that day onwards, the onion was cursed and no true devotee of Vishnu was allowed to have the vegetable! Incredible, isn’t it? But to a six year old, it was gospel truth.

That is one of the charms of my grandma. She is so full of stories. And they are not always about gods and fictional characters. You should hear her speak about her childhood. You can almost see the house that she grew up in, her friends and her aunt who raised her, since her own mother had passed away at an early age. Amma, as was the norm more than fifty years back, got married at the tender age of fifteen. But she recollects all the details of those first fifteen years so clearly, more than what has actually happened in last fifteen years!

Did I mention that she is a great cook? Her aloo paranthas are nonpareil. Even the most mundane dishes are amazing. And I only have to whisper in her ear about the dish I want to eat and it would be done – from bharwan baingan to chole bhature.

Going vegetable shopping with her used to be fun because she would buy me all the roadside savouries that I liked, without my mom getting to know about it. I dodged naps in hot summer afternoons so that I could eat that extra mango that amma had saved especially for me, with my siblings safely tucked away. At night, if I felt scared, I could slowly inch over to her bed (I slept in my grandparents’ room) and cuddle her. And at three in the morning when she woke up to go to the temple, she often found me curled asleep on her bed.

I could go on endlessly about her. There are so many things that I have not mentioned. There are so many stories that I have not shared. The words I have written do no justice to a woman who has a flair for languages (she can speak Hindi, Bengali and Marwari – the last two she learnt post marriage), can manage the operational aspect of my dad’s business, pamper her brood of grandchildren and still manage time for her religious rituals and her husband. But over the last few years, as her health has slowly degenerated, my heart has been breaking bit by bit. The plump cuddliness of her body has withered away to frail bones. In the last one month or so, she has been hospitalized twice and is still being treated for severe kidney damage. Every time I see her now, her weak countenance, drained of all vitality, is like a jolt to my senses.

So, while she would never be able to read this blog or even understand what a blog is, I still needed to write this – to tell her how much she means to me and that I just want her to come home, recovered and healthy.

That’s all, amma. Come back home to me, safe and sound.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Love So Grand: Part I

There is a saying in Hindi: Asal se sood jyaada pyaara hota hai. Roughly translated it means that interest is dearer to a moneylender as compared to the actual amount. This is usually quoted in the context of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, the inference being that people love their grandkids more than their own offspring. The inverse, I like to think, is also true.

I was one of those fortunate people who had both sets of grandparents alive and healthy for all my childhood.

My Mom hails from a small but hugely famous town in Uttar Pradesh. All through my school life, we had a largely fixed summer ritual. The day after the school closed for summer, we would travel to my nani’s (maternal grandmother) place after a day long journey by train. It was the one month I looked most forward to. The huge assortment of cousins who would gather was the biggest attraction. In fact, I used to think that that was the only reason I used to love spending my vacation there. But now in hindsight, after so many years, I realize that it was not just the kids. It was the sheer joy that my grandparents felt at having all their grandchildren around them that made the months special.

My nanaji (maternal grandfather) was a lawyer – highly successful and respected. I remember people coming from far and wide to discuss legal issues with him. The courts also used to close for summers and his vacation largely coincided with ours. He liked to cook, especially for us. He would prepare huge mounds of sandwiches and gallons of thandai every morning for the horde of ravenous children (there were eighteen of us, ranging from teenagers to mere toddlers). Always had some input for the lunches and dinners. Special requests for mithi guzhia was always granted.

But what I loved most about time with him were the quizzes and puzzles that he set out for us to solve. These brain teasers were fun and interesting. He would ask about and tell us trivia in the hot afternoons while we demolished plates of mangoes, watermelons, berries and melons. He would peel and cut the fruits, distributing it fairly amongst us, coaxing me to eat the melons, which I did not like and trying to protect the mangoes from being pillaged. And then there were stories too. Of Akbar and Birbal, Tenalirama and Mulla Naseeruddin.

He liked gardening and if any of us were around while he watered the plants, he would tell us about the flowers and the fruits that he had in his garden.

He loved reading too. Children’s magazines like Nandan, Chandamama and Champak were subscribed for him, along with intellectual reads like Wisdom and Reader’s Digest. I think I inherited the love of reading from him. Yeah, I am quite sure.

He had answers and infinite patience for all our questions. Celebrations and parties for our academic achievements were sponsored by him. Ice creams and chocolates. Taught us new card games and new tricks too.

Not that we never got dressed down by him. Oh, countless number of times. We were extremely naughty, especially the oldest six, which included yours truly. We considered sleep a waste of time since this one month was all we got in an entire year to spend together. And as we grew older, there was a sense of urgency to pack as many conversations and games in as little time as possible. The chats and games lasted late into night. This was all very well if we were sleeping in a room separate from all the adults. Obviously, when the adults were sleeping close by, we had to be more cautious – whispers only. Once, three of us were busy making wild plans, which included opening a detective agency and its potential branding, with nanaji sleeping in the adjacent room with the connecting door open. At one point in the discussion, we got extremely excited (we could not decide whose name should come first in the partnership) when a bark to shut up from Nanaji made the decision for us.

It’s been so long since I had the benefit for his stories and his admonishing. Nobody makes mithi guzhias like he used to.  Sometimes, I wonder if he saw me today, the person I have become, the successes I have had and the failures that I have chalked up, what would he say. Would he be proud? Would he be disappointed? He would have retired, perhaps but forever busy. He would have spoilt his great-grandchildren. He would have been one more vociferous voice cajoling me to settle down. I can almost hear him say this in the same voice as when he asked me to eat melon or drink thandai.

Ah, nanaji. I miss you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simply the Best Job in the World!

Sometime in 2009, there was a job advertisement that had garnered a lot of interest and buzz. Touted to be the best job in the world, it came with a pay package of 150,000 Australian dollars (105,000 US dollars) and included free airfares from the successful applicant's home country to Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. In return, the "island caretaker" will be expected to stroll the white sands, soak up the sun, snorkel the reef, "maybe clean the pool" -- and report to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries and video updates.

The successful applicant, the ad said, would get to stay rent-free in a multi-million dollar three-bedroom beach home complete with plunge pool and golf buggy. The only requirements were that one must be an excellent communicator and be able to speak and write English.
Dream job, indeed. At least for some. I do not know who, if any, got that job ultimately. But we can all perhaps relate with the desire to be in a job which would be great fun, easy and would pay top dollar. It is something which is a frequent topic of discussion among office-goers.

Topping the list of dream jobs would be the position of Food Critic. You get to eat food, critique it and all this is not just free - you actually get paid for it. Seriously, how awesome is that? The only downside I came up with (after wracking my brain hard) has more to do with me – you cannot be a Food Critic if you are a vegetarian. Talk about life being unfair.

Next up would be the Travel Show host. How many times have you watched all the beautiful, interesting places, famous, infamous and totally unknown, on Travel & Living or Discovery channels and wished that you could take the place of the svelte anchor or the smiling guide? How many times have you longed not to be bound by responsibilities and truly see the world? If I had my three wishes from a genie, I would have chosen to be a Travel Show host. You get paid great bucks all for the pleasure of exploring the amazing world out there.

Since we are already talking about the TV anchors, why not discuss the hosts of all those Electronic, Gadgets and Automobiles shows? They get to test drive all the latest, hippest and coolest gadgets and cars and I think, also get to keep what they test occasionally.

And then there’s the Socialite. One of my friends recently commented that maybe it would be great to be a socialite. All you have to do is marry a rich guy or be born into a stinking rich family and then you can just flit from party to party during the nights and attend charity luncheons during the day. Add to that holidays abroad twice a year. And a great, fashionable wardrobe. Hmmm….the last bit, I definitely like. I am just not too sure of the first half of the job definition. But that’s just me. There are a whole host of ladies and gentlemen (yes, them too – in most cases, they are called the Heirs) who totally enjoy being a social butterfly. This breed is definitely here to stay.

My dream job would be that of a Book and Movie reviewer. I would get all the latest books – free of course – and be invited to the premieres and paid previews of all the movies. So, I would have been provided with Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows before most of the world. I would be a respected guest at the movie premiere of the same. And afterwards, people would be paying me to hear my opinion on them. All this for doing something I actually love. I can’t imagine a better life professionally. Sigh.

On that note, I must bid adieu. My real job demands that I return to it. So be it, until the dream job is mine.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Holiday Blues

Is it just me or do other people also miss holidays while still having them? I mean, do you start feeling rueful towards the end of a holiday or vacation? A feeling of bafflement as to where did the time fly. Only yesterday, you were looking forward to these days away from work and regular drudgery of life and just like that it’s come and gone.

I call them Holiday Blues. Typically they strike in the last leg of a holiday. Take for instance, the last four days. My city is celebrating its biggest festival that generally stretches for 4-5 days officially. This year most of these days were during the week, so we got nearly five days off. Now that time is nearly up and I have to report back to work on Monday – day after tomorrow. So, I am missing the past four days of lazy vegetation (wait, make that three. After all, I did spend several back breaking hours on the first day cleaning my room). But the point is that I still have almost two days to go before having to hit work. Yet, here I am. Missing the time off something bad.

I like to believe all the sane and normal people in the world suffer from Holiday Blues. Except for abnormally cheerful and full-of-beans kind who always look forward to tomorrow. Even Mondays. Ugh! And the workaholics. They taught us in school: Work is worship. But these people take it too far. They willingly and happily work on holidays. Extended time off causes withdrawal symptoms. To them, Blackberry is the new Wheel. Of course, they would not suffer from Holiday Blues.

The Blues can be better borne when there is another holiday (read, weekday off) in sight. Even if it is not as long as the one being lamented currently. Something’s better than nothing, right? It is like Manna from Heaven. A freshwater spring for a man dying of thirst in a scorched desert etc. etc. You get the gist.

Like I have a Friday off in the coming week. That will sustain me through the endless week that inevitably follows a holiday. I do not know how people think that they feel energised when they rejoin work after a longish time-off. I feel all the more lazy and it takes longer for me to get into groove.

Nonetheless, I will now go and take my medication for the Holiday Blues. A book to forget that a working Monday is looming and my afternoon siesta. And a two minute silence to mourn the passing of my holidays. May they come soon again. Amen.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I wish, I could count the stars,
I wish, I could sparkle.
I wish, I could live a dream,
I wish, I could dazzle.

I wish, I could row to the moon,
I wish to be a firefly.
I wish, I could churn the seas,
I wish to know the highest high.

I wish, I could slay a dragon,
I wish for adventures real.
I wish, I could treasures hunt
I wish for realms magical.

I wish, I could have wishes three,
I wish for a boon.
I wish, the boon is granted
I wish, real soon!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sky High

I will start with an admission: I do not like flying in an aeroplane. It makes me feel nauseous, my ears ring and my head is a like a leaden weight on my shoulders. Seriously overweight co-passengers who hog armrests and the plane-is-my-mansion kind who recline their seats regardless of whether you are eating, reading or sleeping make things worse. But the absolute pit is getting the middle seat. Or wait, getting an aisle seat with co-passengers who want to go to the restroom every fifteen minutes or so probably takes the prize.

Yet, of late I have chosen to book a flight because it saves time – time that is better utilized with family and friends rather than travelling from Point A to Point B.

So, last week, when I decided to take a seriously needed break from work, I booked air tickets with the extra pre-caution of selecting the seats in advance. I chose window seats – a luxury that airlines have been denying me for years now.

And it was a fortuitous decision. Because it reminded me of the only thing I love about flying.
I boarded an evening flight for my destination. The moment I had made the obligatory call home, I switched off my cell phone, put on my seat belt, took off my sandals, curled my legs under me and prepared to pass the two and half hour journey with my book and iPod. The plane took off in the usual roaring manner, with yours truly gripping the armrests and closing the eyes and hoping that the tinny noise in my ears would not last long.

Thankfully, the take-off was smooth and the plane soon righted itself. I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. And had my breath stolen.

It was after a long, long time that I was taking an evening flight and also had the window to myself. Outside my window, a glorious sight met my eyes. I was going west, so it seemed as if I was flying into the crimson sun itself.

The plane was far above the clouds. A melange of colours had lit up the beautifully soft and dense world of white below us. Red, pink, orange and all the possible shades in between were playing within the cloudy folds. I wanted to taste them really bad. Would they taste slightly sweet and cool, like candy floss? And I wanted to touch and roll in them. Know their feel, remember their texture.

It was a fairy land below me. Surely those spires of marsh-mellows belonged to the castle of the fairy queen. I half-expected faery creatures to peek out of clouds and wink at me. As if I was the only one to know their secret. Imps, goblins and leprechauns walking down the rainbow to the pot of gold. Tiny, little Tinker Bells with gauzy, sparkly wings and naughty smiles.

I also saw a huge polar bear with wings, flying alongside the plane – a knight escorting me to my destination, sworn to protect me against all misfortunes that could befall me. And then there was Pegasus being born right in front of my eyes – the head and torso rising out of the clouds and the wings taking shape, stretching white and magnificent. Mesmerising.

When the sun set and the white world beyond my window went dark, I returned to my book with a rueful smile. But of one thing I was sure. I could not ask for a better and more beautiful memory to begin my vacation.

To windows and flights, then.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Coming Up for Air

It is Saturday today but we have full-day office. Because we got an unnecessary Tuesday off last week, courtesy our ever-conscientious trade unions.

But since it is a Saturday, I think I can take out half an hour to day-dream a little. Mainly about my upcoming week off. Now, there is a big smile on my face.

A whole week off! What a relief. It’s been more than a year since I went on a vacation (and lovely was the trip to Himachal last year). This time, though, I am not really going on a trip to explore some new place. I am going to another city, catch up with cousins and old friends I have not seen for a couple of years now.

Sometimes, I am surprised to discover that though I have been to this city – let’s call it Eden, for the time being – I have never really seen it. And it is a city which people claim, has to be experienced. In the past, my sojourns to Eden have been on official tours – zipping in and out. Between meetings and travelling all over the city, I barely ever had time to meet a friend for coffee.

So, I have decided to make amends. It will be a week full of gluttony, sloth and visiting all the landmarks dotting Eden. Hanging out and reminiscing with friends who have gotten married and become parents since I last saw them. Get introduced to a whole bunch of nieces and nephews – some familial, others honorary – and hoping that they would remember me the next time they see me.

And I vow not to think of work even for a second. Not to worry about all the mails and commitments waiting for me when I return. Not to obsess about the last mails that I would send before taking off and the possible replies that they would evoke. Not to wish for my laptop to check just one mail (Facebook excepted, of course). Not to wonder if the meetings for important presentations have been set up. And most definitely not to agonise over my career choices.

I always have promises to keep but these I would, with pleasure.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Do this. Don’t do that.
If you follow those,
You are a cranky old bat.

Copy this. Paste that.
Don’t make a mistake
And cut the crap

Present this. Hide that.
Keep it succinct;
Don’t make it fat.

Plan for this. Leave that out.
And if you are tired,
Scream out loud.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fast and Famished

I love food. The hot, spicy kind (not too much into sweets and desserts). And I most definitely cannot go an entire day without it.

But yesterday was janmashtami. The festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna. It is a big festival and one that I have always enjoyed (especially the part where I get to swing the god in the miniature wooden cradle at home after he is officially born. Anyway, I digress). And it is the one occasion when I observe a day of fast.

Why this festival and not loads of others which offer the same opportunity, one may ask. Well, the reason is actually quite simple. It is the only festival when those who fast are allowed milk items like lassi, dahi etc. (not sweets, though) and fruits throughout the day. So, I do not really have to go hungry throughout the day. Smart, huh?

I think I first started fasting on this day because most of my aunts and uncles in my family used to. And I always wanted to do what they did. And I tried to follow their rigour in fasting. Consider the following example of how a ten year old me fasted on janmashtami:

7:00 a.m. Get up from bed and inform my mom proudly that I am going to fast today.

9:00 a.m. Have found a valid excuse for refusing milk. The fasting rules do not allow Complan. So, no milk. My grandmother supports me.

11:00 a.m. First pangs of hunger. Have a banana and guava. Refuse the apples and lament the unavailability of mangoes.

1:00 p.m. Aunt asks if I am hungry. Of course not, is my indignant reply. I am only going to eat at midnight, I declare.

3:00 pm. The non-fasting population of the household gathers for tea and snacks. I look, ponder and consider. I will have some tea and snacks, I announce. And what about the fast? I will do it next year.

4:00 p.m. Hunger sated for the time being. I will fast from now on till midnight, I tell my aunt, uncle and mom. They just look at me and say nothing.

10.00 p.m. Culinary preparations for the midnight feast are on. My dad, who can never fast, is having his dinner. It all looks really tasty and smells good too. My stomach growls. I eat with him.

12:00 p.m. The puja takes place. I eat with my aunt and uncle. After all, I did observe the fast.

Of course, I no longer do such things. But I have certain rules about it:

Rule number 1: My office should have declared a holiday. I have a very valid reason for this. I once tried fasting when I had work, which required my traipsing all over Kolkata in pouring rain to oversee some interviews at grocery stores. I was dead by the time I reached home.

Rule number 2: My kitchen should be stocked with plenty of curd for preparing lassi. And it should be really sweet.

Rule number 3: I will not do any chores at home. After all, in my feeble state, I can hardly be expected to help out.

Rule number 4: I will only sleep, watch TV and read books.

Rule number 5: There should be plenty of fruits of my choice. So, apples are out.

Rule number 6: If I throw any tantrums, one must bear with me. Hunger brings out the fussy me.

But despite all these rules, Murphy still manages to scupper my party.

I feel more hungry than usual and the last couple of hours are sheer torture. There are times, when I have lot of work, I skip meals and not really mind it. On janmashtami, however, every missed bite seems unbearable.

Yet, I survived the day, though I kind of rushed my dad through the puja. I gobbled down the food when it was served and lived to write this blog.

Thank god, the god is born only once a year!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Booked and Shot

Bollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma hit the theatres recently. Christened “Aisha”, it met with rave reviews about the styling and clothes and not so hot feedback about the story, the screenplay, the dialogues etc.

I wanted to see the movie but it was an extremely busy, nerve-wrecking month at work and I didn't get the chance. So, now I will watch it on DVD sometime.

But it got me thinking about movie adaptations of books. Being a bookaholic, I generally find that movies do not live up to the book. In some cases, though, the movies make the book better.

So, I list here books that I thought were better as films and some which, I think, were unjustly treated by the filmmaker.

First, the good list:

Harry Potter 4, 5 and 6
I love JK Rowling’s world and the characters. But the fourth book onwards, I was seriously beginning to question where she was going with the story. Goblet of Fire had the endless Quidditch World Cup while Order of Phoenix and Half Blood Prince had some key characters being killed in what seemed like writer’s whimsy. The movie adaptations, on the other hand, got straight to the heart of the story. The amazing visual effects did not hurt either. Remember the underground lake sequence in the movie version of Half Blood Prince, where Dumbledore and Harry are standing on this slab of rock with a wild sea lashing around them? Breathtaking. Really.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I do not know how many people have read Tolkien’s epic work. It’s a fascinating world he creates but sometimes he gets so involved in the routine chores of Hobbits or the history of Middle Earth that he forgets that he is also telling a story. Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation, however, is flawless. From the stunning visuals shot in the harsh New Zealand winters to the wheezy, nasal tone of Gollum’s voice to Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn to the magnificence of Ents in an action sequence, the movies are a visual treat. The story is full of adventure and action, with nary the time to breathe between sequences. The tedium of endless descriptions that mar the book has been ruthlessly cut out of the movie. Three of the best fantasy movies I have ever seen.

Comedy of Errors
I have said this before. I am not very fond of Shakespeare. But Comedy of Errors is brought to hilarious life by Gulzar in Angoor. The movie, like the play, revolves around two sets of twins separated at birth and how when their paths unwittingly cross many years later, funny mayhem ensues. Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma are excellent in their respective double roles. If you have not watched the movie, you are missing out on a great weekend, time-pass movie.

It’s remarkable how some of the best Shakespearean adaptations are conceived and brought to stunning fruition by Indian directors. Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar’s protégé, created a gem in Omkara, an adaptation of Othello. A stellar ensemble cast ensured that the movie had great performances. Particularly memorable was Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi, the Indian Iago. However, the true heroes of the movie were Vishal Bhardwaj’s story, direction and music. Set in the hinterland of North India, the film has the rustic twang and flavor in every dialogue, note and gesture.

Coming to movie adaptations that are most definitely not in my good books:

Pride and Prejudice
This book has perhaps spawned more adaptations, sequels, prequels and ancillary works than any other. It is also one of the greatest romances and my favourite book. That is why Gurinder Chaddha’s blasphemy named Bride and Prejudice made me really mad. Aishwarya Rai, one of the biggest non-actors we have, was cast as the vivacious Elizabeth Bennet. Rai looked haggard, listless and totally unsuited as the “not handsome enough to tempt” but intelligent and charming heroine of Austen’s masterpiece. A chatty Darcy and Indian Lydia’s snake dance must have had Ms. Austen turning in her grave. It was so bad that I had to get up in the middle of the movie. It makes the Keira Knightley version look like a work of art. Seriously, Ms. Chaddha, what were you thinking?

The Devil Wears Prada: 
Yeah, yeah, I know. The movie won great reviews. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestley was sheer genius etc. etc. The book however, is far better. It captures the travails and tribulations of Andrea’s life in a more captivating manner. The dialogues are witty. The situations are humorous and poignant at the same time. While we all may not work at a big fashion magazine, don’t we all identify with Andrea’s helplessness, frustration and feeling of being permanently sapped? I know I do. Somehow, the movie did not make me feel the same. No doubt, Meryl Streep was amazing. The softly spoken words laced with heavy, authoritarian sarcasm that could cut you to pieces with such flair. The style diva with I-am-the-queen-of-all-I-survey attitude. That is why the slight smile of acknowledgement that Streep gives to Anne Hathaway / Andrea at the end seems so out of character and made me put the movie in this particular list.

Sense and Sensibility
Yet another Jane Austen novel that lost its essence on the silver screen. Emma Thompson as young Elinor Dashwood was something of a stretch. I have never understood the tendency of filmmakers to overlook the suitability of an actor to a role. Good acting skills are necessary but the actor also has to look the part. So, explain to me how Emma Thompson could play nineteen year old Elinor. Plus, her romance with Hugh Grant lacked chemistry. So, despite perfectly casting beautiful Kate Winslet as Marianne and Alan Rickman as the much older Colonel Brandon, the movie does not match up to the book.

The Bourne Identity: 
I am quite fond of Matt Damon but I do not quite see him as a deadly assassin who is the protagonist of Ludlum’s famous trilogy. Plus, the movie did not follow the book, taking one cinematic liberty too many and to someone who has read the book, it is quite disconcerting. So much so, I fruitlessly kept on trying to link the events in the book with the movie until I got fed up of the movie. Definitely a better book than movie.

I have read the entire series. It starts with an interesting premise and degenerates into a near nonsensical, irritating and weird love triangle with a weirder climax. So, how difficult could it have been to better the book? Not too much, we can assume. But the movie fails. Let me count the reasons. One, Robert Pattinson’s make-up. He wore more of it than the entire female cast, including Kristen Stewart. Second, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s as the lead actors. He only stared out of a pasty white face and she cowered, cringed and stared back. There’s more to acting than that. Third, the real-life couple is completely devoid of any smouldering passion or spark on-screen. Stephanie Meyers’ best seller needed a sizzling onscreen couple. Well as sizzling a cold vampire can be. I actually preferred RPatz in the small role of Cedric Diggory in Goblet of Fire.

The Da Vinci Code
This is probably the only book for which Dan Brown would be remembered. It is riveting, informative, action packed and peopled with great characters. Robert Langdon is an unlikely and unconventional hero but he is likeable and believable (as an aside, I would not recommend the other two books that star him, especially The Lost Symbol). The movie adaptation has a rather unfit looking, middle aged Tom Hanks playing Langdon, who despite being in his mid-forties is quite athletic. Plus, the movie assumes that all its viewers would have had read the book. The screenplay was difficult to follow, with cryptic flashbacks and narrations. The discoveries and revelations which make the book fascinating looked cumbersome and labored on the silver screen. I was so disappointed with the movie that I skipped the big screen adaptation of the prequel,  Angels and Demons.

Little Women
The movie clubbed Alcott’s first novel about the March family with the second one, Good Wives, ending up with a mish mash of events that do no justice to this charming little saga. Winona Ryder as Jo march was a little too charming and pretty while Professor Bhaer looked too old (I maybe a little biased, since I  wanted her to marry Laurie). Somehow, the movie did not portray the quiet dignity, the simple joys and the delightful quirks of the Marches that we all know and love. 

You are puzzled, right? And you think I must have lost my marbles to put on this list Chetan Anand’s critically acclaimed masterpiece. The movie had timeless music, great story and the unlikely pair of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman playing Raju, the titular guide and Rosie. So, why is this movie here? Simply because it fails to match the pathos and humour of RK Narayan’s lucid prose and storytelling. Raju of the book has my sympathy despite his betrayal of Rosie. Raju of the movie comes across as a scoundrel despite Rosie attempts to forgive him. Dev Anand with all his sauciness and charming ways somehow was not convincing enough as Raju.

There are books that I strongly disliked and therefore steered clear of their movie versions. Leading the pack is Chetan Bhagat’s One Night @ Call Centre. Its movie version is an atrocity called Hello. Since I found the book pretentious and amateurish, I did not care what the movie turned out to be like.

Then there are books which I found interesting despite not particularly liking the author’s pedantic ways. Midnight’s Children is one such book. I hear Deepa Mehta is working on a movie version of the same. I think the outcome would be quite intriguing to see. I am also looking forward to Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Part I & II.  Actually I can hardly wait for them.

On that note, I bid adieu. Until next time.