Therapy is ..

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.. stumbling upon a new beach park when attending a barbeque party; inhaling the lovely smell of roast sweet potatoes and watching the sea through the gaps between the coconut trees, thinking of this beauty called life, feeling inspired to take that one extra step to make one dream a reality; letting the nostalgia of summer holidays by the not-so-clean riverside wash over you because while this cleanliness looks beautiful and pristine, the memories associated with a not-so-clean beach are priceless.

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.. sipping on filter coffee, the ever-familiar frothy ice-creamy layer, making the “srrp” sound without a bother because that was how it tasted awesome; tearfully remembering that no matter what, this will always smell of ma and sometimes a bit of corriander when she forgot to wash her hands before serving the coffee in a hurry while packing our lunch boxes. Why doesn’t my coffee come an inch close?

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…. weaving paper to make tea coasters because the act of weaving is meditation; the thoughts that cross your mind amaze you and the joy that engulfs you during the process of creation seems to be contagious. It makes you look forward to wash that pile of dishes, even.

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…. K satisfying the midnight craving for a nice plum by walking all the way to the refridgerator which is by no means a small feat once you are settled nicely in bed; munching on one plum after the other, marvelling at how God can create something so resplendent and tasty and juicy that opens up warm memories of papa bringing home plum boxes for Chintu and me to devour.

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…. celebrating Valentine’s day by watching fighter planes making hearts, feeling dizzy with happiness and wishing that “fighter” planes always did that.

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…. making poochkas at home and teasing Chintu endlessly; fighting with K for that last one and realizing that there is one more poochka on the countertop, left behind by mistake and then dashing towards it because there is nothing so tasty as the last one; K winning the race but letting me have half of it because, mushily though, that’s how we roll.

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…. play-doh. Everytime I walk into Popular or Toys-R-Us, I walk out with a box of play-doh. The colours, the texture, the fact that it is so pliable and can make anything from anywhere draws me to them each time. Why, even the little jars are so pretty! What can make it better? A pair of little hands that share your enchantment.

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– lying on the grass, savouring the tactile sensation that puts the best couch to shame; watching the big sea and the small waves and ripples that make it, realizing all over again how life is in its small moments; watching a couple getting cozy and feeling shy; singing along in gay abandon with K, falling in love with how music binds us together at so many levels; cherishing the Sunday evening and looking forward to a nice Monday.

and

….. knowing and feeling secure in the knowledge that this list is endless.

 

Fresh from the bookshelf

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Over the years, I have realized that every and now, there comes a book that turns out to be what you never expected it to be. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency  by Alexander McCall Smith is definitely one of them. And what made it all the more special was the way I found it on a nice corner table in one of the quaint cafes here in Singapore. This book was left by someone as part of the bookcross initiative. Bookcrossing is a belief that every book needs to travel the world. Each book has a unique BookCross Id. and all you need to do is pick up the book, have fun reading it and then leave it someplace where someone else will pick it up. You can login to the bookcross website and see where your book came from and where it has travelled. Mine came all the way from Holland. You can then leave an entry there as to where you picked it. This becomes like the book’s travel journal. So exciting, right?

Pretty much like the book itself. I had read about this book on several blogs and it was on my to-read list as well. The title piqued my curiosity and like many of you, I thought it will be a mystery or similar plot. This book is much more than that. It is a story that portrays the beauty of being human and the joy of little relationships in such simple and subtle ways that you can’t get enough of.

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Precious Ramotswe is a Motswana woman has her own detective agency, the only one in Botswana and is the protagonist and main detective. In this first book of the series, Precious solves mysteries in the most logical and simple ways that it is a delight to read them without all the build-up that other suspense novels have. Infact, what really keeps you on the edge of your seat is finding out what mystery she will solve next and how she will cleverly do it.

What made this book special is the simple narration. There is nothing elaborate and it speaks of the human nature so beautifully that it is an absolute delight to read. The lives of people in Africa, especially Botswana is portrayed through the people Precious meets, the mysteries and some snippets from Precious’ past. Some of the thoughts and lines by Precious are simple truths but hit you hard.

I loved Previous’ character immensely. She is such a resolute woman, one who is independent, has her heart in the right place and smart, oh yes! Right from mysteries surrounding missing husbands to witchcraft, this book sees Precious solving them all sans any buildup of suspense that you find in thrillers. Read it for the its beautiful human interaction, the protagonist and most importantly for the freshness the book brings.

Don’t Blink by James Patterson

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Nick Daniels is a reporter who has the opportunity to conduct a once-in-a-lifetime interview with a legendary baseball player who is media shy. He is waiting for the player to run up at New York’s popular Lombardo’s Steak House when a gruesome murder happens right next to him. Inadvertently he has collected a vital piece of evidence. This creates a war between the mafia and  lands him in an adventure where he runs for his life.  Pursued by threats, humiliation, narrow escapades, he is bent on unravelling the mystery and writing his story. Amidst all this is his rocky relationship with Courtney. How does he unearth the facts? How many lives will be sacrificed towards the cause?

I enjoy thrillers. But somehow, I took a few days to finish this in different sittings. This is my first book by James Patterson and I kind of had some expectations. I wouldn’t say it was a bad book but somehow it did not bring me to the edge of my seat at all. So, I don’t really recommend it. But if you like similar genres, give it a go. Nothing big here.

I’ve got my ..

nose buried in quite a few books. This year has started on a reading high even though my reviews hardly reflect that. Sometimes, I just feel so lost in the book and the million thoughts that loom over my small head that I fail miserably to makes notes of it. How do I note down a gazillion questions that don’t find answers but give rise to more questions? Anyhoooo, I better gather the scattered thoughts  and start writing about my reading experience before I close this window for another day.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle

I chose this for 2 reasons: the title (Tquila mockingbird from To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee) and the phrase “literary twist”. Yeah, I choose books like that. It sounded so tempting that I bought it on my Kindle at 3A.M. one fine morning. To summarize in one word: I loved the book. I loved the wit, the precision, the information and just the way it has been brought together in neat little chapters that have brilliant wordplay with literary gems and end with food/drinks. What’s not to like, right?

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The book consists of 5 parts namely, Drinks for the dames, Gulps for guys, Bevvies for bookclubs, Refreshments for recovering readers and Bar bites for book hounds. Each drink recipe is assigned a very witty name associated with a particular book e.g. Love in the Time of Kahlua is a wordplay of the book “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez. Each recipe comes with a satirical description of the book it is named after followed by the recipe and measurements. I don’t enjoy alcohol and I am the one who orders virgin everything or sip on some wine occassionally. Nevertheless, I loved this book. My favourite section was ofcourse the one on bar bites. I actually marked a few recipes. Read it for the wit, read it for the unique way it has been written and for the sheer joy that the names of drinks such as The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, The Last of the Mojitos, Love in the Time of Kahlúa, Romeo and Julep, A Rum of One’s Own, Are You There, God?,  It’s Me, Margarita or Vermouth the Bell Tolls, all named after books, brings. Go on, read this one. One of those rare times when you can have your drink and read it too!

The man who was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K.Chesterton

I picked this up to read on my Kindle as well because I loved the intrigue and curiosity that the title created in me. Plus, I love Chesterton. I grew up listening to Bernard Shaw and Chesterton’s wit by pa.

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The book begins in the most interesting of ways. Two passionate poets argue  about the society, its good and bad.  The focus is on whether chaos should reign the world or order be the true characteristic of mankind. Starting from this, we are drawn into the heart of anarchy characterised by several events and people where none can be expected to be who he is. The main protagonist, Syme, a policeman/poet joins a bizarre group of anarchists. These anarchists each have a name of the week as their title and Syme is given the title of Thursday. The events leading up to this itself are very amusing. However he quickly discovers that it may be harder to hide who he is in the group  as he discovers some surprises about the anarchists themselves.

I was piqued to know the ending, to say the least. But the ending I must say is not easy to comprehend. It wasn’t for me. I tossed and turned in my sleep because I wanted to find answers. The book is an allegory. It is also a symbol of fight between law and order vs. anarchy. While the book was written more than a hundred years ago, the question still holds true today. Apparently, when Chesterton wrote this book, the threat of anarchist movement was large. Even to this day, we have a lot of forces that fight law and order/ go against it. But different readers feel differently about the ending the true meaning of the book. There are several explanations offered – Christianity, Communism, experiencing pain to reap the good and so on. But I never really understood the book in its entirety. What started off as a good James Bondery expressed in unique detail with superb wit (as always!), turned out to be one seductive web that threw questions about life and society. What I also inferred was the masks people wear to hide/protect themselves from others. We aren’t what we show ourselves to be.

The book is written beautifully. The story moves in and out of locales and yet does it with such finesse and fluidity that not many can boast of. I loved Chesterton’s language and the ubiquitous humour. Sample this:

His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a rebellion against rebellion. He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone. If you enjoy an allegory, some drama, some mystery and a blend of the remaining genres all in one, do read this one. And when you do, please tell me what you make of it. I am yet to sleep in peace.

Chinese New Year

Gong Xi Fa Cai, folks!

I am wrapping up a 4.5 day weekend to be precise and I can’t feel more rejuvenated. I love how there is a good holiday to look forward to bang in the beginning of the year, in Singapore. Now, who doesn’t like holidays? None? I thought as much.

I have been wanting to share some of the resplendent sights that mark the lunar new year. Chinese New Year is celebrated on a mega scale in countries inhabited by a large Chinese population and in Chinatowns of other countries. Singapore naturally has  big celebrations starting right from the first week of January and stretching all the way until a week after the Chinese New Year. The entire country is painted red and gold making it hard to not feel the spirit. The festivities in Chinatown are something one must not miss if you were to be here during this time of the year.

S, my friend and I set off to catch some action in Chinatown on the eve of Chinese New Year. We expected a crazy crowd but it wasn’t too bad, actually.

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Chinese New Year celebrations begin  from Chinese New Year’s Eve which happened to be Jan 30th this year. It goes on till the the 15th day of the first month. So you can imagine how long the festivities can be!

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The decorations are usually in red. “According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or “Year” in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year and believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. Once, people saw the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red, they then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red. Hence, every time when New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and spring scroll on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten the Nian and from then on, the Nian never came to the village again and was eventually converted by Hongjunlaozu, a Taoist in the old time, and became his mount.” (Picked from here)

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You can see red envelopes above, also called ang pau. The Chinese place money in these envelopes and exchange it with their family and friends. Ang pau is also given during weddings and other occasions. The red colour of the envelope symbolises good luck and is believed to ward off evil spirits.

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The whole of Chinatown turns into a night market of sorts and people throng the shops to buy the various symbols that mark CNY. It is amazing how there are rows and rows of shops selling just those red coloured envelopes and shops selling various wall hangings with good luck messages. The word for fish, “Yu,” sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. It is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, symbolizing a wish for abundance in the coming year. In the above pictures, you can see the fish hanging that symbolizes abundance.

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This year, being the year of the Horse, the streets were lined by horse-lights. The streets looked like they were being driven by horses and no photo can do justice to how lovely the streets looked.

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What I love about Singapore is how everyone celebrates everything. The Mariamman temple in Chinatown had a banner to wish everyone a happy Lunar Year.

Amidst all this, we also managed to do some shopping.

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The Chinese meet family members and have family lunches/dinners and get-togethers during this period. They call this open-house, a time when friends and family walk in and spend time with loved ones. We were invited to the home of one of our close Chinese friends. And since, CNY  is also the time to devour the most delicious of pineapple tarts and other yummy goodies, K and I snuck our faces into the goodies.

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So, we had the kueh bangit that melts in your mouth, peanut filled puffs, chocolate sesame cookies (yumm!), pineapple balls ( I can live on them) and pineapple cheese balls (What is not to love?). People also exchange oranges that symbolize luck and wealth. It could be because the word for orange sounds like the word that means wealth. Another fruit that symbolizes abundance and wealth is the pomelo.  Right from noodles  representing long life to an entire chicken being served to symbolize family unity, it is very  intriguing to understand the significance of various food items according to the Chinese.

Moving into Singapore has been a culturally stimulating experience for K and me. Chinese traditions, like Indian, are vast. Every festival and celebration has brought us closer and helped us appreciate them better. From the curious onlookers, we have now become part of the celebration, attending open-houses, gorging on the food and festivities and writing about it :)

The Buddha in the Attic

Some books, no matter how short, draw you in, sweep you off your feet and leave you asking for more. They make you travel back in time, bring the characters right in front of you almost as if you can touch them and see for yourself how vivid words can be. They make you sad in a happy kind of way and happy in a sad way. They tell you stories of an entire generation in a few pages and few lines even. They make you feel something you cannot place and that feeling lingers when you are at Mc Donald or even just staring at the ceiling at home, lying on your favourite couch.

One such book is “The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka. The book is inspired bythe life stories of Japanese immigrants who came to America in early 1900s. Otsuka has drawn upon a large number of historical sources and explores the fate of a large group of picture brides brought from Japan to US.  Narrated in the first person plural, the novel opens with the women on the boat travelling from Japan to San Francisco.

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The book through its incantatory sections traces the lives of these women from their arduous voyage where the girls excitedly compare photos of their husbands-to-be and fantasize about unknown features in a foriegn land; to their arrival and first-nights with their husbands; to their endless back-breaking labour as migrant workers in the fields of white owners and as helpers for white women; their struggle to adapt to a new culture and langauge; their experiences in childbirth and raising children who reject Japanese heritage; and finally, the arrival of war and how every Japanese is viewed suspiciously and their trials and the agonizing prospect of internment.

The book had me spell-bound. I loved how Otsuka has divided the book into chapters, each signifying an important phase, a collection of experiences that talk to you. It is a story of loyalty and identity. The expectations and fears of Japanese women about America is described beautifully. But if you ask me about my favourite sections, I will, without batting an eyelid, say “Babies” and “Children”. I loved how the chapter on babies opened – “We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth beside wood stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the year…. we gave birth quietly,  like our mothers who never cried-out or complained….. we gave birth secretly, in the woods, to a child our husband knew was not his…. “As I sit to type the lines, I realize I may just reporoduce the entire chapter.

What makes it all the more powerful is the first person plural narrative. Honestly, I hadn’t read a book until this one,  that followed this narrative style and spoke so powerfully to me. When Otsuka starts a line with “One of us..”, I loved the way it made me think of a single woman amongst the group of Japanese women I had drawn in my inner mind and sometimes, I just couldn’t figure out who it would be. Sometimes, I had a great deal of confusion identifying that woman. I loved the writing style – so simple, so classy, so power-packed and so poignant.

The women’s lives in America and how things are different from what they had been led to expect is beautifully portrayed. Many a time we have certain perceptions of a foriegn culture that come from all sorts of sources but when reality strikes, you realize how different things actually are. Sometimes they turn out to be better and sometimes not. Sometimes they shock you to the core but you go on like it has always been a part of you. But as a reader, it moves you, shocks you and makes you want to change things for the characters in some places. And yet, quite pradaoxically, you find the sadness and tragedy beautiful. It evokes something in you and makes you realize that you love reading for this same thing. And reinforces why stories are the best. Again, what makes Otsuka‘s writing spectacular, is its ability to convey so many experiences, so stories as one collective journey through a narrative in first person plural.

Read this one for the sheer narrative style; for the story of an entire generation in brief chapters; for the poignant description of children’s dreams that differed from those of their mothers; for the reminder that life enjoys playing with us by bringing about rifts between expectations and reality; for the shocking tales of so many women who call themselves “We”.

 

 

To a glorious 2014!

Happy New Year you all! :)

Thank you for being a part of my life. I have written before and I say it again – your words and the mere assurance that you are all touching my life and making a positive impact on me in ways more than one overwhelms me. I have been inspired and felt beautiful when I read many of your thoughts and musings. It has refined my perception of the world and I believe I am growing as a person.

I wanted to cut all the mush and just wish you a glorious 2014. But somethings just have to be said, especially when they mean so much to you. Thank you.

I do not have a lot of resolutions. I want to take it one day at a time and make the best of my year by staying open to options and being adventurous. I want to not worry about a rainy day but enjoy the present. Ofcourse, that encompasses more time with family, more books, more travel, more cooking, more friends and all of that. But most importantly, I want to sit by my favourite window and enjoy the view fervently wishing that time halts.

What are your resolutions? Whatever they are, I wish you the best in achieving them. May God always keep you happy and help you find ways to make yourself happy! :)

 

Raghurajpur and its Pattachithra painters: Orissa Odyssey 1

My experiences from my trip to Orissa last year have been long overdue. Without much ado, here is the first in the series.

Who knew that a road trip to Puri would take us to this beautiful little artists’ village/ crafts village as it is popularly called? The fact that it was after Peepli (that is going to be one other story) and not really on the way made it even less probable. But you know what R.L.Stevenson said about travelling not to go anywhere, but to go; to travel for travel’s sake and the great affair being, to move. That’s really what happened to us.

Raghurajpur is a cozy village that is quite camouflaged by tall lines of coconut and palms. With about 120 huts that house a really modest population, you cannot help feeling cozy and homely here. Not even, if this comes out from nowhere as you drive along. Well, we actually did a very small detour to get here when our driver, S, mentioned this place for its artists and especially Pattachithra work.

Known for their implausible pictographic notion, distinctive caucus and vivacious insignia, Pattachithras form an exceptional work of art in the rich legacy of Indian art, one that Orissa boasts of.

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When we were greeted warmly by one of the artists to take a look at his collection (and buy some), little did we realize that we would end up spending hours at this place understanding the process of how the final art piece comes about and why it makes it all the more marvellous and super-human even.

Dexterity of the hand is something that amazes me. But what swept me off my feet is the fertility of the mind and the way little details work out in the little brain, sparking off  neuronal connections to bring out a motoric feat if you will, that seems unparalleled and impossible to you.

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What little world of our own do we live in? Can you imagine the symmetry and the curves and the perfect spacing above all done meticulously over a stretch of time sometimes spanning months? To think that someone can persevere to that extent, moving along the brushes so finely, until the brain tells you to stop? I saluted a million times over when I heard that the elderly artists and their forefathers would do it all without any measuring tools or even an eraser.

So what is Pattachithra art? This form of art refers to paintings done on canvas that is usually prepared by coating with lacquer or similar materials. We saw strips of cotton cloth on which the painting is done. The cloth  undergoes a preparation process with gum of the tamarind seeds that is then rubbed and dried. This makes the cloth’s surface leathery and the chithrakara/ painter paints on it using natural colours obtained from vegetables, stones etc., the emphasis being on natural colours and dyes. The chithrakaras do not use any pencil and the drawing is usually done directly from the brush as an outline, in original paintings. After colours are filled-in, the painting is coated in lacquer by holding it over a furnace/ fireplace and exposing it to heat. The product looks glossy and beautiful. Sometimes, these paintings are also done on palm leaves and this form of art is called “tala pattachithra“.

As I clicked away, the artists requested me to not post the pictures of the step-by-step process of their art. I will respect their wishes and just show you a couple of shots from the demonstration. They basically had art in various stages and some of the artists were actively painting when we were there as well. So we had a chance to look at how the final art that adorns your wall actually goes through various stages starting from priming, initial sketching with minimal erasing, ink-ing and finally painting and drying.

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The intricate and creatively designed motiffs and vibrant colours used are something to watch out for in this form of art. Most of the paintings centred around Ramayana, Mahabharat and depiction of Konark and Lord  Jagannath of Puri. Some paintings are a sequence of events from one of the epics and usually share a story. The details such as the nose-stud on Radha and the feather on Lord Krishna‘s head are done so beautifully that you cannot believe that it was done in one go with absolutely no editting.

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The chithrakaras and their family ususally live together and their home serves as their studio as well. The women are involved in preparing the canvas and applying lacquer while the head artist (usually a male) does the sketching and finishing. When I asked them how they can paint such minute details with nothing to refer to, they told me that their mind works up images and they just follow the details from there. Isn’t it amazing?

Apart from paintings, we also saw this form of art on a wide variety of other objects such as waste bottles, betel nuts etc.

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For the amount of effort that goes in, I honestly thought that each piece is priceless. We bought a tala pattachithra of the eight forms of Lord Ganesh, some paintings of Lord Jagannath on betel nuts and some framed paintings as well.

I think this is one visit that I would never forget in my lifetime. Everytime I look up at the tala pattachithra in our living room, I feel so miniscule amidst such an elaborate and creative process. I strongly urge you to create an opportunity to see this process for yourselves and meet the beautiful minds and hands behind it.

ETA: The picture of the betel nut with Lord Jagannath on it. Yash, this one is for you. Forgive the image  quality – just clicked it now using my phone.

Lord Jagannath on betel nut

Auroville: Giving time a break in Pondicherry 4

I will not pretend and say that I understood Auroville. I believe that Auroville is a deep and intense concept and my half day trip does not take me anywhere near understanding even a hair’s width of it. But what I can tell you is that it requires a different level of appreciation.

When K and I went there, I felt a sense of tranquility. It could be psychological or it could be the environment. But the fact is that the place made me feel calm. There is an undefined happiness on some of the faces of the residents. And that is something you will have to go see for yourselves.

Auroville is an experimental township in Viluppuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, near Puducherry in South India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa and designed by architect Roger Anger. When we got off at Auroville, we first headed to the visitor’s centre to watch a short film about the history of Matrimandir and Auroville. We would recommend the video because it gives a good overview of the genesis of Auroville. At the visitor’s centre you will be greeted by many a meaningful lines, posters on the ideology, philosophy and the dream that is Auroville. We stopped to read each of them.

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The vision of The Mother -  a place where unity is celebrated with no discrimination based on religion and where truth is divine is portrayed beautifully by these several photos and verses.

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Models of the township are also displayed and this was a huge plus for us. We did not have the whole day for Auroville and these models actually helped us have a bird’s eye-view of how Auroville actually looked. The little golden globe you see above the Matrimandir.

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After watching the video and looking at the displays to our heart’s content, we collected the visitor’s passes from the desk. The person in-charge guided us by pointing to the pathway that leads to the Matrimandir. There are people stationed along the way to guide you along the right path and there is absolutely no way you’d lose your way.

Now, the walk to Matrimandir itself is beautiful to say the least. There is this anticipation of finally seeing something you have come for and adding to this is the serenity and stillness. No one is in a hurry. The few visitors who were around also seemed to be quiet. Occassionally a moped vrooms past and somebody from Belgium or Korea or Latvia will waive at you or nod his head as a sign of welcome. The universality of Auroville is in its people. They bring thoughts, beliefs as diverse as themselves and yet, when someone from Bulgaria gives a ride to an Ukranian, you get goosebumps just by looking at how natural and easy it all seems. As of September, Auroville houses 2200+ residents from different nationalities. (Reference)

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What really awed me about Auroville is its emphasis on sustainability. I was not aware of the magnitude of its efforts towards sustainability and efficient harnessing of energy until I saw this – rows and rows of solar panels, on our way to Matrimandir.

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Later, I got to know of The Earth Institute that focusses on research, development and promotion of using technologies that are cost-friendly and energy-efficient. They have a variety of courses and also collaborate with institutions abroad. They are looking at starting courses in this direction. K and I are very interested in learning more about sustainability practices and eco-friendly drives. Unfortunately, we just did not have the time to explore as much as we wanted to. A big reason to go back again.

As we inched closer towards Matrimandir, we became increasingly aware of a silence and calm. When I spotted it from a distance, I felt so excited. This was the picture I had often seen and it felt wonderful to be there finally.

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Luckily for us, there weren’t too many people around that day and we could look at Matrimandir for as long as we wanted.

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Ideally, we would have loved to spend a day at Matrimandir. We once again realized that while impulsive travels are good, they aren’t always recommended. It is best to make a booking in-person, atleast a day in advance and check for when they allow visitors. If you have friends at Auroville, it helps. I do have a friend residing Auroville who is from France but it was too short a notice to ask her even. Next time.

I did a fair bit of shopping there as well at the Kalki boutique and another one.

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There are so many amazing hand-made products, many produced at Auroville ( not sure if everything is, but majority seemed to be made there). I came back proudly clutching ambrosial incense, car – freshner packaged beautiully, aromatic potpourri (the heavenly Maroma), handmade soaps, organic neem powder and some jam and marmalade – each of which I loved. I also got some soaps as souvenirs. Here, they accept cash (:P). But I understand that they do not accept cash in quite a few establishments. So, that was pretty much the only restraint. Else, I’d have bought an entire cargo. The products are not exactly economical but the quality is good. K just fiddled around with all the perfumes for trial and ended up smelling like a cute bouquet by the time we were out.

I have had a few people tell me that Auroville is nothing as its hype; that you can hardly spend two hours there without feeling bored. Don’t expect to see something amazing on first glance. You won’t find clusters of diverse groups huddled together everywhere either. I believe that, THAT is  exactly why you need to go in deeper to understand what makes Auroville. The paths looks barren at places and you won’t encounter anybody at certain points. Superfically, Auroville may not impress you. Which is why, I feel a strong urge to know more about this place.  I walked in with mixed reviews but a blank mind to form my own experience.

And I loved what I saw. The concept, the efforts, the people, the motivations that drive them – I felt inspired by all of it. But I do have regrets. I feel sorry for not having delved deeper, for not having spent time talking to people there, for not meditating inside the Matrimandir, for not having had a coffee with the residents, for not having visited the earth institute leisurely, for not having lunched at Solitude or grabbed a bite at Solar Kitchen. Hopefully, I will get to go back one more time and stay here for a week. I will learn some tai-chi and probably participate in some cultural exchange. Until then, I will hold close to my heart the memories and the vision that is Auroville.

Want to know more about my Pondicherry trip? Go on, read them here, here and here.

Dear Mr. Knightley and a wonderful bonus! :)

Imagine being granted a scholarship on the grounds that you must write a letter sharing your progress  to that mysterious person. Now, imagine a book that is a collection of these letters. Outpourings of a heart that make you want to stop and realize that it is Sam‘s life you are reading and not your own.  And the icing on the already delicious cake? Lots of Jane Austen for you. Yes, my dearies. That’s right.

I fell in love with the title “Dear Mr. Knightley” because, if you know me, you know I love letters. So, when Booksneeze sent me a copy of this book to review, I was only too happy to do it. Who is Sam? What is the past that she guards so fiercely? Who is the mysterious Mr. Knightley who asks her to write letters? Will she ever meet Mr. Knightley?

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Sam receives an extraordinary opportunity when a certain Mr. Knightley offers her a scholarship to study at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism on the condition that she updates him of her progress. The book traces a beautiful transformation of Sam as she steps into college, the process of making friends, living up to expectations, finding love amidst fighting other battles, all the while seeking solace in books. I expected a cute, happy book but was quite blown away by the depth at places.

The language is simple with a good dose of Jane Austen (ofcourse!)  and was a page turner for me. I enjoy first person accounts and the interesting premise only aded to the good experience. There were instances where I was a little impatient and wondered why the transformation took so much time but then that’s life, right? Things don’t change miraculously always. And fighting those demons and healing yourself is no  crash course either. Dear Mr. Knightley is an epistolary novel that turned out to be a lovely debut for me!

Now here’s the bonus. Katherine Reay, the author of this lovely book, was kind enough to do a small interview for my blog. This is my first interview with an author and I am pretty kicked about sharing it with you all. Thank you so much Katherine for being so nice!

1. I totally enjoyed your book! How did the idea for the book come about?

Dear Mr. Knightley started during my recovery from an injury. Many of the ways I defined myself were removed for a time – tennis, running, tae kwon do, cleaning the house, driving carpool, volunteering, even standing in the kitchen cooking…. I was housebound for several months recovering, praying, reading and, eventually, writing. I started reading the classics, beginning with Jane Austen, and spread from there. When I got to Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, I found context for the character already developing in my head. It all rolled from there…

 2. Sam undergoes a transformation that is beautifully reflected in the letters. Is Sam’s life based on someone you know personally?

 Sam shares no common history with any one I know personally or with me. That is why I say at the back of the book that all mistakes are my own. I need to be so careful about that because my book is fiction, but for some, such an experience is reality. When writing I worked to make Sam’s life bigger, tougher, and more challenging than many of us face so that we could more easily sneak into her emotional world and realize her struggles are universal – because, regardless of our circumstances, I think we all strive to define ourselves, face insecurity and fear, seek a place to stand and belong, and search for a family to love.

3. What do you enjoy most about writing?

Honestly, I love it all. As my sister says, “You get paid to live in your head.” But “most”?  I think I like that moment when the skeleton is on the page (my initial 50K word draft) and I get to start layering emotions. That’s a wonderful time.

4. Loved reading so much of Jane Austen. Was she a great influence in your life? Who are some of your other favourite authors?

She is huge for me. I have read all her novels repeatedly – and they are brilliant. I also return again and again to Tolkien, Lewis, Dickens, and Chesterton. Now that said, I don’t spend all my time in the past – there are innumerable great books out today and I try to inhale as many as possible.

5. Tell us a little more about your family.

I have a wonderful husband, three fantastic kids and a dog. The kids are thrilled with the book – they think it’s much more glamorous than it is and that’s fun.

 6. How does your family feel about your book?

My immediate family is bursting with joy, but my extended family is completely surprising and delighting me. I knew they loved me etc., but to hear all my cousins on Facebook and Twitter raving about the book is so fun. It’s nice to connect across the miles this way.

 7. What are your hobbies?

Ah… so many. I play tennis, I run, I read, I cook, I try to clean the house, I only needlepoint in the summer while visiting my parents and watching movies, I love gluing things back together and fixing stuff and I fly fish.

 8. Any more books in the pipeline?

Lizzy and Jane is next and in the editing process right now. It will be out next fall and I am so excited about this story. It’s got all the big guns: sisters, conflict, food, Jane Austen, Hemingway (threw you there, didn’t I?), love, and breast cancer. I know that last one is a bummer, but it’s a reality that so many of us experience either personally or walking the journey with family and friends. Basically Lizzy and Jane is the story of a young woman, Lizzy, who has excised love from her life and, as she helps her sister through chemotherapy, she starts to put it back in – in all its wonderful and varied forms.

Thank you Katherine!

So peeps, have you read this book yet?

 

 

The English Teacher

 I have not overlooked my love for authors from R – from Roald Dahl to Ruskin Bond to Rudyard Kipling to R.K.Narayan and why, even R.K. Laxman, one of the best cartoonists in my opinion.

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The English Teacher is written by R.K. Narayan and is considered to be the last of the series preceded by Swami and his Friends and Bachelor of Arts. Based on the life of an English teacher at the Albert Mission College, Krishna, this story is known to be autobiographical and hence largely based on R.K. Narayan’s life.

Krishna‘s wife Susila is away at her parent’s place post-delivery of their daughter. As the story unfolds, the couple move to a small rented place and thus begins a period of marital bliss. Their daughter Leela becomes the apple of their eye and it all seems like a paradise, until fate decides otherwise. The happiness that seemed to perpetuate every nook and cranny is only short-lived. Krishna‘s life undergoes a huge change and he is benumbed by the events around him.

Just when tears cloud your vision, fate teases him again. A stranger seems to have the strangest message for him from someone he couldn’t even imagine. And it is here, that you see hope and extraordinary insight in the form of conversations. During this time, he also meets a profound man, the headmaster of a school for children with whom he builds a wonderful relationship. As if all these were dots, the climax (or a new beinning) signifies the process and how the dots are beautifully connected making way for inner peace and wisdom.

I picked this one up from Higginbothams at Ooty a couple of months back and am so glad I did. I LOVED reading it. It made me ponder and made me want to read endlessly and yet had me dying-to-know how it would all unfold. If a book does that, I know I have a gem.

I stuck page tabs one after the other hoping to come back to lines so simple in language but so big in thought. That’s why I love this man.  Like Spectator puts it, “The hardest of all things for a novelist to communicate is the extraordinary ordariness of human happiness. ” R.K. Narayan does it with such elan and finesse that you don’t even recognize the attempt until much after you have closed the book and it all dawns on you and creeps into every hair cell of your body.

Each character is woven intricately – from the bindi of Susila to her saree’s colour to the glow on her face and her expressions – I could see her in front of me. The emotional turmoil, the happiness derived from simple everyday pleasures, the euphoria of dreaming big, the joy of companionship, the innocence that is a child, the humour in a staffroom – everything is depicted par excellence.

“These tiny phials had compressed in them the essence of her personality, the rustle of her dress, her footfalls, laughter, her voice, and the light in her eyes, the perfume of her presence. The bottles were empty now but the lingering scent in them covered for a brief moment the gulf between the present and the past.”

One beauty about RKN’s writing is how he manages to write a one page story in 100 pages and yet make it seem to vivid as a motion picture.

I took away a lot of beautiful thoughts and gained a lot of reminders and insight through the conversations between the characters.

“Wife, child,brothers, parents, friends…. we come together only to go apart gaain. It is one continuous movement. They move away from us as we move away from them. The law of life can’t be avoided. The law comes into operation the moment we detach ourselves from our mother’s womb. All struggle and misery in life is due to our attempt to arrest this law or get away from it or in allowing ourselves to be hurt by it. … A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life….”

As I read the last few lines -

” A cool breeze lapped our faces. The boundaries of our personalities suddenly dissolved. It was a moment of rare, immutable joy – a moment for which one feels grateful to Life and Death.”

I was numb  for having been transported in place, time and soul to magical realism.