Tribhanga – When Dance and Cinema Collide

Last year I had read a book titled Dancing in the Family – an intergenerational memoir by Sukanya Rahman, about her mother and grandmother and the presence of dance in their lives. While seemingly a book on dance, the story was actually about three generations of women and the things that bound them together and those which drew them apart, showcasing three strong individuals in a story as one.

When I first heard about Tribhanga – written and directed by Renuka Shahane – what struck me was its title, sourced from an Odissi dance posture of the same name. Being a trained Odissi dancer myself, I was piqued about this movie that wasn’t about dance but resonated through its name. The tagline stated it was a story of three generations of women, and I was immediately reminded of Dancing in the Family – dance a character in itself, but a story with so much more to offer.

The photograph of the book cover of Nayantara Apte’s autobiography,
titled “Tribhanga”.

Tribhanga is a family drama about the choices we make and how they influence not just individuals but families at large. The movie begins with Nayantara Apte (Tanvi Azmi) in conversation with a writer who is recording her in order to pen her thoughts and words into an autobiography, when she collapses from a brain stroke and falls comatose. Nayan has been a much celebrated novelist in her own right, having won several literary accolades over the years, but with no familial ties. This brings us to Anuradha Apte (Kajol), Nayan’s estranged daughter who refers to her mother by name because that’s just what she is to her, not a mum at all. The trio is completed by Masha Mehta (Mithila Palkar), Anu’s daughter who’s currently at her mother’s place due to her ongoing pregnancy. The entire movie is narrated through Nayan’s coma, in the form of past recordings from the writer Milan, and surfacing memories from Nayan’s daughter and granddaughter.

Three generations of women as represented in and by Tribhanga.

As described by Anu, the three women can be represented by Odissi postures – Abhanga (Nayan, for her dual personality of being revered by some and abhorred by others), Tribhanga (Anu, for her self-proclaimed craziness and overwhelming personality), and Samabhanga (Masha, for her calm and composed disposition) – a wonderful metaphor of the many interpretations of classical dance, from stoicism and rigidity to playfulness and fluidity, dance movements conveying the emotions and feelings of a dancer in myriad ways that go beyond steps and set choreographies. Tribhanaga in Odissi refers to three bends of the body, and the movie Tribhanga represents these bends as characteristics and traits that run through a family – every individual bringing their own constitution to create the larger canvas of “family”, just as parts of the body work and move differently but still sync together in their individuality to construct the larger piece called “dance”. Jigsaw puzzle pieces being solid forms on their own, but forming a larger, clearer picture when the brokenness comes together.

The “i” dotted with a bindi and dots – representative of the color of alta, the
shape of the Odissi headgear, and the bindi itself in Odissi makeup.

All the classical dances of India are known for their depiction of the nine rasa (sentiments and emotions), and Tribhanga runs through the gamut of shringar (love), veera (valor), karuna (sadness), hasya (humor), raudra (anger), bhayanak (fear), bibhatsa (disgust), adbhuta (surprise), and shanta (peace). From Anu and Robindo’s unshakeable bond as siblings banding together in a broken family, Anu standing up to an abusive husband to keep her daughter safe, the revelation about why Nayan is not writing her own autobiography and resorting to another writer to do so for her, Anu’s constant jibes at the writer Milan for revering the mother who doesn’t deserve to be called so, Robindo “mistakenly” referring to Nayan as “aai” (mother) which draws the ire of his sister, Masha’s childhood fears of isolation and rejection on being raised by a single mother carried into adulthood and her need to belong, Nayan finding out that her husband was abusing her daughter, Anu’s reaction on discovering her daughter underwent a gender determination test hoping for a boy in spite of being brought up by a single mother, and all three women coming to terms with past grudges they have carried to the present, silence festering relationships that could have been salvaged a long time ago.

Director-writer Renuka Shahane literally takes us through dance jargon without making it obvious, and like a dance recital flowing from mangalacharan to pallavi, abhinaya and moksha, the mudras and chalis being phenomenal performances by all the leading actresses in an all-round wonderfully created and presented movie.

Of particular interest in Tribhanga was Kajol’s potrayal of an Odissi dancer, and Renuka’s handling of the character. The connection between the title of the movie and its lead actress’s character was an innovative touch, considering Odissi as a dance form in mainstream films has not been explored much. At the same time, understanding that Kajol is an actress and not a trained dancer herself, the Odissi bits have been relegated to photographs of shows and pre-recital scenes of Anu in costume. I loved Renuka’s respect for the traditional arts by bringing one into the limelight, without creating a caricaturish performance by showing the actress actually dancing a style she has not devoted her life to learning. Huge respect to the director for her deference to classical dancers who spend years studying a dance that’s part of their lifestyle.

Tribhanga released on Netflix earlier this year, and is a treat to watch for both dancers and non-dancers alike. All images are courtesy Netflix.

Tribhanga – When dance and cinema collide

PS: This article also features on Classical Claps – a magazine on Indian Classical Arts, which publishes pieces written by musicians and dancers themselves.

The Twelve Days of Christmas – When Carols Meet Cross Training

A recap of an enjoyable fitness event which was one among the highlights of a mostly dull year. With the pandemic looming large, running races and all public sporting activities had come to an end (and continue to be so for the indefinite future). As a marathoner tailoring my workouts, running schedules and other fitness activities according to the year’s race calendar, 2020 proved to be a solitary adventure of home workouts and outdoor exercises with caution. Besides an athlete’s individual training – and a few “virtual” races doing the rounds – there was not much to look forward to in terms of community activity.

Amidst all the turmoil in a year without meeting fellow runners, an interesting virtual event caught my eye. Combined with a friend egging me on to participate, I took up the endeavor titled “12 days of Christmas Challenge” by the Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) – a city-wide running community based in Mumbai, India that had posted its fun-filled fitness challenge on Facebook. Running from the 25th of December to the 5th of January, the Christmas challenge was an innovative take on the popular carol, focusing on health in festive fervor. Participants had to run or engage in any fitness activity for each of the twelve days, attired in the colors of Christmas or anything festive for every workout. A picture or two of your exercise for the day, along with a description of what was done and the benefits of that particular routine, and insights into your choice of workout gear for the day, had to be shared daily with the MRR admin team and fellow participants.

All local guidelines with due consideration to COVID had to be adhered to – either exercise indoors, or run/walk/cycle outdoors with the required precautions in place. Here’s what my version of the 12 Days of Christmas Challenge looked like.

Day 1 – Celebrated Christmas with the entire Pilates family. Brought together for a house Christmas party, around sixty of us Pilates teachers gathered from around the world, across different time zones, for an afternoon/evening/night of Barre workouts, karaoke aerobics, storytelling, poetry reading, carol singing and more. A celebration of health and fitness, and all the things we have and are grateful for. We began with Barre – a hybrid dance-strength workout, focusing primarily on lower body and core, and combined it with karaoke aerobics that involves singing along with dancing; a high intensity cardio routine all the way. The dress code for the “party” was holiday colors and anything festive to work out in. A joyous start to the festive season.

Day 2 – On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me… No turtle doves, but I did get a customized Santa Running tee. It’s truly special when your people know you. More so when it’s from non-runners who understand the things that are important to you. Not the fastest, not the fittest, but always showing up and giving one’s best. My workout for the day was a modest 5k to try out the new tee.

Day 3 – Strength training in elfin colors. Santa’s little helpers need to be strong enough for making toys and taking care of the reindeer. The workout comprised a Chest-Shoulders-Triceps weight training routine. 4 exercises for chest, 4 for shoulders, 3 for triceps; 3 sets, 15 reps each.

Day 4 – I received another customized tee for Christmas, and it was dri-fit too! Eat and run seemed to be the idea. As the baking team decided on a menu to honor the tee, the day was dedicated to Christmas sweets with candy-colored tights. Guava cheese, marzipan, frosted cookies, gingerbread houses, fudge, chocolate rolls, rum balls and toffees – bright, vividly cheerful colors to resonate with the festive season. Workout of the day: Yoga – a Vinyasa flow specifically focusing on lower body strength, balance, mobility and flexibility.

Day 5 – Lessons from Rudolph: Don’t let anyone dim your light, simply because it’s shining in their eyes. Shine on, and light the way ahead. Another strength routine with Back-Biceps weight training. 5 back exercises, 3 bicep exercises – 3 sets, 20 reps for each exercise. And an hour on the road. (Fun fact: Male reindeer drop their antlers in winter, which only grow back in spring. Female reindeer keep their antlers all through winter. Hence, Santa’s reindeer are all female.)

Day 6 – A wheely Wednesday halfway through the MRR Christmas Challenge, as we prepared to roll out of an old year and usher in a new one on a clear slate. White is the color of snowy landscapes, frosting on cookies and gingerbread houses, snowflakes and stars dotting a dark night, red’s steady companion on stockings, candy canes and Santa’s cap. Workout of the day: An hour on the wheel, comprising a full body workout focusing on upper-lower body strength and stability, and right-left coordination and balance.

Day 7 – Cardio day in yellow! The color of shining stars, glowing string lights, and cheery festive decor. Optimism, hope and faith as we let go of the old year and step into a new one. Half an hour on the road + 45 minutes kickboxing to build endurance.

Day 8 – Core day in a red-green combo of the colors of Christmas holly, wreath, mistletoe, elf costumes. The workout for the day was high intensity endurance plus strength – 200 skips+20 push ups X 10 (10 variations each of skipping and push ups for 10 rounds) = 2000 skips+200 push ups; 3-minute burpees X 5 rounds; 5 variations of sliders – 20 reps each.

Day 9 – Leg day in red. With Santaland having just passed by and an upcoming ruby anniversary, it’ was an overkill of red! Holly berries, Santa’s cap, St. Nicholas’ robes, stockings, candy canes, candles, the very color of love and joy – What’s Christmas without red? Lower body strength training to power up the big muscle groups: Quadriceps – 4 exercises (2 sets, 20 reps each); Hamstrings – 2 exercises (4 sets, 20 reps each); Calves – 3 exercises (2 sets, 20 reps each); Abductor and Adductor – 1 exercise for each (2 sets, 20 reps).

Day 10 Odissi dance practice in shades of green. From dark green Christmas trees to shiny green baubles, light foliage of holly leaves and glittery green wreaths, green is an integral color of Christmastime. And how can one not dance in a season of merriment and festivity? I did an hour of Odissi dance including conditioning exercises, basic steppings, a pallavi and an abhinaya. A day of strength, endurance, flexibility, balance – classical dance is an all-encompassing workout.

Day 11 – A simple run in green and white. Snowflakes on Christmas trees, green ribbons on white candles, green wreaths on white walls, white snowmen on green trees, green tinsel on white trees. Green and white are colors of contrast – while white symbolizes dormancy at wintertime, green represents vibrancy and new life in spring. Workout of the day: An hour on the road, along with some home gardening – potting and transplanting a few flowering plants that outgrew their pots. Bending, picking, pulling, shoveling – it’s a tremendous arm workout.

Day 12 – A harlequin day for the finale, dedicated to all the colors of Christmas. White snowmen, green trees, red holly berries, silver bells, golden stars, brown reindeer, blue tinsel, purple string lights – a riot of colors that bring together the festive season. Core training with 45 minutes of Pilates, and a quick, short 3k. Just as Christmas is made up of an assortment of colors, a strong core brings together all kinds of workouts and keeps the body injury free.

To bring an end to the initiative that also marks the end of the Christmas season with the feast of Epiphany, a collage of the 12 days of Christmas Challenge had to be created on completion of the twelve days, alongside a summary of the event’s activities.

1-Barre + Karaoke aerobics

2-Run

3-Chest-shoulders-triceps weight training

4-Yoga

5-Back-biceps weight training + Run

6-Wheel workout

7-Kickboxing

8-Skipping + Burpees + Sliders + Walk

9-Lower body strength training

10-Odissi dance

11-Run

12-Pilates + walk

All in all, a creative and fun fitness challenge, associating Christmas with our daily workouts, keeping mind, body and spirit in good health. Until next year!

Successfully completed the 12 Days of Christmas Challenge!

Speculate – A Book Review

An analysis of a book features on this page after a long time. I have moved all writings related to literature, books, reading, author stories to my other website Tomes and Tales, to avoid flooding this site with all my bookish quirks. Thought I’d begin the new year’s write-ups with this magnificent book that’s one of its kind.

Title – Speculate

Authors – Eugen Bacon and Dominique Hecq

Genre – Speculative fiction, micro lit

I had read and loved Eugen Bacon’s ‘The Road to Woop Woop‘ last year. Her works can be described as genre defying or genre defining – whichever way you choose to look at it – crossing the fringes that encapsulate books into clear cut genres. The fact that ‘Speculate‘ is also from Meerkat Press – a publishing house that comes out with some very different but very good literature – piqued my interest in this book that Bacon co-authors with Hecq. On learning both writers are PhDs, I knew the book would offer a reading experience like no other, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Speculate‘ can be described as a collection of stories, essays, thoughts, opinions, rants or ramblings, prose and poetry, flash fiction and speculative narratives – a hybrid genre that has everything and nothing, a compilation of shapeshifters. You think you’re following the sequence of events and entering into the writer’s mind, but then the script gets flipped leaving you to wonder what happened – wanting more of what you just read, and at the same time pressing on with the writer duo to see what else is there to come.

The book at its core is a conversation between the pair. Divided into two parts, the first segment begins with Bacon’s writings while Hecq responds, and the roles get reversed in the second section with Hecq leading and Bacon following her cues. This interplay within the narrative is something I haven’t seen or read before, and I loved the ingenuity of the writing. One author’s text echoes a response from the other, which stirs an element in the first writer, that in turn diverges into the thoughts of the second, and so on. The conversational tone moves beyond the actual reading, and is resonant with life in general – the people we agree with, the ones whose views differ from our own, similar thoughts represented in differing words and actions, varied viewpoints causing the same result. Every chapter is conflicted with the writing styles of its authors – they might interpret the story in the exact same way, or proffer starkly different versions of the same events. And that’s the beauty of Speculate, reading one book by two writers and understanding both the similarities and differences.

A donut that doesn’t want to be eaten, a wedding, bookworm conundrums, author recommendations, relationships, beatitudes, a window’s observations, nature, science fiction – anything and everything goes in this volleyball of words in a playground of language. Having read another book by Bacon just a few weeks ago, I was assured of a spectacular read from her. It was Hecq who stunned me – the fact that Bacon could find another writer just like herself, in the sense of being so different and a magician with language. Here are some striking quotes, the likes of which fill up the book.

~Lies we tell until we hear gods laughing so hard the universe splits its sides and music falls from the stars.

~The pen moist in your fingers anticipates a pure taste of text.

~Unfinished poems cartwheel in the stars on a windless night.

~We learn the taste of blood and tears in the womb.

~It’s raining ropes. I could go up or down.

~I study the keyboard for a space between sleepers and their dreams.

~I’m glad you opted for a visor instead of a veil.

~I take a deep breath. A giant leap. I land on the moon and bump into Neil Armstrong.

~I don’t believe it. Truth came to stay when I was away.

~They sat in emphatic silence, navigating chopsticks, nibbles, tweets and texts, as they connected with the rest of the world but them.

~Together is something physical that remains an abstract.

~Blessed are they with an endless fascination for fresh turmeric, for they shall receive a floral fragrance that stains yellow.

A book that needs to be savored and absorbed, ‘Speculate’ is art in itself and embodies the magic that can be conjured up with language. A short read that feels much longer than it is because you pause and ponder and re-read and highlight the majesty of writing before you. An interesting an varied collection, a gem for readers looking to expand their reading choices.

My rating – 4/5

Baking Diaries – Gugelhupf

Food inspired by books” is an ongoing initiative of trying out dishes and experimenting with cuisine referenced in literature. The recipes might be shared by the authors themselves, it might be food that occupies a prominent role in the narrative, or an item mentioned offhandedly in relation to a specific character. There’s an unparalleled joy in experiencing books beyond reading. It’s fun exploring places and meeting people through books, and food is such a powerful part of culture.

The book in focus this week was “Stierhunger” by Linda Stift – originally a German book, with an English translation from Peirene Press available as “The Empress and the Cake“. The crux of the story is about a young woman invited by an elderly lady to share a piece of cake , as the Gugelhupf is too large to consume by oneself. Accepting a simple gesture unravels a nightmare for the protagonist, who is battling her own demons as well as the ones presented by her newfound “friend”.

Fresh from the oven

Having heard of Gugelhupf for the first time through the story, I looked it up and decided to give it a try. Native to Austria, the cake is known by various names in different parts of the world – Kugelhupf in Germany, Kuglof in Hungarian, Guguluf in Romanian, Kouglof in France, Babovka in Czech, and Babka in Polish; closely related to the Pandoro in Italy and the American Bundt cake. The yeast-raisin cake is traditionally baked in a circular Bundt mold. Claims of the origin of the cake date back to Roman times, and even the Three Wise Men. It was popularized by Emperor Franz Josef in Austria and Marie Antoinette in France. Gugelhupf comes from the words “gugel” (a long, pointed hood or bonnet) and “hupf” (to hop or jump). The Grimm Brothers described the hupf as a “jumping of the dough” caused by the yeast.

While the cake is primarily a yeast dough, additional ingredients vary depending on where it is made. I used raisins, almonds and orange rind peels, but it can also contain brandy or poppy seeds, or have nothing at all and just be a plain marble cake with its characteristic angled, ridged pattern.

Inverted from the mold onto a plate

The recipe, for anyone interested to give it a go:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons warm water

1 cup whole milk

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups golden raisins

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (Lemon rind can be used as well)

20 whole blanched almonds

1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

Preparation:

~Stir the yeast and water and let them stand together for ten minutes, till the mixture gets foamy.

~Heat milk with sugar and 6 tablespoons of the butter on low heat, till the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.

~Sift the flour and salt, add in the yeast mixture and warm milk mixture, followed by the eggs, raisins and zest, all the while beating continuously till the dough turns smooth and elastic. The consistency will be very sticky.

~Line a bundt mold with the remaining 1 tabespoon of butter. Put in almonds at the bottom in any decorative pattern, and place the dough over it, pressed into an even shape. Cover the mold with an oiled plastic wrap and a cloth napkin, and leave in a warm place for two hours for the dough to rise.

~After pre-heating the oven, remove the towel and peel off the plastic layer. Bake for fifteen minutes. Loosely cover the mold with foil (so that the cake doesn’t rise uncontrollably), and continue to bake for another twenty minutes. A needle poked in the center should come out clean and the surface should be golden. After cooling, invert the cake onto a rack or plate. Let it cool and then dust with confectioner’s sugar. (It’s important that it cools completely, or the dusted sugar will just melt on the surface.)

Ready to be dug into

A fun recipe to try out in the Christmas season – there’s nothing like the warm aromas of freshly baked bread. The Gugelhupf can be enjoyed over breakfast, brunch, or a tea-time snack like I did, depending on how it is made. My version wasn’t very sweet, as the sweetness of the raisins was balanced by the tanginess of the orange.

Run Diaries

As a marathoner, books on sports (and especially running) occupy a large portion of my bookshelves. It’s always interesting to connect with the running community from around the world, and memoirs help one vicariously travel and meet people.

I had read ultrarunner and sports journalist Lisa Jackson’s ‘Your Pace or Mine‘ some years ago – a hilarious and heartwarming read that resonated on several levels, as Lisa documents her experiences and interactions with runners she meets through racing in different places. The book is not just about Lisa, but her story narrated through the stories of other runners she encounters on the way – whether interviewing athletes through her work, or running into them on the routes of her own races.

It was a treat being invited for a meet up and book discussion with the ever energetic and cheerful Lisa herself who led us on with her flush of enthusiasm, meeting fellow runners from various parts of the world, talking about a much loved book and all things running. We spoke about the races in our own countries, popular ones in the running circuits, and little-known races and trails shared for runners to explore new places and routes.

Distance running is anyways a solitary sport, logging miles on your own as everyone has their own set pace, even if training with a group. The pandemic has led us even deeper into our cocoons as we pound the roads/trails alone, while striving to be socially distanced from other runners. This virtual meet up was a delight to be able to connect with runners scattered around the globe, yearning for like-minded souls from our own corners of the world. The worldwide assembly was peopled by all kinds of runners, with conversations steering from those who recently began with 5K runs, to seasoned marathoners, and even veterans with eighteen Comrades under their belt.

To understand the significance of the flamingo cap, read the book.

A must-read book for both seasoned as well as novice runners, for the sense of connection and resonance it forges from a cherished activity and lifestyle spent with a beloved sport.

A Sunshine Kind of Day

Some time ago I had an interview with Reese Witherspoon’s production company, “Hello Sunshine” , that works towards adapting books into movies and series, in keeping with their motto of giving life to women’s stories. The multi media initiative aims at bringing attention to women writers and books with female protagonists, with female actors and directors helming these stories on screen. Reese also aims at connecting readers and writers, bringing into the limelight books by well known as well as upcoming authors, and helping bibliophiles discuss their favorite books far and wide through her book club that focuses on tales about and by women, with strong female characters.

As one of the few readers from around the world selected for a thirty-minute one-on-one video call, I had spoken at length about my life with books and love for reading with the research teams at Hello Sunshine and Reese’s Book Club, who were looking to ascertain reading habits and book experiences among select readers. I had to share my journey with books through the years, how I select books, genres and languages read, experience with translated literature, author interactions and reading experiences that go beyond the book – cooking/baking/craft/artwork based on books. It was a delight to be able to talk about books read in the past, current reads, the TBR shelf, and also recommend books and authors I would want people to know about.

As a “Thank You note” for the interview, a hamper arrived this morning. It’s always a pleasure to talk about books and reading, and the present was such a surprise. The tote bag from Hello Sunshine, the buttons, pins, coffee mug, bookmark from Reese’s Book Club, and of course, her November book pick – Group by Christie Tate, along with scented book-themed wrapping paper and a personalized card. How lovely it has all been! With a birthday coinciding with Children’s Day and Diwali, this gesture brought light to my day, making me feel like a child with all these goodies. Gratitude for the warmth and kindness extended across the globe. 💛

Books and Beyond – His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

It’s always a delight when the reading experience goes beyond finishing a book. I had the pleasure of hearing the story behind the story by Peace Adzo Medie, talking about her book, ‘His Only Wife‘. The name of the author and the vibrant cover caught my attention when I first came across this novel. On checking the synopsis, I was led into a world of arranged marriages, which made for an interesting read in the cultural context – the story being set in Ghana, with a seamstress protagonist.

Medie’s unassuming but illuminating writing was one of the few goosebump-inducing books I’ve read in a while. The language is simple – like someone telling you a story instead of a literary read. The premise is as vibrant as the cover – fashion and food of Ghana for a complete cultural experience. Such brilliance in the descriptions of clothes and cuisine, you can almost picture yourself wearing a stunning bead and lace creation of Afi’s, or relishing traditional stews. A peculiar theme that could have swung the narrative from either quirky and breezy to seriously heavy reading, but Medie finds that right spot of perfection in absolutely everything for a novel – cover, characters, themes, reader resonance, language.

The fact that the writer has a PhD and is a university professor of gender rights and international politics, wrote the novel on weekends while managing academia work, and can still narrate socially relevant issues with simplicity and subtle humor, leaves you in awe of having the pleasure to not only read this book, but interact and discuss it with the author herself. It was interesting to hear about Medie’s decision to write this novel – her debut work of fiction; she is already a published writer of non-fiction and academia. Her descriptions of choosing a setting, creating everyday characters in a cultural context, highlighting food and fashion as a cultural accompaniment to reading, her take on patriarchy and feminism and how they flow into the narrative, her distinctive style of blending humor with serious topics, the books she is currently reading as well as the books she would recommend readers to pick up, made this an insightful extension of reading the story.

A detailed review of the book can be found here.

Obolus – A Review of a Poetry Book

Title – Obolus

Author/Poet – Roshan Varghese

Genre – Poetry

“We are all going to be one with the earth someday.

You can either choose to be eased into a six feet deep hole,

or be a meteor – Burn bright in the skies, and form your own crater.”

The unique title of this collection and the elegance of its cover caught my attention. I was looking for some poetry to intersperse between all the prose, and “Obolus” stood out for its rave reviews. Varghese defines his writing as a refined version of abnormal musings on death, dreams, existence, life and myriad topics that he writes on, opting for poetry as a more cryptic form of writing to save his journal entries from prying eyes.

Obol was a form of ancient Greek currency, while Obolus is a modern Greek unit of weight equivalent to one tenth of a gram. I interpreted this collection as a series of seemingly simple musings – light in weight like the obolus, but filled with insight that leaves you pondering upon each poem after you read it. As a reader, I look for books that are different, showcasing the writer’s prowess in expressing art through the written word. Varghese’s poetry serves as a summary of his experiences as well as metaphors for life, taking you through a divine journey of birth, death, love, envy, religion; a wide range of circumstances and emotions, thoughts and feelings, while striking a chord that resonates with the reader – as if a poem has been dedicated to you, or written about you, or your own thoughts find themselves in front of you. The poems are short but beautifully written, his command over the language on full display through witty word play and even one-line poems. The themes are random, with varying lengths and styles, differing viewpoints, intimate as well as imagined, somehow bringing coherence to this poetic universe despite the lack of relation between each poem.

As a book, Obolus is a quick read, but it’s the writer’s skill in his craft that makes you linger on his writing, even revisiting his words after finishing the book. In the author’s note, Varghese mentions music and metaphors as things he holds dear, which is very apparent in his lyrical poetry – prose, poetry and music woven together, like reading a song or watching a painting with its plethora of colors. Some of my favorites are Paracosm, Vesper, Moon’s Grief, Wasteland, The Only Ally, Poker Face, The Sheep Goes Baa, Skirmish, Enemy. I am sharing a few quotes here, but the collection is filled with beautiful lines. Read this if you like poetry as a genre, or if you’re looking to be enticed with words in a simple but engrossing read.

~To live with the innocence of one’s first breath, and the desperation of one’s last.

~Look at yourself… You are a mirrorful of miracles.

~Heaven and hell are two places in your mind. Two worlds cease to be two… In You, they unite.

~You hide behind a colossal wall of words, yet confront me with silence.

~The only thread of truth in the fabric of lies.

~I escaped without knowing how it ended – the battle between me and myself.

~I saw a face in the mirror… Hold on, which one was I again?

My rating – 4/5

Revenge – Book Review

Title – Revenge

Author – Yoko Ogawa

Original language – Japanese

English translation – Stephen Snyder

Genre – Experimental fiction, horror

Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. “Revenge” is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ “Bombay Balchao” was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.

Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.

An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.

Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Horror fans might not find this “scary” enough, and Ogawa’s fans might find this a little disturbingly different from her other works. Revenge is a collection/novel that would be appreciated by literary fans – those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.

My rating – 5/5

Feline Birthday

This is Jax. He’s one among a pair of kittens we had taken in two years ago, who were abandoned soon after birth. They were completely hand-reared. While the sibling sadly did not make it, our little survivor turned two last Friday. Jax has made himself at home, adapting in his own feline way. Having been brought up by humans has made him one of a kind, displaying un-catlike behavior of playing with water, enjoying the rains, befriending crows, babysitting the young of all species – including plant saplings and kittens of other cats. But he’s as curious as cats can be – moving around the bookshelves, inspecting new workout equipment, and royally ignoring us when he chooses to. Whether early morning runs or late night reading, nocturnal pets are the best buddies. We’re so proud of our little fellow for pulling through and making it this far. 🐱❤️