ARANYAKA – Book Review

Title – Aranyaka

Authors –  Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattanaik

Genre – graphic novel, mythology, history

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“From wind, she learned movement. From mountains, patience. From rivers, persistence. From outstretched branches and deep roots, she understood hunger.”

“Bad arguments were about ego and delusion, good arguments brought epiphany. All argument was combat.”

“I thought we were equals, bilateral symmetry of leaves. He thought we were halves – He above, Me below.”

Aranyaka literally translates to “of the forest”. It begins with the history of all living beings which started from the forest, and how domestication and civilization take us away from nature. The story is a warp and weft of 3 primary women – the Large, the Weaver and the Fig, (The three rishikas – Katyayani, Gargi and Maitreyi) who help us unravel humankind. Aranyaka is not only the forest around us, but also addresses the wilderness within us. Is food solely to satiate hunger, or is it a temporary replacement for a greater hunger/thirst in life? When we cook for or help or take care of others, is it in thought of the opposite person, or emphasizing our own importance in their lives?

A difficult book to review because it encapsulates a multitude of subjects and themes. Aranyaka alludes to a set of 3000-year old Vedic scriptures, and the foundational role forests play in Vedic lore.Writer Devdutt Pattanaik and illustrator Amruta Patil have imaginatively transformed a myriad of ideas into a novel – the crux of which is, observing elements and the natural world transforms the way humans think. Forests can be as violent as they are beautiful. In this sense, scriptures do not belong to a bygone era, but are right here with us.

The two artists have collaborated long distance – with Patil living in France, and Pattanaik in India. The tremendous research dedicated to the text reflects Pattanaik’s strength in his genre of mythology. There are numerous references suggested for further reading. Patil’s artwork is just beautiful – closely following the storyline, with a vibrant assortment of shades and tones. Some pages don’t need dialogue – the striking paintings take you through the multi-layered narrative.

A delightful book, worth having in ones collection – more for the artwork than the story.

My rating – 5/5

WITH THE BEATLES – A Review Of Haruki Murakami’s Short Story

Title – With The Beatles

Author – Haruki Murakami

Genre – Short story, fiction

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“The death of a dream can be, in a way, sadder than that of a living being.”

“Memory became one of my most valued emotional tools, a means of survival, even. Like a warm kitten, softly curled inside an oversized coat pocket, fast asleep.”

Haruki Murakami’s “WITH THE BEATLES” is a bittersweet story of a narrator reminiscing about his college days, and the passing of life from adolescence to adulthood. One of the narrator’s fondest memories is of a girl he encounters in the school corridor in 1964, clutching an LP of “With The Beatles”. He didn’t know her name and never met her again after that one incident, but the memory of the LP brought back some more memories of the Beatles’ music and the height of Beatlemania of the 1960s. The narrator subsequently takes us through the music of Nat King Cole, Percy Faith, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Temptations, and several other musicians of the era who made their way into Japan’s musical landscape. A chance encounter with the elder brother of his then girlfriend that led to a discussion on the works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki and Kobo Abe, leads the narrator to recollect his tryst with books and reading, “I could never just sit, still and silent. I always had to be turning the pages of a book or listening to music, one or the other. When there was no book lying around, I’d grab anything printed. I’d read a phone book, an instruction manual for a steam iron.”

The writing style appears autobiographical and confessional, and relatable for a reader when we realize our own recollections of snippets of past incidents, and memories both good and bad finding their way into our consciousness without any specific reason. No doubt a treat for music and book lovers, this can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a good story.

My rating – 4/5

2020 – Books Read In January

January done well! 📚💪

It’s a good day when you can retire with a book at the end of it. And it’s a literary achievement for a reader when all those good books accumulate and the year kicks off to a great start. There’s no time to waste on mediocre books, and there’s truly a sense of satisfaction when all the books you read turn out to be gems.

A summary of books read this month:
5 paperbacks:
~The Wall by Jurek Becker – A collection of stories by a survivor of the Holocaust, using his memories at the concentration camps to weave out stories. 4/5
~Bombay Balchao by Jane Borges – A novel about the Goan, Mangalorean and East Indian Catholics in Bombay, travelling from the 1930s to the present day. 5/5
~Silent Was Zarathustra by Nicolas Wild – A graphic novel cum biography of the humanist Cyrus Yazdani, along with a history of Zoroastrianism. 4/5
~India’s Most Haunted by K. Hari Kumar – Essays of haunted places, superstitions, rumours, folktakes from around the country. 4/5
~Tödlicher Schnee by Felix & Theo – A crime novel about a private detective on holiday at a ski resort, who inadvertently gets pulled into a series of murders at a global environmental conference. 4/5

3 books read on kindle:
~The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – A novel about a teenager living life on the sidelines; ‘watching instead of participating’ in life. 5/5
~Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston – A verse novel about a duo of misfits trying to save the world from boredom. 5/5
~Booked by Kwame Alexander – Another verse novel about sport and books. Enough said! 4/5

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There’s Something About Christmas – Book Review

Title – There’s Something About Christmas

Author – Debbie Macomber

Genre – Fiction, humor, romance, seasonal, festive

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Emma Collins stopped celebrating Christmas the year her mother passed away. Christmas, for her, meant family and tradition and preparing cakes and sweets together, and it has failed to have the same meaning anymore. Emma works as a journalist with  ‘The Examiner’, a local newspaper for which she writes obituaries. The ‘Good Homemaking’ magazine had run a nationwide contest a month ago, for the best fruitcake recipe in the country – the winner of which would be announced on Christmas Day. Emma finds herself with a new job description – to interview the finalists of the fruitcake competition, and present a series of articles as a build-up to the Christmas season.

“Fruitcakes are like in-laws. They show up at the holidays. You have no idea who sent them, how old they are, or how long they’ll be hanging around your kitchen.”

“Fruitcake is about the ritual of a family recipe. The longer the ritual is repeated, the more it becomes part of the holidays.”

The reader is taken through Emma’s life in the weeks leading up to Christmas – her earnestness in making a name for herself as a journalist, a boss who doesn’t take her seriously, a colleague cum best friend and sole support system, her estrangement with her father, her mourning over her mother’s death. The author begins every chapter with quotes by real life chefs and bakers, on what fruitcakes symbolize to them. Emma’s journey as a journalist also comes across beautifully, as someone who documents the lives of others but personally feels she has hardly made a smudge on the page of her own life. Her aversion towards Christmas and the festive season shows us how not everyone celebrates festivals the same way, depending on what memories are attached to specific days/seasons. Her interviews with people from various walks of life reveal the stark differences in each finalist’s life story, along with the common bond they share through their love for baking. From an octogenarian widow to a young mother of four, Emma receives life lessons along with fruitcake lessons from an unassuming bunch of people.

“When I was with my husband, I felt there must be something lacking in me. Now I don’t think so anymore. Time will do that, you know?”

“I never could figure out people, but I know a whole lot about fruitcake.”

The more Emma goes over the notes of her meetings, the more she realizes that the interviews are not so much about fruitcake as much about the people themselves. “Lessons about life, wrapped up in a fruitcake recipe.” From traditional fruitcakes to personalized ingredients like chocolate or apples, and even no-bake recipes, Emma comes across a variety of methods to prepare the same product, which serves as a metaphor for life, in that, each of us lives our own journey. There are contestants who spent several years trying to bake the perfect fruitcake, only to realize that their life was what needed working on instead. Some divert from traditional recipes and use ingredients of their choice, serving the lesson of doing what you love and not following the herd. Others use the no-bake option because they want to “enjoy it now” – a lesson for living in the moment.

There are different fruitcake recipes provided in the book for the reader to try out. All-in-all, a sweet Christmas story that doesn’t succumb to clichés. Macomber writes with the right mix of humor and romance. Those who love baking and animals would enjoy this book. The epilogue was a tad drawn out and could have been done away with, but otherwise a cheery Christmas read that gets you into the festive spirit.

My rating – 3/5

The Strange Library – Book Review

Title – The Strange Library

Author – Haruki Murakami

Original language – Japanese

English translator – Ted Goossen

Illustrator – Chip Kidd

Genre – Fantasy fiction

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“Ever since I was little, my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

Like most of us who have grown up on books, our unnamed narrator decides to visit the town library to issue some tomes. But strange things happen at the strange library. In spite of reaching almost near closing hours, the librarian insists that he read the books there itself, since those particular books are for reference only and cannot be issued. The narrator follows the librarian to the “reading room” – a long-winding walk through a labyrinth of corridors in the basement, where he is promptly locked up and told he can’t leave until he finishes reading all the books the librarian has given him.

The only other presences in the reading room are a talking sheep and a mysterious girl who bring him three meals a day. On questioning his fellow captives, the duo reveal nobody ever leaves the reading room. Once they finish reading the books he has given them, the librarian cuts off their heads and eats their brain, thereby consuming all their knowledge.

A quirky story with dark undertones, that takes you into the surreal world Murakami is known for. Past and present merge, as do reality and fantasy. Perfectly quipped by the mysterious girl who turns transparent at night, “Just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all“, Murakami gets the reader to think about how real reality really is, and which world is fantasy when the two collide.

As the narrator laments, “All I did was go to the library to borrow some books“, it is not just the characters sucked into the nightmarish library, but the reader who is also drawn into the peculiar world of Haruki Murakami. The book is printed in typewriter font, giving it an old world charm. Chip Kidd’s illustrations are vivid and brilliantly carry the story along, with bright colors contrasting the dark theme. This one is sure to have book lovers thinking strangely about libraries and suspiciously about librarians by the end of the book.

My rating – 3/5 for the story, 5/5 for the illustrations

When Nature Sells…What Will You Buy?

Being ebullient in nature. A poem that appreciates the wonder and beauty the world has to offer.

 

BARTER

~Sara Teasdale

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

Soaring fire that sways and sings,

And children’s faces looking up

Holding wonder like a cup.

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

Music like a curve of gold,

Scent of pine trees in the rain,

Eyes that love you, arms that hold,

And for your spirit’s still delight,

Holy thoughts that star the night.

 

Spend all you have for loveliness,

Buy it and never count the cost,

For one white singing hour of peace

Count many a year of strife well lost,

And for a breath of ecstasy

Give all you have been, or could be.

 

Literary Christmas Tree

In keeping with the Christmas tradition in a house filled with bibliophiles, here’s my teensy, bookish Christmas tree for this year.

Story behind the picture: I’m out of shelf space and the latest purchases and gifts have nowhere to go. They’ve been in boxes the last few weeks, and ably supported the festive decor. The upper layers of the tree have Christmassy books that I’ve been reading this month. The lower ones, I will get to gradually through the new year. The bottom layer has books already read that need to be donated.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂

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A Pawsome Christmas

The weekend ensured a pawsome prelude to Christmas Day, playing Santa to our furry friends. A canine Christmas party organized by the Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), comprised various sessions with behavioral therapists and grooming experts.  Pawfect – The Pet Salon and Spa, conducted the session on grooming tips, engaging kids in the talk as well, to teach them how to look after a pet. Spoilt Brat Barkery taught us to make and decorate cupcakes and treats for the doggies. All (human) attendees got a baked pug that could be decorated, or served to the dogs just like that. There were dog-related puzzles and games for the kids, and a quiz for the adults featuring dogs in movies, literature, cartoons, across history and science. WSD dogs Akshay, Sakshi, Donald and Marshall ably supported the volunteer team, with Marshall literally patrolling the area outside the venue. The doggo volunteer squad was absolutely thrilled to play with the kids, and seek head pats from the adults around. The wooftastic campaign had humans playing Santa to these canine companions by bringing biscuits and treats, collars, leashes, towels, brushes, medicated shampoos – anything to help the homeless dogs. There were WSD products available at the venue as well, which one could pick up to support the cause.

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Donald moderating the Q & A session
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Akshay finds the best spot in the room – in the middle of a circle of kids.
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Lokashi Agarwal from Pawfect conducts the session on grooming, with Donald ably keeping track of the proceedings.
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The poser!
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The baked pug for all attendees. Spoilt Brat Barkery specializes in doggie treats.
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A hand painted tote from WSD
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WSD note pads and bookmarks made from recycled paper.

Food Photography – True Tramm Trunk

Some members from my book club got together for a mid-week dinner, to discuss possible activities the club could take up for its readers in the upcoming weeks to end the year, and also initiatives to usher in the new year. We met at a restobar called True Tramm Trunk ( a homonym for Too Damn Drunk), described as “the best place to go for a mid-week party” (which I found out just now). Since we happened to show up on a Wednesday night, the music was just too loud – shifting from English classics of the eighties, to electronica, and Bollywood music. The musical mishmash made speaking over the noise a strain. The place is too chaotic, lighting is low, outdoor seating is claustrophobic rather than relaxing, and the indoor section is even noisier. Service, however, is prompt and the multi cuisine dishes were a treat to the taste buds. I started off with a Sweet Orange mocktail (which I don’t have a picture of) – made up of star anise, orange, passion fruit and lime. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:

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The Mezze Platter – Comprising falafel, hummus, labneh, tahini and baba ghanoush, with homemade pita and lavash.
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Salmon Sushi – Salmon, avocado and cream cheese.
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Paneer Pizza (thin crust) – Tandoori cottage cheese, capsicum and onion.
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Pesto Pizza (thin crust) – Creamy pesto, sundried tomato, bellpeppers, mushroom and olives.

All in all, the food was a delight, even though the ambience was not. I would recommend this place for a night of dance and drinks; not really to catch up with friends or enjoy a peaceful meal.

When Wonder Woman Turns Long Distance Runner

A belated write-up of the Halloween Run I had participated in earlier this month. Every edition of the fear n’ fun themed event is held on the first Sunday of November – the weekend nearest to Halloween. While last year I had to orchestrate the event myself in the capacity of SPOC (Specific Point of Contact), free from organizational tasks this year, I could dress up and run. The run is organized on a 21 km route from the Otter’s Club in the Western suburbs to the NCPA in the South of Mumbai, on which participants can run varying distances either as a point to point run or in any desired loop pattern within these points. Being racing season, many runners did a half marathon or distances above 30 kms ( for those training for full marathons). I did a 15 km run – a little after the start point, and up to the end tip of the city. A large number of runners opted for distances of 10 km and below, on account of this being a costume event.

Runners were required to run in costume, in keeping with the Halloween theme. We had Two Face, Batman, Catwoman, Superman, giving company to the great many vampires, witches, zombies and devils.  I went as Wonder Woman! In consideration of the distance required to be run in costume, I settled for a handmade costume constructed out of readily available materials – comfort in long distance running being the priority. The Wonder Woman costume comprised a basic red racerback top, and blue skorts – both in dri-fit fabric. The ‘W’ logo, bracelets and tiara were crafted from glitter foam, and star stickers were used for the skirt, bracelets and tiara. I didn’t make the belt on account of the running pouch occupying space on the waist. Here’s what I ended up with:

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Protecting the bay!

Overall, it was a fun event, racing through the city dressed as Wonder Woman, and receiving peculiar glances from morning runners who were not part of the event and/or not in costume.

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At the early morning start point.

15 km was the longest distance I had attempted since the accident, and pleasantly received company from the halfway mark onward, with a runner attempting 32 km. Step by step we trotted along to the finish point.

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When you feel like you’re the only one racing around like a weirdo!

It was a joy to see volunteers at the various water stations dressed up in their spine-tingling best, hiding behind parked cars, jumping out and scaring runners, and capturing a cornucopia of expressions.

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When Wonder Woman meets the Devil.

A common sight on Sundays are the vintage car rallies that occur within South Mumbai. Clicking pictures and taking in the sights on the seafront, the never ending run finally came to an end.

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Appreciating beauty on the route.

The only disheartening feature of the event was that many runners didn’t really run, but only showed up at the end point to click pictures dressed in costume. The idea behind a Halloween Run was to run the distance in spooky or fun attire. Merely showing up in costume for the sake of pictures defeats the purpose of a running event. Ah! The flip-side of social media.

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The ghosts and ghouls at the finish point.
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With Captain America cum Wonder Woman cum Super Girl