A write up on a recent “virtual travel” event.
A book recommendation on the occasion of International Tiger Day, which focuses on tiger conservation and protection of their natural habitats.
“Living with Tigers” by Valmik Thapar is about the author’s journey with the elusive big cats from his first trip to Ranthambore at age twenty-three, to his continued association with them over the next forty years. While being a memoir of the writer – a renowned Indian naturalist – the book can also be considered as mini biographies of some of the tigers who had a profound effect on him, each one named and with a dedicated chapter. One of those books where both the writer and the subject keep you hooked, every page on these magnificent animals is worth reading, offering a breathtaking foray into one of the largest wildlife reserves in India known for its Bengal tigers. For wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, those with an interest in nature and jungle lore, Valmik Thapar’s documentaries and books come highly recommended.
Recipes in a Dead Language
~ Amy LeBlanc
cupboard number one:
Folded flour bags
glazed like snow –
breaking twist ties
on cans with labels
You see the light
between their dents
and vertical lines,
ingredient lists in Latin.
The door shuts in an ode
to the truffle and the saltine,
with only a paper
corner to show.
In swimming pools,
shorts above the water
shirts above the head,
the blockage is mediated
by pumps and pipes.
Here there are only church mice –
small hands breaking
through the grates
to loosen the tendons,
spread the atrophy to
circle a little bit wider.
broken fridge bulb:
Seeping liquid light
and the scent of decay,
an apple is split in two
with the edge of a fingernail –
potatoes grow eyes,
carrots sprout legs,
cucumbers produce winter fur
in an ambient phone light,
then seized by hands
for winter sustenance.
(Originally published in CV2, 41.3 Winter Issue of Canadian Poetry)
Everyone could use a little magic now and then. Admittedly, these are not very magical times, but we need to make the most of what we have, where we are. Some magic poured in today in the form of sun rays, with the sun deciding to peek in after days of rains, bringing some much required light and brightness in its wake. My rescue cat Jax dropped by for story time. We are soaking up the adventures of Geralt (of Rivia) and Roach (his horse) with the first book of the Witcher series, ironically titled “The Last Wish” – an English translation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Polish original. I finished watching the series last week and am having a go at the books now. The kindle has been a life saver with the absence of paperbacks due to the lockdown. A day filled with djinns, elves, wizards, sorceresses, spells and elixirs – a magical weekend indeed.
The pandemic has led to the creation of spaces in new ways to adapt. With outdoor movement limited to the essentials and emergencies, we find ourselves confined indoors like never before. Technology has been a tremendous aid in forging connections far and wide. Along side work and studies that have moved online, I find myself attending workshops, seminars, conferences in far off places and varying time zones, meeting new people, visiting places virtually, being exposed to new subjects, and learning much more than I was earlier.
One of my many lockdown forays was a well spent evening with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library today. A leading public library in America, situated in North Carolina and serving readers across twenty locations, the library works with a mission of strengthening communities and improving lives. Founded in 1903, the library serves as a provider of lifelong education, bringing together readers and learners and fostering personal growth through accessible resources. The library’s core values of openness, learning, respect, inclusion, and leadership were at the forefront this evening with Pamela Turner, the senior library assistant, leading us through an engaging session titled, “Move to Write, Write to Move”. A creativity workshop moderated by copywriter Surabhi Kaushik and therapeutic movement facilitator Jyotsna Srikant that emphasized movement enhancing creativity and writing igniting expression.
One of the courses I had undertaken at the start of the lockdown in March was called, “Healing with the Arts” from the University of Florida. It involved dance, writing, music, painting, photography – using the visual and physical arts as a means of healing mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically through a series of art projects. “Move to Write, Write to Move” follows a similar format of combining different art forms to express oneself – bringing ones core emotions to the foreground and the power of arts on oneself rather than creating something for others. The workshop took us through word and movement to express and create.
We began with freestyle motions, signs and gestures to warm up the body and mind, moving nowhere and to nothing in particular, but moving for the sake of moving. Introductions were followed by a writing prompt of making sense of and internalizing Rumi’s quote, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” My interpretation of these sentences was about being more than we believe ourselves to be. The spaces we fill, the lives we touch, the void our absence leaves – there is so much more to us than we let on to others, and even to ourselves. Proceeding with movement to instrumental music which was a prompt in itself, we wrote about the movement experience. The sensory awareness of this activity reminded me of flowing and floating. Without giving much thought to a specific choreography, where I was going or what I was doing, I let my body sway with the music, flowing like water, light like the clouds drifting across the sky. I remembered the smell of fresh air and the soothing sound of waves, from pre-lockdown times when we could move whenever and wherever we pleased. The pandemic has brought us to the moment. With the body confined and the mind all over the place, it has been an experience keeping the mind still and finding ways to exercise the body.
As a dancer, writer and enthusiast of art as a whole, I loved every part of this workshop. I dance, paint, draw, write, or dabble in craft as a means of personal expression, and the experience of combining multiple art forms is much cherished as they flow into each other, ignite creativity and enhance artistry. A wonderful start to the weekend by trying out something different and making new friends from around the globe.
A summary of books read in the month of June.
~The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey – A memoir of a year spent with a woodland snail. The author suffers from a debilitating illness due to a viral pathogenic infection two decades ago. A visiting friend picks up flowers from the forest outside her house, unwittingly bringing along a hitchhiker of a snail which provides companionship and many life lessons on the way. Well written and researched, with ample literature about snails, conversations with malacological experts, and a wonderful glimpse into a curious world. 5/5
~Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson – The merging of neuroscience with contemplative practices and ancient meditative techniques that seek to explain the rewiring of the brain towards peace, well-being, wisdom and happiness. Change your brain to change your life. Informative with practical applicability, the writing style feels a tad drab. 3.5/5
~How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones – A coming-of-age memoir of living as a homosexual, Black man, practising Buddhism in a Catholic family. Beautifully blending poetry with prose, Jones’ haunting narrative captivates throughout – a powerful voice in today’s literary scene. 4/5
~The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – An English translation of a Japanese book about a housekeeper with a ten-year old son, hired to care for a brilliant Math professor with a memory lasting only eighty minutes. A mesmerising story about the love for and beauty of numbers, living in the present, and the equations that form relationships – in Math and beyond. 5/5
~It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – A teenager on the way to kill himself, makes a desperate call to a suicide helpline and gets himself checked into a resident program at a psychiatric hospital. His interactions and experiences with his fellow residents help him to confront the sources of his own anxiety. A book about depression, self-harm, OCD, schizophrenia, narrated through a fifteen-year old. A tough topic tackled with light humor addressing dark issues. 3.5/5
~Downward Facing Death by Neal Pollack – An ex-cop turned yoga teacher cum private investigator is hired by the FBI to investigate the death of a prominent Hollywood yoga guru. The narrative is simplistic and might not appeal to all, but the numerous yoga analogies make this a fun read for yoga practitioners. A hilarious and insightful outlook into the commercialization of yoga culture. 3.5/5
~The Guest List by Lucy Foley – A wedding party hosted on a secluded island, where neither the victim nor murderer are revealed till the end, making this a dual guessing game for the reader. An entertaining story that keeps you hooked till the end. I liked the shifting perspectives – almost feels like you’re on the guest list yourself, obtaining a first person account of the events leading up to the moment of the wedding, while reminiscing about the past and raising the question of how well do we know the people we know. 4/5
~You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann – An English translation of a German book, featuring a screen writer working on the sequel to his hit movie in a newly rented house in a secluded location. That the house has a life of its own becomes obvious on the first night itself. Rooms rotate, swivel, appear and disappear; windows reflect things and not people, basic Maths doesn’t apply to the measurements of the house’s dimensions, you exit a room only to enter the same room you left. The first person narrative of the book flows parallel to the script being written, heightening the eerie atmosphere – are the narrator’s thoughts part of his fictional story, hallucinations, or observations of what’s happening? Gripping and haunting, closely blending the lines of psychological horror and ghostly horror. 4.5/5
~The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Hossain – Djinns and drones come together in this cauldron of fantasy fiction and science fiction. A djinn king awakens after millennia of slumber, finding an ally in a Gurkha, to take over a new kingdom to rule. Only it’s a post-apocalyptic world, run by an AI called Karma. A roller coaster of a read – hilarious, entertaining, thoughtful and literary, combining legends with speculations, a juxtaposition of the past with the future. Not a book to be missed. 5/5
Today is International Mallakhamb Day. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, the traditional sport involves a gymnast performing aerial postures on a stationary or hanging vertical pole or rope. The pole used in the sport is also referred to as “mallakhamb“. It is made from Indian rosewood, polished with castor oil. Mallakhamb is derived from two words – malla meaning wrestler, and khamb meaning pole. Literally translating to “wrestling pole”, it is a reference to a traditional training implement used by wrestlers.
In 1936, a troupe of thirty-five acrobats from a small town in Central India traveled to the Berlin Olympic Games to demonstrate this ancient sport at a formal gala convened by the International Olympic Committee, with athletics officials and media from around the world. The team’s intricate feats of contortion, strength, and gymnastics atop a narrow, 8½-foot pole led the Führer to bestow each acrobat with an honorary Olympic medal before the group returned to India.
Mallakhamb finds a mention as early as 1135 AD in the Sanskrit classic Manasollasa written by Someshvara III. Rajput paintings dating back to 1610 AD show athletes performing acrobatics on poles. As a fantastical merging of history and myth, Hanuman is said to have appeared to the famed physical trainer of the Marathi kingdom’s royal prime minister, Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, in the late 18th century, after he was challenged to a wrestling match. The trainer watches Hanuman climb a tree and learns to mimic the monkey-God’s strength and agility. In the early 1900s, Rani Laxmibai learned mallakhamb with Nana Saheb and Tatya Tope. The Mallakhamb Federation of India developed mallakhamb as a competitive sport in January 1981, and the first national championships were held on the 28th and 29th of that month. Prior to this, mallakhamb made its appearance at gymnastic championships in India. On 9th April, 2013 the state of Madhya Pradesh in India declared mallakhamb as the state sport, and many other states followed suit.
Currently, three versions of the sport exist:
~Pole – a vertical pole made from teak wood or rose wood is fixed into the ground and smeared with castor oil, on which participants perform various acrobatics and calisthenics.
~Hanging – the wooden pole is shorter and suspended with hooks or chains.
~Rope – a suspended cotton rope on which the participant performs, ensuring the rope does not knot in any way.
The heart of mallakhamb is at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, where the legendary Uday Deshpande has been practising and promoting the sport at Samarth Vyayam Mandir for over forty years. In addition to the state of Maharashtra, Mallakhamb features prominently in Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. Deshpande has taken the art to the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and the USA, and has found the greatest acceptance in Germany. Several exchange programmes have also contributed in spreading this sport widely, from aerialists and acrobats around the world coming together to share knowledge, to those who knew zilch about the sport gearing up for lessons and starting from scratch. The first ever Mallakhamb International Championship was held in Mumbai last year, featuring participants from fifteen countries, who were assessed on speed, grace and difficulty.
The link below is from an international conference held virtually today, on the occasion of the 4th International Mallakhamb Day celebrations.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”, wrote Edward Abbey. Seeing how nature has been thriving since humans have been confined in a lockdown, maybe the wilderness could do without us. In these isolated times with restricted movements to the outdoors, here’s a lighthearted post for the weekend.
I have been a little occupied over the past few months. Having utilized the lockdown period to enrol in literature courses, most of my reading these days is taken up by course material, required readings, lectures, and participation in student discussion forums. These are some of the books I read in May.
~Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – Historical fiction based on true events surrounding the Plague that afflicted the village of Eyam in 1665. One of the first known evidences of quarantine as we now know it, the entire village decided to isolate itself in an effort to save neighboring villages and towns from contracting the disease. Eyam is a tourist destination today, known as “Plague Village” – the bubonic plague having ravaged through the self-sacrificing residents. 4.5/5
~Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta – An English translation of an Italian language crime novel. A woman finds herself murdered a week before her wedding. Her fiance being the son of the director of the firm she works for is the prime suspect, but things are never what they seem. A noir thriller where the killer is not one specific person, but an entire corrupt system, bringing together the dilemmas of family, business, society, morals, obligations. A good work of Italian crime noir. 3.5/5
~Alien by Alan Dean Foster – A novelization of the screenplay that released before the movie came out. Consequently, the book is based on the original screenplay, straying from Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the horror classic we know. A brilliant science fiction read for lovers of the genre. If the silence and solitude of space scared you in the movie, the book ups the ante several notches. The fear is so atmospheric, with nothing and everything happening in the silence. Only seven characters occupy the entire length of the novel (and movie) and what a ride it was! 5/5
~Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem – A scientific outlook on the evolution of disease and illnesses through the evolution of species. Viruses and bacteria have occupied our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. What makes them so resilient through millennia of evolution, with other species having come and gone? An engaging narrative on why we fall sick, and how disease within a species is inherent as we evolve. 5/5
~Mango Cake and Murder by Christy Murphy – A cozy mystery with a Filipino mother-daughter crime fighting duo who balance their investigations alongside a catering business. An interesting premise that had the potential to be a wonderful read, if not for the bland approach taken by the writer. A quick read that’s decent enough between heavy or more serious books. Not recommended as a must-read. 2/5
~The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Historical fiction set in Jaipur, India of the 1950s. A henna artist married at fifteen, escapes from an abusive husband at seventeen, and finds a path ahead applying henna/mehendi to the rich and famous of post-Independence India. Years pass and a sister born since after she left home shows up at her door step. Beautiful descriptions of the henna artwork, insightful concoctions of traditional herbs and restorative foods, recipes that make you want to eat along as you read – all travel parallel with sibling dynamics, interplay of past and present, the lines between clients and friends, family and strangers. A fascinating story and uplifting read. 5/5
~A Shower of Summer Days by May Sarton – An Irish estate home unoccupied for years, finds its temporary visitors turning permanent residents, as a middle-aged couple decide to settle in the wife’s ancestral house. A book about people not only bound to each other, but to the house itself – the house being a character in the story, a witness to emotions and conversations, providing a sense of familiarity and serenity as well as alienation and flaring tempers. Kind of a charming counterpart to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. 4/5
~The Rider by Tim Krabbé – An English translation of a Dutch memoir; a literary sports classic of the seventies. A tribute to the art of bicycle racing, Krabbé describes his transition from chess player and sports journalist to competitive rider and top endurance athlete – all interspersed within the pages of a 150-kilometer road race. A thrilling ride not just for cyclists or athletes, but anyone who enjoys an inspiring read. 5/5
~The Summer People by Shirley Jackson – A short story about an elderly couple that decides to extend their stay at a summer cottage. What happens when tourists turn full time residents? A sinister take on the relationship between locals and tourists and the outcome when these lines are blurred. 4/5
~The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – A re-telling of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi/Panchaali – the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers. A well conceived interpretation with fantastic prose make this a book worth reading. 5/5
A collage of all the books:
A summary of books read in April 2020.
~Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – An epistolary and lipogrammatic satire, narrated in the form of letters between characters, by eliminating letters from the English alphabet as the story progresses. Pure brilliance in the concept and outcome. 5/5
~Meg by Steve Alten – A prehistoric marine dinosaur (that actually existed and was larger and stronger than the T-Rex) surfaces in the present age, wrecking havoc in its wake as top predator that ever existed. A thrilling ride of paleontology and marine ecology. 4/5
~Friend Request by Laura Marshall – A middle-aged woman receives a Facebook friend request from a school classmate. Only the latter died 27 years ago, and the protagonist was responsible for her death. An insightful tale on the obsession of social media and being consumed by the virtual world. 3.5/5
~Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – A woman spends most of her adult life working in a convenience store, and feels like a misfit in the “regular world”. A simple story offering a fresh take on society and the pressure to conform. 3.5/5
~Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw – A post-apocalyptic novel about killer jam consuming the world. The tables have truly turned, and the eaten becomes the eater. A laugh riot all the way. 4/5
~The Yellow Arrow by Victor Pelevin – A train that has no start point and an undisclosed destination. Once you get on, you cannot get off, and you forget all about your time outside the train. The Yellow Arrow makes you a passenger for life. Philosophical and metaphorical, the train as an analogy for life itself. What is it about Russian writers that every book seems to warrant a 5/5?
2 books on Autism, since April is dedicated to Autism Awareness.
~The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris – An autistic child with synesthesia narrates the story of his neighbor’s murder. Only he’s the one who murdered her. And nobody believes him because he’s on the spectrum. Interestingly chronicled through colors. 4/5
~Autism in Heels by Jennifer O’Toole – A memoir of being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 34, and subsequently bringing up children on the autism spectrum. A witty, humorous and informative read. 5/5