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.


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:


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


~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.

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

International Tiger Day – Book Recommendation

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.


Contemporary Verse

Recipes in a Dead Language 

~ Amy LeBlanc

cupboard number one:

Folded flour bags

glazed like snow –

breaking twist ties

on cans with labels

turned inward.

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.


sink plug:

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)


Image courtesy a remodelled 1940s bungalow by owner-designer Leslie Dawson Mouzis, Portland OR