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


3-Chest-shoulders-triceps weight training


5-Back-biceps weight training + Run

6-Wheel workout


8-Skipping + Burpees + Sliders + Walk

9-Lower body strength training

10-Odissi dance


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!

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.

July 2020 in Books

A delayed summary of the books I read in July 2020. The titles last month covered a range of genres from historical fiction, memoir, horror, true crime, fantasy fiction, political thrillers and translated literature. I was lucky to have picked some stunning works and I’d recommend them all to anyone who likes these genres.

~The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun – A Korean-English translation of a psychological thriller described as a cross between Stephen King’s “Misery” and Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”. The protagonist finds himself paralyzed following a car accident that kills his wife. His mother-in-law is the only living family member, who takes it upon herself to be his caretaker, nurse, guardian, physiotherapist, by removing all experts from the scene, only to neglect him thereafter. An atmospheric novel depicting the horrors of isolation, loneliness, depression, helplessness, claustrophobia, the terrors of not knowing versus the brutality of knowing and being unable to do anything. The horror is subtle rather than in-your-face, unraveling as the novel does.  And a gorgeous cover, too, with its own significance in the story. 4/5

~Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett – A memoir of dance, food, travel, journeys and experiences. The author works as a saleswoman at a store in Sydney. A chance encounter with a Flamenco class at a local dance studio kicks off an obsession of sorts with the dance form, taking her to the place of its origin, Seville in Spain. This leads to a newfound love for the country, its culture and people, because the Flamenco is not just a dance but a way of life. An endearing narrative of the writer’s tryst with the dance form. A book sure to trigger fernweh and make you want to travel, dance, eat, learn new languages, and meet people. 4/5

~Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba – A Spanish-English translation based on the true story of an orphan who was killed by other children at an orphanage in Brazil, who ended up playing with her body parts for a week before the murder came to light. As horrifying as the event is, the prose is beautiful, hypnotic, lyrical. This book is not just about the story, but a lesson in writing itself. Disconcerting and heartbreaking but morbidly beautiful, a masterpiece of a work by translator Lisa Dillman who requires her own applause for this one. 5/5

~Ring by Koji Suzuki – A Japanese-English translation of the horror classic known by its many movie adaptations in both Japanese and English. A mysterious videotape that kills the viewer within one week of watching it. If the movies scared you, the book ups the ante by several notches, with a detailed narrative on the origins of the tape and how it works, along with the significance of the title. Eerie, disturbing, and chilling to the bone even without the iconic scene from the movies, a must-read in horror fiction. 5/5

~The Invisible by Seb Doubinsky – A political crime drama set around a mysterious hallucinogenic drug, with people getting killed on the way for knowing too much. Politics, crime, poetry, fantasy, an alternate universe of noir. A place where the culprit is not a person, but a system. A strange book that I came across on Meerkat Press, a publishing house that comes out with some very different, but very good books. 4/5

~The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – A Polish-English translation of the Witcher’s origin story.  Written as a series of short stories, the reader is taken along Geralt of Rivia’s many adventures, interspersed with the present timeline as a prelude to later books in the series. Are monsters identified by their looks or behavior? A world of djinns, elves, wizards, sorceresses, spells and elixirs – brilliantly translated into English, retaining the wit and humor of the original. Fantasy fiction at its best with a wonderful character of the White Wolf, his choices and actions. 5/5

~The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – Historical fiction delving into the political upheavals of Iran, a world of coups, poetry, letters, books, food, culture, immigration and more. A story about a tiny neighborhood stationery shop, and a story about everything else. A mix of epistolary and framing, past and present and parallel stories, Marjan Kamali is a powerful voice in Iranian literature, with a subtle yet effective narrative. 5/5

~Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke – Set around the death of an infant caused by suffocating on her blanket, Kealan Patrick Burke brilliantly handles a dark theme in describing the horrors of losing a child and the associated sadness, loss, grief. A haunted blanket can be scary, but the ghosts outside are no match for the ones within. A book that deserves a read just for the writer’s take on the subject. 5/5


Readers and Writers, and the Thread of Books

In light of what’s happening in the world right now, a glimmer of joy found its way to me a few days ago. I had the distinction of being one out of seventy-five people from around the world selected by Reese Witherspoon for a virtual discussion on her book of the month, The Henna Artist. The Oscar-winning actress and producer runs a worldwide book community through her Hello Sunshine Club that serves as a platform for women’s stories. US-based author of Indian origin, Alka Joshi’s book was chosen for the month of May. As part of their month-long activities surrounding the book, Reese and Alka had organized a series of sessions through various social media platforms – a live class with an actual henna artist who taught us to draw mehendi designs, interviews with professional henna artists, and even cooking sessions according to recipes of the book.

On the last day of the month, a virtual book meet and discussion was scheduled, with Reese picking 75 readers from across the globe to be a part of the session with Alka Joshi herself, and actress-memoirist Tembi Locke moderating the discussion. We gathered from different countries and time zones to hear Alka and Tembi discussing the book, followed by a “breakout” session that had us separated into smaller groups of eight or nine people to share our thoughts on the book more intimately.  Here again, I had the distinction of being clubbed in the same mini-group as Alka, being lucky enough to speak with the author personally. We then returned to the main group and shared what each group had discussed separately; and those who hadn’t spoken with the author could ask her questions. I have not interacted much with authors before, and this was a unique experience of spending an entire month with a book and being able to speak with the writer about it. The time zone difference made it past midnight in my part of the world, but it was a session of distinction to be involved in.

In some ways, the pandemic has brought us closer via the virtual world. After my interaction with Alka Joshi, I wrote to her and she recommended some books. Building confidence, I also connected with Yangsze Choo – author of The Ghost Bride which is required reading for a course I’m doing on Historical Fiction – and she replied, too. For someone who is not professionally from the fields of literature, journalism, or publishing, but loves to read, though stays away from trending book challenges or book club events, preferring to do my own reading, it’s a different kind of thrill to read great works of literature and be able to speak with the authors themselves. I plan to do more of this now for the books I read (if the writers are alive, and they reply.)

Here’s a picture from the henna art class conducted by Neha Assar – the Master of Mehendi – who was invited by Reese to take a live class and share her experience of over twenty years as a real life henna artist. I couldn’t procure a henna cone due to the lockdown, and used a glitter pen instead – the nib is thinner than a marker/sketch pen, but thicker than an ink/ballpoint pen.


If you haven’t read the Henna Artist, do check it out. The story is set in 1950s Jaipur, India and tells us about the journey of a henna artist through her interactions with family, friends, clients, acquaintances and strangers. A cultural treat through history. Alka Joshi has had the distinction of her book releasing in the lockdown and still doing so well worldwide. Paperbacks are currently available only in the US and Canada, but the rest of the world has been lapping up the ebook and audiobook versions.

There’s Something About Christmas – Book Review

Title – There’s Something About Christmas

Author – Debbie Macomber

Genre – Fiction, humor, romance, seasonal, festive


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 Ghost of Christmas Paws – Book Review

Title – The Ghost of Christmas Paws

Author – Mandy Morton

Genre – Fiction, crime, mystery


“There are many types of civilization, depending on what you’re used to. Icy fog and torrential rain, punctuated by snow – though beautiful – had driven cats indoors,and brought life to a standstill.”

The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency is a series of books led by a feline detective duo. Hettie Bagshot and Tilly Jenkins are summoned to solve a case a few days before Christmas. The elderly Lady Eloise Crabstock-Singe lives in a manor off the Cornish coast, and believes her house is haunted by the ghost of a cat who wants to finish off the entire Singe family. Lady Eloise’s sister and brothers have already been brutally murdered by the hands of Christmas Paws, who shows up every Christmas Eve to wreck havoc on the Singe family. Eloise is the only surviving member, and is certain it’s her turn this Christmas and fears she has been brought to reckoning.

This cracking cat crime is an absolutely delightful and entertaining read for the Christmas season, populated by a world without people that cat lovers would certainly enjoy. All the characters are cats, and Mandy Morton has given each of them their own distinct character traits. Hetty and Tilly are named after the author’s own cats, and the other characters are based on her friends’ pets. Our protagonists are avid readers, and the book is peppered with literary references which are an absolute treat for book lovers. The word play is all animal-related – Santa Claws, Agatha Crispy, The Daily Snout, Cat of the Baskervilles, and the title itself being a take on Charles Dickens’ novel. A fun, feline read that is definitely recommended if you’re looking for something lighthearted and witty.

My rating – 3/5

In The Tall Grass – Book Review

Title – In The Tall Grass

Authors – Stephen King and Joe Hill

Genre – Horror


The grass flows and you flow, too. Think of it as becoming one with nature.”

With Stephen King celebrating his 72nd birthday last weekend, and the movie releasing next week, it was apt to read this collaboration with his son, Joe Hill on this seemingly fun family holiday, which soon turns nightmarish. A pair of siblings on a long distance road trip, find themselves on a deserted strip of road parallel to a large field. Sounds of a child in distress emit from within the field. The boy doesn’t sound too far away, but it’s easy for a small kid to get lost in towering blades of grass. Within minutes of entering the field on their rescue mission, the brother-sister duo lose track of each other, feel disoriented in blades over seven feet tall, and get entangled even further in the verdant mass while trying to follow each other’s voices. Turns out there are more people similarly lost in the tall grass, and though they can hear each other, they can’t seem to find the owners of the voices. Directions and time melt in the grass. “There is no morning or night here, only eternal afternoon. If we had shadows, we might use them to move in the same direction”, reflects one of the characters. The grass has dew throughout the day and cannot be burned, new blades shoot up as soon as old ones are crushed under foot, and the “softly flowing ocean of green silk” appears to move even though the people are still, causing them to move without moving.

The father-son imagination of King-Hill elevates the horror to another level, and might not be suitable for all readers. Caution is recommended to those who get squeamish easily, as the story has a lot of gore. King is known for his detailed writing – the fun elements with a character who speaks in rhymes and another with a fondness for limericks, are easily interspersed with the brutality of its stomach churning moments. The protagonist/antagonist/lead character/side character, which ever way you see it, is the grass. And Stephen King proves once again why he is the king of horror, with his ability to find fear in the unlikeliest places/events. A disturbing read, but recommended for horror buffs.

My rating – 3.5/5

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


“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

Run The World #9 – MIRNA VALERIO

“Embrace what is difficult so that you may progress. Welcome what makes you frightened.”

Mirna Valerio is a marathoner, ultramarathoner, and trail runner. She ran the 50K NJ Ultra Trail Festival in 2013 and the 35-miles Georgia Jewel in 2014. 2015 was eventful with the 12-hour Midsummer Nights’ Ultra in June, Finger Lakes 50K in July, 35 miles at the Georgia Jewel in September, and 100K at the Javelin Hundred in October. She was back for the 50K Finger Lakes in 2016, and ran the Black Mountain Monster and NJ Running With The Devil – both 12-hour runs in the months of May and June respectively, along with the NYC Knickerbocker 60K in November 2017. 2018 saw her run the 50K Run Amok, and this year she ran the Shore2Shore in April and the Strawberry Fields Forever in June – both 50K ultramarathons. She has also done several 10Ks, 15-milers, half marathons, 25Ks and full marathons in the interim.


Skirt Sports 13er
Skirt Sports 13er

Colorado Rockies – 6-Day Ultra

The 43-year old, 5-foot-7, 250-pound African-American dressed in a ball cap, fitness top, knee-length running tights, and training shoes often receives a double take, which she responds to with a smile and a wave. Despite racism and body-shaming, she continues challenging stereotypes and inspiring others to do the same. “I think that people are really having trouble grappling with the idea that fit comes in many forms and that people can still participate in athletics no matter what kind of body they have,” she says.

2013 Finger Lakes 50s 25K
Finger Lakes 25K, 2013

2010 North Face Half
North face Half Marathon, 2010


Mirna was raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, bordering the Ridgewood neighborhood. Poverty, drugs, gangs, violence, absent fathers, single mothers, children locked away in apartments to avoid the danger of the streets, type 2 diabetes scourging the community – Valerio knew this world as she was growing up, but love and grit instilled strength and propelled her on an extraordinary trajectory.

Mirna was never a runner. In high school, she thought soccer involved too much running about, and decided to opt for hockey instead, assuming it was like golf – “walking through the field”. Realizing she couldn’t even manage the running drills before the actual game started, she decided to start running as “training for the warm-ups”. Running helped her not only in hockey but also lacrosse, a sport she loved, was good at, and wanted to get better at. “I started running to condition, to be able to be a better contributor to the team. It made me feel better. I fell in love with the act of running early in the morning.” While turning into an athlete, Valerio spontaneously blossomed as a singer. She taught herself to play piano by ear and sang gospel with her church choir. Excelling academically at the same time, Mirna demonstrated a particular gift for languages.

juilliard recital
Juilliard Choir Recital

She continued to run all the way through college, and recreationally through her twenties and thirties. In 2008, while driving to the school she taught at, she felt sharp pain in her chest. She was only thirty-three then, and her son who was with her had just turned five. Blood tests later revealed excessive arterial inflammation. The health scare prompted her to start exercising seriously. She started with 5Ks, subsequently graduating to 10Ks and 15-milers. Her blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol readings dropped down to healthy levels, and the inflammation in her arteries reduced. She started training for her first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in 2011.

forested trail in georgia
Running through a forested trail in Georgia

Atop North Carolina’s Whiteside Mountain, National Geographic 2018

Shortly afterward she was drawn to trail running and ultras. She took to the solitude and challenge of the mountains, and also liked the comradeship and spirit of the trail-running community. “Part of a health journey, a fitness journey, a wellness journey — whatever you may call it — is finding what makes you happy. What about running makes you happy?” Reminiscing about a camping trip to the Catskill mountains at age eight, Mirna reveals how she fell in love with swimming in the lake, hiking, and just being outside all day; the sights and the smells all firmly etched in her memory. She loves being outside, whether hikes or camping trips. Long-distance running gives her an opportunity to be outside with a purpose. “Taking care of my body, exploring the limits — or my preconceived limits ― about what I thought I could do. The real appeal of it is pushing my body, pushing my mind, pushing my spirit.”

Yoga by a waterfall near Georgia’s Blackrock Lake, National Geographic 2018

Black Mountain Monster 12 Hr
Black Mountain Monster – 12 Hr Ultra, 2017

2013 Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise 5K
Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise, 2013

Mirna works at the Rabun Gap-Na-coochee School in the town of Rabun Gap, where she serves as Spanish teacher, choir director, and head coach of the cross-country team. She believes in uplifting the community, the value of discipline, and the pertinence of encouraging people to put their health first. Optimism and ambition pour over into every aspect of her life and splash onto the people around her as well. Her grasp of the complex relationship people have with fitness and her own existence as a plus-size woman who has completed several ultramarathons and marathons — along with her bubbly personality and sense of humor, all make her an inspiring role model.

Warming up before a morning run

But she has her share of detractors as well and knows critics serve to criticize. “People say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’  People look at me and think, ‘Big as this girl is, how can she possibly enjoy her sport? She’s really just punishing herself.’ They don’t think I’m for real, that I’ve earned the right to call myself a runner. Some people don’t understand why I run in the woods. They think I’m gonna get kidnapped. Others have their own ideas about what I should or shouldn’t be doing, but I just do it anyway.”

tough mudder
Tough Mudder – an endurance event involving a series of obstacle races.

The link below is an indicator of all the races Mirna has participated in, from 5Ks to 100Ks.

She runs about 25 miles a week if she’s not training for a race, 35 if she’s gearing up for an event, with the bulk of the mileage logged on a long weekend run. “Ms. Valerio is the most energetic teacher on campus,” says James Trammell, a senior at Rabun Gap, and co-captain of the cross-country team. Mirna is known to project an aura of inclusiveness in running: No matter who you are or what you look like, you have a place in this sport. Storyteller Jenny Nichols considers Mirna as the definition of a trailblazer. “She is redefining what a runner looks like and she’s doing it with style, grace and a huge smile. Mirna reinforces the fundamentals: Work out, be active, and eat a high-quality diet. Weight loss should be the by-product of a healthy life, not the goal. Writer John Brant is in awe of her all-encompassing pleasing personality.

A copy of her memoir

Mirna’s memoir, “A Beautiful Work in Progress“, was published in October 2017. “It’s not  about me being a fat athlete—I want to reach out to anybody who wants to feel good in their own skin, exercise, and enjoy things that they may not feel able or welcome to do,” she says.

book signing
At a book signing event

Mirna has never won any event, she is not the fastest or strongest-looking runner around, she doesn’t have a weight-loss story, and doesn’t have any disabilities. Why is she featured here? Because she is testimony to the fact that everybody can run. One doesn’t need to be on the podium, or lose weight, or run through medical conditions, or overcome visible obstacles, or have people constantly talking about them, to be considered inspiring. Even if no one praises you or writes or reads about you, you still run because it’s something you love to do. Everyone has their own journey and should proudly partake in it, irrespective of what others say.

blackrock lake georgia
Blackrock Lake in Georgia, National Geographic 2018

Mirna sets her running calendar at the beginning of each year, so that people can join her on her runs, as part of an initiative called “Wanna Run With Mirna?” This was her entire running calendar for 2018:

April 7-8 Throwing Bones Run on the Mountains to Sea Trail with Kenny Capps, Boone NC
April 14 – BAA 5K, Boston MA
April 16 – Boston Marathon, Boston MA
April 28 – The North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50K, Sterling VA
April 29 – The North Face Endurance Challenge Series 10K, Sterling VA
May 3-4 – Toughest South, Somewhere in TX
May 25 – Azores Trail Run 65K, Blue Island, Azores
June 1-3 – Skirt Sports Ambassador Retreat and 13er, Boulder CO
June 25-29 – City Kids Backpacking, Canoeing Jackson, WY
July 5-9 – Trail Running Adventures Retreat, Morganton NC
July 21-22 – Tough Mudder Long Island, NY
August 14-19 – Trans Rockies 6 Day
September 13-16 – REI Outessa, Waterville, NH
September 21-23 – Ragnar Adirondacks, Lake Placid, NY
September 27 -October 1 -Hiking Retreat in UT

Mirna realizes that whatever might be your journey – as a runner, a woman, a mother, or whoever one may be – somebody might be looking at you or looking at the things that you do and say, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that we could go and run for six days in the Colorado Rockies. Maybe I could try to do 5K.” We are all not on the same page, we don’t all have the same capabilities or the same financial ability to do things. But “things are possible – like going for a walk“. Mirna’s sixty-year old mom goes backpacking with her. What are her own sources of inspiration? You’re not always going to be motivated. And that’s the reality, you cannot live by motivation. Because you’re not always going to be inspired. You have to be disciplined.”

Mirna with her son and husband

On the cover of Women’s Running