Not Quite Half

June is coming up and I do hope I hit the half-way mark of 50 in my Reading Challenge. I’m reading more in binges rather than consistently, so sometimes, I complete 2-3 books over the weekend, and then two weeks pass before I pick up a book again.

Here’s an update to the list:

28. The Guardians of Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath: A competent fantasy book with Indian mythology woven nicely into the plot. First of a trilogy.

29. Mahabharata Quest by Christopher C Doyle: Again, a fairly interesting thriller (I guess) book set in India, the second in a series. But it lost me in some of the technical details – it was dealt with in a heavy-handed way.

30. Hysterical by Rebecca Coffey: Interesting book on Anna Freud, daughter of the famous Sigmund Freud. I would have liked to read more about Anna’s achievements though.

31. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: I had heard so much about this book. It didn’t disappoint, but I did feel disappointed that Alma Whitaker was a figment of the author’s imagination instead of being a real person. That makes it a great book, doesn’t it?

32. Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak: Loved the Rumi stories, but was bored with the modern day equivalent that seemed forced.

33. An Outrageous Affair by Penny Vincenzi: It was a really long time since I read something like this, so picked it up from a friend’s house. It was interesting in bits, but didn’t quite stay with me. It also brought home to me the fact that even a “bestseller” like this needs solid research.

34. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill: The blurb looked really interesting, and when I started reading, it seemed one heckuva tale. A Dutchman playing cricket in America, talking about outfields and pitches and Sachin and Afridi…what’s not to like. Writing is brilliant, but the story itself wasn’t captivating enough. I could take in only small doses at a time, which was quite frustrating, since I wanted to finish it soon and get on to the next one! 🙂

35. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos: When I began reading this book, I just fell in love with it. The women seemed so real and familiar to me. Of course, as the story progressed, everything was too pretty, and loose ends were all tied up a bit too neatly. But I hugely enjoyed this book and read it at one shot.

36. Ithaca by David Davidar: Did not quite work for me. Though it provides a lovely insight into the publishing world, I just did not feel engrossed enough to care.

37. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer: GH was one of my favourite romance authors growing up. I loved that her heroines had such spunk and I liked her witty writing. I picked this up on a whim, and was a little bit disappointed that it turned out to be a murder mystery instead (didn’t take the title literally – duh!). But it was nice to read her writing again, and see the wit sparkle.

Still quite a bit of catching up to do, though. So many books, so little time!

One Plus One

I saw two movies recently. Both were aspirational and inspirational. Both revolved around Maths.

The movies I am talking about are The Man Who Knew Infinity and Nil Battey Sannata.

The former was about Srinivasa Ramanujam, the genius. Though I loved the movie, straightforward as it was, I somehow felt it portrayed Ramanujam as very desperate. I did not get the same feel when I saw his real pictures and read about him. Of course, this is my own perception, and I guess I will never know how he really was. But the impression I got of him was something we see quite often – the sheer determination to rise above your circumstances to achieve something, together with confidence in what he was doing. That he was a genius goes without saying, but the grit to make something of himself felt all too familiar. It would be so fascinating to see how exactly his brain was wired to make him such a prolific and original mathematician. It’s a joy to watch open-mouthed with amazement, and marvel at such phenomena.

The latter movie too was about the same, but in a different sort of way. Though I did like the intentions of the movie, some things felt a bit too superficial, like the bit about Maths. There was no need to even touch upon it, imho. Similarly, the last bit of dialogue, though quite representative of the scenario today, left me with mixed feelings. For those who haven’t seen the movie, and don’t mind spoilers, the last scene is that of an interview where the girl is asked why she wants to become a Collector. The answer she gives made me wince: Kyonki main bai nahin banna chaahati. Because I don’t want to become a maid. If the point of the movie was to follow your dream and work hard to make it happen, this single statement undermined it completely. Dreams are about what you want, not about what you don’t want. But other than these few moments, I thought the movie itself was heart-warming and worth a watch. It says something that the theatre was almost full on a week-day morning!

Catching Up

I started quite a few books, but somehow didn’t feel inclined to finish them.

The ones I did manage to finish reading were all good reads, but I didn’t find anything particularly spectacular about them. So here goes the list:

23. Ponniyin Selvan – The First Floods, originally by Kalki, translated by C.V. Karthik Narayanan: This was an interesting read. I liked that the flavour of the original Tamil version still came through nice and strong. (I really liked the use of the word “Adada!”) The descriptions were really quaint – sometimes I felt I was reading a “Shakuntala” novel. But all in all, very nice, and I would definitely like the read the entire set.

24. Personal – A Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child: Didn’t particularly care for this one, to be very honest.

25. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt: I was recommended this novel in order to understand better how to do character sketches, and boy! this one rocks when it comes to characters. The story itself didn’t somehow interest me too much, but the writing was excellent.

26. Holes by Louis Sachar: Lovely book. It was well-paced, and though not too much of a surprise for me, I really liked the way the story went. Solid writing.

27. The One You Cannot Have by Preeti Shenoy: I had the opportunity to meet the author, and she came across as a sincere, down-to-earth, practical and hard-working person. So I thought it would be good to read one of her books. I can easily understand why this book is such a hit with young people. It reflects a lot of their lives and the relationship problems they grapple with. It is easy to read too, without becoming too preachy or literary. But I guess I won’t be too inclined to read more of her since I’m not particularly interested in this genre.

GoodReads tells me I am behind in my reading challenge by 2 books. I do hope the next crop of books excites me more than this one.

Passing through

Old people have the reputation of being stuck in their ways and of being judgmental.

However, as I grow older myself, I’ve learnt a few things:

  1. Humans are resilient. They change all the time, in ways they never would have imagined possible. I am not saying they will be happy with the changes, but they do adapt wonderfully to practically any situation. This has made me tranquil about life in general. I know that if something were to drastically change, I would adapt to it too. Why worry?
  2. There’s no point in being judgmental about people. Folks do the things they do because they feel that’s the best thing they can do given the circumstances. Even if you take a person who is considered abnormal (what is normal anyway?), he/she will be behaving in accordance with certain rules they have come up with internally, because that is what works for them. Each of us is living in our own personal universe, and everything makes sense in that universe – or rather, we impose our own sense of right and wrong in this personal universe. Every story has infinite sides to it. So our judgments are reflections of our own personal universe rather than of other people.

As I grow older, I realize more and more everyday the wisdom of great teachings. Letting go is easier. I focus on the doing and in the now rather than on the future. ‘This too shall pass’ has never been truer. Friends jokingly call me Buddha, Zen and Yoda. I guess I’m slowly beginning to earn these nicknames.

Like a cloud passing overhead which may or may not be noticed, which disappears without a trace, I too shall move through this world and evaporate one day. Till then, I’ll go where the wind takes me.

More Reading

I managed to do more reading this weekend than practically the entire month!

The books I’ve read so far are:

17. Gachar Gochar by Vivek Shanbhag: What a beauty of a book this is! Deceptively simple, it plumbs many depths. Beautifully written and beautifully translated, the story is about a family which suddenly finds itself rich. The details are very vivid, and I could easily relate to them. The ending leaves one flummoxed initially, but then it grows on you, and I could see how cleverly the author had built up the story to the end, leaving the reader to figure it out. I had the opportunity to hear the author speak, and I was very impressed. A must read, in my opinion.

18. Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Oh what a book this is! Again, a must read. It is the wonderfully told story of a facially deformed kid who joins school for the first time in fifth grade, and comes into his own. Very sensitively told, bringing out the best in people always, this is a very heart-warming book. I loved the different POVs and the way it tries to always present a balanced picture, even of the very worst of people.

19. Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa: I loved the author’s other book Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. This book was a well-written book, but it didn’t really strike a chord with me. I do like the way this author writes.

20. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: OK, I can’t gush enough about this book. What a beautifully written book! Every sentence is crafted with so much love and care. And what a lovely story. It brings war right to our doorstep. The characters are so wonderfully vivid. I think it deserves every prize it has been awarded so far, and then some. Absolutely fantastic!

21. Stoob – Testing Times by Samit Basu: I was swept away by Samit Basu’s Turbulence when I first read it. It was hilarious, cheeky, clever and a great read! Stoob, somewhat in the same genre as Wimpy Kid, is no doubt a cute book, though not as exciting as I expected it to be.

22. The Reluctant Detective by Kiran Manral: I’ve been a long-time reader of Kiran’s blogs and have been meaning to read her books. This book, her first, felt more like her blogs than anything else. She is pretty hilarious most of the time, but since I’ve read most of the funny things in her blog posts, I didn’t find it as much of a page-turner as I expected it to be. The detective part wasn’t much or very interesting, but her trademark wit was very much in effect.

I’m all caught up with my Reading Challenge target now. I’m really enjoying this so far!

So Much Can Happen

So much can happen in less than a month!

It’s been so crazily hectic over the last few weeks that I am so glad to have had a lazy Sunday at last.

One of the nicest things that happened was that finally we got around to opening a children’s library in our apartment complex. There are three of us in this venture. One is a hot-shot editor with a leading publishing house who’s edited a veritable who’s who list of Indian authors. The other is a polyglot, ex-teacher of kids with special needs in the US, amazingly talented with kids. And then, somehow in this exotic mix, is me! 🙂

It is indeed my good fortune to have joined hands with this talented duo, and what a ball we had setting up the whole thing, right from the piles and piles of books to late-night cataloging, dorky selfies, many cups of tea, and hysterical fits of laughing till tears ran down our cheeks! Now we can boast of a lovely library with 900+ books for the children of our apartment complex. It is beyond wonderful, honestly!

Then, we decided to throw a surprise birthday party for a really good friend. The challenge was to keep it a surprise, for she is the master of surprises herself, and it was an almost impossible task to pull off. But rally together we did, and it ended up being one of the most memorable parties ever! The look on her face was priceless.

And then, I’ve joined a writing program that is on every weekend, and which comes with its own set of deadlines and challenges. Apart from this, I am also part of a writer’s group that submits and critiques stories every month. So, needless to say, this was yet another thing on my to-do list.

Work suddenly peaked and I was spending nights working, and having groggy mornings.

My health decided to act up and so did D’s. D’s exams too loomed large over the horizon. I am better now, D’s mysterious ailment is disappearing too, and hopefully, the exams will get over before we know it.

All in all, an absolutely crazy month, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s more fun than a packed day doing all the things you love?

Four Books and two Movies

A brief note on the four more books I’ve read as part of the Reading Challenge.

13. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: After the heavy underworld stuff, I was looking for a palate-cleansing light and fluffy course, and this fit the bill perfectly. An absolutely fun book that I finished in one sitting. The characters were fleshed out so well and the humour was very enjoyable.

14. The Liar by Nora Roberts: I thought this would be a quick and light read, but it kind of plodded. The main character didn’t convince me too much as a victim of abuse and I thought the whole story meandered quite a bit.

15. The Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin: Set in the midst of the run-up to the Second world war, it does a pretty decent job of portraying the plight of Turkish Jews and the efforts of the Turkish government to save them. However, I had a difficult time reading it and it took forever. It seemed to just chug along like a passenger train, never quite reaching the speed that would make the journey exciting. I read that she is a best-selling author in Turkey. I’m wondering if some of the magic was lost in translation.

16. Looking for Alaska by John Green: This is my first John Green book, and I was a little underwhelmed by it. I guess teens will find plenty to relate to, and will probably cry buckets too, but somehow it seemed a bit formulaic to me and didn’t quite move me.

The movies I saw were Room and Neerja.

I wish I had seen Room on TV/DVD. It is that sort of intense, intimate movie that keeps you completely engrossed. Beautiful movie, and from what I remember of the equally lovely book, quite faithful to the book too.

I had heard about the buckets and tissues that one needed to take to Neerja, but honestly, I didn’t feel like crying a bit during the movie, except at the end, during the mother’s speech. Sonam Kapoor, I’m sorry to say, just cannot act. The role was utterly wasted on her. A better actress could have brought such nuances to the role. Sonam was her usual pouty-little-schoolgirl self, which was a real pity.

One of the best things about the movie was what D said after watching it. She said that the movie was so useful in educating all of us about what brave people such as Neerja did, since we rarely knew much about them. She wished there were more movies made like this instead of silly ones. I couldn’t agree more!


No Matter What

One of the things I always tell D is that I will love her no matter what. It is true as far as I know. I know I will be there for her whether she triumphs or whether she fumbles. I was reading an article that reiterated the same thing – that parents ought to be there for their children no matter what.

No Matter What.

Three words that set me thinking. It reminded me of a conversation I had a long time ago with a friend. What if, I had asked, what if your child had murdered someone or committed some heinous crime? Would you still be there for your child? Where would you draw the line? How would you react? I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I do remember concluding that it was very, very difficult to say what we would do in such circumstances.

So when I saw the words “No Matter What”, they kind of leaped out at me. Is it true that parents ought to be there No Matter What? What about facing the consequences of your actions? What about the greater good? How would you take a call on your child if you disagreed vehemently with him/her at a very basic level? Ought parents to be so selfless that they should be there no matter what?

I guess the answer is quite complicated. It depends so much on every little factor involved. I guess in almost all cases, parental support goes a long way in bolstering one’s confidence and sense of security.

At the same time, if the parent feels his/her own integrity is being compromised by supporting or being there for the child, then I think he/she is well within their rights to withdraw such support. Here, I mean compromise at a more fundamental, perhaps even moral/ethical level, not at a superficial level such as status in society, etc.

What do you think?


Obsessed with Beauty

Last night, at the end of a really long and exhausting day, I wound up going for a movie – Fitoor. It was supposed to be a ladies’ night out at the movies, but one lady dropped out, another lady got a call when we were half-way to the movie theatre that her little son, whom she had tucked into bed and was sound asleep before leaving, had woken up and was puking. So the taxi-driver (taxis have certainly made our lives so much easier!) obligingly turned around, came all the way back, we dropped her off, and then it was just the three of us at the movie.

Oh dear! We couldn’t keep quiet once the movie began. Post-interval, we were even shushed! Not the kind of audience one wants to watch a romantic movie with on Valentine’s eve. But the movie was just begging to be remarked upon, and we three cranky old ladies (I hope the term isn’t offensive to my companions!) were too glad to oblige.

First the positives. The movie is a beauty quite literally. The absolutely gorgeous shots of snow and icicles, red leaves and wooden bridges, eerie mansions and ornate furniture, modern museums and luxury hotels…all lovingly, aesthetically, and beautifully framed. An ode to physical beauty as well, the camera lingers over Aditya’s sculpted body and Katrina’s porcelain profile. Truly a work of love.

But then, that’s it. The script and acting, I’m sorry to say, just doesn’t match up to the level at which the movie aims. Aditya wears a look of constant pressure, as if he really needs a good dose of laxatives to ease up. Katrina is as blank as the sheet of one facing a writer’s block. Tabu just wings her way through the scenes, knowing she will be the best actor of the movie even if she does so. I really wanted to feel the emotion, get swept away by the sheer intensity of love, but unfortunately, I kept getting snared into “This part of the movie sponsored by Bata/Borges Olive Oil/Asian Paints…”, if you get what I mean.

I wouldn’t like to use the word weak for the script, but everything felt a bit too superficial. Even at the end, which departs from the original Great Expectations, the magic just didn’t work for me. What a powerful scene that could have been! Just like when they were young, and Noor ran to Firdaus abandoning his sister’s funeral, Firdaus runs to him abandoning her mother’s funeral. What poetic brilliance that is on paper, but sadly, it lacked that brilliance on screen.

I wonder how this would have worked in the hands of really competent actors. Bajirao Mastani worked because of this combination. The actors did the job competently. Fitoor could have been a brilliant movie, but the acting is its main failing. I give full marks to Abhishek Kapoor to have attempted this grand adaptation, but sorry to say, the final offering falls short of the expectations.

Next Four

Here are the next four books that I completed:

9. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: It was a fun read, the two main characters so completely different from each other, and yet made for each other! It read so much like a screenplay to me, and I was not surprised to learn that the author had initially written it as a screenplay. Quite enjoyable.

10. Menaka’s Choice by Kavita Kane: Very mixed feeling about this book. On the one hand, it tries to put a modern feminist twist to the Menaka story. On the other hand, there was a lot of “heaving bosoms” (as someone put it), but I don’t really blame the author for that because it comes with the apsara territory! The initial parts seemed dialogue-heavy, but the story grew on me quite a bit towards the end. A good attempt.

11. Personally I Blame My Fairy Godmother by Claudia Carroll: I did not care for this book much. On the lines of Bridget Jones and the Shopaholic series, the humour was a bit too dry and contrived. I didn’t care too much for the main character anyway.

12. My Days in the Underworld: The Rise of the Bangalore Mafia by Agni Sreedhar: Gosh! When I began reading this book, it really spooked me out. Such familiar landmarks we grew up with, all teeming with this invisible world and its members! The book is curiously devoid of emotion. The underworld dons seemed like rebellious schoolboys brawling in the playground. The unholy nexus between the cops, the underworld, and the politicians is a carefully played out game. Bangalore will never be the same now to me again. Anywhere I go, I’m looking around suspiciously over my shoulder!