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And Its a Wrap!

After all the lows of 2014, I was expecting things to really look up in 2015….and well, as always, when you expect too much, a letdown is but inevitable and there were moments in 2015 I would not revisit for a million dollars! It has not been a comfortable year nor a particularly satisfying one; however there is no denying that I did gain some material advantage that included a long awaited promotion and relatively speaking, the ability to dig myself out of a financial abyss following my mom’s illness and subsequent death. I am still struggling with many things, but I now know that (fingers crossed) though I may never have the luck I want, I will (thanking the mightier powers) always have the luck I need.

As always, books and friends sustained me through all the good and the bad. Old and new books as well as old and new friends made my life so much richer and satisfying that I could not have believed was humanly possible. I saw such wonderful instances of uncalled for kindness and generosity, from so many quarters’ as to restore my faith in mankind, and hope for a better tomorrow.  Books have always been my natural therapy from all that is discouraging and distressing and this year was no different. Therefore following the tradition, I began last year, I list 12 books, which have made an indelible impression on me, out of everything I read through 2015:

  1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Like I originally posted, what can I ever say about this books that has not already been said? Sublime, insightful and full of sensitivity that remains unmatched, this book is a travesty of mankind. Beautifully depicting the passing of an era as well the realizations of lost opportunities, with succinct and yet powerful words, this book is one of the best I have read ever!
  2. Howards End by E.M. Forster – Again I quote from my original post, the moments of “Hey! That is so true” are liberally bestowed through the book. I again come across a book which was intuitive and deeply insightful of human nature and its ability to stand up for what is truly important, even when the standing up was done alone, against all odds. In Margaret Schlegel, I found one of the most real heroines I have ever come across!
  3. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende – Magical Realism, history, human nature and lyricism all came together in this brilliant book that describes the rise and fall of the Del Valle-Trueba clan from the end of World War I to the end of 1960s that saw an end of democracy and a bloody coup paralleling the history of the author’s native country Chile. A brilliant book that stays with you long after you finished reading it.
  4. Beowulf – One of the best things about blogging is that you get to meet people who encourage and support you to read works, which you might otherwise overlook. Beowulf was one such book, that I hesitated from reading for a long time and then Cleo came along and rescued me and helped me get on with it so to speak. The result was naturally very rewarding – one of the best epic poems ever written, singing of values much underrated today – of courage and nobility and loyalty. The adventure keeps you reaching out to turn the page over and the characterization, despite being an epic, is distinct and contrasting leaving the reader wonder, questioning and thinking
  5. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim – Beautiful book, with wonderful and complete characters and some wonderful settings, a book that tells of all things women are capable of, good and bad, of reaching out for freedom and of beauty and joy that comes from that freedom.
  6. The Custom of The Country by Edith Wharton – Edith Wharton at her best, bringing forth follies and failures of human nature in turn of the century New York, with characters who speak for themselves and of choices we make or do not makes when morals and avarice collide!
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir – Speaking of inspirations, Stefanie is another such person who keeps throwing up books which I would never venture forth on, except she does such a brilliant job of convincing me that I am compelled to try them! Science Fiction is NOT ME and I DO NOT like reading this genre! However The Martian blew me away – smart plot with crazy twists, dollops of humor and some easy to understand science, made it one of the most fulfilling reads ever!
  8. We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson – I was introduced to Ms. Jackson’s brilliance when in 2014, I read her The Haunting of Hill House as part of RIP event. I revisited her again this year as part of RIP and she did not disappoint. Eerie setting, obsessive unapologetic characters and a plot that keeps getting more threatening by the minute, the books is a singular example of the horror genre, of sending chills down the readers spine without the nasty pieces of blood and gore!
  9. Winter: A Berlin Family by Len Deighton – Known for his masterful spy thrillers, this little known historical fiction novel of Deighton is gripping and supremely dazzling. Tracing the family of Winters, father and sons, the story unfolds by taking us through Berlin and her people, beginning at the end of World War I and ending at the end of War War II, the book shakes your belief system, questions the oft repeated history and leaves you heartbroken!
  10. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – I have always been a great Gaskellian and this books lives up to all the glory that her author sought to give her. With believable and human characters and succinct truths of the newly industrialized England, the story is a exquisite and detailed picture of mill towns of 19th century, where money and culture of the old and new emerging world clash for existence and acceptance.
  11. Emma by Jane Austen – I have always believed that the more you read Austen, the newer layers you discover. The Emma readalong to celebrate 200 years of its publication, again gave me not only yet another opportunity to discover a new layer of wit and humor, but as some of my bloggers (Tom andBelleza) pointed out, read the books as an early mystery novel – will Harriet marry? Why is Frank Chruchill so late in his visit to Randalls? Why does Jane Fairfax insist on getting her own posts?
  12. Bloodline by Conn Iggulden (Part III of War of Roses Series) I think people should forget GOT for a while and read the actual events that inspired GOT. Always an Iggulden devotee, I read Stormbirds and Trinity (Part I and Part II) of the series with great enjoyment. However, it was part III that took my breathe away – magnificent descriptions of battles, plot twists and strong and endearing characters (you feel bad even for the rebels!) the book is a testimony to all the brilliance the author has shown in his Conqueror series!

Those are my top 12 of 2015, and while many others competed for this place, I must honestly say that these 12 really stood out!

What more do I say, except to end with what T.S. Elliot said wonderfully –

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning

Here wishing you all a joyous and fabulous 2016!

 

 

 

 

In The Company of Magnificence…

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate and I set off for a tour to a historically rich but now ruined citadel in South of India, Hampi. Both of us are great travelers but due to various circumstances last year, we had to keep our wanderlusting in check. Therefore to say we were really excited about this trip is an understatement! The USP of the trip was we were travelling as part of a tour group of all women’s team organized by the brilliant Shibani Vig and her team at Wonderful World.

Women from all parts of the country flew in to meet at Bangaluru, the metropolis of South India, from where we all took began the road trip to Hampi. Per Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, the now UNESCO heritage site of Vijaynagar, the primary city of Hampi, was founded by two brother Hakka and Bukka when trying to flee enemy forces. They came across this mountainous – ridge range and met a sage who convinced them to establish their seat in this region! . Under the rule of Hakka and then Bukka, the empire became rich and went from strength to strength. The city flourished between 14th and 15th century and at its height it was the second richest kingdom of the medieval world after Beijing and way bigger and more prosperous than Paris or London. The Kingdom continued to flourish under the heirs of Hakka and Bukka, and especially famous was King Krishnadeva Raya whose reign saw a burst of cultural activities, including prolific writings in literature and the building of some architectural marvels. The empire declined after losing successive battles with the neighboring kingdoms of Deccan Sultanates in mid-16th century. The victorious forces plundered the city and destroyed the buildings in a long drawn systematic way. Today all that remains of this once great city are the beautiful and haunting ruins!

Shibani is one the most thoughtful and considerate tour planners I had the good fortune to travel with and this trip was no different. The trip was led by the amazing and extremely patient Liane Ghosh and since we were traveling to a city of great historical importance, Shibani, even got us a personal historian to talk us through the great buildings and monuments! We set off on the bus with some articles on history of Vijaynagar which our historian had written up and just add an element of fun, he had even procured some comics, whose plotlines told the readers of the history of the city and tales of its denizens! Even the hotel Shibani had sought out for us was a testimony to the taste and elegance of team’s planning – instead of some ultra-modern luxury resort; we stayed at these wonderful cottages of Uramma Resort, Anegundi. This resort run by a philanthropist who aims at creating better lives for the villagers around Hampi, by trying to offer better healthcare and educational opportunities. The profits from the resort goes towards education of the youth as part of the broad program of the Uramma Trust. The resort is not fancy, but has all that is basic and comfortable. There are no televisions or bars, but the rooms are sparkling clean, beds super comfortable and a wonderful and obliging staff that is willing to do anything make your stay memorable. Staying at Uramma Resort, you get a feel of what it feels like to stay in real South Indian village surrounded by the marvelous vegetation, with some wonderful views from the green grounds of resort that overlook the majestic landscape of Hampi. We reached the resort, extremely late after several wrong turns and going round the circles, thanks to the drivers who claimed they knew everything when they actually knew little. We did manage to get a view of the magnificent sunset at Tungabhadra reservoir and that view alone made up for all the delays!

Sunset

(Picture Courtesy – Liane Ghosh)

Nevertheless after dinner had been served which by the way, was absolutely lip smacking delicious, we were all extremely sleepy and we called it an early night, looking forward to the morning of fun and adventure.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The next day we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and started off right after breakfast for the historical explorations. We crossed over to the other side of the town via a ferry (not my most favorite mode of transport, with high levels of hydrophobia), but have to admit that the ride was smooth and easy.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The first site that we visited was the magnificent Vitala Temple.  The temple was built by the King Deveraya in 15th century and was enhanced by the same famous Krishnadeva Raya. The temple is dedicated to Vitala, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu and the architecture once again shows the elaborate and the artistic creation of Vijaynagar that combined science and art to create these mammoth creations for a single rock cuts. The temple is surrounded by 4 madapas (entrances) of which 3 are still standing. The temple complex consists of many shrines and halls made of stone with intricate carvings that depict both Hindu legends and social and economic lives of medieval India. The stone chariot standing in the middle of the temple courtyard is breath taking and carved with graphic detailing. It’s dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The main hall of the temple was closed due to maintenance, however its outer walls again testify to some magnificent sculpture. There are set of pillars in complex that are carved out of some kind of resonate stones and legend states that at the height of festivities these pillars were used as musical instruments to be played in accompaniment to the hymns. Even today, the seven pillar emit seven different sounds of the musical notes of different density and volume. The temples today stand as a testimony of not only what was brilliant, but also show case the systematic destruction that was undertaken once Vijaynagar fell.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

We walked from the temple along the ghats (banks) of the Tungabhadra River. Some of the most beautiful scenes opened up to us …long narrow caves that suddenly open upon a scene of high ridge plateau on top of which sat a magnificent architectural creation.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The second important destination of the day was the Virupaksha Temple. This is one of the oldest functioning temples of the region. It was originally built in 7th century and later enhanced and renovated in 14th century by the Vijaynagar rulers. The temple consists of the main sanctum, a hall and open pillared hall and three chambers. The eastern gate or the mandapa is 50 meters high and this nine tiered entrance consists of some of oldest and most elaborate carvings.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

As we neared the temple however, my legs decided that they had enough and I managed to twist my ankle and pull my muscle at the same time. (Don’t ask me how I managed this medical marvel!) After much ado, my flatmate and I came back to the resort and after spending hours soaking in hot water and several painkillers and muscle relaxant dosage, I was finally able to walk again. (Thank You Liane/Sabeena for that amazing muscle spray and medication!) The fact that I was travelling with a wonderful troupe was brought home even more by the fact that the moment they reached the resort, the made a beeline for my room to figure out how I was doing and what could they do to make me more comfortable. Further ministrations and care, and I was finally ready to venture forth and join everyone else for evening dinner at Hema. Hema is a dimly lit shack where you get the most delicious Shakshuka and sizzlers. After gorging on some of this great food, we were back in the hotel for some rest, looking forward to-day 2.

Since I had limited abilities, I did not visit all that was planned, choosing only selective venues to explore and therefore to do justice to all the greatness of Vijaynagar, I make over its retelling to my bestfriend/flatmate/sister-in-crime, mentallynailbiting in the next post!

 

Matchmaking in Regency England

I finished reading Emma by Jane Austen over the weekend. It was part of a Read Along hosted by  Sarah Emsley and Dolce Bellze’s and it fitted very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Event. Also while I was reading it, I realized it could also be part of my Reading England project with its coverage of Southern England and Surrey to be specific. This is why I worship Jane Austen; she always complies with all my needs!  I was supposed to read it through the month of December, but greedy me, just could not let it off!

Emma begins with a description of our primary protagonist, Ms. Emma Woodhouse of Hartfield, Highbury. She is beautiful 21 years old heiress of 30,000 pounds a year, beloved daughter to a doting father and mistress of his house. She has everything going her way, financially secure, loved by all, life is as perfect as it can be. Her sister Isabella, senior to her by 7 years is married to Mr. John Knightly who is a barrister in London. His elder brother is Mr. Knightly, a friend and neighbor to Hartfield; he owns the huge acres associated to Donwell Abbey and is the primary landowner and Justice of Peace of the area. He is also one of the few people who can see faults of behavior with Emma.  The novels opens with the marriage of Miss Taylor, former governess and then best friend and companion to Emma with Mr. Weston. Mr. Weston is a self-made man, who had suffered some misfortune in his first marriage to the very rich Miss Chruchill, who had died in the fourth year of their marriage, leaving him with a young son. This son, Mr. Frank Chruchill was brought by Mr. and Mrs. Chruchill (brother and sister-in-law) to Miss Chruchill and considered the heir to their vast estate. Therefore Mr. Weston free of all responsibilities had worked had, built a fortune, bought Randalls and finally married Miss Taylor.  Emma believes that this marriage happened through her efforts and match making skills and this un-parallel success,  convinces her to continue matchmaking among her friends, like Miss Harriet Smith, a parlor border at the local school, whose parentage is unknown and Mr. Elton the local vicar, with amusing and sometime disastrous results, finally leading to mature realization in Emma of what truly constitutes marriage, love and companionship.

What can one say about this novel that that has not been said before? I love Emma because she is so unlike other Jane Austen’s heroines – blessed with brains and good heart, she still manages to act like a scatterbrain and is not above making mistakes of being ungenerous and perhaps sometime unkind. She does not completely understand human nature is often blinded by her own self conviction.What makes her well-loved is the fact that like all us mere mortals, she makes a mistakes, realizes her errors and goes about not only repenting it but also making amends. Her heart is in the right place, and if sometimes the sheer good fortune of her status and abilities carries her away, it is her heart and conscience which makes her somber and do everything in her power to make amends. Mr. Knightly is a quintessential Austen hero – mature, generous and gentlemanly. A vigorous, always in action man, duty of a man and its completion to him is first and most primary requirement of being a gentleman. The ensemble cast is equally brilliant and extremely well-drawn out; it is difficult to choose between the hypochondriac but kind Mr. Woodhouse, simple albeit silly Harriet and the up-start Eltons. I had several laugh out loud moments every time I came to passage containing Mrs. Elton. I think while writing about Jane Fairfax,  Jane Austen wanted to create an-almost model for women, the perfect, accomplished, well-spoken, elegant lady, something for lesser mortals including Emma to aspire for. The only character I could not abide by was Mr. Frank Chruchill, exactly for the reasons that Mr.Knightly enumerates! The plot is interesting and like Tom and Belleza posted in their blogs, this novel can be called mystery novel, because one really never knows what will happen – will Harriet marry? Why is Frank Chruchill so late in his visit to Randalls? Why does Jane Fairfax insist on getting her own posts? As a reader you are hooked! Some critiques have pointed out that the end is too neatly packaged and everything falls into place – well it does; but that is part of author’s creative liberty and Austen does a good job of tying up lose ends. Had she left some of the ends lose, I have a strong feeling that the same critiques would have come back and said that the story was incomplete!! The novel is set in upper-middle class Regency England and does not include the high life of London or the politics of post Napoleon Europe. In a way it’s a time capsule, isolated and standing independent of all the historical happenings of that time England, but I believe Jane Austen wrote of the world she knew and understood well and that is why her books endure, because they give us an insight to human nature – the one constant thing that never really changes. The last parting word that I have for the novel is that like all Austen novels, the book does raise the first flags of feminism and independence of a woman. In a conversation, between Harriet and Emma, where Harriet suggests that Emma should marry or will be considered an old maid by the society, Emma gives a fitting reply, a reply which I think resonates despite 200 years since it originally put down –

If I know myself, Harriet, mine is an active, busy mind, with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty or fifty than one-and-twenty. Woman’s usual occupations of eye and hand and mind will be as open to me then as they are now; or with no important variation. If I draw less, I shall read more; if I give up music, I shall take to carpet-work. And as for objects of interest, objects for the affections, which is in truth the great point of inferiority, the want of which is really the great evil to be avoided in not marrying, I shall be very well off, with all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about. There will be enough of them, in all probability, to supply every sort of sensation that declining life can need. There will be enough for every hope and every fear”

What more can I say about the inimitable Ms. Austen and her work – except, Vi! Va! Ms. Austen!

December, Reading & More…..

I know I have been away, but this time it was a good away. I was on road trip with bunch of friends visiting one of the most underrated ruins of medieval world, Vijaynagar. I will post up a bunch of pictures about this wonderful city in ruins soon with a bit of history (dependent on when my flatmate downloads the pictures from her camera!) In the meanwhile, December is here; my favorite month ….the birthday month, the holiday season month, the off with old and one with the new month! I celebrate it, naturally with books and more books.

To begin with, as part of my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event as well as my Reading England Project, I have started reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh. Jane had blogged about it way back and since then it has been on my TBR forever. I am LOVING the poem so far! I have also decided to join Sarah Emsley and Dolce Bellze’s Emma Readlong, celebrating the 200 years of publication of Emma by Jane Austen.  Being December, I have naturally overloaded myself with more books than I can possibly read – I am almost done with third Cormoran Strike Novel; this volume is just something else and there is too much of harsh reality to absorb, but I just cannot seem to stop. I have also began Kazuo Ishiguro’sThe Buried Giant, and, well I will review it pretty soon. I also have Azar Nafisi’s Republic of Imagination lined up, but I am not sure if I will be able to finish it this year.  I also bought Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay on a whim and I plan to finish this volume soon. Finally, I realized that while I was reading extensively in English, I have not read much, especially in recent years in my native languages of Hindi and Bengali. There is a vast pool of literature that is available in both the languages and some of most beautiful prose ever written is in Bengali. Therefore, it is but natural that I begin re-reading some works in this language and towards this end, I also started reading “Kitne Pakistan” (literally meaning How many Pakistans) by Kamaleshwar – it is a courtroom drama where historical figures are bought in to be tried to understand why  was India partitioned in 1947. It’s quite a gripping read so far.

Now if this reading was not exciting enough, Classic Club is doing Spin#11 and how could I possibly give this up? The Rules are as always simple enough –

  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday.
  • Monday morning, they will announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  • The challenge is to read that book by December/January, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading!

Here goes my list –

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  2. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  3. The Clan Of The Cave Bear by Jean M Auel
  4. The Wings of a Dove by Henry James
  5. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  6. Love in the Times of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  7. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  8. Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
  11. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  12. Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen
  13. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  14. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  15. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
  16. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  18. Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  19. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  20. Queen Lucia by E F Benson

Now I wait with bated breath for Monday to arrive!

To end, as you can all see, I have changed my blog pages a bit as some things were really not working out, while I was racing in others. I thought, it best to go with the flow and therefore took off The Poetry Project and the A Century of Books and instead replaced them with Reading England and Women’s Classic Literature Event. In the near future sometime, I hope to get back to both these abandoned projects and then may re-open these pages.

That all for tonight folks! Happy Reading!

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