Hour 24 Update – The 24hrs Madness:: Chapter 4

Finally, we are set! We have kickstarted the Readathon, hosted by the lovely folks over at Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon! I will try and keep updating as I usually do, every 4 odd hours on this blog. I am also moderating Hour 6 over at GoodReads, so super excited about that! To kick start the blogging part of this madness, I start with the standard opening meme –

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

India!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Oh! Man! All of them!! But maybe Dear Mrs. Bird a bit more than the others! Just a little tiny bit more!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Hmmm…..Cake? Also there is lovely dry snack recipe of roasted Foxnut that I recently tried and its yum!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Daughter, Sister, Friend, Reader, Writer, Traveler, Dreamer, Cook

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Stretch more; walk around more!

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Hour 5 Update

Not much reading done so far as Dad finally after a prolonged illness is well enough to go back home, but there are a 1000 things including his medicines to be sorted and neighborhood well wishers who are dropping by to wish him a safe journey and good health! While all of this is very kind, why does this have to happen on the Readathon night! Anyway, here goes some updates & news –

Time – 21:30 Local Time; 5 hrs since we started

Food – Pizza Dinner

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Bookish Notes –  100 pages into the book! Loving it! Plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column. The entire ensemble so far is great and the narrative both realistic and fun!

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Current Food & Future Read

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Hour 8 Update

Reading is slow as exhausted from an exhausted day! Have to get a nap soon!

Time – 00:30 Local Time; 8 hrs since we started

Food – Tea

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Persuasions by Jane Austen

Bookish Notes – Dear Mrs. Bird is one of those books you do not want to end and enjoy in slow pace because otherwise it will be all over! To do justice to one and be loyal to another have started an umpteenth re-read of Persuasion? Whats there not to like with Captain Wenthworth around?!?

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Hour 20 Update

Reading is down to a crawl with getting all logistics of Dad going back to his town and the start of a stomach bug for self! Such is life!

Time – 13:30 Local Time; 20 hrs since we started

Food – Apple Juice

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Persuasions by Jane Austen

Bookish Notes – Wonderful authors and wonderful books!

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Hour 23 Update

Finished only one book, but what a winner it was! Also started off on another book, that promises to be brilliant!

Time -17:10 Local Time; 8 hrs since we started

Food – Coffee

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

Bookish Notes – These brilliant women and their brilliant stories! Mesmerizing, enriching and truly remarkable!

The Fourth Attempt at the 24hrs Madness

Many moons ago (actually over 1.5 years ago; excuse the dramatics!) I was casually meandering over my fellow blogger’s post, when I stumbled upon Brona’s post on Dewey’s 24hrs Hours Readathon – a reading event, that happens twice a year, where a bunch of book crazies across the world come together and read for 24hrs. Its not literally 24 hrs, but as much as you can and of course, the idea is to bond with fellow bookish people, discuss books, food, running (anything that keeps you awake!) and have fun! I started on a whim back in the October event of 2016 and have ever since looked forward to the event with great anticipation and eagerness! This year is no different and on April 29th, I embark with all my fellow book crazies on this 24 hour madness!

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The big question is what books do I read? The organizers this time have come up with a very unique and intriguing  concept of a Scavenger Hunt and the idea is to match books to some of those categories; nothing is mandatory, but it is  a lot of fun to compare and discuss and talk when we participate in such group efforts , so here goes –

  1. Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather – This is part of my Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge’s April Read and also neatly fits in the category #25 Bust the TBR – (on the TBR shelf for more than a year)
  2. Shakespeare – The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson – I think it’s high time I read some biographies and I love Bryson’s writing, so I am really looking forward to this one. This also fulfills category # 10 – Learn something new (Read a non-fiction book, be that self-help, biography, autobiography, etc) of the Scavenger Hunt
  3. The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn – I cannot do a 24 hour reading event without 1 Historical Fiction; ok, make that 2! This one comes highly recommended by Helen, whom I have much faith in! This one goes towards category # 16  – Visit 50 countries of the Scavenger list! Set in Scotland!
  4. Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce – This is the second historical fiction for the reading list, and yet another recommendation by Helen. Goes towards category #6 – Unknown Books (Read books with less than 1,000 Goodreads ratings) of the Hunt
  5. Persuasion by Jane Austen – I live by every wise word of Ms. Austen and in this arduous attempt, will not be abandoned by her! (Yes! Dramatics again! The pre-madness effect!) This addresses Category #5 –  – Popular Books (Read books that have more than 100,000 Goodreads ratings)

Cautionary Warning – Just because I have made this list, does not mean, at the last minute I will NOT change my mind and add or delete some book from the list!! But for now, this is the plan to kick start with!!

Now for those who may be new to this sort of thing, I do not in anyway consider myself an old hand, but I did learn a thing or two, over the last couple of events,  which I am happy to share –

  1. Start with shorter books; they get the momentum going and keep you pumped up when you are at your reading best, which is usually the initial hours!
  2. Choose books which you are really looking forward to reading and have a set of options; if one does not work for you, switch gears and pick another up, so that the interest keeps flowing
  3. Stock up plenty of food and drinks; whatever works for you and you like. It is already very very hot in my part of the world, so I avoid caffeine and instead go for cooling  and nourishing drinks like Buttermilk, which I drink by the gallon!
  4. Interact with your fellow readers. For me, personally, one of the most enjoyble part of this event is when I get to in and chatter with all my fellow book readers. There are host of mini challenges and hourly events which help flow the conversation and exponentially increase the fun quotient! It’s like a virtual all night party!
  5. Have Fun!!!!!

I am also playing a host for an hour over at the Dewey’s GoodReads page! The organizers do such an awesome job, each time, every time and this is a small way for me to help out. I am still waiting for Gabby to confirm which slot, but I will be around for sure!

Well, that’s about it for now!! I am really really excited and cannot wait for Saturday to come around and finally get started! See you all, in 3 days!!!

Wandering Around….

This post has been pending since December; however life got a bit snarky lately, with my father being diagnosed with some neurological complication, third day into the New Year and life since then has been hospitals, Medicines and Doctors! Immediate relief does not seem to be in sight, so we all have to get on with life and make adjustments as we go along. As part of getting along, is to try and do everyday things, including reading, which naturally slowed down and blogging , which for a while has been next to nothing! So we move ahead and I share with you some pictures from my exploring Old Delhi in the Winter of December 2017!

Old Delhi also known as Shahjahanabad, a Walled City was built by Emperor Shahjahan (The same chap who built Taj Mahal) between 1638 to 1649 and was then named the capital of The Mughal Empire! The main buildings of importance were/are the magnificent Red Fort, the Jama Majid  (the royal moaque) and the Chandni Chowk Bazaar (Market)

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We started our tour with a visit to the  Gurdwara Shish Ganj Sahib; Gurdwara is a place of worship for the Sikh Community and this one is one of the oldest and most famous temples. It was constructed in 1783 to commemorate the martyrdom of the nineth Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur who was beheded for refusing to convert to Islam by the then Mughal Emperor Aurganzeb (son of the said Shajahan)

We then wandered around the maze of Old Delhi soaking in the sights and sounds and food of the city including the famous Parathawali Gali and of course posing for lots and lots of pictures! Parathawali Gali started off in 1875, this street is famous for Gourmet Parathas, stuffed fried bread filled various fillings from gramflour and spinach to cauliflower and potatoes to sweet fillings like jaggery and rabri ( a sweet made of milk).

 

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One of the most awesome visits was to the Chunnamal Haveli, a preserved old courtyard style mansion of the bygone India. Said to built around circa 1848, this house belonged to one of the foremost business of 19th century India. Till very recently, the Haveli was completely accessible to all visitors but recently due to safety concerns only part of it is open for view.

 

Our next stop was at the Jama Masjid, or the royal mosque was again built by Shahjahan circa 1650 at the cost of atleast a million rupees per historians. The Imam of Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan, and said to be the homeland of Mughals, was invited to lead the religious services. Till date the descendants of the same Imam continue to lead the prayers at this mosque. Made of Red Sandstone and marble, it combines some of most symmetrical architecture with aesthetic carvings to make it a beautiful, lovely and peaceful place to visit.

 

Come evening, we decided to go for the wonderful with a light and sound show at the Red Fort, which beautifully portrays the history of the city of Old Delhi. Red Fort was built as the imperial fort of the Mughal dynasty when Shahjahan decided to move his capital from Agra to Delhi. Built in Red Sandstone, it became operational around 1639 and is today considered a part of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The evening finally ended with dinner in one of the oldest restaurants of that part of the town with more Mughal Cuisine than can be humanly consumer (but was consumed neverthless) and some more sights of an old city now lying serenely, but somehow still majestic.

 

To end, I would just want to quote, Mir Taqi Mir, one of the foremost poets of Shahjahanabad and one of my personal favorites –

Dilli ke na koonche the, aura kn musafir the,

Jo shakl nazar aayi tasveer nazar aaye 

(Delhi’s streets were not alleys but parchment of a painting, Every face that appeared seemed like a masterpiece)

Photo Curtsey, the incredible talented Saahil Kapoor 

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New Year, New Plans

It is a brand new day in the new year and I kick start my 2018 blogging adventures with a new approach. As many of you know, at the very beginning of every month, I write the very first post of that month, detailing what books I am planning to read for the same month. However, this year, I have decided to change my game plan a bit. Again as many of you are aware, I have been superlatively busy for the last one year, and while the forecast this year does not look so bleak or bad, I am hesitant to say anything, knowing life springs quite a few unexpected and not always pleasant surprise as we go along! As a result, frequently I have not been able to stick to my reading plans. If I complete Book 1 then I am unable to move to Book 2 because work got crazy or something else needed attention and I finally read something completely outside the map! Thus, in change of approach and piggy backing on the posts that I see Helen does, I have instead decided to do a month end review of the books I read for the month. That way, I have pretty much a free will that can operate on the choice of the books I read instead of scrambling to keep pace. Furthermore, it allows me a more comprehensive review of the kinds of books I have actually read for the month versus what I had planned and allows me to make more informed choices when I do the next set of book picking!

This idea also works well as this year, I am not doing ANY Reading Challenges, except TBR Pile Challenge to help clear off books awaiting in my Kindle as well once on my bed side table, and writing desk and on the floor and …er….pretty much all around the house! I do want to read a bit more History and Ancient Literature, including Sanskrit, Greek and Roman Literature, and I will be a bit more aware of these genres when I make my choices, but, I cannot make promises so I do nothing, but say, I will try! Furthermore, I am quite sure, as the year trundles along, I will find books that others are planning to read, especially Cleo and hop on with them! Therefore, without having the particulars, I have perimeter in which I will play this year!

So that’s that! January is here and there is much to be done and accomplished and as we get back to our busy lives, I leave you with some humor, to get through the first days of the year with some fun –

 

The Longest Read Along – EVER!

This post is LATE! Like beyond late, it is like late to the power of infinity! However, like I say better late than never and all that! So here goes –

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More than 2 years ago, O, who always sets the bar for heavy weight as well as innovative readings, came up with the idea of doing a 21 Month Read Along of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, in the chronology it was published. She shared that a friend of hers had advised her to read in that style to grasp the flavor of the original narrative. It was an interesting idea and I was very willing to give this novel a try, since my first reading, in my teens, did not make a significant impression. Besides, I wanted to see if I can control a book binge if hooked. Thus I in the company of many others, set along the path of what could be possibly one of the longest Read Alongs ever!!

The Pickwick Papers, chronicles, the adventure of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, a mature gentleman of independent means and head of the Pickwick Club and his chums; Mr.Tracy Tupman, a contemporary of Mr. Pickwick in age, but lacking the former’s sagacity and quite capable of falling in love, at the drop of a hat. Mr. Nathaniel Winkle and Mr. Augustus Snodgrass form the remaining partners in adventure; they are younger with unique talents – Mr. Winkle is a Sportsman and Mr. Snodgrass, a poet! They set out from London to explore unique and authentic phenomena across England and report them for the club. Thus begins a journey of a thousand miles; on the way, Mr. Pickwick picks up  young Sam Weller as his valet who sticks by his Master’s schemes through thick and thin. They meet the wonderful families and good for nothing confidence men. There is imprisonment on false charges and there are elopements, but nothing dims the optimistic and honorable spirit of Mr. Pickwick and his trusty aid, Sam Weller as they over come obstacles and challenges to find the most reasonable solution for all their dilemmas!

One of his first creations, one can see the brilliance of Charles Dickens coming through in the novel, though he was only 23 when writing it. There is wonderful characterization and gentle satire and sense of fun through all the 800 pages. There is confusion, adventure and rambunctious fun! Yet, despite all this humor, there is a harsh commentary on the 18th century English society. All the laughs he wrote out in the book, cannot take away, the harsh reality of the Debtor’s prison or the horrific conditions of people living without means. The corruption of officials and politicians are clearly called out with a scathing condemnation for a society unable to take care of it’s poorer population. Dicken’s sense of justice is passionate and we see glimpses of things to come in this novel. Some of the characters are really well drawn out, like Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller and his father, and Mr. Jingle, who talks in hyphens, but others do not emerge all that clearly!  There are times, when you can make out that this was being written in installments, like, how the initial chapters have a story within a story for Mr. Pickwick to capture for the club and then there are no such episodes in the latter half. Similarly, technically, Mr. Pickwick’s chums began as the focal points after Mr. Pickwick himself, but somewhere the brilliance and sheer street smartness of Sam Weller took over and he become the second most important character of the book. Not that I am complaining, all one needs is one Sam Weller in the world, and one can fight through everything! But it does show, a bit of sketchy character development, with Sam coming through clearly and all there friends being clubbed together as muddle heads.

Like I mentioned, the first time I read the book, back in my teens, I did not get it! But sometimes the right book comes at the right time and that was the case, this time round, through it was over a period of 2 years. I could immerse myself in the book after a bad day at work or some other mental irritation and emerge happy and smiling. There were times, when after I broke off reading for one spell, it was difficult to connect the dots and remember all the characters, but these anomalies, resolved as I progressed and did not really impact my absolute and utter sense of joy when reading this novel.

All in all, I am super super glad to have given this book another try! A big shout out to O for coming up with the idea and for Cleo who always kept me on track with her regular posts!

The Old Man’s Adventures….

Sometimes you come across a book that initially does not seem promising at all, but because your friends kept eulogizing about it, you keep at it, all the while wondering what in the blazes did they see in the book; that is until you reach a certain section, and the dots begin to connect and by the time, you finish the book, you are a convert! This is my story of reading The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I bought the book last year August as a gift for someone. I never ended up giving it as I found things she better liked than reading and my flatmate–sisterfromanotherlife-fellowbookreader  (mentallynailbiting) ended up devouring the book! She then kept nagging me to read it, again and again and again and I took more than 12 months, to reach that one page where the dots connected and now it’s been a couple of week’s since I finished the book, but I am still reeling from it!

The novel begins with the one hundredth birthday of  Allan Karlsson, who decided to climb out of the window of his old age home as he wants to live a little more and does not find the life of the old age home quite suiting his needs! He then ends up with bag full of cash, with a drug lord(Gunmar Gerdin) on his tail and the inspector of police (Gunmar Gerdin) wanting him arrested for what may be triple murder. On the way, he picks up a motley crew of a had been criminal (Julius Johnsson), a would have been many things but now hot dog seller (Benny Ljungberg) and his religious brother (Bosse), a beauty with a farm( Gunilla Björkund) and a dog (Kicki) and an elephant (Sonya), as they travel from Sweden to Bali in a trail of irascible adventures and fun! Along the way, we get flashes from Allan’s life as helped shape almost all the events of the 21st century and meet President Johnson and Nixon, Mao, Stalin, Franco and all the great players that shaped the 100 years and bringing the circle back to Allan and his interesting past!

This book is both an adventure tale and a social and political satire with succinct commentary on modern history! Those who decry this novel as political and say they do not like politics ….er…wake up! We live in a world, where saying that they are not political is in itself a political statement! What’s more to say, this book is political is one of the most simplistic and superficial account of the book ever! Mr. Jonnason goes out of his way to show the fragile and imperfect nature of politics and ideology and without taking any sides, beautifully shows that all a man needs to be happy is some peace, quiet, friends, food and a good drink…er..make it two drinks; ok three!  Very few modern literature, have such brilliant display of political satire, as brought forth in this novel. To quote one among my favorite phrases  in describing the politics of the Chiang Kai-shek, Soong May-ling & Mao Tse-tung – “A clown and a parasite, Allan thought, doing battle with a cowardly, incompetent figure who to cap it all had the intelligence of a cow, and between them, a serpent drunk on green banana liquor.” Wish Chinese politics course during my graduate school years had been half as interesting! But there is so much more to this book beyond politics – in the character of Allan Karlsoon, we find a the quintessential man of Zen, who is happy to be left alone with his food  and friends, no matter which country or ruler. He is brilliant but does not seek power to further his cause and will only use his willy brains to get out of tricky situations. He is loyal, and in his off hand way caring and lives with an eternal optimism of taking life as it comes and making most of it! The other cast of characters play beautifully off Allan’s scheme of things and come off brilliantly showing the complete range of mankind – the brilliant, brave and sometimes foolish sides of human nature! Needless to say the writing is FUNNY and ha-ha funny and never is there a dull moment, if you stick it through the first 30 odd pages!

To end, I would only say, READ THIS BOOK! It is one of those irrepressibly funny and brimming with positivism, novel, that stays with you for a very very long time!

Dewey’s 24 Hours Readathon – October 2017

Exactly a year ago, while meandering over the book blogs of my friends, I wandered over to see what Brona was upto and accidentally discovered what was to be one of the most enriching and rewarding reading events – Dewey’s 24hrs Reading Marathon! Since that fateful day, I have been devoted to the cause of readathon and have been looking forward to it with much anticipation!

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This year is especially important as I am volunteering as a host for the first time every – for hour 6. I am nervous about the whole thing and keep thinking I will blotch it up, but I  have great experts to fall back on and therefore hope I will avoid making too much of a fracas. But I am very happy to be part of the league of the brilliant volunteers who keep this event going with such enthusiasm and generosity of time and spirit!

Now comes the agony and the ecstasy part – what to read and what not to read, that is the QUESTION!! I am sure I will not be able to read all of them, but I need a variety to keep me going and this exhaustive list, on which I have been ruminating over the best part of the month, would do that at the very least if not more. So here goes –

  1. Lady Susan by Jane Austen – The wise veteran souls of the Readathon tell me and correctly so, that we must start with short books of novella variety to get us going for the long reading hours; Austen is my all-time favorite feminist and Lady Susan brings this too combination beautifully! I was planning to re-read this for a while and October seems to be a perfect date!
  2. The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough – I was planning to read this with Brona for her #AusReadingMonth; but the book arrived early and I excitement anymore!
  3. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery – I have been re-reading through the Anne series and I hope to make a significant progress on this one.
  4. The Semi-Attached Couple by Emily Eden – I randomly started reading The Semi-Detached House and am enjoying it immensely. I am hoping to finish it by today and it makes sense to include the sequel in the Readathon
  5. Land between the Two Rivers by Nitish Dasgupta – A History of Bengal, the region of East India where I ethnically belong from and whose History keeps fascinating me.
  6. The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman –This wonderful collection brings together ideas on arts, politics, culture and everything under the sun by one of the wittiest and insightful writers of our times. I had started reading this sometime back and hope to make substantial progress through the Readathon
  7. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Through The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Johnson – Much before this book became a much hyped best seller with all the razzmatazz of a Hollywood adaptation, my flatmate had given me a enthusiastic review of the novel, recommending strongly that I read it. Somehow I never managed to do that but I am determined to let this Readathon pass, without atleast starting on this one!
  8. Open Book – Any bookworm worth his or her book will tell you that we readers like exploring and despite all reading plans, there will be that one odd book that we will pick up randomly and suddenly get completely absorbed in. I leave this slot open in the expectation of exactly such event!

So there is my list and I hope and I really hope that I am able to make some significant movement in my reading plans for this year. As most of you know this has been yet another crazy busy year with very limited reading time, but I hope to make most of it for these 24hrs.

As always, I will keep a running update post, sharing my insights and my reading progress and what I believe to be one of the best part of the readathon – food updates. Besides this I will be on Hour 6 with all the activity and abounding enthusiasm over at Dewey’s. Finally I am hoping, my longtime partner in all kinds of reading adventure, Cleo will be able to join me this time, for what promises to be a joyride!!

Thus, without further ado, let’s hop on when the ride arrives!! 29 hrs more to go!!!

The Shadow Of The Moon Read Along

Hello! Hello! Its been some time since I last posted, but as many of you already know I was traveling all over the western coast of the country and once I came back, which was only Monday, it took some time to settle in to the everyday! Anyhow I am back and I now share my long overdue post on the one of my most favorite books of all time, The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye!

A year back I remember reading this novel as I always do as a ritual in the month of May and having a discussion with Cleo, hard-selling the book to her as a must read! A year later, May was again round the corner, I popped in to check with her if she was still interested in a Read Along and Cleo, being the awesome enthusiast she is, agreed, with the only stipulation that we begin in June as she had way too much to do in the month of May. Very soon the word got around and Helen and Yvonne also joined in the for the Read Along and we were all set to go back in time to 1857 India.

The novel is set in the events leading upto the Indian Revolt of 1857 against the British. Winter de Ballesteros, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman Marcos de Ballesteros and Sabrina, the granddaughter of Earl of Ware, is born in the house of her aunt, Juanita, the sister of Marcos who had married a Indian nobleman, the son one of the oldest friends of her father, who had settled in Oudh, the North Eastern royal state of India, as an adviser to the Nawab or the ruler of the state. Sabrina on a visit to India with her aunt and uncle had fallen in love with the dashing Marcos and married him against the wish of her doting grandfather. Sabrina however dies post giving birth to her daughter, named Winter after the winter season in her beloved Ware, and a grieving Marcos, after handing over the affairs to his sister and Winter’s uncle sets off for the ill fated Afghan campaign and is one of the many casualties. Juanita grieving for her dead brother sets about sending letters to the now very old Earl of Ware who was appointed guardian to little Winter by both her parents.  The death of his beloved granddaughter had softened the Earl and he sends for his little great granddaughter from India, but letters across oceans take time and Winter spends her formative years in India, in Gulab Mahal, Juanita’s house and only reaches the shores of England as a child of 7. Homesick and lonely, she pines for the home she ever knew, and the unkind treatment she receives from everybody except her Grandfather retreat more and more into the world she thought she truly belongs to. When she is 11, she meets Conway Barton, a distant relation who is one is way to India to take up a position in the Commissioner of Lunjore.  Conway Barton, is a unprincipled man who seeks to make his fortune in any way possible. Realizing that Winter was an heiress, he sets about trying to be pleasant to her, speaking of India, a country he detests, in the most colorful way. He approaches the now very old Earl seeking a betrothal with Winter, followed by marriage when she is older. The Earl worried about having no one to care for Winter after him and impressed by the display of affection showed by Barton, consents to the engagement. Conway Barton thus leaves for India secure in his knowledge of early wealth and Winter passes her years hoping the years would fly until she could be married to the kind man who would take her back to her true home. The years did pass, but Conway now fat, debauched drunkard feels unable to face his fiance and her august relations, for the fear that they may break of the engagement after looking at him, instead sends his assistant, Captain Alex Randall, to fetch Winter to India, so that he could coerce her into marrying him, in the absence of her friends and relations. Captain Alex Randall, a man of immense talent and integrity has very little respect for the commissioner whom he considers a fool and is irritated to be saddled with the task during his furlong. He arrives at Ware to realize that the Earl is dead and Winter’s relatives do not care for the kind of man she is marrying as long as she is out of their way. Winter herself seemed to have a glorified image of Conway Barton and refuses to listen to any description of the kind of man he truly is , that Ale wants to convey. They set off for India and thus start of a chain of events, unexpected by both, especially as the cloud of rebellion gathers on the horizon of the Indian plains, long held together by John Company.

What can I say about this wonderful book that I have not said before? Being biased, I always found the plot to be tight, with deep insights into Indian culture and traditions which is woven well with the suspenseful unfolding of the drama of the rebellion. The history is constantly and subtly interlaced with the story to give the reader an understanding of the events that led to the rebellion. The characters drawn by Kaye are very life like and real. Again being biased and having been  in love with Captain Alex Randall, since I was introduced to him at the age of 15 and all these almost 14 years, he remains to be one of the most enduring fictional heroes of all times. I love the complexity of his character, his ability to look at both sides of the arguments as well the way he was torn by what was his duty and what was his abiding love. His character showed off the very best of British India administrators, men who loved the country wholly with all her faults and worked hard to improve the condition of her people. I used to like Winter a lot more at the age of 15 than at 34, and now see her a little obsessed -India,  Conway , Alex; but she is still an insightful and gracious character and is a good predecessor to Anjuli Bai, the heroine of Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. As always, I love the supporting cast of Kaye’s books, for the complete and utter devotion of Niaz to the torn loyalties of Ameera, the daughter of Juanita, cousin to Winter and daughter of two worlds, to the fast living Lou Cotter who lives through harshest of conditions and fights off bravely, for the love of a child, not her own, by birth, but by heart! But the greatest of all characters is the character of India. MM Kaye, born and brought up in this land, brings all her knowledge understanding and love for the land into her book and India comes live in the pages as we are taken through the crowded and colorful bazaars of Lunjore, the never ending plains and jungles of North India and the glamorous balls of Calcutta,the imperial capital of British India. The country comes alive from the pages of the book and dances in all her majesty for the reader to soak in a time long gone by!

Needless to say, I LOVE this book! Several re-reading and much abused paperback has not diminished by joy of once again revisiting the people and times of Lunjore in 1857. However, the Read Along introduced me to a whole new appreciation of the book as I tried to provide some insight into the actual history of the country for my reading buddies to find references and better understanding of things, which I, an Indian, take for granted. I had some wonderful discussions along the way, which opened me to prospective I was not aware off and if possible, made the experience of reading this book even richer.  A big hearty thank you to Cleo, Helen and Yvonne for not only coming with me on a leap of faith for a ride down uncertain premises but also for bearing through not one but two of boring history lessons and the joining in for a fantastic and brilliant discussion. You read there review, here and here!

The Shadow Of The Moon Read Along – The Landscape Of The Mutiny

I know this post is kind of late, but let me just say that work, which I really wish to keep at minimal and as an alternate, often become main stream; way more often than I like. Anyhow, in my previous essay I had shared some insights into what were the key triggers of the revolt. Today, I want to give an overview of how it spread, the key actors and how it was finally brought to an end, so that you are able to follow the landscape of the novel more easily.

On March 29 1857 at Barrackpore, a military cantonment in East India, a sepoy or solder called Mangal Pandey, angry at the inability of his commanders to resolve the issue of greased cartridges, declared he is revolting and open fired at his Sargent Major, who on being informed of Pandey’s behavior, went to speak to him. He tried to incite his fellow soldiers to rebel and though, the latter did not join him, they also did not try and restrain him when their General ordered them to do the same. On failing to recruit the support of his comrades, he tried to take his own life with his own rifle. He failed, was brought down, arrested and sentenced to be hanged. The soldiers who had refused the General’s order were also hanged. The regiment was disbanded and stripped of its uniforms because the senior officials felt that this would serve as a lesson for those regiments, like this one that they felt harbored ill-feelings towards its superiors. Sepoys in the other regiment felt this was harsh and watched their fellow comrades being stripped of their dignity and became even more disgruntled with the English officers.

Several unrest, following this broke out in the cities of Agra, Allahabad and Ambala, the latter a large military cantonment; not of military revolt but rather cases of civilian arson attacks. Finally, on April 24th, in Meerut, another large military cantonment in North East India, of the unsympathetic and prejudiced Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael- Smith ordered his men to parade and perform the firing drill, that would require the sepoys to tear of the cartridge, smeared with fat from cows or pigs, unacceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.  All except five of the men on parade refused to accept their cartridges of the total of 90 and all of the 85 were court martialled by 9th May and most were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. The entire garrison was paraded and watched as the condemned men were stripped of their uniforms and placed in shackles. As they were marched off to jail, the condemned soldiers berated their comrades for failing to support them. The next day was a Sunday and some of the off duty Indian Sepoys warned the sympathetic junior English officers that there will be an attempt to free the condemned 85; however the senior officials took no notice or action. There was trouble in the city of Meerut as well, where the civilians berated the other sepoys for not supporting their comrades and some buildings were set on fire. By evening, the Indian troops, led by the 3rd Cavalry, broke into revolt and freed the 85 held in prison. European officers who attempted to quell the first outbreaks were killed by the rebels. Both military and civilians’ quarters were attacked, and four civilian men, eight women and eight children were killed. Crowds in the bazaar attacked the off-duty soldiers there. About 50 Indian civilians, some officers’ servants who tried to defend or conceal their employers, were also killed by the sepoys.

Thereafter, some of the revolting sepoys made for Delhi, the honorary capital of Mughal India, where at the age of 82, the once brilliant Bahadur Shah Zafar II ruled under the honorary title as the Emperor of India, but really nothing but a puppet in the hands of the East India Company, whose goodwill and beneficence, allowed this once brilliant court to still sustain in some form, but still revered and loved by all subjects, both Hindu and Muslims. The sepoys reached Delhi on May 11th and standing below the windows of the apartment of Bahadur Shah Zafar, they acknowledged him as their Emperor and asked him to join their cause. The 82 year old Emperor at this point took no action, but the sepoys within the Red Fort, where he resided soon joined the revolt and Delhi was soon under the siege of the Sepoys. Several Europeans were killed and the Delhi Arsenal, that held one of the largest arms dumps for East India Company was blown up rather than letting it fall in the hands of the rebels.The surviving Europeans made their way to the Ridge Forest, hoping for a rescue battalion from Meerut, but after two days of starvation and scorching heat, it became apparent, that no relief was coming from Meerut and slowly made their way to Karnal, further north. Some were helped on by the local populace while others killed. On May 16th, the Emperor held his first court in decades and though uncomfortable with the ruthlessness of the speoys, he nevertheless agreed to support the rebellion.

The revolt now spread to other parts of India and Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of the whole of India, though most Historians agree that he was coerced by the sepoys, his advisers and especially his chief wife Zeenat Mahal who wanted to see her son ascend the Delhi Throne.  Revered by all subjects pan India, across religion, caste and creed, the popularity of the Emperor shook the British to the core, who had long ago dismissed the Mughal Emperors as anything but an expensive annoyance. Mufti Nizamuddin, a renowned Muslim cleric and scholar of Lahore, issued a Fatwa against the British forces and called upon the local population to support the forces of the Hindu leader Rao Tula Ram. In Kanpur, again, north eastern India, one of most vicious battles began to play out. In June, sepoys under General Wheeler in Kanpur rebelled and besieged the European entrenchment. Wheeler was not only a veteran and respected soldier but also married to a high-caste Indian lady. He had relied on his own prestige, and his cordial relations with the Nana Sahib to thwart rebellion, and took comparatively few measures to prepare fortifications and lay in supplies and ammunition. However Nana Sahib the mild mannered and cultured, adopted son of the Peshwa was not recognized as the ruler under Dalhousies’s Doctrine of Lapse and he found himself beggared, exempted by what was rightfully his own, violating the traditions of his culture by a band of merchants. Nana Saheb was now part of the rebel forces and his actions would smear the good name of gentle Indians forever. On 25 June Nana Sahib made an offer of safe passage to the Europeans to Allahabad. With barely three days’ food rations remaining, the British agreed provided they could keep their small arms and that the evacuation should take place in daylight on the morning of the 27th. However once near the boats, which were supposed to carry them to safety, the men were mercilessly hacked to death and then the women and children taken hostage to a small bunglow called the Bibigarh, where in a few weeks they too would be butchered to death though, the Sepoys refused to kill them, and couple of mercernaries were hired to complete the vicious act. This action led a lot of Indians and pro Indians Europeans to abandon the cause; no Indian could justify such an act of violence and many voluntarily withdrew from the rebellion. The English became even more brutal; instances include Lieutenant Colonel James George Smith Neill, ordered all villages beside the Grand Trunk Road to be burned and their inhabitants to be killed by hanging. When the British retook Cawnpore, the soldiers took their sepoy prisoners to the Bibighar and forced them to lick the bloodstains from the walls and floor and were then either hanged to death or “blew from the cannon”, the traditional Mughal punishment for mutiny, though they not taken any part in the Bibigarh massacre

Awadh was another center of brutal warfare. Annexed by under the Docterine of Lapse again, the Awadh nobility as well as the sepoys had several causes of anger against the English, with whom they had always acted with fairness and loyalty. However with the disposal of the beloved ruler Wajid Ali, the city of Lucknow, capital of Awadh became a hotbed of dissent and anger and even the Residency of the great Henry Lawrence could not contain the city’s wrath. The British Commissioner resident at Lucknow, Sir Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his position inside the Residency compound. The Company forces numbered some 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels’ assaults were unsuccessful, and so they began a barrage of artillery and musket fire into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties and would die as a result of that. The siege of the residency continued for 4 months, before relief came with Sir Henry Havelock who fought their way from Kanpur to Lucknow, defeating the rebels in both the cities.

The final and key theater of war was Jhansi; yet another victim of the Doctrine of Lapse. The East India Company refused the Queen of Jhansi’s request to recognize her adopted son as the ruler, whom she had adopted after the death of natural born son, followed by her husband. Jhansi like Awadh had been a loyal state, supporting the British and this was a sever blow to the warrior queen’s faith in them. Under the influence of Nana Saheb, her childhood playmate and best friend, she and her people gave themselves upto the cause of driving the European’s out of India.  In September and October 1857, the Rani led the successful defense of Jhansi against the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha, both allies of English as well the British forces themselves. It was only in March of 1858 Sir Hugh Rose was able to lay siege on Jhansi and finally capture it. The Queen died in the battle near Gwalior fighting of the British till the very end.

The other states remained relatively calm; Punjab though recently annexed had been well managed in the brilliant hands of Henry Lawrence before he moved to Lucknow. Those who tried to rebel were instantly captured and punished by the legendry John Nicolson. Bengal and specifically Calcutta,  the very capital of British East India, in eastern India,  to the relief of English also remained relatively calm, as did the large state of Bihar, though there were isolated incidents of rebellion in both states, they were of nothing like the scale in Awadh or Delhi. Gujrat, in west India also remained in control and the Peshwa (ruler) of the largest principality of Gujrat, Baroda, infact joined the British forces to drive out all rebels from his state.

The hostilities were finally and officially came to an end in July 1859. The brutalities by both sides were significant. Several reports circulated of the killing of European woman, but hardly any documented the rape and violence the Indian women sustained in the hands of British soldiers. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Burma, after watching his beloved son’s brutally killed infront of his very eyes and Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. With this change, the governance of India passed from East India Company to the British Parliament. The states were assured that their local customs will not be violated and it was the kind and gentlemanly had of Lord Canning, the then Governor General of India that tried to control brutalities and vicious acts against Indians. The biggest lesson that the British took away besides strengthen their military presence, was to ensure that as long as they ruled, they should keep the Indian populace divided under the guise of religion because when a cause united Hindus and Muslims, the country became unstoppable. Acting on this principle, such dissent will be sown, that when India finally became independent, she paid it with her blood and a price of her disobedience more than 90 years ago, a large part of her territory and populace was divided to create a Muslim homeland for Indian Muslims – Pakistan.

As always, while I have not cited any specific source, all my knowledge stems from the following – Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, The Last Mughal by William Darlymple, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

 

The Shadow of Moon Read Along – A Brief History of the “Company Raj”

The Indian History as I had mentioned in my The Home and the World Read Along Historical Overview is vast and it’s simply not possible to summarize all that has happened over 5000 years in 5 paragraphs.  However since I always chose to host books with historical significance, it behooves me to ensure that my friends who come along for the ride, get a better understanding of the complex dynamics at play, to better understand the nuances of the novel that we are reading! Hence I present to you, a snapshot of India in 1857.

To get a more detailed understanding of what happened to India before the British came, I would refer you to the post highlighted above from last year! If you are interested in more details, please reach out to me and I will be happy to share more information.  Now, to 18th century India.

The British company, The East India Company, got its charter or “firman” to trade in India,  after several rejections at the court of the Mughal Emperors, when a fluke chance enabled the East India Company Doctor to cure the then Emperor Jahangir’s son from a long suffering illness. As a mark of gratitude, Emperor Jahangir, granted the company the right to start a factory in Surat, in the Western coastland of India. This was the beginning of British presence in the country! The company soon acquired more rights and established factories in Madras (modern day Chennai) and Bombay, which was a Portuguese colony and was gifted to England as part of dowry for Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II and finally, Calcutta on the eastern banks of Ganga in Eastern India. At this, point, several companies, including the Dutch, French and Portuguese were all competition with the English to gain supremacy over trading rights in India and the British began to realize that they would have to quickly up their game to survive the trading rights.

Enter Robert Clive, an 18 year old clerk who had a vision which saw England triumph over all her peers. In 1757, through guile and much bribery, he defeated Nawab of Bengal, Sirj-ud-Dula in the infamous Battle of Plassey. Sirj-ud-Dula was an independent minded ruler who was unhappy with the East India Companies free for all trading rules and wanted to Company to pay taxes for its presence in Calcutta, Bengal. Using this as an opportunity to turn a financial enterprise into a military campaign to gain complete land control of East India, Clive bribed some of the Nawab’s closest aids to turn traitor and became the Governor of Bengal, giving Britain an absolute control, economic and political over one of the most economically rich areas of India. He soon followed it up with Battle of Buxar (1864), forcing the then Mughal Emperor to appoint East India Company as Diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. A Diwan is a powerful position; the official revenue collector of the Mughal Court and by this means became the de facto rulers over the populous and rich areas of Easter Gangetic Plains. The Regulating Act further asserted the power of the company by making it the official representative of the British Crown in India. The act also set foundation of making Calcutta the capital of British India by asserting the supremacy  of the Presidency of Fort William in Calcutta (Bengal) over those of Fort St. George (Madras) and Bombay and made the then Governor-General (Warren Hastings)of Bengal, the Governor  General of all Company lands in India.

Over the next 70 odd years, the East India Company would use guile, wars, pretended mis-rule of the local ruler or blatant disregard of Indian customs to annex practically whole of India. The Anglo Mysore and Anglo Maratha Wars saw subjugation of Western and Southern India. Post this came, the outright and blatant annexation of centuries old kingdoms of Rohilakhand, Assam and eventually Punjab. The company also entered into alliances with other Princely states, under which the Indian rulers acknowledged the Company’s hegemony in return for limited internal autonomy; however this treaty was often negated and terms violated per the convenience of the British Company, as was the case in Jhansi and Satara.

The Company rule was a mixed bag, which tilted more towards negative than positive! The revenue system which had been in disarray because of the broken leadership across India for about a 100 years was systematized and put in order under the Permanent Settlement Act. It introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with Zamindars, the landed Gentry, who were placed in charge of the lands and had the right to extract taxes from the peasants and after keeping a share of it for themselves, turn the remaining over to the Company. If the Zamindars failed to pay the revenue on time, the Zamaindari right would be taken from them and because it was called permanent, as in the right of the land would exist with the Zamindar and his family for perpetuity, the taxes were fixed at a much higher rate, burdening the Zamindar and most importantly the poor landless peasant who had to starve to pay the gentry those taxes.  The modernization of the Indian Army also began under Warren Hastings, and began recruiting across Northern and Eastern India; most of these recruits were from the Hindu High Caste as well Muslims, and the Army adapted itself to ensure that the Hindu and Muslim practices and customs were not violated during their service! Soon the Sepoys, as in the Indian solider outnumbered the British officers by 10 to 1, the idea being one British solider could take on 10 Indian Sepoys. The Civil service was also reorganized on modern lines and various departments were created to manage affairs of customs, taxes, justice and general civic administration. It was under this new administration, that India was introduced to the modern marvels of Telegraph, Railways and most importantly education. Soon after taking over the administration of India, the British realized that they needed a body of clerks who albeit being Indians, would be educated in the English education system to support the growing multitudes of requirements of the Company Raj. This saw the founding of English style schools and then the universities – University of Madras (1855) and University of Calcutta and Bombay (1857).This was a significant move as it suddenly opened Indians to a world of Western education and Science and the works of Locke and Bentham as well as re-discovering their own Vedic philosophy that began to resonate with the middle class Indians. The education system which sought to provide clerks to help the company business, was suddenly producing thinkers and heralding a profound social movement termed as the Bengal Renaissance leading to abolition of such medieval practices like Sati (burning of widows on the pyre of the dead husband) and child marriage and was vociferous in its favor of education of girls and remarriage of widows.

While all this good was happening, there were other effects of this colonization. India was ravaged with famine after famines, with no support coming from the company to alleviate the conditions of the masses. If there were no famines, the heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land or going into great debt to money lenders. Furthermore, fertile lands which were earlier used to grow crops to feed the families were forced to cultivate Indigo, which kills the soil and makes it unsuitable for growth of any food crop. Thousands and thousands of peasants were forced to abandon their farms where they had existed for generations and search for living in the big cities, barely eking out an existence. The indigenous industries were slowly being destroyed through competition from the Manchester Mills. For instance raw cotton was no longer plucked and woven in the guilds of Indian fabric merchant, but sent to Manchester to made into cloth, which was the sold at cheap rates back to Indians, who already on pecuniary existence , could no longer afford to buy the relatively more expensive indigenous guild products. With the coming of the English Memsahibs, the close bonding that existed between the English and Indians disappeared.  The improvement in ship enabled travels, led to many English women to traveling to India. They brought with them their English social mores and suddenly the ‘darkies’  were not fit companions anymore and were only good to be subjugated to a servant class. English men, who had married high born Indian women, suddenly became socially outcasts as were their children. Marrying an Indian was a taboo that not even the strictest Brahmin standards could compete with. Added to this was the missionary efforts of the various sections of the Churches – suddenly the Hindus and Muslims were being told that they were heathens and unless they convert, their afterlife would be spent in the fires of hell! Then came aggrandizing policies of Governor Generals who followed Warren Hastings; with an exception of William Bentinck, none understood India nor its people or its culture. The worst was Lord Dalhousie, who enacted the infamous Doctrine of Lapse that would directly contribute to the 1857 rebellion. Under this policy, any princely state or territory would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. The latter clause especially violated the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, by adopting someone from his/her family. In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough, making the Indian kings and Princes, puppets in their own country, expected to serve at the pleasure of The East India Company. Under this law, the much loved and respected monarchs of Oudh and Jhansi among others were deprived of their kingdoms. Finally came the grievances of the Army, the long pampered and loyal arm of the Company Raj! First, the Army was asked to cross the seas to fight wars for the British Empire; for the Hindus, the crossing of the sea was a grave religious sin that cannot be rescinded in any way or form. There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority. Further more, the European officers were given precedence making promotion slow for the Indians who either never reached a commissioned rank or were too old to be effective. The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle.These rifles used paper cartridges that came pre-greased and to load the rifle, Sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges included tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. Despite knowing the reservations the English continued the production of these cartridges and court martialed any Indian solider refusing to use these rifles. The stage was thus beautifully set by the British  for the 1857 rebellion and the spark was ignited by a solider called Mangal Pandey, who refused to bite the bullet and was hanged infront of his peers under the judgement of the Army Court. The Rebellion had begun!

It was in this backdrop that the narrative of Shadow of the Moon evolves. Next week, I will share a high level road map of how the Mutiny happened, the lands that were impacted and its closure.  As always, while I have not cited any specific source, but all my knowledge stems from the following – Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, The Last Mughal by William Darlymple, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

Cleo, Helen and Yvonne thank you for not only joining the Read Along but also reading through this 1700 word essay. As Cleo, knows, I do go overboard when it comes to History! But now that Cleo has the book, I think, we can officially commence the Read Along!!!