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Posts from the ‘Beauty’ Category

The Archbishop of New Mexico

Yet another late post; a book that should have been read & reviewed in April, finally trundles into mid May and I go with the philosophy, that truly, some things are better late than never! As part of The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, an event hosted by Adam, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, was my TBR book for April, and though I managed to finish the novel within the month, but just never got to posting a book review!

Death Comes

Death Comes for the Archbishop chronicles the life and works of Archbishop Bishop Jean Marie Latour and his Vicar, Joseph Vaillant , as they attempt to establish a Catholic Diocese, in the newly captured New Mexico territory of United States. The novel begins with the Bishop and the Priest travelling from Ohio though difficult terrain to establish their Diocese in New Mexico. After some initial setbacks, including a trip that took a year and on arriving, realizing that the local Mexican Clergy, refuse to recognize the authority of Jean Marie Latour, the two worthy settle down to tame the wild elements of the Church which so far had been in lackadaisical fashion managed by the Mexican priests, and bring true piety and relief to the inhabitants, whether European or American or Indians. Over the years, they develop friendships with the local Indian leaders as well the American Businessman and Mexican Ranchers; they rescue an abused woman from the tyranny of a violent husband and convince yet another, to give up on her pride and declare her true age, so that she does not lose her wealth. They try and overcome the acrimony that exists between the local Mexican Priests and the new wave of leaders that Vatican was sending forth and enable the building of  a Romanesque Church. Finally they both end their days, in this land, Father Valliant pre-deceasing Father Latur, as the Bishop of Colorado. Father Latur now retired chooses to stay in New Mexico instead of returning to his homeland in France, dying in the company and service of the people with whom he worked and whose devotion to him till the end was unstinting and complete.

Ms. Cather remains as usual her brilliant self. The dry, difficult land of New Mexico, with its parallel institutions of the Indians, Mexicans and Americans cultures and politics comes alive in this slim novel. In sparse, but succinct prose, Ms. Cather manages to convey, not just the atmosphere, but also the depth of the characters and their past history, all the while, moving the plot along, in such magnificent manner, that leaves you in awe both as a reader and a writer. The lives of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Wikipedia, advises is based on the life and times of Jean-Baptiste Lamy & Joseph Projectus Machebeuf respectively and I am not sufficiently well read to comment on how true to life the portrayals are; however in the characters of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Ms. Cather, created the epitome of spiritual leaders, who like all humans were beset with doubts and weaknesses, but still lead their people, providing comfort, support and spiritual guidance as and when needed, with minimum interference and with a lot of respect for different cultures and practices. The ensemble cast is equally good, providing much needed “materialistic” and “earthy” props to the religious/spiritual narrative of the main protagonists. The thing that really stands about Ms. Cather’s writings is her sense of humanity; writing in 1927, she made it clear in her quiet writing style that the government’s practices against the Navajos, who were exiled to the Bosque Redondo, killing many of its population was unacceptable and defined the very principles of humanity! To end, I can only say, this is a beautiful, lyrical book, that seems to sings songs of the land and lives of the New Mexico Deserts!

Of Seasons, Longings & Despair in Soviet Russia

Allen Ginsberg, in his biography, Ginsburg : A Biography by Barry Mills had explained poetry as something which was “not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”  This meaning of poetry and the work of the poet comes out in all its vivid forms in a collection of Boris Pasternak’s poems, February, translated by Andrey Kneller. Boris Pasternak, the 1958 Nobel Prize winner who declined the honor under pressure from the Soviet Government, and whose work, Doctor Zhivago has been immortalized in every possible form of media,  was born in a well to do Jewish family (though the Pasternaks had assimilated into the Russian Orthodox Church for years) and had lived through the most turbulent years of Russian History – World War I, Russian Revolution, World War II and the Great Purge, had captured all this changing history of the land and her people and thought about it and then poured it into words of great beauty and resonance, in an act of making a private world, public!

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Boris Besides the Baltic Sea, by Leonard Pasternak, 1910

February is a slim volume of only 110 pages but within it, are 27 pieces of powerful poetry, that touch upon a variety of subjects ranging from politics, the faith of Pasternak’s beloved Russia, Nature, Christianity and Love! The compilation begins with the said poem February, first published in 1912, and in sparse, terse words, Pasternak manages to blend in the pathos of the last dregs of winter, with mankind and poetry. I fell in love with the simple but powerful opening lines of the poem –

Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

One poem that especially was singed into my imagination, is apparently nameless, and powerfully captures the rule of Stalin and its destructive forces on a person and his soul!

The cult of personality is stained,

But after forty years, the cult

Of gray monotony and disdain

Persists like the day of old

Each coming day appears lackluster

Until, it’s truly hard to bear

It brings but photographic clusters,

Of pig like and inhuman stares.

The cult of narrow minded thinking

Is likewise cherished and extolled.

Men shoot themselves from over drinking,

unable to sustain it all.

There is a soul searing piece called Noble Prize, written, after he declined the honor which captures the raw anguish and pain of Pasternak on the stands he was being forced to take, by the very same country and government, he did not choose to abandon or flee, while all his family and friends left, believing in the ultimate good of Lenin led Socialist society! And here in lies the greatness of the poet, that despite all the angst and heartbreak, he ended the poem in hope and faith –

Even now as I am nearing the tomb

I believe in the virtuous fate

And the spirit of goodness will soon

Overcame all the malice and hate

Yet another poem titled Hamlet, captures the need to walk away from a predestined plot, to address something more urgent and ephemeral!There are lovely play of words in his poems about nature, from White Nights to the one called Spring Flood, to yet another work called Easter. His love for Olga Ivinskaya comes through in all the glory of meeting, falling in love and then when Ivinskaya was sentenced to Siberia, of longing, guilt and memories, in the poems titled as Meeting  and then, Parting. The fact that Pasternak was a student of philosophy is a fact that is never really far off in his poetry and in many of his writings,  he touches upon ideas of what is tangible and what is transcendental, especially in his poetry of nature. In Autumn, he says, 

The Lodge’s wooden walls now gaze

At us with grief and hopelessness.

We never vowed to break the restrains’

We will decline with openness. 

There are many powerful and moving things in this collection that shines like a beacon of what poetry is all about! Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!

 

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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What The July Showers Bring

Finally July…Fall is only 3 months away and I survived yet another horrid Indian Summer. Actually, there are 3 more months to go, but these are technically the Monsoon months, where it rains and floods and while it is quite pleasant when it rains, immediately after that the humidity soars and the baking heat now with high humidity, makes life, well miserable to say the very least!! But like my oft repeated motto, as long as there are books, life will always look up!

Whats in my July book bag then? A very eclectic collection! I am slowly and by slowly, I mean barely crawling through Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War as part of the The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories! And I cannot say, like Herodotus’s The Histories, I am enjoying it! In addition there is OMG-I-CANNOT-BELIEVE-HOW-PONDEROUS-IT-IS reading of The City of God by Saint Augustine, again part of the same project. History, the subject I love has never seemed such an uphill task! To continue my interest in the subject, it is extremely important, that I spice things up and I go to other end of the spectrum to read The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Yasmin Khan. I have heard some amazing things about the book and am really looking forward to it! Now for Fiction, I have everything from 19th century Russia to 19th century England and finally, 19th century India. I should complete Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I also continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and finally, I am hosting The Shadow of the Moon Read Along, for which the plan is to finish reading this month! I also have on my Kindle, The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne (of Winnie The Pooh fame and yes, he wrote a adult mysteries as well!) and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy; his first book which is considered to very different from his Wessex Rural novels.

All in all and exciting (I think!) and somewhat exasperating Reading month! I leave you all with a video that I think capture the very essence of Indian monsoons!

Happy Reading!

The Dutchman in 18th Century Japan

Sometime, actually, depending on your taste and choices, you come across a book, that moves you and leaves you completely and totally breathless. At the ending of the book, you feel like have to part, you know you will part and while a part of you rejoices because you can now focus on other reads, there is yet another part of you that feels like something deep has been wrenched away from you! Without getting too maudlin, it is bitter sweet to say the least!

There are very many books, that provoke such emotions in all of us and personally for me, the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with my blogging friends who to quote live by the principle of Marcel Proust that “On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors.” Very few new age authors impress me and with a few exceptions like MM Kaye ( she can hardly be called new, but her books were published in 1980s, so relatively new!) JK Rowling and couple of other, most books fail to touch anything inside me. They are not bad books, in fact some of them are very good; it just that I do not feel that, they have managed to touch a chord deep within me! In fact, most new age authors while being good reads, were exactly that, good reads! I had resigned myself and happily resigned to reading the dead folks whenever I needed some enrichment of the soul; until one day causally browsing I stumbled upon and brought on a whim – The Thousand Autumn of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

Its 1799. a young Jacob De Zoet is crossing the ocean to reach Japan, the tiny island of Dejima to be exact, as a clerk of Dutch East India Company, to investigate the corrupt practices of the previous resident of Dejima. Jacob has a lot on his mind, he wants to distinguish himself in the service of the company and most importantly build a fortune, so that he can return home to Holland to marry his sweetheart. In the same island, there lives an old Japanese Doctor, whose disfigured daughter, Orito Aibagawa is a talented mid-wife. As a reward, for saving the life of his new born son, the Japanese Governer, had allowed Orito Aibagawa to study at Dr. Marinus’s Academy. Dr. Marinus is an European and a man, and this exception granted to Miss Aibagawa is not something she takes lightly and all her focus is on becoming more proficient to help women needing help! Jacob takes up residence next to Dr. Marinus and soon becomes acquainted with Orito Aibagawa and becomes attracted to her from the start. However there are many other matters that need to be attended to and Jacob is soon involved in unvieling the corruption of the previous resident, only to realize that he has been trapped in an compromising position by his own chief, Vorstenbosch for the latter’s own greed! In the meanwhile, Miss Aibagawa’s father dies, leaving the family in deep debt and her step mother strikes a deal with the powerful monk Enomoto to sell Orito to his monastery deep in the Japanese mountain country as a payment for him paying off her husband’s debts! Orito on realizing the kind of card has been dealt by her mother, decided to seek a life as a “Japanese wife” with Jacob, whose attraction for her, she had always been aware off. However before she can achieve her end, she is spirited away by Enomoto’s men and Jacob caught in his own problems, is unable to rescue her! Now both, must use their own wit, to fight conspiracies, threats and even war to survive and seek out and finally achieve their ultimate life aims!

What can I say about the book? Critics will say it is linear and the characters are kind of uni-dimensional and for the western reader, there is an onslaught of Japanese names and practices! Some have even called it a romance. It is perhaps, all this, but it is still beautiful and so much more. David Mitchell in this sweeping tale weaves in History, Politics and trade and human emotions/relationships of all kinds! Japan in all her beauty and grandeur comes alive in the hands of David Mitchell and all her secrets, while remaining carefully hidden, are nevertheless given a glimpse off to help readers understand, how the land must have fascinated to Western world when they sought her out from 16th century, in turns being welcomed and the shunned.The history is deeply embedded in the narrative and in one of the most well crafted marrying of fiction and history, the history prods the narrative forward, instead of just serving as an interesting background. The customs and practices are clearly laid out and exceptions clearly explained! The characters are all well rounded and they stand their in all their glory of being good and bad. Jacob de Zoet while being a quintessential hero, honest and brave, is also given to lust and mopping. Orito is honorable but rational enough to know not all can be compromised at the stake of personal suffering. Dr, Marnius, Enomoto and so many other provided a living breathing ensemble of characters that evoke all kinds of real emotions within the reader. The beauty of the book however to me was in the very end, where instead of striving in a cliched end of improbabilities, David Mitchell, writes out a practical, sensible and heartbreaking end, in an ultimate testimony of art imitating life – life being of course practical and good, nevertheless, heartbreaking!

Wonderful wonderful book…I strongly recommend at least one read by one and all!

Come September….

Yay!! September arriveth and summer goeth! If that is not a reason for me to celebrate I do not know what is! The fact that Summer recedes from this month on is enough to add vigor and excitement to my life! However besides this fact, there are several reasons to rejoice the onset of fall.

To begin with, ahem! ahem! Moi, the 102 Kgs (224lbs), plump personality completed a marathon! Not a full event, but what we have in the geography called Half Marathon event, which is more for beginners! Now for the more fitter personalities there, I know its a not a big deal, but please understand when I say that running with 102kgs on your back, as in on your body is bit of a task! Add to it the fact, that I have never run before this, let alone compete in any event. However, I was and am blessed with some awesome friends, and one of them, when couple of months ago over late dinner, I expressed my fascination with running, took it on herself to get me trained and ready. She devised all kinds of training plans, diets and kept egging me on. All of this when she was sitting 1700 kms from the city where I stay, working as the HR Director in an MNC, getting her house constructed and generally following up on all the lose tie ends of her life! If my completing the run is awesome, then the fact that Rups could get me up there and ready, especially from a confidence perspective was a miracle only she could have pulled off. I have not lost any weight and yes I practically crawled to the finish line, but I did it!!! I am so kicked. One of most amazing aspect of this marathon was that instead of being given medals, participants were given little India puppet dolls, made by the survivors of the Tsunami which hit Souther India, back in 2004. I loved it all and I hope to do more!

Ok, now for Bookish news – well, needless to say, I am falling BEHIND! August was a busy month. I played a host for a bunch of cousins; then myself went on a 12 day road trip across Himalayas and for the first time , the beauty so overwhelmed that I did not get much reading done. Then, there was the Read Along which I LOVED hosting, however research for its background, to help my fellow readers understand the socio-cultural context of the novel, took some time! As a result, I am now in September and need to play catch up like never before. To begin with, from my 12 Months Classic Literature Event, I have Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens to finish from July, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for August and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for September (September Theme – A children’s classic). For Reading England, yet another event I have neglected (I should stop saying that, considering I neglected  all my monthly reading plans!!!) I cover Berkshire with Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. This would be a re-read but I have not read this book in a loooonnnngggg time and I am in a mood for some fun books!Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event, I will go back to a novel, I started and then just stopped – Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cathar. If this was not enough, I continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and give Cleo company in reading The Brother Karmazov’s by Foydor Dostoyevsky and Jane Eyer by Charlotte Bronte Read Along, the latter, hosted by Hamlette. I have also bought some books and been gifted some over the last couple of days which I will atleast attempt to start this month; The Silk Road – A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and Jerusalem, A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

That’s the attempt plan for September….I know its a LOT, but I am hoping to conquer most! Happy September Reading!!!

All About The Absence

Hello! Hello! I know I have been away for nearly two weeks without a word, and some of you have been wondering where I have been! To begin with, a big Thank You to those who have been checking up on me; I really really appreciate the concern and feel blessed to have people who watch out for me!

I was away on a road trip all across what is considered the Himalayan Desert at about 15000 ft from the Sea Level. The region around 10th century used to belong to the then Tibet empire and still retains many of its culture and practices, which are especially evident in the Monasteries that are dotted all over the region.The place is called  and is a unique natural phenomena of a desert at a very high altitude,  located in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Spiti” means “The Middle Land” in Bhutia language, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

While Spiti River surrounds the valley, the region is in a rain shadow area and is devoid of the lush green vegetation that usually forms the landscape of the Himlayas. However the barren brown mountains in the backdrop of the clear and deep blue skies are absolutely awe inspiring and in their presence you are intensely aware of a power at work, which is much greater than those of the mortal man. And then after range and range of imposing brown mountains, there would be flash of green and all kinds of wild flowers and it would seem like some one had taken a crayon and painted the whole natural canvass.No wonder, Buddhist monks chose this region to deeply meditate and some of the most powerful monasteries of the Buddhism is located here!

I took this trip again with the absolutely brilliant Shibani and her team at Wonderful World and only they could have managed to infuse a sense of comfort when the conditions were anything but, provide luxury when none existed to begin with and ensure we get a feeling of truly experiencing Spiti and her culture with a well thought through and extremely considered plan. For 10 days, managing 12 women across adventurous terrain, Wonderful World, this time led by Pooja Sharma, ensured that we all got to do what we wanted and keep calm in face of crisis including when my flatmate and cousin decided to take photos anywhere and everywhere  delaying the scheduled arrival time. Pooja was also wonderfully patient in helping me navigate some of more challenging trails, which became challenging thanks to the 224lbs that I carry with me! This team remains a girl’s best travelling companion!

This trip was not meant to be  relaxing vacation, a day at the resort; it was arduous and difficult. Every day we would drive about 8 hrs or so and then hike some more km. As the altitude increased, air became thinner and simple tasks required more effort and sleeping at a different place each night and living out of the suitcase for 14 days was anything but easy! But this was one of those truly life changing epic trips and the majesty and the brilliance of the landscape sears your soul, until you find yourself introspecting and come away with a heightened awareness of self and the surroundings!

I know I will go back there and at some point, move to the valley to spend the rest of my life there. Until those grand plans materialize, I leave you with some pictures of its grandeur!

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P.S. None of the photos have been Photoshoped and the play of colors and shadow that you see is a complete natural capture!

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