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Posts from the ‘Ideas’ Category

The Eternal Question –

On this 23rd year celebration of the World Book Day, I want revisit an old question, a question which has been asked to me and to many other readers, more times than I can recollect and a question, which till date, I struggle to find an apt answer for! For every reader, convinced of the sacrosanct nature of words and their power, nothing is more difficult to answer than to explain, Why do we read? Why do we read so much? Why do we read so many books? Why do we read the same books so many times? Why do we read?

Neil Gaiman, in his remarkable essay on “Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming” describes reading as “getaway drug”. The urge to know what happened next keeps the reader going and in the process forces them to read new words and exposes them to new worlds and new thoughts! He further says that reading builds empathy in the world. The reader is forced to create a world of his/her own out of the prose and that investment in building this world and characters creates a connection and thus empathy, something which does not exist in a cinematic medium. L.M. Montgomery, writing several years before Gaiman, made the same succinct observation about books being kind of a addiction. She wrote about being “book drunkard” and about books having the same temptation to her that alcohol has to a drunkard and further, a temptation that cannot be resisted! Rebecca Solnit said reading allowed her to build and then disappear into her imaginative world, in her essay “Flight” in the book The Faraway Nearby. William Nicholson in Shadowland, took a bit of a different route when he called out that “We read to know we’re not alone”. And Kafka of course took it to a whole new reasoning when he wrote to a friend that “we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

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The Reader by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770

There are many others who say many of these things and more and wiser minds than mine have tried to better understand the “addiction” to books and reading! So when I am asked, why do I read? I feel stumped, ill qualified and overawed at thought of explaining something that is fundamentally inexplicable until experienced by self! I have observed and I could be absolutely in the wrong here, that most deep readers, have had a childhood which was had limited or completely devoid of companionship. Children need companions, people their age or atleast people who understand them to keep loneliness and confusion at bay! In the absence of that, if you are lucky, you may get books handed to you by a sensitive and intuitive adult, and after that, you find a world which is really no comparison for the everyday dull life. You never need friends, because your mind is populated with a host of them and this circle is ever enlarging! You find that your emotions and your vulnerabilities are not unique and you are not a freak, but just someone going through the motions of “growing up”. You may also find yourself doing better at school, or at minimum knowing more than most around you, giving you a bit of early edge!  All of this may happen if you are fortunate enough to discover books, via an adult or school library or a friend or some other means! Once you are hooked as child to reading, then of course, the “addiction” comes in easily. Though to be fair, I have had friends who have taken to books as an adult and become equally obsessed converts to power of books, but when you start early, like all arts, it’s easier and you do not realize that this has become a “habit” or a “hobby” or how much words mean to you; as Scout Finch recounted “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”. Either way, once the “addiction” develops, you can, as reader never really rest, your imagination is far too much of an exciting place and you keep adding on to it, because, real life just cannot keep pace and you need sustenance for your intellect.

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Mother & Child Reading a Story by Carlton Alfred Smith

You also discover reading widely without actually realizing until much later, that this has had a significant impact on developing your “skill sets”. More than a decade ago, in an attempt to get through to one of best Graduate School of this geography, I discovered the blessing of the power of reading. Having graduated with Honors in English Literature, I was convinced that if I wanted to keep reading, I needed to stop pursuing Literature, academically. In a 180 degree career switch, I decided to go for a graduate degree in International Politics and to get through to the said Graduate School, one had to write an admission test, of 5 essay answers on various questions of International Politics and pass it with a rank among the top 50. The entrance examination is held countrywide and at any given moment, more than 20,000 student attempt to crack the code! That day in the the examination hall, surrounded by the most brilliant peers who had first class undergraduate degrees in Politics and Economics, I felt out of depth, like never before. However the question paper seemed simple enough and the question which to me cinched my attempt was to compare the Western Allied powers war against the Taliban regime’s with the Anglo Afghanistan wars of 19th century. Everyone knew enough about Taliban and the Allied forces. CNN and BBC had brought the war inside our houses. But what of the Anglo-Afghanistan wars? Unlike my peers, I had read “The Far Pavilions” by MM Kaye, an author whose family had served the British Raj and the Afghan wars with distinction and whose authentic accounts can be relied upon. I had not only read it once but several time and I could fill the examination pages with copious reference to Dost Mohammad and the shameful British retreat of 1842 and so forth! Needless to say, I not only got the admission, but thrived in my double Masters! My peers with all their first class degrees in relevant subject did not and I discovered many of my classmates, some who have been my best friends for years now, too did not have the requisite subject undergraduate degrees, but had spent their young lives, reading and reading voraciously! Later when I entered the corporate world, I found much to my amazement, my colleagues struggling to find the right words for the right emails/presentation, while I could easily find the right word to sound, enthusiastic, assertive or diplomatic all over emails as the situation desired! So much so at one point, one of the senior leaders, used to call me in to review his really important emails for better presentation! Finally the more I read, the more I find myself becoming a more sensitive, more tolerant and more humane person! This is I know is sweeping generalization, but I find people who read to relatively kinder than their peers. Of course there are a number of exceptions, and I must mention as footnote, that one of most selfish person, I have the unfortunate honor of calling a relative, is also a voracious reader. However, despite this, I do feel that reading liberates the mind and the soul!

But all of this does not really answer to why we read? For as a child starting out with Corduroy by Don Freeman and then slowing graduating to other books, I did not know, that I was seeking companionship or a liberal mind or even skills which will enable me later in life.  As a child the only thing, I understood was when I looked at my illustrated book and then looked out of the window, the illustrated world, seemed exactly what it was meant to show me – a bright, colored, happy world; a world that drew me in and kept my company and made everything so much more merry!  By the time, I realized consciously the power of the books and words; I knew that this is some secret, joyous habit that cannot be let go, at any cost! So like many I kept on and today, cannot even begin imagine a life devoid of books! But these are thing which a non-reading “Muggle” can hardly understand, so every time when I am asked why do you read, the answer that actually comes to me is “how can you not read?”

A Room of One’s Own…..

My February’s selection for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge was, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I know I have mentioned this previously, but here is one author who actually intimidates me and as a result, I have not read one of the foremost, literary geniuses of 20th century! Back in 2016, I finally mustered up the courage to read To The Lighthouse which blew me away and I vowed to read more of Ms. Woolf’s works but it took me two more years to finally get to her writing again and this time as I went with one her most sought after non-fiction writings!

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I am not sure how other folks have written a synopsis of this amazing work, which says so much and yet cannot be captured in a 4 line summary! The essay kicks off as Ms. Woolf explores the subject on which she has been asked to provide a lecture on – Woman in Fiction! She asks what the title in itself means – women and what they like? Women and fiction they write or the fiction that is written about them or how all these three elements are intrinsically linked to each other! From here on, she goes to explore the writings by men on women and why women have not left money for their daughters to help them find a room of their own where they pursue their art? She draws out parallel’s in form of fictive sister of William Shakespeare who despite being equally imaginative and gifted may not have ever had a chance like her brother because of financial and social limitations which would have either driven her to an early death or confined her to the borderlines of society condemned as a mad woman! She then moves on to examine the history of Women writing from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen to Bronte Sisters to George Sand and her own contemporaries like Rebecca West who are often cast as undesirable beings because of their abilities and intellect! She show how small this history is and yet how one generation of women are indebted to her previous generation for the relative creative freedom, that she has received, because of the efforts of her predecessor! She also visits the fact that men authors often neglect the relationship between two women themselves unless it is in relation to a man! She closes her essay with asking more women to take up writing so that they are able to bequeath a better inheritance on their daughters than the one they received themselves!

To begin with, once again, I am not sure why I waited for ages, literally, to read this work. It would have been great to have appreciated the brilliance of the prose and deep and sometimes disquieting thoughts of this book much sooner than 2018! Anyhow, I am glad I finally did read this work and needless to say, have found so much to like about it! I know this has often be slotted under a feminist work, but I cannot help but think this is so much more. This book tells women, what they know but in way forcing them to see it in the glaring sunlight. It brings consciousness and awareness to women about their plight and the kind of legacy we have been handed down to what will hand down. What really stuck me is that while Ms. Woolf was very optimistic about the future of her daughter’s in a 100 years’ time; today, 100 years later, her essay is still relevant as ever. While we really do have more options, things have not changed much  – West was decried as an errant feminist because of her abilities. Today in our much evolved language a woman is called “bossy” if she displays initiative and ambition; while the very same qualities are applauded in man and shows him to be “hungry for success!” Goes to show the more things change, the more they remain the same. But more importantly, something that really spoke to me in contrast with other gender politics writing was its ending – there is no “down with men” war cry, but rather a strong push to women, to pull their lives up so that they can better their and their daughter’s lot!

100 years ago, Ms. Woolf exploded to give us so many things, and I know I will revisit again and again to take up one kernel and explore it end to end before moving on to another idea. One of best thought provoking books I have read in a very long time!

A big shout to Adam for hosting this great event, which finally giving a chance to read authors and books that I should have read long back and without this challenge would not have gotten to even now!

The End of January…..

As I had mentioned in my first post of the year, life with all it’s arbitrariness, is not allowing much for planned reading; therefore this year I change my tactic of reading summary posts! Piggy backing on Helen’s brilliant idea, where she does a monthly wrap of her reading for the month,  with her Commonplace Book post, I share with you some nuggets from my reading in January! I have embellished this idea a bit more, by borrowing from O’s Wordless Wednesday post on her January Reading. And yes, I am making good from the geniuses of Helen and O. Unfortunately, January this year did not seem to be conducive to too many books, but I got through some and and they were just what I needed to turn my mind away from the stress of hospital, doctors and an ill parent! I did manage to finish the first book of in my The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge series and a post reviewing Tales of Kathasaritasagar is coming up soon!

 

From Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty –

“I mean a fat, ugly man can still be funny and lovable and successful,” continued Jane. “But it’s like it’s the most shameful thing for a woman to be.” “But you weren’t, you’re not—” began Madeline. “Yes, OK, but so what if I was!” interrupted Jane. “What if I was! That’s my point. What if I was a bit overweight and not especially pretty? Why is that so terrible? So disgusting? Why is that the end of the world?”

From The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows –

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

From Tales From Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva –

For it is better to live for one moment, bound by the bonds of righteousness, than to live unrighteously for hundreds of crores of kalpas (immense period of time)

That is the wrap up of my January reading! Here’s to a better and happier Feburary with many more great books!

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 Year That Was….

Here we stand on the very threshold of 2017 and I must say, that while this year was good, but I am very glad to see the last of it! It brought several challenges with it, both personal and professional and while I am grateful to have survived and conquered it all, I must confess, I am glad to say, Off with the Old and On with the New!!

However, before we say a final goodbye to 2017, as goeth the tradition, I did want do a wrap up post on all the books I loved this year – books which enriched me and filled my soul and of course gave me a lot to think about. Therefore, here goes the final countdown , in no order whatsoever….

  • A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell – This book moved me, moved my soul, Japan came alive under the lyrical writings of this author! Perhaps one of the best books, I have read, EVER!
  • Thud by Terry Pratchet –  A re-read but Sir Terry, may God Rest my soul, always captures every human action from bravery to stupidity to turn it into life lessons, only with dollops and dollops of laughter! Sir Terry, You are missed!
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden – Yet another re-read, but I cannot think of a more masterful, more evocative and more gripping narrative of the rise of the House of Mongols than the one recreated by Conn Iggulden, tracing the birth, death and the rise of new era of Mongols, under the leadership of Chengiz Khan! Moving away from myths and sifting through half truths, Mr. Iggulen shares a powerful and spell binding narrative of a tribe, who continue to resonate through History
  • Histories by Herodotus  – While I am miserably lagging behind in Reading the Histories, this is one book, I am glad I read, in the company of Ruth and Cleo! The first written History of the Western World is a epic narrative of facts, gossipy nuggets and wise words, that bring the world of 3rd Century BCE to life! This one book, I am so very glad I read!
  • Trespasses by Caroline Bridgewood – I read this little known novel when I was 16 and since then I have been searching for it! Nearly 2 decades later, I was able to own a copy and re-read this tale of cousins and a family in England, torn apart and then brought back together through the Second World War! Simple, funny and one of the few books that make me cry!
  • Shadow of The Moon by MM Kaye – What more can I say about the book that I have not said so far? My blog is filled with notes about this novel that tells the story of Winter De Balletros and Alex Randall set in 1857 India, during the Mutiny! I was honored to hold a Read Along in August and had the great pleasure of Cleo and Helen for company, which made this particular reading even more joyful and memorable!
  • Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull – Oh!! One of the very few “new books” I read this year and, boy, did this take my breathe away! Set in 18th century Europe. the story of woman scientist is so many things at one go – an adventure, a indictment of the society, a love story, a story of a women’s journey! This book defies genre and words, except, Vi, Va Ms. Mascull!
  • The Edwardians by Vita Sacville West – Another first time read, that blew me away. Edwardian society comes alive in all its glory as well inconsistencies in this brilliant novel by Ms. West.
  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – This was one book, that one very rarely comes come across – it blows away some of your existing belief systems and then sets up new foundation, that forces you to think and wonder, why the hell did you not see these things before! For me, this was the book, that everyone should read, whether they like it or dislike or whatever, simply because, history of mankind is presented in a whole new light, making us question how we interpret our past and its consequences for the future!
  • Ann of Green Gables (Series) by LM Montgomery – Who can help but not love Ann? In yet another re-read, she came in to cheer me up in some of my most exhausting work days and regaled me with the goings on of King Edward Island, her attempts at being a lady, her friends, her college and her life as a wife and mother! Simple and joyful!
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yet another re- read and yet another layer of brilliance that I discovered in this enduring tale of women’s right, society and love! Ms. Austen remains, masterful!
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window & Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Rod Bradbury – This is my optimistic book of the year. The book that made me smile and hope that no matter what, never give up on your life and if you are lucky, you may get some companions to make it more joyful like a would-have-been-anything-but-now-hotdog-vendor, a crook, a drug lord, a detective inspector and an elephant! My ha-ha book of of the year!

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – This 21 month Read Along, the brilliant idea of O, where we read the book in installments as originally published  over 2 years!! It was brilliant and one of the Read Along ever! Eternal thanks to O for hosting this!

  • A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee – I am usually wary of Indian Authors writing in English; most are not Amitava Ghosh or Arundhati Roy and the reading often writes contrived. However Mr. Mukherjee brings Calcutta of 1920’s to life in this old fashioned whodunnit with just the right mix of language, history and plot twist!
  • Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot – A last minute read again suggested by Cleo. While the story of Thomas Beckett is well known, the drama and language brings the whole incident to life with a very interesting ending.

That is that; a small snapshot of my reading Year! Many thanks to all of you who joined me in my reading adventures and had the patience to read through my blogs! Reading is so much more fun when shared with friends!

To end, I would just want to say in the words of great Lord Tennyson –

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be

 

Doing The Impossible

I have been seeing this for sometime among other bookish bloggers; but not till now have I been even remotely interested in participating it. This was not because it was not an absolutely marvelous challenge, but simply because, I lacked the discipline of stick-to-itivness! So I never tried; however recently, while trying to refer to a book in my Kindle Library, I realized in terms of E Books, I have way more than I can ever manage. This is of course, not taking into account the hard copies of books lying all over my apartment and the recent discussion with my roommate to buy yet another book shelf. I have way too many books! And while I know for a fact that I will keep buying books and I will forever have a TBR that is never-ending, I need to make some efforts for those books, already bought and sitting forever on my shelves. Hence, in an effort to inculcate a bit more of the stick-to-itivness, I hereby agree to participate in Adam’s much appreciate The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge!

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The Goals and Rules, directly from Adam’s blog go something like this –

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2017 or later (any book published in the year 2016 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky below. Link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.

3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review

4. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published before 2017!

Therefore, without much further ado, I present, the 12 books with 2 alternates that have been sitting in my TBR FOREVER!

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva
  2. A Room of Her Own by Virginia Woolf
  3. The March of Folly by Barbara W Tuchman
  4. Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  5. Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  7. I Claudius by Robert Graves
  8. Ashenden by Somerset Maugham
  9. The End of History and The Last Man by Francis Fukyama
  10. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  11. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  12. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Potential Alternates –

  1. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
  2. New York by Edward Rutherford

That’s the list. I have tried to be eclectic so that I can sustain my interest. They remain in no random order, though I will probably start with Kathasaritasagar and then we will see how things flow!

Fingers Crossed!

 

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