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Posts from the ‘India’ Category

The Ocean of Tales

Yet another post that should have seen the light of the day earlier, atleast 19 days earlier. But then life continues to be challenging and we flow along as well as we can with the changing of the river course! Anyhow, late last year I had signed up for the the The Official TBR Challenge 2018 hosted by Adam at The Roof Beam Reader; and as part of the challenge, I had committed to reading 12 books through the year, that have been on my TBR the longest. The first book in this series was Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva, translated by Dr. Arisha Sattar.

Way back, as kid growing up in early 1990s, before cable and satellite television invaded Indian homes, most of us relied on the state funded Television channel for our information and entertainment. While options did seem limited, the quality was excellent and way better than what we are served today. The news was accurate, up to date and independent of any political influence; and the entertainment was top notch, comedy, drama, romance, all served with quality and sensitivity! One of the series that made an incredible impression, was this series of unrelated stories from what I now understand as ancient India. There were stories in stories, of princes and priests, of jackals and lions which captured an 8 year old’s imagination. My father told me that these stories had been taken from a book called Kathasaritasagar by Somdeva and it took me yet another 26 years before I actually found the book and read it cover to cover!

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Kathasaritasagar literally means Ocean of Stories was written in 11th century by Somadeva as the offering to Queen Suryavati, the consort to King Anantdeva, who ruled all of Kashmir, the northern most state of India. However, the tales are in itself older than 11th century and have been handed down orally, until Somadeva collated them together for this collection. Interestingly, the intent behind this effort was to divert the Queen’s mind even for a while, from the worship of Shiva and acquiring learning from great books!

The Book opens by Goddess Parvati, asking her consort, the supreme God Shiva to tell her a tale, that has never been heard before! As Shiva narrates the tales, they are overheard by one of his attendants, who latter narrates them to his wife, who happens to be Parvati’s doorkeeper! The doorkeeper then re-tells the story to Paravati, who is enraged at the audacity of the attendant and curses him to be reborn as a mortal Gunadhya, where he will remain, until he spreads the tale far and wide! Gunadhya thus eiled from heaven writes his tales Brhatkatha,(The Great Story) the collection of 7 stories and presents it to the Satavahana King who rejects it as inferior work. Scorned and dejected, Gundhaya begins to burn his stories and all but one are destroyed before a heavenly Prince named Naravhanadatta rescues the document.When the Satavahana King here;s this, he is entranced and asks that the  manuscript not only be persevered, but the story spread far and wide!  Thus begins the stories of Kathasaritasagar with beautiful maidens and their fearless lover, of jackals to advise the lion kings, of Brahmans who covet power, stories of statecraft and intrigue, of love and friendship, peopled with kings, mendicants, aesthetics, merchants, princesses, prostitutes, drunkards and gamblers, all who come together for a rip roaring adventure in ancient India!

To begin with, this book, unlike any other work in Sanskrit literature, does not provide any moral judgement; in a unique stand  of each to his own, this book talks of everything under the sun, from infidelity to greed to intrigue and it simply tells the tale. Women are crafty, so are men, but there is no moralizing in these stories! In yet another departure from standard Sanskrit texts. it does not talk about spiritual well being and the need for austerities to attain Nirvana; instead it delights on all earthly pleasures of love and generosity, of power play and intrigue and all earthly emotions! The tales despite being set in an era more than 2000 years ago, retain a sense of universality, with human interactions and emotions being as relevant today as 2000 years back! There is an element of what-happens-next that keeps the reader on the hooks and keeps the page turning! There is some timeline confusion, Nandas, the rulers of 300 BCE India, interact  with Rig Vedic Aryans, the latter preceding the Nanda’s by 1500 years! But considering the time it was written in and the oral narrative sourcing of the tales, such confusion is understandable. One thing that stood out starkly, as a commentary on Indian society is the status of women and those deemed as lower castes in Hindu society. Written in 11th century, it comes out clearly, while women were considered to have fulfilling lives only as wives and mothers, the reality is different – they had affairs, they remarried and even controlled property and finances in the absence of their husbands.  There is also immutability and fluidity in the caste system, the lower castes mingle with the higher castes and even compete for same rewards! Therefore, in yet another testimony that original Hinduism was a liberal institution, changed beyond its original complexion by zealots and subsequent invasions, which narrowed the position of women and lower castes and turned them into oppressed beings!

To end, this is one brilliant book, that needs to be read by anyone interested in India and her history and culture, that also just happens to be an all out entertainer!

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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Tis The Month of Joy!

December, glorious December! How I love thee! You are the only month in the calendar that helps me survive, January to November! Ok, maybe not November, but for sure January to October! And finally this glorious, wondrous, joyous month is upon us, and boy! do I have plans!

Unlike each December month, when I head out to some corner to find rest and recreation, I am staying put at home this year! Too many expenses and some future investment requires me to be sane and sensible about money matters! Oh! How I hate it, but if has to be, it has to be and I plan to make most of the time, while in town!

To start with, I have several social engagements planed through the month; in fact, I cannot help but think, its one too many. After all, all my weekends are BOOKED through January first week! I am either partying at someone’s place or playing the hostess! In addition to that, I am have exploring expeditions planned around the older parts of the city. There are many ruins and monuments to hike about in this town and December is the best month to do it. Since I am staying in town this year, I plan to use my leaves in hiking around the city, re-visiting  some of the old favorites and hopefully finding some new ones! I mean there have been 7 civilizations/settlements of this city and it’s takes a lifetime to cover them all!

In terms, of reading, as has been my tradition, I suspend all challenges and the more ‘virtuous reading’ this month and read everything that I want to or that which grabs my interest and attention! In that spirit of things, I started the month with Christopher Moore’s Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; 100 pages into the book, I realize it attempts to be ‘irreverent’ more than it is, but it is still a good, fun read and I am enjoying it immensely! I will also hopefully get to borrow an edition of Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson, which I have been waiting to read forever and am finally the next person in the Library’s wait-list! There are a couple of historical fiction – thrillers that I would like to lay my hands on this month – A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, a whodunit based in 1920’s Calcutta, the city of my grandparents; The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, a much talked about post World War II, finding truths, kind of novel and finally, under Penguin’s First-to-Read Program, I have a copy of yet unreleased. Last Stop in Brooklyn by Lawrence H Levy, where PI Mary Handley investigates an infidelity case turned murder, in 1894 Brooklyn! I am also planning to start, Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Stern; this has been in my TBR forever and I want to get started on the same. I doubt I will finish it in December, but I do want to get started! I also carry on with my re-reading of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyedor Dostoevsky. Finally, I am also doing a virtual read along, starting in December with a dear friend cum colleague cum keeper of my sanity cum soul sister from work, EngiNerd with Origins by Dan Brown. I am not much of a Dan Brown fan, but EngiNerd loves him and says that I started off on the wrong foot with The Da Vinci Code instead of Angels and Demons and so should not judge harshly! I guess, the very fact that this one is based in Spain has its redemption so how bad can it get? Besides, the joy of reading with dear friend, as many know outweighs all other considerations.

Phew! That is my “simple” reading plan for the remaining year! I do have two weeks planned off from work, which should help me cover a lot of reading ground and the next three weeks are being spent in plans of getting most reading time, in between hectic socialization! So, I say to you all, Happy Reading and Joy to the World!

Finally, The Wonderful October!

In the words, of L.M. Montgomery, via Anne of Green Gables “I‘m so glad I live in a world where there are October“. I cannot think of a more perfect way to show gratitude for the month of October…fall is here and winter is on its way. It means relief for the searing heat of Indian Summer, wood fire smokes, festivals and celebration and finally a year end, where for the mad year of 2017, I can slow down a bit and take a breathe to read and write! Needless to say, I am overjoyed that October is HERE!

From a bookish perspective, I am hoping to finally get going and pick the pace up! As I write this, I am conscious of the fact that every time I have made a statement like that this year, it has turned into an unmitigated disaster! So I am keeping all my toes and fingers crossed for this month and hoping things will go as planned! To begin with, I am coming at a near close of The Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens Read Along, organized by O. It was the longest read along ever and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this book on this revisit! I will also finish the much delayed The Raj at War by Yasmin Khan and I really have to stop procrastinating and finish Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. In terms of new books to read, a whim took over me couple of weeks back and I started re-read the Anne of Green Gables series by the brilliant L.M. Montgomery. I am currently on Book 3 – Anne of the Island and I hope to finish the series between October and November. I am also re-reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have no reason to re-read this novel that I have read 1236 times, except you never need a reason to re-read an Austen! Speaking of re-reads, I was looking over O’s blog and I saw she was planning to re-read The Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky again; I loved the book when I read it more than a year back with Cleo and Ruth’s more recent review was making me itch to back and read it again. Therefore I re-read The Brother Karamazov again, only this time, I take my time to ponder over many instances of brilliance of Dostoevsky, something I did not do fully, the last time in my haste to reach the end! I do not see myself getting around to it till end of the month and will probably take the whole of winter to finish it!

To end, in other reading adventures, the October round of Dewey’s 24hrsReadathon is coming up – 21st October is the date. I have been having so much fun since I joined up last October, that there is no way I am passing this one up! I have yet to decide what books I will read for the event, but I am sure, I will have PLENTY to choose from! I know for a fact that The Rector by Margaret Oliphant, recommended by Jane and pending from September will for sure be on the Reading Plan, but I have yet to decide on others! This is the 10th anniversary of the event, and the hosts are running a 30 days short challenge to celebrate the occasion and you can find the details here. Finally, there are also hosting the short run up weekend challenges to the main event – this weekend (Oct 6-7), they are asking you to read a book that has been on your TBR for more than a year – considering I have endless number of books in that category, it took me some time to narrow it down and finally I decided to ease into it with a fun mystery – The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers. I loved her when I read Busman’s Honeymoon and I am hoping to enjoy this to a T! Also for the October event, in a departure from my usual Reader only participation, I have offered my self as a host for a couple of hours, so that I can help the hosts in a small way as a show of thanks for the awesome event they have been hosting for years now!

That’s that for the month folks! Happy October and lets be thankful that we live in a world with October 😉

And In September….

September is here, which means, October and by that extension, Fall is around the corner and atleast for next couple of months, Winter, lovely Winter is in season!! Yay!! Another Summer gone and another year is coming round! Time does fly , but I honestly cannot say that I want to go back to January 2017 and would much rather move to December 2017! But there are still some months to go and some more books to read!

As I have repeated time and time again, this is has been an overworked year where work pressure and studying for a certain certification has taken away a number of reading hours from me and therefore once again my reading plans are limited and I am leaving options to read basis my mood and level of tiredness, to make some real time reading plans. Having said that there are some books, that I am already in the middle of or read alongs that need to be completed and at the very least those, I can list down to make some sort of sketchy plans!

To begin with, there is the marvelous The Pickwick Paper Read Along hosted by O, heading for its conclusion soon! When I had first read this wonderful novel by Charles Dickens, I had not liked it much; but this re-read, maybe because of the timing or whatever, I really really loved and now look forward to the last few chapters! I also continue with Yasmin Khan’s The Raj at Work  – A People’s History of India’s Second World War. Just to make things a bit more interesting, I have decided to pair it with The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara. I also recently stated reading the much appreciated and  applauded history of mankind, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and am finding it a very interesting read,with some very interesting and unique hypothesis. Finally, Jane as usual got me interested in some little known works and I have downloaded Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye Smith and The Rector by the brilliant Margaret Oliphant. That is all I have mapped out as reading plans for the month.

This is the month of many Hindu festivals, so I am hoping for a little more of time off and a little more reading progress than what the previous months have shown, but knowing how things go, I am keeping this optimistic prognosis as a prognosis and we will see how things pan out as they pan out. I the meanwhile, I leave you with some shots of monsoon in India, specifically, of the grey skies and the blue black ocean, along the western coast of India, where I spent glorious, 10 days road tripping through last week!

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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!

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