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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Snake Gods and Migrants

I have been planning to write this review, literally for weeks. I had read the book more the a month back and these days, I only post a review if I really enjoyed the book or it exasperated me beyond my patience! This one for sure met that criterion and it’s just life as a always became to busy for me to find time and space to write about this book. After all of this, it is time to introduce the book I am referring to – Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh!

I have been a Ghosh fan well before his Commonwealth winning and withdrawing of The Glass Palace which also I loved. I was first blown away by his Shadowlands, a beautiful, lyrical story of Bengal, partition, riots and coming of age. Till date it remains, one of most sensitive pieces of prose I ever read and the end, still takes my breath away. The Glass Palace, though I feel falling short of the brilliant prose, was a wonderfully crafted story; the history resonating very closely to me (my great grandfather was a Teak Merchant, settled in Myanmar, and saw the history of the land unfold through his own eyes). However, The Hungry Tide put me off Ghosh; I could not relate to the characters, of people who fall in love without any communication, or even the vast range of issues that Ghosh seemed to try and tackle which did not truly integrate into the main plot. I was put off enough to skip the entire Ibis Trilogy and only to pick up Gun Merchant, when this came my way as a gift!

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Gun Island is narrated from a the perspective of Deen Dutta, a 50 something erudite, cultured and well traveled man and dealer in rare books, based in New York. A chance meeting with his extended Bengali family, during a vacation, gets him involved with the legend of the Gun Merchant, a Ulysses like character, who traveled along with his companion a ship captain, all over the world, in a bid to escape a curse of the Indian Snake Goddess, Mansa Devi. In his effort  to dig the truth about this myth and Deen comes across and interacts with a host of characters, all of whom are on their own journey of self discovery and have parallel stories of strife and success. There is Piya, a fellow Bengali American Professor, who sets this journey in motion, there is Rafi, the illiterate Muslim Fisherman, whose grandfather was the keeper of the temple of Mansa Devi in the Sunderbans and Cinta, his old friend and mentor, who helps him reach out to the unknown to find the truth.

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Hindu-Goddess Manasa,  in a hut made of mud in a village in the Sundarbans, West Bengal, India by Durga (Source – Wikipedia)

The premises of the book is excellent! India and especially Bengal is rich in myths and folklore all of which are somewhere grounded in a reality that happened in the past. The made up legend of the Gun Merchant, is actually a take off on the the legend of Chand Saudagar whose hide and seek games to escape the wrath of Mansa Devi is something most Bengali children can recite, handed down from generation to generation. It was interesting to go with Ghosh’s exploratory journey to understand the roots of this myth as well the rich travel history of Bengal, when it traded with Venice and many other European nations, especially as it took the readers into some wonderful description of Sunderbans, the now fast disappearing mangrove forests, east of India.  But this is where I guess my admiration ends. I am beyond sick of Ghosh’s polarization of Indian society – in his world lately,  there are only Americanized erudite but still holding on to Bengali roots figures or uneducated, impoverished characters. There is nothing in between, there are no small time shopkeepers, there are educated middle classes, there are not rich Indian industrialists, there are no artists, there is no one except these two extreme worlds. Even if I would allow for such polarized characters, I could not like them – i could not warm up to Piya in the Hungry Tide and when I saw her enter this book, I was ready to give it up. I cannot understand her hauteur or while I understand her reserve, I feel her to be totally and completely insensitive to other’s emotional needs. I did not like Deen – I felt he was too bumbling, too self doubting, too everything for a man of the world. The only character I could like was Cinta, who came across with depth, emotions and sensitivity and was the only rescue device of the novel. The plot while originally intriguing should have stuck to discovering the roots of the myth, instead of taking on world problems. I understand and am concerned about the environmental disaster that we seem to hurtling into. I am appalled at the intolerance of the world at large to the migrant’s issue; my grandparents were refugees, fleeing the violence of 1947, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, leaving behind homes, lives and security. I know the trauma of such displacement, which continued to haunt my grandfather till his death and was inherited by my father and my uncles to great extent. I cannot even begin to fathom the conditions if besides the trauma, my grandparents also were refused entry in what they considered a safe home, a newly independent India. But I do not think as plot devise adding the migrant issue along with environmental concerns into a novel tracing the history of a myth is a very good idea. We end biting more than we can chew and say nothing which has not been said and do not shed light on anything new. In fact, it smacks of borderline commercialization – a sort of piggy backing on the world wide uproar on the migrant issue by not only writing about it, but picking up the “boat incident” to a T. This was not well done and from somebody of great intellectual and sensitive abilities like Ghosh, it is definitely unacceptable! The language and even the division of the novel into section seems contrived and does not flow! All in all, by pass this book if you have toppling TBR; there are better books on Bengal and partition and migrants than this one, including Shadowland, by the same author!

 

Snapshots From Here And There…..

Things are slowly coming back into its place but the pace is infinitely slow and sometimes it is very hard to keep patience. But I guess the glass is at the very least quarter full and I am extremely grateful about that! Reading is very very slow, and I have four books going on at the same time with varying speed of progress –

  • The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakravarti
  • The Hungry Empire By Lizzie Collingham
  • The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

I have made significant progress in Book 1 and Book 4 and Book  has my attention enough to become be finished soon, but Book 3….well, let’s not jump the gun! I have only read 51 odd pages and things may improve!

Naturally I have no review to share and no books or bookish things to discuss, but I did want to drop in and say Hello to everyone again and leave you with some pictures of my recent travel to Arizona. for work I fell in love with the Desert Valley of Phoenix, and it’s low hills and open spaces and a view to take one’s breath away! I leave you with some shots from the visit!

 

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The Augustinian Plans….

I think this recent hiatus from the world of bloggers has been my longest. Unfortunately work and more work and now an added certification for which I signed up is taking up 37 hours of the 24 hours!  My reading is down to a crawl and to say I am neglecting housework is the a mere understated understatement. Oh! the joys of adulthood! Actually I take that back…I would rather be an adult anyday, than go back to being a school kid! I hear folks talk about their childhood with so much nostalgia, but me,I am glad not to do homework, not worry about being a wallflower, not go through the angst of adolescent and generally like being responsible for myself, without a zillion number of adults telling me how to do things better. The latter still happens, but atleast now I have the power to ignore without subterfuge; as a young kid I had to do a LOT of planning to get my own way which was yet another exhausting factor about being young!!!

That was a lot of procrastination from the main subject of reading plans, but considering how bad the last month turned out to be for reading, I am kind of wary about any elaborate reading plans. Besides I have a road trip planned in the middle of August traveling across the Western Coast of India and I am sure while I will really want to read between those spells of long drives, I am also sure, my friends and cousins will chatter enough to make sure I cannot concentrate on the book and instead join their mayhem! So seriously, keeping it simple for a while.

To begin with I am putting The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories on hold till November. I am as is wayyyyyyyy behind Cleo and Ruth and rest of the group and this certification is a lot of heavy reading on Strategy and Finances and all other non fun stuff and since my company is paying for it, I NEED TO CERTIFY! Therefore all heavy reading is for this course which thankfully will be over by November! Hence, I have decided that Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War and The City of God by Saint Augustine will have to wait for now! I am not sure if I am happy or sad about this fact! Fortunately, Mr. Dickens continue to provide much needed relief for all the stress and I am happy to progress through yet another set of adventures in the company of Mr. Pickwick and friends, as part of  The Pickwick Paper Read AlongI still have left over reading from July which includes Yasmin Khan’s The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War . which is mind blowingly brilliant and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy for which I am still holding my breath. I hope to also finish Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, again a Read along with Cleo, this month, a novel that I am enjoying immensely! I also have New York by Edward Rutherford to finish. Besides these, I am sure I will pick up more and get into an even more tighter spot on finding time to manage life. But it is what it is and as long as we are having fun, that’s what counts! I mean what’s the point of being an adult otherwise!!!!!

The End of the Year Wrappings….

Another year goeth by and yet another year to make new beginnings with! What did we accomplish in these 12 months and what do we hope to accomplish in this new year?? I am not a resolution person and from experience I know that whatever I propose, God/Fate disposes completely differently, therefore it makes total sense to make no plans and go with the flow! Instead I look back on 2016 and think of all that was done and if I may say, I deserve a pat on my back; while I did not do a lot, I did do some stuff that atleast showed some traction on my self improvement trajectory –

  1. I ran a marathon – ok! only 5km, but hey I am 115 Kgs and managing 5km is a task!
  2. I took 3 major vacations and 3 minor getaways, including a 14 days road trip into deep Himalayas. A year in travels CANNOT get better than this!
  3. I got a short story published!! Yes, finally I got something printed! So its not a big journal and the work is not one of my best, but hey! I am now an officially published person!
  4. I made some wonderful new friend, friends who are akin to my soul sisters, who have encouraged me run to marathons, keep writing till I get published and in general become more rational in life!
  5. Most importantly, I read and read and read!

On that happy note, as is my norm, I share below, the 12 best reads of the year as is my norm, with wishes for an even better 2017 for all of us –

  1. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – I have been in perpetual terror of Woolf ever since I read Orlando when 15. However, Ali was hosting a Woolfalong and I was also participating in the Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event hosted by the Classic Club and this seemed as good a time to plunge in. And I am ever so glad I did; with it’s subtle narrative of following the thoughts of the protagonists and the sense of time passing and some of the most brilliant prose. I fell in love with the book, to say the very least!
  2. Miss Marjorie Banks by Margaret Oliphant – I had this book in my collection forever and now I sit back and wonder what the hell was I doing waiting for ages to finally get around to reading this one! Another one of Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event read, this wonderful narrative of the Victorian town of Carlingsford and Miss Bank’s effort to be a comfort to her father and the residing social priestess of her town is a hilarious and at the same time a gentle telling of things that were not quite right in the Victorian society! One of the best books I have ever read!
  3. Metamorphoses by Ovid – I would have NEVER EVER read this one if it was not for Cleo! Cleo with her enthusiasm and pep talk kept me going and I discovered a book that I had dreaded and ended up loving. This is an epic poem which is a compendium of all Greek and Roman legend has violence, greed, sacrifice, courage and every other element of human drama that come together to form a grand tour-de-force that simply sweeps you away!
  4. The Fortunes of the Rougons by Emile Zola – Another one of those books I did not want to read and ended by up loving it. This first book in a series comprising of 20 novels, traces the rise of the Rougan family from Plassans during the coup of 1851. Not a happy book, with hardly any redeemable characters, this book yet manages to share a story of humanity and deep insights into the human  heart! The only word I could use to describe it is profound!
  5. The Gypsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp – This one was another one of those great finds thanks to Jane! The trials of the Sylvesters in their Victorian farm with new wives and wayward sons, seen through the eyes of a distant 12 year old cousin, is a retelling of an old tale of good versus bad with wonderful plot, characters that you wish were actually in existence and an end that kept you on the hook. Margery Sharp showed that with the right crafting of the plot, the old stories of human relationships will endure and even become page turners!
  6. The Rose and The Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray – A children’s tale that I picked up on a whim, while looking around for something different to read! Did I stumble on a gold mine or what!! Biting satire with hilarious dialogues with absolutely marvelous cast of Princes, Princess and amulets, this one was written originally as a fireside pantomime, and continues to be a complete enteratainer some 150 years on!
  7. The Dairy of Nobody by by George Grossmith and illustrations by Weedon Grossmith – If I have a find of the year, it is this book! Why in the world is this book not more popular is quite beyond me. This is hilarious, in fact uproarious narrative of Charles Pooter, who has just bought a new house and is adjusting to his life in suburban 1892 England, with some aid from his friends, his difficult son and his exasperated wife! if there was ever a laugh out loud book, this is the ONE!
  8. Up The Country by Emily Eden – My favorite non fiction read of the year! This wonderful travel journal, of Emily Eden kept while her brother was the Governor General of India, is a lovely description of an era of British Raj and of a time gone by. Free of prejudices, and with more insights, than her brother ever displayed, this book is a wondrous read into what the past really looked and felt like!
  9. Shadow of The Moon by MM Kaye – I know and I know! This is my all time favorite and I should not have included this and all that! But every time I read, this breathtaking saga of Winter de Balletros and Captain Alex Randall, in the backdrop of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, I am left breathless and mesmerized! Kaye who was born and for many years lived in India, poured her love for the land and her people in this masterful novels about tolerance, sacrifice and human courage! They really do write books like any more!
  10. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore – My first ever hosted read-along, with the kind support of many of my friends in the Blogging world! The story of Nikhil, Bimala and Sandeep in the backdrop of Indian Indpendence Movement, tells a complex narrative about freedom, responsibility, choices and a woman’s true emancipation, at a time when India woman had in fact no place of their own!
  11. The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – I am NOT a science person, but this book, another one purchased on a whim,.is a wonderful, engaging and at times downright funny telling of , well everything! How this universe, earth and we, the living all came into existence. It makes you appreciate the wonder of the earth, read more about the Big Bang and sit back and wonder at the genius called Bill Bryson!
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – This is one of those re-readings that classify under “I know”. I know this is a classic, I know there is nothing better than this yarn of revenge and forgiveness and I personally find no better philosophy to live by than those enshrined in this book – “All human wisdom is contained in these two words, Wait and Hope.”

I know I restrict myself to 12 books alone, but this has been a very very interesting year, and I wanted to make an honorable and critical mention about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Here was a book and an author I was not ready touch with a barge pole, until Stefanie came along with her wonderful review. Now we all know, I trust Stefanie, so I picked it up and ended up receiving some very practical advise, about being a creative person, about persisting in your craft and about capturing the moment, without wondering about when/what/where will the rewards coming in! This is perhaps the first self-helpish book that really helped, saw me pick up the pen and write more and genrally recommend it to all other creative folks!

That just about sums of my 2016 adventure!

Thank You for being part of this bloggish journey, thank you for your diligent and thoughtful comments/likes and advise. I am better reader/writer, because you all decided to help me out! Here’s wishing you all a fabulous and brilliant 2017!

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

by Lord Alfred 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

The Year in Posts and Books…

I first learnt of this kind of blog posts years back from Jane and since then every year, after gentle nudge from her post, I would suddenly remember, that it was that time of year, to sit back and look at how this bloggish year went. It goes without saying that since I am irredeemably in love with reading, the blogs should be all about books; but as I look back, there are some interesting surprises! Therefore I present without further ado, the first lines from the first blog posts of this past 12 months….

January – Its A New Day

Well, December is gone and January is here and before we know another December will be here…I am trying to cheer myself that If January is here, can December be far?!

February – Money and Marriage in Cumbria

I am devoted and I mean DEVOTED to Anthony Trollope.

March –  The Pickwick Paper Read Along

Many moons ago, some of the greatest Victorian authors, like the worthy Mr. Charles Dickens, Mr. Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Margaret Oliphant and Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, wrote some of their best works not in a single bound novel, but as serialized installments in various magazines.

April – Holiday Hangover, April Reading and Therapy

Hello! Hello! I am back! And while I am overjoyed to be back in the world of cyberspace and virtual interactions, I must say, I soooooo do not look forward to the Monday! But that is a bridge that I will cross and dream of August again!

May – May-ish Reads

Ah! May…..the fire breathing months on Indian plains, where the sun burns and earth scorches and you wonder if hell is like this! Joy!

June – About Summers & Reading 

I am seeing many posts around the internet, celebrating Summer! Reading and Summer seems a most conducive combination; reminds of my summer vacation from schools, with 2 and a half month of bliss, reading and eating!

July – An Act

I was planning to share my July reading plans but decided to share this instead…

August – The Home & The World Read Along – Indian History Part 1

As many of you are aware, I am hosting The Home and The World Read Along for the Month of August, both to celebrate Indian Independence which happens to fall on 15th Aug but also to mark the centenary anniversary of this masterpieces publication

September – Come September

Yay!! September arriveth and summer goeth! If that is not a reason for me to celebrate I do not know what is!

October – October and Reading 

October is HERE! Yes…October is REALLY HERE!! So what if it feels like I am inside a boiler and there are no winds with a hint of chill and no delicious smell of wood fire smoke signaling the onset of Winter, but October the calendar assures me is here!

November – This & That

Its been an absolutely couple of miserable weeks. 

December – The Most Glorious Month

Yay! December is here….the season to rejoice! Off with the old, and on with the new month!

Its been an interesting year, with reading, writing, traveling and sobering experiences. It’s been an enriching and informative year….it’s been a good year!

The Most Glorious Month

Yay! December is here….the season to rejoice! Off with the old, and on with the new month! The Holiday and Happy Cheer month! The month to read, write, party and rejoice! The Birthday Month! The Month that justifies and makes up for of the other 11 months! Ah! Glorious December, how I miss thee, through the year!

Unfortunately my precious December started off this year on several wrong notes! Stupid partners at work continued to crowd on my time and more importantly on patience! I am striving hard through some personal stuff and i began kick started the month, by spectacularly falling ill! However, this is December so it cannot be all bad, just by virtue of it being December!

So what grand plans, you ask? Well, I know you did not, but I continue to enlighten you anyway – This being the season of joy, I have several house parties planned, namely three, all starting this Friday, the next Friday and the Friday the 23rd. I have friends visiting, so there will exploring Delhi in the lovely winter sun and many grand lunches. I am off the to the mountains again in the last week of December, for a Father Daughter trip. And finally and most naturally, there will READING! Loads and loads of books planned and unplanned which I plan to read, nice and cosy, under a pile of blankets, with tea and snacks! Bliss! The reading plan just got an impetus as I got an advanced birthday present in form of a Paperwhite Kindle (Yes! I hang my head in shame and say that I have gone over to the Dark Side!) which my flatmate cum soul sister cum Santa Claus gifted me, after my tab kind of committed hara-kiri after three years of ruthless use!

Enough excitement to fortify me for the trudge for the next 11 months! For now, I have to rush since I missed on the first few precious days of the month, but I will keep  you all posted; so please do hang around for the party!!

Something Old & Something New

And no, I am not getting married and anyway in a Hindu wedding, there would nothing old and all new! But at the very onset, I digress! The plan originally was to post about The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, but something has been brewing in my mind for sometime and it finally being put into motion!

Many of you may be aware from my About page, that outside of Reading like no tomorrow and writing constantly, the other ruling passion of my life has been Traveling. I was travelling since I was 3 months old and have always been wanderlusting as far back as I can recollect. The prize for doing well in school was books and a new place to visit. Money for meagre paychecks were added/deleted/divided in an effort to buy all the books in the world and explore some new part of the world!Planning vacations, besides adding to the To Read list in my GoodReads has been and is a major way to de-stress. However despite all the energy and efforts spent in traveling I rarely if ever posted on my adventures, and what I did was a cursory overview more to give everyone a chance to see why I was away . Somehow I could not seem to bring in the very personal touch in my travel writings as I did on my book reviews. So I held on and then recently, an idea stuck me – I wanted to start website on Women and their Travels.

Now, I think most of you would agree with Mark Twain when he wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” But in the context of women traveling, it becomes especially important – it provides  a time for the woman to discover herself , her true identity and instills in her the confidence that if she can do travel to a new place without the patriarchs of her life, she can do practically anything. Women traveling on their own or with a bunch of other women is one of the most empowering experiences and it is these experiences and adventures I wanted to share. I have the extreme privileged and honor of travelling with some of these amazing women over the last couple of years and their stories of being caught all alone in the middle of nowhere in Columbia or traveling alone to the heart of Iran with a 3 year old in tow is not only an exciting adventure, but truly liberating and empowering!

Therefore, I seek an extension  your patronage and ask you to join me in these adventures, which my friends and I share at A Smooth Round Stone! You have always, always supported me in not only visiting my blog, but sharing your thoughts and ideas and showing me a whole new world, I hope you will do the same in this new adventure of mine. Furthermore, I hope you will also share with me your stories – stories of your travel or when you played host to travelers and enrich this humble motley collection of travel tales!

And, thus without any further ado, let’s us travel!

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