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Posts tagged ‘Australia’

10 Books from Childhood

I was planning to write a post on Indian authors writing in English; something to the effect of sticking to things people understand rather than venturing into uncharted territories and making a hash of thing and yada yada yada! But then I saw Cleo and Helen doing a very interesting post on their favorite childhood books and I realized, something I shared with Cleo, that children in Europe and Asia seemed to have read very different literature from their counterparts in Americas. And as I thought more about it, my own childhood reading was very different from standard English language centric affair because it was rooted in a lot of stories and books from my native language, Bengali, the lingua franca of the eastern state of Bengal in India and the national language of Bangladesh. I read and was read a lot of English books as well, but in those formative years, Bengali literature left an indelible mark on me. Therefore, it made sense to recount some of best books from my childhood days including local literature, rather than dwell on Indians writing in what is essentially not their native language! Without further ado then, I present to you the 10 of my most memorable books from my childhood –

Thakumar Jhuli by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder – This collection of folk tales, which have thrilled generations after generations of Bengali children. Princes, Queens, Witches, Priests and Merchants all came together in these stories illustrating stories of courage, patience and faith. These stories as an adult I realize also depicted a colourful vibrant society of 17th-19th century Bengal, shedding interesting light on some of the more non tangible aspects of life like loyalty, spiritualism and the philosophy of kindness! Fun fact – I used to love this collection so much, that besides have two copies of the book, my dad had brought me an audio cassette version as well; well before the era of “audio books”. The dramatized audio versions were in a form of a musical and the songs are still some of my favorites!

Abol Tabol by Sukumar Roy – Abol Tabol literary means nonsense, and this set of nonsensical rhymes have brought joy not only to many children, but also several adults, including my own father. Pun ridden and satirical, they provided huge entertainment to me while growing up, only once again realizing as an adult, that among the nonsense and word play, there were subtle hidden commentary on the bigotry of early 20th century Bengal society. Continues to endure as an all-time favorite.

Feluda Series by Satyajit Ray – The son of Sukumar Roy and India’s premier film maker, was naturally also an accomplished story teller. The fact that he could write absolutely thrilling detective stories for children and young adults, however took his genius to a whole new level. The world had Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys and so did I; but I also had Feldua – the Bengali detective who along with his nephew Topshe and friend Jatyu, traversed the length and breath of India, cracking some of the most difficult cases using subtle mental analysis and knowledge from a wide range of reading! I cannot even begin to explain the hours of summer school break that were devoted to reading this series again and again!

Chader Pahar by Bhibuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay – Literally meaning the Mountain on the Moon, this timeless adventure remains a classic since it was originally published in 1937. This story of a young Bengali man’s tryst with Africa is an thriller, travelogue and deeply profound narrative on pushing the boundaries of nature, is a tale which I would think everyone must read once, including and especially all adults.

Enid Blyton Books – I know this is the broadest possible category ever, but then I cannot recollect not ever loving any book she wrote. She was the standard fare of in all schools in India, atleast in 1980s and since my parents also loved her writings, our house was filled with her works. I loved her Noddy series, I loved her Secret Seven/Famous Five, I loved her; I know there is a lot of controversy around her and her writings, but all I remember as a child was she gave me companions and think of adventures which no else seem to be able to and she made boiled eggs taste like a delicacy!

Children Reading

The Fairytale by Walter Firle (1859-1929)

Ann of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery – I love Anna. I was Anna; albeit with parents, but always bursting with energy, emotions and expressions. When I read Anna at the very impressionable age of 13, besides loving this moving story of Ann and her adoptive parents, I realized that it was ok to be the way I was, that it was even funny and someone somewhere nearly 100 years ago could and did believe in girls like me!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – What is not there to like about this story of eternal friendship, romping adventures and some very basic truth about humanity and joy. Even as an adult, I continue to love this book and cannot wait to share my dog eared, battered copy with my god daughters!

Russian Fairy Tales – My father grew up in the swinging 60s and believed that a country like ours had much to learn from Socialist principles of equitable distribution of wealth. He himself read a lot of Russian authors, all of which would eventually he would bequeath to me, including Gorky, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov etc. Naturally flowing from this, he brought me this big book of Russian Fairy Tales, which remain incomparable in my imagination, opening up the country and her people and inspiring a deep-rooted love for the country. The Firebird from this selection, remains one of my most favorites reads till date!

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall – Again a book that came to via my father; for many years he worked and collaborated on several Indo-Australian projects related to immigration laws before it became the “it’ thing. One of his oldest friends, and one of the most erudite men I have had the pleasure of knowing gifted me this book, I believe when I was 6. The adventures of the Koala, Blinky introduced me to Australia, like no one. This book is quintessentially Australian and quintessentially one of the best books ever to be read to a child!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham – What is there for me to say that is not already been said about this classic? The adventures of Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger as they navigate Toad Hall in an effort to reclaim what is rightfully Toads is a moving story of friendship and kindness!

There are so many that are missing the list, but these are the 10 that come to my mind!

P.S. This is a an incredibly late Top Ten from dated July 02 2019, as part of the Top Ten Tuesday  series, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl,

The AusReadingMonth…..

ausreading month 2015

As I had mentioned in my last post, despite what can only be described as maddening work pressure, I continue to fight the twin evils of long hours and mental exhaustion with books and more books. It helps when there are events like last month’s Dewey’s Readthon and this month’s AusReadingMonth, hosted by Brona. She hosts this annual event in an effort to increase awareness about Australia and Australian literature and every time when I could participate, I was left with some wonderful impressions of that beautiful country and its amazing people. It’s a great event, and it is kicked off by a series of Q&A which aims to introduce all participants to each other. Therefore, without any further ado, I present the #AusReadingMonth Q&A

Who are you? And where in the world are you?

I am Cirtnecce, living in New Delhi, India. I like to think my day job is of a Project Leader and the night job and my secretsuper hero avatar of reader/writer. I am also a daughter, a sister, a friend, a slightly difficult leader, a thinker, a traveler!

What are your reading goals for this year’s #AusReadingMonth?

What it is everytime – to get to know the country better and learn a bit more about its history!

p.s. Also perhaps add yet another place to visit, when I do take my long awaited vacation to Australia!

Q&A

1. Tell us about the Australian books you’ve loved and read so far.

I loved when I read The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough and the novel left me heartbroken, and while I read it so many years ago, it still makes me very sad! I really enjoyed the saucy dressmaker, from The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham. More recently, as a prequel to the AusReadingMonth, I read The Ladies of Missalonghi, again by Colleen McCullough and now all I want to do is visit The Blue Mountains!!

2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?

  1. Childhood days of collecting small stuffed dolls of Kula Bears; my father worked in the Australian – Indian Development Comission and I reaped the rewards in terms of all kinds of exotic animal collections.
  2. Again from childhood, I do not remember who the author was, but this gorgeous. absolutely gorgeous coffee table book capturing the wondrous landscape of Australia. From the green valleys to the outbacks, lovely, fairy tale like land which completely absorbed the imagination of a 8 year old!
  3. Friends – an Indian bestie. now settled in Sydney who was with me through College and grad school, sharing the same sorority house and mess hall and so many lovely memories of coming of age together! Also as I began working for my company, I made loads and loads of friends with my Australian peers, one especially who stands out as a fellow soul sister!
  4. The rich culture of Aborigines.I remember again, thanks to my father’s work, some of the most beautiful art ever, created by the many aboriginal tribes of the country. Colors and forms which left your swirling and in awe of their brilliance!
  5. Beer! I do not drink much but I am surrounded by people who do and this seems to come through in all conversations.

3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it?
What are the pro’s and con’s about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions?

Thought and planned and one day shall! It’s a gorgeous country that I hope to visit one day and travel coast to coast soaking in its every changing landscape and culture. I am not sure about cons, but I do believe like everywhere else, including my own country (rolling eyes…let’s not even get started on my country, these days!) there is some discrimination that may be happening because of race and that anywhere is not acceptable. But we all are moving forward and I am hoping globally sense shall prevail!

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
If you already live in this big, beautiful land, tell us a little about where you are, what you love (or not) about it and where you like to holiday (or would like to visit) in Australia.

I think I am obsessed with The Blue Mountains for now!!! However when I actually make it to Australia, I plan to go exploring the entire country, inch by inch!!

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s? Tell us about him/her/it.

I love both Thomas Keneallyand Mark Zusak, for sharing two very different but important narratives of modern history with us. Narratives that are so very disturbing, but those must be shared, so that we do not make those horrific judgement errors again! Colleen McCullough for bringing Australia alive for all of us with all her beauty and history. Finally I know Gearldine Brooks seems more global in her writing, but I still lover her books and its seems apt, that I pay homage to her Australian roots.

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?

Too many to list, my TBR is place where angles fear to tread!

7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?

I am reading things especially for this event on the fly, but for now I have The Secret River by Kate Granville (LOVING IT!) and I am hoping to read the much acclaimed Cloudstreet by by Tim Winton which has been on  my TBR forever!!

8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.Can you name five of them?What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?

I am combining this to 5 animals cute or otherwise –

  1. Kula Bear (I cannot get away from it! Whats more I recently saw a documentary where with the urbanization Eucalyptus trees are being cut down, depriving these creatures of essential nutrients including water, which I understand these bears do not drink directly but derive it from the leafs of the Eucalyptus plants! Its heartbreaking to say the least!!)
  2. Kangaroos – Think they are super cute (I know I am weird!)
  3. Wombats – CUTE, CUTE, CUTE!
  4. Snakes – Simply because while growing up I heard so many harrowing stories about snakes from my Dad’s Australian colleagues. Totally, NOT cute!
  5. Sharks …arrgh! I guess that happens when you are surrounded by ocean all round. Again NOT cute!

9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)? No googling allowed!

Malcom Turnbull ( Brona, not googling, but he was here in India, a couple of months back, so hard to miss :D)

Julia Gillard  – First Woman Prime Minister, hard to miss!

John Howard – His tenure was like never ending!!!!

Malcom Fraser  He visited India during his tenure and my Dad and Mum were part of the special invitee list. I believe or as the story goes, Mrs. Fraser really liked the Saree my mum was wearing and she gifted one to Mrs. Fraser, via the High Comissoner before they returned to Australia. Hard to forget this one name then!! lol!

5th – I concede

10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?Can you name five of them?

No idea. This I will have to look up!

Here you go! My attempts! Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

Designing in the Australian Outback…

Brona is hosting the AusReading Month 2014 and as part of this event I read Rosalie Ham’s “The Dressmaker”.

The story is set in 1950’s Australian outback, the small town of Dungatar and the book opens with the return of Myrtle Dunnage returning to from Melbourne. Tilly as Myrtle now calls herself, is the daughter of Mad Molly and is an illegitimate child. As a child, Tilly was often abused and harassed by other children and has no pleasant memories of her youth! She is now an accomplished dressmaker, trained in London, Spain and France and decided to makes her home at her mother’s house on the hill, at the very end of Dungatar. Her return is treated with mostly contempt and disbelief – she had apparently left because of an unpleasant incident and neither she nor her mothers are welcomed in the town. There are exceptions who make Tilly comfortable and lessen her loneliness, including Sargent Farrat, the town chief police officer, who loves fabrics and sewing and Ted McSwiney, the football team’s star player and charming loveable rouge. However soon things start looking up for Tilly as her expertise in fashion designing and dressmaking gets around and soon all the ladies of the town are thronging her home to get their version of the latest Dior/Channel gowns. However, on the night of the Ball, it becomes clear to Tilly that though the women accept her dressmaking skills, she will never be accepted as part of the community, leading to tragic events. Tilly now decides that things need to even out and scores need to be settled, before this part of her life is closed.

To begin with, there is a lovely Australian feel to the book – from the landscapes, to the gardens, to the seasons; the reader can see, breathe and live Australia. Beautiful descriptions highlighting the very best of Australian outback, in all their summer/spring glory!! Then there are dresses and designs – I had a fashion crash course. The author so lovingly details each dress made by Tilly copying a more famous brand, that I had to do Google Image searches, to see the actual, so lovely did they sound. I am all set to create a new wardrobe, only I do not have any place to wear such plethora of dresses and gowns. Tilly is a wonderful and warm character, quiet and hesitating, that it takes some time for the reader to figure her out, but once you do, you cannot help but like her. She had a difficult life, but she is not subservient and can give it back when needed. She is smart, talented and brave and takes life as it comes. Sargent Farrat is another absolutely loveable character – logical, kind and sensible; you have to like for his honesty and smile at him for the joy he feels in his secret passion for fabrics. Molly madness reflects more of obstinacy than true lunacy, but she is crazy character and her compassion shines through in the end! That’s where all the good things about this book end. The narrative is linear, jerky and at time abrupt. The taut tension builds and then falls flat – as reader, you are kind of left suspended in middle of a high jump, while the author figures out which direction the book will lead to; though as reader, by now, you have nose-dived into flatland. Events that happen are kind of clichéd and at times completely unnecessary and sometimes some incidents offer no explanation. For instance, why Tilly should all of sudden develop this ardor to come and nurse her mother, when for 20 years she gallivanting across the continent and never looked back at her even then mad mother! True, she suffers a loss that makes her come back to Dungatar, but do we really need a loss to take care of our invalid/aged parents? Is that not our moral responsibility – I mean why do you need to “realize” it??? It’s a fact, it’s love given back to a loving parent, who take care of you when you needed them. I do not get Ms. Ham explanation or her understanding of what is due of filial relationships! There are host of other characters in the books that populate the story including the Pratts, who run the grocery-haberdashery-butchers shop and their daughter Gertrude who dreams of marrying the town’s beau William Beaumont. William Beaumont has been to agricultural college and per the storyline planned to do a lot of things with his land, but I never read where or what or how he did it? His sister Mona Beaumont who is frustrated (I have no idea why), lives in her mother’s shadow and is sex obsessed. In fact sex obsession seems to run through all almost all characters of the town from being unfaithful to exhibitionism to what not. Therein lies my problem, I have no idea why so much sex and that to more it’s more darker aspect spins through the book – in fact that is the main thread that holds this motley crew together – everybody has a dark sexual secret!! Why? I understand the concept of hypocrisy; of being pretentious morally correct than you secret actions, but why do those secrets have to be around sex alone? There are all kinds of sins of behavior and all kinds of things that people hide – corruption, forgery etc. And more importantly, did the author really need guilty secrets to play off good versus bad? Your average bad person is usually a mean minded gossip monger, who suffices as an hypocritical archetypical villain, without this spin of sexual obsession. The whole beauty of such books lies in the variety of such cast and crew and their behavior. Ms. Ham took a butcher’s knife and stabbed it beyond recognition!

This book is tragedy not because of the plotline, but because it has so much promise and none of it came through!

P.S. I heard they are now making a movie, with Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage! Why?? Oh! Why???!!!

Come November, Come Books….

November approcheth and my heart singeth…yes! I cannot eulogize about Fall – Winter enough. However after dedicating nearly every 3rd post to the praise of this glorious time of the year, I have decided to move beyond and give a scintillating synopsis of my bookish plans for November!

Cometh November, Cometh several book club activities (No idea, why I am writing like this, but then as Mark Twain said, ) To begin with, I am participating in Brona’s AusReading Month 2014. I am actually in a middle of this big project which goes live in November and this project was launched in partnership with our Australian counterparts… now that’s fate!! How can I not be part of this event? Besides, for some time I have planned to expand my reading horizon beyond the obvious British American, Classical/Historical genre. This event is therefore godsend and I plan to make the most of it! To begin with, I am planning to read the following for this reading episode –

  • “The Dressmaker” by Rosalie Ham – I heard some brilliant things and much praise about Rosalie Ham. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to this one!
  • “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay – I saw this book as a film (a rare one for me…I always read the book and may or may not see the film) and is based on a true incident regarding disappearance of a group of college girls out for a picnic in 1900. I was intrigued then, but was too young to follow on the details. Seems like a good time to dig on the details.

Besides this, I see that Classic Club is organizing a Victorian Literature event this month and I will naturally have to be part of it. My parallel life lives in the Regency-Victorian age, I cannot really pass up this event. My reading plan for this one includes

  • “Three Men In a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome – I love this laugh out loud book and began reading it a day before Classic Club announced its event. It makes complete sense that I continue reading this book.
  • Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë – I always have mixed feeling about this book, but it is a time for a re-visit, re-read and re-consider.
  • “Lady Audley’s Secret” by Mary E Braddon – I bought this book, like a million years ago and if I don’t read it now, I will never read it! So onward, Mary E Braddon
  • “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell – I really really enjoy Mrs. Gaskell’s writing, but the plotline of Mary Barton seems a bit tedious and I have therefore hesitated reading this for some time. But courage and brave heart and so and so forth, and I sail forward bravely to try this one, this month.

Among other reading news, I have yet to start Michelle Lovric’s “The True and Splendid History of the Harrington Sisters” as well as Susan Howatch’s “Penamrric” . I think I plan to read these two every month, but with the each month having its unique reading event lately, these two are getting shelved. I think, in December, I will do Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books event, for myself. These two will star right on top of it that month. I am also wading through Henry James’s “The American” and Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” – I thought it would be fun to read to contrasting genres, authors and plots around the same subject and around the same time (“The American” was published in 1877 and “Innocents Abroad” in 1869)– an American travelling in Europe to enrich his/her cultural understanding. It’s an extremely interesting exercise in contrasting literary forms and narrative style and I will post about the same one of these days! I have also begun reading “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan and so far I am holding on to my opinions on this book!

That’s about it for my November bookish endeavors.

Before I sigh off, one last note – as you all are aware I am leading this project to gather funds as part of a crowdfunding initiative to help make a documentary to preserve the dying food culture of East India. The Crowdfunding event is unfortunately not doing too well and I again seek your help in making this happen. There are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website. You can more information on this project by visiting http://cogitofilmsindia.wix.com/idenityonapalate
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

More on History and Story

india calcutta bookstore
india calcutta bookstore (Photo credit: FriskoDude)

Continuing on my previous musings of historical novels, I must own that my very first introduction to the genre of historical novels began with M M Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon- set in 1857 India, it chronicles the Sepoy Mutiny through the principle characters of Captain Alex Randall and Winter de Ballesteros.  It might not be her most famous book, especially when one compares it to her epic work – The Far Pavilions, the immortal love story of Captain Ashton and Princess Julie, in the backdrop of the third Anglo Afghan War, but maybe I read the former at an impressionable age, it remains a favourite! I know all the high brow’s are lifting thier eye brows at my taste, but I love MM Kaye…so there!

When it comes to historical novels,nothing  beats the genre of James Michener and lately Edward Rutherford. Of all Michener’s writings, The Source remains my all-time favourite and a comfort book. I am obsessed about Israel and a story about this land is told through the multiple layers of its history and the heirs of Ur (the first man), it’s bound to much used in my collection! Then there are what I consider flighty historical novels – Leon Uris and his Mila 18, Exodus and The Haj, all of which I have read and re-read and adore, but cannot be really considered serious body of history, many be excluding Exodus. They are great reads, but thier historcial depth leaves a lot to imagination! Then there is Michelle Moran; she has written exhaustively about Egyptian History – Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s daughter, but I believe the one book that is far better than all of these is her last work – Madam Tussaud. It’s a rich complex tale of young a Marie Tussaud, an artist specializing in wax figurines and forced to make death masks in the background of the French Revolution. Again great stories but no sense of real history. Then there is Lord Jeffery Archer and his Cane and Able and Where the Crow Flies and Only Time will Tell. Great reads set usually during the period of 1890-1950s, documenting the rise and fall of iconic characters and their loves and lives. Read em, enjoy em and forget em! There is Philippa Gregory and her mammoth works on Tudor England, especially The Other Boleyn Girl and it’ sequels, The Queen’s Fools, The Virgin Lovers etc. Not particularly correct history, but then I could be completely mistaken!

In terms of serious classic historical novels, I think Umberto Eco and Hillary Mantel lead the brigade. I took forever to read The Name of the Rose, but once I finished it, I was in awe of the whole work. Not many people like the book and there is enough controversy around the same, but at the end of the day it’s a very good read. Wolf Hall is also a modern classic as Mantel explores the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in a brilliantly researched book, which keeps very close to history. There is Robar Harris and his Imperium, Lustrum and Pompeii and if you cannot guess, they are all based on Ancient Rome and I am not particularly fond of them and find these works tedious! There is John Masters and his series of novels based on Colonial India, The Nightrunners of Bengal, The Ravi Lancers and his most famous Bhowani Junction, though I think his best work is The Nightrunners. Alex Rutherford, the pseudonym for the husband and wife duo of Michael and Diana Preston who have written a very accurate and extremely captivating series on the first five Mughal Emperors of India. A S Byatt is another well-known literary figure requiring little introduction. Her Possessions captures the beauty of Victorian England and merging with lyrical poetry that traces the forbidden love affair of Randolph Henry Ashton and Christobel LaMotte.  I am even more enamoured of her “The Childern’s Book’ which traces the lives of Wellwoods and Cains through 1890’s to 1914, though there are times I do feel the story should “get a move on”. Colleen McCullough and her Master of Rome series is also an exhaustively researched work that traces the end of Roman Republic.

My unmatched picks are Conn Iggulden, and JG Fuller and Peter Carey. Iggulden has written extensively on rise and fall of Julius Cesar in his four part novels – The Empire series. But my personal favourite are his Conqueror series that traces the rise and fall of Chengiz Khan and Mongols during 15th century. Rich in details and customs, it not only presents Chengiz in wholly different light, without any apologies for his deeds. Valerio Massimo Manfredi is another of my favourites. I loved his The Alexander Trilogy, but my real prized possession is The Lost Army, based on the accounts of Xenophon and his Anabasis and the legion of 10,000 that was sent to support Artaxerxes II against his brother, Cyrus of Persia, it is tale that vividly captures the life and times of Ancient Greeks and one of the most remarkable adventures in human history. JG Fuller won his Pulitzer for The Seize of Krishnapur and I must own its one of finest accounts of the Indian mutiny without any unnecessary glorification to the cause of either side and a true account of men and women tested in most trying times. Oscar and Lucinda is Pater Carey’s best. He has written The True History of the Kelly Gang – epic tale of a family through the various stages of Australian history and can be aptly called the great Australian novel. But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing compares to Oscar and Lucinda, the obsessive compulsive gamblers on a boat to Australia and an incorrigible bet of transporting a glass Church from Sydney to Bellingen, come together to make a classic read!

To end with, I must confess, I have a huge thing for Salman Rushidie’s works, though many a times his writings take me on an intellectual trapeze act where my mind can no longer follow! I know enough has been written and cried about Midnight’s Children, so I’ll let it be and instead talk about The Enchantress of Venice that interplays and alternates between 16th century India and Akbar’s court and the 15th century Florence! It’s filled with images and scenes that bring it to life two magnificent eras of world history with all its caprices!

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