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Posts tagged ‘Family’

India Through The Ink….

It cannot be easy to write about a country or a people, not your own. It becomes even more challenging if you have not lived in the country you are writing about or not interacted with the indigenous population of the same country. Even when you belong to the country, it is becomes difficult to capture the all encompassing details of the land and its people; therefore for someone not belonging to the same land, it remains an arduous and difficult task. And should that country be India, with it melting pot culture, checkered history going back to 7000 BCE and more than 100 languages, this task becomes infinitely more complex, difficult and challenging! And yet, authors, scholars and travelers around the world insist on writing about this country.

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If they have the brilliance of a William Dalrymple then, they settle down in the country and write prodigiously about it. Scholars like John Keay and the late AL Basham study the country for years before penning something so profound as India – A History and Michel Palin treks all over Himalayas before writing a book with the same name! I may not always agree with what they put forth, but I do respect the amount of love, patience and sheer effort into putting together, factually and not fictionally, that is not intrinsically their own. And this is key to the appreciation of these works; these authors do not have the luxury of editing something that they do not understand or cannot explain, into a “creative license”. The nature of their genres makes this impossible and hence my love and respect for these authors increase manifolds, especially for those writing non fiction, even if some of them, get the picture completely wrong!

Fiction however is whole different story; for years, now, India and her people have continued to fire the imagination of the world and especially the West. We have had many authors writing about India for a while, but with the British Colonial empire, India literally exploded into English literature like never before. Rudyard Kipling with all his love-hate for the the country, gave the world Jungle Book and Kim, both novels rooted in every essence to what this country is and stood for. EM Forster brought forth the racial divide, and the mounting tensions in the early 20th century India, in his polemic A Passage to India and Paul Scott captured the pain and the violence that tore apart a nation in the wake of partition of India, in his seminal, A Jewel in the Crown. And then, there stands, my personal favorite and the one author who despite her hereditary, truly was an Indian at heart, for she wrote of this land and her people, like she was one and her books resonate with the very feel and smell of India, as the country comes alive and grabs the reader – the inimitable Ms. MM Kaye. Not all her predecessors or even successors could write like Ms. Kaye wrote nor feel the power of her love, that made her stories authentic and Indian in spirit. But most of these authors belonged to an era where the understanding of the world and all her people was still limited; race and color still made a difference and there was significant paucity of information, which makes one more tolerant on the misses or the misinterpretation, and in case of Mr. Kipling, appreciate the story, without delving too much; not quite easy, but can be done!

This fascination with India in fiction, seems to found new resurgence in the 21st century and suddenly, I am astounded by the number of books based on India, has Indian protagonist or has roots in some way or form to this country. I was presently surprised by East of the Sun by Julia Gregson , tracing the lives of three young memsahibs to India as they set out as part of the “Fishing Fleet” to find suitable husbands. While historically, the book did not always jive, it did capture the society and morals of 1920s India beautifully, but the number of Indians were limited in this novel and I am not sure how the author would have fared with India and Indians as the main theme instead of a backdrop! Let me illustrate my point –  Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, despite their astounding commercial success, left me cold in so many ways! And herein lies my irritation with modern authors; in these days of easy travel and access to all kinds of information, to constantly cater and pander to what is obvious crass commercialization of the traditional stereotypes of India is just astoundingly disappointing, if not downright infuriating! The first one has Spirituality and Tigers and a peace loving protagonist (gosh! what surprise!) and the second one goes to the other extreme of spirituality and slums and poverty! I am not even getting into books like The Art of Inheriting Secrets, by Barbra O’ Neil that has a Indian woman following her Aristocratic English noblewoman lover to England and then marrying an Indian man in a remote English countryside in 1940s England. In a country where woman are struggling to get their basic rights of education and independence established in 2019, that flight of fancy in 1940s is really taking the “poetic license” to fantasy. I am not denying the existence of strong women in 1940s, several existed including my grandmothers, nor am I denying the existence of homosexuality or marrying a man to keep up appearances, but all of that together in that time and age; that is way far out even for the West, but for the East, that is an impossibility of infinite proportions! Then of course we have the male modern Indian protagonist, who of course has curly hair, as Indian men never have straight hair and his brown ageless skin…what?? Also conveniently, the protagonist sprouts Rabindranath Tagore and his most cliche poems at the drop of a hat, because, of course our author never bothered to find a poet beyond the only one known in outside of India or even his other famous poems, besides the first one that comes up in Google. And just to add more spice, (of course its India so it has to have spice!) we have Indian restaurant and India food popping up every two pages! What really gets me is that even established and justly popular authors like Lucinda Riley fall into this trap of taking on a shallow understanding and wrapping up the story in all the trappings of exotic India. So in her, The Midnight Rose, where we of course have princesses and a handmaiden who has an affair and an illegitimate child and whose grandson again falls into the cliched curly haired brown skin hero. Ms. Riley took the lives of two real life Indian princesses, Princess Indira and her daughter, Princess Gayatri Devi and mercilessly intermixes and changes their lives, which in reality would have changed a very strong fabric of Indian history and Indian feminist movement. Again her protagonist while strong and strong Indian women were a reality but illegitimacy in 1920s India was not something that would have dealt with aplomb that Ms. Riley deals with, especially if the child has mixed parentage. In India where caste and affinity to your ethnic heritage, still form a large part of every day lives, a child of foreign parentage, in the early years of 1920s would have caused a havoc,  no matter which remote hilly village you hide in; infact more so there than in the bigger cities. These nuances, which are critical to understand and then portray the socio-cultural-historical narrative based out of this country is unfortunately getting more and more trampled in the competition to build a intriguing plot line with an exotic enough setting to seduce the reader. These books continue to impress upon the audience of the world, what has been stereotyped a thousand times about this country – tea estates, princesses, animals, slums, spirituality and such like! These books at then end of the day fail to bring forth, the actual India, which is a mix of all these things and so much more – there are good and bad people, there swaths of deserts and snow capped mountains, there is spirituality but there are also scholars, and while we love animals, we also can be kind and mean in equal measures and this has nothing to do with any of us being related to royal ancestry or not!!! To end, if you really want to read to about India, stick to non fiction or Indian authors or English authors circa 1850-1950s!

While I Was Away…

Since I started blogging some six years ago, this perhaps has been my longest hiatus from the blog-sphere. Illness, Death, Work pressure, nothing  stopped me from posting atleast one or twice a month. But since August of this year, life has been taking funny turns, leaving me with very little time to do anything but just get up and show up. It’s not been all bad, but not all good and for sure it has all been very very time consuming and at time both physically and emotionally draining. My reading has taken a back seat like never before; I did not even participate in the October Readathon, an event unheard off sine I discovered it  years ago and let’s not even get into blogging misses lately. The last novel I finished was on more than a month  back that too on a long flight. Life has been thrown off balance completely;so what transpired – plenty

  • I got promoted ..Yay
  • With promotion came double truck load of work and exhaustive travel….some yay and not so yay
  • Dad was in and out of the hospital for a while….definitely not a yay moment
  • My sister went through a terrible break up….for sure not yay
  • And…..some other very exhaustive personal stuff, which we an discuss when we know more

Life briefly speaking has been very very roller coaster like and I am not even sure we are finally settled. However I am trying to get some rhythm and regularity going and blogging is for sure part of that rhythm as is reading…… so here we go again.

How have you all been? What all have I missed? Please do drop by with some comments on how you all have fared and I hope to catch up with your blogs/posts soon.

The Big Fat Indian Wedding Contd.

And I am back with more photographs as promised in my last post. These photographs capture the last phase of the big fat Indian wedding that saw a mix of North, South and East Indian rituals, besides enough chaos and cacophony to last one’s life time. I have said this often, that in India it is never about two people getting married, but rather two families becoming one, to cause more stress, more confusion and somehow surprisingly considering the confusion, a whole lot of fun! Once again the photographs are all copyright of Durga Natrajan, my second cousin and my first partner in crime!

Part -3 :: Grihapravasham – This happens the day after the wedding. The bride comes to her new home for the first and is welcomed by all the senior women of the groom’s house especially the mother. Once the bride crosses the “threshold” so to speak, the family and close friends come around to give her gifts and bless her in the traditional Hindu style.

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Part -4 :: Reception – The final gala night of celebrations! Food, Drinks, Dinner and may be dance….you get the drift! The last night of non-stop partying before we all settle down to our boring regular lives, until someone else decides to walk down the alter!

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Thats all for tonight folks! Next blog will definitely be bookish!

The Big Fat Indian Wedding….

I know I had planned this post long back; however I was kind of dependent on the photographer. Immediately after the wedding she moved houses and then was  busy setting up her new home and then getting the Wi-Fi Connection going, before finally sharing the photos. Then I got stuck preparing for the interview and the home renovation and other stuff. Finally our stars align and I bring to you the photographs from my cousin’s wedding. All the photos are taken by my second cousin and first partner in crime – Durga Natrajan. Durga….thanks a ton for letting me share these memories.

Part -1 :: Mehendi Night – This event happens before the night of the wedding. The ladies of the both the houses get mehendi which is henna patterns worked on their hands and feet before the singing dancing starts. Mehendi is considered  auspicious and supposed to symbolize the sacrosanity of the marriage.

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Part 2 :: The Wedding -This was a Hindu wedding – but a mix of North India/South India and East India rituals. The cornerstone of this ceremony are the vows exchanged by the bride and groom in front of the holy fire, post which they are considered man and wife.

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There are two more ceremonies post the wedding, but I will keep them for next week, considering this already maybe an overdose of the big fat Indian wedding

On The Glories of Summer and Reading in May….

Aha! Here is May and my least favorite season has begun – Summers! How I hate thee! When I was in school, we used to get two months off, because of the blazing heat made going to school quite impossible; that atleast gave this season a saving grace. But as an adult, there are no such deliciously long vacation, only the dry, unforgiving burning earth and the effort to live life as normally as possible in such pleasant conditions!! To think there are some people who actually eulogize about Indian Summers….they are only worth eulogizing when you are sitting in cozy cottage way up in Himalayas!

Anyway, I can continue in this vein, but that will not cut short this weather, so bear it I will; though I absolutely refuse to be stoic about it! Moving on to other items of discussion, the big fat Indian wedding is finally over. Was it nerve wracking? Absolutely! Did I have fun? Absolutely! Had a blast! It was wonderful meeting old friends, reviving old relations and generally merry making with people you like and love! But now that it is over, I must confess, I am really glad to be back to my more sedate pursuits. I came back late Sunday, and my reading has resumed enough vigor to finally give me hope!

Speaking of reading, Reading Plans for the last couple of months have become a farce. I have barely been able to read anything and all my books from March and April are now carried over in May. Reading for last two months had become more of an in-between activity, instead of the main event. However, now that things are slowing down, I am hoping (fingers crossed) I will be able to resume significant momentum in finishing nearly a dozen unread/half read stuff. I do have an interview looming for which I need to prepare (Yup! Only I will apply for jobs that require hard core studying!) especially stuff like Research Methodology and Six Sigma principles, but I am not going to lose sleep over it and hopefully this prep, should not be too much of a herculean task, that takes me away from my books too much!

So what am I finally reading in May? Well, like I said, I continue with books left over from last two months, but there are one or two additions! (Ya! Trust me to take on more, before I finish what I already have on my plate!) I am doing the Beowulf Read Along with Cleo. I am so loving this poem, this paean of all that is brave and virtuous! I am also doing the Gone with the Wind Read Along all through May-August with Connie. When I read it as a teen, I did not like it. When I re-read it last year, I seem to like it better, therefore it made sense to try and read it a third time and discover if there are some nuances I have missed (I have already discovered a few). Finally, I have been neglecting my Reading England Project grievously over the last couple of weeks, so I had to finally start some kind of remediation and have decided to read Howard’s End by EM Forester this month!

That’s all for today folks! I know I promised some pictures of grand mad wedding and the official photographers assure me that it will be delivered by this Saturday. Hopefully my next post will be an onslaught of Indian Wedding pandemonium!

P.S. Cleo….the bride did dance, but she did not prepare, so it was all impromptu!

On Lack of Reading Time and Thereof….

I know I have been away from blogging for a while, but the fact remains that I have been barely reading stuff lately. For once it is not my work which is to be blamed or health, in fact it is rather a happy occasion, despite the fact that it is keeping me away from my well-loved books! It is a wedding in the family – one of my cousins, someone whom I am very close to is getting married on May 1st; we were born only 20 days apart and have fought, argued and became comrades –in-arms from childhood to adults.  Now this cousin of mine who for 32 years of his life has been confirming and swearing by lifetime of bachelorhood, has suddenly discovered love. In a short span of 6months of meeting, woowing and getting woowed in return, he has finally decided to take the plunge and thus, May1st is the D –DAY! The only thing he forgot, was that this is India, and here it’s not about two people getting married, but two families. Add to that just dash of multicultural-multilingual rituals; stemming from the fact that my aunt, i.e. my cousin’s mom is from Eastern India, like rest of my family, but my uncle, my cousin’s Dad is from South India – the family has been settled in New Delhi (You with me still) and the bride is from North Western Himalayas. This is one melting pot with three different rituals, customs and expectations! Welcome to the big fat wedding of cosmopolitan modern India! For the last couple of weeks, I have been on numerous shopping trips with my aunt (Ugh!!!)have visited and tasted more catering options than I can recall and have sat through long discussions on what is considered most pure and most auspicious per Hindu laws of ceremony rituals. My cousin the poor soul is exhausted and exasperated and thinks he should have eloped (I quite agree with him). My aunt is having hysterical fits, a la Mrs. Bennett style (Yes! My aunt belongs to that crazy branch of the family, whose genes I want to surgically remove, if I could!) My uncle is trying to be stoic and failing miserably and the bride, a lovely girl with wonderful sense of fun, is losing her good humor by the minute and often calls me to ask me if this as in all the madness is normal…I have to be heartless and tell her yes..welcome to the family of loony bins! The boy is still very sane and very good…hope that gives her the much needed silver lining! Hence, my reading has completely come to a halt, I am trying to sneak in and finish The Awakening, but my aunt, at whose place and company I am spending significant weekend time, does not approve of the book. She read the synopsis and thinks it’s a most inauspicious read before a wedding ceremony (I told you that branch of the family is crazy!) She does not even approve of Road to Oxiana because per her only the frivolous ricj have the money to hike all over the world and then write books; while I cannot disagree with her on the frivolously well off piece, I have tried pointing out that they do write amazing stuff, but Robert Byron is beyond redemption as far as my aunt is concerned. That’s a slice of my life for the last 10 odd days. I will try and sneak in a bookish review one of these days soon, but don’t hold your breath. In the meanwhile, I go back to the family meeting of planning the reception menu for the 1846th time!! What Joy!!! I leave you with a Bollywood wedding song and dance – this ACTUALLY HAPPENS!!

The Old and The New…..

I have come to my parents place for the holidays! Now when I say my parents place, that’s a loaded term; cause it’s not only my parent’s home, but in the grand tradition of dynasties, my uncles and aunts and even my cousins all live together in this rambling mansion, that was built more than a 100 years ago. Though time again, the various members of this extended family have flown from this house, including my father who left this house and city more than 40 years ago in search of better prospects, they all come back here! Whether it’s after their retirement, like my father or like my cousin who spent 15 years in Europe, only to come back here, so that he could raise his children in the way he was, in the very heart of the family!

BariI love this old house, its shaded nooks and the sunny parlors and wide staircases which for generations had served as gateway for a child with a secret game or a book to read in peace – something I did as a child and still do as an adult. The pistachio colored outer walls and cool deep green insides and the high pillared ionic columns or the inland courtyard, where I spent my childhood alternately playing with my favorite cousin or being teased by not so favorite ones!!!! I love getting up in the morning to the sound of the main street – this mansion overlooks one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city; my great grandfather who built this house had no conception of far from the madding crowd! Or to traipse down to the local bakery just two blocks down the line to smell of fresh bread and what I consider the world’s best plum cake! I love wafting through the books that were the “in reads” and when Fitzgerald was not a distant figure but a literary l’enfant terrible and a contemporary of the people who had bought these editions, including my grandfather! I love the old spacious kitchen, which is larger than my room in my apartment and the stone stoves, which stand next to the new electronic stove and the traditional food cooked and supervised by my aunts! I love the history and the sense of timelessness that go hand in hand with each other!

Yet despite all my sentimentality, I cannot imagine living here except for a brief spell of time. Unlike my cousin, I feel no compulsion to come back here eventually; nor like my father do I plan my retirement around this house, nor like my uncle claim that the very meaning of life and its travesty is embodied in this house!  I am not sure what I lack or what makes me so different from others? Was it because I was not born here or because I grew up away from large groups of people; I am not sure what keeps me and makes me shrink away from sending a lifetime here? Or is it just a highly developed sense of space that cowers me from large groups of people – but considering I am such a social animal, I somehow cannot seem to believe that theory either. But while l love this house and the identity of belonging this house and family, it’s important that I step away and make a separate identity of my own and create my own space that is not crowded by my past and holds the promise of a future that is not shaped by precedents.  At the same time, I do look forwards to returning to this warm shelter at the end of the exhausting year, to renew the ties that help me forge ahead for the next year. It is the balance between staying here and moving away that keeps me sane and independent and at the same time rooted to all that is beloved and part of my DNA. So here’s wishing a rip roaring success to the this legend of a house, – may it continue to provide nostalgia, safety and history for generations to come!

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