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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Normans and Murders ….

As part of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, I recently completed two books of two wholly different genres and different times – the only common theme: It’s all about the English….

I begin in a chronological manner, though I read them in reverse order

Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal: Set in 1270, more than 200 years after Normans have conquered the Saxon England, tensions between the two groups still run deep. On the East Anglian cost, the Priory of Tyndal, sits amidst this uneasy peace and prepares itself to receive the extremely new, extremely young and extremely inexperienced Eleanor of Wynethope as the new Prioress. The fact that she has obtained this position as reward for staying loyal to King Henry III is not lost on the young Prioress, but she is determined to succeed and use all her intellect and her learnings from her aunt, the Prioress of Amesbury. However as she starts to realize that the Priory is not only in dire financial straits but is also severely mismanaged and duties are given not basis skills but rather per the need of teaching “humility” to its denizen.  Before she is able to resolve the strained circumstances of the Priory, the place is rocked by two brutal murders and an attempt at a third. Together with the help of sub infirmarian Sister Anne and the newly inducted Brother Thomas who is the confessor of the Sisters of the Priory and Ralf, the King’s Coroner, Eleanor of Wynethope, must quickly track down the murder before an innocent man is hung for a crime he never committed.

Now for the book….let me not hold back and shout it out loud – I am DISAPPOINTED!!! The book is set in one of my favorite eras and culture (Catholic Culture) and it’s a murder mystery…..it had potential to be such an amazing tale! But it fails and that too miserably. The book is flat, the mystery is flat and everything is clichéd. Let’s begin with the characterization, young Eleanor of Wynethope is witty, calm and has complete confidence. She is completely unperturbed on seeing a viciously murdered body and does not bat an eyelid when the second murder happens or she meets a wild man in the middle of nowhere all alone. No doubt there were woman who had nerves of steel and who knew whats and hows of sex, but a 20-year-old, who had spent all her life save one year in a convent, should know so much about it makes one wonder on the plausibility of the tale. She is always telling people that they will not be punished for being honest and that is the only thing she ever says of any result through 200+ pages. The only human thing is her feelings for Brother Thomas which are anything but holy, but then she wisely summarizes that love of all kind elevates a person to be better. The problem with Eleanor of Wynethope is that she is quite a likeable character in 21st century, but somehow to endow her with the foresight and liberality of understanding of this century and replace it 13th century is just too much to digest. While I know there were very strong and powerful women in medieval Europe, the kind of worldly understanding and ability that Eleanor of Wynethope displays, would have earned her a place on the stake in 1300s. Then let’s get to Brother Thomas – somebody explain to me why was he needed? The illegitimate son of an Earl, he was caught in a compromising position with his best friend. He was then jailed and only released by an unknown benefactor on the condition that he becomes a tonsured monk who will work per the dictates of this benefactor. He is then sent to Tyndal to find out why such a fertile priory is bleeding in finances and who was stealing all the funds – which he never discovers because he is chasing the elusive Brother John with green eyes and has non holy feelings as well. Through the book we are aware that Brother Thomas admires Eleanor of Wynethope but only he has given up on women!!! I mean what? The good brother is constantly confused about his sexuality and that is all that one comes across through the book. He is introduced as a highly intelligent person with acute mental powers who had in past worked as an informative, but where these powers were during the 200 pages, one wonders!

Then the plot – oh! Lord!! The good is so good and the bad is so bad and our world can only be black or white. Just because the sub prior does not like Eleanor of Wynethope, he has to be the villain. The fact that a man who had ruled the Priory single-handedly for many years may dislike being usurped by a woman half his age is enough for the author to make him the true denizen of hell; a natural feeling of jealousy which is far more human and often the case in many such circumstances is not enough!(Spoiler Alert)  No! We have to endow him with all the seven deadly sins – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony!! One is not enough to paint him black, let’s do it in seven different layers! Could there be a blacker character? And what is the plot – superfluous sex and violence. Complete sensationalism and nothing more. That too sensationalism of the worst kind! The book seems to be written because I think the author just wanted to write a book! There is no other reason for it. The characters are unreal, there is no plot and if there is something called a flat storyline, then this must 10 feet under and still digging!

This I know has to be one of my most caustic reviews and I know I am in no place to judge anyone’s talent, especially considering that Ms. Royal has published this and several more works, while I struggle to still find a foothold; however as a reader I can say that it’s a shame that such promise was laid to waste.

I need to quickly read a Susana Gregory or a CJ Sansome to restore my equilibrium and faith in the genre of medieval mysteries!!!

P.S. I will review The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas for the next post, considering this vitriolic was long enough!

Onwards Towards Backwards Glory…..

It was one lazy sunny vacation afternoon when I searching the World Wide Web for some potential additions to my TBR pile. I am aware that my TBR pile does not need any more additions, but that’s the whole point – the never-ending list makes us all feel so good; so much to read and so little time and all that! Somehow or the other at some indefinite point of time trawling from one bookish blog to another and clicking through some historical and some fiction and some historical fiction sites, I tumbled on to this – Historical Tapestry!! It a blogging site about historical fiction and till yesterday, I had no idea it existed! From the pages and lists, I can see the site is popular and it talks so many lovely and innumerable nuances of historical fiction and I had no idea the site existed – some historical fiction fan I turned out to be! Jeez!

One however cannot continue crying over spilt milk and an error like this needs immediate correction; so I subscribe now to the blog and to complete my devotions to all things holy in the genre of historical fiction, I participate in the 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! Woohoo and drum roll please!

The rules of Challenge are pretty simple (Or so I thought; the concept of look before you leap alien me!) – (I quote verbatim from the blog)
• Everyone can participate, even those who don’t have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
• Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)
• Any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,…)
• During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:
– 20th century reader – 2 books
– Victorian reader – 5 books
– Renaissance Reader – 10 books
– Medieval – 15 books
– Ancient History – 25 books
– Prehistoric – 50+

So I who never settle for anything mediocre should have straightway signed up for the Prehistoric levels; but I have learnt from my Historical FictionNovember sojourn and I take due care – only so much! I instead sign up for the Medieval levels – 15 Historical Fiction books should be a cake walk (Or so I think!) If I end up reading more, well so much the better and if I do not, at least I will not fall into a complete looser category; though going over my 2013 reading list, seriously, 15 should be easy.

I do not stop here but sally forth with a potential reading list that includes some books I have been trying to get around to reading for some time and this challenge may be a good time as any to try to strike out some of these –
1. Katherine by Anya Seton
2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
3. War of Roses by Conn Iggulden
4. The Falcons of Montabard by Elizabeth Chadwick
5. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset
6. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife by Sigrid Undset
7. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross by Sigrid Undset
8. Sacrilege by S J Parris
9. Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal
10. The Devil’s Disciples: The Fourteenth Chronicle Of Matthew Bartholomew by Susana Gregory
11. A Maze of Murders by Paul Doherty
12. The Fallen Princess by Sarah Woodbury
13. Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson
14. Tales of Alhambra by Washington Irving
15. Affinity by Sarah Waters
16. Possessions by A.S. Byatt
17. The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell
18. The Great Stink by Clare Clark
19. Angelica by Arthur Phillips
20. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
21. The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas
22. The Book of Madness and Cure by Regina Melveny
23. The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden
24. The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden
25. The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden
26. The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden
27. The Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden
28. Penmarric by Susan Howatch
29. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
30. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I know I said 15, but having double the number of options is so much more fun; besides there will be some books which I will pick up and never finish and others that are not included in the list. Anyway as I sail forth, I wonder how I will fare at the end of 2014; for now I sail away with War of Roses by Conn Iggulden and Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal! Bon Voyage, I say!!