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Once Upon 7 Years Ago Time…..

Many many moons ago, when the world was still young and so was I, circa. 2012, in a fit of absolute outrage at abundance of everything red and white and fluffy, I took to writing a blog post sharing my disdain at the circus called 14th February, and Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices was born! It seems like yesterday, that I tentatively started figuring out what I should write about, feeling conscious when I began following some of your blogs and commenting on your posts and constantly wondering if I can really do this long term. Ah! well!

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This blog was supposed to encourage me to write and develop a more polished way of communicating through words, which in turn would help me pen my novels, essays and many other literary adventures! I have really not done much in that respect; I have gotten the one odd short story published in some journal or other, but beyond that, while I have sought publishers, nothing has really come of it! But then I have gained so much more, especially in terms of things that are so intangible but so very valuable. I have made friends, across the world, who are so much part of my life without having ever met them in person. Through all my lows and personal challenges, this blog has given me an outlet to share my grief and helped me heal. I have shared and celebrated my triumphs and all my travels, making those moments even more memorable! I have had the extreme good fortune of talking to authors and sharing and exchanging ideas with them about their works, opening my mind to whole new way of thinking! And then, I have read – I have read books, I never would read, I have read works which I never knew existed and I have had the courage to reach out and read those genres which I was sure I will never like, completely thanks to the bookish family that I have developed via this blog over the years!

There is so much for me to be grateful for; this blog which now is an essential part of who I am, is more than just a literary outlet – it is that key part of my life, whose absence  is sorely felt and which is an inherent fabric of my existence. Like every other valuable part of our life, I have not always been consistent to this blog, often sacrificing a post, at the alter of a “more pressing” needs, always to realize later, that the sacrifice was truly not worth it and the “more pressing” need could have been accommodated along with a blog post! But such is life, and despite my carelessness, I cannot help but acknowledge the inevitable,we made it to 7 years now and I think I can safely say, I am here for some more time, to put it mildly! Thank You to all my wonderful readers and friends, who have shared this journey, which has enriched me, empowered me, evolved me and made everything so much better! Cheers to all of us!

An Act

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

It was a wonderful balmy monsoon laden evening in this city of South Asia; the capital city of this delta ridden region, the most prosperous city of this debt ridden country. It was Friday and Faraaz looked into his mother’s room before leaving to meet his friends! “Ami, I am going! I will be back in couple of hours!” Faraaz’s mother, an extremely attractive and elegant 48 year old lady turned and smiled and said “Be home on time. You know we leave early tomorrow to meet your aunt and her family. They never see you unless you come home from your University!” Faraaz smiled and nodded and ran out to the driveway, where his car was parked – a gift from his father on graduating with honors and then getting through to Business school at _____ University, Georgia US. In 10 mins, he had reached the cafe, the ‘in place’ of the city, “the place” for some delectable croissants, crème brûlée tart and coffee. He got a corner seat and waited for his friends to join him. One was his classmate from the University and she was bringing another friend, who was planning to go to the same B-School and wanted advise on the how tos. It was already 7:30 in the evening and the Cafe was filling up real quick. Faraaz hoped his friends would come soon before someone came to borrow the empty chairs at his table, as the weekend crowd of various age, nationality and background started filling in. Just has he had been served coffee; Abinta came in with a younger girl. She spotted Faraaz and headed for his table. “Sorry we are late. My fault really…I wanted to pick some muslin for Ma back in US and I just lost track of time. Poor Tarushi was waiting outside her house for more me for an hour. But you know me and fabric” said Abinta rolling her eyes. Faraaz laughed and said ‘Oh! Yes! Why do you think I gallantly declined accompanying you to the bazaar? God! You are crazy!”  Turning to the girl who was called Tarushi, he said “Hi …I am Faraaz and you must be the one dying to get through to B-School.” Tarushi smiled and replied “Dying is the word! I am the only girl in the family to make it to a college in US and now B-School is the next thing on the agenda. After all I am a Jain, you know the business community of India and commerce is in my blood, so B-School for sure and Abinta tells me you are the guy to tell me all the ref. needed and the SOPs and the code to cracking it all.” Faraaz laughed and decried any especial genius but offered to help in any way he could and was about start questioning Tarushi on her grades and plans when Abinta interrupted them saying that they could first order as she was starving and then launch themselves into the geek world. It was while deciding on what to order, they heard a hustle and crash and were suddenly surrounded by deafening voices of “Allah ho Akbar!” Thinking this as some kind of joke, the three young people turned around to see themselves and the other cafe patrons surrounded by atleast a half dozen men carrying arms. Cold fear ran through them, as they realized that this was not a joke but a reality. One of the armed men started talking and it was some time before all 3 grasped what was being said – they had been taken hostage and the purpose of this armed group was to demand release of their leader who had been arrested by the government and the establishment of true religion. One by one, they started going round the room and deciding and declaring who should stay and who should leave, who could recite the holy book and who could not. They came to Faraaz and asked for identification for all three, which they handed over. After looking at their papers, one of the armed men, turned to Faraaz and said, “You can go. You are our countryman and a man of the religion.”  Faraaz turned to the two girls and then back at the armed man and asked “Will my friends go as well?” The armed man looked at the two girls and said “No! They are unbelievers and not of the country. They will stay“. Faraaz then looked into the man’s eye and said “Then I will stay!

Through the night the army and police force played a hide and seek of bullets and negotiations with the armed men. Finally after more than 16 hours of intense conflict, the army was able to break in – 13 hostages were rescued, one of the militant was captured alive and 28 people killed ; 6 militants, 2 police officers and 20 civilians were the price of this religious fanaticism. Among the twenty killed were Faraaz Ayaaz Hossai, Bangladeshi and a Muslim, Abinta Kabir, an Indian origin – American and Tarushi Jain and Indian Hindu-Jain.

This is a not a piece of fiction, though I have wondered about Faraaz had said before he left for the cafe and what plans the three were making that fatal evening of July 1 at Holey Artisan Bakery, Gulshan, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Faraaz, in your brave act in refusing to abandon your friends, you defeated those bigoted morons and showed what religion truly is!

#Dhaka

For more information –

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/asia/bangladesh-hostage-standoff.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/dhaka-bangladesh-restaurant-attack-hostages

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!!

From a Different Heaven….

I  had heard a lot about Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones”. My sister was highly appreciative of it and it figured as a must read in many literary listings. Usually I am kind of slow on the uptake of new releases and I take practically a decade to find out that a particular book was “in”, about 10 years back. Yes! I kind of live in intellectual Stone Age! Besides a book that’s rated so high by all is many time such disappointments, that I am always hesitant to pick up anything cried up by one and all as “brilliant”.

Therefore with absolutely no expectation, but with a strongest sense of curiosity, I started reading “The Lovely Bones”. The narrative in itself very unique; starting in 1973, the story is told by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who speaks from heaven, after she has been brutally raped and then murdered by her neighbor Mr. Harvey. From heaven she watches as her family tries to cope with first the unexpected disappearance of their eldest daughter, until the police confirm her death, despite not being able to find a body. She sees her family hoping that the police, and especially Detective Len Fenerman, try to find the murderer. She tells us how they had mistakenly tried to implicate Ray Singh of her murder, the boy who she liked and who liked her back, until he provides an iron cast alibi of attending a youth conference where there 6000 witness who saw him give a speech. She watches as her family starts falling apart, her Lindsey left to cope in school as the girl whose sister was murdered and her father who becomes obsessed with the firm notion that his neighbor, Mr. Harvey had something to do with his daughter’s death. Her story follows the high and lows of Jack and Abigail Salmon, the growing up of Lindsey and Buckley and their efforts to find, retribution, peace, sanity and comfort, either individually or as a family to get a closure on the events that affected and changed the very design of their lives. She also lookout for Ray Singh, her first and only love, seeing him cope with her loss and then the false accusation, until he discovers a strength to be on his own with support of friends like Ruth Conners, a misfit, whom Susie’s spirit touches as she leaves earth and who like Ray, find their own unique comfort zone.

It is a beautiful book. Not to say it does not have flaws – there are places when the plot kind of drags and then suddenly it picks up steam. There are parts which kind of seem very far-fetched and borderline hocus-pocus like when Susie returns to take over Ruth’s body temporarily. However over the entire book is marvelous. The characters are all very well drawn and their actions more than descriptions draw you out and while, you may not understand all of their feelings, you cannot help feeling empathetic for them. My favorite naturally was Jack Salmon and Lindsey Salmon – in both Ms. Sebold had created two strong characters that like all human being fail at times, but have the great capacity to rise and live not only for themselves but also for the ones they love. Lindsey especially comes across as one bold, sassy and wonderfully heartwarming creature. The supporting cast is equally good – you love the falsely implicated Ray Singh, with his sensitivity and brilliance; his lovely and fiercely protective mother, Ruth, the haunted girl who tries to understand the voice of Susie and Mr. Harvey! In a clear departure from the usual narratives, Ms. Sebold manages to show a humane side of a rapist/murderer. She brilliantly manages to show his past that shaped his character without excusing his actions or even forgiving them. This fine balance is one of best feats in such genre as this book and rarely have I ever read a book where a character like Mr. Harvey is left without being too white or black or too grey – he is shown as what he is – a rapist and a murder who had a difficult and tumultuous childhood. This is stroke of genius. The plot is engaging and keeps you hooked, and you cannot rest in peace until you have read the end. There are some wonderfully picturesque description of Pennsylvania and later California. I really like the imagined heaven of the author – a heaven which is unique to each, filled with everything one desires expect the presence of the loved ones, still residing on earth!! It a vivid, life-like, delightful and believable place without the traditional and oft-repeated idea of a place with angels and their wings and golden harps and all of that!! Ms. Sebold, beautifully captures the loneliness and the sense of isolation that attends to each family member after such an event. She captures how as humans we try to cope in our unique way, failing, falling, running, until we find our closures, our peace.

It is without doubt, one of the most beautifully written books!!!

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