Saturday, November 26, 2011


(Image from

By the swish of big skirts,
lips too bright, too red,
They care not, or
so it would seem.

Menacing claps,
inducing fright
begging hands, 
like it was their right,

By the voices loud,
louder manners still
Shameless advances
and cheap thrills,

A man or a woman or a monster 
Not one name, or too many 
They care not, or
so it would seem.

Until on a bus,
a manface on a woman's seat,
Unsure in a world of his and hers
Sitting, apologetic, seared by 'normal' glances.

Underneath their brazen crust,
Their pleading eyes, sometimes, flicker,
Perhaps we see them not,
Perhaps they care.

Disclaimer: The image of Ardhanarishwara used along with this post is simply symbolic, and is meant as a reminder that the divine is in everyone.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Mysterious Dreams by Nandita Chakraborty Banerjji: Impressions

The title - The Mysterious Dreams - sounded interesting, and I had been waiting for the parcel to arrive from the Castle of Books. When it did, I excitedly tore the package open. But I could hardly mask my disappointment when I saw the cover of the book. Look at it! A specimen of bad design from a cheap design agency. As if the main image lifted off some stock photo site wasn't bad enough, the silly illustration of a man's fat face with an even fatter moustache on the water totally kills it. What was the graphic artist thinking? It's just sad, because a casual browser will never pick this book up, attracted by the cover. A pity, because the book has quite a bit to offer...

The author, Nandita Chakraborty Banerjji, has a LOT to say. The book is packed, from cover to cover, with  a lot of information woven, often unsuccessfully, into the plot. The plot itself is rather flimsy. It can easily be summarised in one line. Bengali girl meets hippie boy, they elope, they live together for a bit, he leaves her alone, and a sad end. More about it later.

The author does not lose even half an opportunity to share possibly everything she has learnt in this life. She talks about the America-Vietnam war, the Hippie movement, the state of Nuclear armament, popular music - from the Beatles to Bangla Baul, the uses of Hemp, Woodstock, Mardi Gras, drug abuse, Bengali culture, religion, cancer, ISKCON, tie-dye, terrorism, women's lib, consumerism, environment, Rabindra Sangeet...phew!

But I wasn't complaining because many of these ideas are very close to my heart, and the others, I've always wanted to know about - the Vietnam War and the Hippy movement, for example. Since my generation is historically so close to these events, I've grown up with these terms floating around in the media ever since I can remember. But I never really cared to go to Wikipedia and understand what it was that so many movies were made about or so many newspapers spoke about. Banerjji explains succinctly, though in the short, the relation between and the evolution of both these events that have shaped the present state of America, and consequently the rest of the world. The book is really a social commentary on the significant social, political and cultural changes that have taken place in the last half a century - both in the Western world and the Eastern.

Speaking of the Eastern world, the author makes many an accurate observations about the middle class society in Mumbai, Goa and Kolkata - places her protagonist, Shibani, goes to. Her notes, particularly about the Bengali way of life, its customs and belief systems were highly recognisable and even endearing to me. She also writes about life in the 60s and 70s in America whilst describing the life of the other protagonist, Chris, but their accuracy I can only guess at.

Coming back to the plot, we first meet the central character of Shibani as a teenager living in Mumbai with her parents. Aside from doing the normal teen things, Shibani lives with one constant nightmare. The nightmare is mentioned in the first few chapters and then the author seems to forget about it. By this time, Shibani has met an American hippie, Chris, who comes with a whole lot of issues, including mommy-daddy issues, drug issues, and peace issues. Chris has come to India looking for spiritual answers and following his romance with Shibani, they elope to Goa. After a few blissful years of living in, Chris leaves Shibani alone and returns to America. Shibani is stranded and after a few years of waiting for Chris decides to go back to her native place in Kolkata. The parallel lives of Chris and Shibani are rather aimless and drug-fuelled, signifying perhaps the way real hippies lived. With a rather sudden turn of events, we suddenly find that Chris has turned into an unwilling saint-terrorist having come back to India, and that Shibani has decided to go to America in search of Chris. When they do meet by chance at the Mumbai airport, both are so wasted they don't recognise each other. Then the said mysterious dream makes a reappearance to forcefully connect the dots before the story tragically ends. Why the author chose the title, The Mysterious Dreams still remains a mystery to me.

The book is quirky at best. Read it, if not for the sad-strange story, but for the many tidbits of information that you are not again likely to find all in one place.        


Castle of Books is the agency responsible for the author promotion for this book. 

Find them on FB too at Read more about the author on           


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma: Impressions

As much as I despise these preachy self-help books, I find myself reading one or the other every few months. Because it must have something in it for millions of people to like it, no? No, it isn't high literature. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari is management-lessons-in-the-guise-of-spirituality-for-dummies book. But I am not above learning.

I wanted to put this book away after about 20 pages, but this compulsion I've developed for writing book reviews kept me going. It wasn't fair to write off something without having read it all. So I did. And despite my initial derision, I found myself looking forward to my 20 minutes a day tryst with it.

Robin Sharma likes to spoon feed his reader. He simplifies things to the extent, you'd think he thinks his readers go to primary school. He spells everything out in such excruciating detail that at the end of every third paragraph you want to throw your hands up in the air and yell, I GETIT, OKAY? NOW GET ON WITH IT! Perhaps this follows from his habits as a motivational speaker, where the audience needs to be plonked in the head with loud and powerful but simple statements. But the written word is different.

That said, Sharma's style of writing is easy - something he has probably consciously worked at, to keep even the most casual reader from straying. The title is fancy. The plot, larger than life. A successful international lawyer giving it all up for soul searching in the Himalayas sounds like the greatest adventure of this new age. The content is okay too, though hardly original. The author talks about the same kind of spiritual ideas that have been done to death, including mediation, focus, time management, serving others, unity of mind, body, spirit, yada, yada, yada...

Sharma also writes about that concept made insanely popular by the book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne - the power of visualisation. It essentially means that a person should clearly visualise in his mind's eye what he wants from life. His persistent vision then compels the universe to fulfill his desires... or something like that. I realised why people are such suckers for this idea. It's like a quick fix to all their life's problems. It's like - So you are fat? Just imagine you are thin everyday and bingo! thin you will be, or rich or successful or whatever. Sure I believe in the idea. I understand the importance of a vision or a goal or call it what you may. And though these books also mention that you got to work towards achieving them, the work part is mentioned as a secondary thing. The act of envisioning is decked in gold and made to sound like some Alladin's lamp.

But there's nothing wrong with people lapping it up, like children do a fairytale. We all occasionally need the promise of some magic, don't we?    

Friday, November 18, 2011

India: What can it teach us? by F Max Müller: Impressions

Frankly, the only time I'd heard of Max Müller before I bought this book was with reference to one Max Müller Bhavan in Pune where German is supposedly taught. All I knew was that he was some hotshot Western thinker and that I ought to read him sometime. (Yes, scoff all you want. So what if I am learning about Müller after my hair has started greying?)

So while waiting for my bus one day, my eager eyes scanning the pile of old books at the raddiwala, I spotted a badly mildewed cover, peering out of which were the words 'India' and 'Müller'. I looked at its contents and spotted words like 'Vedas' and 'Hindus', and didn't have to think twice. I brought home this gem for 20 humble rupees, and unearthed the treasures within its pages in the next few days.

As Wikipedia told me later, Müller was one of the first and the best Orientologists in the last century, and has perhaps not had a rival yet. He is the editor of the stupendous 50-volume set of 'The Sacred Books of the East' (Yes, the set costs Rs 7600 on Flipkart. Sigh!), and only the tiniest glimpse of the ginormous extent of his learning can be seen in the book India: What can it teach us? The book is, in fact, a compilation of lectures the author had delivered to British students of the Indian Administrative Service when India was still under the colonial rule. What is entirely fascinating about this book for an Indian reader is the conviction with which Müller explains India to non-Indians. I don't think any of us could fight the case of our nation as well as this outsider.

But that's precisely why this book, like so many books on India by foreign authors, appeals to us. The foreign writer has the advantage of objectivity, and can sift facts from fiction. We are bred to revere our culture, and dare not question even the most absurd. In fact, we may not even notice the absurd, since they are so much a part of our consciousness. Through Müller's eyes, we see clearly the human angles of all that is sacred to us.  

India: What can it teach us? is divided into seven lectures with Müller gradually leading his skeptical students from mistrust to the beginnings of faith. Gently, yet with conviction, the author first dispels the myths associated with India in the minds of Englishmen, and slowly offers bauble after bauble of ancient Indian wisdom, infusing new perspectives. Citing one historical account after another, he refutes the common perception of Indians as a race of liars, among other things. He goes on to prove the worth of studying Sanskrit. As the mother of all Indo-European languages, knowing Sanskrit is the mandatory first step for any student of the history of language. Further, he points out that one understands not just the history of language through ancient Sanskrit literature, but the entire evolution of human thought. He helps establish the antiquity of the Vedas, by explaining the oral tradition. He speaks for the originality of the Vedic ideas as a natural progression of human thought, similar to all cultures of the world. He propounds some very rational theories about how our henotheistic system, our rituals, and our entire religion came about. He illustrates each of his points beautifully with Vedic verses or quotations from Western scholars, where the need arises. He presents in the most rational light, the mystique that India is to the Western eye.

And there is so much more for the Eastern eye. You'd be surprised at how much you don't know.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Keshava: Line drawings of my Lord

A series of 12 line drawings depicting Krishnaleela. I was inspired by the excellent Keshav Venkataraghavan, who works you can see on

1. The son of Yashoda

2. The slayer of Putana

3. The stealer of butter

4. The keeper of cows

5. The tamer of Kaliya

6. The dancer to cosmic music

7. The lifter of Govardhana

8. The lover of Radha

9. The killer of Kamsa

10. The lord of Satyabhama

11. The friend of Sudama

12. The charioteer of Arjuna

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm not twenty four... (I've been nineteen for five years) by Sachin Garg: Impressions

Three terrible draws from the Blogadda Book Review Program – in the order of bad, worse, and worst – but hope springs eternal. I keep telling myself the next book will be nice, and soldier through the not-so-nice ones that fall in my lot. The love of free books is dangerous. If it weren’t for keeping myself eligible in the Blogadda program, I would not have attempted to write this 500+ word review because I would not have read the whole book because I would have shut it at page 2 and exclaimed “What c**p!”

Sachin Garg’s ‘I’m not twenty four… (I’ve been nineteen for five years)’ has effortlessly topped my Worst Books Ever! list. No, it’s not the plot. The story was worth telling. But in Garg’s hands, it has managed to become one terrible tale. I feel bad using these adjectives, but I can think of no subtler words. The book is so bad, I felt like putting it away at the end of every page, heck, every line! It is unkind to say it, but I was sure the author turned publisher because even the most generous publisher wouldn’t touch it with a 6-foot long pole.

I don’t even know where to begin criticizing this book. There’s bad grammar, there’s bad editing, there’s storytelling with the vocabulary of a three year old… Wait, I know where to begin. I’ll start with the title.  Why the author chose this title or what it means is anyone’s guess. The closest it gets to the story is that the protagonist, Saumya Kapoor, is a 24-year-old. But yes, given the author’s writing skills, of lack thereof, Saumya is definitely made to sound like a shallow teen, with an IQ of perhaps 30. I feel bad for the poor girl, who trusted Garg to tell her extraordinary real life story.

And the tale is extraordinary, mind you. Saumya Kapoor, an MBA from Delhi lands up in the remote village of Toranagallu in Karnataka with a job in a big steel plant. Before she knows it, she has been inducted into the emotionally-taxing Safety Department, and is soon encountering men falling into vats of acid, body parts cutting loose in conveyer belts and people being thrown alive in blast furnaces. I give Garg full marks for the gore, mouthed by a girl.

Then there is romance – the juvenile kind. Saumya finds love in the Hugh Grant lookalike Bengali hippy Shubhrodeep Shyamchaudhary (I know, hyuk hyuk!), a mysterious guy with a maverick past. But soon Saumya discovers what a hero he is, secretly helping poor people gather little loans. How cute! But before Saumya can say Shubhrodeep Shyamchaudhary (although it takes quite a while to say it), the man has vanished following his Move On theory. The book is finished with the reader wondering whether Saumya is reunited with Shubhro, and that is perhaps the only intelligent thing about this book.

What I have learnt from this book (and my previous unlucky Blogadda picks)? Be wary of slim novels with red cover designs by new Indian authors. Very wary.

But do yourself a favour. Don’t read it.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


(Artwork by Bella Dos Santos from

I was seated alone
My thoughts asunder
The meadow, quiet
The waters, still
when that incessant dragonfly
of the green-gold wings,
bearing secret messages
and untold things
buzzed as if possessed.
It buzzed till I gave in,
till I let it sit,
till I let it sing.
It sang of the paths
that had led him here,
of loves and lives
and many a fear.
So I sat and I heard,
about gnomes and fairies,
till my head throbbed
with a hundred stories.
He sang some more
of my reluctant past,
about my childhood,
that had flown too fast,
Of forgotten kisses,
loves I still missed,
roads I had trodden,
that no longer exist,
More songs of passion,
lust and pain;
of emotions I'd grown to disdain,
Tunes of tears and laughter,
and tales of before and after.
He took lead, I flowed
wondrous streams we rowed
My limbs hung limp,
my heart a-skip
Consciousness drowning
phantom images
flying fast and thick.
Then the buzz was gone,
the shadows, long
the mist was swirling
in copious rings.
I awoke alone,
a curious sheen on my skin
that was perhaps
from a green-gold wing.

(Co-written with Anish Nelson - @nelsonnium)

Hit me baby...

Bringing up a baby is hard work, but that shouldn't stop you from laughing about it. Here are 10 things I learnt as a new mother

More than googoogaga: A lot of things change after motherhood, but most of all your perception of babies. No, babies are no rose-cheeked, gurgling angels that make your heart go all warm and fuzzy. Babies are hungry monsters who threaten to bring down the roof with their wailing if you don’t keep them well-fed, fell-slept, fell-changed, well-burped… ah well, you get the picture.

Welcome to zombieland! Since there will be no time to apply any mascara, you might as well embrace those deep dark circles, which will probably remain on your face till your baby learns to sleep through the night. If you are lucky, you can start living and working like a normal person in about 6 months’ time. But if you’re like me, you’ll be bumping into people and furniture throughout the day, even after two years.

The great booby trap: Every paediatrician worth his MD proclaims the benefits of breastfeeding, but it can be a tricky, messy business. So you soldier through hard, swollen, leaky, painful boobs and pray that each time some obscure uncle from the distant tendrils of your family tree comes visiting the new addition, you are not in a state of undress.  

Have crutch, will use: Perhaps not all women are lucky enough to have a pair of fit-enough-to-care-for-your-baby in-laws or parents, but those that do will probably give their right arms in return. I know I will. A support system is invaluable when bringing up a child, and if you must use it at the cost of your vanity, you should. Trust me; some help is better than no help.

No time to rend, no time to sew: A new baby can do wonders for your relationship with your partner. No, really. You can’t ask a grumpy husband for help, so you stop fighting with him over trivial matters. Because hey, eating the humble pie is better than having to do all baby duties alone, innit?

Like a virgin: Okay, but a new baby can do not-such-wondrous things for your relationship too. For example, if you, like me, have your baby sleep between you and your partner in the tiny bed of the tinier one bedroom matchbox of a house in Mumbai, you better get used to living like a virgin. ’Nuff said!

Public property: From the time you get pregnant, you become public property. Any Tom, Dick, Harry and their girlfriends, wives, mothers and sisters will deem it fit to lecture you on good parenting. Smile and ignore, I say. Like every mother, you will want and do only the best for your child. You will make mistakes, but that does not make you a bad mother. There is no such thing as a bad mother, and let no one tell you otherwise.

I’m an emotional rollercoaster, baby! I’m telling you those postpartum blues are bluer than any blue you ever saw. I don’t know about other women, but I’ve swung fast and easy between murderous and maternal, suicidal and soft, lambasting and loving in those first months. I’m surprised I wasn’t thrown into an asylum. Well, it would seem you can hide behind your hormones.

Live life XL size: It took a lot of will, but I finally accepted that I had neither the genes nor the personal trainer of Miranda Kerr and that those tiny-waisted jeans would never fit. I clung on to my pair of skinnies for a while, hoping that one day I’d wake up and the mommy tummy would be gone, but my body would have none of it. The skinny jeans were finally martyred to the cause of house-mopping.

Unto the kingdom of auntyhood: No amount of fashion and make up is going to spare you this one. Once you have a kid on your hip, you are aunty to the world. If being called yummy mummy is any consolation, sometimes you may have that. But to the aam Indian junta, aunty you are and will be.  

This article appeared in the tabloid The Afternoon on November 10, 2011, in the Women's World section and can be read on page 19 of the e-paper on this link: 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Firebreaths and friendships

(Image source:

The swords in her belt sat tight, but her heart had not agreed,
That was not the day to fight; might ought not always be right.  
She was to slay some dragons, she trained them instead.
They jumped through hoops in little carousel circles around her head, 
they made her joyful, they made her dizzy.
Sometimes the dragons snuggled up in bed too; 
she learnt to live with the fire-holes in her duvet.
She learnt to live with stares of suspicion too,
People and dragons are not usually friends - 
But all that mattered were her hoop-jumping, loopy dragons
who kept her dizzy with joy.
Dragon slayer turned dragon lover - 
her hearth was bright, her heart was warm. 
In firebreath she found love; unspeaking, but telling.
The story of their friendship spread - 
like wildfire, nay dragonfire!
And then the dragons just like that went away, 
in search of another slayer, a new battle, another lover to make.

Co-written with @A5ma - Asma Kazi

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder: Impressions

I had no inkling of the bestselling status of this book when my husband gifted it to me. I was even a tad disappointed on reading the title. 'Sophie's World' sounded decidedly like a teen novel, and I wondered at his choice of present. When I asked him what the book was about, he just said it was a very famous novel. I shrugged and left it lying for a while, unaware of the treasures that lay within. I picked it up after some 'to-be read' books were done with, and only when I read the preface did I realise that this book was really a short history of philosophy. Inwardly, I smiled a huge smile; my husband wasn't really as ignorant of my taste in books as he made out to be.

This was my Jostein Gaarder first, but it was easy to see within a few pages why it had become an international bestseller. Not just an exceptionally lucid work on the history of philosophy, 'Sophie's World' is also a gripping fairy tale, with a plot that might remind you of Inception. The author begins with describing a day in the life of Sophie Amundsen, a 14-year-old Norwegian, and a typical teenager. But the course of her normal life changes forever, when one day she receives three mysterious envelopes in her mailbox, posing some primary philosophical questions. From then on, a secretive teacher starts her out on a philosophy course, mailing her the course notes.

Before Sophie knows what is happening, lessons on ancient Greek philosophers have started arriving at her door. Her days begin to be occupied with the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others, even as her bewildered mother wonders about Sophie's eccentric behaviour. The mystery deepens with Sohpie receiving mysterious birthday postcards addressed to one Hilde Moller Knag, another Norwegian girl who is exactly her age and even shares her birthday!

Sophie's philosophy teacher, Alberto Knox, soon meets her in person and they continue with their philosophy lessons on the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque period, even as the strange postcards - all wishing Hilde a happy 15th birthday - continue to make appearances at the weirdest places. Sophie begins to wonder about Hilde - is she for real or a dream?

And just as the reader begins to assimilate all these strange ideas, Mr. Gaarder, like a true philosopher, flips the book upside down. Suddenly, the reader finds that no longer is Sophie reading about Hilde, but Hilde is reading about Sophie! The philosophy lessons on Descartes, Spinoza, Locke and Hume stand on firm ground, but the plot sways dizzily, and the reader needs to align and realign himself constantly to the changing realities. Sophie and Alberto are now characters of a book written for Hilde by her father, Albert Knag. We can no longer be sure who is part of whose imagination. Like any good philosophy lesson is wont to do, it poses existential questions to the characters as it does to the reader. Who we are? Where do we come from? Where are we headed? Are our realities, dreams or our dreams, realities? Are we masters of our destiny or mere puppets in the hands of a creator?

Philosophy lessons from the eras of Enlightenment, Renaissance, Romanticism and right through the present day continue in the book with their characteristic clarity, along with the highly fantastic central plot, interjected now and then with characters from fairy tales and mythology like Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Little Red Riding Hood and even Adam and Eve! The line between fact and fiction often blend, illustrating wonderfully to the reader the uncertainty of the world we live in. What holds true now may have once been false, and many beliefs of yore have now been proven untrue.

The greatest merit of the book is illustration - something that is sorely lacking in textbooks of philosophy. Through Sophie and Alberto's dialogues, the author beautifully demonstrates the philosophic points he preaches. The language is refreshingly clear, unlike those dense tomes an academic student of philosophy has to deal with. Jostein Gaarder delivers precisely what he promises - a book on the history of philosophy for young people. Having chosen a teen (rather two) as his protagonist(s), he has been able to speak simply of matters exalted. Combining it with a rather ingenious plot, he has won the complete attention and understanding of the reader. Yet another wonderful device used by the author is that of repetition. He never loses the opportunity to give the reader a quick recap of the previous philosophies, knowing well that there is way too much knowledge he has pressed between the pages, and that it is difficult to remember.

The plot culminates beautifully, if a little improbably. But one can expect no less from a book as ambitious as this. I'd even go so far as to say that this book should be made an introductory textbook for the student of philosophy. There is so much more to say, but I'd rather you discover them yourself - the answers, and more importantly, the questions.        


Friday, November 04, 2011

The Flood

(Image source:

So say, oh stranger, why you come to my door?
The flood has had its way with me, I have no more.

I swim to you thirsty, I swim to your skin,
I wade through time, to be born again within.

I am bare inside, as I am out, perchance the water washed my soul away,
Will my heart love again? I doubt; O how I doubt.

I inch my way up the curves and the dips, tears in my voice quiver in your lips,
In silence I hear your dreams - they shout, 'Come to my fire and then put it out!'

Oh, traitor dreams, how you show yourself! she thinks and she smiles,
Says,'But you think all wrong!' she lies, she denies.

Unheeding, he unclaps her binds; his sinews ache, her body finds
wet love in the longings of her sigh; 'I want to reach out, to taste you and die.'

She sweats and she cries, she lets her passions flow,
Her coy breaks - like the village dam (not so long ago)

And it floods again, sweeping him away, engulfed in her lust, he pants, he tries
...And in the vortex of time and love, she feels joy and blessings from above.

Next morning sees the sun again, but he is gone long,
but in her heart there is new love, in her heart, a new song.

Co-written with @bangdu