Sunday, August 30, 2009

Note of Thanks

When something good comes our way, my parents taught me to thank God. Of course, when I got two awards from Chitra, the first thing I did is to thank the lord of my choice, Baba, for symbolizing all that is good, inspiring and blessed in my life.

My thanks to Chitra for bestowing two awards for my blog. I can't express how thrilled I am but I can definitely express my thanks with this poem. She's got an amazing blog that you've got to visit. Its http://manchitra.wordpress.com/

I am going to thank her by quoting my favorite poem 'I Shot an Arrow into the Air' by H.W. Longfellow with a thank you note to all of you who read or follow my blog.

I shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For, so swiftly it flew, the sight Could not follow it in its flight. I breathed a song into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For who has sight so keen and strong, That it can follow the flight of song? Long, long afterward, in an oak I found the arrow, still unbroke; And the song, from beginning to end, I found again in the heart of a friend.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Do You Want some Toffees?

This squiggly looking wrapper is a toffee - a rich, yummy treasure that would put chocolate brands like Perk, Munch and KitKat to shame.





My colleague and friend, Palash (my son calls him Polaash) got this from his hometown in Dehradun. The shop that sells it is over fifty years old. Its popularity, I can easily guess.

I tasted this toffee and went straight to heaven (minus the calories, please)

Well, as Palash and Adi are great friends, Adi got a better deal than I did. He got 4 toffees! Now, of course, that's called discrimination but I forgive Palash for it:)

I had to content myself with the colorful, red wrapper that Adi gave me as a memento of sorts while he enjoyed the real thing, the toffee.

Happy Onam 2009

The 2009 Onam is on 2nd September. For those of us who love the Kerala Sadhya, it is an experience to revisit again and again. The traditional feast is delicious, colorful and so filling. To bring back memories of Onam and peek into the fun filled days of childhood, you've got to read this post on Onam by Life at Abhi.

From the very depths of my heart, I wish you all a very happy, golden Onam.

To my dear Malayali folks, entey hridayam niranja pon onam ashamsakal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Learning to Honor Death without Feeling Lost

This weekend, I read a book that dealt with death, a fact of life that has always fascinated me because it is more real than life, like the darkest colors that haunt the night just before the beginning of dawn. Have you not ever felt that way on losing some one you've loved? The feeling of never ever being able to see or touch that person, that can be so heartbreaking even if you've got tons of memories stocked away in your mind.

When I was a kid, I remember a wonderful, picture perfect Christian family I'd known. They were family friends. Extremely rich, well spoken, happy and wonderful to be with, their story is something I never forget because its the first time, as a child, I sensed and witnessed the power of death.

The mother, a wonderful human being, died in a tragic car accident. Their two daughters were just beginning their teens. They were two beautiful girls. No body knew what happened to them. Their mother's death destroyed them. I remember hearing the younger one scream after her mother's coffin was lowered, she cried out, "Please let me see my mother's face. I want to kiss her because I can never kiss her again." I remember crying when I heard that though I do not know then what death means or does to those who've lost a loved one.

The two girls were greatly loved and cared for by every one but they charted out a destiny for themselves that no body could change for them. They began to smoke, drink, get into relationships off and on nearly every guy around and had public brawls where they fought over the guys they both wanted to be involved with. What strikes me as sad is that the two girls were not even eighteen at that time.

I was much younger but I remember hearing people say, "This is what happens to children if they don't have a mother."

Whenever I think of anything related to death, somehow, their memory comes back to me.

That brings me back to the novel I read. Its called "Firefly Beach" by Luanne Rice. It involves three very different sisters who suffer the sins of their father's philanderings and mother's mental breakdown. Their father, who had been a womaniser, wanted his daughters to be as strong as 'men' so he would take them hunting in the woods and teach them to use the gun, without realizing that they hated hunting down animals.

One day, one of his daughters kills an innocent man by mistake when hunting in the woods. That death haunts her and she never forgives herself or her father for making her a murderess. She drinks, squanders away her life and feels like a murderess in her heart because she can never forget the face of the young man whom she killed.

Of course, the girls move on in life, try to find happiness despite the lack of stable relationships with men and they learn the really important things in life. As a writer, I loved the way Luanne Rice relates how their father's death and the way he had lived with them affects their whole life in different ways. It still doesn't seem fair, even after many years, that they resent him for teaching them to be stronger than men and to hunt down innocent prey.

Still, the author, Luanne Rice, indicates in subtle ways that the void their father left behind never went away because despite all his flaws, he was one of a kind.

As I read the book, I was reminded of the two sisters whose mother had passed away. Yet as the years have passed, I believe that coming to terms with the death of a loved one is more difficult than we imagine. Human interactions are so closely woven with emotions that it becomes a challenge to accept the life of a loved one is over and that it is time to let go forever of what was.

In that context, I've got to mention my dad because he has always set a solid, remarkable foundation for me. He always says that life and death are two sides of the same coin and our role is to cherish what we have and let it go without remorse when its time to do that. In all my thoughts and actions, my dad remains my inspiration. His advice enables me to make good, growth oriented decisions for myself. I can't think of a better way for a parent to bring up a kid so that the right values are in place and we are able to live our lives for the better, without hurting, manipulating or being selfish to others.

Some legacies, if they are invaluable enough, live on. I think that's what we need to honor our loved ones with, and not sink into depths which we may not be able to come out of.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paradise House - A Lousy Book Review

Have you ever wanted to:

  • search for your future by running a Bed and Breakfast country hotel of your own?
  • heal yourself from a dyslexic past and a broken heart by taking on responsibilities of two sisters, one who shirks all responsibilities (Nattie) and the other who dreams and sings all day (Polly)
  • get out of the rut called routine and do something drastically different with your life other than run a country hotel?
  • run away from being the shoulder that everyone cries on?
Welcome to Erica James' idyllic setting in "Paradise House", a novel that showcases three sisters with remarkably distinct characters, whose father is a kind, compassionate man and thinks only of bringing happiness to his family, even when his dreamy wife leaves him to 'take a break' for a year or two in New Zealand. There are times you may wonder if a man can be so complacent about the troubles in his family.

To be honest, most characters in the novel except the bratty, saucy Nattie, are so complacent, boring and laid back that I struggled to force myself to read the book. The first few chapters of this book were awful. I think I was drugged when I forced myself to read through those chapters. It looked like an amateurish draft, describing Genevieve's sad life, surroundings, friends, family, and a broken love affair. All information is doled out like you would read in a textbook. There is no feeling or powerful rendering that could have made it so much more meaningful and interesting to a reader. A lot of characters in the book were truly unnecessary because a reader like me had no clue who's important and who's not.

Lily Rose, a four year old girl, and Gran, the outspoken grandmother breathe life into this otherwise predictable plot. The protagonists, Genevieve and Christian, are predictably boring. I don't know why an author would even create protagonists like that. At the same time, Adam, a supporting character who tries too hard to win over saucy Nattie, stands out impressively. He is rich, made fortunes out of dilapidated caravans and wears the wrong, garish printed ties with all his rich, classy suits. This is the character that made me want to read the boring book because I really wanted to know whether he gets the love of his life or he gets more than the unpredictable route the author seems to have decided for him.

I don't know what kind of books you like to read but I do know that this book is definitely not something you would consider as a pleasant, predictable beach read. It is just about three lovely women who struggle to find independence in their lives and follow a very predictable way of finding it in a village setting.

It's exactly the kind of book I usually avoid because its so typical, boring and lackluster. There is just nothing to look forward to or enjoy thoroughly. By the time I was half-way through, I was sleepy more than absorbed. Some of the characters are so lifeless that I wanted to cry for them and beg the author to give them more substance.

Perhaps, I am too ambitious as a reader. I expect a novel to grip my attention and interest from the first chapter itself. I expect the characters, big or small, to have life that means a lot to me, as a reader. I suppose an author's idea of portraying characters is different.

I also found the Erica James' writing style quite annoying at most times. There was simply no flow to the book. The reader had to somehow flow with the boring plot. What made this novel truly forgettable is that the author, in every sentence of this book, tells the reader what to think, whom to like, and so on with narrative descriptions and not let a reader draw his/her own conclusions.

Still, I've got to confess, I read on because I felt I should give this novel a fair chance. I hoped that somewhere the author would surprise the reader but unfortunately, that stroke of luck never happened. By the time I was finishing the book, I somehow wanted to throw up because it was so painful and pointless to read on. My thought was: How can an author kill the plot and the characters so passively?

So overall, I recommend that if you see this book, please read it at your own risk of total boredom. This is no romance worth spending your time on, this is no family saga that will grip you and by the end of it, you are likely to wonder how an author could kill the plot and characterisation with such amazing, consistent pace. Maybe, you can think of a few boring books that you struggled to read and how you felt about it.

Till then, Happy Reading.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What Freedom Are We Celebrating?

Tomorrow is India's Independence Day. Across India, there are celebrations, flag hoisting events, speeches and lots of things that are planned for the day. In Delhi, the focus is more about security. Delhi's most important areas, particularly the commercial centers, are cordoned off early. Big movies are releasing this weekend, global retailers are offering great discounts and deals to shoppers on Independence Day, elite restaurants are offering tricolor menus that are priced at the most outrageous prices and schools are shut as its also a Saturday. The borders are closed off early,too.

About six years ago, when I celebrated Independence Day in Delhi for the first time, I experienced a total culture shock. In Kerala, which is the State where I came from, its just another typical holiday to watch blockbuster movies, meet friends, go and do chores that you need to complete, that sort of thing, not much of a big deal about Independence day as such.

In Delhi, my first feeling was that, "Is it such a big deal?" My office area was cordoned off as it was right in the heart of the commercial hub. The security personnel looked pretty intimidating and I found myself trembling as I passed them and moved to walk on the nearly deserted roads. I found that most shops were shut. There were cops everywhere scanning the area. Later that evening, my hubby and I went to watch a movie only to find that midway, cops were searching all the seats, with dogs and the works. Needless to say, the mood was sombre and I can't remember whether we really saw the movie. And i wondered then as I do now, what freedom are we really celebrating?

Six years have flown by. Very little has changed about the way Independence Day is celebrated or 'cordoned' off in this country. There is very little to cheer if you look at the number of terrorist attacks that have targeted metros across India to such an extent that now, you say a prayer when you get on a plane and you duck with fear when you hear a balloon pop.

This Independence, I think I will say a prayer for my country and my people. I think we need that to survive till the next year, considering we really have only ourselves to turn back to in emergencies.

Perhaps this is a pessimistic view but I have dear friends in Jammu and Kashmir, and across the country, who pledge their lives to fight for the country as part of the defence forces. They tell me they get no justice if one of them dies. The government, the politicians and the law doesn't give a damn. What freedom can we celebrate when this is how we treat the brave men and women who keep us safe? I don't know how to feel optimistic now.

As a proud Indian, I feel angry that freedom has really taught nothing to us, or perhaps, we have refused to learn what it means. Today, when the security breaches around us are breaking way easily and innocent people are dying because some terrorists want to frighten us as they did by bombing the Taj in Nov'08, maybe its a good time to reflect and learn what history has failed to convince us. Sometimes, the path to real freedom lies with us, not with a government or those who lead it. It all starts and ends with the choices we make, we meaning, all of us.

The question is: Are we ready to learn?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Top Ten Food Blogs

My top 10 food blogs are listed below. The ranking is random so please don't think it is based on my preference. Truth is I don't believe in ranks at all.

  1. http://priyaeasyntastyrecipes.blogspot.com/
  2. http://kaipunyam.blogspot.com/
  3. http://faizaali.blogspot.com/2009/07/cheese-toast.html
  4. http://vishnucooks.blogspot.com/
  5. http://indianreceipes-rekha.blogspot.com/
  6. http://subhieskitchen.blogspot.com/
  7. http://sanghi-tastybites.blogspot.com/
  8. http://www.simplysindhirecipes.com/
  9. http://vazhayilaa.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html
  10. http://spicychilly.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bon Appetit @ Asia Kitchen, Noida

In Noida, we went for dinner to a really nice restaurant called Asia Kitchen. I always saw it on my way to office. A Sunday lunch with friends persuaded me to visit the place on a Friday night with my husband and son. It was so relaxing to be there. The guests were all dressed well and having a good time.

My son loves murg malai tikka (read:me too) and so he was fiddling with it when I took my camera and clicked. I love eating without these tools and instruments. I, like most South Indians, find it so difficult to savor food using such metallic tools. However, my son is very particular about eating with them and never likes to use his fingers. He finds it very unclean. I'm trying to convince him its not such a bad thing but he doesn't take my hints too seriously.

Anyway, here is a pic of Adi fiddling with the yummy tikka.



As you can see, we ordered more of it for ourselves:)



So next time you find 'Murg Malai Tikka' on your menu, remember to order them and enjoy them without the tools. Bon Appetit!

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India is my Country & my Pride