Feb 26, 2012

Ines, of my soul…

There is something about the way the Latin American writers write. Its like this – they want to tell a good story, with all elements in it. They want you to remember it well. They also want you to be aware of your surroundings. And they want you to do it all without putting down the book.

Of course, this applies to all the writers out there. But only a few can accomplish all this, and much more. Only some write stories that will stay with you forever. Only some can hold the power on your heart to not want to finish a book. Only some can weave poetry into prose and still tell a good story. And very few can actually make you stay in this world, and yet transport you into a different one, a magical one. And very very few can actually sketch down to the smallest detail, all the aspects of the world they create for you, and all in a few words.

Doubtlessly, Marquez is President of Great Story-Teller Country, and the Minister of Awesome Writers Guild, if there is one. Only he can tell a beautiful story, make it stay with you for every breath you take as long as you are reading it, and make it stay in a safe draw of your brain, the drawer you open when you want to float into a beautiful world, and get lost. But off late, as I am delightfully discovering each new author, I am also discovering the old ones, who are good enough to be in this country that Marquez rules. Well, Isabel Allende is one of those, I now confirm.

How many times have you pursed your lips as you read two protagonists have an argument in a book ? How many times did you feel like wielding a sword yourself and getting into the fight to save your favourite character in the book? How many times have you tried wiping off the drool from your lips as you read the making of a tasty dish in a book you are reading? How many times have you wept tears of joy or sorrow depending on what you are reading? How many times have you said out loud ‘Oh , no!’ or a jubilant ‘Yes’ as you read something good happening in the book? How many times did you read a complete book with same gusto knowing the climax and end of each of the characters much beforehand? And how many times have you been disappointed that the book you are reading has ended?


Well… Ines of my soul is one book which will take you through all these and much more. Its like you are making the journey with Pedro and Ines from Peru to Chile. Its like you are seeing them suffer in the desert. You feel like you are there when the captured are being executed. You feel like you are in Ines’ and Pedro’s bedroom as they are making love. You can literally feel the passion Ines feels for Pedro and the love she feels for Rodrigo. In short, its a trip to Ines’ world, the 1500s Chile, the trip you can never take if not for Allende.

All this while still maintaining a certain poetic lilt in the prose. While still moving the story at a steady pace, leaving you moments to re-read a certain paragraph or a page. And announcing beforehand what is going to happen to each of the characters, thereby challenging you if you have it in you to read forward, if you will go ahead and read it knowing fully well what will happen next. And you will be more than glad to lap it all up. And also tying up all the loose ends. All of them, down to the detail of the descendants of Balthazar, Ines’ dog.

I was on an exciting roller coaster ride as long as I was reading this book. I felt tired as I finished reading the war scenes, and was excited when Ines narrated her love stories. I voraciously wiki-ed all the characters of this book, and read it all.

This book deserves 5 out of 5 stars. For the story that will stay with you for your lifetime. For the free trip to old Chile. And for Ines, Pedro and Rodrigo.

Read this book if you want to go through these, and many more such emotions.
Read this book if you want to experience what the fabled South American writing is all about.
Read this book if you are remotely even interested in history, or love stories.
Read this if you are a passionate person yourself.

Actually, just please read this book, and come talk to me about it… I’ll even learn making empanadas by then! :-)

Feb 16, 2012

Of Lahiris and Namesakes…

Am tired of Lahiri, her same old premises, and similar characters. And I've begun to notice that her stories all have a depressing undertone, and are extremely verbose. Where other authors beautifully express the predicament, situation or scene in 5-10 beautiful magical sentences, Lahiri takes an entire page for them, and they are still not awesome.

I might not be worthy of a reviewer to give such a rating to one of the most famous woman authors from Indian origin, but I am beginning to wonder how and why her stories get popular?
All of them are based on a Bengali couple living in the US, and are struggling to keep their children still in touch with their Bong routes, and the kids are doing everything in their might to shrug away from them, their cultures and their parents. And at the end of every story, the off-spring eventually realizes his/her roots and gets back to them.
Its like Lahiri is reading from her own life and experiences and is not doing anything to take the reader to a different place or time. And when this tone is repeated in each and every one of her books, I read Namesake and two stories from Unaccustomed Earth, and am done with her. After reading Namesake, and an excerpt from one of her other stories, I still wanted to give her a chance and see if there is something , something at all that might appeal to me in her books, but no... none at all.

Namesake also wasn't a great book too, in hindsight. And that was the only movie based on a book that I thought to be better than the book, and certainly the entire credit goes to the actors of the movie, and not the plot or the storyline. So in short, am done with Jhumpa Lahiri. I will not read any of her books unless of course, she wins the Nobel Prize for literature.

But yeah, in spite of all this, I am in half a mind to put myself through Interpreter of Maladies , though I don’t want to, and only will to know what the book is all about.

Feb 11, 2012

New Home, and some Thanksgiving!

Yep, for me, Thanksgiving has come a little early. :-D There is a long list of people I have to thank for something big on this blog!

Did you notice the URL of my food blog – www.themealalgorithm.com?

Yes… I bought the domain – TheMealAlgorithm.com, mainly because I wanted to know how it feels to have your own domain, what with everyone having one of their own, and I having no clue on how to go about it. Well, for starters, it feels great. :-D Its been two days and I haven’t been able to get over it till now. :-)

There was some major confusion, cluelessness and mayhem before I actually bought the domain. I wasn’t sure how to start about it, and what to do and all. GoDaddy.com was recommended by everyone, but when I actually was about to buy the domain off it, there was some problem with the payment options, and I had to cancel my order.

Then I asked Nags of Edible Garden [which you should totally check out if you want to understand the nuances of food photography. Check out her blog for the tips. I did all my prop-shopping after reading how she uses her props] what she did for her domain. After talking to her and figuring out if I can host the domain on Azure, I went ahead and bought the domain from Google, which again was powered by GoDaddy.com, but the process was easier.

And then came the problem of the template. All the food bloggers’ templates I like are based on white, and I knew that was what I wanted too. But my non-existent HTML and web-designing skills didn’t let me pick and choose any template I wanted and could customize. After checking atleast ten different templates and trying them all on the blog and not liking any, I turned to Twitter. I asked for folks how they design their blog templates, and got plenty of help.

All of these guys helped me with template options, on how to customize the blog or a suggestion on how to go about getting a domain and I took the ones that applied the most to me.

Anita Menon
Mala Bhargava
Amit Agarwal
Saleem Pheku
Monika Manchanda
Shripal Gandhi

Thanks a lot, guys!

I went with Madhu’s suggestion of starting with a plain white template, and customizing it the way I wanted. And it worked great. Atleast I love my blog template, and feel comfortable coming here , to my own blog. :-)

Then came the header. I wanted a plain header, nothing fancy, but I wanted it to have a design which would imply what the blog is all about. Well, my creative abilities are again non-existed, and so I wanted to go with a simple flowchart, making something I am good at, but the husband thought of something better. Something which resembles me a lot more, and he customized it to suit this blog.

Yes, the code in the blog is his idea. He wrote it in the Visual Studio IDE, and I made the flow chart using Visio 2010. And I integrated them all using Microsoft Powerpoint 2010. And lo… the header was ready, and am in love with it!

Now that everything is ready and set, all I have to do is to get into that kitchen of mine and cook… :)

[Cross posted in my food blog – www.themealalgorithm.com too]

Feb 7, 2012

A Doll’s House - Review

What a beautiful play!
In just under 100 pages, the concept of marriage and sacrifice are dealt and boundaries of love, admiration, friendship and desperation are treaded upon.

Its a wonder that a play as good as this was written in the late 1800s, when being a woman meant something totally different from now. Yet again, this book proves that feminism, what it means to be a woman, what it is to have self-respect and not let anyone take you for granted have not changed in the past century, and women continue to face situations like how Nora has faced.

Just as the reader admires Torvald's love for Nora and the adorable names he calls her, and still wondering why it feels so saccharine to me, the sudden jolt of the letter is felt, and Nora's strong personality is opened up. I was literally praying that the play turns the way I want it to , in my mind, and doesn't make Nora into a weakling for love.

This book is a forever favourite, and I recommend every woman to read this, and make the men in their lives read this book.

Yes, Feminism in its theoretical meaning might be a a dated concept but it is as much required in the 21st century as it was in the 18th. And am glad it aligns to my philosophy of being a feminist - never let anyone take you for granted, and always respect yourself.

My review – 5 on 5 stars. An awesome book which I will refer to forever when I talk about feminism.

Feb 3, 2012

We weren’t lovers like that



It is better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all, they say. But those who have loved and lost will tell you a different story, and more often than not , it will be that its better to not love at all than to lose a loved one. Losing a loved one to death would probably be much easier in one angle. You at least know that they were yours in living. But losing a loved one due to circumstances and situations, well.. that could be painful. You know the other person is living, and is not yours, and you will be in a quagmire of 'what-ifs'. But then, if you ask me, I’d say the person rather be living somewhere than be mine and dead. He/She is at least alive, but that’s a purely personal opinion.

Aftab , the main protagonist of this book is an example of this. The pain a person goes through at having lost a loved one due to circumstances. Most of them created by himself because of his weak character. And as he is making the long train journey from Delhi to Haridwar, he is letting his mind do the inevitable, dreadful journey into the land of what-ifs. And dwells in it. Thinking about all the times he spent with his love, and wondering how she lived after him, poring into the smallest of the details and killing himself bit by bit in that process.

I have read great reviews about this book, by some of my friends on GoodReads, whose reviews on genres I read I highly trust, which is the reason why I picked up this book after the initial hesitation of reading an Indian author. The past few outings with Indian authors haven't been really pleasant, and I have been lamenting on the death of Indian literature in English, what with every writer trying to get his movie in the hit-list and thus sell it for a huge sum of money to one of the Bollywood production houses. I can blame Chetan Bhagat for this downfall of quality Indian English literature, its even easy because I hate him, his books and his writing. But then, lets face it, the talent is not really there. That's what I told myself.

Atleast till I read this book. I loved Navtej Sarna's style of writing. Really elaborate, flowery, beautiful and a yet a lot of room for imagination. It was a pleasure to read the chapters he wrote about Aftab mulling about his lost love, and recounting those beautiful days. It filled my heart with a wonderful flowery feeling, which does not happen often. And I loved it.
But then, that was about it. I am not a great fan of this book. A fan of the author, yes, but not the book, and it doesn't have anything to do with the author or the book or the plot itself.

I detest books which have weak characters as main protagonists, and that's just me. I know it takes people of all kinds to make a world, and so it is within the book world too. But for some reason, Aftab came across as really a loser. A helpless, pathetic, passive aggressive kinda person, who did nothing all his life but live per others' wishes. And I hate such characters.
But then again, it is a testimony to the good job the author did in portraying a regular person as a weakling and still retaining the flavour of a love story.

One thing is for sure, if you have loved, or lost a loved one, then you will love the particular chapters where Aftab is talking about his Ro. If you have not fallen in love yet, you will want to read this and imagine this is how you would feel if you were in love.

Pick up this book by all means if you love reading a nice romantic story.
Pick it up if you love to read a beautiful, flowery , free flowing elegy of someone's love.
Read this for the pure joy of reading. That's all.
Do not pick it up if you judge the book or the author by its characters, or if you are looking for a strong protagonist.

My Rating – 3.5 out of 5.
But I’ll make it a 4, purely for the joy of reading, and the two nights it sailed me through.

Feb 2, 2012

Inscrutable Americans

I was looking through some old blog posts in my other blogs, and saw what went through my head after I had finished reading this book. I don’t just have a review of this book, I also have an example of how I felt after I read it…
Here is one half of that blog post. The other half is all about how this is just a passable read etc, but this part is my favourite. Written 6 years ago, I LOLed again as I read this…
Dear Brother,
My respects to our Respectable Parents! I am doing fine here. And I am thinking that you are also doing fine there. Or is somebody fining you for what you are doing? Hahahaha... I am joking only of course. I am hoping you are not minding this.

Tell our parents that I am doing only prayers and office work and not doing anything that they asked me not to do. Also please inform Mother that I am feeling well and eating well too. I am not eating in any of the outside hotels because I am getting scared that the cooks there are not Brahmins. Dearest loving Mother asked me not to eat outside food as the cook will mix non-veg food in my khichdi and do dharma-bhrashtachar. I am hoping that you are also not doing the same thing. We are the proud descendants of this great caste system and so we should keep up high morality.
Also please inform dear Mother that I am putting lot of oil on my head before going to the office. I am also preparing breakfast and dinner for your dearest respectable Jijaji. I am taking good caring of him as Mother said that taking care of respectable patidev will take me to the heavens directly. After completing these 2 months of taking good caring of your jijaji, I am feeling that I am eligible to go to the heavens. I am not calling him with his name as dearest Mother asked me not to. I am daily praying to him also after my prayers to the Lords. And I am not reading anything bad or watching those bad channels on the TV where the woman will be wearing only two pieces of cloth. I am reading only the devotional books that Mother has asked me to read after I am coming from office and cooking for dear patidev and watching only the devotional channels where all the people wear just one coloured clothing.
Please tell these to respectable Mother and please ask her from my side if I do anything more to go to the heavens. I am also having a doubt if I should be doing prayers first to your jijaji (I am feeling shy to say his name also) and then to the Lords. I am getting this doubt because I am reading in one of those devotional books, it says that 'Patiye pratyaksha daivam'. But please do not mention this to Mother as she did not tell me to read this book as this book does not follow our dharma correctly. If she is knowing that I am reading other books, she will get angry on me and come here to pull my plait and hit me on my head. So please help me, my dear brother.
But dear brother, I will tell you something only if you will promising not to tell respectable Mother. I am falling sick yesterday and so absented office. I am just hoping that my lead there does not mind my absence. Of course, I am calling him and telling him about my incapability to attend office. But I am still thinking about what he will be thinking and all this thinking has made me more sick and my head is aching and aching yesterday.
Other than the ones I am writing above in this letter, I am having nothing more to tell you.
I am hoping that you are studying well and not doing any of the sins that are mentioned in the puranas. It is our responsibility to take care of this great dharma and keep up the respect of our parents. So please do not drink anything other than buttermilk in your college canteen. I am hearing these days that there is some drink called Coca-cola and Pepsi which is tasty, but I am not knowing and I am doubting if it is good taste or not. I am asking your jijaji to get me some of this drink and will taste it. After that, I am telling you if it is a good drink for growing students like you to drink. Till then, please do not mention this to our Father that I am planning to taste this drink. Dear Father does not like such things.

And please eat only bun in your college canteen. I am seeing many people eat bun-like eatables called burgers and pizzas in Hyderabad and in our office here. But I am not knowing how good it is for you. I will do the same as above and telling you if it is good for you.
Ok dear brother. I am hoping that you are taking care of yourself now.

Leaving you,
Your Dear Respectable Sister.