Book ends

July was such a good month of reading. In regaining some balance and finding stillness again, reading has seen me through what could have been an average month and made it pretty darn memorable.

It isn’t just about the books I’ve finished, but the act itself that has come to symbolise being able to sit at peace again. Finding my feet and feeling at home. Comfortable in the newness of my changed life that still surprises and overwhelms me.

Despite also working, going out and doing a lot of other stuff — and this is important for me because reading is that one thing that gets relegated to the back-burner when life gets busy — I managed to read a fair bit. A total of eleven books, seven of which you can read about in my posts: Books-shooks and In which I end up without a phone and Bangalore: a graphic novel. Moving on, I finished the month off with:

Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
You’ve likely come across Valenti’s work as a columnist with The Guardian, and I have also had her book Why Have Kids on my list of must-reads for so long now. But I picked Sex Object up on a whim. The book is a series of essays that are part memoir, based on her own life, and part commentary on the many issues we face as women — everyday sexism, abuse and sexual assault, emotional abuse, the many challenges of relationships and marriage for a strong and independent woman, amongst so many other topics that touch on her own personal journey from trauma and abuse to discovering empowerment. I’m pretty sure every woman will relate to many of her experiences because it dwells on issues we all face on a daily basis.

It is honest in a way that makes you uncomfortable — with graphic descriptions, unflinching stark truths not politely worded, raw retelling of her experiences — and for that it was a bit of a page turner. But. Yes, there’s a but. I found the narrative style a little scattered and rushed. Perhaps that was wholly intentional, but I found it staccato and with odd jumps and twists, which seemed like it was a bunch of essays haphazardly put together, without much thought given to organising them thematically or with some kind of overarching thread. I missed that something that would guide me from one essay to the next.

One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan (translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan)
What a read this was. Brilliantly told, and perhaps credit should go to the translator here, One Part Woman gripped me hard with it’s raw and unbridled, yet poignant and delicate story of a child-less couple who despite being in a loving, sexually satisfying and what seems like a super harmonious relationship, face a part of their marriage coming undone due to the constant scrutiny and humiliation at the hands of a society that taunts them for not having children.

It’s a tale from rural Tamil Nadu, filled wth vivid descriptions of customs, traditions, rituals and festivals, but the theme that runs through the central vein is not limited to rural India alone. Murugan cleverly uses the issue of being unable to produce children as a vehicle to traverse the many aspects of our culture’s attitude towards women, marriage, sex and ultimately, progeny.

Bangalore: A Graphic Novel: Every City is a Story, Jai Undurti
My only brush with graphic storytelling has been reading and later watching Persepolis. I’m not really big on graphic novels, or for that matter comics either. I don’t have stories of my childhood of being rapt in TinTin or Asterix comics. But I came across the Bangalore Graphic Novel, funnily, in a piece that criticised the choice of image for it’s cover. I went to the launch event at a sweet little book store on Church Street here in Bangalore, called Goobe Book Republic. I came home that night, book in hand, after having braved a storm, had more rum than I have in six months, topped with a mini mountain of rice in the Andhra meal, expecting fully to pass out immediately. But, the book kept me awake as I raced through almost all of it in a couple of hours.

I finished it the next day, mulling over something George Mathen said at the launch — he said (I’m paraphrasing) the digital/social format of platforms being used to share and disseminate the work of comics and illustrators is all very well, but it would e great to change our patterns of consuming this content. The graphic novel is apparently by nature a layered, multi-faceted art form. You’re meant to dig deeper, sink your teeth in and find something new every time you look at it. And so I hope to keep going back to this, and maybe other books in the genre.

The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion

After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Rosie Project — the first book in the series — expectations were high with this one. So of course in predictable fashion, those high expectations were dashed. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this one, I finished it in a couple of days in fact, but it was definitely missing the punch and humour of The Rosie Project. I wish I had deeper, complex reasons to explain why, but it’s just the usual boring, most predictable thing that tends to happen with sequels — they just don’t match up. In fact, with this one, I felt The Rosie Project didn’t need a sequel at all. Missable, you guys.

This weekend, I’m determined to finish a book I just started last night. Which means, the weekend is mostly going to be spent at home. Probably, in bed.

Same time, last year: Day 218: Stack overflow

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Bangalore: a graphic novel

I don’t know the first thing about graphic novels, but I feel like getting myself down to the launch of the Bangalore graphic novel, where I got to watch and listen to some of the good folk who contributed to it makes for a decent start into the genre.

The only artists I was already familiar with are Appupen and Prashant Miranda, because I’ve followed their work in some measure these past few years.

Also present were some of the younger contributors, for some of whom this was the first time being published in print. Their excitement was so relatable. I was particularly inspired by Ramya Ramakrishnan who spoke simply and cheerfully about her process and how the story came to be. When someone asked if she was open to freelancing, she ended with a little fist bump, proudly declaring “I’m a full-time freelancer!”
*Sigh*

It was my first time visiting Goobe Book Republic which is not as serious and officious as the book republic bit of he name makes it out to be. For a tiny, seemingly non descript hole in a basement on Church Street (that currently can only be accessed by crossing over a mini canyon) it has a whole lot of heart and good, good energy.

It helped that despite the god awful rain and feeling mildly marooned on Church Street (it had turned into a literal river) by the end of the evening I even got to eat the Andhra meal had my heart set on. And I came away with some choice book recommendations too.

A few weeks ago I complained to more than one person about how I feel there’s nothing to do in Bangslore except eat and drink. I’m slowly eating my words. For now. I have since joined a reading club, stumbled on this book launch (and actually made it to watch) I’m off to a cookbook club potluck lunch this afternoon. There are good intentions to watch a stand up act next week and take a weekend trip away some time in the next month too.

It’s tricky managing the balance between retaining and reclaiming time I want for myself and also making the effort to get out there and do some of the things I actually want to. It’s far easier to slip into hermit mode, specially once getting out in Bangalore has been quite overwhelming on more than one occasion. But for a select few things and with the right company, I hope to be able to push myself a little bit every time an event or performance or something catches my eye.

Back to the book — Bangalore, A Graphic Novel — it’s independently published, has a really good selection of contributors from Appupen and Prashant Miranda to Zac O’Yeah and several other comic book creators, illustrators and artists that I hadn’t heard of but am so happy to be introduced to.

It’s the second production by Every City is a Story, a city-centric story telling initiative. They already have a Hyderabad graphic novel out there and a Goa one in the works!

Same time, last year: Day 211: Interwebzy things

In which I end up without a phone

In an unexpected but rather welcome twist in the tale, I’ve been rendered phone-less for the last week. It began a good month or so ago with my battery acting up and surprising me with a dead phone at many an inopportune moment, despite being fully charged. This turned my phone into a landline, having to have it constantly plugged into the wall or a portable battery, which in turn meant I couldn’t have it on my person at all times. Which in turn meant less meddling. Less browsing. Less Instagram. Less whatsapp.

Less distractions, basically.

And then finally last Friday the phone died on me. I rushed to give it in for repair and have the battery replaced immediately, but just didn’t feel compelled to use a replacement phone that’s lying around at home. The repair fellows have been behaving like my phone is a convalescing patient, administering a battery of tests and procedures, keeping it under an endless period of observation, and telling me its “getting better, but not fully okay” *eyeroll* while I keep waiting.

It’s been an oddly satisfying week. And some things have been a sharp contrast to life in general. I’ve had to remember to keep cash on me at all times because no PayTM, shopped at the local vegetable vendor because no OTPs, taken autos (because no cab apps), made dates the old way (by connecting via phone and email and then having no room for flaking off or making last minute changes), and basically felt like a college student again — which was the last time I was totally phoneless.

I don’t know if I can attribute this to being phoneless, but I’ve been immensely productive, finishing up my work on time and meeting all my deadlines without last-minute-panic, this week. I’ve also slept better. I didn’t realise how many pockets of time empty out when you don’t have a phone to fill it — whether it’s mindlessly fidgeting with it, endlessly browsing through instagram on any commute, pulling it out to turn on and off the screen a gazillion times while waiting, or even just randomly browsing through it every chance I get.

You know how sometimes you only realise how deeply dependent you are on something when it’s gone?

I met A for lunch earlier this week, only to realise she’s in the same predicament. So with one dying phone between the two of us, and a lunch that we chattered right through, we left the restaurant and promptly got caught in a downpour with not a tree in sight to duck under. Finally, after getting sufficiently drenched, we slipped into the basement of an apartment building down the road where I waited for the rain to slow down before I hailed an auto rickshaw. I trundled home, my palazzos bundled up in my lap, as I perched at the edge of the seat, smack in the middle of the auto, guarding myself from puddles and splashing rainwater on either side.

It was really like a massive throwback in time to when I was in college and used to sometimes take a rickshaw for some par of the commute, especially when a typical Bangalore downpour would strike. On a normal day I’d probably have been staring into my phone, but I was instead forced to I watched the traffic whirl around me, the cacophony filling my ears, the smells and dank dampness settling on my skin, and the cool breeze that made my hair stand on end as I observed people, places and sights around. I was wet, cold, stuck in traffic and closing in on almost forty five minutes of being in that damned auto, and somehow it all felt very quaint and special.

Through the week (and longer), my kindle has been a loyal companion. And with all the emptied pockets of time, thanks to less distractions and actually finishing my work on time (without having to juggle spillovers) I’ve finished some more books.

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
I really, really wanted to like this book because the title pretty much sums up the largest preoccupation of my life the last few years. N had recommended it to me a long time ago, at a time when I was struggling to overcome the perfection syndrome. 

But it wasn’t until I saw this on Sprouted Kitchen’s Instagram stories, that I decided to buy the book.

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Because this right here, is exactly my state of mind for the last many years now. But the similarities ended there, going only so far as the title and the premise. In Shauna’s attempt to choose to be preset over perfect, I felt like she tends to shame every other choice that lies in the vast space in between both ends of the spectrum. My own journey on this path has been about getting closer to understanding what I want, why I want it, and accepting and loving where I’m coming for in every single situation. Sometimes that means choosing perfection in some areas – and I am okay with it if I am clear about the intention and the motivation for it. It’s only in the last six months that I feel like I am making some progress with really living what I think is a life that can be truly free of the mindless obsession to achieve, succeed, be rich, be perfect, be tidy, be womanly etc etc etc. Pretty early on, this difference began to grate at my nerves. That aside, there’s a lot of talk of spiritual guidance and mentorship, alluding to Shauna’s own practice as a Catholic, and how rediscovering God has helped her along this journey. Being a non believer, this was completely lost on me.

There are some nuggets of powerful wisdom in here, but it gets completely camouflaged in the Jesus talk, the seeming shaming of a variety of choices aside from perfection, and in just loading what I found to be very, very basic truths in unnecessary verbiage. I know there is a place for self-help, but maybe it’s not the right source for me. I felt this when I read Brene Brown too — that I could appreciate some parts, some excerpts, but not the package as a whole.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
OMG, this was such a fun, fun book. I am tempted to call it the Ove of my reading list this year. First, it’s almost-chick-lit written by a man, which I always find makes for interesting reading. Second, it’s put together very intelligently and the book absorbed me hook, line and sinker, with it’s blend of mystery, gently building unexpected romance and of course twists and turns. It’s clever, funny, delightfully touching in part, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feel-good flow of this very unexpected love story. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end of it. I’m late to the Rosie Project party, but if like me you have had it on your to-read list for a long, long time, go read it soon.

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
It’s an unlikely title for a book about writing, no? At least that’s what I thought, but there’s a bit in the book where she talks about where the name came to be, and it all made sense. As a guide to writing, this book comes highly recommended for aspiring writers. It’s part memoir, but mostly a literal guide to how to write — which Lamott beautifully describes as the pursuit of making sense of what’s going on. It has some really lovely parts that I could really relate to, it’s peppered with advice, some parts are straight-up technical and act as a rather precise guide on how to go about everything from developing plot to building characters to practicing writing. Some of the anecdotes, some of the emotions she shares, some of the events in her writing life were all too familiar and relatable. Some even moved me, some inspired me, some straight up made me chuckle out loud. A significant chunk of the book is directed at aspiring novelists, so I may have glossed over it, but most of the book is a funny, precise and helpful guide to what it takes to be a writer.

Same time, last year: Day 203: Rainy day feels

Books-shooks

My reading habit took a brutal beating in the chaos of the weeks between April and July. More than being busy and having my hands full with the move, I’ve been super preoccupied with just dealing with things and adjusting to life here, which took much longer than anticipated.

I’ve realised that when I get busy, reading is the first habit to take a hit. It’s the easiest thing for me to offload when I have a lot vying for my time and attention. I don’t fight this anymore. That part of the type A person in me seems to be growing old and tired very fast. Instead, in her place is a newfound acceptance (or the lost will to keep it all together all the time) that this is how it is meant to be, and that nothing will change if all my want-to-dos and must-dos are not accomplished in the timeframe I imagine is right for them, and that I will return to the old “normal” when things settle.

At last count, I had three new books I’d barely dipped into before abandoning in favour of doing very interesting things like opening up way too many cartons and setting up a home. Some conflict lead to a much needed reconciliation of sorts, though. And promptly, two weeks ago, the expected happened. I picked up where I left off and got back to reading, devouring these books.

Baaz, Anuja Chauhan
So I was quite the Anuja Chauhan fan, but this book may have changed that slightly for me. I believed no other Indian writer in this segment pulls off the kind of riveting plots and compelling characters like she does, but this book left me so underwhelmed. Even though this book features a male protagonist, the usual elements remain consistent — a fiesty, strong woman, a gorgeous man who sounds too good to be true, multiple plot twists that keep you engaged and wanting to flip pages fast to get through the book. However, I felt Baaz took very long to establish the conflict and really get the pace going. Once the pace picked up though, and just as I felt the story was going somewhere, it ended. Disastrously. I’m probably way off the mark here, but as a reader, it just left me feeling like Anuja Chauhan maybe lost interest?

Heartburn, Norah Ephron
The blurb calls this book a “sidesplitting novel about the breakup of a marriage”, while weaving in recipes, making it “sinfully-delicious” and “soul-satisfying”. It was not any of the above for me. It made for a fun, very quick read because it’s light and was funny in parts, in that sarcastic, sardonic style that is Norah Ephron’s. But the recipes were completely incidental and forced into the narrative, I thought. It didn’t matter as much, to me, because I wasn’t into it for the recipes. It was the promise of a hilarious account of a marriage falling apart that intrigued me at first. Reading it though, I felt there were some all too familiar truths at some poignant moments that will make you reflect on your own relationships, or perhaps your marriage, and you will smile some. But that is all.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

As much as this book has been talked about, I found myself avoiding it for the longest time. Perhaps it was just the dismal sounding premise, and I’m never up for willingly going into something that promises to be depressing. I’d also seen Oprah interview Paul and his wife some years ago, and the sound of reading a book about the life of a man who knows he’s dying didn’t really appeal — no matter how much I appreciate the spirit that must take. But, when R recommended it, I had to pick it up. And he was right, the book was so goddamned absorbing, I couldn’t put it down. And for the first time in years I stayed up late into the night finishing it literally overnight.

Writing about his life, over the course of the time he pretty much waited for death, Paul Kalanithi somehow manages to write a book about embracing life to the fullest, living with utmost presence and being completely absorbed in every moment of every experience. In his acceptance of life and death, I found myself nodding along a lot. The best revelation was that it was anything but depressing. In fact, I didn’t even cry. I was incredibly moved at several points, but not because of the books inherently tearful premise, but because it was just so life-affirming.

About a Boy, Nick Hornby

Despite having only read High Fidelity and 31 Songs/Songbook, I’m a Hornby fan. I picked up my first physical book in yearrrsssss, at Blossom where I went to sell a ton of books after the massive decluttering spell I went thru after we moved.

It’s fascinating and endearing to read such honest, engaging and easy writing about men bumbling along in the world, through a man’s voice. In About a Boy, he brings two men together — a dorky 12 year old Marcus who is wise beyond his years and a semi-fucked-up 30-something Will who is looking to get his life together. They meet under the oddest circumstances — when Will is at a picnic amongst participants of a single parents club (he is pretending to be one in the hope of landing a girlfriend). Somehow the two hit it off in the most unexpected way and the rest of the book is a heartening development of the relationship between them, what they have to give each other, and how their characters change as a result of it. Highly recommend this one. Apparently, it’s a movie with Hugh Grant and I must now get my hands on it.

Same time, last year: Day 193: Like Nike, but better

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

There’s a lot of stuff I had planned for this break. Yeah, roll your eyes. I’m that person who makes a plan even when I’m on a break. The last few weeks before I came to Bangalore have been a blur and in order to focus on some important things on hand, I had completely ignored work, and to a large extent, home too. So I wanted to spend my time here, working in earnest again, get some writing (that’s not work) done, fleshing out some long pending ideas that have been sitting in cold storage and make some short term goals and plans for the months to come. The decision to spend an indefinite amount of time in Bangalore was also spurred by the fact that the emotionally tumultuous phase I’ve been through had me wanting the comfort of home, family, friends and familiarity. Bangalore was the last place on my mind when I thought about taking a short sabbatical from my life in Goa, and somehow after roaming halfway across the globe searching for options that ticked all the boxes for this kind of a break, I found myself booking a one-way ticket to Bangalore, of all places.

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to go away, not return to where I used to be. This was meant to be a month of meandering. A relaxed, routine-free and spontaneous few weeks with no immediate end in sight. At least that was the plan.

It’s how I fool myself into believing I’m in control of things — I make systematic plans and work out intricate routes and systems for the way I want things to move.  But yet again, life has shown me it has it’s own plan, and that in fact so little of it is my doing, or even in my control.

When it comes to plans, I’ve got nothing on life. So, a twist in the tale the moment I landed in Bangalore brought on a completely unexpected turn of events. And I spent the first ten days of my trip (starting from the very next day after I landed) house hunting. More on that later, but all this to say I haven’t had any time to do the things I planned to, and have instead been playing to the tunes of this other plan that’s playing out all on it’s own.

What I have been doing instead, while I wait for brokers, on cab rides between destinations, at the dining table, in between conversations and right before bedtime, is reading a lot more than usual. That has been a welcome change.

(I also realised just now that of late my Instagram has been pictures of books I’m reading and my feet/legs. And sometimes both.)

The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
Quite easily the most intense and visceral book I’ve read this year. The High Priestess Never Marries is a collection of 26 short stories about love, longing, lust, desire, relationships — each told from the perspective of women at the heart of the story. Featuring women from diverging backgrounds, social make-up and geographies too, Sharanya Mannivanan presents women hopelessly in love, some deeply committed, some spurned and looking for requital, some flirting with infidelity or polyamory (depending on how you look at it) — and every single story made me stop and question my notion of commitment, fidelity, marriage. Densely packed, beautifully crafted, it was a slow read and I literally had to use the dictionary on every single page. And yet, I gobbled it hungrily. I haven’t had a book grab me and break me slowly, beautifully, enveloping and taking me in more and more with every page, like this book did, in so so so long.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

I picked this because I wanted a quick, light read and I suddenly heard this had been made into a movie (out now!) featuring Sonakshi Sinha, but of more interest to me, Kanan Gill and Purab Kohli. So of course I’m going to be watching it. This is a very light read and delivered on the quick bit too, perfect for the weeks before my visit to Bangalore, when I was busy as hell. This is a little bit like a Pakistani Bridget Jones meets your most typical, cliche chicklit book ever. It has all the right ingredients — a 20-something journalist (who lives in Karachi), lots of angst about where she is in her life, adequate mention of alcohol, partying hard, fashion, high-society, and of course a sweet and very predictable love story woven in. I went in with no expectations, and rather than coming out happy, let’s say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
I was very late to get to this book that has come so highly recommended many, many times over. But I’m so glad I finally got to it, because it was another book I just devoured in record time. Largely because it is written in epistolary form — which is easily my most favourite style. But also because it is such a heartwarming book about books, writing, a writers pursuit for a subject, and the depths to which book lovers and writers go to unravel the secrets within stories we’ve only read in words before.

It’s 1946, in London and through a series of letters exchanged between Juliet Ashton (a writer seeking a subject for her new book) and a man (who becomes her primary source for said subject that completely consumes her) that draws Juliet and readers into a mysteriously wonderful and dream-like world amidst the members of the curiously names Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The author, the main character, is . strong, critical woman very aware of her independence and choice, and navigates post-war society with thought, but without losing warmth and grace. The writing is charming and flows easily. The story, even more so.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
I picked this book from this list (yes, it’s yet another list of several compelling titles to now knock off) because the short description was so compelling:

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up follows a 39-year-old woman who lives her unconventional life — unmarried and without children — by choice and on her own terms. But when her niece is born with severe birth defects, she is forced to re-examine herself and what being an adult really means. A raw, honest, and often hilarious ride of a novel.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely, thoroughly loved this book because it was so damn relatable. The writing is tight, super honest and chock full of brutally honest vignettes that any millennial will identify with — from the angst of choosing to earn a living versus following a calling, to carefully cultivating a deluded sense of poverty, to having misguided priorities, to our difficult relationships with our parents, eventually finding our way to and out of therapy, dealing with love, loss and emotional upheaval. Another book that really drew me in and I finished reading in under two days.

I think I read this book at an apt time in my life. After a rather intense burst of therapy, returning to spend a longish period of time at home with my family, reworking notions of my existence and independence vis a vis the part I play in the various relationships I am a part of.

It was also oddly surreal to breeze through this book much the same way I used to breeze through books lying in my bed, spending sunny afternoons peeling back the pages from cover to cover, without a care in the world. This felt like the kind of book that reaffirms your current reality.

It really, really feels great to be home.

Same time, last year: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but cant

What I’ve been reading

The reading habit has really slowed down in recent times. Actually, so has the writing, as you may have noticed. For the first two months of the year it was my preoccupation with work, in the last few weeks it is just this sense of ennui that has wedged itself into my current life. I am at a crossroads of sorts, and choosing a way forward is turning out to be a time consuming, tedious and sometimes emotionally exhausting affair. An older me would have taken to fighting it and immediately swung into action to introduce a sense of movement, and do whatever it takes to speed up the process. But I have recently tasted the real joy of letting things be, like, really be. To make room for a slow unfolding, rather than pressing fast forward to get to the end. If this all sounds zen to you, let me quickly say, it isn’t. Because it means sometimes taking the risk of putting myself in a difficult place, making difficult choices I would otherwise evade, asking myself questions that push me into a vulnerable state of mind, and waiting patiently for the answers to come. Painfully slowly as it sometimes is.

I thought it was the perfect time to allow myself to temporarily switch off, so books seemed like the logical escape. But it’s hard to read with the constant din that is my preoccupied mind. The background chatter, the opinions and counter opinions (all my own) are rarely quiet. So in an attempt to turn the volume down low, slowly, in it’s time, I’ve let things go one by one. Reading too. However, this is what I’ve finished recently:

Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
Another recommendation I picked from Veena Venugopal’s Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Girls Of Riyadh was pitched as a tell-all about the lives Saudi women, otherwise kept under wraps. Told entirely in a series of anonymous emails penned by one of the women characters, it is the story of four women who hail from a privileged segment of society. And yet, their lives are shrouded in mystery and restrictions galore. In each of their stories, a journey is revealed, one that involves not just travelling out of their home country, but also coming into their own in four very distinct ways. In the bargain nuances of their customs, society, and culture are revealed. That it is told by an “insider” makes it particularly telling. If like me, you expected it to be shocking and borderline depressing, it is not. I didn’t learn too many things I didn’t already know about. So in that sense it didn’t evoke an strong feelings in me.

Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
I have previously devoured Arundhati Roy’s non fiction, particularly her long reads and essays, so the premise of this book which seemed like it allowed me to be a wallflower listening in on a secret meeting between Edward Snoweden, John Cusack and Roy, was deeply fascinating. The central theme is the role of The State, the powers it weilds, the machinery that it has at it’s service, and the ripple effects it has on us as people. Incredibly telling, shocking, and very very relevant — it covers everything fromquestioning what patriotism means in our current context, the role and purpose of a national flag, climate change, war and the downsides of a free market. Though intense in content, it’s a short, quick read.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I decided to revisit this book that I have previously only read as a text in literature class. Twice. Once in 11th grade and another time in 1st year of college. I have loved it ever since, and this time was no different. However, I was shocked at how long it took to get through it. Something about reading that style of literature, which is far less descriptive and narrative, but so heavily set in dialogue and intricate character building. It’s also hard to read a book as just a book when you’ve treated it as a text twice over. So I found myself noticing nuances in style, elements of emerging themes, pivotal points in the story arc.

It is of course impossible to miss the obvious strong themes of morality, feminism, sexuality and female agency. But I think I wanted so badly to be able to look at it with fresh eyes as compared to the angsty teen that I was, but maybe I will need to give it another go?

The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
This gentle, layered, beautifully written book is based in the city of Mysore, perched at the cusp of massive change. In exploring the lives of multiple characters not all intertwined or connected to each other, Rao reveals the nature of India. Quirks and unmistakeable aspects of our plural society, the changing political climate, the two edged sword that is development. It’s the story of a small town about to explode — a story that reads like it could be Bangalore, or Goa. And this is why I enjoyed it so much. Rao’s style is delicious. It’s gentle, coaxes you to peel back the layers, subtle satire, impeccable observation and lovely, narration that reads like it’s as light as air. I loved this and I’m looking forward to reading his next.

Same time, last year: Day 76: Telepathy

2017 book beginnings

Sula, Toni Morrison
Admittedly, I’d started reading this book about a year ago, but given that I spent the first half of the year unable to read, it was very quickly abandoned. But what little I read was so delicious, I had slipped it back on to my to-read list. The book spans over ten years of the lives of Sula and Nel — two black girls from the American Mid-West. The story begins in the year 1920, and is filled with telling and detailed descriptions of the life, time and culture of the village the girls were born in. The arc traverses the lives of these girls as they take off on two completely opposite ways of life — one choosing to stay (physically and intellectually) while the other, Sula, leaves the village and embraces a fast-paced city life. She returns, and there is a stark contrast in the way their lives have shaped them as individuals. The telling is delicious, as I said. Raw and real, making you really feel the emotions slip underneath your skin. It is equal parts horrific (as one would expect given the setting), poignant, and extremely touching. It is a story about girls, about women, and so it evoked a lot of feelings ranging from empathy to anger in me. More specifically, it is a vivid telling of what it must have been like for a black woman in Mid-Western America, in the 1920s and 30s. Do read, you wont regret it.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
This is one of those odd situations where literally everyone who has read this book raves about it, so you pick it up, and then you struggle to finish it, and you wonder what could possibly have gone wrong, or what you’ve missed, because you just. dont. get. what. the fuss. is. about. The Happiness Project is quite literally the account of a year in the life of Gretchen Rubin, being committed to finding happiness. It’s a great premise, I’ll admit. I know how many times I’ve thought the exact same thought that spurred Rubin to write this book — time is flying and I’m not focusing on the things that matter. And it’s why I finally got down to it. But like some other books I read in the same genre and category, it just felt a little oversimplified, and a little too basic to warrant an entire book. There are a few obvious, but decently explored truths in the first couple of chapters, and I thought hmm, this is a good book but as with Daring Greatly, I very quickly began to feel like things were way too general and basic for me to find anything revelatory in them. I mean I didn’t need to read a book that is apparently based in sound research to tell me I need to be tidy, minimalist, organised, calm, positive in order to stay happy.

Every month of the year is dedicated to one aspect of her life. From work to friendship to finding contentment to being present. The chapter that I found particularly grating was the one where she deals with her marriage that she says had gone rough around the edges – repetitive, mundane, boring. It was super painful reading detailed descriptions of exactly how she used tired, cliched tactics like communicate, be present, put down that device. OMG it was super tedious.

Anyhow, judging by how super popular the book has been, I wuldn’t dismiss it as a terrible book. It obviously works for some folks. But it just didn’t have anything new to offer me. It also made me realise my short-lived self-help phase is probably over. If I pick up another book in this category, I’m going to expect it tp be meaty, detailed with research, and really give me something fantastic to implement in my life that can push the needle and make an impact.

The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
This delightful book is often placed right up there with Catcher In The Rye. I honestly thought it was better. Maybe it’s my fondness for subtle, clever, Brit-style wry humor, or maybe it was the detailed travel right inside the mind of a 19 year old boy looking to get laid, essentially. It really just describes the incredibly layered, yet very single-minded, that pursuit can be, and it’s a riot. I also read that Amis was just 24 when he wrote and published this which is ridiculous. Because it’s so mature in the style. There’s clever turn of phrase, intelligent innuendo that doesn’t jar, and makes a lot of descriptions about his sexual urges seem so beautiful. I enjoyed this one, even though it took me abnormally long to finish it. But I’ll put that down to being very preoccupied with work.

2017 reading is off to a good start.

Same time, last year: Day 20: Perspective

2016

So it’s done. What I’ve called the most forgettable, shitty year, time and time again, is over. It’s true that last year I had more than a fair share of lows. But it’s also true that in bouncing from one low to the next, only keeping my head above water, occasionally remembering to thwack my limbs and move towards the closest object for support, I’ve often needed to remind myself that I’m still alive and breathing. Which is a convoluted way of saying, a lot happened in between the lows that really wasn’t bad at all. But I have been so occupied with just barely staying afloat that it’s felt like I’ve been mostly stuck in a downward spiral of negativity. The bad has a way of eclipsing the good, and painting a picture so dismal, you wonder why this is your life. Which is why I’m thankful for forced stops in the infinite loop of time. We put a date to the end of the year, we decide it’s a time to reflect, and I’m glad we have this opportunity to lay out all the cards, pick which ones to fold over and put away, and which ones to take ahead.

There is such a difference in looking back cursorily, because all I can see is large spans of time spent lying in bed, unable to move, just staring out the window, and looking back one day and month at a time. Broadly, I feel like I spent way too much time wondering why this is happening to me. This, being the thick and heavy fog that consumed me. But, it’s only when I combed through my archive that I realised I was diffident, cynical, exhausted from the get go. I entered the year in a terrible headspace. Maybe it set the tone for the year? Maybe I was a fool not to see how things were hurtling towards an inevitable crash right through 2015? Maybe this was all just a necessary intervention in the making? I don’t know.

What followed was a lot of indecision and confusion that really chipped away at my confidence and left me on very shaky ground. Pretty much the entire year after has been spent trying to regain that solid ground beneath my feet. Whether it was putting my confidence in myself and my work back together and resuming in a direction that made sense to me, but scared the shit out of me, or opening myself up to honesty of a different kind, running all my relationships through a sieve and keeping only the most important ones close, learning to distinguish between an inner and outer circle, basically redefining the very notion of love and friendship, or regaining some bit of pride and a sense of self and identity that I’d lost sight of — everything about 2016 was an effort towards building something in me that 2015 had broken.

I couldn’t have picked a better year to write a post a day, because looking back has helped me see that while 2016 was far from fantastic, it sure was eventful. It was shitty in many parts, challenging in ways I have not previously known but omg, you gaiiis, so much happened!

Mostly, 2016 has been a year of rediscovering honesty. Of coming to terms with many things I was either not seeing right, or turning a blind eye to. It all started with the decision to take some time off. To regroup and clear my head out. I had a breakdown at the end of 2015, that made me realise I was overworked, confused about my priorities and sorely needed some time out. My inability to be honest with myself was pushing me into a cycle of repeated losses that had left me very, very tired.

So, I planned to spend 5-6 weeks unwinding and doing the things that gave me joy, in the hope that it would make room for some clarity. I read and wrote. And that’s not counting my work. There was some drawing, some haiku, and an exercise regimen, all in the interest of building a routine that enriched rather than depleted me. With all the mind space to introspect, it wasn’t long before the truth, or rather the lack of honesty emerged strong and loud.

I don’t mean honesty in the sense of truth-telling. I mean honesty in so many different ways — the inability to break through my denial, my stubbornness in not admitting to seeing things as they were, the fact that far too many people in my life had more to take than give me, the false belief that the work-life pattern I had unconsciously fallen into was necessary for success, my misplaced conviction that it was what I liked and wanted, when the truth couldn’t have been farther from it.

I’d begun to realise a need for a deeper honesty in my friendships. As it happened several of my closest friends found themselves in a bad patch at the start of the year. It involved unravelling, together, and being there for each other and made me realise just how much I valued openness and vulnerability, even in or maybe especially in hard times, as a measure of authenticity of any relationship. I suddenly saw how I was surrounded by relationships lacking in it, even though I considered them to be the solid, long-term ones. I backed away from many that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of hiding behind convenient veils of passive aggression, demanding more from me than I could give, or they could ever give back to me.

This has meant being alone a lot more, staying with solitude and embracing this part of me wholeheartedly. This will always be the year I made peace with my introvert tendencies. After a hectic 2015 chock full of socialising, putting myself out there and pursuing things I never imagined I would have, giving the hedonistic life a shot I realised my place. It’s indoors, with myself, away from the mindless din of connections and networking. I much prefer the loud camaraderie of a few I call my tribe, even if we choose to exist in absolute silence.

This too, required honesty. In laying the tussle between the virtually-social and actually-solitary, to rest. On the one hand, I live what many call a “social” life, especially thanks to frequent and frantic social media posting. And on the other hand, I was trying to teach myself boundaries, to say no, to protect my personal space and energy. This tug-o-war between sharing my life has given many observers a sense of false camaraderie that often oversteps the virtual lines that separate me and them. I began to see through social media veneers, and was disappointed by people on more than one occasion. I found myself wanting to dig deeper and find within myself the strength to accept the differences that these are just virtual interactions, while saving my energy for the solid core of authentic interactions I have in real life. Even when it meant accepting the truth that was far from pleasant, realising that seemingly normal people sometimes display unacceptable behaviour, or that I myself had untowardly let some folks far deeper into my life than was needed.

The need for this honesty came with a price. For one, I let go of the steady promise of work that I had in hand to make room for the work I wanted to pursue. Second, I had to consciously let go of a couple of friendships that I had assumed were easy-going and probably for life.

What I gained, though, was immeasurable. Because the time and energy freed up from it, was channeled into all that I wanted to put my mind to, but had failed to in the years before. I will always remember this to be the year I moved closer to finding myself, and my voice, professionally. The decision to quit a steady, decently-paying gig with scope for growth, to dive fully into the erratic, unpredictable world of full-time freelancing was a pivotal one. A lot of it happened because I had to own up to the fact that clinging to a safety rails was only going to get me that far. Yes, I’d have a salary in the bank at the end of the month, but the hours spent earning that salary was definitely keeping me from expanding my repertoire, aiming higher and going wide and deep into the kind of writing I want dip into. If I were to be honest with myself, and I was, I needed to be brave. Or at least pretend like I was. It was not without its moments of extreme imposter syndrome, but I know I am better for it.

There were moments of immense frustration. A steep learning curve that I didn’t particularly enjoy at all times because let’s face it I wasn’t feeling positive and upbeat for a large part. The long waiting periods, systemic inefficiencies, blatant unprofessionalism made me cynical and under-confident. Incidentally, it was the year with the most number of unsavoury professional experiences. But while navigating the doubt and incertitude with heaps of scepticism, I did manage to get a whole lot of work done. It’s funny how the haze of unpleasant experiences has clouded this reality that. Ironic that the shittiest year is the year I had several work wins that I am proud of. Like this, this, this and this and this and this. I never imagined I’d write essays worthy of being tweeted by the UN Women’s handle. I didn’t think I’d see myself published in The Telegraph. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find myself in a publication dedicated to science and technology.

I even managed to throw together a website and a portfolio that I should have done a long, long time ago. Much of this had to do with trying very, very hard to unlearn my obsession with perfection. Of quitting the terrible habit of waiting for the ducks to get in an absolutely straight line before making a move. In accepting that well begun is half done, I may have taught myself a thing or two about what is possible when you accept what works for you and hold yourself to slightly more realistic goals and ideals.

One of the best things I did was write and write and write every single day. Whether it was the for the stories I worked on, daily posts on here, scribbles, ideas for stories, half written posts — I made sure I did a little writing every single day and this is a habit I don’t want to lose. I am a little astounded at myself for seeing the daily post habit through to the end of the year, even though I fell off the wagon and frantically caught up again, sometime. Even with all that writing, I have so much more to express and share. So I started a newsletter. Admittedly, it’s taken a break so soon after it was launched but I hope to be back this year. 2016 marked the completion of 10 years since I started blogging. I wrote 318 posts this year having blogged every week, which feels like a fitting way to mark a decade of rambles.

On Day 1, I decided it was going to be a year to move more. In addition to upping the ante with training by joining, pursuing and loving kickboxing, I let the husband get me a cycle. It transformed the middle parts of this year in ways I can’t explain. Unfettered joy and immense satisfaction have been had from the hours spent pedalling through Goa. Cycling changed the way I experienced what could potentially be my last monsoon here. I even finished my first ever 100 km ride.

Part of the reason I caught the cycling bug was the undeniable urge to get out and get out. In the open. To travel. It’s something I’ve denied myself the pleasure of indulging in, for various reasons in the past few years. I travelled back home more than I ever have since I have moved out. Cleartrip sent me an email calling me a Happy Tripper today, for the 18 flights I’ve taken. There was a trip to Chettinadu, KeralaThailand and Coonoor. There were a few mini vacations right here at home too. I turned 32 in the company of these lovelies who came down to celebrate over a weekend of beach time, with me. And it reaffirmed my faith in certain inalienable truths about why some relationships endure and others don’t. It’s the one year VC and I haven’t taken a holiday or travelled anywhere together. And no, we’re not complaining.

The other big change I made this year was I kicking myself back into the reading habit by getting myself a Kindle. It has made all the difference and  finished the year with 29 books read, a high for me. While I’m looking at numbers, it seems a good time to look back at this post where I detailed the few things I want to see myself doing through 2016.

  1. Read a little everyday – check, post-August
  2. Write a little everyday – check, check, CHECK
  3. Give in to the urge to draw/doodle as much as possible, don’t put it off for “later” – check, for as long as the inspiration and urge lasted
  4. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs – yes and no
  5. Wear a saree at least once a week (any more is a bonus!), and don’t wait for the “right” occasion – ditched
  6. Call ammamma more often – check
  7. Meditate every morning, consciously remember to slow down – check for the first half of the year, then abandoned
  8. Go to the beach more often, even if it is for a stroll or to catch the sunset – check, check, check (run a search for “beach” to see how)
  9. Actively avoid clicking random links that lead to news on social media – CHECK!
  10. Whenever posting something on facebook, ask myself if the post would annoy me if I were looking at it posted by someone else – check, followed this for the most part, but slipped a lot, now correcting it by slowly deleting all fb activity from all of time
  11. Generally, avoid oversharing on fb – not every thought needs to be telecast to the world on fb, do it here instead, in longer form – check
  12. Keep phone away from bed and sleep-time – failllll!
  13. Sneak some more kisses – CHECK!
  14. Choose things, make decisions with purpose – CHECK
  15. Make the most of Goa, get out, breathe, watch, listen, do – CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK, cyclecyclecycle
  16. Reclaim stillness whenever it happens, and when it doesn’t, create it – this is WIP
  17. Fuck perfection – this is WIP

Speaking of WIP, one of the best things I did for myself in 2016, was take myself to therapy. When the cycle of breaking down, finding my footing, stabilising, coasting and only to slip again recurred three times in a span of 8 months, I knew I was in over my head. Again, it called for a kind of honesty I didn’t have, but so desperately needed to find. To accept that I cannot navigate this alone, that I need a fresh pair of eyes to see things differently and help me work my way through, rather than away from this. It has been the best, because it brought to the surface things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. It made me reclaim myself, discover and strengthen crucial aspects of my identity that were slipping away form me. Much of my newfound peace, focus and positivity is a result of this, and I know that every day I am making progress in facing up to and loving my imperfect self.

It hasn’t been an easy year to live with me. Every break down has brought with it several emotional outbursts, thoughtless spewing of anger and frustration, violent mood swings, long periods of demotivation. But through it, VC has been my constant. Constant everything. Punching bag, sounding board, friend, foe, confidant, co-homemaker, support, voice of reason, strength and solace. We celebrated our eighth anniversary. Ironically, it was a year that made me fully understand how relationships that nurture are the ones that help you growing together, separately, rather than collapse and grow into one entity, and completely turned my beliefs about marriage around, that somehow also brought us much closer.

I find myself feeling a little sheepish about how much I have bashed 2016. It had so many sore points, so many weeks and months I wanted to just wish away. So many events and incidents I wish I didn’t have to go through. It all felt so damned shitty. And yet, when it all stacks up and I look at it in retrospect, it was rather eventful. Memorable, even. But most of all, transformative. They say things sometimes need to get really bad before they can begin to get better. Maybe my bad bits were peppered right through 2016. But right there, in between the bad events, things were already beginning to get better.

This year I just want to build from here. Make some goals, shut up about them, work hard, live big, laugh loud, love hard, breathe deep and smash them to the sky.

*****

Quick guide to posts in 2016
Monthly recaps: APostADay
Bheja fry, since this year had so much of it
Work and writing
Books and reading in 2016
Travel and photographs
Cycling and exercise
Music

Same time, last year: Day 5: In-bloom

Day 365: All the books I read this year

I know the title makes it sound like I read a whole cartload of books. But the truth is, I didn’t. And yet, I read more books than I have in a long, long time (which is driving my OCD mad because it’s one short of 30 and there’s no way I’m going to finish the book I’m currently reading by tomorrow to round it off neatly. But, I’m trying to fuck perfection this year, so I’m going with it like I don’t care). Also, it has to be said that all the reading fury kicked in in the second half of the year, once I bought myself a Kindle. It has been somewhat life-changing because it altered the very nature of my bedtime routine which now centres around ensuring I make enough time to really read before I fall asleep, it has contributed a greta deal to making me more anti-social because I indiscriminately avoided/cancelled plans in favour of staying home to read, and it has really, really made a wonderful companion through all the travel this year. Apart from all of this, though, 2016 was the first time after years and years of trying to reclaim the habit of reading, that I can say I have succeeded. After what seems like a lifetime, I have given reading a place in my life, rather than fit it into the gaps and empty moments, or use it to keep me company when I was bored/lonely/killing time. And only I know what a difference, not just what I read, but the act of making a habit of reading again, has made to my life. So, in that sense it’s been a very good year of reading.

Anyway, here’s a quick round up of all the books that I read in 2016.

  1. Fiction: 10
  2. Non-fiction: 13
  3. Self-awareness/self-improvement: 6
  4. Memoirs: 9
  5. Collections of essays: 6
  6. Books with marriage as a predominant theme: 11
  7. Books with food as a predominant theme: 2
  8. Books with women/feminism as predominant themes: 12
  9. Books that made me cry: 6
  10. Books that made me laugh out loud: 7

3 best reads of the year:

  1. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  2. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  3. ToastNigel Slater and 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby (I couldn’t help myself!)

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

  1. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  2. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  3. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal

And here’s the whole list:

  1. The Untethered Soul, Michael A Singer
  2. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  3. I Am You: a magical collection of stories and art about awakening, Carrie Louise Hilgert
  4. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Adichie
  5. A Handbook For My Lover, Rosalyn D’Mello
  6.  Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  7. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  8. Tanya Tania, Antara Ganguli
  9. Walking Towards Ourselves, Catriona Mitchell
  10. The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
  11. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  12. Alphabet Soup For Lovers, Anita Nair
  13. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  14. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
  15. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  16. Where’d you go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
  17. Love, Loss and What We Ate, Padma Lakshmi
  18. In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
  19. Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Veena Venugopal
  20. Brave EnoughCheryl Strayed
  21. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
  22. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
  23. ToastNigel Slater
  24. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  25. Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
  26. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
  27. Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
  28. 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby
  29. The Private Life Of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Kapur

In the coming year, I want to definitely read more fiction. I’ve been building a really long list of to-read books on Goodreads, and hopefully it will help do justice to that goal.

What did your year of reading look like? And what was the most stand out book for you? Tell all, so I can let my reading list growwww. Hopefully, this time around, the habit is here to stay.

PS: You can find all my posts about books filed here.

Day 364: Redemption reading

I needed to quickly redeem myself of the time and energy lost reading these two rather forgettable books last week, so I dived into what I thought was a guaranteed good read. You can’t go wrong with Nick Hornby, no?

31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby
I LOVED this book, predictably. And I suspect anyone that has music occupy a significant part of their daily brainspace would too. If you find yourself obsess over certain kinds of music, particular tracks, have a set of all time favourite evergreen songs that never get old, have the compulsive need to share your music and get people to love the same music you do and for the same reasons, bond with people over tastes in music and love the idea of analysing words melodies and inspirations, you will love this book. It’s a set of 31 really cool essays, each featuring a song the author loves. Think of it as a mixed-tape in words! It helps that the mixed-tape includes everything from Led Zeppelin to Nelly Furtado. So if your tastes in music are similarly eclectic (mine are!) expect to enjoy it even more.

The highlight of High-Fidelity was all the deep music references woven right through the story, and I know it’s a major theme in many of Hornby’s novels. So this is like a peek into his personal commentary about why some music makes him tick and other kinds of music don’t.

I highly recommend this book, even if you’re not particularly into music. Because even though every essay is based on a particular track, he delves deep into his insights on music as a creative pursuit, the importance of lyrics and writing in music, his love for analogue in a fast-changing digital world, and so many other things that influence the development of music today. His typically matter of fact, but clever, British way of writing is a charm that’s hard not to love.

The Private Life Of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Kapur
This book came highly recommended on a couple of lists I saw, and I wanted a quick read to close the year, so I picked it. It was quick, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. It’s narrated in this very odd style, which I realise is a deliberate craft employed given the main character – Mrs Sharma – who is quiet, looking for someone to have a conversation about all that she is otherwise reticent about, but it didn’t work for me. I found it a bit forced and that annoyed me a little. That apart, it’s a sweet and simple story of a woman in Delhi, grappling with the challenges of being a single mother to a troubled 16 year old, while her husband is away, working in Dubai to support them. Mrs Sharma leads a “typical” life expected of this demographic of women – straddling a job with her duties at home, cooking, cleaning, caring for her in laws – and in the case of Mrs. Sharma specifically – dealing with a long-distance marriage. She hopes for a life that feels like it is just beyond her grasp at the moment, but she is filled with hope that very soon she will be economically better placed to do the things she wishes, for herself, her son and husband too. In  navigating this angst along with fulfilling her role as a mother, daughter-in-law and being a “respectable” woman as one expects Indian women to be, she finds her life unravelling slowly, leading herself down paths that she is conditioned to believe are wrong or questionable. Yet, she boldly continues, all the while convincing herself that it is normal. The story explores themes of conditioning, coming into one’s own, motherhood — thru the lens of Indian middle-class society.

It was quick, and I read it from cover to cover in a day. Apart from that, nothing about the book really stood out or touched me.

Day 356: Book post, of course

I’ve read an alarming number of books related to marriage, this year. And before I realised this, I unconsciously picked two more books about women and marriage, to end the year*.

“I want something light and breezy to read on holiday,” I thought to myself. And then I picked these up before I left.

The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
I’ll admit, this might not have been a book I’d have otherwise picked, if I hadn’t already read and really enjoyed the other book by the Veena Venugopal.

It’s a book of individual essays about the experiences of 11 very diverse Indian women, exploring equally diverse and unique marriages. What ties them all to the unifying theme is that each one tells a different tale of why the mother-in-law is the villain she is made out to be in the big Indian family. I’ve heard enough stories to know this not a mere cliche or cultural caricature, but a very sordid and difficult reality for many Indian women.

I was initially excited to read this because the premise was intriguing. I have a less than perfect equation with my own mother in law. While we keep it civil and amicable, and the geographic distance makes things a lot easier, I can never lose sight of the fact that our relationship leaves a lot to be desired. The essays bring out the many facts and complexities of our “culture” and what it imposes on women, especially after marriage. Bring in a mixed-marriage, I saw myself in snatches in a couple of the situations, I could relate to some of the women too. Some tales are funny, some ironic, some downright disturbing with instances of domestic abuse, rape and emotional cruelty detailed. But beyond that I found the book to be a dull and very glib telling. Contrary to the description on the book cover, I didn’t find it rich with “incisive observations” rather just a plain re-telling of a series of interviews, that put in words a lot that I already knew and understand about the complicated, often difficult relationship Indian women have with their mothers-in-law. While the premise held promise, I just didn’t think the contents were meaty enough to warrant a whole book — *shruggy guy*.

Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
Maybe I was already worn out with my reading of The Mother-in-Law, or perhaps I shouldn’t have picked up yet another non-fiction book about Indian marriage immediately, but this book was even more disappointing than the one before. Again a series of slice-of-life essays told through the words of a spectrum of Indian women, describing a host of situations they find themselves in before, during and in some cases, after marriage. Again, the premise help promise, but the writing was utterly dull, reduced to she said this, then that happened, then she felt this way and was prompted to do that. It just felt like a series of rather refined transcribed interviews. I really struggled through this one, wanting to give up several times. If it weren’t for the glorious weather, reading in the sun or snuggled under multiple razais while a fire raged in the fireplace in our room, that made it easy, I might have succumbed to the feeling.

Has anyone read a insightful, enjoyable book on Indian marriage that is meaty enough to really dig ones teeth into? I’m almost tempted to write a story or two about this myself.

*As it turns out I’ve surpassed the goal that I belatedly set for myself! And from the looks of it there will be a couple more to go before we really close the year.

Day 348: The last of the books for 2016

Chuffed by the realisation that I have, by some strange twist of fate, read more books than I planned to, caved and committed to a reading challenge on Goodreads.

 

Very conveniently, I set it up at the end of the year based on the very encouraging (for me) progress I realised I’d made. And I set it up to reflect at a very safe, easy 2-books-a-month average, which is more or less the pace at which I’ve moved. I know, so much chitting. But anyway, I wrapped it up with these two books.

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
Essays that delve into the lives of women, marriage and feminism have strangely become a theme for the year. I’ve really dipped myself into non-fiction side of things and while there have been many loved books, this one is the best read of the year.  In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay touches on aspects of feminism that I have grappled with a lot this past year. It is feminism at the core, but it is also so much more. With dexterity, she beautifully weaves in allied topics, such as race, privilege, cultural influences such as music, popular television, movies, news and media into the way it shapes and transforms current day feminism. As a woman of colour, she talks about how feminism has evolved and shaped her identity. She amplifies the need to raise feminist issues from the perspective of women of colour, and that is where I found the book so relatable. She’s spectacularly insightful, raising delicate issues with the sharp, incisive stand that they sometimes need.  She’s got the right blend of wit, seriousness, fact and opinion which makes most of her arguments hard to refute. Especially as a woman of colour. Most of all, this book really touched me because the central premise, as outlined in her introduction is about why she calls herself a Bad Feminist. This is something I grapple with a lot – as I find my opinions around feminism shifting, evolving, with every new nuance that I am made aware of, every experience that unfolds a new facet that I may not have previously acknowledged, and every time I am made aware of any of the many privileges that I have – I find my feminism might refusing to fit the sometimes watertight boundaries of “good” feminism. This book was comforting in its description of an ever changing, fluid kind of not-one-size-fits-all feminism, which is honestly what we need today.

This is a book every woman must read. You can find my favourite essay in this post.

Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
Simply put, this is the true story of Glennon Doyle Melton’s journey through self-discovery as she puts the pieces of her life back together after a long and supposedly stable marriage falls apart. However, it is as much a story about coming of age as it is about a woman reclaiming her identity and finding her feet again. This, I’m beginning to think is a never-ending journey in my own life, and therefore a theme that will appeal to me at all times. Told as a memoir, the book is a story about healing, forgiveness (of oneself, primarily!) and learning to accept with grace the situations where life forces us to unlearn some of our habits, attitudes, philosophies we hold true. Through the work Doyle does in getting herself back together after her marriage breaks, you can expect to learn a thing or two about reclaiming your identity and moving towards living a life of honesty and authenticity.

I’m happy with the selection of books I managed to cover this year. The themes that have emerged are clear and  so reflective of the phase I’m going through. I’m hoping for some enjoyable, light on the brain fiction in the coming year. However, this list is calling out to me already. So help me God.

Day 347: 6 am essentials

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For the last two weeks my days have begun at 5 am. Because of a situation I mentioned here, I have found myself in this far-from-ideal situation that I had to very grudgingly adjust to. I now wake up a lot earlier than usual. So early, that its in fact still dark out, which is typically my reason to stay in bed. But no, I have to wake up to dark, moody, wintry beginnings of day. One would think two weeks is long enough to form a new habit, or get used to it at least. But no, it’s still difficult. And I still grudge it, complain every night and go to bed hoping I fall asleep instantly, so as to maximise sleepy time.

Today began no different. The doorbell rang at the dot of 6. I trudged down the stairs, bleary eyed, opened the door and wished K good morning. Usually I proceed to flop on the futon, for a whole hour while she potters about and does her thing. I could just go back to bed, but a strange sort of guilt takes over. How can I be asleep while she works hard to keep my home clean? So I sit, fighting residual sleep, chat with her sometimes, or give her a hand, make her some tea and make my presence felt. She doesn’t need me. She’s perfectly efficient, and barely talks at all, so it must actually be pretty annoying to have someone trying to make conversation when she’s trying to work. So, I took to sitting by the balcony door, reading. Which I’ve realised, is brilliant. Almost a whole hour of uninterrupted reading time – it’s bliss, really.

Today, I realised, I’ve watched the sun rise every day these past two weeks. It’s pitch black when I wake up, and the inky sky shivers to life, blotting as the sun breathes life across it. Bright shafts of light cut through the horizon. It’s a daily show, and I get to watch it.

Today, there was a definite draught in the air. My legs had gooseflesh all through, but I couldn’t get myself to wear longer pants, get a sheet or shut the damned balcony door. It’s a slim sliver of ‘winter’ time in these parts, and I get to actually witness the best, most dewy time of day.

Today, I finished a quarter of my book, just sitting there in peace. The dogs go batshit and fight sometimes, ruining the silence and annoying the crap out of me. But that apart, it was lovely. I was once a morning person, the sort who loved to wake up super early and get shit done, maximise the day yadayada. I don’t know what happened to that person. Despite whining about not wanting to wake up early just last night, I was strangely happy to be up in the dark today.

Today, I realised it’s an oddly nice time of day. There’s silence, but with a distant drone of things humming to life. Everything is slow, but you know it’s only building up for the day to come. There’s darkness, which makes everything feel like it’s on pause, but there sunrise is always only minutes away, slowly creeping out and changing everything irreversibly.

It’s a time I usually spend coiled up in my blanket like a pea in a pod. Oblivious to everything. Asleep. And yet, there I was, enjoying my moment in the chill, with the lights on, because it’s too dark outside, only two things keeping me awake. 6 am essentials – a hot cup of tea, and my book.

I could, perhaps, get used to this.

Day 333: Toast

I finished reading Nigel Slater’s Toast, and I have to say I thoroughly loved it. Here’s why:

It’s a “story about a boy’s hunger” — hunger for everything — for experiences that satiate his curiosity, for discovering boyhood, for a bond with his parents, for friendship, and of course, for food.

It’s a memoir, and uses food as the medium. But I loved that for a change, it was stories about food and memories sparked by specific 60s British foods told minus the staid and frankly overdone and very boring route that is nostalgia. This book doesn’t have lyrical descriptions of food that will make you hungry. It doesn’t talk about food in a way that will make you visualise it, or crave it or rush to the kitchen to cook. But it will evoke feelings, and your heart will go out to the characters in the book — most of all Nigel Slater himself.

It’s become so normal to expect food and food memories to only evoke nostalgia that we forget that very often the memories associated with certain phases of life — from the happiest to saddest, shameful and joyful, alike — are tied to the things we ate. Memories of eating are always tied to events that occurred around them, which are so much more than just about the food that was in your plate. The hook for each chapter is based in a dish or ingredient, but what you get is so much more than a deep dive into the unidimensional kind of warm, loving, hearty memories one typically associates with food memoirs. What you get is a spectrum of emotions, ranging from brutal anger, to rejection, deprivation, simple joys, parental love, carnal desire, and so much more, and food is just the vehicle for it all.

Told through the words of a boy, over many years of growing up, I loved the typically wry British humor, sardonic narration and completely matter of fact and acerbic style it adapts, and still manages to evoke so much feeling. The chapters are very quick and cut and dry, more like short vignettes, that bring vivid memories and images to life. The words, while snappy, leave lasting images that linger on. Rather than having a thread of continuity that somewhat puts pressure on the story to “go somewhere” I thought this was very unusual, clever format that gives you bits and bobs, flashes of life as it was, individual moments, memories and experiences that each stand their own weight.

If there are more food books like this — that go beyon waxing eloquent about the warmth of eating with family, heirloom recipes, and the warm hug of mothers cooking — I’d love to read them. So if you have recommendations, please send them my way. As for Toast, I recommend it highly. Turns out there’s a movie too!

Day 323: Holiday reading

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
This classic, coming-of-age novel is about Isadora Wing who is in a far-from-happy marriage. Reasons for that all point to her own angst and need for self-discovery, which is what the book is about. In many ways I think I read this at the right time because I could relate to a lot of the questions she raises, the exploration she embarks on I found that her quest for “the zipless fuck” could be a metaphor for so many experiences I have consciously or unconsciously pushed aside in the years after I got married. My recent therapy has unlocked some of these realisations, making me see how much internalised conditioning is a part of marriage, and I am slowly working my way out of some trappings that I have unnecessarily, unconsciously placed upon myself.

The book is set in Vienna where Isadora accompanies her psychoanalyst husband, on a convention, where her sexual adventure begins. But through it, she explores a lot of issues that relate to us women as a whole. Things we have on our mind – age, beauty, conformity, questions we often face – about marriage, about motherhood, about work, many of our worries and fears. She really covers a whole spectrum of things we grapple with — ageing, stagnation at work, finding your creative voice, following your heart at the cost of other worldly pleasures, the seeds of conflicting sexuality, spirituality even. I really enjoyed this book because I feel the subject is never going to get old, It’s something that women will relate to for a long, long time to come, in varying degrees of change. And then you realise this was written in the 70s, which suddenly puts it all in perspective and makes you realise just how far we have come, how privileged I, and the segment of women I belong to, am.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
In short, this is a book that explores vulnerability as the key to moving forward and through life. As a culture that constantly battles uncertainty with planning, the pursuit of security, perfection and guarding ourselves from too much emotional exposure, Brene Brown believes we’re actually killing our ability to embrace vulnerability. As a result we’re limiting our ability to live fully, make genuine connections, feel emotions completely and live creatively. Or what she calls “living wholeheartedly”.

It’s based on Brown’s 12 years of research, and I was sold on the concept even before I began the book. The book kicked my ass for the first two chapters, and I was so excited to be reading it because she addresses concepts that really spoke to me: a culture of scarcity, the pursuit of perfection, the new economy and how our inability to be vulnerable to what we feel as a result, stops us from daring to do great things. For this alone, I really wanted to like the book. Chapters 1 is about scarcity and our constant feeling of “never having enough” – which is something I observe a lot around me. Even amongst my friends, family, and online with my feeds bursting at the seams with people preening their perfect clothes, homes, lives and yet so obviously dissatisfied and feeling the voids in our lives with something or the other, unable to just sit with whatever it is we are going through and work it out. The second chapter debunks some myths about vulnerability which is a logical follow up to the chapter on scarcity, really. It talks about how we’ve built a culture of shame around embracing vulnerability. This is something I’ve woken up to recently, and the crux of my work with therapy, so it was really relevant and it hit home. I even highlighted a lot of bits from the first two chapters.

But that was it. It very quickly went downhill form there sliding into a stream of generalities. What she passes of as case studies, I found to be just very generic (and bad, just too basic) examples of everyday situations. I’d have liked some of her research to come through, or some real case studies of how she helped her clients re-open themselves up to vulnerability. What I got instead was some very basic and obvious advice that was repeatedly stated in many different ways. The crux of the book can be summed up in literally 2 sentences, and maybe I should have watched her TED talk and I could have been done with it, without having to read this book. But to have that basic premise play out over and over and over again through the innumerable platitudes that are frankly not reflective of the so called painstaking research that has apparently gone into the book was not useful at all.

I found the book very tedious and almost gave up half way, because I also realised a lot of it, like much of modern pop psychology, is stuff I have grown up listening to thanks to my parents. Most of this isn’t new to me. I consider myself lucky to have had a “wholehearted” (to use Brown’s term) upbringing that actively touched on a lot of these concepts, so to read it packaged in a far-from-original, banal way was painful. It did read very fast though, so there’s that!

I’m now reading Nigel Slater’s Toast and enjoying it so far.

What have you been reading? Any reccos?

Day 316: That’s how the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Painfully apt because I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, all about vulnerability and strength. I’ve only just finished the chapter about relinquishing the pursuit of perfection and freeing yourself from the belief that everything you want and can do is scarce. Oddly liberating. Definitely enlightening. But it’s 100% kicking my ass, this book.

Day 300: Three hundred

300 days. 222 posts. I don’t know how many pictures, videos, haiku – but somehow, I kept this up. I have 66 days and 44 posts to go till the finish line. Which is the end of 2016. I’m not sure it will be the finish line. Some of you may want to take this cue and unfollow me now. But this has become a bit addictive. Every time I hit a nice round figure milestone, I wondered how much longer I’d keep this up. Milestone posts also seem to be seminal posts this year, I just realised while scouring through my archives.

Day 10 came on a weekend. Day 50 was about major leaps and minor struggles. Day 100 also landed on a weekend. Day 150 happened to be the tenth anniversary of writing this blog. Day 200 was a shitty day so distinctly clear in my mind, it was one of the reasons I decided I had to change something. Day 250 is the day I gave thanks for my people.

Which brings me to today. Day 300.

After posting about my book quandary last night, I started to read Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough last night. And finished it this morning. It’s really slim, and it’s not really a book book. It’s a collection of quotes by her, from various places collected into one massive book of here-take-another-punch-to-your-guts. She calls it A Mini Instruction Manual For The Soul. And it is. If you’ve read and loved Strayed, like I have, you’ll want to add this to your collection. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things with such fervour two years ago, and it hit all the right spots, over and over through the book, that I’m a Cheryl Strayed fan for life now. Goodreads reviews for this book range from terrible to amazing, so it’s that kind of book that nobody can seem to agree on with any kind of remote uniformity. Many people found it insipidly inspiration in a very Hallmark-card sort of way. And I can see why. But I’ve always found the simplest things sometimes speak very profound truths, to me.

This book is filled with them. Powerful, brutally honest words that aren’t always sugar coated or pleasant words that are exactly what you want to hear. Words that cut, sometimes so close and so deep you want to imprint them on your skin. This is a book of unbridled, raw inspiration. And as is the case with inspiration, it hits you the hardest, when it’s the right time. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things at what I believe was the best time I could have picked them up. And I feel the same about this one too.

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This, is an overwhelmingly accurate summation of what I’ve been feeling lately. I even wrote about it a few days ago, only to find these six words say so simply what took an entire post out of me. A gentle coming back to life. A return to base. A peaceful acceptance, that feels like home. And there’s so many more quotes where this came from. I practically underlined every alternate page.

Some of my favourites:

Transformation doesn’t ask that you stop being you. It demands that you find a way back to the authenticity and strength that’s already inside of you. You only have to bloom.

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Hello fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.

***

Desperation is unsustainable.

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Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.

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You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching.

Each of these quotes hits hard and makes you go ouch, but in a way that you’re grateful for the punch to where it hurts the most.

So it’s day 300. Booyeah.

And one last thing;

Vulnerability is strength.

Day 299: Book quandary

For many years now I’ve had a reading list at the start of every year. Despite every serious effort to commit to the list completely, I have never actually ticked every item off the list. Nightmares of a listmaniac — either way too many books got added to it along on the way, leading to an ever-bulging Hanuman-tail like list, that one is destined never to reach its end, or I lost steam with reading altogether, or I stopped tracking what I was reading. For a couple of years, in true listmaniac fashion, I thought committing to a reading challenge on Goodreads might do the trick. As usual, I started off being super ambitious. Of course I failed spectacularly. The next year I decided to be a little realistic. Shaved off the number of books by a reasonable amount. I still failed. My efforts to get realistic not relenting, I knocked off some more books, and with it a lot of my optimism and confidence this year, and gave myself a measly goal of reading just twelve books before we finish this trip around the sun.

Further, I decided not to hit the 2016 Reading Challenge button, and subject myself to the annual embarrassment of yet another year that ends with an unaccomplished reading goal. So this was the year I didn’t really commit, the year with the most minuscule goal. And guess what. With three months still to spare, I am way past the goal. I don’t intend to stop. It’s definitely got everything to do with reading on the Kindle, which has definitely made me faster. But more than that it’s made books just so much more accessible. In addition to guzzling books, I’m hoarding booklists. From everywhere. It’s becoming a bit of a problem. My burgeoning mental and goodreads to-read list cannot take it anymore.

In my near future is two hotel stays (one of which is at a swish 7-star property all by myself that I am really, really looking forward to), another weekend by myself and the holidayyyyy. All perfect opportunities to bury myself in a pile of books. Which is causing immense confusion and decision-making stress. Because, WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT. Incidentally, this confusion is the subject of one of the essays in Veena Venugopal’s Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, that I just finished. (and loved!)

So I went on a bit of a rampage and downloaded samples of the following.

Girls Of RiyadhModern LoversThe GirlsIt Ends With UsForty Rules Of LoveOne Plus OneToday Will Be Different. Which all sound exciting.

I meant to get a sample, but ended up buying Brave Enough. Then, there’s an assortment of purchased but abandoned books already in possession that I have always have the option to dip into. It worked out well when I re-visited the once-abandoned Me Talk Pretty One Day. So who knows, maybe I will also have luck with a second attempt at finishing The Rachel Papers, The Lowland, This Must Be The Place.

Don’t even get me started on my amazon wishlist, yeah? So much choice. So many books. So little time.

Day 298: Weekend snippets

“Are you feeling lonely?” my mother in law asked me on the phone the other night.

“Not at all,” I said, disappointing her.

I wasn’t lying. I do enjoy my me-time and space. The next day, Saturday at noon, I found myself still in bed and a whole book finished. I had intended to get out, shower and head to the market to replenish veggies approximately two hours earlier. Funnily, I wasn’t kicking myself about it. At about 3 that afternoon, I called VC to say hi, and he hadn’t eaten lunch. At about 8 that night, he was still napping. His afternoon nap. And I wasn’t kicking him about it either.

Whenever VC travels, especially over extended periods, my routine goes out of whack. It’s not logical, really. There’s no apparent reason. If anything, it should actually be the time things go completely to plan, my plan, because there’s no additional variables at play. And yet, it becomes the time I let go and all my schedules relax. It’s the time I stretch food cooked once across three meals, watching back to back movies, enjoy a single drink every night, take off for a drive at all kinds of odd hours, spend inordinate amounts of time in bed reading and the like.

It always happens when he is away, and this time too, bang on cue, there I was, schedule unravelling. Except, I wasn’t het up about it, nor was I berating myself about letting things slip.

I told you something has shifted. And I’m taking this too as a sign for some unlearning, and relearning that needs to happen.

This trip of VC’s has been perfectly timed, with work petering out, the overwhelming emotional few weeks also tapering down to normal again, and the need for space and time by myself coming to the fore. Despite being alone for the most part of everyday, and looking forward to evenings with VC on a daily basis, time apart like this is always welcome. I know VC is enjoying it too, because he gets to lunch at 3 pm and nap till 8 pm. Without someone to remind him about the schedule he had no part to play in formulating. Heh.

*****

I finished two books this past weekend, and over today.

In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri, intrigued me completely with it’s premise. It’s a love story, an ode to a language. It is an expression of love for Lahiri’s second language – Italian. A series of short, but beautifully lyrical snippets, that I later learned were journal entries, she gives her love for the language so many different shapes and forms — each one so meaty, voluptuous and full of grain, that you can reach out and feel it. Many times I caught myself completely relating to the descriptions of love, the kind of relationships that she likens her affair with the language to, and I drifted away from the reality that it was all an ode to a language, because it takes on the form of people, of things, of places and moments, which are all somehow typical objects of love. One just never expects a language to take up so much headspace. And Lahiri does a brilliant job of bringing that love to life. It’s originally written in Italian, and translated to English. But so, so, beautifully so.

Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, by Veena Venugopal. I’ve admired Veena Venugopal’s journalistic work for so long now, that I was surprised I didn’t know she had written a book already. Actually, she’s written three, and I had no idea. So I had to remedy it quickly. On L‘s suggestion, I started with this one. It’s a book about books, quite simply. That it is a collection of essays extremely witty essays makes it even nicer to read. It’s a book for book lovers, and you’ll find yourself in more than one essay as the collection covers a lot of very relatable feelings and situations. From the nostalgia of old bookstores, the smell of yellowed pages of treasured books, seminal stories from the coming-of-age-time of our lives, inevitable literary snobbery, traversing the world of pulp and trash, and just the unbridled joy that is loving a book, which she so simply and beautifully calls “simply a relationship between the writer and the reader. It is the reader’s privilege to make of the words what she will….The book I have read is mine alone.”

I absolutely devoured it in a little under a day. It helped that that day was today, with just a few emails demanding my attention, so I could lie around and dip into the book, guiltlessly. All that was missing was some bread

*****

Work took me to this really lovely homestay. Not my first time at Arco Iris, I’ve even written about it here before, it’s already a favourite. So I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to write about them, or to visit again.

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This time I took D along with me. It was a quiet time of wonderful company and conversation. We nearly finished an entire bottle of wine between the two of us.The food was stellar, and I got to try the upstairs Indigo room for the first time. When my friends begin to stifle yawns at near 10-pm, doing their best to stretch bedtime as much as they can, I know I’ve picked them well. The best part, though, was that I got to visit the incredibly fascinating 450-year old Menezes Braganza House in Chandor. I wouldn’t have gone by myself, and the last time VC and I dropped by, I only got a hurried walkthrough, because it was closed and we were in a rush. This time though, we got to wander around at leisure, with the great-grandson give us a tour.

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It’s the kind of home with rooms that droop under the immense weight of their legacy. Where the walls chip away to reveal whispers of conversations it’s held secretly close for generations. Where the air echoes with whispers of century-old stories. Being in a treasure trove like that gave me goose bumps, and I was glad I finally had the opportunity to visit.

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*****

I came back last evening and R and I caught Jack Reacher, to tick off the only missing thing in my weekend agenda — a substandard movie. Actually it wasn’t all bad because it fit the Tom Cruise-mission-impossible brief to the T, and I should have gone expecting just that. It was entertaining, so I’ll be fair and give it that.

The highlight of the evening though was the dinner of idli and vada, to assuage an unsatiated hunger that breakfast at Arco had set off. Yep, idlis for breakfast and idlis for dinner. I’m that kind of South Indian. It was topped only be R’s incredibly entertaining and hilarious real-life anecdotes that always make me laugh.

*****

I rediscovered Vijay Iyer at Arco Iris, as D and I sat in the porch outside, post dinner, chatting, while the strains of this track I’d never heard before began to echo inside the long living room. Something about late-night melodies played at the right time just hit the spot immediately, and I had to shazam this one. Needless to say, it’s been on loop ever since.

So, what did you do this weekend?

Day 292: Love, loss and what we ate

I picked up Love, Loss and What We Ate, by Padma Lakshmi last week, to break a the lull that came over me towards the end of last month that made me so incredibly disinterested in everything. First, a bit of a ramble about the lull: For approximately three weeks I’ve been unable to function normally, an unnamed kind of anxiety manifested into a physical lethargy. Everything felt and seemed tasteless. I didn’t get out much, save for a meal here, a coffee there, which took a great effort on my part, to feel upbeat and excited. Coincidentally, I had a break with my workout because my trainers were on holiday. It proved lethal, because I’ve realised even when all else fails, exercise injects me with a little dose of energy to keep going. I was barely keeping my head above the water, getting just the bare minimum done, to get from one day to the next. My therapist says this is the by product of therapy, when one is keen and positively moving forward in working through issues. I certainly felt the shifts – distinct and drastic – in the last couple of weeks. From feeling beside myself with worry and a mind that is a tizzy with thoughts, I have felt like I am coming back to feeling like myself again, emerging from the haze that had descended over me. I realised last Sunday that I had made close to zero progress on the book I had started three weeks ago. I had lost interest not just in the book, but in picking up my kindle altogether. Last weekend, as I was packing up to go for our overnight stay on assignment, I wanted something to read, and starting a new book from scratch was the only way to go. This one appeared on top of Amazon reccos, and I just clicked buy without thinking twice.

Second, about the book. I heard folks call it a food memoir. But really, its just a memoir with food in it. It has many moments with luscious descriptions of food, traditions, food-related rituals, Lakshmi’s foray into cookbook writing, TV and eventually Top Chef. Yes, food is a major theme, but it’s hardly the primary theme or the star thread in the book. That said, I enjoyed the book. It’s certainly not a work of impeccable literary value, but it does its job as a memoir. As someone who barely knew anything about her versatile life, this book was fascinating, purely as a read about a life that is rich in experience and varied in overcoming hurdles to accomplishment. To read about her difficult childhood had been not just physically but emotionally and psychologically, the number of times she’s switched gears to choose things that made sense for her, the way in which she straddled her life of difficulty with the privilege, was most interesting. It touches on the emotional fall outs of being a migrant, a person of colour in a country so far form one’s own. There are bits about abuse, her mothers multiple and difficult marriages and the effects it had on a young girl growing up and trying to find herself. She goes into graphic detail about her life in modelling and the eventual destination she found in TV. The bits about her fight with endometriosis touched me the most, for some reason, as much as her fawning over how motherhood somehow completed her, irritated me. It’s a life dotted with a multitude of experiences, ranging from the very difficult to very glamorous, and she traverses them with equal intensity.

It has some feminist undertones in part, especially as she navigates the multiple contrasting parts of her life – her Indian heritage with her life in America, her background in theatre with her eventual career in glamour and fashion, the role models in her fiercely independent mother and grandmother with her constant search for a man in her life which eventually led to more than one relationship with high-profile men, and how each of those relationships eventually crumbled or failed to solidify. The writing itself is nothing to write home about. It doesn’t have any peaks and troughs, and maybe that also explains why I just breezed through the book. It has fleeting promise in certain phrases, descriptions and some segments where it feels very evident that she is writing from a place of authenticity and not wrapping an event very neatly in words. There are bits where she reveals herself as an almost unlikeable, narcissistic person. And then also gives you a peek into her softer, vulnerable sides. She straddles the two – what she is at the core, and what she struggles to be on the outside with such dexterity – that it’s what ultimately makes her a very relatable, real person. For that alone, I’d say this was a good memoir to read.