Sit, feast on your life

I’m reading Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, and she mentions how one of the goals of therapy is to move towards self-compassion. Specifically choosing self-compassion, building the capacity to have a forgiving and kind eye towards oneself, over self-esteem, and it really stayed with me. In all my reading and studies over the last few years I have not heard it articulated this way.

Self-esteem implies an inherent value system. A measuring up in terms of good or bad. Whereas self-compassion is more fluid and open. No metrics attached. This is a frightfully accurate way of describing the movement I have made on my own journey. Away from the pursuit of measuring up towards witnessing myself as I am. And because that has been my own precious, life-changing journey, it is the stance I take when I hold space for others as a practitioner.


And then there was this Derek Walcott poem that also encapsulates the experience I have had on this journey. Specifically, where I am today.

There is such a loaded implication of delight in the word feast in the last line, that I find so attractive and most resonate with. The other day I said to A that I watch develoipments within me with an excitement I haven’t felt before. Even the painful upheaval that often precedes the change comes tinged with excitement. Feasting is such a wholesome word that captures that sentiment perfectly.

Feasting. On vignettes of my life. Past, present, myriad futures.

Love After Love — Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

One year ago: Peace within
Two years ago: Home away from home kind of feeling
Three years ago: I still remember, when we did not know the answers

Love and belonging in politically charged times

My journey back to myself has been pockmarked with several points where I’ve questioned and examined belonging. Belonging is a theme I visit often, as I heal parts of myself and make efforts to integrate them — to really belong to myself fully again.

In recent times my focus has shifted from beyond myself to the world around me — both immediate and extensive. I have been asking What is my place in the world? Where do I fit in? What is my purpose? Where and how can I belong? And I find myself deeply disillusioned and let down by the ideas of belonging that crop up around me. Wishy washy, idealistic notions that sound pretty in words but are very difficult to put to life. Lip-service by the rich and privileged who cleave to feel-good ideas of connectedness and togetherness but think nothing of putting their support behind acts and bills that scream disharmony and throw entire sects of our people under the bus. Religious ideas of love and togetherness that they otherwise hold close are rendered null and void when the same mouths and brains that do things to tell me they’re backing the idea of a Hindu Rashtra.

I’m sick of the hypocrisy.

This makes it very hard for me to belong to groups that I ought to belong to by default. My family, my neighbourhood, my state, my country.

Today, I question where I belong. And I’m constantly looking for a spark of some signs of belonging in people around me. But it’s getting harder and harder to find.

I am the great granddaughter of staunch Gandhians. My great grandmother spun khadi at home, and she and my great grandfather marched with Gandhi in many acts of civil disobedience. My grandmothers older sister even went to jail for it. And yet, those same Gandhian values that I’ve grown up being dinned into my head, are altogether washed out today. My family is mostly unrecognisable when it comes to politics. They’re supporters of the fascist forces that celebrate Gandhi’s assassinator. I simply don’t understand it.

How then, can I say I belong to this? When I have nobody to converse and dialogue this with? When ideas of respect and politeness are conflated with dishonesty.

I can no longer be dishonest so I’ve chosen silence for too long now. That silence is slowly snapping.

My building is filled with upper-caste, patriarchal Brahmins who have displayed their displeasure of our unbrahminical ways more than a handful of times. I definitely don’t belong here. But I shut the door of my home and I make do.

I have for very long now questioned how I feel about belonging to India. The truth is, I don’t feel it at all. I have resented being Indian since 2014.

But something interesting happened this week. Over this week at all the protests I went to, though, I felt a surge of belonging. Like I had found my people. Like all is not lost and we may have just not sold the country to a majority of hate-mongers.

There is something incredibly softening and nourishing about finding this kind of connection. In receiving it, I realised it s something I have been missing it for way too long now. I have walked around feeling like an alien in my surroundings, around my family and everywhere else for just too long

So what I felt this week, I’d like to think is a start of something new, a new wave of healing yet another part of myself that has been deeply hurt and excluded.

Registered my protest today by beginning to read BR Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste. Woefully late in life, and just a quarter of the way through this is essential reading for every Indian (every human really), in a country that’s being fast made to forget the very idea of India that birthed our constitution and our identity as a nation. Essential reading for people being lulled to sleep slowly in a hateful frenzy. Essential reading for a staggering number of people in my immediate circle who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

I can’t do much to change people around me, I think. As always, I realised today again that I can only work on myself. If what’s going on in the country today means anything to me, I can only inform myself and solidify my politics. I can only show up more often. I can only do everything it takes to put my entire being behind knowing exactly what I am talking about when I say,

I refuse to buy this hatred that insists on making me believe that I don’t belong in my own country.

I can keep speaking my truth. And I can keep consistently choosing love.

Because without truth and love, I’m going nowhere in this search for belonging.

One year ago: Find my direction magnetically
Three years ago: Too much nature ho gaya


Been devouring Devotions and I can’t help but think this was the right time and the perfect place to lose myself to the full force of Mary Oliver like it engulfs you in this book.

On Meditating, Sort Of

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place — half asleep — where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter —
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints —
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

The more I learn about mindfulness through my own experience, the more I want to discard everything that it’s become in its modern Internet-ivised form and the less I want to rely on anything at all that I’ve read about it online.

The more I experience this zeroing in to the present, no matter where I am and what I’m doing, the more I value my own keenness to discover and deepen it for myself, in my own way.

Mary Oliver has a gentle, unaffected way of putting the loftiest ideas in words so simple, the melt into your skin and slip through the pores reaching that spot only you have ever gone to before.


Yesterday while VC climbed over rocks and streams to get to a vantage point to take his evening picture, I found a rock for myself. And then I just sat and stared at the river for nearly a whole hour. It was easy to just do nothing, watch a bulbul dip in and out of the icy water, listening to the continuous roar of the water as it gushed over the rocks stopping for nothing, and watching the glistening surface of the water change as the sunlight changed. But it was also really hard to resist pulling my phone out to snap pictures to instantly share with my family and some friends. It’s just so easy to slip out of the moment like that. And it took some effort and deliberation to come back. And just breathe.

Gratitude for words, silence, breath and presence today.

One year ago: September
Two years ago: Things change
Three years ago: Shifting gears


I spent all of today luxuriating in one of my biggest plusses of living alone — the ability to lose myself to a book.

I’ve been reading voraciously again. I’m not sure what turned, but I know something definitely has because today was spent completely in bed, save for a workout early this morning, and finally extricating myself from bed to step out only at 5 pm (because I had no choice and had somewhere to be).

I tried watching OITNB again but I can’t seem to put down Lisa Ray’s Close To The Bone that I started last night. It has me totally enthralled. Shockingly well written with unexpected, beautiful turn of phrase, she tells a story that’s deeply emotional, evocative and so real and relatable. I’m equal parts moved and inspired by the story she tells of rediscovering herself.

This hasn’t happened in a long while — this unputdownable energy to a book — certainly not all of this year that I’ve spent staunchly away from books in general for no other reason except that nothing deeply compelling came my way, and what I found just didn’t give me enough to sink my teeth into.

I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming before I picked this one up. That too was a complete revelation — a stunning book about the struggles and contradictions minorities face on the rare, hard-won rise to places of influence. It’s such a slap-you-in-the-face honest book that had me completely gripped. I’m a Michelle Obama fan now and will read anything she puts out.

Lisa Ray though, has knocked it out if the park in a startlingly unexpected way. I didn’t think this book would have much to offer but her life is so rich and full of love, a palpable passion and zest to thrive and it is so packed to the brim with varied, wholesome experiences, I guess it had to be an enriching book. But to limit it to that would be to take away from her very obvious and clear writing prowess that makes this book a true keeper.

I can’t get over this sentence early on in the book I read this morning. I’ve been turning it over and over in my head all day, marvelling at how perfect and reassuring, and just so basically true it is.

…a life lived in pieces is grace; you can put it back together the way you want.

Perfection in a sentence, right there.

It was nice to spend a day doing absolutely nothing else and losing myself to words that clearly had a charm and piqued me in this way.

It’s been a while.

One year ago: And you were an island to discover
Three years ago: July

Stay in

Okay it’s coming down good and proper now. Finally, that sound of incessant rain is here and what a thrill it is. Finally there is the undried laundry woes and general dampness in the air. Finally, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the proper monsoon I came here for.

Nothing signals this season like damp clothes for me. And this time, even with two balconies and one terrace, we still don’t have enough dry space for the laundry. What the terrace and  balcony, both adjacent to each other and both with big windows, are good for, is the wide open view of the incoming ominous black clouds as they roll and rush in before every down pour. It’s amazing how the landscape in these parts is so different from the urban parts we lived in before.

It’s mostly a time for staying in. Like a natural, seasonal shift that begs nothing else but the quiet of staying within, not just physically, but otherwise too. It feels like a time for hibernation of sorts. Everything around is bursting forth with life, the greens are popping, the constant gush of water is nourishing, and that vein of loneliness that felt embedded within me, lifts. My spirit feels quenched.

I’ve had no inclination to look at my laptop since I got here. Such a departure from my last trip when all I did was binge watch multiple things right through the day. I’ve instead been occupied around the house. I tended to my plants for a good while yesterday and then spent the rest of the day sorting the home straight because VCs help has been AWOL for over 10 days. I cleaned out the fridge and cooked myself lunch, and Niyu came over.

In the evening I went to the Panjim market to stock up on veggies. Always such a delight these fresh produce markets, but even more so the one I am so familiar with.

This time around I foresee a lot of driving up and down, especially between Panjim and home because VC and I are going to have to share the car to beat the rain and get places. I can’t seem to remember how we managed this in the monsoons past, but I certainly don’t remember dropping him to work and picking him uo everyday like I think I’m going to have to do this time around.

But it’s been good so far. If there’s one thing I love more than the rains in Goa, it’s driving around in the rains in Goa, listening to music and generally spending that time by myself. Earlier, I’d find reasons and excuses to drive out, hit the highway and get the music up loud. Now, with where we live, I don’t have to try so hard hahaha.

I’ve got some “studying” to do, an essay to submit and an intimidatingly long reading list for the course to get started with. This would have been the perfect getaway to get all that done. But somehow, I’m reading again. And I already can’t seem to get enough of the Kindle, the quiet, the solitude and the rain.

One year ago: June

Day 364: Expand your mind, take a look behind

Next year, I’ve decided I’m going to ditch the GoodReads challenge, stop obsessively compiling a to-be-read list and just pick up and read whatever catches my fancily, on the go. Organically. The hyper-curation has made my to-be-read list so long and unwieldy, it’s almost intimidating. And I’ve missed out on reading things as and when they’ve cropped up and struck a chord. By the time I get to said book in the list, the moment of inspiration has passed and the impact is lost.

Things that didn’t go to plan this year: finishing 40 books, finishing every book I started (I abandoned and/or didn’t read continuously about 5 books this year — including the one in this picture) reading on holiday (I read nothing in Europe and nothing this time around in Goa). Things that did: read more fiction. Which further tells me to let go of the plan, in general. And flow with the flow.

That’s my plan what I’m looking for next year. But for now, here’s a list of all the books I read this year. A list like I did last year and the year before last. I’m aware this is still a reflection of an obsession for completion making me do this, but I also do this for myself and for anyone else who might want to pick a book up from something they’ve stumbled on somewhere in this blog, but it’s impossible to find at a late date.

Here goes.

  1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  2. I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
  3. Ravan and Eddie, Kiran Nagarkar
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine, Gail Honeyman
  5. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  6. UsDavid Nicholls
  7. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
  8. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
  9. The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte
  10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
  11. Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig
  12. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
  13. Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
  14. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  15. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
  16. What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
  17. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  18. Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
  19. The Language of Baklava, Diana Abu Jaber
  20. Ballad for a Mad Girl, Vikki Wakefield
  21. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
  22. All the Good Parts, Loretta Nyhan
  23. Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
  24. Not That Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, Lena Dunham
  25. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney
  26. Barbara the Slut and Other People, Lauren Holmes
  27. The Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi
  28. French Milk, Lucy Kinsley
  29. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
  30. All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
  31. Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
  32. Cyber Sexy: Rethinking PornographyRicha Kaul Padte
  33. A Room of One’s OwnVirginia Woolf
  34. Born a CrimeTrevor Noah
  35. Gachar Gochar, Vivek Shanbhag (Translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur)
  36. Normal People, Sally Rooney
  37. 60 Indian Poets, Jeet Thayil
  38. Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

All the books: 2016
All the books: 2017

Two years ago: Day 364: Redemption reading

Day 363: Would you rewind it all the time

I’m definitely not finishing my reading challenge for 2018. Which is kind of a pity because I pledged to read 40 books by the end of the year, and I came so close for a change. I had such a good run, with a super good ratio of fun, enjoyable books too. But for various reasons I’m not going to make it to the “finish” and I’m trying not to psych myself into finishing it somehow, as I am known to otherwise. Anyhow. Here’s what I read last.

Gachar Gochar, Vivek Shanbhag (Translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur)
I gobbled this book in under 24 hours on my weekend away in Auroville with A.

It is such a good book — one of the best I’ve read this year. And it’s probably a sign of the banging translation job on this one that it made me wish I could read the original in Kannada. Just so I can get a deeper sense of the regional, colloquial nuances. This is a story of a middle-class family reeling in the aftereffects of sudden monetary success in newly liberalised India. Set in an old Bangalore that many of us have known some elements of, this was all kinds of heartwarming, nostalgic and riveting. If you have a penchant for Indian writing this is a must-read.

Normal People, Sally Rooney
I loved Rooney’s other book — Conversations with Friends — so much that when I heard she has a new book out I got my hands on it immediately. I also read this one in about a day in Auroville (yeah we did not much else than eat and read that weekend – blissful!). This is a book that talks about regular things — youth, love, relationships, passion — but twists it all up in knots, telling a story that can be easily passed off as simple and frivolous, when actually its a subtly political and deeply tender and moving. I enjoyed Normal People almost as much as I did Conversations with Friends, and for the same reasons. The writer in me has huge respect for this artful skill of telling simple stories that cut so deep in the most casual, matter of fact style.

Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
I picked this amazing book up in the bookshop at the visitor’s centre at Auroville, on A’s recommendation. It’s a short, quick read — a very old story, in fact — about a woman’s reverie into a veritable feminist dreamland, incredibly well illustrated by Durga Bai, a tribal artist. It was only after I finished the book that I realised the book I’d bought was merely a modern edition of an old classic. That’s how timeless and relevant this story is. It’s a great

60 Indian Poets, Jeet Thayil

I’ve never been big on poetry. I have always felt studying it (and my staunch efforts not to) in high-school and college killed it for me. But I’ve been drawn to poetry this year. A gifted this Tishani Doshi collection to me earlier this year, and then recommended this one as a good place to begin exploring Indian poetry and I cannot agree more. It’s an excellent (and large, formidable) selection, for one. But more than that it is interspersed with little pieces of text — anecdotes, interesting information about the poet, detailed bios — all across to really beef up the poem and give context. This is a keeper of a book, and one that I will keep going back to. I’ve already gifted it to three other people. It’s just that kind of book.

Title inspiration:

Two years ago: Day 363: Rewind

Day 310: It’s a lazy afternoon

Finally getting my reading grove back, as per usual, in Goa. Even with the crazy days we’ve been having, I’ve managed to read more in these last ten days than I have in the past two months. Mostly catching up in the afternoons, with the puppies at my feet and the sunlight slanting just so like it does in Goa, compelling me to slow down just a little.

The first two of these updates are books I read in August and September that I’m only just catching up now. That’s how much I fell off the reading bandwagon.

Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography, Richa Kaul Padte
I really, really enjoyed this one! The book is an attempt to define what constitutes porn in a modern Indian context, specifically given digital media. But it reallly felt like a lot more. It’s an intelligent, intimate journey through all the sexy-stuff on the Internet, stopping by everything from homemade videos to nudies to camgirls and fanfic. And along the way, it deftly discusses and dissects topics like consent, violation, sexual abuse, privacy, cyber law and so much more. Thoroughly researched, peppered with the right amount of insightful and intriguing academic references, yet written in a relevant and relatable style, the entire book is meaningfully put together. Cyber Sexy brings together such a wide variety of topics and touch points in its deep-dive into the world of porn in a way that is brave, yet casual and very, very normal.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
I picked this up on what was meant to be a ten day break by myself in Goa, which unfortunately got hijacked into a work trip to Goa. I read it never the less, but it didn’t quite have the same effect as I had imagined in my head hahaha. I thoroughly enjoyed it, all the same.

S recommended it to me at class, when I was discussing with her my growing need for space and how for the first time, I am experiencing coming into my own, separate from everything else around me and all the strings one usually finds oneself attached to. An apt, apt book for a time like this given the ideas swirling in my brain. It was all that it was cut out to be, fiercely independent, bold and so invigorating. And yet the language isn’t harsh and forceful. There is a quiet power in the subtle and polite way in which Woolf owns her space and place. It’s a quick read — about 120 pages or so — and even though I dragged it out for way longer than I needed to it left me feeling so energised and inspired.

Born a CrimeTrevor Noah
OMG Trevor Noah can write. Man can he write! And because I absolutely love memoirs this was an excellent read. And a great pick to get back to reading again. This is the incredibly moving story of Noah’s life before he became rich and famous, with it’s devastating beginning in apartheid-ridden South Africa. He was born in abject poverty and difficult beginnings, but tells an incredible story of how he was always surrounded by kind and powerful women who brought him up to be who he is today. Right from his years as a toddler, traversing his difficult teenage years, life with an alcoholic stepfather and a misguided early youth, I found out so many things about Noah’s life that I didn’t know about, but that also make his journey of triumph so much bigger. It’s fun, funny, moving, inspiring and entertaining all at once.

Two years ago: Day 309: Invitation

Day 233: I want to thank you for giving me the best days of my life

Gratitude for last week.

For Guru Purnima and for always having the opportunity to be with the music. No matter where I go, how far I wander, the music follows. Or a part of me remains. I’m not sure which. But there is the music.

For the sweet spot of busy-busyness that VC has hit. It’s keeping him on his toes, challenged and excited in a way that has fired him up like I haven’t seen in all these months in Bangalore.

For rainy evenings spent in silence at Koshys. For Bangalore weather. I’m really making the most of this before my time on Bangalore is up.

For the drive to Goa. Any roadtrip is fun with VC. And this was no different.

For Goa. For the weather. For the dogs. For friends. For this other side of life that is so new and filled with joy.

For all the chill. For the conversation. For the tarot insights. For the home-cooked food. For the downtime. For the books. For kinship. For home away from home.

Day 232: When you wake up in the evening and the day is shot

As always, being away from my own routine has given me uninterrupted time to read, read, read. One of the things I miss most about living in Goa, is the amount of reading I got done in the rain. I don’t know if it’s the sheer inability to step out as much, or the fact that grey skies, completely limpid environment and everything just begging you to sit down with a book (and not get up till you’re done) that makes it so, but this is such great weather to get a good bit of reading done.

I’ve been very lucky, and feeling so grateful that despite not living here we’ve somehow found home here at D and U’s. I’m so filled with gratitude when I think of how many times their doors have been open to us, whether we travel for work or even just when I felt like I wanted a break, I wanted to be in Goa, and I could just take the liberty to go. There is a sense of ease in having this kind of comfort, reaffirmed by how I can fully decompress, read, write, chat, gossip, laugh, cook, drink, eat, colour our hair, get tattoos — and everything in between. Somehow, even with all the non stop yakking that D and I manage, the little bit of cooking (and constant preoccupation about what to eat next) we did, I managed to finish these books this past week.

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
I am aghast at how much great YA of this specific genre there is out there, that I have entirely missed. AND OMG I AM SO GLAD TO HAVE FINALLY FOUND A ROAD IN!

AAAAAAAA-AAA! This book made me breathless and so full of emotion, choked up, exhilarated, overly joyful and heartbroken in equal measure, much like Eleanor & Park and I’ll Give You the Sun did. The latter more than the former, which was also the book I enjoyed the most, this year.

This is the kind of book I wish I had read when I was an angsty teenager trapped in my head, getting in my own way. It’s about being a teenager, mental illness, feeling lonely, peer pressure, finding love, finding friendship all at once. And it gripped me and ripped my heart right open. After years and years, a book has kept me up at night, fighting sleep just so I can finish it and not put it down.

This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, 17 years old and dealing with a lot of the issues 17-year-olds have to deal with. Except Finch has a mental condition that makes him routinely suicidal, and Violet is silently grieving over her dead sister that she has probably never really, openly grieved. The books with the two meeting atop a bell-tower, contemplating finishing their lives off. But of course they don’t jump because the book commences, and suddenly you’re wondering who saved who.

So it’s chockfull of love, loss, grief, passion, hormones, hopelessness, new-life-ness. It feels like so much, and yet somehow it filled me up with so much joy in reading how they find and hold on to each other in a world where everybody else is looking t them like they’re freaks. Violet becomes Finch’s reason to live, and Finch becomes Violet’s reason to find life anew.

It’s an exhilarating trip and it left me with a knot in my throat the entire time, especially with it’s build up toward the end which totally devastated me in a happy way and left me feeling so happy and heartbroken. How is that even possible, you might wonder. You’ll have to read this to know how. This was such a good book, and I was in just the right headspace for it.

PS: it’s going to be a movie sooooon. Cannot wait!

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
I’ve been on a bit of a roll reading food memoirs, since this summer when The Language of Baklava rekindled my interest in them. So I picked up Voracious which had such a good blurb and premise — A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, it said. Books and food and surprising connections. But it was a book that over-promised and under-sold.

The book is structured in chapters which are single essays titled the book/work of literature that inspired the food behind it. Through anecdotes from her own sometimes interesting and fascinating life (she is the grand-daughter of a butcher and spent a lot of her time growing up, in her grandfathers meat shop, for example), and gleaning from parts of these books she loved, Nicoletti brings her favourite food to life. But she only succeeded 50% of the time. The book had it’s high points, and I did enjoy reading some essays, but most were insipid and didn’t tug at my heart or my belly like a good food memoir can. Every chapter also ends in a recipe for said food/dish. Perhaps it was also the format that didn’t work for me. It felt too staccato and blog-post-ish, without a thread tying it together, which makes me lose interest fairly quickly, in the absence of any other aspect of interest.

Two years ago: Day 232: Manifesting a dream

Day 208: Closing walls and ticking clocks

It’s been a fantastic few weeks (a month?) of reading for me. I’m usually the person who shelves reading first, when things get busy. And it’s been a busy time with some work suddenly cropping up, travel for work and pleasure and a lot happening even when I was in Bangalore. Somehow though, I seem to have read through it all this time around. Being away twice in a month — a few days off the grid and relaxing completely in Wayanad and a few days off in Goa post our shoot where I mostly devoured books — has definitely helped. Last week especially, I enjoyed the easy way in which I read non stop, slipping easily from one book into the next and finishing it off even before I came back to Bangalore. I’m grateful for the time and the luxury.

Here’s what I’ve read recently.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
OMG I loved Stir. This is just the kind of food writing that I enjoy. Writing that’s about food at the heart of it, but that deftly, gently and cleverly brings in other elements that make up a life — which in this case is everything from illness (a brain aneurism brings her life crashing down), recovery and Jessica Fechtor’s reclaiming herself and an identity anew, after a colossal personal crisis. In bringing out stories of how food helped her “fix” herself again, she traverses nostalgia, culture, memory yes, but she also taps into nuances I really like to see associated with food. I am so tired of nostalgia being the only portal to access food. So tired of wordy stories about grandmothers and ancestral homes being the predominant narrative, especially because this is mostly what I see across Indian food blogs. It’s what turned me completely off them, in fact.

Stir gripped me and held me agog. It’s the content as much as it is a casual, simplistic yet effortlessly beautiful and deeply engaging style that is telling of Jessicca’s creative inclinations that clearly make her a well-rounded, curious and eager artist.

I ended the book with so much respect for her, and a renewed love for this kind of food writing.

Not That Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, Lena Dunham

Much has been said and written about this book, and I’ve been late to pick it up. I have been a fan of Lena Dunham’s show, Girls. And even so, over the years the show ran, my opinion about the show and Dunham as a public figure has undergone a change. I wouldn’t call myself a fan anymore. Even so, I decided to give this book a try. And I’m glad I did, because I actually enjoyed most of it.

It made for perfect reading as I spent four hours in a cute little salon in Goa (yes, they got me a beer in a chilled glass and a really good grilled sandwich from the restaurant next door to help pass the time too!) where D and I acted upon a spontaneous whim to colour our hair. A decision that was spurred in part by many thoughts I have been working about — about myself, about beauty, shame, vanity, gender (particularly wondering about my hair and where my desire for short hair came from). And Dunham touches on so many of these aspects in the book.

Not That Kind Of Girl is a collection of personal essays that traverses a variety of things including everything from her body image issues, to her sexual encounters in her 20s, growing up to parents who are artists, friendships in her teens and in adulthood, sexual abuse, and the existential crises one eventually faces in ones 20s. The book has received a lot of flak for being uber privileged, white and lacking in depth and inclusion. It’s true. I’ll even agree it does pain Dunham as quite the self-involved brat. But that said, that is her reality. And to unapologetically tell stories that bring out your privilege is brave, I think.

If you like honest, sometimes sentimental, sometimes sad, sometimes wistful, painfully real personal essays, this one might be worth a read. I can’t say the book changed my perception of Dunham as a public figure. I still have issues with some of the things she has said and done. But I did enjoy the range of essays in this, and I would even give some of them a second read.

Conversations with Friends, Rooney Sally
I really, really enjoyed this one! At the heart of it the book is about two twenty-something girls who are going through life, grabbing at experiences, living it to the hilt. And in the bargain, evolving, changing, allowing everything that happens to them to impact their life in one way or another.

The book is a simple story about two wildly different friends, who connect over somethings but have very vastly different passions and approaches to life. And yet, they each live in a manner that is hugely present, from one moment to the next. Even as they’re making some rather poor choices that land them in problematic situations, I love how Frances and Bobbi take those experiences and learn from them. And how their characters grow from it all.

Barbara the Slut and Other People, Lauren Holmes
This collection of short stories all deal with intimacy and eroticism of one kind or another. But not a single story is a straight forward, simple or expected one. Each with it’s own unique quirk or twist — a shocking absurdity, an awkward fetish, an unexpected sexual truth — which kept me flipping pages even though I can’t say I really loved the book. The stories are interesting, but abrupt and vague at times. None of them had a proper ending, and that left me a bit unsettled. Also, the blurb describes them as “brave” “fearless” and the like, and I didn’t feel like any of them were. They were just different.

The Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi
A gifted me a copy of this book, when we realised that every time that we met, over several hangouts, we would end up talking about coming into our own, outside of the various roles we make ourselves play. Finding our inner true selves, besides the friend, daughter, mother, wife, sister, companion roles that we play. This has been a slow by significant brewing within me, and it’s made me contemplate living alone/apart/by myself for a bit, a dramatic step for someone like me who has never really considered it or even felt like the thought appealed. But of late, the idea has been calling out to me, appealing more and more. This book came at a perfect time. It filled me with so much emotion to read poetry about women finding their own autonomy, shedding skins, facing their fears and finding their feet on new ground. The poems are equal parts bold and soft, fierce and gentle, large and overwhelming yet important. The book was such a visceral read and left me feeling very vulnerable, raw with my feeling bubbling to the surface, and just so cut up and forced to face what’s beneath. And I mean that in an entirely good way.

French Milk, Lucy Kinsley
I picked this book completely unaware that it was an illustrated journal of sorts. And it turned out to be such an absolute delight! It chronicles a journey the author makes to Paris with her mother and all that they experience, in graphic detail. I breezed through it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
So maybe it’s a bit late in my life to be picking up this seminal book in new age spirituality and self-help. But I had such expectations from it, and it just fell so short. I can’t say I hated it, but it was just too simplistic for me. I suppose that can be attributed to the fact that the core message of living in the now is by no means a new one for me. It has been the subject of my focus and my life for the last few years, and especially given the growth I have experienced in the last one year, this felt too easy-peasy. It didn’t help that the book also felt like the author repeats a set of 3, maybe 4 core points, over and over and over again, which left me with no new insights or takeaways. I’m glad I ticked it off my list, though, and wondered what it might have been like to read it at the start of my own spiritual journey when everything was new and unexplored.

Two years ago: Day 208: It’s always just a silly listicle

Day 163: Stop chasing shadows, just enjoy the ride

All of May went by without a book post. That should tell you how slow I’ve been going. I’m not someone who can snatch pockets of time, all the time, to finish up what I’m reading. Even when I do, it isn’t focused, so I prefer to read when I have time and mind-space to give. Add to it a string of not-so-great books that have really not presented me with any opportunity to just throw myself and be completely absorbed by them. And so, it has been oh so slowwwww. But, I did manage to read a fair bit on holiday, even though it was mostly very meh reading.

Here’s what:

Starting with the excellent book that killed the bad book streak!
The Language of Baklava, Diana Abu Jaber

A recommended this book to me over breakfast last month. We were vehemently complaining about the paltry state of food writing in India, when she strongly recommended this book, telling me it would convince me to finish my half-written food memoir. I read it over my holiday, but only managed to finish it yesterday. But just a few chapters, I knew why A said what she did.

This book is just so simply evocative. Without that typically unnecessarily flowery curly language that one tends to lean to when writing about food, the books serves up an ample dose of nostalgia, culture, immigrant stories in several essays dotted with recipes, as told by Diana Abu Jaber — born to a Jordanian father and American Mother. Diana’s writing was just perfectly nostalgic, without going into raptures, measured, beautiful writing that evoked oh so many feelings in me.

This one is a keeper. And if you love food, nostalgia and stories of culture seen through the lens of food, you will love this one too.

Ballad for a Mad Girl, Vikki Wakefield
I was in the mood for something utterly light and breezy, when I reached out to P in April only to discover she was in the same mood. So we threw a bunch of titles at each other, nothing either of us had actually read so we could recommend. Just titles that we’d found interesting and bookmarked. This was one of them.

YA meets murder mystery that also flirts a little with a quasi-paranormal-semi-mystic sort of territory. This book also skirts around mental health issues. It is the story of 16-year old Grace Foley who accidentally embarks on a paranormal experience that sets her off on an unexpected path of solving the mystery of the murder of Hannah Holt.

Despite that exciting premise, this book did not hit the spot for me. It had its moments — interesting characterisation, unexpected plot twists, complete zany story itself — but all of it just felt very fragmented and sorely missed that something to tie it all together.

Landline, Rainbow Rowell
After Ballad for a Mad Girl, I really wanted something light that I could read while in Goa. Having previously loved Rainbow Rowell, I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Landline. And so I picked it up.

But. I was wrong. This book didn’t just not cut it. It was downright terrible, and a solid waste of my holiday reading time.

Workaholic Georgie and Stay-At-Home-Dad Neal are having marriage trouble. And when Georgie bails out of the annual Christmas holiday at Neal’s parents home, the cracks really begin to show. Except it’s all very unconvincingly told.

The stupid landline is such a force-fit. Georgie’s mobile phone is always running low on battery or some such, making her resort to using a yellow landline to call her husband. Which, hold your breath, is a portal into the past.


The story plays backwards, with the details about their love story, how they met and ended up marrying, up to where they are now, is revealed in subsequent chapters, as Georgie makes calls to the Neal of the past, via the magic landline.

Sorry, maybe I just don’t have the imagination for this. But this book irritated the heck out of me.

All the Good Parts, Loretta Nyhan

Leona Accorsi is single, studying to be a nurse, living in her sisters basement and moving between several temporary jobs. She is 39. And she has suddenly been told by her gynaecologist that if she ever wanted to have kids, now is the time to hurry up and do it.

This is where the book begins. And proceeds to set the tone for the rest of it — a process of going through the should-I-shouldn’t-I rigmarole of embarking on motherhood. With far from perfect circumstances, absolutely no male persons of interest in the offing and time that is running out, Leona makes out a list of “prospects” who she can ask for “help”. These prospects range from her patients, to her nieces tutor to a fellow nursing student she knows through the online chat program her class is on.

The book is a rollercoaster ride of her figuring out which one to go with. Along the way she tests some of the important relationships in her life — with her sister, her patients, her brother in law — to the brink and back. Several seemingly odd and unnecessary side plots emerge, which constantly left me wondering where it would all end up. At the end, when I realised where they do end up, it just very very contrived and convenient.

The premise had so much promise, but I felt quite let down and found the book to be just lacklustre. Meh.

Day 162: Only happy when it rains

Today, I just didn’t feel like writing. I have six drafts in the works. And I have so much to say about my course last week. But I’m just settling into it, letting it seep in slowly.

Today I caught up with some reading instead.

It’s been going so slow of late. Today I guzzled what was actually a delightful book, but one I was labouring over for no reason but that I needed time, time, time. I took the time today. Over ginger and lemon tea. With this amazing hill station weather out, that we have going.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll write out that long pending book post sitting in my drafts.

Two years ago: Day 162: New Tricks

Day 107: Where is the love

As it happens, I have just finished two consecutive books centred around the theme of marriage. Two very different genres, perspectives and very, very different takes. But both interesting reads in their own right.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
This was a slow, deeply thought out, insightful and very, very honest look at marriage. Set against a backdrop of the severe consequences of discriminations and inequality in the criminal justice system of America.

Narrated in first-person, through voices of multiple characters in the story, An American Marriage looks at a typical marriage and what happens when Roy is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is released in 5, but by then too many things have already happened to his marriage with Celestial. The journey there-on throws up a series of difficult, surprising and very relevant situations ad questions about loyalty, infidelity, right and wrong.

As such, my own views on the institution of marriage have undergone a wild shift in the ten years of being married myself, and reading this book really brought a lot of my own inconclusive thoughts front and centre. The book is simply written, and the story is pretty simple too, but through the theme and the different perspectives of the characters involved, Jones has done a splendid job of bringing out all her questions in a raw, rousing and very real way.

Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
Several reviews on Goodreads claimed this was an absolute laugh-out-loud book. I can say for certain that it was not. Not for me, at least. That is entirely an issue of the style and how it didn’t really make me laugh out loud. At best, it made me chuckle and smile a lot, but that was it.

That said, it was a lovely read. Again, this is a story about the marriage of Graham and Audra who each bring their own idiosyncrasies as well as quirks and ample baggage from the past with them. They’re also raising an 11-year old son with Asperger’s, which lends a whole other complexity to their marriage. Audra is the diametric opposite of Graham’s first wife, and through the book the contrasts are presented over and over. This story takes a hard look at how things change, how it’s possible for a person to love such differing personalities. Obviously, I loved this aspect because this sort of fundamental needle-pushing change is what I’m currently obsessed with observing in my own life. So it really ticked the boxes for me.

It’s a light-hearted but poignant look at modern marriage and the many ways in which it seems to be transforming, giving couples space to define a whole new level of normal, outside the expected, stereotypical boundaries of what we have known marriage to be.

The style is light and warm, but has a punch. Audra’s character is full of life and that really comes through, while Graham is subdued and calm, which also comes through in an entirely different way. It will give you the fuzzies in parts, make you chuckle and also touch you. This felt like a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls book told by a woman. I loved reading it.

Day 90: Slow change may pull us apart

Remember how I said I almost didn’t want to talk about how much I was reading, for fear of jinxing the good streak? Well, I think I kind of manifested just that. Like I mentioned, March had a very scattered energy and our days got a bit packed, unexpectedly. Invariably, this balancing act means letting go of a few things. I gladly let go of the (half-assed)attempts to get back to the gym, and unfortunately had to also go easy on the reading too. TV and movies seemed like the easier thing to go to. But, the last week of the month saw a frenzied sort of reading again, aided by two days spent sitting in the hospital, which is probably all the peace and quiet I needed to resume.

Here’s what I read this month:

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
This book came to me at just the right time. As I’m making peace with the way in which writing seems to be a part of my life — blurring the lines between work and play — I needed the validation, and the reaffirmation of the inexplicable pleasures and the maddening perils of this life. In Dani Shapiro’s honest, no-nonsense, witty and downright touching memoir about the writing life, I found pieces of myself. Especially in the bits that run over the inevitable self-doubt, the small triumphs, the persistence that the work just demands of anyone who were to delve into it, I saw my own experiences navigating this field the last five years of my life.

This wasn’t just an enjoyable read. It was a read that gave me a deep, deep sense of peace and satisfaction. I don’t want to go into too many details, because this  book deserves to be read, rather than be talked about. But I will say this, if you are a writer, (heck, if you’re even indulging remotely in a creative pursuit that requires you to suspend control and give in to the creative force that sometimes surges through you and demands a way out) any kind of writer, Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is a gift you should give yourself.

In a series of delightfully honest vignettes, she presents not a guide on how t navigate the writing life, but a series of situations and events in her life that will likely be very very similar to your own. Read it for the validation, to know you’re not alone, and to fully realise just how special it is to have the opportunity to step into this role — to choose a creative path and see where it takes you.

I devoured this book, dipping into it late into the night and reading it every chance I got. (Dani has very quickly become one of those authors whose every single work I now want to read.)

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
At first, I found Little Fires Everywhere kind of slow in an over-indulgent sort of way. But I ignored the urge to be easily-distracted and persisted. Glad I did, because half way in, I realised that is a very deliberate style Ng employs towards a gradual but definitely-catastrophic climax. It’s the sort of slow, painful build-up towards the an inevitable tragedy you see coming, and you feel torn between speeding up to the end and tossing it over because it’s too painful to read.

Celeste Ng’s skill lies in her nuanced character-building. Detailed back-stories, elaborate descriptions, layered situations and a story arc that stacks up like lego blocks that must tumble in the end, this was such a read that required me to complete sink into it. Which is probably why, given how scattered this month has been and how little time I had to allow that kind of absorbed reading, it took me a while to finish.

Set in the 90s in America, the story touches on the intricacies of tightly-knit families, exploring in delicious detail the role of motherhood — fraught with angst, jealousy, pride and honour. It deftly exposes the many kinds of motherhood there can be, plainly showing how it isn’t always as glorious a role as it is made out to be. That it is in fact one of the hardest, toughest things women will ever do. And yet, will never be perfect at it. Highly recommend it.

This was a timely, poignant read for this time in my life.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
I have read and loved Roxane Gay’s powerful writing before (especially loved Bad Feminist), but with Hunger I have become an ardent and most dedicated fangirl. I will give anything to be able to witness her speaking, it’s become a life-goal now.

I feel like Roxane Gay should be essential reading for men and women everywhere, for her succinct, balanced and very hard-to-debate views on cultural mores and the way they stereotype and shape our evolution as a patriarchal society. If you’ve read any of her writing, even online, this is a given. But with Hunger, she blows the lid off the can and brings out a raw, gritty, no-holds-barred memoir of what she cals her unruly body. But in doing so, she touches on so many big and small issues around the subject of how we look at, judge and accept women’s bodies. And she gently traverses topics as diverse as reality television, food corporations, pop culture, her own Haitian heritage, sexual violence and so many little connections you wouldn’t otherwise make, while doing so.

Before I began, I read a review on Goodreads that claimed this book is Roxane Gay basically blaming all her issue son the world, and I thought to myself — that doesn’t sound at all like something she would do. This was happily confirmed in the plain no-vanilla, beautiful style that is Gay’s. This isn’t a book that asks you to feel sorry for her. It is simply a telling of things as they are, as they have been, of life as it has come to her.

Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.

It’s a deeply moving story though, and had me in tears in some parts, choked up with a knot in my stomach in others, wincing in pseudo-pain knees tightly clenched, in some others. So raw and real is her writing, and so relatable is so much of what she says, that I found myself in so so so many pages.

It’s a book that left me feeling gratitude and respect for my body. And deep shame and regret for the trauma we as a culture put that same body through.

This is a must, must read.

What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
I love Oprah. And I really wanted to love this book. But. I just. Couldn’t.

This is just a collection of many What-I-Know-For-Sure columns she’s penned for O Mag over the last many years. Which, upon reading, I realise is a very, very lazy way of creating a book out of content that seems like it has potential. The thing is reading a column is a very different kind of experience from reading a book. I can pass off and even agree with many of the feel-good, simple truths in a column because of the expectations I come with, and the format. But in a book? I want something more. Especially if it’s coming form Oprah. I want more. I don’t want to go away with just glib, superficial new-age babble that honestly just left me feeling very irritated. The way in which it is put together also does her words a disservice because it makes her come off sounding very privileged and out of touch with reality. I actually ended the book thinking she is actually very out of touch with reality, and it’s never nice having someone you admire fall in your eyes.


Two years ago: Day 90: Seeing the sun rise