Book Review: Before We Visit The Goddess

The story of Savitri, Tara, and Bela, three generations of women and their lives in Bengal and America has been beautifully crafted by Divakaruni. The fact that I’m from Bengal and (like most Bengalis) I’m a foodie were added incentives while reading the book. The mouth watering delicacies described in the book along with the description of Bengal in all its glory were things I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved how the author crafted each chapter of the book as a short story and then stringed it all together in the form of a novel. Out of the three women, I loved Bela’s story the most because of the way she reinvents herself. Her unlikely friendship with one of her neighbours was truly endearing. Savitri came across as a character with different interesting shades to her life but the best part was how she fought to achieve whatever she deserved. Tara, in comparison, seemed to be a bit more passive. Overall, a truly wonderful story that is feminine, powerful, and filled with poetic beauty.

Book Review: Manage Your Day To Day

This was just the book that found me at the right time. The chapters are short, but the lessons invaluable. Some of the chapters, like mindful use of social media and email have solutions I was precisely looking for at this point in my life. Also, the emphasis on persistence and discipline over talent is something that motivated me into building my own routine and habits. 2017 started on a great note for me, book wise, and I’m so happy to have come across this series on Amazon. I am currently reading the next part. I would highly recommend it to everyone!

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Book Review: Purple Hibiscus

Rarely do you come across a book that resonates with you from the very first word. This was one such book for me. The lives of Kambili, Jaja, Ifeoma, Amaka, Eugene, Father Amadi and others seem to make me think even when I was not reading the book. This is my first experience with African literature and I’m so enthralled by this book that I’ve promptly collected all the other books written by Chimamanda Adichie. This year I’ve made a conscious decision of reading more diverse authors and I’m so happy that I did! This book is rich in detail, powerful in its delivery with beautiful prose and a taut storyline. The towns of Nnusuka and Enugu are painted in such vivid details that I could clearly imagine those in front of my eyes even though I’ve never visited Africa. A brilliant coming of age story that I think everyone should read at least once during their lifetimes. I’m delighted to have found a new favorite author. 🙂
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When The Smell Of Pancakes Takes You Back To That Beach Holiday

 

 

Today was one of those mornings when the sunshine is nice and warm like a gooey chocolate brownie with a hint of winter sprinkled like sugar on top of it. Yesterday, I had bought some oats powder as a part of our grocery shopping. So, once I woke up well rested I wanted to rustle up a special breakfast. At the onset, let me tell you that I have very little regard for recipes and rather go by my instinct while cooking. So, I made a batter by mixing the powdered oats with milk, sugar, eggs, drinking chocolate, coffee, water, and a pinch of salt. I heated the non-stick pan and poured half a tablespoon of olive oil on it. Once the oil started to smoke, I poured the batter with a ladle and flattened it on the pan. I covered the pan with a glass cover and let it sizzle for a while. The sound of oil sputtering and the mixture getting cooked filled me with an eager sense of anticipation as I chopped strawberries and bananas.

When we visit Goa, we generally leave our hotel a little after sunrise and head to one of those less crowded beaches way up north. We sit on the beach while dipping our feet inside the still cold, frothy water, as the waves wash away the remnants of sleep from our eyes. We stare at the sky over the distant horizon that looks like it had been playing Holi as its body seems to be smeared with the red, orange, and pink gulal.

When we rise from this meditative state, we head towards one of the shacks dotting the beach for a hearty breakfast. While we read or keep enjoying the sea’s waking up ceremony, the steaming pancakes are placed on big pates in front of us. The delicate aroma of cinnamon, chocolates, and bananas wafts into the air while small bowls of maple syrup, honey, and chocolate sauce dot the edge of the plate. There’s a smaller dish filled with slices of ripe bananas, juicy papayas, and pink strawberries.

The breakfast is a play on the tastebuds. I tear a piece of the moist and fluffy pancake, scoop in a dollop of chocolate sauce and some cubes of fruits and roll it into my mouth. While I enjoy the play of sweet, sour, and slight bitterness on my tastebuds, I see the sky brightening up for another glorious day ahead. We prepare to rub on the sunscreen lotions, take off our t-shirts and sarongs and dive into the cool ocean.

That’s what a pancake does to me. It brings back memories of carefree days , sun tanned noons, and evenings filled with the scent of sea breeze, french fries, and beer. Days when reading doesn’t need to stop under those giant umbrellas by the beach, unless you want to run into the ocean and frolick around for a while. The beach is filled with children with toy spades and tiny buckets, digging their sandcastles while their parents look on, and with lovers of all ages, getting a bit more intimate as if the sea has allowed them a little more liberty.

So, when I wake up in the morning and mix the batter for my pancakes, the tak, tak, tak sound as I blend the mixture with a fork and then the sizzling brown pancakes rising from the hot skillet is not just food. Because besides the usual ingredients, this pancake is also made up of condiments like happy memories, love, splashing water, innocent pecks on the cheeks, literary delights, french fries, kids, and a temporary sense of freedom.

Yes All Women

(Image: Author’s Own)

Remember that ‘maal’ your friend was talking about?
And how that made you uncomfortable, yet you kept shut
for fear of being ousted by your boy gang?
Remember the time when your friend slapped a girl
and you turned your face
because it was their private matter?
Remember, when dad taunted mom for being ‘just a housewife’
without lifting a finger to help her
and you did nothing?
Remember, when that girl in the metro
shouted at a man who was elbowing her
and you looked away.
Remember, the way your friend talked about
that girl in a miniskirt,
how she deserves to be treated?

Remember?
Remember?
Remember?

All the ways you kept silent
when women around you got humiliated, dehumanized, objectified
because what will other men think if you protest?

Instead, you silenced women even more.
By asking them to wear ‘decent’ clothes,
not to be out after dark,
not to drink, laugh, make friends with other men.
Because you know how ‘other men think.’

No, you might not be a direct perpetrator
but you’re worse- a spineless bystander,
who comes to protest with their slogans of Not All Men.
When women want their lives back.

This House Feels Like Home

(Image: Author’s Own)

The cottage was hidden from view by the thicket of greenery fringing the sea shore. But if I sat on the creaky armchair in the balcony, I could admire the ocean in all its glory. My favorite time to sit there was early in the morning when this almost secluded beach seemed like a sleepy girl stretching out the last drops of sleep from her body while she stepped out of bed. I could see fishermen at the distance spreading their nets into the ocean while the sun, like a half-boiled egg threatened to spill its runny orange yolk all across the sky.

Sometimes he’d sit beside me, his hair disheveled and his sleep crusted eyes staring into the horizon, as if those were witnessing an early morning dream.

I’d smile at the peace engulfing me–the low rumblings of the sea, the distant calls of the fishermen, the hissing of the electric kettle that came from my kitchen reminding me to go inside.

Our small cottage had awning windows that I’d decorated with money plants and little flower pots. I loved sitting at the dining table, sipping my morning cuppa, while enjoying the changing moods of the sea. The house felt like our own little seaside cafe.

I pushed aside the curtain made of seashells to enter my study. I pulled the high backed oakwood chair and sat at the table to write. The sea breeze floating in gently kissed the nape of my neck. I sipped my bittersweet coffee and started writing in my journal, “This house feels like home.”

The Garbage Collector

(Image Courtesy: Allianz)

My mobile phone alarm of chirping birds created a serene forest like atmosphere inside my air-conditioned bedroom. I looked at the time. It was 6 AM but today was a National Holiday. I’d forgotten to disable the daily alarm. At once I succumbed to the comfortable lull of early morning sleep by pulling the blanket closer and snuggling against my husband’s warm body.
 
I finally woke up to the feel of wet tongue against my cheek. My dog, Fluffy, wanted to be let out. Gosh! It was eight. I yawned and pulling my hair into a tight knot, went to the door to let him out. At once, the sight of garbage spoiled my mood. It has been two days since anyone collected the trash from our apartment. “What was wrong with these people? They just need an excuse to be absent!” I grumbled.
 
I switched on the coffee machine and dialed the head security person’s number.
 
“What is wrong, Vijay ji? Why hasn’t the garbage been collected for the last two days?” I let out a frustrated sigh.
 
“Oh sorry madam. The lady and her son were both unable to come for the last two days.”
“But how come both of them have been allowed to go on leave, together?”
“Madam, Vimala’s daughter-in-law and Raju’s wife, Surmayi was in the late stage of pregnancy and she suddenly became critical. So, they had to rush her to the ICU. Yesterday morning she delivered a stillborn.”
 
“Shit!” The word just came out of my mouth as an involuntary reflex. I am not sure whether it was shame or guilt or sympathy but I truly wanted to remove that feeling of impatience that had spilled over my words a while ago.
 
“I’m sorry to hear that, Vijay ji.”
“It is alright madam. A lot of people have complained about the trash, I will send someone today.”
 
I stared at the flaming gulmohar tree from my dining hall window, while sipping on my Colombian coffee. It was rich and bitter just the way I prefered but today my taste buds couldn’t convey the delight it felt to my mind. Though I know I hadn’t done anything wrong in asking about the whereabouts of the people who collected our trash, yet somehow, the news shook me.
 
Sid was still fast asleep inside our heavily curtained dark bedroom. He relished the lack of morning rush on holidays. Outside I could hear Fluffy, scratching on the door to be let in. As he came bounding inside with his usual exuberance, I dipped my face into his neck and took in his musty smell that comforted me.
 
While I prepared Fluffy’s breakfast, I heard the doorbell ring. There was Raju standing in front of me. Words failed me when I looked at that devastated face. I lowered my eyes like a coward.
 
“Namaste Madam ji.”
I mumbled a soft “Namaste” while concentrating on his calloused hands that deftly picked up our biryani packets, the cardboard packages from Amazon, the vegetable peels mixed with the flowers from my terrace that I used to decorate my vases. I stared at the black polythene bag that he shoved inside his nylon jhola and wondered “Did he also shove his lump of grief deep down into the dark crevices of his heart?”
 
Even tears were such a luxury for some.
 
I looked at the poor man carrying his dead child inside his chest while outwardly greeting people and carrying their trash on his back. He had no time for grief while earning a living for the rest of his family. I looked at his frayed sandals, the hand me down polyester shirt, and his cotton pants and sent a silent prayer to the heaven.

May Your New Year Be Filled With Unicorns (Ok, Maybe Just One)

(A few books I dug out of my unending to read pile. I’ve decided to finish these during 2017 along with some others on Kindle. We all like dreaming big on the first day of the New Year 😛 )

Oh we all must have heaved a collective sigh of relief on the midnight of January 1st. (Ok, according to our respective time zones and some of us were sleeping, so a louder snore might have been a substitute, but you get the essence!)

Over the last couple of months my timeline was flooded with one thing that seemed to unite us all, from Azerbaijan to Argentina, from Kyrgyzstan to Korea–that 2016 needs to get over soon. It seemed as if the world has planned for this grand party complete with a musical carnival and baked goods, not just for a day but for the whole of 2017.

People were acting like I’ve seen a lot of fellow travelers do while traveling in an airplane. The moment the plane touches the ground of their destination, they seem to mutter to themselves, ‘To hell with the ‘seatbelt on’ or the ‘switch off your mobile sign’ let’s just pull down our luggage at the cost of breaking someone else’s neck and make a run for the exit.’ It seems as if there’s an unknown race to leave the plane and the last person to do so might be taken back to where they started their journey from!

Everyone seemed so hyped about 2017 as if that’s going to end their miseries or whatever it is they wanted to get rid of. True, 2016 wasn’t one of the best years. There were a number of amazingly talented individuals who bid farewell to this world and in turn the most powerful nation was gifted with a not so amazing, not so talented, but perhaps a lot more terrifying leader. The refugee crisis and the suffering of innocent lives were at a high while natural calamity and some manmade ones disrupted lives across nations. But like Cinderella transforming to peasant girl at the stroke of midnight, did the world transform the moment it was 2017? Nope. At least, not for me.

I woke up to the same sound of those early birds quarreling (for their rightful share of worms, maybe?) , the splash of water against cars as someone cleaned those, there was a faint light trying to pierce through the winter night and valiantly fighting against being blown out by the powerful fog. I woke up to letting my dogs out and letting my domestic help in. So, yeah at least in my life, the New Year didn’t bring any change save for the fact that the said help and I exchanged New Year wishes.

But then it might be different for other people, I thought and so I logged into Facebook. All I could see were pictures of people ushering the New Year with different parties. I hope the New Year didn’t mind that I peacefully slept through the time when I was supposed to usher it in. I was not even trying to ‘usher’ it with enthusiasm and high spirits (pun intended). What if my lack of celebration annoyed it? Oh well, it is still first January and maybe I can pull myself out of heap of quilts, laptops, and books and like a graceful host, welcome its arrival? However, looking at my state, if 2017 thinks of keeping me buried under blankets and books for the rest of the year that might not be such an unpleasant punishment for me after all.

That’s all for now, as I prepare my Puja Thali to usher in the first day of the New Year before it gets exasperated and leaves me in the lurch (just like those people in the airplane fear). Btw, do I need to dress up, too? Forget it, it’s too cold.

 

The Song On The Radio

I stared out of the car, trying to make sense of the abstract painting like scenery created by the relentless outpour and the foggy window. The radio crooned one of those ’90’s Bollywood numbers that reminded me of class tests, sudden crushes, lunchtime gossips, and growing up. Despite the standstill traffic and my husband’s increasing annoyance, like a fluttering butterfly’s wings, a tiny smile brushed my lips. Nostalgia has its way of messing up with your mind.

I started outlining a heart with my finger on the misty glass window. The way we used to do during school days, drawing arrows through it, and writing the initials of our names along with those of our crushes. Through the outline of the heart, I felt I saw someone familiar. Was the weather, the song, and an onslaught of past memories making me hallucinate?

I cleared up a bigger portion of the glass with my palm. Yes, there he was. Inside a cab right next to our car. The guy left behind along with those silly adolescent days. His beard made me unsure but the moment he smiled at the girl next to him, those deep dimples and those piercing gray eyes removed my doubts. I smiled looking at him so happy. A decade was a long time to cure yourself out of jealousy.

Just at that moment, his eyes fell on mine. He lowered them quickly ad continued his conversation. I swallowed back the heavy lump of disappointment. But after a while he looked back. I understood he was taking some time to collect himself. There was just the tiniest bit of smile, a smile only I recognized.

Suddenly, something came over me. In front of me was the boy in shorts looking up at my balcony to catch a glimpse of me while I hung clothes. I looked at him and just like that summer noon, I stuck my tongue out and acted like I was dead. It was the silliest thing to do and yet he burst out laughing to the surprise of his companion. I quickly lowered my head and pretended to check my phone while the radio hummed on, ‘haste haste kat jaye raste…’

Using Makeup Or Photo Filters Doesn’t Mean That I Don’t Love Or Accept My Natural Self!

This article first appeared on Women’s Web.

A while back I’d read an article here on Women’s Web, where a dear writer had mentioned how putting filters on our photos robs us of our self confidence and subjects us to body shaming. In several other places, I’ve also heard people saying using makeup is like putting on ‘false advertisement’.

The underlying thought behind these statements is that when we want to project a more attractive image of ourselves to the world it means that we don’t accept ourselves the way we are. According to me, these statements aren’t entirely true for everyone. We can love ourselves to bits and still put on makeup or use photo filters. Here’s why I feel this way.

Let me start with a small story about myself. Raised in a household that considered makeup to be unnecessary, harmful, vain, and not something that intelligent girls indulge in, I was always under the impression that makeup is BAD. In fact, so deep rooted were my convictions that I first started using makeup just a few months ago, after being inspired by a friend’s YouTube channel. It took me over 30 years to unlearn the ‘lesson’ from my childhood!

No, it isn’t as though now I put a lot of makeup every time I step out, but I do it when the mood strikes and most importantly, I feel awesome doing it! Does that mean I don’t accept myself the way I look? Oh My God, NO!

I have always had problematic skin. There aren’t many treatments known to mankind that I haven’t tried on my face. Though with age, the breakouts have lessened, I still suffer from acne. I have adult acne and no matter how much you advise me to avoid spicy food, chocolates or to keep my bowels clear or my face clean, to use this medicine or go to that doctor, I know that acne are a part of my life and I’ve made my peace with them. I know they’ll keep visiting me from time to time and I’ll have to live with them. Honestly, along with age, it doesn’t even bother me that much.

However, once I got introduced to makeup, I easily cover up my blemishes when I step out. Now, I’d like to be honest with you. It makes me feel Amazing! I simply love applying primer which gives my face a smoother finish since I have large pores; I love it when the concealer covers my acne, and how the honey colored foundation blends into my skin. One of the biggest progresses in the field of makeup is that these items nowadays cater to diverse skin tones. And so, without looking like a pale ghost, I let my own complexion glow!

 “So you’re giving a wrong impression to people when you’re stepping out!” Do I hear you saying that?No, you’ll only think of using makeup as false advertising when you think of women as products to be sold!

I have nothing to prove to anyone. Heck, given that logic, I must try falsely advertising to my husband first, no? He gets to see me waking up with my hair in disarray, my eyes swollen, my lips chapped, and not a single ounce of makeup on my splotchy face. If I have no issues in showing him that face, trust me, I really love myself a bit too much to think about what others think about me. I do makeup for my own pleasure. I love playing with colors, I love creating art on my face. This has got nothing to do with my self acceptance.

The same thing is true for the photo filters.

Though I take very few selfies, I sometimes use filters to put the image in sharp clarity or to make it look more blended with the background. For that matter I do it with other photos too, like the photos of my books (I’m an avid reader whose Instagram feed is dominated by pictures of books teamed with different beverages). I also put filters on mountains or seas when I post photos of my trip. I put filters on images of my pets and on my husband, as well. None of this implies that I don’t love the appearance of my dog, my husband, or the majestic mountains that I visited last summer!

No, you’re not fooling anyone by putting up filters because everyone knows how these filters smoothen out the rough edges or make the image sharper, these days.  I don’t think anyone looks at these pictures and think that their friend has suddenly transformed into something different! And even if some people do it to ‘create an illusion’, what is the harm? As I said, we are not products that our beguiling advertisements are tricking customers! Why are we so fast in judging others this way?

I put natural pictures as well as pictures with filters. I’m no expert photographer and yet sometimes I do like posting beautiful photos. I am in love with myself (and my near ones and my books) but I have no qualms in making the photo that I took, a bit more presentable. I don’t see that as a contradiction to accepting myself (or my near ones) unconditionally. In fact, I’ve also put pictures of mine in my husband’s old ragged t-shirt playing with my cat. It is my life after all.

What I choose to show to the world is entirely to my discretion. My only request is that please, live and let live, and stop judging each other for our choices, be it makeup, clothes, or photo filters.