Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Happy Children's Day to My Little Sparkle!

It has been a while since I wrote about my little sparkle, and what better day to do so than on Children’s Day?

Of course, by the time I wished her, it was almost eight in the night, maybe because my brain had taken a drain in the midst of all the packing we had been busy with. My daughter, Priyanka, put up a post wishing her little Zoya with the following words:  "Happy Children's day to my little munchkin and all the other cuties out there.You make life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring - all at the same time." 

The first thought which whizzed through my mind when I read this was, "Just like her Momma!" When Priyanka was growing up, she too made life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring for us, and we loved every moment of it. the whole roller-coaster ride! 

Zoya is one and a half years old, and time is flying by. A hundred different expressions cross her face in the span of a minute; sometimes curious, at other times, complacent. When she doesn't like something, her lower lip juts out, a giant tear hangs precariously as she assumes a mutinous attitude.

Just like her Momma whose lip used to almost touch the floor when she was unhappy or annoyed. She would stomp off into what we dubbed her 'kop bhavan', a hangover from the serialized  Ramayana, in which Queen Kaikeyi used to storm off into her opulent 'kop bhavan' when she was disgruntled with her hapless husband.

As Zoya traipses across the shopping mall, her sharp eyes dart around, falling on all the fascinating sights that surround her - the people, the lights, the colours and the noise. Priyanka once sent us a video in which we could see the little Missy going "Wow!" "Wow!" "Wow!" at every new thing she saw. She had an audience, of course, all amused at the sight of this tiny creature making her appreciation so obvious.

Her favourite spot is any eating joint, where she sits pretty on her own little baby chair, and eats French fries, chicken nuggets and noodles, taking sips from a straw that delves into a deep glass awash with juice.

Just like her Momma, who used to strut across the Army shopping centre, making a beeline for the ice cream counter. Once there, she would say clearly, "Bhaiyya, ice cream, please!" The said bhaiyya would promptly hand her a cup of vanilla ice cream, her staple, confident that her father would come and pay him for it.

Or the times when we would be playing Tambola at the Deolali Temple Hill Institute, and she would pick up her 'soffink' (soft drink) even before her dad picked up his not - so - 'soffink'. Dad's barbeques were legendary, and our little Miss would warm her hands before the fire, waiting for her piece of chicken to cook.

Music has played a significant role in all our lives. So, while we are thrilled when Zoya sings the English alphabet or 'Johnny, Johnny!", we are in raptures when she actually lisps 'Edelweishh, blesshh my Oya evva!" because Priyanka and I have sung 'Edelweiss' so often to her. The  moment we wait for is when she goes high like a little tweety bird.

Just like her Momma,who would dance to any music she heard on her chubby little legs. But the song that made us, and most specially her maternal grandmother tear up, was 'Kuch Na Kaho' from 1942 - A Love Story. At the age of eight or so, she would sing it, going higher and higher till she hit the crescendo perfectly. She even won a prize in school once after a rendition.

I am often amazed at the twinkle in Zoya's eyes, as though she has a secret joy within herself that lights up her entire persona. She is not yet two, but she has a wonderful sense of humour that sparkles forth through the mirror of her soul, her smiling eyes.

Just like her Momma, who also has large brown eyes that smile out when she wants them to. As a baby, she too was a good-natured soul, generous and particularly adept at shepherding kids younger than her, a trait that was appreciated by many a weary mother. At other times, she had a healthy streak of mischief that made her the perfect tomboy.

Like mother, like daughter! Isn't that what life is all about? Whether it is a question of the genes being passed down or a soul being reborn, it seems a miracle to see our little granddaughter follow so closely in her Momma's footsteps. Our hearts fill with joy when we see the beautiful bond that shines forth between Zoya and her Momma.

 And when she sees her Dada, who is busy holding down a strenuous job and doing his MBA at a frenetic pace, she goes crazy and hurtles into his arms, refusing to let him out of her sight. 

You wonder whether it is possible to love anyone that deeply, but then, my husband and I have been along that same path ourselves, as have our parents before us. And when Jodi Picoult says, "Parents aren't the people you come from. They're the people you want to be, when you grow up," it suddenly makes perfect sense.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Back Off, Back Ache!


“Ouch!” And that was it! My back decided to misbehave just as we were in the throes of packing, all set to move from Chennai to Kerala. It was not as if I had turned into a contortionist or anything like that. Oh, no, I was too smart to do that. And why, you may well ask!

It was around five years back that, in the flush of youth (ahem! ahem!); all right, I take that back. Around five years back, when hues of lurid burgundy had taken over the black in my hair, I decided that it was time I turned towards a healthier lifestyle. What could I do to get there without too much of a struggle?

Eat healthy? Well, that was a tough choice, because carbohydrates, proteins, sugar, oil and salt, I loved them all to distraction. Walking? Definitely a better choice if I could get off my back and move outside into O2.

Incidentally, to avoid misunderstanding, O2 happens to be the name of a health studio, (location undisclosed), which flashed its logo like a giant octopus spreading its tentacles around to snare in unsuspecting customers, like me.

So, there I was, running for all I was worth on the treadmill, my headphones blaring music into my ears, and as I looked around, I realized that all kinds of people do make up the world. There were the svelte types and the rock hard abs that appeared and disappeared like fireflies. One moment they were draped on the mat, and at others they were slithering up the wall like lizards. OK, I didn’t really mean that! But, they were all over the place and in my face, and looking too good to be true.

Then, there were the weight watchers like me who had enough weight to watch, and more. We groaned and moaned, twisted and turned, ran and cycled for all we were worth. We wrung out wet towels with our sodden feelings, hoping against hope that we would soon reach the pinnacle that we were aiming for... fitness.

A month crawled by, and so did I; I crawled to the gym, I crawled on the mat and I crawled down the weight chart, as I lost two kilograms when I should have lost ten. Weight lifting was also part of the training. Unfortunately, a weight trainer took a look at me and decided that I was equipped to lift more weights than I could. I did so, and I heard an ominous crack.

I had hurt my back! No doubt about it!

The crawling continued. Now I crawled to the physiotherapist’s clinic, and had traction to iron out the cricks on my back. It took me a week of that and a month of medicines to undo the harm the over-enthusiastic trainer had done me.

I also went for an MRI for my back, which entailed me lying on my back, clad in a hospital robe that was held up by a string and sheer will power, and listening to various wheezy sounds as the machine recorded every vertebra and ridge on my backbone.
“Please don’t move, or sneeze or turn, Ma’am!” came the warning. “Or breathe, perhaps!” I added to myself, as I strained not to move a muscle.

The verdict was alarming. Not the end-of-the-world alarming, maybe, but definitely, my-life-was-over alarming.

Of course, that was the end of O2 as far as I was concerned. No one else was concerned, of course, except my poor husband, who was the butt of my whines and tears. He bought me a gel belt which I could heat up and place on my back when it got too sore.

The prescription was simple. No bending forward, no lifting up any weights at all and no sitting at the computer. The last was the most difficult of all, for my entire life, personal and professional, depended on my work on my laptop.

 And now, five years later, my back creaked in protest and I was petrified that I would have to undergo the treatment all over again. Out came the gel belt, along with an ice pack, with which I blew hot and cold. Our apartment smelt like a Tiger Balm factory as I rubbed on ointment after ointment, hoping that my back would miraculously back me up.

Finally, we decided to go to a doctor, and he took one look at me and rattled out the three symptoms that had held me captive for the past one week – intense intermittent pain, inability to turn from side to side when lying down, and stiffness in the early mornings. While I nodded in bemusement, he prodded me gingerly on my back and then made me lift up my legs.
Finally, he uttered the magic words that made my heart sing.
“It’s just a muscle strain. No disc damage!”
Apparently, I had been having the wrong medicines and ointment! Lesson learnt: never self-medicate.

Did I need to go back to him after the week of treatment?
“No, no, not at all! This is only like a fever!” he exclaimed, and ushered us out with perfect courtesy, probably because there were half a dozen patients waiting patiently for him. It was then that I noticed a glass panel facing his room, through which the aforesaid waiting dozen must have been peering in at the sight of me lying like a beached whale, all the while being prodded by the good doctor. Some mode of entertainment, I deduced, as the television outside was wireless, literally hanging on a single frayed wire!

Needless to say, I was so pepped up by the good news that I spun around like a top when I got home, and am still doing so, medicines and all.

For, as the saying goes, “If you rest, you rust.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Doodler of Dimashq – Kirthi Jayakumar

“The moon had been appeased. The sea grew gentle again. The butterflies danced in the space between the two. Peace had been made.”

Ameenah, a child bride from Dimashq, or Damascus, yearns for peace her entire life. However, peace is as elusive as a little bird on a tree just beyond her reach. Apprehensive at first when she marries Fathi and moves to Aleppo, she finds happiness with him, his parents and his grandmother, who she “would make my own, cherishing that bond dear till my last breath.”

Fathi keeps his promise to Majid, her brother, and sends Ameenah to school. However, Ameenah has a special gift, the art of doodling, of bleeding ink over the sheet in ornate lines and intricate designs. Through her doodles, she attempts to make sense of the violence that is soon to become a constant part of her life as she gets embroiled in the Syrian war, losing the ones she loves most in life. From then on, it is a constant struggle to use her doodles to give solace to children who have felt the sorrow of loss.

It is easy to fall in love with Fathi – he is gentle, understanding and kind, a lover of beautiful poetry with which he woos his child bride. Above all, he has Tete, his grandmother, “as old as the hills” with “that timeless quality that wisdom had – ever silent, but present, always reliable but never seeking to be sought.” When Tete tells Ameenah to pursue her hobby, and do whatever she wants, our hearts melt at her understanding of the young girl’s passion.

“You have a heart; you have a voice. You have a story that you keep adding to, everyday.”

Ameenah’s life is buffeted by the winds of destruction as the war in Syria continues its killing spree. However, she comforts herself by saying, “Wounds have a way of settling, even if only enough to let you function and move on with life. Nothing changed in the world around me. Life was spiralling on, like a feather caught in the wind, being blown about this way and that.”

When another brutal blow orphans Ameenah all over again, little Maryam comes into her life. “Do two alones make a together?” She turns into the one bright spark that urges Ameenah to stay strong, as resilient as a creeper that bends, meanders, dances and waves about to fill the spaces that she is forced into.

It is now that Ameenah begins to doodle pieces of her heart that had “names, faces and stories behind them”.  She throws herself into the task she has chalked out for herself, “the dream of being able to bridge grief and peace of mind with doodles”.

How simply Kirthi Jayakumar drops the name of Rami at various junctures in the book, till he lands up in Aleppo, looking for the girl who doodled to keep peace in the middle of war. The doodler strives to find her own life, and love, in a brave, new world. Is the war finally over for her? Will she be able to follow her dream to tell the world what destruction looked like, and how she had left her doodles behind at Dimashq, at Haleb and finally at Latakia?

Kirthi Jayakumar has a poignant voice that plays on one’s heart like a lyre, soft and serene at places, but which suddenly rises into a crescendo, creating raw sounds that wound with the graphic images that go with them. She writes beyond her age, a wise soul who is rich in experiences and compassionate beyond words.  

“The storm does nothing to you until you are in the eye of it – for it is then that the calm settles, and you see the destruction it brought in its wake, and you will see the destruction it would leave as it leaves.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Window to her Dreams by Harshali Singh

“She stands at the window every night, a bystander to the life that surrounds her.”

The haveli with the hundred doors, a silent sentinel that has stood over the decades, speaks of despair absorbed, heated discussions, reminiscences, of a family that “has gone through its own trials and tribulations.”

The head of the Sharma family, Arun, is the breadwinner, passive and resigned to his fate. His wife, Uma, is the real strength behind the family, full of gumption and emotional fortitude, as she protects her offspring in various ways. “He handled the world outside the wall and she, within.”  

Aruna, Bhavya and Charu are born in quick succession, but it is only when Dheeraj is born that Uma feels usefully productive, for she has produced the heir apparent. However, then comes God’s gift to Uma as Etti, Fanny and Gina make their appearance.

Aruna, the eldest, separates from her first husband, the cruel Rafi after his “never-ending onslaughts on her persona”.  The window of her dreams, (“it was a part of her”) is her own corner, a swirly grill in blue, where she had woven dreams of a soul mate. She marries Bhuvan Thakur, a safe and steady man, “to validate herself to a judgmental world”.

Bhavya is “an epitome of uniqueness and diversity”, and the sisters have gone through an ordeal which pushes them apart. When they meet again, they are both apprehensive, “unsure of how to deal with the water under the bridge… and yet not.”

Harshali Singh writes with feeling of the various vicissitudes that the exuberant family goes through, as Gaurav, Bhavya’s colleague, enjoys “the affectionate bonhomie, the lack of formality, the strange warmth and proximity of this large family. He could sense undercurrents, but they were buried.” And that is exactly what the book is about, undercurrents between Aruna and Bhuvan, between Arun and Dheeraj over the latter’s career choices, between the sisters, and over wise little Charu, who sees more than she actually sees.

Aruna, who carries the baggage of her first marriage, is like a fragile flower. Just as she begins to bloom again, her past threatens to catch up with her. Bhuvan treats her with gentleness, this beautiful girl “one minute transparent like glass, the next instant an opaque mirror.

The characterization is subtle. Bhavya, the warrior princess; the troubled young Dheeraj who “had plans to make and dreams to catch”; Charu, “wraith-like, with enormous, beautiful, silvery eyes” who was born with “a gift and a curse”; the stoic Uma, who makes difficult choices despite her bleeding heart; Suresh, Arun’s childhood friend who is part of the family now and Arun, whose forbidding exterior shields the love he bears for his family. Rafi comes across as the villain of the piece as his presence hovers across the book, a reminder of the malevolent effect he has had on the vulnerable Aruna.

Harshali Singh’s imagery brings the story to life. “To her, the blue swirls represented waves in the sea or a soft zephyr bestowing a feeling of openness and beauty. Transporting the person who stood at the window to any imaginary world that only they had a gateway to.” These words bring the cover image of the book to life, suggesting that much thought has gone into its choice.

As the blurb suggests, does Aruna take control of her life and save her marriage? Or does her past shackle her all over again? Do read ‘A Window to Her Dreams’ to find out.
 I received a copy from Writersmelon in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 Questions to the author, Harshali Singh

 1. Would you term your protagonist, Aruna, a strong woman? Do give your reasons, either way.

2. What made you decide upon the haveli as a character in the book? I think that was a brilliant touch.

3. Who is your favourite character in the book? For me, it would have to be a tie between Bhuvan and Uma.

Thank you, Harshali, for an interesting read! Here's to many more books!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Warrior Woman For All Seasons

Do people get better at what they do as the years go by? Does a warrior woman get more mettlesome as more and more thunderbolts are thrown her way? If so, Mrs. Nalini Chandran must be one fierce warrior, at the age of eighty!

When did it all begin?

Did it start when she was a young girl, travelling around the country, finding wonder in everything she saw? Her father was a Railways employee, and he enjoyed taking his family around by train. Nalini and her brothers looked forward to these journeys, and they watched the world whiz by as they sampled the train food thalis that changed with every station they crossed. Her mother was the disciplinarian, who tamed her children with love, but her father was the one Nalini hero-worshipped, as he guided her into reading the classics, Shakespeare, the Bible and beautiful poetry.

Nalini learnt Kathakali for seven years at a time when girls were not encouraged to go on stage and make spectacles of themselves, as a few envious souls put it. She gave several shows in Mumbai, blossoming out into a dancer of rare repute.

Her first major battle against the world came when she fell in love with Eashwar, a boy who was her closest friend, an ally who understood her. His only crime was that he belonged to a family of slightly lower standing in society. However, love knows no barriers, and despite stiff opposition from her grandmother and her aunts, Nalini went ahead and married the love of her life. Her parents stood by her, but her grandmother took seventeen years to reconcile with her favourite, but headstrong granddaughter.

Eighteen years of marital bliss later, and three daughters who were deeply loved, Nalini had to face the unkindest cut of all, the death of her beloved husband, Eashwar, at the age of forty-two. She was a young widow of thirty-nine, and her daughters were still studying, the youngest one just seven at the time. Just a year ago, Eashwar had suggested that she start a school of her own in the tiny town of Thrissur, in Kerala. He was due for premature retirement from the Army himself, and had plans to do poultry farming and live a relaxed life with his beloved family. Unfortunately, Fate had other plans.

So, this young widow stood strong in a town that was, at that time, still conservative enough to throw brickbats at her. While there were a number of people who supported her, there were the diehards who condemned her ‘mummy-daddy’ school, mainly because she believed that, while the mother tongue was absolutely essential, every child had to learn English as well, if he or she had to survive in a world in which barriers opened up if there was a common language.

Many were the times when she had young men standing with black flags at her gate, protesting in violent syllables, even as they struggled to brave the heat of the sun. It is then that the humanitarian in her would take over, and she would saunter to the gate with glasses of cool sambharam (lassi). “Here you go!” she would smile. “Quench your thirst so that you may have the strength to continue shouting slogans.” Needless to say, she won over a number of them with that one gesture, reminding one of the well-loved quote by Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Thus, the warrior woman battled on, living for her school, turning discipline into a catchword, busy in creating students who were not bookworms, but true citizens of the world. She coined a slogan that exemplified her school. “Let the peal of harmony be the appeal of all religions!” This was something she believed in implicitly, as all religions were given equal importance by her. The school choir could burst into melody at any given moment, and render bhajans, carols, mapla pattu (Muslim songs) and patriotic songs at the drop of a hat.

One would have thought that this grand lady could have rested on her laurels at the age of seventy, ten years ago. However, an unexpectedly vicious storm was awaiting her, and once again she had to take up the cudgels, this time to fight for her own school, the institution that she had built out of her blood, sweat and tears. It is a fact that beginnings are always tough and take a lot of strain and upheaval; however, once an enterprise is thriving and running on its own steam, there are countless usurpers who are ready to take credit for its success.

This is exactly what Nalini had to go through. One fine day, she found that a handful of people, whom she had full trust in, had turned against her, and wanted to oust her from her own school. This time, she was badly hurt, almost broken, but her indomitable will and the support from her true friends came to her aid. Besides, “this crazy old teacher”, as she often referred to herself, must have done something good, for without exception, almost her entire band of teachers, the parents of her students, and many of the townsfolk stood staunchly by her, and kept her afloat. Maybe, it was a homage to the way she had nurtured all their children and brought them up as young adults well able to stand on their own feet.

Today, at the grand age of eighty years young, with a slew of awards under her belt, Nalini hopes that her battles are behind her. Her beloved school is considered one of the top ICSE/ISC schools in the country. Her principles and her methodology are being followed by many other schools, and around fourteen schools in Thrissur itself have principals who have been trained by her, no small feat by any standards.

What is it that keeps her going even now? Maybe, it is an amalgam of many beautiful qualities: her will power which does not allow her to give up, her optimism (“Remember the tea-kettle; it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings”), her amazing sense of humour which allows her to find joy in the tiniest of things, and of course, her multi-faceted personality that makes her excel at poetry, drama, dance and choreography, academics and sports.

But above all this, it is her innate goodness that makes her so well loved by all. This is exemplified in one of her favourite poems, titled ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ by Leigh Hunt, where the moral is beautifully clear. "I pray thee, then,/Write me as one that loves his fellow men." For that is what Nalini Miss or Nalini Valiyamma (big mother) does best of all! May her tribe increase!

The Tournament:
When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A  payment that includes a twelve-year girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire ( with a warrior woman, Aremis, at the heart of the novel.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Interpreting the World

The Piano #FridayFotoFiction

The unearthly music echoed around.
“She’s playing the piano again!” breathed Namita, rapturously.
  A proficient piano player, Ujwala had performed across the country. However, after her beloved husband passed away, she had locked away the piano along with the love in her heart.
“Ujwala, we long to hear you play again,” pleaded her friends. She had shaken her head.
Two years flew by, but no music had echoed in the cottage. Till today.
Ujwala welcomed the group in, as the music played on.
“Who is the magical artiste?” asked Namita, surprised.
“How well she interprets the world through her music!” added Annie.
Ujwala led them in. They gazed at the delicate girl whose long fingers tripped across the keys.
“Naina!” called Ujwala softly.
The music ceased; the girl turned, smiling.
“How well you play!” Annie suddenly stopped. Shocked, they gazed at Naina’s beautiful but sightless eyes.

The Piano #FridayFotoFiction

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Snowbound by Olivier Lafont

What can Adam and Zach do to revive Christmas? Do read Snowbound by Olivier Lafont to find out.

Print Length: 339 pages
Publication Date: May 18, 2017
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult Adventure/Fantasy 

Christmas is dying.

The last Santa Claus had triplets who each inherited a portion of his father’s power, and that split is now tearing apart the soul of Christmas.

Niccolo Vecchio, the eldest, has fortified the North Pole into a citadel of ice and metal.

Santini, the middle brother, is in hiding somewhere in the Mediterranean.

The youngest brother, Niccolo Piccolo, is raising legions to reclaim his inheritance.

Two of the triplets will have to renounce their claim in the next forty-eight hours, or this Christmas will be the last one ever.

And it’s up to Adam, underachieving teenager sub-ordinaire, and his brand new jock bully Zach to make that happen…

It would be great if you can add this book to your TBR

Olivier Lafont is a French author, screenplay writer, and actor. His novel ‘Warrior’ was published by Penguin Random House, and was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. He has just released his new contemporary romance novel 'Sweet Revenge' exclusively on Kindle. 'Purgatory: The Gun of God' is a fantasy novelette published in South Africa. 

Lafont has written a number of feature film scripts before. The first film he wrote opened at the Toronto Film Festival and went on to win seven awards at film festivals worldwide. 

As an actor Lafont has acted in Hollywood and Indian films, in TV serials, and in over 80 television commercials. He acted in ‘3 Idiots’, one of India's all-time blockbuster hits, the critically-acclaimed ‘Guzaarish’, and the Lifetime film ‘Baby Sellers’, amongst other films. 

Lafont graduated with two degrees in acting and writing from Colgate University, USA, with academic distinction.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Yours To Love Yours To Take

Yours To Love Yours To Take by Reshma Ranjan

A Heartwarming Saga of Love and Sacrifice

Print Length: 202 pages
Publication Date: July 21, 2017
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Language: English
Available on Kindle Unlimited 
Genre: Romance 

As if losing her parents and her voice in a childhood accident wasn’t cruel enough, Anita Batra now has to come to terms with her twin’s death and help her sister’s partner get a new lease in life. 

Adopted by the Verma Clan after his parents died in an accident, Dr. Salim Verma finally finds love and a chance to be happy only to lose it in an accident he himself survives. 

When fate strikes a final blow and brings two strangers together, Salim can’t help but punish Anita and make her tread through the hell he himself was in, while all Anita wants is to help her sister’s partner start afresh, no matter what the cost. 

Will Salim ever be able to ignore Anita’s resemblance to his dead girlfriend and fall in love with her instead? Will Anita be able to reveal the real Salim hiding behind the monster? Will they be able to embrace their tumultuous attraction for each other despite their terrible start? 

Yours To Love Yours To Take is a heartwarming saga of love and sacrifice that will reinstate your belief that love conquers all. 

It would be great if you can add this book to your TBR.

Here is a passionate romantic who loves literatureand has created many happy ending in her imagination, for every movie or book with a sad conclusion.

She soon began to create her own characters and situations, creating plenty of romances and happy endings to satisfy her imagination. "But for my laziness and diffidence," says Reshma "I would have penned umpteen stories of unexpected pairs meeting and falling in love, overcoming troubles and hurdles to unite for a lifetime."

A voracious reader, Reader, Reshma is a poet as well, and feels that she would be blessed as a writer if she could bring a happy content sigh on the readers lips.

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