Ten years into the past

Recently, I read a book called  'What Alice forgot' by Liane Moriarty. The book was a quick and fun read. There was nothing extraordinary about the story, but the concept of the novel stuck in my mind. The female protagonist of the novel forgets ten years of her life in a freak accident. Even though she’s close to forty, she thinks she’s thirty. The worst part is she forgets even her children, and everything looks new to her.

When I read the story, it seemed too-good-to-be-true that someone can change so much in ten years. I laughed it off. But then I began thinking: Is it really possible to change so much in ten years? Is there anything about my present state that would’ve baffled my fifteen-year-old self?

1. It would have shocked me if somebody told my fifteen-year-old self that in ten years I would get a place in the University of my dreams, join a multinational company as a software engineer and that I’d be married to an amazing person (love marriage at that) and have an adorable daughter.

2. My fifteen-year-old self wouldn’t have believed it if I told her that in ten years I’ll be comfortable wearing a little make-up and leaving my hair loose. At that time I had no time even to consider wearing make-up, and I always braided my greasy hair in the same way without even trying for a different hairstyle. I was not an average teenage girl, interested in girly things. I was far busier studying for my future.

3. I wouldn’t have believed that in ten years I’d face some major ups and downs and learn my lessons. It matured me in some ways but there’s still a long way to go. At that time, if I didn’t get expected marks in a weekend test, I used to be crushed. But ten years taught me enough to know that: life has its ups and downs, and it’s not always possible to plan it. If something goes according to your plan, consider yourself lucky, but if something doesn’t, don’t take it to heart. Whatever happens, life moves on. My fifteen-year-old self wouldn’t have understood that.

4. My fifteen-year-old self used to play music all the time and read a little, but in these ten years that’s reversed. Now I listen to music rarely but read a lot.

5. In these ten years I made a lot of new friends whom my fifteen-year-old self wouldn’t even have recognized. At the same time I’m lucky to say that I still have a few childhood friends.

6. I wouldn't have expected that I'd live in so many places. I spent the first sixteen years of  my life in the same place, Rajahmundry. But now I've lived in Hyderabad, Chennai and Seattle and yet to call a place home. 

Well, ten years is definitely a long time to change a person completely. If you find the concept interesting, do grab the book. It’s an engaging read.

How to be happy?

It's quite difficult to define the state of our mind. When we get something we want, a new job, a house, we become happy and when we lose something, we become disappointed. I always imagine the state of mind as a speedometer whose needle usually swings between being content and being disappointed in life.

I always wanted to know how to be happy, not content, which is a deeper form of happiness. How to be just happy, everyday? Before I proceed, let me first clarify why I don't like being content.

Being content, according to me, is a state of everlasting happiness. You have no expectations, no disappointments, no desires and no problems. You love your life as is and are no expecting no more from it. While there huge perks to being content, there is also a minor problem i.e., 'stagnation'. You become 'stagnant', you have no desire for achievement. No, I dislike being content and thereby becoming stagnant.

So, should everyone be disappointed in their lives? Disappointment in life,sometimes, can drive us to achieve something bigger and better. I believe that high-achievers are disappointed with their lives and their achievements, which is why they constantly try to achieve more. Once they become become content, they lose the desire, and there starts their downfall. Being disappointed in life has its perks too, but, sometimes, being deeply disappointed in life can lead to depression.

Coming back to our question, how to be happy, everyday? The key to happiness is to strike a balance between being content and being disappointed in life. That state is being 'not disappointed' but 'not content' either. Since you're not disappointed, you're happy. But since you're not content, there's some desire, which will drive you towards achievement,

In her book The Secret, Rhonda Byrne, the author, advises people to end their day by writing down the list of things they're thankful for. This will definitely help us feel satisfied with what we have now. And then she advises people to write down what they want in future. I believe it's a brilliant idea to help us strike a balance between contentment and disappointment.

The key to happiness is to be satisfied with what we have now, but to have the desire burning within us to achieve something better.

Five things I miss from my pre-mom life

Having a baby is one of the best things that can happen to any woman. But, I have to admit, there were some things I missed from my pre-mom life.

1. Waking up whenever I want 

I didn't know that waking-up- whenever-I-want would become a thing of the past. Now-a-days my daughter wakes up first, hits me on my face, waking me up, and gives me a dazzling smile, which makes my day. Still... It is her decision, not mine, when the day should begin. The same goes for sleeping too.

2. Eating leisurely

The moment I sit down to eat, she takes it as a cue and begins crying for me. I hurriedly gobble the food down, pick her up, and as usual, she starts ignoring me.

3. Going out without having to pack

Before having a baby, if we had to go out for lunch or dinner, we would decide on the place at the last minute and set off. Now, it’s a usually a big task that involves choosing a kid friendly place (read which has high chairs, open space, and friendly waiters) , packing the diaper bag (which contains extra diapers, extra wipes, extra food, extra clothes), dressing my daughter in nice clothes, and setting off only in a car even if the restaurant is at the corner. Even then we have to come back before it is bed time of the kid.

4. Watching a movie

May be I should write watching a movie leisurely, because now I’m watching movies atleast. But it’s more like stealing glances at the big screen while trying to hold down a screaming toddler.

5. Being ambitious about a career

Not that I was too ambitious before having a baby, but the thought of a high-flying career while looking after a toddler simply scares me now. Not everyone feels like that, obviously, but I’m sure women do have a tough time balancing work and life especially after having a baby.

There are lot of other things that change too, like the constant worry about her health, about the milestones she has to reach, and about her food. It’s like a separate thread runs in my mind— the child thread.

Isn't it amazing, how much our life changes after having a baby? What are the things that changed in you after becoming a mother?

Book Review: Smashed by Arul Sirpy

You know what they say about 'Never judge a book by it's cover.' Even though the cover of this book looks simple, the plot of the book is not. It's about three boys, a tea shop, a crow, a politician and some other people; revealing anything beyond that would amount to revealing the story so I'm stopping here.

The plot unfolds slowly, in bits and pieces, introducing a lot of characters in the first few chapters (which initially creates a confusion). But in the later part of the book the plot thickens, bridging the gaps and ends up neatly without any loose ends. Kudos to the author.

The best parts about the books are generous doses of dry humor reminding me of Wodehouse's books, brilliant descriptions of Chennai, and mouth watering descriptions of food. Having stayed in Chennai for a while, I could relate to some places. And the book left me nostalgic. If I really have to complain, I'd only say there were too many characters and coincidences. It's brilliant that the author tied them all up neatly in the end.

Pick it up, you won't regret it! The humor is so good it's hard to believe this is the debut book of the author. My husband looked at me weirdly as I burst out laughing at some parts. The book is long, but is a page-turner and kept me hooked till the end. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who loves reading humor.

My rating 4/5.

When Only Love Remains : Afterthoughts

I have an annoying habit of feeling characters of a book as real. After reading a book, they stay with me for a long time even after finishing the book. Usually some thought or character in the book influences me in a strong way. In this series titled ‘After thoughts’ I'm trying to include the afterthoughts after reading books.

In this book “When only love remains” by Durjoy Datta, the author wrote an awesome passage “Over these conversations with herself, she has realized why people believe in a soul. It’s because they have to for they have no other choice. It’s hard to bear that all the conversations, all the memories you had with your parents, with your sisters, with the person you loved were burnt or buried, snuffed out of life.”

Is soul just a concept we invented so that we could move on easily? Yes, it’s true, letting go of a person is never easy. It’s hard to believe that they’re not missing us the way we’re missing them or that they’ve moved on while we’re still stuck on earth. The idea that they’re still around us, invisible, and feeling the same pain we’re feeling is a most comfortable thought. I’d rather believe in a soul than believe that a person is just a pile of ashes after death. Kudos to the author, for expressing it so beautifully. 

Book Review: When Only Love Remains by Durjoy Datta

"When only love remains" by Durjoy Datta is a haunting story of love between a singer and a flight attendant. I call it 'haunting' because it deals with two deep issues: love and death.

The story starts off at a very slow pace. In fact I had to force myself to read the first half of the book. But, in the next half, the story picked up pace to have a beautiful end—an end almost too good to be true. Even though tears welled up in my eyes a few times throughout the book, even though the book was written beautifully with every character fleshed out, I still couldn’t believe that kind of love exists. It’s too good to be true.

Coming to the story, it’s about a boy (he’s twenty-one) called Devrat, who drops out from engineering to become a singer, and a girl called Avanti. Avanti accidentally stumbles into Devrat’s facebook profile and nurses a secret crush on him. One day, during one of her flight trips to Kolkata, she attends his live performance at a bar and there they talk to each other for the first time. After that first meeting, the story progresses at a rapid pace, with both of them falling in love with each other. Devrat delivers cheesy, ‘cute’ lines, and Avanti calls him her puppy (which irritated me to no end) and both of them have unnatural, deep conversations. Fate intervenes in the form of an accident on their anniversary. I don’t want to reveal further details in case I give the story away.

It’s a regular bittersweet story, but it’s not the plot but lines that is beautiful. Her love for him is so true that it makes you ache from inside. I only hope the story makes sense to eighteen-year-olds in love. I feel I’m already too old for a story like this.

Book Review: Naked Determination by Gisela Hausmann

Not everyone lives a life worth writing about, but the author certainly did. At a very young age, she discovered that travelling was her passion and spent most of her life living her passion.  This book, however, is not just about her travel experiences. It’s most importantly about the instances in her life where she overcame fear with determination. I believe that every Indian woman should read this book. It’d be inspiring to read about a woman, who, against all odds, traveled 47 different countries, faced great recession, held several jobs ranging from director’s assistant in movies to a boring 8to5 job in order to support her children as a single parent, and finally wrote a book about the lessons she had learnt along the way.

This book is divided into 41 stories, with a takeaway at the end of each story. I particularly liked this clever way of making readers remember important points in the book. This is not a self-help book, however. It’s an autobiographical account of the author, which makes the lessons even more valuable, because it reminds me of the quote, ‘Practice before you preach.’ She herself applied all the principles to her life and experienced success, and now she wants to share her stories with the world, to inspire at least a few people.

The book starts with an inspiring note: “Yes—You can start over, every single day”. Every sunrise offers us an opportunity to start our life over, and it’s up to us whether we grab it or not. The author sank into depression after the premature death of her husband and was in desperate need of inspiration to start her life all over. That was when she took courage in the fact that she had done awesome things in the past, and when she could do those things then, she could do it again. I liked all of the stories, not just the first. Here’s a woman who traveled round the world, achieved some great things, and yet the tone of the book is never preachy. That’s where the beauty of the book lies.

When we read a collection of stories, it generally happens that some stories stand out among others. It’s perhaps because we can relate to them. Some of the stories I liked and why:

1. In the story “Knowing you destination”, the author says that the earliest desires are untainted by secondary thoughts. They represent what we really want and can accomplish if we set our mind on it. I could relate to this so well. When I first visited Hyderabad as a kid, I instantly knew that it was where I wanted to be— In a big city (Well, it was a big city to me then). Even now I often wonder if it’s just a coincidence that I happened to study there or was it my strong desire that guided me.

2. The story “The guts to ask” is worth remembering. If I think about it deeply, it is really true. Sometimes, we might get what we want just by asking.

3. I liked the lesson of the story “Smile”. It’s true that our mood travels through the phone line even. Unconsciously we can detect if a person at the other end of a phone is cheerful or irritable and we respond in the same vein.

4. If I could truly relate to one story, it was “Don’t ask the devil’s advocate”. It had an interesting line “It is deeply human to ask others for their opinion and/or support, but really most often we would like to hear an enforcement of our own opinions”. So true.

5. The next story “My case for affairs” is interesting as well, particularly the Casablanca principle. “Not every relationship is meant to last a lifetime”. If only humans can understand that and move on.

6. If there’s one story I want everyone one to follow that’s “Give credit where credit is due.” Often, we see people claiming the credit of others. We need to put ourselves in the place of the other person and give credit where credit is due.

7. And lastly, I liked “What do we really need?” not only because it’s set in Kashmir, but also because of the thought provoking takeaway at the end.

I could go on and on about the lessons at the end of each story, but then I’d revealing too much. I see that I’ve already written a lot about the book. One has to read it to truly understand the essence of the book. It is one book I’d heartily recommend to anyone in need of inspiration. Give it a try…

Book Review: Once Smitten, Twice Shy, Thrice Lucky by Sandeep Kothapalli

You know that satisfied feeling you get when you see 'The End' card in a feel-good movie? That's the feeling you get after reading this book. We know the characters, we feel for them, thanks to the little glimpses into their lives the author provides in between, and when we leave them, we feel sad that the book is already over and satisfied that all the characters had a bittersweet ending.

The plot is predictable from the title itself: the protagonist Varun talks about three relationships in his life. So, what's so new about it? Everybody falls in and out of love, several times in their lives. There's no need to write a book about it. But Varun is no ordinary guy. He's an academic topper and an emotional sissy, in his own words. He cracks CAT and makes it into IIMA, the top business school, but that doesn't stop him from failing miserably in love. If Varun had let his love failure consume his life, we wouldn't be reading a book about him. He moves on from his past relationships, takes a courageous decision of going into journalism after doing MBA and falls in love again, this time with the love of his life. And the story doesn't stop here. We see him risking his life to see his wife truly and completely happy. We see a loving brother, a responsible son, a true friend, a good citizen, and a supporting husband in Varun. When I say Varun moves on from his past relationships, he doesn't hate them, or burn their photos like they do in the movies, but accepts his past and remains friends with them. Now that's truly unique and admirable.

The book shouldn't be read in a hurry to finish. Take your time, read it slowly, and you can see the way the author connects several subplots into a big plot. You travel down the memory lane, especially if you can relate to the time frame of the book, and you remember how girls used to swoon over Hrithik, and how Yahoo messenger used to be the only option to chat, and emails were still a novelty, and how watching that first movie on the IMAX screen was an unbelievable experience.

We catch glimpses of the lives of Vishu, Nancy, Lahari, Sasha, Rekha, Satish and understand how love affected their lives. They are all ordinary human beings, they make their choices, sometimes wrong, and their lives inevitably change because of their choices.We can draw inspiration from some characters: for instance from Nancy, how she bravely accepts her unacceptable fate, from Lahari, who I think faces ups and downs in the most ideal way, and from Sasha, who, being a little girl, faces her death courageously, and from Rekha and Satish, who stand up to their orthodox parents and finally win in their love.

The plots meanders at some places, but catches up in some other places, but keeps the audience engaged throughout. I don't want to reveal too much of plot here. There are some great themes and characters in the book if you think deeply about it. Admittedly, it's a bit lengthy book, which takes time to finish. But pick it up if you want to read a contemporary romance without boring yourself with the cheesy bits. It's a debut book by the author, and I'm sure I can expect more wonderful reads in future. My rating 4/5.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"I'm not only married to Lahari, but also to everything about her Past, Present and Future"

"When in doubt, listen to your heart, always!'

"You can't clap with a single hand. The same goes with relationships. You can't blame the other for a relationship gone awry."

Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I tend to avoid retelling of Epic stories from some character point of view, since  I feel that the magic of the story will be lost when we know more about the characters. They will look more humane and less magical. This book was an exception, owing to the rave reviews and my own curiosity to read more about enigmatic Draupadi.

The story is nothing new. I grew up listening to the tales from my grandfather and saw those characters portrayed by a thousand different actors in movies and serials. The writing was crisp, to the point and held my attention from page one even if the story was not new. We know more about Draupadi, her childhood, her marriage and her inner most feelings. The prose is almost lyrical and stays with us even after closing the book.

I can pour heaps of praise on the way she dealt with the subject. Nowhere is Panchaali shown as a helpless woman. She's shown to be a strong woman who rebels against the norms of the period. It's however sad that she too becomes a pawn in the hands of men who don't love her. We see several new angles: for example I never knew Draupadi had some unexplained crush on Karna. It was almost irritating to hear a married woman to no less than five husbands constantly talk about Karna and how he holds an important place in her life. I don't know where the author did her research but this is exactly why I hate retelling of Epic stories. Authors take their liberty and interpret stories in their own way. I can never look at Draupadi the same way again. And the angle with Krishna, even though doesn't cross the boundaries, is also mildly irritating.

Nevertheless, I liked her attachment with her brother, Subadhra, Sikhandi, and Dai ma. Some scenes I wanted to read like disrobing of Draupadi and later when she ties her hair again with Dussasan's blood were probably not given enough space. And some other like her obsession with the Palace of Illusions were given more space than necessary.

The book is a page turner and worth the money you spend on it. Pick it up if you want to read the timeless tale again, this time in another point of view. My rating 4/5.

Some quotes I liked:

“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you'll spend your life yearning for a man you can't have.”

“There was an unexpected freedom in
ļ¬nding out that one wasn't as important as one had always assumed!”

Are you having an Affair?

Movies very rarely give us gyaan. Usually movies are meant for entertainment, period. But, sometimes, even a silly romcom like Shaadi Ke Side Effects strikes a chord with us.

I have to give some disclaimers first. This post is not directed at my husband!

I'm talking about a dialogue by Ranvir, close to the climax. I don't remember it exactly but it goes something like "You are saying I'm having an affair? Then what are you having? Anything which takes your wife's share of attention from you is an affair. I'm having an affair with a girl while you are having an affair with a single, carefree Sid."

I felt like clapping. Most men, especially after having children, feel that their houses and their wives have lost the charm they used to have: The home will be messy, there will be gooey, crying children, the wife will be cranky due to the lack of sleep, she'll probably be fatter than ever. So, men avoid coming home early. There's a perfect excuse too. They need to earn more now that they have a new mouth to feed. They immerse themselves in work, or like Sid in the movie, try to find their happiness else where. They find new hobbies, or spend time at their friend's, anything to escape coming home. 

One can always argue that they are doing nothing wrong. Is working hard wrong? Is finding your own happiness wrong? They are not having an affair, are they? No! They are having an affair too. In this case it is work or some hobby. It is rightfully your wife's share of attention. It is your daughter/son's share of attention. You can't give it anything else. Not even to work. 

Why do men suddenly find the need to have a break after having children? And if you are craving for a break, perhaps your wife needs it too. Men fail to grasp that having a kid is an overwhelming experience, even for women. A lot of women lose their identity as soon as they have kids and become mother of so and so. They sacrifice their career, give up their hobbies and spend a major part of the day wiping kids bums and changing diapers. It's even worse for working women, juggling a kid and career. It's not exactly a holiday, is it? What can you do to give them a break? The least men can do to reduce their stress is to be present at home, at least to give women some adult company. And when you cannot do that, you are having an affair, as the writer of the movie rightly said. 

What I want to say is, Men, go home early. Your wife and children appreciate your company more than your boss. You are not married to your work. If you really feel the need for a break, do something together. Your wife will also appreciate some respite from children duties.

Book Review: Me before You by Jojo Moyes

The best book I've read in this year so far. And I one of the best books I've ever read. The cover page didn't do any justice to the story inside. The cover makes the book look like just another chick-lit, but it has more depth than that. It's a extraordinary tale, not a cheesy Hollywood romance. 

Louisa Clark unexpectedly loses her job at a cafe and under pressure to earn money accepts the job as a helper to quadriplegic, Will Taynor. Will, an energetic, intelligent young man loses his limbs in a motorbike accident. He's doomed to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, taking pain meds and fighting infections. He therefore loses hope of a future and attempts to kill himself, after which his mother promises to accept his decision of assisted suicide provided he gave her six months. Will's mother hires Louisa for six months to keep an eye on him in case he decides to kill himself again. Will treats Louisa with contempt from day one. After enduring his rudeness for a few days, she starts answering him back rudely, which takes him by surprise. Slowly a friendship develops between them. To her shock, she learns about Will's decision of assisted suicide and confronts Will's mother about it. Will's mother requests her to keep him happy in the meantime in the hope something would happen to change his mind. Louisa researches and plans his every day in an attempt to generate hope in him and to keep him happy. In the process she falls in love with him.  Will she succeed in changing his mind?

The author wrote the book as realistically as possible. As a reader I totally understood why Will would make such a request to his mother even though it's selfish of him to do so. His mother is not heartless, she had no choice. I read Lousia's plans with desperation, really hoping that she would win. But sometimes, money and people you love are not enough to keep a person happy. It's also important to have hope about future. When that is lost, dark thoughts creep in.

It also makes me wonder, once again, what is the meaning of living? If you are satisfied with your life of going to office and coming home and watching telly in a small town, is it not living? Is everybody required to travel, to take risks, to live in a big town, in order to prove that they are 'living' too? What does this say about generations of Indian women who spent their entire life in the Kitchen, first cooking for husband and then for grandchildren. Have they not lived? And yet why do we remember them with love? Are they not living in our hearts? Their lives are not worthless. They too did something to shape the lives of their children. I felt that Will forced his idea of living on her by criticizing her constantly. It's only because of his idea of living that he found it difficult to accept his new life. 

I loved the friendship between Lou and Will. I loved the way he changes her life forever and for the better. I loved the determination with which Lou tries every possible way to change his mind. I loved Lou's family. This is the kind of book which makes you wonder what you would have done in his place, and secretly thank god that you are not in his place. This is one book which is oddly satisfying even though by the end it brings tears.This book also raises lot of questions. Is assisted suicide the only option available for a quadriplegic? Isn't he inflicting his pain on his family while he rested in peace. Would his family ever be able to live in peace after this? Would there be a different ending if he met her right after the accident, before losing all hope? 

I'd suggest everyone to take this book as a beautiful romance in unusual conditions rather than concentrating on ethics of assisted suicide. The characters certainly were so beautiful that they'd stay with me for a long time. My rating 5/5.

Book Review : Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

It took me a long time to move on from A fine balance by Rohinton Mistry. I had to reread a few of my   favourite books to come out of the mood, which made me apprehensive about selecting my next book. I was not in mood for reading serious stuff, so I searched for a romantic novel and liked the title Eleanor and Park. The blurb and the cover page looked promising. It was the highest voted book on Goodreads, so I started the book with high expectations.

Here's a summary of the book: It's the story of Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan, two teenage, star-crossed lovers, set in 1986. Both of them are misfits in the school full of white people: he being half-Korean and she being fat and poor. Eleanor and Park first see each other in their school bus when Park reluctantly shares his seat with her. He swears at her while offering the seat and feels embarrassed sitting beside her. However, over the next few days, he warms towards her and gradually they bond over comic books and music. Eleanor comes from a poor family with four siblings and abusing step father while Park has a big home and parents who still love each other. Eleanor finds comfort his home and starts spending more time with him. Park struggles to understand her background and mood swings.They gradually learn more about each other and fall in love. Things take a ugly turn in the end and the lovers are forced to separate owing to the circumstances.Whether the love is just a high school crush or if it stands the test of time and distance is the rest of the story.

I should say the book didn't disappoint me even though it wasn't as mesmerising as it promised to be. The problem might just be me. I was not able to relate to the story well. I couldn't relate to the comics or the music bands discussed all through the book. It was very difficult for me to understand why a woman who cannot support herself would give birth to five children at a very young age and then go on to marry an unloving, abusing person. There might be many downsides to Indian culture, but thanks to it we need not fear separation of parents and abuse of step father/mother, one of the major issues, I observe, teenage protagonists in novels face in western culture.

The first love was, however, depicted beautifully. It really makes us remember how it is to love and to be loved, how even the touch of hands makes us wonder if hands are full of nerve endings that send shock all over the body. The last few pages were the best part of the book. It isn't surprising if they bring tears to our eyes and then we realise how much we connected to Eleanor and Park.

Pick it up if you want to relive your teenage memories. My rating 4/5.

A weekend in the life of a stay at home mom

Today is a weekend. Hurray! I get up in the morning, brimming with positive energy. Today's going to be the day, I promise myself. Today, finally, I'll be able to clean and organise kitchen, tackle the overflowing laundry, wash and iron clothes, clear the dust that's piling up on all the appliances, and make something healthy and tasty for my daughter. This is my to-do list for the weekend. Oh! I forgot to add: clean the store room. You might think why a stay-at-home needs a weekend to clean. That's a different story altogether. Trust me, weekdays pass by in a blur!

I start with the kitchen. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time here. It's better to keep it organised. I look around me. Hmm.. There's a lot of work to do. Then I see the laptop on the table. It's been a long time since I spent an hour browsing on internet. So, I leave the kitchen, thinking that I have a whole day ahead of me. I open Facebook and time just flies by. By the time I close it, it's 8 AM already. And right one cue, I hear my daughter wailing for me. Why can't she sleep for one extra hour on weekends? I hurry towards her and feed her. Done! I think of switching on the laptop again, but remember breakfast. Making a healthy breakfast is on my to-do list, anyway. I scour the kitchen for the ingredients. While my husband takes care of my daughter, I prepare the breakfast, taking more time than usual, since it is supposed to be new and tasty. 10 AM. Triumphantly, I place her new breakfast before her and start eating my own share of breakfast. She eyes my plate eagerly, looks at her own plate, and in a second, dumps it on the floor and starts crying for my food. What did she just do? My whole effort is lying on the floor. However, I have no choice. I feed her from my plate and she eats it happily.

It's 11 AM. I think of starting the cleaning activity I had planned earlier, and start with the kitchen. While I start scrubbing the kitchen surface, my daughter starts wailing again. She hates being unclean. It's her bath time. I exasperatedly throw the towel and pick her up for a bath when my husband good-naturedly offers to bathe her himself. I thank him and resume scrubbing the surface. There are shelves to be dusted, cleaned and organised. I think of finishing organising before cooking lunch when I hear my daughter wailing again. My husband is looking at me confused. But, I understand. It's her nap time and she wants me to sing her lullaby. I bounce her, rock her, sing her lullaby and by the time she is sleeping, it's already 12 PM. Oh no! She'll get up in an hour or two for lunch. I finish cleaning in a hurry without bothering to go anywhere near shelves and start cooking lunch. By the time I'm finished, it's 1 PM, and I 'm completely exhausted.

Now the ritual begins. I feed her. We feed ourselves. And then we play with her. By 3 PM both of us are exhausted. We look at her with a hope that she'll take a nap, thereby allowing us to take a nap. It's a weekend. We deserve a nap at least. But no, she is full of energy. She plays and plays until we wilt. It's 4:30 PM by the time sleeps and we quickly grab the opportunity to take a nap ourselves. I sleepily think of cleaning the home when I get up. All of us get up after a refreshing nap, and it’s 6 PM.

Oh no, it's already dark outside. Surprisingly, we're hungry. Why god? What happened to all the food we ate in the afternoon? Why should we eat food so many times in a day? There’s no way I could work when I’m hungry. My husband suggests having snacks before starting work. And it's good to get some outside air in the evening. So, the three of us go for a stroll to the nearby snack corner. We eat snacks, have fun and come back. It's 7:30 PM. Time for dinner.

She's not allowed to eat outside. So while we had snacks, she didn't have anything.I prepare dinner for her and then feed her. It's 8 30. I’m exhausted. You might be surprised. I myself told you that we ate snacks in the evening. But you don’t know that feeding her dinner is an exercise in itself which involves running after her. So, don’t judge me. I feel exhausted by the time she finishes. I collapse into the easy chair, remembering what I promised myself in the morning. I can't let another weekend be wasted like this.  My husband, understanding my inner turmoil, reassures me that there will be lot of time to clean after she sleeps. ‘She'll anyway not allow us to work in peace,’ he tells me. We play with her, have a little supper, and try to put her in bed by 10 PM. She jumps around, scatters all her toys, and by the time she sleeps it's 11 30 PM. Inadvertently, we too sleep beside her.

Things I planned to do:

1. Clean and organise kitchen
2. Tackle the laundry
3. Wash and iron clothes
4. Clear the dust that's piling up on all appliances
5. Make something healthy and tasty for my daughter
6. Clean the store room

Things done:

1. Cleaned kitchen a little and made new breakfast for my daughter.

I resolve to complete the rest of the list tomorrow.

Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This is the most emotionally draining book I’ve ever read. It’s bleak, horrible and full of doom and gloom. And yet the book was so wonderfully written that I have no doubt the characters will stay with me forever.

The book is set in the period of India I have never known, the Emergency in 1975. After reading the book, I came to know the horrors experienced by the people during Emergency. Some scenes described in the novel were so appalling that I wanted to believe the author was exaggerating the circumstances. But who knows? I wasn’t born to witness the horror, and thank god for that. India hasn’t changed much from that period, though. The same story would have been valid even now, but the historical backdrop added interest to the tale. The blatant corruption, the poverty, the caste system, the atrocities on women, and the reservations still exist, making me hate my own country if I think too deeply about it. No wonder a lot of people are seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

Well, coming to the plot, it’s mainly about four characters: Om and his uncle Ishvar, who come to Bombay from a village in search of jobs; Dina Dalal, a widow; and Maneck, who comes from a place of mountains to do a diploma course in air conditioning. Dina, in a desperate attempt to retain her independence from her bother, hires Om and Ishvar to do tailoring for a company. She brings work from the company and pays them commission for doing the work. Maneck, disgusted at the ragging and politics in his university, leaves his hostel to stay as a paying guest in Dina’s house. During the first half of the book, we come to know the backgrounds of all the four protagonists. The later part of the book mainly describes how the Emergency affects their lives and tears them apart when, at last, they learn finding happiness in the city living together as a family.

I won’t dwell further on the plot in case I reveal the story and the ending. The page turning point of the book is the attention to detail. The author describes every small detail of the era that we feel like we are watching a movie in a theatre. In the first part of the story, the author describes the agony lower castes used to face in the caste system. Later on he describes the lives of people living in slums, beggars, people who work in irrigation projects, tailors, and several other unlucky people who were born poor in this country. It set my heart racing and my stomach churning reading about the difficulties they face everyday. This is that kind of book that makes your difficulties look trivial when compared to the difficulties faced by millions of Indians below poverty line. It’s the mostly the magic of his writing that makes the characters come alive. Not only Om and Ishvar but also other small characters like the Beggarmaster, the Monkey Man, Zenobia, Ruby, Nuzzwan. Now-a-days vivid descriptions almost became old style; the plot is mainly based on dialogue. His poetic writing style is a welcome change. There was no humour in the story. Even if was there, it was dark humour, which makes you cry more than laugh.

I have complaints, though: there were too many coincidences in the story. The plot looked contrived as though the author was too pessimistic to let anything good happen in the lives of his characters. Whenever there seemed to be a danger of something good happening in their lives, tragedy, worse than what had already happened, would wreck their lives. There was not one, not a single character, whose life ended on a happy note in the story. Why on earth would somebody write a book like this, which is full of pessimism and despair? I don’t want to sound bitter, but it looked as though he were writing for the foreign audience, who can only appreciate the picture of India as a hopeless and underdeveloped country. No, I am not a fan of the movie Slumdog Millionaire (I always felt that Lagaan was a far better movie) and am not a fan of this book either. And because of books like this, foreigners are treating slums like Dharavi as tourist places. It saddened me that in many reviews foreigners are actually treating this book as some guide to learn about India. I accept the fact that India is poor, there are people living in slums, and may be many of the incidents written in this book actually happened. But, I still maintain that he could have counterbalanced it with some happy picture of the country, at least to do justice to the title. But no, there’s no fine balance. It’s a sad, sad book. The only positive message he seemed to give was, we need to plod on in our lives, no matter how many horrors we face. I can give it only 4/5 even though it is a wonderful book.

Never tell lies

My dad told me, never tell lies,
You’ll become a liar in people’s eyes,
Speaking truth makes you a winner,
And lying makes you a sinner.

One day his boss came,
Wearing socks that smelled like a drain,
What’s that awful smell, I asked,
And earned a reproving glance from dad.

I should have given up on truth at once,
But did the mistake of giving it another chance,
The next day at school my teacher asked,
Why I always get such low marks.

I answered her sincerely,
That my mom does my homework daily,
For which I earned detention,
And hung my head in humiliation.

That night I spent a long time pondering,
Whether it was possible to shun lying,
I remembered the day dad called in sick,
And we all went for a picnic.

Then I understood that it was no fault of mine,
Even elders break rules all the time,
‘Never tell lies’ was just another ideal,
Following it always was an ordeal.

The world is full of 'Attitude'

Today morning, I saw the following post from a page admin in facebook to all the followers:

"People who are not actively following this page can kindly unlike the page so that we will know the exact number of followers of the page"

I was appalled. Really! In the first place, people who are not active on facebook would most likely miss the post since they are not 'active'. It's obvious that the post is directed towards the regular readers. It was an indirect way of begging readers to like the posts, but it was full of 'attitude' or more accurately 'arrogance'.

I don't want to go into the details of which page, when, how etc. I had happily 'unliked' the page.

Now-a-days I am encountering attitude everywhere.

When you ask a vendor if the vegetables are fresh, he shows his attitude: 'Take it or leave it amma. You won't get this quality everywhere.' When you go to a five star resort full of foreigners, the staff show their attitude, even though you are paying the same amount as the foreigners. When you approach a playschool and ask them to reduce the fee, the manager shows his attitude: 'This is the best playschool in the city, madam. We already have a waiting list. You should pay the full amount regardless of the age or number of hours'. An intelligent employee shows his 'attitude' to his boss: 'I work like this only, at my own pace. If you don't like it, I'll resign.'

Ironically, we have tuned ourselves to believe people who show attitude. We buy vegetables from that vendor only, we go to the same resort everytime, and we join our kids in that playschool only. The more the attitude, the better.

Why did people suddenly forget the word 'humility'? When is this going to change?

A few years back, parents used to teach their kids to be humble. "No matter how much you grow, you should never forget your humble beginnings" was taught to me. Kids used to respect elders, shopkeepers used to respect customers, employees used to respect employers. All that has changed. 'Attitude' is the buzz word right now. 'Humble' almost became synonymous to 'weak'. Even the movies are portraying arrogance as heroism. Heroines are shown as falling for arrogant guys. Is this what we want to teach our next generation? That arrogance equals heroism?

Don't delete this mail: A short story

I reach my office in frustration, covered in sweat and dust. Bloody traffic! Travelling by a two-wheeler in this traffic pure hell. In addition to that, I had a verbal argument with a reckless car driver. I abhor driving on Indian roads. However, I have no choice. I hate depending on my dad to drop me in office everyday, and I hate travelling by public transport even more.

I plonk my handbag on the desk, switch on the computer, push back the chair and close my eyes. The system, as usual, is taking a long time to start up.
The AC in the office starts cooling me. After about ten minutes, I open my eyes. The system is showing the start screen.

I open my personal mail instead of Outlook, hoping to relax before starting work.

I am wrong.

The first mail is the chain mail with ‘Don’t delete this mail, bad luck will follow you’ in the subject line. I normally don’t get worked up about that kind of mails. I coolly forward them and continue reading other mails. I am ‘why take the risk’ kind of person. There’s no harm in forwarding the mail. People who don’t believe in it can kindly ignore it, and I will be saved from whatever bad luck is written in the mail. But today, I get all worked up.

Why should I believe in this nonsense? Am I not educated? How dare someone suggest that I’m going to face bad luck just because I didn’t forward a mail? How can someone force me into doing something I don’t believe in? Yes, I don’t usually believe in superstitions. But, if a black cat happens to cross my way, I go back, sit for a few seconds and start again, just to avoid the ‘risk’. Today I'm going to take a firm stand. I am not going to believe in this nonsense. So, for the first time, I delete the mail and continue reading other mails.

As soon as I close the mail, I see my boss standing behind me.

I look at him, surprised, and say, ‘Hello, Sir, Good morning. I didn’t see you there,’ trying to inject some authenticity into my fake smile. I know he looked at my mail. We are not supposed to open personal mails in office. My boss particularly hates it.

‘Can you come to my office?’ he asks.

‘Sure,’ I say, wondering what he’s upto.

I follow him and we both take our chairs in his office.

He comes straight to the point without bothering about niceties.

‘I have a bad news for you, Anusha. Since you’ve been on leave for four months in the last year and also failed to perform well after that, we are keeping you under probation. If you fail to improve in the next two months, you may have to face the pink slip,’ he says gravely.

I look at him utterly stunned. I was on leave to get well from a car accident. I lost my friend in that accident. It took me a long time to recover from the trauma of the accident, which may have led to my less than desirable performance. But, this is cruel. What happened to all those years when I got consecutive ‘A’s in appraisals? Why happened to all those years of faithfulness to the company. I didn’t leave it even though some of my friends left it in the first year itself.
I simply nod my head, not knowing what to say.

I walk out of his office and head towards the coffee dispenser, unable to face the work. Just then I hear my phone ringing and see that Mum is calling. Thank god!

‘Hi! Mum,’ I say, hoping I’d find relief in her words at least.

‘Anu! Did you see the news?’ she asks in a tone full of agitation.

‘Why? What happened?’

‘The train—The train your dad was travelling in met with an accident. I—I don’t understand—’ She’s unable to speak coherently.

My head starts spinning. I could hear my heart beating. My legs are becoming weak. But I gather myself. I have to be strong.

‘Mum, please don’t panic. I’ll call the helpline,’ I say and drop the call.

I try dialling the helpline but get a continuous busy tone.

I retry in frustration but nothing happens. Should I call back Mum? What would I tell her?

I try calling the helpline again. I get the same busy tone again. A lot of people are probably dialling it right now. Tears are rolling down from my eyes. Why is this happening to me? Oh god! I stare at the cell phone screen in helplessness.

Just then I remember the mail from the morning. I didn’t even read it.

Even though it’s foolish to read the mail when I should be calling the helpline, I go back to my system and reopen the mail from trash.

There’s a photo of a God with a message that ‘If you forward this mail to ten people, God will bless you with good luck. Do it within ten seconds or else bad luck will follow you.’

I consider forwarding the mail. Perhaps it will save my dad. 

I try to do it,but something is stopping me. If I succumb to this irrational thought today, I’ll never be able to take a firm stand again. I’ll become a slave to a superstition. No, I can't go on doing things in the name of avoiding risk.

Don’t think about it! My heart is warning me. It’s no time to think about logic. It’s your dad’s life at stake. All this is probably happening because of the mail.

Quickly I add ten people from my address book and try to press forward, but, in a moment of decision, I press on delete message forever. I have done it! Somehow I feel lighter. For once, I didn’t take the ‘why take the risk’ route. I didn't go back on my decision. I’m not going to believe in superstitions.

Just then I get a call from Mum. I lift the phone apprehensively, praying that I shouldn’t listen to any bad news. I’ll never forgive myself for deleting the mail.

‘Anu, thank god! You father just called me now. He was one of the few people who escaped from the accident.’ Her voice is high with excitement. I sigh in relief. Thank you, God! 

Review: Love Story by Erich Segal

This is one of the books I’ve always wanted to read but couldn’t due to various reasons. However, yesterday, I’ve decided that I would give it a shot. It’s Saturday, I had nothing better to do, and I was in one of those rare moods to tolerate a romantic love story (After child birth, I started considering myself as a mature woman, so it’s been increasingly becoming difficult for me to tolerate gooey romantic stuff that I used to enjoy as a teenager. I hope it is just a phase).

I wasn’t expecting anything great. After all it was written long back, and I probably couldn’t relate to the story anymore. But I was wrong. I was absorbed into the story from page one. Having seen several Bollywood and Tollywood movies with the same outline, the story did not appear as anything new. But it had its charm. It was a short read, and when it was over, I felt bad, wanting to read more.

Plot (Contains Spoilers): The story was told and retold in so many ways that it appears old now. A rich boy (Oliver) falls for a poor girl (Jenny). His parents don’t like that so he severs all ties with his father for Jenny. He studies law while she earns for a living. He becomes a top lawyer, and when everything looks fine, tragedy intervenes. Oliver discovers that Jenny has Leukaemia in advanced stage. She’s going to die. The doctors try but fail to save her. And so, the story ends on a tragic note.

I loved the quick-witted responses of Jennifer. She’s strong even when facing death. I loved Oliver. He’s any woman’s dream lover. To be able to leave everything for the one you love is no mean task. Every woman deserves a husband like that.
I would give 5/5 stars, just for the evergreen story. 

The joy of rereading novels

Reading old novels again and again is a kind of comfort, isn't it?

We need not guess the story, so there's no tension involved.

We can read it at our own pace, so we need not stay up all night just to know the end.

The characters feel familiar, so it is like remembering old times and talking to old friends.

We tend to concentrate more on each word, so there's a good chance we'll add a new word to our vocab.

Sometimes I miss the depth of meaning of some sentences in a hurry to finish the book, which I understand in one of the rereads.

Some books I reread all the time:

Harry potter series ( I know it's childish of me to read them even now, but I can't help it! Those are the books I first fell in love with as a kid. It's like when you are flipping the channels you suddenly see Tom and Jerry and stop there, just to enjoy it one more time even though it appears childish )

To kill a mocking bird ( It's such a comfort read. Changes your mood when you are low)

Wuthering heights ( It's supposed to be a classic love story, but I don't find love in it. However, there's something in the book that makes me reread it again and again )

Shopaholic series ( It's a chick lit series, but it uplifts my mood instantly )

Bridget Jones diary ( Another chick lit. But the humor is so natural that I tend to laugh out loud everytime I read it )

Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry finn ( Another set of children books, but I love them )

Great Expectations ( A long read, but a good read )

The time traveler's wife ( A sweet love story )

All Sherlock Holmes novels ( I simply love the character of Holmes ) 

A lot of books get added to the list for I tend to reread books a lot. So, what are your favorites? 

Review: The One You Cannot Have by Preeti Shenoy

Finished it! In four hours! It's a short book, and a good read. My rating 3/5. And here's the review of Preeti Shenoy's book 'The one you cannot have' :

The main theme of the book is 'Everyone will always have the one you cannot have.' The author conveyed her point well. The book talks about acceptance of your past and moving on. The plot is a no-brainer. Anyone can guess it from the title. Aman, a north indian, and Shruthi, a south indian, are star-crossed lovers. After four years of togetherness, they believe that nothing is going to stop them from getting married. However, fate interferes in a cruel way and Shruti is married to a another guy, Rishabh, from her own community. Even after two years, Aman and Shruti struggle with the ghosts of their pasts. It affects Shruti's marital life and Aman finds it difficult to commit himself into another relationship. How they found acceptance of their past and moved on is the rest of the story.

The story moves at a brisk pace. The shifting of perspectives at the beginning of each chapter, a technique every author is employing these days, helped me understand them well.The characters of Shruti and Aman are excellently developed. Their love truly appeared magical. Until the last page, I hoped they would get together again, and once again the magic would happen. I particularly like Shruti's narration. I would often find myself skipping Anjali's part. It's not that her part was boring,but Shruti's was interesting.

Moving on, there are loose ends in the story. Like the story of Vikram and Dipika. What happened to them? And why did the author introduce the subplot in the story when she didn't want to give it a proper closure? Is Dipika's character introduced to show us how bitter marriages can become and how it would drive the women to extremes? The other complaint I have is that the author drilled into reader's mind that marriages become boring after some years. She should have shown atleast one happy couple. It's a pretty depressing thought.

I felt that the ending was abrupt. How did Shruti and Rishabh reconcile? I know she wrote an epilogue, but I felt it was insufficient since we invested so much time on them.

The major complaint I have is why are mothers always shown as pestering? About baby, marriage or otherwise? The author tried to show it as affection, but frankly it was repetitive.

Well, those are some of my thoughts. If you want to read a good story of acceptance and moving on, without worrying about the fate of other characters, then this is the book. I would have given it 4 stars if the story was a bit more well developed without loose ends. 

I wish...

I wished...

My brain were a memory card,
so that I could keep what I wanted to remember and erase what I wanted to forget.

My eyes were a camcorder,
so that I could record some beautiful sights I had seen.

My body would operate on battery,
so that energy refill was as simple as plugging yourself to a charger instead of preparing and eating three elaborate meals.

My body doesn't need sleep every night,
so that I could accomplish so many things everyday instead of wasting time on sleep.

But then I realised that I was wishing I were a robot.

It is a blessing

to be able to forget,
for we can move on in our lives.

to be able to eat,
for we are blessed with the feeling of taste.

to be able to sleep,
for nothing could replace those wonderful dreams.

It's a blessing to be human.

So, what next?

When someone asks the question, ‘So, what next?’, there are some people who answer ‘I’m doing my masters right now. I plan to become manager in the next two years and start my own company in the next ten years’ and some people who answer ‘Ummm… Not sure.’
While the first category are termed as confident, the second category are called ‘aimless’.  Is it necessary for a person to plan everything ahead of time to be termed as confident and successful? What if a person is content with living one day at a time? Aren’t such people confident? Aren’t they ‘living’?

One idea that is gripping every person these days, thanks to the self-help books, is that ‘Every person should have a goal in his life’. Every person should be able to know what he’s planning to do in the next ten years, or for that matter, rest of their life. They should plan pension, children’s savings, insurances, everything, far ahead of time. Sometimes, I’m gripped by the thought that we are forgetting ‘living’ in this ‘planning’. Isn’t ‘living’ the most important goal of life?

I haven’t seen much life, may be, but one thing I understood from life is that it’s unpredictable. It can change in a second. I’m probably being pessimistic here, but what’s use of planning in such a unpredictable life?

As adults, we forget how unpredictable life can be, and we pose the same question to our children. What next? Why can’t we pass on somewhat carefree attitude to our next generation? Life is not a competition. We need not set goals every second. If someone fails tenth grade, that’s okay. If someone fails in their love, that’s okay too. There’s a lot of life ahead to rectify our ‘mistakes’. Every second gives us a chance to make a fresh start. Live a little. Make mistakes. Enjoy last minute decisions. After all, why should take life so seriously when we don’t know what’s going to happen the next minute? The most important thing is ‘living’.

Recurring themes in Hindi soaps

I have been spending a lot of time at home, so I too finally fell into the habit of watching Hindi soaps. At first I found them very interesting. But then, after watching them for almost six months now, I found a few recurring themes in all of them.

1. Heroine/Hero is shot by the villain (preferably by lady villain). We wait with nail-biting tension as he/she is admitted in the hospital. The doctor removes his spectacles gravely and says that it's very difficult to save him/her and the 'condition is serious'. All the family members cry. We are shown the 'flash backs' of happier times. Miraculously, 'Matarani ki krupa se' he/she is saved. Covers 20 episodes.

2. One of the family members is kidnapped (again by this lady villain). Heroine (not hero) goes and rescues him/her. Easily covers 15 episodes.

3. We come to know that hero is not actually a true member of the family. He is either an orphan adopted by the family, or son of the villain or something. Hero feels betrayed. We too can’t believe the truth. We watch him go through the agony of deciding whether he should leave the family or not. We feel bad. At last he’s convinced that the family is his true family. We sigh in relief. Everything is lovey dovey. The topic is not even mentioned afterwards even though we watched his agony for 20 episodes.

4. When there is nothing interesting going on, the family (usually a very large joint family) celebrates the upcoming festival with songs and dance. If there are no festivals coming up, they celebrate the marriage day or birthday (they plan a surprise party) of one of the family members. This will cover five episodes. That means the larger the family, the greater the number of episodes covered in terms of each person’s birthday.

5. If even birthdays are also not possible, we can always see the romance of hero and heroine with some latest Hindi song like ‘Tum hi ho’ playing in the background.

6. Alok Nath is nothing compared to the ‘bahus’ in Hindi serials when it comes to ‘Sanskaar’. The ‘Sanskaari bahus’ spend half of their time giving aartis to ‘bhagvan’ and other half adjusting their ‘goonghat’ and cooking in the kitchen.

These common themes make it easier for any person to follow the soap from the middle. And even if you missed some 20 episodes, you need not worry. You can always understand what’s happening in a jiffy. 

Well, all the above points cannot stop me from watching the soaps. Because, now I came to know, it is a kind of addiction.

Before and After Marriage

Before marriage:
Husband: Aaah! At last… I can hardly wait!
Wife: Do you want me to leave?
Husband: No! Don’t even think about it !
Wife: Do you love me?
Husband: Of course! Always have and always will!
Wife: Have you ever cheated on me?
Husband: No! Why are you even asking?
Wife: Will you kiss me?
Husband: Every chance I get!
Wife: Will you hit me?
Husband: Hell no! Are you crazy?
Wife: Can I trust you?
Husband: Yes!
Wife: Darling!
After Marriage:
Read from bottom to top.

Lol! That’s hilarious. Just saw it in fb. Really, do men change so much after marriage? I often hear people complaining that before marriage their husbands used to gift them chocolates everyday, take them to movies and dates, but after marriage they completely changed. That’s not the case with me (meaning Sarath never gifted me chocolates, not even before marriage. He always preferred to keep my expectations low. :P ), but is it yours?