Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Dead Souls (By Nikolay Gogol)

And translated by Robert A. Maguire.

"It is much easier to depict large-scale characters: there all you need do is fling the paints on to the canvas unstintingly - dark, burning eyes, beetling brows, furrowed forehead, a black or fiery-crimson cloak thrown over the shoulder - and the portrait is done. But if you take all these other gentlemen, of whom there are many in the world, and who greatly resemble one another in appearance, yet in whom, as soon as you look more closely, you will perceive many highly elusive traits - such gentlemen are dreadfully difficult to portray."

Thus wrote Nikolay Gogol, was one of the greatest writers of Russian literature. Brilliant lines that refuse to be erased from memory. His eccentric and highly satirical style of writing is not easy to understand as is the case with translated literature. Some of the nuances are definitely lost in translation. And add to that the fact that it is incomplete. But still it comes across as a brilliant piece of literature.

The story revolves around Chichikov,  a small time conman who plans to buy dead souls (who still exist on the census list) and then mortgage them for a handsome amount. As he goes about meeting and dining with the various landlords, the reader is exposed to various shades in the human character. One invariably falls in love with the characters who seem to be all flesh and blood, thanks to the author's brilliant delineation.

The Russian way of life is exposed in all its glory and shortcomings. The peculiar disease of living it up in style while being up to the neck in debt is finely depicted. When Chichkov sets about with his little scheme, some of the landlords readily agree while others try to hold on to the deal souls thinking that they might be worth more (one even wonders about the going rate for them). And still others strike a tough bargain for them by extolling the virtues of the serfs.

He almost succeeds and it the most sought after bachelor at a ball. But his undoing arrives in the form of a particularly greedy old lady who arrives in town to find out about the going rates of the dead souls.

So, he ends up moving to another town. And goes about his scan after spending some days in idyllic bliss. Until the bureaucracy and corruption does him in. (Doesn't it remind us of some famous people who have been in the news lately)

Apart from the detailed characterizations, it is the fact that this story still holds relevance, makes it for a most entertaining read.

But I must warn you that the language is not easy and one might just struggle with the first 50 pages or so. And then, it will just grow on one.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review : Mrs Funnybones (By Twinkle Khanna)

"Nothing in life is more sacred except humour". So says my favorite TOI Sunday columnist Twinkle Khanna. And I cannot agree more since my philosophy in life is also loosely based on "A joke a day keeps the shrink away".

So, when this 233 pages gem of a read arrived after much delay (actually one whole day after it was released), I was thrilled to bits. This treatise on everyday humor was as engaging as I expected and I ended up finishing it in less than 24 hours. Finding hunour in the most mundane situations, she makes one smile with her witty one liners. My favorite one is " all good things come in medium size". Just can't stop laughing at that one.

Whether the antics of her toddler , the obnoxious behavior of Indian men or her run-ins with her mother in law, she is just like most Indian women. Learning on the job, improvising and juggling a million acts (a few of them being downright ridiculous) while still having bouts of self-doubt.

She says "A punjabi mother, her son and food form a triad as sacred as Brahma, Mahesh and Vishnu, and cannot be interfered with". That is so true about almost every family. DIL's have always be under suspect for starving sons and grandsons. Facts like the son turning into a health freak (that counts for the changing preferences) once he hits the mid 30's or the grandson being hyperactive are brushed aside quite casually. Instead of the regular cribbing that most women do, she has laced the entire episode with enough humor to bring a smile of the face of even the most molly-coddled son.

Kudos to her for that very funny chapter on her Mom and all the embarrassing stuff that the latter caused. I actually had to read it all over again. Thank god for my mom is not remotely interested in old statues and antique doors.

Don't miss this one for anything !!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Bloated. Distended. Bulbous. Shapeless. Pooja stared hard at the bulging female form which seemed to be beyond redemption. And the more she stared, the uglier it seemed to become. She could have chosen to avert her eyes from the horrid figure. Only it seemed to follow her everywhere. For her very soul inhabited this grotesque form.

The transition from the slender girl with those well defined curves to an almost whale like cylindrical likeness had distressed her to no end. She had tried every trick in the book to lose the excess weight but the pounds only seemed to pile on. She worked out everyday. Survived on bits of carrot, lettuce and gallons of water which she would have gladly swapped for fresh air. That is if she could. For now, all her hopes were pinned on her doctor as she awaited her turn.

Dr Usha glanced up from her desk and looked beyond the one way glass at her patients who had lined up for their appointment. She had retained this arrangement for the last twenty years. It allowed her to jog her memory on the patient's history and slip into the right avatar for the meeting. Her eyes came to rest on the next patient. "Such a lovely creature", she sighed as she mentally revisited the former's affliction. 25 year old female. Grossly underweight. Suffering from BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder).

Image source :

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Crossroads !!

Riya's mind was besieged by a cacophony of dissenting noises as she fiddled with the bottle containing the beautiful blue pills. It had accidentally slipped out of Gautam's pocket as he had got dressed this morning.

Her mouth almost twisted into a smile as she realized that he would go to any lengths to make her feel special. The fact that had been together for the last ten years was testimony to his devotion towards her. A fashion photographer by profession, he stumbled across temptation on a everyday basis.

A mist of joy engulfed her as she thought of their togetherness. But it quickly dissipated as her thoughts were interrupted by the ping that emanated from her Blackberry. Her mind directed itself towards more practical matters.

The seven year long clinical trial had thrown up some shocking results. As director of the program, it was her responsibility to bring it to the notice of the medical fraternity. And she had agreed to hush up the damning bits in exchange of a plum posting. Not that her conscience had not taken a drubbing.

But a faceless consumer is a totally different entity as compared to a longtime companion. And it had never figured into her calculations that Gautam also belonged to the fraternity of well-heeled middle aged men that were the primary target of this miracle pill. She personal life had always been divorced from her professional life. Or had been till now.

She was fast approaching menopause or the critical stage where one's sex life hits a plateau and then goes downhill. A tragedy that in her opinion could only be offset by reaching stratospheric heights in one's professional life. And she was almost breathing in that rarefied air.

She hesitated only for a fraction of a second before slipping the bottle underneath the bed. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Soulmate 2.0 !!

Image courtesy :

The divorce had been a messy one. And unnecessary too.

Pragyan would go to college in two years time while Pratyusha would follow her after another year.
The two penthouses were hardly more than assets given the fact that both of them would be travelling for most of the time.He could have kept the cars given that she hardly rode anything except for her battered Scorpio.

In retrospect, everything that they had fought over, seemed exceedingly futile.

Something made her stop the SUV. The scene that stretched ahead of her had drawn her out of contemplation. A herd of wild buffaloes had gathered near the stream which was thrusting ahead in a muddy roil.

Throwing caution to the winds and swiftly alighting from her vehicle, she quickly reached for the Nikon DSLR. She desperately wanted to capture antics of the herd before the forest patrol chanced upon her. It was a restricted area of the Bandipur forest and vehicles were not allowed to stop.

Her new single status had kindled the nomad which had lain dormant all these years. Working her way up the corporate ladder and raising a brood at the same time had taken considerable toll on her. She had all but given up on photography while travel had taken on a totally different meaning.

As she zoomed on the herd and adjusted the focus, she heard another soft whir. As she looked across the gulf, her eyes focused on a tall form clad in khaki trousers and white shirt stationed next to a mud splattered Safari . His boyish physique almost seemed to be at a contrast to the salt and pepper hair.

Their eyes met almost at the same instant and he smiled back. Perhaps the Gods were smiling down at her once again.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Day In Mysuru !!

Yesterday, I returned from a fruitful trip from Mysuru and today's TOI headlines screamed "Mysuru Is India's Cleanest City". What a coincidence I thought!! Just yesterday I was musing about this city where every second person is a tourist or atleast in transit ( Mysore is well connected to hill stations like Ooty, Coorg, Kodiakanal and Wayanad )and yet how nicely they have managed the roads and the traffic. Surely there are narrow lanes like one would expect in a historical town like this but it is hard to spot mounds of garbage piling up like one does in Bellandur, Murugeshpalya and some parts of Mahadevpura ( all are suburbs of Bangalore...How the hell did it make to the top of cleanest capitals in India ??? ). Some excerpts from my visit -

Time : 2 pm (Near State Bank of Mysore) - The navigation system had been playing truant for a while and after being confused by the 1st exit and 2nd exits on some imaginary circle, we decided to ask a local for the directions to our hotel. He dropped everything and proceeded to explain the route to us in detail. As he said, the route on which we were driving was shorter and simpler but a part of it was a 'Kaccha rasta'. The other route was longer and in good condition but somewhat more confusing given the numerous gallis that labyrinth Mysuru. We took the short route and found the hotel without any trouble. 

Time : 8:30 pm (Cafe Aramane) - "Hum Hindi samajtey hain. Baat kar saktey hain", proclaimed the waiter when his initial queries in Kannada yielded nothing more than blank expressions. We were sitting in Cafe Aramane, a pure veg restaurant located in a heritage building. He then proceeded to outline the dinner menu in Hindi. The guy was very much courteous and promptly took down the orders. The food was quick (it was served in the short while that it took me to appreciate the tasteful interiors) and tasty. And the final bill brought a smile on my face.

Time : 9:30 pm (Silks) - The guy was putting the sarees back on the shelves but promptly put everything down even as we entered the shop. Had it been Bengaluru, we would have been promptly shooed away like a stray bovine/canine that had ventured into prohibited territory. He suggested different styles as befitting me and my MIL. And he showed us quite a number of sarees including ones that are preferred by locals, Bengalis (he mistook me to be one) and ones that are worn during marriages. We bought two and while my husband was making the payment, he continued to enlighten me about the history of the Mysore Silk sarees.

PS - I am mighty dejected with the TOI and Raghavendra Rathore who did not include this classic beauty in the list of "5 Must-Have Sarees".

Saturday, August 1, 2015

This Ball's In My Court !!

Pop. I plunked the delicate pink ball inside my mouth and waited for a few seconds for that sensation which I would love to describe as 'Delicious nothingness'. As it melted away into the recesses of my mouth, I was left with a familiar high. Hell...before you guys get ideas and think that it is the new Prozac or Provigil (both are party drugs), let me enlighten you that I am talking about my favorite 'Pahala Rasgulla'.

This is not the 'Pahala' but the 'Salepur' variety

When I read yesterday's TOI, there was this article on the front page that mentioned about a 'bitter debate' between the Odias and the Bongs regarding the GI tag for it. A bitter fight over the sweet rasagulla ? Now, guys this is taking it too far. I have already written a few articles over the Rasagulla and ideally I would have stopped reading at that point. But something egged me on.

Now there is this historian Haripada Bhowmik who elucidates that Lord Jagannath cannot be associated with chenna /Chhana based sweets as it is a blasphemy to offer sweets from spoilt milk to the Lord . And he goes on to support his theory by adding that the Rasagulla does not find a mention in the Chappan Bhog, a list of 56 items that are on Lord Jaganaath's everyday menu.

I actually did a double take after reading the entire article. People do get carried away, dont they ?? Well, it is supposed to be a special treat offered to the Lord's consort to appease her so how can it be a part of the everyday menu ??? It is equivalent a guy offering a box of 'Ferrero Rocher' or 'Godiva' chocolates to his sweetheart who has been sulking after being left out. No guy would put that on his everyday menu for sure. Sweethearts deserve something special. Or do you Bong guys woo your girlfriends with something pedestrian like the 'maccher jhol' ?

I remembered my grandmother's chenna and jaggery offerings to Goddess Lakshmi on the Manabasa Gurubar. A mix of Chenna and jaggery is the very first offering made to the Goddess. A woman from the hinterland of Odisha, she used to merely carry on a custom that was passed on to her by her MIL who in turn undoubtedly learnt the same from her own MIL. And folks from the interiors of Odisha are not too fond of chenna unlike those living in and around the coastal belt. Yes, you will not find any chenna based sweets in this part. But still they make it a part of the offering which shows that it is a part of their tradition.

Now that kind of highlights the understanding (or the very lack of it) that the Bongs have about our culture and pooja rituals. I do not have anything personal against their ilk. Actually, I love Bengali folks as some of the favorite authors happen to be Bengalis . They are an intellectual and erudite lot without a hint of a doubt. And this is merely a case where they have allowed their hearts to rule over their heads.

I would suggest doing some 'mandwali' or coming to an understanding. Let the Odia's stake their claim to the 'Pahala' and 'Salepur' rasagullas and let the Bong's have their al-dente version concocted by the Late Nobin Chandra Das. Give it a thought. Meanwhile I am heading into my kitchen for my morning cuppa. Hell, where has that maid of mine thrown the sponge ? There she goes, misplacing my stuff all the time. Somebody please hand me a couple of those K.C. Das rasagullas ................