What do you do, to live?

Death makes a person cold. Not the one who died, but some of those left behind. There’s a stone coldness in few people that is brought out to striking daylights with the death of a loved one. They struggle to cope, to accept the absence of the person closest to them. In this constant endeavour to ‘return’ to normal life, they lose any warmth left in their character. It depends a lot on the definition of ‘normal life.’ It’s quite normal that we would grieve a loss and the life we carry on after a loved one’s death, is normal in its own way. A ‘new normal’ that lets you accept facts gradually and tweak living accordingly. 

I have been in the realisation of something for quite a while now and it deepened slowly in the last four months of my stay in Calcutta. Most people around me are living in their own way, within the cocoon of a comfort zone. It is often the eat-work-sleep-repeat routine that burns them out near the end of their work life. The ennui that a routine creates is very stifling to me. If I were to just eat-work-sleep-repeat, I’d burn out much sooner than my retirement age. I believe that every person should be able to do something in their daily routine to feed their creative self. Now, you might disagree and debate, that in this already distressing scenario, what is the role of art? 

If you just give it a passing thought – art is not exclusive to galleries or theatres or concerts. A bit of art is present in all our daily lives to push us through in anticipation of tomorrow. And it need just be something tangible, to show off the creative angle of your persona. It could even be a thought, a few kind words to a stranger or something that you might find insignificant. I know someone who places a bowl of water in their balcony everyday in summer for birds. It gives them immense satisfaction to wake up listening to a dulcet conference of birds in their balcony, around the water. When I’m in Brussels, I go for long walks in the evenings, often not regimentally in a park but aimlessly in the quiet streets. If the weather is pleasant, I sit somewhere and soak in the sun, mostly in winters. On days that I feel dejected, I stop somewhere in the track and stare at the Art Nouveau/Art Deco houses. I believe I have even spoken to the stone gargoyles and motifs on them, just asking how they have been through the past century. This isn’t ‘art’, no, I wouldn’t call it that. But it is a way to do something different than my daily drill. Sometimes, I’d click a photo on my mobile and it has thus remained as a warm piece of memory, to be thawed and savoured on absolutely downcast days. 

I’m grateful to my parents for having inculcated the idea of a hobby in my early years. I think it was part of the Bengali culture, at least till half a century ago, to introduce children into some form of hobby that would sustain them forever. It was looked upon as something that would save your life from the clutches of a regimen. I was encouraged to read, listen to music and watch movies. I began writing much later and was interested in embroidery watching Ma and my paternal aunts. I’ve been living on and off it for years, neglecting embroidery while being immersed in ‘life.’ It took a pandemic to instil the habit of stitching for at least half an hour every day as a mode of creating something by forming colours and patterns on fabric. I looked forward to that time in the evening or late afternoon post work when I’d be able to pick up on an unfinished part of the pattern and progress bit by bit. Once a pattern was complete, it would bring unprecedented joy and fulfilment. I’d suggest you pick up a hobby, it might be anything, as long as you look forward to it post work and household chores. 

I did this satin stitch leaf yesterday on a used, washed fabric mask using Ma’s leftover shaded floss. It’s not perfect and I’m not very happy with the precision, but it is something. I did this bit that made me feel a little more alive and handy. What do you do, to live? I’d love to know, share in the comments. 

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Book Review : The Last Letter From Your Lover

Blurb view:

When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper’s archives for a story, she doesn’t think she’ll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.

Ellie and Jennifer’s stories of passion, adultery and loss are wound together in this richly emotive novel – interspersed with real ‘last letters’.

Review:

Shouldn’t there be a way to read an author’s works chronologically? I discovered Jojo Moyes and her writing via ‘Me Before You,’ (2012) and going backwards, have just read ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover,’ (2008). When you have already read the bestseller by an author, made into a motion picture and liked the book too – expectation levels are set high for all of their previous books too. I was disappointed with ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ (2005) when I read it this year. So, it is best to accept that a writer you like has written in various styles throughout their career.

‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ is probably a little mis-titled. It sets a certain conjecture even before the story begins. There must be a pair of lovers then and parting, since the title mentions ‘the last letter’. Understandably, the novel starts with Jennifer having lost her memory post an accident. The year is 1960 and she discovers that she has a husband but with zero recollections of his existence. She begins a new life of discoveries from the hospital and regains just flashes of a lost love, a lover, a longing that cannot be explained when she looks at her husband Laurence. She finds a letter that might take her back to her lover, a certain ‘B’ who signs the letter without his name. Cut to 2003 – Ellie, a struggling journalist finds this letter in her office archives and is set on an impossible journey to find what happened to Jennifer and B.

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1947 – A Love Story

He was 31, she was 22. They were married in August, 1947. If you are an Indian like me, you’d be wondering about the date. Was it 15th August, 1947? As some would joke now, did the country’s independence bring an end to a handsome bachelor’s? I’m not sure about the date either, since celebrating wedding anniversaries weren’t a trend back then. No one cared to document the date and event later. And yet, it must have been an important wedding as the bride’s father soon swore-in as the state’s first Education Minister. The bride was a demure girl, younger on the rung of two elder brothers and six sisters. She was a not-so-beautiful girl, neither fair complexioned like her brothers or elder sisters, but had an endearing smile to win over hearts. I have seen her fading aura while she was above sixty years old in my childhood. He, on the other hand, had a carefree, jovial personality, slightly mired by a mountain of familial responsibilities throughout his life. They are my late maternal grandparents – Gour Mohan and Smritimoyee Basu.

Within a few years of marriage, around 1950

The story began when the handsome boy from a village named Saidpur near Taki (North 24 Parganas, West Bengal) decided to graze greener pastures in Calcutta for education and employment. He completed a degree in Commerce and a diploma later in Chartered Secretaryship. He began working in Calcutta, gradually transporting his younger brothers too from Saidpur so that they could receive the education he wished for them. A few years passed by, the World War II began and its impacts were on Calcutta as well. The modest rural band of brothers struggled to make its ends meet in the city while their parents were still in Saidpur. Gour Mohan was the eldest, he began working already during the war. The second sibling Nitindranath went for a technical training course at the Indian Technical Institute soon after. The other two were quite young then. Third in the line, Pulakendranath enrolled in Indian Army as a foot soldier and the youngest, Ajit Kumar would later start his practice as a homeopathy doctor. The brothers would visit the village at every occasion, especially Durgapujo. Gour Mohan and his bride would grace the family group photograph along with their sister, Sujata and her children. The younger brothers would be married much later though.

At the back (l-r)- Gour Mohan, Nitindranath, Sujata, Smritimoyee, Pulakendranath
Seated in front: Dharendranath, Sujata’s children and Rani Basu.

Smritimoyee as a young bride, was perhaps a little terrified of her mother-in-law, Rani. Could a bride from the city adjust into the rural life of domestication? As far as I’ve heard, Dida fit herself well into the new ambiance and nursed her mother-in-law well when she was terribly sick. Her brother-in-laws were truly fond of her and respected her. And Dadu was probably smitten with her, or so he looks in the photographs!

Dida was a little frail in health, she would tire easily and couldn’t cook for longer durations. Dadu would visit the markets and grocery stores, sweet shops and the occasional telebhaja. Every time he went out, he would ask Dida, “Ki aante hobe?” (What should I buy?) They had their share of daily banters, not bitter or aggressive ones, but the mild, dulcet kind, that we term as ‘khunshuti‘ in Bangla. Since I was very young, I would wonder at times about these fights. Now that I’m growing older in my marriage, I realise it’s a part of the package and it’s fun at times! I’m sure we’d make memories too, like the photo below that Dadu had cherished to present to his beloved wife. Just gazing at the writing from around seventy years ago fills my heart with emotions that I haven’t been able to fathom till now.

Gour Mohan at extreme left

Dadu passed away in 1995 and Dida in 1998. I still miss them.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

All images above are from family archive and copyright protected. Please do not steal/share/distort.

Best Reads of 2020

It has been a concern to me that my reading capabilities actually diminished in 2020. While others have been gloating on how they had gained immense time during the pandemic to read, I hadn’t. And felt a little sad about it. I have read only 20 books in 2020. But then, I did a bit of embroidery too and that had eaten up quite a few hours. Overall, it is probably balanced, but I’d loved to have read more. The ones I loved are here:

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – By Stuart Turton

The first book I read in 2020 was amazingly hyped as one of the most interesting books of the previous year. Having won the Costa Book Awards 2018, it seemed endlessly intriguing. And I hadn’t been disappointed at all. There is quite a bit of convoluted plotting and organising the chapters according to the ‘lives.’ What amazed me was a few reviews that said they didn’t like the book because it was ‘too complicated.’ And here I am, looking around for more books like this! I loved the writing style – it had the elite 19th century touch, the characters that were as varied as chalk and cheese, and the surprise value in the plot. The only thing I didn’t like was the rushed climax. Nonetheless, this was one of the best and even better than Turton’s second book ‘The Devil And The Dark Water,’ which failed to be in this list. Detailed review here.

The Girl You Left Behind – By Jojo Moyes

Let’s admit that I love historical novels, especially ones with multiple timelines, also ones that dabble into art, more importantly, in world war art and their reclamation. Those are a lot of genres criss-crossed into a beautifully poignant novel – The Girl You Left Behind. The portrait of an extraordinary woman transcends decades and creates a powerful impact into another woman’s life from falling apart. There’s provenance that lead to dark secrets and unpleasant people, a fair bit of love and lots of grit and determination from all the women characters. It was a treat to read and I’ve found one of my favourite sub-sub-genre of historical-war-art-fiction. Detailed review here.

A Suitable Boy – By Vikram Seth

The talk of the town, the crème-de-la-crème of last year’s big budget blockbuster BBC-Netflix movie adaptation was my longest read of the year (obviously for it’s sheer volume of 1500+ pages). I love Vikram Seth. I have loved his poems and his delicately penned novel ‘An Equal Music.’ This was on my TBR since long and the fat book now lies in my bookshelf back in India. So, the Kindle version came to rescue and I wanted to read it before the tv series premiered. Not that it made any difference as I haven’t watched the series yet. I can only say that it takes some sensibility to grasp the equations between the characters and their relationships in this labyrinth of a book. It’s not easy and it’s lengthy – two factors deterrent for the current young generation to appreciate this beauty of a novel. I haven’t found many who have read it entirely, mostly because of lack of patience; the others have shelved it as they were bored by a few parts. And then, the tv/web series made it easier to DNF the voluminous book and just focus on the abridged, minified, dancing, colourful frames that you don’t have to visualise. It took me time too, since my attention span seems to falter these days, but it was worth. Detailed review coming soon.

Troubled Blood – By Robert Galbraith

It’s no longer a mystery that Robert Galbraith is J.K.Rowling’s pseudonym for the Cormoran Strike series. And I had written earlier about why I love this series. ‘Troubled Blood’ is #5 in the series and has evolved a lot from how it began. Strike and Robin have progressed in their lives in strange ways, mostly for the better, their cases have turned more complex, clients more eccentric, but the serial killer factor remains constant and is well portrayed in this novel. I should warn that if you’re looking for a racy thriller, this isn’t the one. Stretched over 40 years and quite a few characters, plots and sub-plots (including Strike and Robin’s personal lives), it’s a huge drama that unfolds in many acts. Yes, they do catch a serial killer but get into a lot of other things too. At times, I felt that Rowling has probably added too many elements in the soup – there are social issues, gender biases, domestic violence, generation gaps and a lot more. It turns a little overwhelming but if you love the main duo, you’ll love their stories as well. Detailed review coming soon.

Have you read any of these in 2020? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2021 and the decade ahead! 

The Dregs of Autumn

 

I love Autumn. Well, it is my most favourite season, especially when I’m in a country at the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn has never been more distinctly observed in my part of the world – India. In West Bengal, where I grew up, autumn mostly meant romanticising about clear blue skies with soft white clouds playing around, announcing the advent of Durga pujo. The colours of autumn have been evident to me only after visiting countries into the Northern Hemisphere – USA, Northern Ireland and now Belgium.

Today was a rare sunny day after weeks of rain and gloom. The winds are already rocking the leaves down and just before these coloured ones fade away onto the ground, we decided to make a little trip to the famous Park Tervuren in Brussels. It was breathtaking as we reached late and captured a bit of autumn to cherish until the next one. You will find red/orange/yellow/light green/ochre – basically a warm colour palette planted into nature that dissipate and make a comeback every year, without fail.

Here’s a photoblog of a few of them, hope you enjoy the photos. So long!

 

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

With the advent of this wonderful #MyFriendAlexa campaign, I hope to take my rank to a whole new level and in the process enjoy reading a lot of beautiful blogs. My reading hashtag is #ReadByPRB, and writing is #PRBWrit. Do follow and let’s connect on Twitter?

Why I Love The Cormoran Strike Series

 

I had first known about the Cormoran Strike series when the controversy broke out about J K Rowling writing under a man’s pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. I’m not sure if her social experiment of using the pseudonym worked. She wanted to see if readers go gaga over the novel written by an unknown author called Robert Galbraith. Since the name ‘Rowling’ has been associated with Harry Potter, she wanted to be accepted as a good crime writer, for adults. It’s not surprising that an author of such a popular stature as her would be insecure about being accepted as a crime writer. It happens to the best and arguably, she’s one of the best in last two decades. I guess, the fact about the pseudonym was leaked even before ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ (2013) could reach a lot of readers for the survey based on its quality. Post that, all hell broke loose and the book rode its success on the cause célèbre.

The first striking fact about this unusual detective called Cormoran Strike is his physical disability. There probably hasn’t been a popular detective in literature with a prosthetic leg, facing hundreds of hurdles everyday, trying to get over his girlfriend of sixteen years and setting up a detective agency with minimal capital. Strike was in the army and lost his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. Strike is an odd bloke, originally from Cornwall, brought up sporadically in London and with almost no family. I like the way he handles life. He’s not perfect, barely scraping through, he’s not a successful happy-go-lucky-rich guy with amazing relationships. He’s candid about the fact that he has met his biological father only twice in life. He’s tender about his now-dead-mother, an addict and an irresponsible adult who couldn’t take proper care of his children. And yet, Strike doesn’t hate her. After all these years, still doesn’t hate when others would. He feels an indistinct tenderness for his mother, rarely though, in parts, mostly because he feels that she could have had a better life.

I love Strike, but I probably love his secretary-turned-business partner Robin Ellacott more. Robin is one of my favourite women in contemporary fiction. She seems vulnerable when the series began; engaged to her high school sweetheart and with a dark past that Strike didn’t know about. You almost tend to feel sorry for her when she joins Strike as a temporary office staff in the first novel. And yet, she’s not a weakling. I love the ways in which she redeems her life and rises from the ashes. From being an emotional wreck to liking her job and excelling at it, from threading together her relationships to finally standing up for herself against deceit – Robin has done it all and emerged as a very strong woman who can kick a few arses.

I have read the previous four books in the series and am now reading the latest ‘Troubled Blood’. Strike and Robin have come a long way since they had began their journey and there’s a promise of another stellar, layered and epically huge novel of 944 pages. I’m looking forward to read and find out the mystery behind the disappearance of Dr. Margot Bamborough in 1974 that Strike and Robin are investigating at present.

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

With the advent of this wonderful #MyFriendAlexa campaign, I hope to take my rank to a whole new level and in the process enjoy reading a lot of beautiful blogs. My reading hashtag is #ReadByPRB, and writing is #PRBWrit. Do follow and let’s connect on Twitter?

Book Review : Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter

Blurb: 

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Persuasion. Eight years ago, family pride and an obstinate father had forced Anamika Eashwar to let go of the love of her life. Now he’s back again, a decorated captain of the Indian Navy. Will life offer her a second chance?

Review: 

Honestly, I haven’t read Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion,’ the classic on which ‘Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter’ is based. Starting on a clean slate probably fared better for me since there wasn’t any scope of comparison or evaluation of the modern retelling. I’d rather share my two pence on ‘Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter,’ by the inimitable Debeshi Gooptu.

The story begins at the palatial but dilapidated Eashwar estate, with the landlord Wriddhish Eashwar struggling at his finances but too proud to admit his mistakes. Of his three daughters, Anamika is the most sensible and bright, a perfectly likeable Jane Austen heroine. She’s trying to hold the family together, silently, and prevent her patriarch from crumbling. With support only from her aunt, she takes a few steps, including a huge one of renting their estate in the hills and moving to an apartment in Calcutta. Fate takes her to Gurgaon and a chance meeting with her former love leads to further turmoils in her heart.

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Book Review : The Murder In The Rain

Blurb:

When 27-year-old Kush Singh’s domestic help Leena is accused of murdering her husband, the ill-tempered inspector wants to see her imprisoned. Struggling to cope with a fall-out with his wife, a distracted Inspector Singh aka KP turns a deaf ear to Leena’s pleas. A corpse in a gunny sack, a besotted lover, a bankrupt businessman, and a group of agitated employees add to the complications of this mysterious case. Will Singh be able to investigate objectively and get justice for the victim? Set in Mumbai, The Murder in the Rain is a fast-paced thriller introducing the erratic Inspector KP Singh.

Review: 

A grumpy but super intelligent police inspector, a corpse within a gunny sack in a pond, a twisted plot, illegitimate liaisons, high flying ambitions and a thriller set in Mumbai. How else to begin the festive season, if I may ask?

Moitrayee Bhaduri is an accomplished writer of the ‘Mili Ray’ series of detective books. I’ve read one of them, ‘Who Killed The Murderer?’ and had liked it much. This prompted me to pick up ‘The Murder In The Rain,’ first of a ten parts ebook series by Moitrayee, involving a new protagonist – Inspector K P Singh. I must mention that I loved Mili Ray as a detective because she was such a layered and mysterious character, nonetheless, the rare female detective in Indian fiction. While I was hoping to read more of Mili Ray books, here comes the new one, Inspector K P Singh. Why not read this series of ten mini thrillers and find out what K P Singh is all about, while I wait for more of Mili Ray stories.

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Road-Tripping During Durga Pujo

If you know a Bengali, most of them would vouch for the fact that they look forward to Durga Pujo every year. As we keep on harping, it is not entirely a religious occasion, but more of a cultural festival. In Bengal, people from every religion can visit the Durga Puja pandals and soak into the throbbing and gay ambience of the festival. There is food, adda, friends, family, cute love affairs that may or may not last long, and the sense of oneness with a huge crowd of people milling towards an inimitable goddess. Considering the promise of such fun and felicity, most of us feel awful when we can’t be at home for pujo.

I have been away from Calcutta for the last fourteen years. There have been multiple instances of a no-show during pujo and it has gradually become a norm that we spend this time elsewhere. I think our parents have accepted this by now and they wait for us to be back during longer holidays in Christmas. While they attend the Durga pujo closer to home, we have devised a better way to keep ourselves occupied. If we can’t be with our loved ones during pujo, then it’s better to go on a road trip!

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman

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Art Nouveau Architecture in Brussels

If you happen to live in Belgium, you can’t escape the Art Nouveau architecture all around the cities, most of it in Brussels though. The buildings are old, yet beautiful and intricate, to say the least. The Art Nouveau style has its roots in Brussels, started by two legendary architects – Paul Hankar and Victor Horta. Interestingly, both of them worked on a building each from 1890 and they were completed in 1893, simultaneously. The Art Nouveau wave lasted from 1890-1910 and was replaced by the modern and austere Art Deco. It sounds amazing that Brussels still retains more than 500 Art Nouveau style buildings, the one I live in might be among them too, it’s from 1900! The key features of Art Nouveau architecture were to deviate from traditional styles and build windows/doors/balconies/facades inspired from nature. You can see waves from the ocean, leaves and branches from trees, animal motifs and colourful facades with golden murals called Sgraffito.
We did a photo walk of a few such houses in Brussels. Do take a look at the photos if you’re interested, each of them has a story to tell.

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