Book Review : Alchemist Of The East

alcofeastBlurb View:

The Alchemist of the East is an enchanting saga of gaining wisdom, following one’s heart and, above all, chasing one’s dreams.
This is a story of Sushyo, a toy maker from Mesopotamia who wishes to travel all over the world and spread the message of peace and joyousness.
From his home in the city of Nineveh, on the banks of river Tigris, he voyages to the land of seven rivers, Melhua.
What unfolds is an adventure of epic proportion with his destiny throwing at him, one challenge after another, probing him in the most frightful manner.
An apocalyptic encounter with the Alchemist of the East prepares him for the road ahead.
As events occur rapidly, the boy finds himself a part of a legacy for which he will have to face up to the ruler of Arianna, Queen Kassandrra, in an epic battle on the banks of river Helmand.

Review: 

I’ve read Aporva Kala only once earlier and the best thing I like about his works is the simplicity in writing. There isn’t a barrage of difficult-to-pronounce words or complicated sentences that send you in a tizzy for the dictionary. While Life…Love…Kumbh was more of a journey than a concrete story, Alchemist of the East is a full grown novel that blends history with mystique.

The book begins with Sushyo, a teenage toy maker from Mesopotamia tragically losing his mother. He embarks on a life altering journey, one that is essential for his survival and evolution as a human being. Sushyo sails on a ship to a faraway land, gets into a confrontation with the Captain of the ship and finally wins his trust. Fate takes him to a gurukul where he meets his calling of toy making. He learns the art and the fine tunings of it. And yet, there’s something else in store for his future, something from his past that suggests he could be the next king of Alexandria. Will Sushyo be a toy maker when he becomes an adult or will e really be the king, defeating Queen Kassandra in an epic battle and avenge the death of his parents?

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Pickles of India

Who doesn’t love a good pickle? The mere thought of a tangy, spicy or slightly sweet pickle makes me salivate at any point of time. Being an Indian, most of our meals are incomplete without a plethora of pickles. I have a habit of choosing the pickles according to my mood. So, one day it is the hot and sour chilli and lemon pickle, followed by a sweet and sour Green Olive pickle made by my mother, or a fiery stuffed red chilli pickle to go with a snack. We’ve been using pickles in more ways than one in Bengal. The residual oil from a hot and sour Green Mango pickle is used in jhaalmuri or to mix up mashed potatoes to accompany daal-rice.

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While surfing for non-vegetarian pickles online, I bumped into the Places of Origin website. They have a wonderfully sorted site with more varieties of pickles than I could even imagine. The classic Pork pickle and Naga Chilli Pork pickle look absolutely delicious. Since we are a voracious fish consuming family, we’re always on the lookout for interesting ones like Prawn and Bombay duck pickles. I’m definitely going to order few of these from the site as they look wonderful and are quite moderately priced.

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If you are a little adventurous and want to try to regional pickles of India, there’s a lot in store for you at Places of Origin. I’ve only heard about Ker Sangri pickle from Rajasthan, but never tasted it. Other interesting picks are Gongura pickle from Andhra Pradesh or Mango Thokku from Tamil Nadu to choose from. Oh, and don’t forget to taste my favourite Kashundi from Bengal! It’s a great condiment with fried snacks with the tang of mustard and heat of chillies. If you are a fan of sweet pickles like a few in my family, go for the Chhundo from Gujarat. It’s a sweet and slightly sour pickle made with grated mango and jaggery and is great with paratha or thepla.

I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard about Dates, Turmeric, Chana Methi or Garlic peel pickle until I went to buy pickles online. It is just amazing of the ways you can utilise these pickles with different varieties of food. India has such a rich heritage of pickles from each of its states that is hard to find elsewhere. At Places of Origin, there’s Lemon pickle without oil and Garlic pickle in Olive oil. In case you don’t want too much oil but cannot resist pickles either – try these. They are really unique and brought together for the first time to be available across the country online. And they would also make for innovative and awesome gifts for any occasion with gift packs of 1 kg assorted pickles for friends and family.

Spice up your meals with a little pickle of any variety and you’ll be sure to win hearts all around!

Saraswati Pujo

Writing an article around Valentine’s Day invariably leads to the celebration of love and such stuff. With the advent of Spring comes Saraswati Pujo, technically on the fifth day of the season, called Basant Panchami. Saraswati, the goddess of Arts and Education is worshipped diligently across my part of the world. From miniature clay idols at home to medium sized idols at various schools and finally the larger versions at the barowari (public) pujo, the goddess is more revered than actually loved. I’ve often perceived Saraswati as the lonelier, geeky goddess among others, akin to the bespectacled girl in school, bypassed for prettier ones (like Lakshmi). My loyalties have been and will remain for the ivory goddess, who I believe has lent me the few words that I can write. Retracing to Valentine’s Day bit of the story – Saraswati Pujo is termed aptly as Bengali Valentine’s Day for the past half-a-century. I think it’s barely been 50 years that Saraswati Pujo began to be celebrated in schools around Bengal. The stern iron gates of each mono-gender school would be open to everyone only on this day, creating leeways for teenagers. Each teenage boy, clad in pressed and clean white or yellow Panjabi-Pajama would peer around Girls’ schools in the neighbourhood for saree clad beauties. Thus began an era of seeing each other, diligently asking for prasad, going out for a date in a group and stealing furtive glances.

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Four Years, 200 Posts Later..

It’s my fourth blog-versary with WordPress and well, it’s been a long journey. From book reviews to rants, poems to contests, I’ve written a few posts compared to well-maintained blogs. I know it’s not much, but there’s a sea of gratitude in me for every reader that ever stepped onto the page.

Keep reading, keep coming back and I promise to write more and better this year.

Cheers to writing!

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Best Reads of 2016

This year has been good in terms of reading, though I couldn’t fulfill my target of 70 books. Nonetheless, combating reader’s block once in a while, I can safely assert that my reading mojo hasn’t gone anywhere. The lot had been a mixed one this year, quite a few mediocre books were moved from the bookshelf to obscure cartons that are sealed and stored. Others were neatly arranged in the already overwhelming array of books. Here are the ones that kept me hooked this year.

animal-farmAnimal Farm – It’s a pity that I hadn’t read this George Orwell classic so far. The book is iconic and doesn’t need a description. I began reading it after getting bored with a few sub-par books in Indian English. That made this classic all the more endearing. Written in very simple language, laced with rhymes and innuendos, Animal Farm makes for a very interesting read. If you can decipher the hidden meanings, metaphors, and references to the erstwhile politics in Europe – there’s nothing better!

jojoMe Before You – Rave reviews about Jojo Moyes’ writing and hype about this book being made into a movie were reasons that I wanted to read this one. Fortunately, my Secret Santa had gifted Me Before You last Christmas and it was on my TBR since then. It took a holiday and the reader’s block to get me start this beauty. Of the contemporary British women writers, Sophie Kinsella has been my favourite and Jojo Moyes came quite close with this book. I love the dry humour and ample sarcasm that the Brits expertly exude in their style or writing. It goes very well with me and I can entirely relate to the darkness. Me Before You makes you embark on an emotional journey that you wouldn’t want to end. Trust me, it isn’t a sob story.

grassThe Grass is Singing – I had bought this book (as the Secret Santa for my angel) based solely on the theme of Apartheid. It’s a subject that had occupied a part of my childhood, reading about it in the newspapers, watching the cricket team of South Africa and criticising them. I didn’t know about Doris Lessing then, but I’m glad that I discovered her writing. This book has had a profound impact on me; it had put me into a completely dark zone while I was reading. I couldn’t imagine that the verdant fields of Rhodesia and their vastness could create such a void and mess with the psyche of a perfectly normal woman. This book is a must read if you want to know about madness, fantasy and stark reality.

honestseasonThe Honest Season -I hadn’t read Kota Neelima prior to this one, but she managed to enter this list alright. A very complex plot, coupled with good writing and great journalistic measures makes an engaging novel. It is the correct mix of politics, romance, lobbying, ethics and rain. Yes, rain is one of the main protagonists of this novel and I loved the way Kota Neelima played with this element. It managed to bestow a wonderful lyrical quality to prose and that’s quite a rare trait to be found in contemporary Indian authors.

dragonThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson’s magnum opus is by far the best book (& series) I’ve read in the last few years. This is the best one in the Millennium series and a fine book by itself. I was quite aware that it belongs to translated literature and the best way to read is not to judge it based on the language. Lisbeth Salander impressed me immensely and I am still in awe of her. The story is obviously very intriguing and so is the hero Mikael Blomkvist. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. But it isn’t just a thriller, it’s a labyrinth of family ties and pervert psychological experiments.

Do let me know your best reads of 2016. 

Himalaya Wellness Foot Care Cream

This winter has been particularly harsh on my feet, resulting in a neverending search for effective foot care products. I’ve been trying out foot scrubs, salts, and creams which would return some softness to the horribly cracked soles. This trial of various products has culminated into a series of winter care products that will find a place in this review section. Himalaya Wellness have been a pioneer in herbal products and I’ve been using their face wash as well. Here’s a detailed review of the Himalaya Wellness Foot Care Cream that I loved using this winter.

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Appearance

The foot care cream comes in two sizes – tubes of 50g and 20g. I received the 50g tube for review. It is non-messy, easy to carry for travel and convenient. The cream is non-sticky and has a faintly herbal aroma, not too overpowering.

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KiKiRa The Great

I’ve been fortunate enough to be nestled into the world of Bangla Literature in my formative years. I had begun reading magazines and novels for children even before I turned ten. The joy of holding a freshly printed periodical magazine at least once a month and glancing through the pages to skim the content before rushing off to school was incomparable. Calcutta has carried a rich tradition of interesting magazines for children, young adults as well as adults. The ones, especially for pre-teens were a huge treasure of informative articles, short stories, poems, comics and sports. Anandamela, Shuktara, Kishore Bharati, Kishore Gyan Bigyan, Sandesh – there were so many to choose from each fortnight! The most popular among these, Anandamela was from the ABP house of publications – it was bourgeoisie, glamorous, rich in content and had great print quality priced at Rs 10 for each issue.

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The annual pujabarshiki Anandamela 1996 and the Kikira novel published in it (on right)

The fortnightly and annual Pujabarshiki issues of Anandamela introduced me to Kikira The Great by Bimal Kar. No, he isn’t Japanese and is almost not a detective. KiKiRa stands for Kinkar Kishore Ray, a brilliantly crafted pseudo-acronym to enhance his identity. He is a self-proclaimed magician who had a target of at least a hundred magic shows in his lifetime but was stopped short at only thirty six of them due to an illness. A sudden bout of disease disabled one of his hands and made it impossible for him to perform on stage again. He called himself ‘Kikira The Magician’, ‘Kikira The Wonder,’ ‘Kikira the Great,’ and still had a few tricks up his sleeve that effervesce in all of his cases. Kikira has two assistants, a young clerical fellow named Tarapada and a doctor of medicine, Chandan. The evolution of this apparently lopsided friendship between the three occurred during a case for the first time. The first story in the Kikira series – Kapalik-ra Ekhono Achhe (Tantrics Still Do Exist) – began with Tarapada and Chandan as the main protagonists, Kikira only making an entry later with a burly introduction! I think the author wanted to experiment, improvise and give a trial with the readers to see if they accept such an offbeat character.

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