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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Sour Treats From The Bengali Kitchen

Someone asked me on Twitter recently, what is the difference between Chutney and Ombol in Bengali cuisine? Now, I haven’t faced a trickier question as of late, since the culinary vocabulary in Bengali is enormous and often consists of very subtle variations. To the best of my knowledge, Chutney is a sauce/condiment, savoured as a side to main courses and it might entirely sweet/salty/spicy; while an Ombol/Tawk is one of the key elements in a Bengali meal that is mandatory to consist of a sour ingredient (lime/tamarind or a sour fruit). I admit that a culinary historian/expert would be best suited to explain the differences between these, but all I can say is – Chutney is a very late entrant into the Bengali cuisine. It was all about Ombol in the earlier centuries with the idea that a mildly sweet-mostly sour item at the end of the menu would act as a digestive to regular meals.

Tomato Chutney
Photo Courtesy: Pratik Sengupta

The important point about Chutney/Ombol in Bengali cuisine is that, we don’t eat them as a side to other dishes, but it’s a wholesome food item in itself. A dessert would follow later than Ombol in any Bengali menu. Even in weddings these days, Chutney/Ombol has a great priority and in many families it takes a lot of time to decide on the menu as people have different favourites. I had a friend in college who dreamt once that she was being served various chutneys in huge steel containers at a wedding and they wouldn’t stop coming. My husband M is a Chutney/Ombol lover and often asks one variant or the other out of the blue on weekends. I’m a little inclined to the other side though, in a sense that I don’t dislike them, but I can’t ingest any sour food in large quantities. I prefer Chutneys as they are more on the sweet/salty/spicy side than sour Ombols. Here are a few different varieties of these sour treats from our huge cuisine that you can try easily at home.

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ALS ICH CAN (AS I CAN)

Temporary exhibition on Jan van Eyck at Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna

I hadn’t heard of Jan van Eyck until I arrived in Belgium three years ago. Now when I think back, it seems a little embarrassing. Van Eyck is one of the best painters in the world, one of the legendary Flemish painters in Belgium, arguably the father of Northern (European) Renaissance art and presumably the first painter to have successfully implemented oil paint on canvas. He’s a part of the enormous legacy that Flemish painters have left behind in Belgium and in Europe, overall. I am, however, not ashamed to admit that I have been properly introduced to art after living in Europe. There’s art everywhere around – inside churches, outside on their façades, in the architecture, in sculptures strewn carelessly within parks, in fountains and little gates – it’s just indescribable. When you discover so much art around you, it inspires in ways that you didn’t know existed.

I can write pages about Van Eyck and his art, but I’d tell you how his inspired mine in a tiny way.

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Book Review : All The Bright Places

This review was published in The Buzz Magazine

Blurb View: 

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

Review:

Did you know somebody committed suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world?

In most cases, they don’t leave any clue that could lead to a reason for their actions. It may be love, it may not be; it may be failure, and extreme ones at that; it may be Monophobia (that’s an easy one – just seclude ‘mono’, pun intended). We are yet to judge if suicide is right or wrong, since it is relative. But the grief it leaves the loved ones with is irreplaceable. Now don’t let this deter you from reading further, we are indeed talking about a love story, though it’s much more than just that.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet under ‘extenuating circumstances,’ on the ledge of their sixth storey school bell tower. We’ll keep the ‘who-saved-whom’ for later, for you to read the book yourself. It just so happens that both of them meet at a time when their own lives were shrouded by the cloud of ‘extenuating circumstances.’ Violet had lost her sister to an accident, and Finch (as even I began to fondly refer him) was going through a lot of trauma. They met, and gradually started to peel the layers off each other. They embarked on a journey together, and their pit stops are beautifully designed to be etched in memory forever.

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Book Review : The Girl You Left Behind

Blurb: 

What happened to the girl you left behind?

France, 1916.

Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. But when she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes a place of fierce tensions.

And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision . . .

Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history.

A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again . . .

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most – whatever the cost.

Review: 

I love art and fiction. But I’ve actually read only a handful of art fiction. There are a lot of criteria – if the story is entirely based on a piece of art or involves a historically known artist or if it’s a biography of an artist. Not delving so deep into categories, I perceived ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ as an art fiction since it involves a painting as the seed of the story. I had read the famous ‘Me Before You’ and the others in the series and was might impressed with the first one. I wanted to read some more by Moyes and picked this Historical. The premise of a Historical during WWI France is super interesting in its own merit; adding cherry to the cake is a post-impressionist French painting as the cynosure of all activities in a century.

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Lockdown Lores

With over two months of confinement, life in the era of lockdown deserves its own epic. Almost everyone has realised something new in them and emerged with traits they probably didn’t know existed. We have learned to cook, clean, wash, stitch on our own and most importantly, co-exist with others under the same roof for days, months now. At times, it feels like a crash-course in evolution within a cave, as there is danger lurking outside (a virus in this case). Our caves have become havens, cohabitation is the norm – to the dislike of many – as I witness these days. As unprecedented in a century, it is unimaginable that stepping out of one’s house could be life-threatening. But, adaptation is an inherent trait of humans and now it seems these norms existed forever, life before lockdown appears on the other side of a magnifying lens, constricting to an unrecognisable molecule.

It took a pandemic to unleash a trickle of compassion into a country for migrant labourers and people suffering due to the lockdown. There are outrages on social and print media, so strong that they would melt even the stone-hearted. But very few offer a concrete solution and very few can extract something out of our megalomaniac government. Pieces of news or stories as they are termed by the media, keep floating around like photons in the air. They cling to you the first thing since you wake up from a slumber each morning. A good sleep is as elusive as the idea of it; hence, millions of worries churn into a perturbed slumber in all the hours of the nights. Each time you open your eyes and check the electronic devices, a little this and a little that seeps in via audio and visuals. It takes an entire day to tile those pieces into a jigsaw puzzle of death and anguish. Most of us haven’t seen a war in our lives; yet, this pandemic is turning into one so huge that wartime measures are employed. I hadn’t imagined in any nightmare that each day would begin with checking the death counters around the world and praying they come down soon.

It also took a pandemic to make people realise the worth of time, now that we seem to have surplus. Many have begun reading, re-reading, teaching how to read and trying to read. This is one of the best outcomes of confinement. Most people have realised the worth of labour, now that they have to endure a teeny bit of it in household chores. Quite a few privileged souls like us have begun to appreciate nature more than ever. The wedges of time saved from commute and rush are well utilised into long walks in the parks and admiration of glazing greens at the prime of spring. Nature this year is behaving like the drunken peacock dancing away in the anticipation of rain and love, oblivious of its surroundings. The flowers are more colourful than ever, the trees are a bursting green this spring and all the birds sound like they’re auditioning for faunal concerts. Life is still beautiful, albeit with a mask and super careful social distancing.

It took a pandemic to realise we’re still alive and thank heavens or whoever for that little favour. Hold onto life as of now and enjoy the little wonders of staying alive that might disappear again once we are back to ‘normalcy.’

Book Review : The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Blurb:

Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed … Again

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.


But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

Review (*spoiler-free):

As it appears in the image, I read ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton and not ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ apparently. It seems that I read the British edition, hence the difference in titles. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much as long as Evelyn Hardcastle dies more than seven times! This is the author’s debut novel and it turned out to be a mighty impressive one, winning the Costa book awards in 2018! It took him more than two years to write the book and I think that’s pretty justified, given the complex plot and characters. You have to render your utmost attention while reading every chapter as they depict the same day over again but from eight different perspectives. 

The story is about solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder, in a mansion near to a forest in Britain, amidst a party, set around 1920s. As the blurb says, Aiden Bishop wakes up in the body of eight different guests and relives the same day over. His task is to find out who wants to murder Evelyn Hardcastle in lieu of his freedom from Blackheath, the mansion. There’s Aiden, the mysterious Anna, Evelyn and eight other hosts – a corsage of peculiar characters with secrets of their own. There’s love, murder, plots, lords, a potential marriage, a not-so-forgotten death and deceit. There’s also this fantastical phenomenon of time loop – reliving the same day, and body swapping (well, not exactly). It’s a whirlwind, really. 

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Book Review : Who Killed The Murderer?

Blurb: 

When TV actress Shagun Seth mysteriously dies in a beauty parlour in Mumbai, her mother slams murder charges on Shagun’s banker husband Chetan Seth. Chetan’s family suspects that he is being framed and requests private detective Mili Ray to investigate. As Mili and her lawyer-associate Gatha start work, Chetan is released on bail. Soon after, Shagun’s mother is killed! Is Chetan responsible for these murders? Mili probes deeper and unravels shocking secrets buried beneath Shagun’s world of glitz that leave her baffled. An insecure boyfriend, an estranged husband, an opportunist colleague, a cunning TV producer – Shagun was surrounded by Haters. Even her twelve-year-old son didn’t want to see her alive. Why did everyone hate Shagun? While meandering through dysfunctional family upheavals and dark showbiz sagas, ex-super cop Mili Ray also struggles to tame her own internal demons. Will she be able to solve her second case as private detective or succumb to pressure and hang up her boots? “Who killed the murderer?” is a gripping psychological thriller that will hook you right from the first page.

Review:

Generally, murder mysteries are about one-two-three killings around the idea of whodunnit or whydunnit. In this story though, there’s a super clue in the title of the book and there are numerous murders. The protagonist, Shagun Mehra is murdered and later her mother and TV producer friend are killed too. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Or did Shagun’s husband Chetan Seth kill her and shut all evidences as suspected?

Who doesn’t love a well-plotted, juicy murder mystery that entails complex brainstorming and Moitrayee Bhaduri doesn’t disappoint. The story germinates in Shagun’s childhood, how a school trauma affects her entire life ahead and changes her as a person. Revealing more would be doling out spoilers, so I’ll refrain from that. But, as a reader, you should read the early chapters carefully for clues later. Shagun grows up to be an obnoxious person whom most people hate, including her son. It’s an extraordinary characterisation of a beautiful, successful woman living in an empty shell otherwise. Readers can guess why and how Shagun behaves, but the characters obviously don’t. And yet, positioned at this advantageous state, you can’t predict who murdered Shagun.

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Mahalaya, The Grand Beginning of Durga Pujo

Shiuli/Parijaat/Nyctanthes

How does nostalgia treat you? Is it like a spouse, lingering around, making space into your psyche, or like a distant lover, appearing only in turns? Mine is mostly like the latter, fleeting sporadically with a whiff of fragrance like the Shiuli flowers.

Mahalaya for Bengalis is a huge chunk of nostalgia that hovers before the onset of autumn. Marking the termination of Pitripaksha (fortnight of the forefathers), this day has its own significance within different communities. For us, it marks the beginning of Debipaksha (fortnight of the goddess) and eventually Durga Pujo, for others, the start of Navratri. Apart from these religious and spiritual habits, Mahalaya is solely important to a lot of Bengalis for a radio programme called Mahishasurmardini. This incredible show was curated and performed first in 1932 and is enthralling millions since then. It was recorded for the first time in 1946 so that pre-independence riots do not hamper the performance at dawn (source from Twitter). The Aagomoni songs for welcome of Durga into her parents’ abode take a backstage to the brilliant chanting of stotras by the legend called Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The resonance in his voice is something one can’t miss during Mahalaya each year. It gives me goosebumps for sure.

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