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.

himalaya

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.

Continue reading

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.

kikira

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.

Continue reading

Book Review : The Peshwa

Blurb View:

peshwa-1It is the 18th century and despite the dominant Mughal rule, the Maratha Confederacy has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Indian Subcontinent. The fragile peace between the two powers is threatened when Balaji Vishvanath Bhat, Peshwa of the Confederacy, foils the plans of Nizam Ul Mulk of the Mughal Empire, and asserts the power of the Marathas. However, little does the Peshwa know that he has dealt the Nizam an unintended wound—one with roots in his mysterious past and one that he would seek to avenge till his last breath.

When the Peshwa surrenders his life to a terminal illness dark clouds gather over the Confederacy as it is threatened by a Mughal invasion as well as an internal rebellion.

All the while a passive spectator, the Peshwa’s son, Bajirao Bhat, now needs to rise beyond the grief of his father’s passing, his scant military and administrative experience, and his intense love for his wife and newborn son to rescue everything he holds dear. Will the young man be able to protect the Confederacy from internal strife and crush the armies of the Empire all while battling inner demons? Will he live up to his title of Peshwa?

Review: 

I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction as they seldom fail to provide new perspectives to the erstwhile facts. After the success of the Hindi film Bajirao Mastani, Ram Sivasankaran’s novel The Peshwa is bound to invoke interest among history lovers. I haven’t watched the film, but I was aware of Peshwa Bajirao and the colourful life he led. A book on him seemed to be need of the hour and well in sync of keeping abreast with the topic.

Ram Sivasankaran has done quite a bit of research and plotting before embarking onto this journey with The Peshwa. The story begins with the lesser known Peshwa, Balaji Vishwanath Bhat, father of Bajirao. He had been rock solid against the Mughal empire and their tyranny against the Chhatrapati and the Maratha Confederacy. Sneaking a glimpse into Balaji Vishvanth’s life and his valour while camping outside the borders of Delhi to initiate the release of Queen Yesubai. This was Bajirao’s first tryst with negotiation and a pre-emptive to war. He was on the verge of evolving into a fine warrior, unlike the previous Peshwas, who were Brahmins and administrators. After the demise of his father, Bajirao had to accept the responsibility of the next Peshwa bestowed upon him by Chhatrapati Shahu.

Continue reading

Gunpowder, Goa

When in Goa, most of us look out for fun, frolic and comfort food, rather than fine dining or gourmet restaurants. In our recent trip, the resort was in Assagao, we were tired after a ten hours long road trip from Pune and it was raining in the evening. Search for nearby restaurants turned up Gunpowder with superb reviews and the promise of serving amazing pork/beef. What else does one need! We placed it on the map and it was hardly a kilometre or two from the resort. Not willing to drive long in the rain, Gunpowder’s cuisine was the perfect choice for the night. Located on a relatively quiet road, it’s not hard to find though.

Address: 6, Saunto Vaddo, main Anjuna-Mapusa Road, Next to Hotel Astoria, Assagao, Bardez, Goa, India

Contact:0832-2268091 / 0832-2268083

Check them out on Facebook 

USP Quirky decor, handicraft store, south Indian non-vegetarian food

Decor

One of the USPs of Gunpowder is its decor. There are cane chairs and tables in the portico, Chinese lanterns up on the thatched ceiling with coloured trails of frayed rags. The seating is mostly outdoor in a pretty garden, though it was raining while we visited. The tables in portico were already filled with happily eating people, so we had to wait while one of them was vacant. You will find a bookshelf among all other attractive decorations and a mini store inside that houses lovely pieces. There isn’t a lot of space, but it is enough for Gunpowder to operate.

downloads11

Continue reading

Spa Ceylon Green Mint Cooling Foot Scrub

My favourite season, winter, is here. While it comes with a lovely nip in the air, deliciously fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, sun-warmed pullovers and jackets, it also arrives with cracked heels and dry scaly skin. I’ve tried a multitude of foot scrubs and creams, in hot water and cold, but none have been of much use for my sensitive soles. The Spa Ceylon Green Mint Cooling Foot Scrub was a pleasant surprise that I received in a subscription bag. Spa Ceylon is a luxury Ayurveda brand that is obviously expensive. So I was hoping to try out the product before buying a full sized product. I must say that the cooling foot scrub has absolutely bowled me over. It’s a class apart from the other ayurvedic foul smelling scrubs or creams. More details below.

scrub1

Appearance 

The scrub comes in a 200 g bright green tub that justifies the Mint flavour, and has a cool black lid. I received a free sample of 50 g with my bag. The flavour is soothingly minty and the scrub is coarse and grainy. It is bound to remind you of a refreshing peppermint chewing gum.

Continue reading

Ciao, La Vita

Image Courtesy: BlogAdda

Image Courtesy: BlogAdda

#DearZindagi,

It’s been long since we had a chat, or met with a cuppa reckoning the balance sheet so far. I believe I’ve crossed the threshold called ‘half-life’, and like an unstable radioactive element, will continue to decay exponentially for the rest years. This isn’t just a chemist’s blabber, dear life. It is the exact summary through midway, rather midlife.

Let me begin with gratitude for not deserting me. I know it has been difficult for you to put up with a brooding brat like me, but – you’ve been damn good so far! Since I gained enough maturity to ponder upon stuff, I’ve realised that you have clung to me. When the going got tough, you were tough enough to get me going against childhood bullies, teenage crushes, adulthood heartbreaks, or the corollaries of wedlock. Do you recall the huge transition that I had to make from a suburban school to a metropolitan high school? I was lost in the sea of people, everyone rushing past me in a bloody busy city, pushing and jostling me to the brink of oblivion. While I would sit alone on the penultimate seat of the school bus on chilly winter mornings, the fog mixed with strong but sweet charcoal fumes from tea stalls would remind me that you were right there, with me. When I have ambled along the college lawn, both alone and lonely, you have thrown surprises with vibrant yellow petals of Radhachura (Gulmohur) strewn all over the trail, just for me.

You’ve been holding my hand during every major decision I ruminated upon and led me carefully to what my heart desired. I would have been a failed, incomplete scientist if you hadn’t put words in my pen and prodded me to be a writer. It’s been quite a few years now, and I know you still stand by me despite a number of futile results. I’ve been worried that I can’t write as well as others, distressed that I haven’t been published yet, exhausted of rejections and writer’s blocks. And yet, when I open a new page and tap at the keyboard, you make me a writer – impervious to the mediocre and convoluted world. You’ve manoeuvred quite enough to get me a little accolade, a tiny prize, a monthly salary and exciting work to keep the ball rolling. Each instance I falter and risk crumbling down, you’ve sprung a sweet surprise and motivation to clench me up.

It’s you, life, to whom I owe the joie de vivre, the pleasure of creation in the form of words and stories. I have scooped up inspiration from you, life, and woven stories that have touched a few peoples’ hearts. They have praised me, but it’s you whom I should shower with thanks. If I have ever felt the fear of losing you, I’ve resorted to poetry and reading and waited patiently for you to resurrect. Because –

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. – George Bernard Shaw

So long,

Yours.

————

I am writing a letter to life for the #DearZindagi activity at BlogAdda.