Three books, three genres, three great reads

Les Miserables manga book coverLes Miserables – Manga classic

Gorgeous artwork for a classic story adapted into a Manga edition – what more could you ask for? If you’ve never read Les Miserables, or even if you have, you’ll love this book!

Beautiful, expressive character drawings, incredibly detailed scenery, and a true love for the original classic shine through on every page. Of course, not every facet of the classic could be explored in the Manga version, but if you’ve never read the original, chances are, after reading this, you’d want to run out and get your hands on Victor Hugo’s original classic. That, to my mind, is the biggest victory of this beautiful book.

Highly recommended!

Vanessa and Her Sister Priya ParmarVanessa & Her Sister – Priya Parmar

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer. Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.

The story unfolds through Vanessa’s diary entries, interspersed with postcards between Lytton and Leonard, painting a picture of a young Vanessa as she breaks away from stiff formality, embracing a bohemian, non-conformist way of living and entertaining. While she worries about not knowing how many people to prepare sandwiches for and experiencing a slight pang at breaking away from tradition, Virginia seems mostly caught up in her own madness, craving everyone’s attention and going to any lengths to get it.

But since the entire story is told from Vanessa’s point of view, none of the other characters are substantial enough – we see them primarily through her lens. Nor is her “diary” a particularly interesting read. Sure, there are times when she philosophizes a bit, or delves deeper into a problem, but it’s more like reading a chronicle of her daily activities – Julian (her son) was sick; she had to pack up her house and manage the finances even while traveling.

As individual vignettes, there is a lot of interesting detail about life in the early 1900s in London. But as an overall novel, it leaves something to be desired.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! By Kathleen Founds

When Mystical Creatures Attack! Kathleen FoundsThe book opens with essays from Ms. Laura Freedman’s high school English class. They’ve been asked to writes essays about how mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. And the responses – random, occasionally vague, unique, mysterious, eccentric, magical – set the tone for the rest of the book.

Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of the main cast of characters – Janice, Cody, Ms. Freedman – are revealed through class essays, journal prompts, letters, emails, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, television transcripts and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook.

It’s wholly original and utterly delightful. It has its laugh-out-loud moments and its serious ones; some random ramblings and some crazy teenage hormones. It’s deep and philosophical, profound, strangely moving, and irreverent all at once. Overall, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Highly, highly recommended!

Haider and the Hindutva brigade

Haider posterIt’s amazing how a movie like Haider gets even the closeted hindutva brigade crawling out of the woodwork. It’s a movie. It’s more about a family than about Kashmir. Yes, it’s set in Kashmir, and yes, the major protagonists are Muslims. Does that make it an us vs them story? No. It makes it a human story.

Millions of Kashmiri Pandits were displaced around the 1990s. But this movie isn’t about them. Millions of Muslims were recruited by militants and sent across the border to train as jihadis. This movie isn’t about them. The Indian Army was called in to maintain peace and order. In the process, many were killed, maimed, captured, tortured. In turn, they killed, captured, maimed and tortured Muslims, some innocent, some not. This isn’t even a story about them.

This is simply the story of a Muslim family, of family dynamics, of love and obsession, loss and revenge, of how they were caught up in the broader events happening in the state, and how they dealt with them.

Yes, it shows the Indian Army in a “negative light” – it shows the prison/torture camps and has a few graphic scenes (for Indian cinema) of torture. If you think this is Muslim propaganda, please, un-bury your head from the sand. If you think Haider’s (Shahid Kapur) soliloquy is a whole load of bullshit, please, un-bury your head from the sand. If you think that all Muslims are Paki’s, dude, you’ve got issues.

Yes, Haider’s father wants revenge for his lost years. For the torture he had to endure at the hands of the army. But he doesn’t want revenge against India. He wants revenge against his brother, for giving him up to the Army. There’s no clear cut black and white in an us vs them narrative, because life is all about the greys. Moreover, this isn’t an us vs them story. It isn’t even really a Kashmir story. As I said before, it simply is a human story.

So for once, can we put aside our differences and our prejudices and just watch some excellent acting by some brilliant actors, or is that too much to ask for?

Recipe: Amazing 2-ingredient Nutella brownies

2_ingredient_Nutella_browniesYes, you read that right. Just two ingredients – Nutella and eggs – combine together to create this beautifully complex brownie. Crisp on top, moist on the bottom, its guaranteed to take you straight to chocolate heaven! If this isn’t alchemy, I don’t know what is!



Here’s what you need:

240 grams Nutella
4 eggs

And here’s what you do:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 175 C.
  1. Grease and line a baking tin (4×4 or 8×8 work equally well)
  1. Crack your eggs into the bowl of your stand mixer or in a big bowl. With the whisk attachment, whip on highest speed for about 6-8 minutes. Your eggs should triple in quantity and take on a light yellow color. This is the key to this dish – if it isn’t whisked enough, you’ll end up with an eggy chocolate flavored mess.
  1. While your eggs are beating, measure out the Nutella, put it in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for a total of 1 minute, stopping every 15 seconds to give it a good stir. You want your Nutella to be creamy and flowy.
  1. Once your eggs are done, start pouring in the Nutella 1-2 teaspoons at a time and keep beating at a low speed. (With a hand-mixer, add a little Nutella at a time and mix in between.)
  1. Once all your Nutella has been added and is thoroughly combined with the eggs, give it a stir with a rubber spatula, paying attention to the sides and bottom where the whisk may have missed.
  1. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. The brownies are done when they start to pull away from the sides of the tin and a skewer comes out clean.
  1. Pull out of the oven and wait for the cake to cool completely before getting it out of the pan or cutting it, or they’ll fall apart easily.
  1. Eat! For a more decadent experience, sprinkle with powdered sugar, top with fresh fruit, and drizzle with chocolate sauce.

Note: You can keep the brownies in an air tight container for up to a week – either outside or in the fridge depending on the weather.

The Kindness Revolution: Nurture Yourself

Those of you who have followed my blog long enough would know that spirituality is a big pLettering: Go where the peace isart of my life. I believe in taking regular me time, in meditating, and in being creative – be it through art or photography, writing or cooking.

In the busyness of daily life though, it is easy to let me time slide…to lose focus…but you need to give yourself permission to take a break and play.

And what better way to do it than by using art and journaling as a means to relax and comfort yourself and to get grounded while dealing with the craziness of every-day living?

It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and you don’t need fancy supplies. You can start with a simple sketch book, a pen and a few minutes a day. Do some doodling, combine it with some lettering, write some thoughts down on the page, paste a quote into your sketchbook and doodle around it. Something that simple can help you deal with even the roughest of days.

doodling_circlesIf you’re not comfortable with doodling, try keeping a journal. Write down your thoughts or observations, or try answering a question a day. Often that’s a good way to start journal writing if you’re very new to it. The questions can be as profound or simple as you’d like – it’s your journal after all!

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

What was I yearning for today?
What was my biggest achievement today?
What defined my day today?
When I look back at my life, what do I wish I could have told my younger self?
If I had the time and resources, what would I most wish to do? Is there any way to start doing that anyway?

Try doodling, sketching, lettering or journaling – even if all you can spare is 10 minutes a day. You’ll feel more grounded, more centered, calmer, saner…just 10 minutes a day, more if and when you have the time, can make a world of difference.

Will you carve out a bit of me time? I hope you’ll join me in the kindness revolution!

(Click on images to enlarge)


Book Review: Sita’s Curse – The Language of Desire by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

From the back cover: Trapped for 15 years in the stranglehold of a dead marriage and soulless household domesticity, the beautiful, full-bodied and passionate Meera Patel depends on her memories and her flights of fantasy to soothe the aches that wrack her body…until one cataclysmic day in Mumbai, when she finally breaks free. Bold, brazen and defiant, Sita’s Curse looks at the hypocrisy of Indian society and tells the compelling story of a middle class Indian housewife’s urgent need for love, respect, acceptance – and sexual fulfillment.

What I expected: Simply put: feminist erotica. This is the first book whose book trailer I actually watched. And I had high expectations from it. I thought it would be bold and brazen; daring and defiant; eschewing the stereotype of an Indian “bahu” (wife) and looking, instead, at the woman – at her dreams and hopes; her fight for respect and acceptance in her new household; her flight from the cage that traps her.

What it is: C-grade thrash. Honestly, 50 Shades of Gray was literary manna compared to this.

We have Meera, an innocent village girl, who starts her sexscapade as a child with her twin Kartik, moves on to underage sex with her dance teacher, girl-on-girl sex with the daughter of her father’s associate, and then has sex with a stranger on a riverbank before she’s pushed into a loveless marriage with Mohan.

Now Mohan, despite trying really hard, just cannot get it up. So in between pleasuring herself, Meera has sex with their guruji, indulges in voyeuristic behavior by spying on her brother-in-law having sex with his wife, bangs the dance teacher in her colony, and then discovers the joys of internet porn. And on that “cataclysmic day in Mumbai”, she calls her chat room lover to a seedy hotel in Colaba where she discovers that maybe she is in love with the gigolo.

And if you’re wondering where Sita fits in all of this – you’re not alone. I have the same question. Apart from the fact that Meera played the role of Sita every year on Dusserha, Sita has nothing much to do in the book. Except to cringe at this gross misuse of her name.

By now I am sure you can surmise that you will have to hunt for the plot with a magnifying glass. The sex will not titillate you – it will disgust you. And feminists everywhere are most probably seething at having this book labelled “feminist erotica”.

Final verdict: Give this one a miss

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!