Colorful Notions: The Roadtrippers 1.0


booking-page-1Blurb: Would you give up your high-paying job and comfortable personal life to drive ten thousand kilometres across India? Just for fun!

Three twenty-something’s dare to do just that! While the two boys take turns to drive, the girl gives voice-over as they record their entire journey on a handy cam. Ab, Sasha and Unnati are ordinary youngsters, rendered special by the feat they accomplish. As they recount their adventures, I crave to live their journey. They look at each other with a glint in their eyes, as if refurbishing those memories while narrating their spooky time at Bhangarh Fort, strange escapades at Wagah Border and Sundarbans, car breakdowns, wild animals, near-death experiences and highway robbers! It’s nothing less than crazy.

I doubted if I’d ever have the gumption to create such experiences. So I did the next best thing – I penned a book about them and their road trip.

Colorful Notions is a journey of three young hearts on the Indian terrain and into the inner recesses of their souls, giving a new perspective to relationships, love and life.

The very first line from the blur of this book had me typing out a quick acceptance to review this book! And why not?? I have dreamed of something like this for most of my life and continue to do so! In my dreams I  explore the temples around India and their secrets or live in the Tuscan countryside, doing organic farming, creating recipes, reading and writing. Then the bubble pops (or the phone rings) and I am bang in the midst of the challenges that my mediocre life offers!  And I have never been happier while typing out a review for a book than I am now. The book met my expectations of going on an amazing journey across the length and breadth of India from the comfort of my own couch!

Three friends, Abhay (Ab), Sashank (Sasha) and Unnati (Unns) embark on a soul-searching road trip to about 25 places scattered over the wonder that is India. Each have their own reason (or not) to set on this arduous journey that would test their physical and emotional states of mind. Abhay wants to move away from his troubled past and a strained relationship with his parents. Having nothing to hold him back, he conceptualizes the trip and the idea to make a movie about the trip. His bestie and loyal sidekick Sasha, cannot help but join his buddy while escaping an over protective family and the pressures of having to conform to societal norms, in order to live it up without being judged. They convince Sasha’s girl friend, an assistant RJ who is a bit clueless about where her life is headed, to join them on their journey while also being the voice over of their movie. Friendship and love is challenged as they spend time in close quarters. True feelings make their appearances as jealousies are revealed, while emotional baggages threaten to destroy what could be beautiful and love is lost and found. What happens at the end of the journey? Do they find what they set out to discover? How does this trip change them?

From this point on it is a fun-filled emotional roller coaster as they try to spot tigers at the Corbett National park, take a dip in the Ganges at Haridwar, battle altitude sickness at Ladakh /Leh, cause a security threat at the Wagah border, chase and be chased by ghosts at Bhangarh fort at Alwar, get caught in the marshlands and quick-sands at Runn of Kutch and finally encounter a man-eater at the Sunderbans while setting foot on Bangladeshi borders and even obtain enlightenment at Gaya! If this is not enough, you will get to read about the culinary delight that is India, as your senses take in the description of delicacies like the momos at Ladakh, Hyderbadi biryanis, Lucknowi Kebabs, Punjabi chicken, Goan seafood, Udupi cuisine and of course Idli, sambar and chutney and other rice delicacies from my very own Tamil Nadu!

The language is wonderfully simple and immediately draws you in as the fourth member of this motley group! The chapter  where the group spends a night at a haunted fort will have you sitting at the end of your reading chair and at some point even send a shock down your spine! The book manages to impart some simple lessons while not being preachy. Some of the chapters will have you thinking about the life we live, our expectations from it and our perspectives on happiness… For example the following lines about how one feels on a road trip and why we can’t try living our lives the same way left me in a contemplative mood for sometime.

…there comes a point in your life when you leave your past behind too far and the future seems too distant. You start breathing the air that is around you at the moment,you think about the place you are currently at, and the meal you will have next. That is when you will truly start living in the present.

There are more gems scattered about the pages of this book. Words that will touch our heart and if we are lucky even sow seeds for personal growth.  I personally loved reading about the Lama’s speech and the events that followed after, which kind of re-establishes the fact that when you want something and go all out to do it, the universe will make it happen.

The cover of the book with its water painting effect is quite appealing and the title that has a version attached to it, makes me wonder if there will be a sequel.

Let me finish my saying this: If you want to hear stories about a jungle Goddess called “Banobibi” and learn all about listening to your inner voice (which seems to be the core concept of his book ) from a Lama, no matter what age you are this book is for you, it is for the adventurer in you and more essentially the dreamer in you.

Now, if only I could give up my day job….. 🙂

I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities.

The Speaking Ghosts of Rajpur


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Image Courtesy: Internet

Book Blurb: It is India of early 1990s – the ‘picturesque’ small-town of Rajpur is in ‘full summer bloom’ and there is a definite sense of mystery in the air. Amidst its scenic setting each year a group of boys band together to spend their summer vacations – going cycling to far-off forests, sharing books, discussing everything under the sky and ogling at girls…

But as youth would have it, their curious minds are more inclined to seek adventure and (hopefully!) uncover some mysterious affair. However, unlike their previous vain attempts, this time certain unusual events and the sudden appearance of a curious case of a ghost in their midst seem to hold the promise of some real adventure.

In the pages of The Speaking Ghost of Rajpur rest assured you will soon be whisked off and plunged into a headlong journey of adventure and romance of your own – on a path of discovery of friendship and brotherhood, of life and love – and, who knows, you might even get to encounter the Speaking Ghost itself!

A bunch of friends, a summer when days are longer than nights,lazy afternoons spent doing nothing, reading comics or in siesta, first crushes and all the little tales that fill young adolescent live…Now, add an abduction, terrible tales of human sacrifice, a conman and a self-declared Swamiji and you have “The Speaking Ghosts of Rajpur”

An extremely detailed account of an unforgettable summer in the life of Shoumo, who along with his brother Shaumik joins his cousin Joy to spend their summer holidays in the sleepy town of Rajpur. I started reading the book waiting for ghosts to appear and start their ruckus anytime but then got drawn into the lives of the main characters and their plans for the hot summer days. Reading a book like this will definitely make a reader pause and reflect on their own childhoods and adventures that came with it. The author has done a wonderful job in recreating the small town like Rajpur and has given it a lot of color making it pulse with life. It reminded me of another popular sleepy town from Indian literature – Malgudi! Every character that appeared in the book seemed to have a story to share and the local scene and scenery of Rajpur has been detailed very well.

This being said I should be honest and admit that the book was a little too detailed, almost to the point of exhausting in some places! I was once given a piece of advice from a fellow writer about how a successful author should avoid over the top details and leave something to the imagination of his / her readers. This book definitely suffers from this issue wherein the reader a subject to loads of details about the friends, their friends and almost everything they did that summer before actually getting to the core plot.

Speaking of the plot, it is definitely a very good one especially something that would appeal to the inner detective within us! If only the plot did not suffer from its sudden appearance and disappearance throughout the book, it would have been a more thrilling read.

The cover of the book deserves a special mention. Having created by the author himself, the cover is an ode to a carefree childhood and of course the author’s artistic streak –  A perfect face for this book. 

In spite of what I have mentioned the book was a pleasant read. Remember the first time you watched a horror movie with a friend and pretended not to be afraid? Or how about doing something utterly ridiculous and maybe even slightly dangerous so that you would be accepted into the “IT Circle” at school? This book is all that and more – a blast into the past, a time machine that takes you back to a time when there were no responsibilities or barriers, when everyday was filled with pure joy, where every little discovery  and first experiences mattered – A reading experience to cherish from first time author Priyonkar Dasgupta.

I would definitely recommend the book to those that can devote some quality reading time in their lives. I would like to sign off wishing you a happy journey to you childhood!

I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities.

The Bride Who Would not Burn


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Image Courtesy: Internet

Young and smart Delhi girl Poonam Bajaj takes a chance at connubial bliss with Ravinder Arora, a small businessman from Delhi. The match is arranged by their families and the friendly neighborhood panditji, the marriage broker who is more interested in lining his own pockets rather than ensuring the compatibility of the individuals he sets up for a lifetime of togetherness.

An arranged marriage in India which celebrates the union of two families rather than individuals, is a potpourri of human expectations and this story is filled with the most ambitious ones, depending on which person you ask! The mound of expectations that make up this story are those of:

  1. Poonam, who dreams of a cozy future with her husband,
  2. Mrs. Bajaj, Poonam’s mother, who is in a hurry to get her daughter married and is also kind of broke but nevertheless promises a fat dowry to the family of a possible match for her daughter
  3. Mrs, Arora, who dreams of nothing but a big fat dowry, a daughter-in-law that would also act like a live in maid  and a never-ending sponsorship for her son that would help him meet his business goals
  4. Ravinder, the easily manipulative son who wants the excitement that comes with a pretty wife and a big fat dowry
  5. Papaji, the senior Mr.Arora, a truepenny and Ravinder’s father who genuinely wants his son and daughter-in-law to be happy
  6. Panditji, the marriage broker who pulls of the ultimate coup by bringing all the above parties who have nothing in common together

As a  result, we have a  wonderful book that takes a look at the compelling issue of dowry practices prevalent in modern India in the form of a plot that is filled with humor doused with a heavy dose of reality.

The chapters about Poonam pressing her mother-in-law’s feet while churning out of innumerable cups of tea and dusting most of  time reminds the reader of the umpteen saas-bahu serials that seem to run on cable all day. Then there is a dawn of realization that this is the kind of life that many woman face on a day-to-day basis in India.

The book is written in the format of a play, complete with notes on stage setups, props and costumes. The entire story is a conversation between a judge who would be presiding over the dowry case of Poonam Bajaj who thwarted an attempt to burn her alive by delivering karate kicks to her husband and mother-in-law, a public defender representing Poonam and a litigator representing the groom and his mother.

The author brings the reader’s attention to the double standards in our society as it applies to women very cleverly through the arguments between the judge and the two lawyers. What starts as a conversation of the usage of Section 498 A of the India Penal Code moves on to sensitive issues about how women and men are judged differently based on the way they behave or the various traits that they exhibit as a person . For e.g. A man who is well versed in martial arts would be viewed as strong and brave whereas a woman would be deemed aggressive! A woman with an extraordinary sexual appetite is judged to have a low morals whereas a man with the same desires is supposed to be normal and virile.

The book goes on to depict how weddings these days are more like business deals, ritualistic and a cheap display of wealth and one-upmanship rather than the spiritualistic celebration of love and harmony that they should be. If weddings are about the display of wealth and power, the marriages resulting from such weddings seem to be all about expecting the world of the new bride and her family. Nobody is happy if a bride enters her new home with jewellery and gifts for her new family because when compared to another bride in the neighborhood who probably got more jewellery and bigger, better gifts for her new home.

What started as a practice of a bride’s family giving her a wedding gift based on the capacity of the family during the days when the Indian law only entitled sons to inherit family property has now morphed into an ugly practice that makes it mandatory for parents  to send their daughters to their marital homes with fat wads of cash, gold and diamonds, silks and expensive gifts for her new husband and her in-laws. It seems like an entire country missed or rather chose to ignore the memo that clearly states that daughters can inherit family property too and that there is no need to unnecessarily compensate them in the form of a fat dowry!

The author describes this beautifully through the words of one of the characters that states the following: “only when this age old practice o dowry combines with modern day consumerism that the resulting concoction makes for a deadly cocktail

So what does a family who is not happy with their new daughter-in-law’s dowry do? They turn abusive and in many cases they do away with her for good! In India, women are still burnt to death when they don’t satisfy the dowry demands of their new marital homes and most of their deaths are made to look like kitchen accidents.

What’s worse is the fact  that even the courts of law investigate such cases from the point of view of the abuser rather than the victim especially when the victim does not conform to societal norms of being a woman. And that is precisely what happens in the case of Poonam. The puritan judge that listens to the arguments of the two lawyers believes that on some level that Poonam probably instigated her husband and mother-in-law to set her on fire and that she is probably the one at fault rather than those setting her on fire.

All these issues and more are brought to the forefront by the simple words of the author, Rajesh Talwar. The play manages to keep the reader’s attention throughout and even manages to raise a lot of relevant questions in the reader’s mind. By doing this Mr.Talwar has managed to educate the readers about a very serious issue plaguing the country and has also initiated a thought process on what we could do rid away with this ugly practice still practiced in all echelons of the society.

Since I am someone who feels very strongly about such issues, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend this to anyone interested in reading about some of the cultural practices that plague India. At 223 pages it is a quick and easy read about a sensitive issueIn fact, it would be a great idea to have a student friendly edition of this play to made available at schools all over India to educate our young minds about the practice of dowry and its effects on the lives of the people involved.What better way could there be to nip this process other than making the next generation of young people to seriously think about such issues?

I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities

Matches Made in Heaven


I have been following The Book Club for some time now to get my fix of the latest happenings on the Indian Literary scene and appreciate their efforts when it comes to promoting new authors. I received a copy of Matches Made in Heaven by Sundari Venkataraman as a part of their blog tours initiative. I managed to finish reading the book within few days of receiving it but never quite found the time to post my thoughts about it. Here is a part of the blurb about the book..

Image Courtesy: Sundari Venkatraman

Image Courtesy: Sundari Venkatraman

A collection of 13 romantic short stories based in India; a culture rich country steeped in tradition. Inspiration struck me from newspaper articles, TV shows and hearing people talk. The short stories are based on that fact that arranged marriages thrive right alongside love matches in India

Though inspired by real life incidents, the author has thankfully chosen to leave the negativity, sadness or even boredom associated with many of those events and concentrated on bigger things like love and romance – we could all use tons of this in our lives 🙂  Using real life, Sundari has created  some sweet stories that many would love to believe and experience. Here are some of the stories that I enjoyed reading…

The book starts with “Groomnapped” where Ameya plans his own kidnapping with some help from his friend, in order to marry Surekha, the girl of his choice.  Things take a hilarious turn when his friend is the one who kidnapped and held captive in Surekha’s house. He is attended by Surekha’s pretty younger sister who thinks she is looking after her brother-in-law! In case you haven’t guessed it, read the book to know what happens next.

This was followed by “Beauty is But Skin deep” that throws light on the pet peeve of the Indian majority – fair skin! Lives are destroyed and people are made to feel small due to their skin shades…all is not well in the world of an Indian, if one doesn’t have fair skin and this is only accentuated in the case of women! Love knows no religions or boundary but what about skin tone? Read this to believe that love can transcend this as well.

The story that I particularly enjoyed was “Rahat-Mili“, whose subject dealt with love that transcends lifetimes. This story was very apt for a book titled “Matches Made in Heaven”. In fact I wish this has been the first story of the book…It would have been a great way to make an impression on the reader.

Though a pretty clichéd name for a dating agency, “The Red Rose Dating Agency” tells the story about a match maker who finds a match, but only this time the match maker is her father.  This was a fun read!

The other stories that make up this light book provide ample fodder for a romantic at heart. The author’s language is simple and her ability to tell stories – great!.

Read more about the inspiration behind each of these stories here

Check out the authors blog and more about her works at sundarivenkatraman.blogspot.com

Ek Kahani – The true story of the desi litter dump


My contribution to The Great Indian Litterbug organized by Times of India

Image Courtesy: The Great Indian Litterbug

Image Courtesy: The Great Indian Litterbug

 

 

I was smooth, wide and clean as a slate,

When the corporation parked me in front of this gate,

Now I am scratched, faded and filthy,

And you can smell me across this gully.

 

They figured that I would fit like a mit,

In this neighborhood which was a hit,

It had the city’s most popular school,

Not to mention the expensive homes that housed the cool.

 

I looked forward to holding all their filth, I was created to do that, so I had no guilt,

But sadly most of my insides remained empty as a haunted garden.

I was surprised as much as you, to find that they tossed their garbage around me,

It was not like I was too tall, that they could not toss in all their soils.

 

First the fancy school and its students littered around me,

Then it was those residents, who decided that it was too much to walk near me,

So they tossed their junk from the comforts of their cars and balconies,

Almost always missing my mouth that was open as wide as a crater.

 

The cats, crows and street dogs were my loyal company,

Along with the rats that sent everyone into a scurry,

Alas even they lasted only until they spotted that gypsy,

Who thought that it would be fun to go diving into my belly.

 

Then there were those that worked in the fancy homes,

That mostly seemed to lack service rooms,

For when it was time to answer natures call,

They always seemed to be splashing on my walls.

 

If you think that my story is sad,

Just wait until you meet my little cousin down the road,

The citizens of this gully can’t be bothered to walk down the street to fill his belly,

But  managed to turn an empty plot into a landfill that is too smelly.

 

The corporation took him away,

Before he could have his say,

“There aren’t too many people using him”, they said,

“Well, won’t you just look at the landfill?”, he said.

 

Then they came to clean me up and shook their heads in disgust,

And complained as always about why people couldn’t use me best,

My cousin smiled from the back of their great truck, he was glad to go

Maybe he wouldn’t starve so much else where and get back his glow.

 

“Just you wait, my little one”, I said,

You have a lot to learn before you turn into a metal case like me,

We still live in a land of gazillions,

That wouldn’t mind giving their doctors a million.

 

They can never dream of making hygiene their goal,

As they believe that this stuff is for the all phoren souls.

Ask that NRI down the street, who is clean as pin in Jersey City,

But will not think twice before spitting at my sides in this great city.

 

Learn and live my little one,

My tale is not the only one,

There are plenty of us around this great country,

Who will tell you the true story of the Great Indian Litter Dump!

A dummies guide to visiting famous South Indian temples!! – Part 2 [concluding part]


The previous post on this topic stopped at the point where all the darshan lines merge at a single point at the sanctum sanctorum! Simply put, you see a lot of heads, pushing and shoving to determine who gets in first!! The concept of line etiquette and patience is pretty much unheard of! So here is how you deal with the rest of your journey 🙂

Image Courtesy: Internet

Pray to God for mental and physical strength (as if you hadn’t all this time) as all of you try to get into a single file. Be prepared for the disdainful looks you may receive from those in the free darshan lines and the condescending looks from those in a line more expensive than yours…If it gets too much to deal with, do the following:

  • With a smug look on your face just start saying your favorite sloka loudly or
  • Start singling your favorite prayer songs or
  • Start saying “Om Namo Narayana” or something on those lines or
  • Do the “Govinda, Govinda” :-p

Just when the others are taken aback by surprise or irritation, you can get squeeze into the line! Oh and make sure you pull your spouse and kids with you! Especially the kids – what the heck, if the kids are small they can ride on your shoulders! As long as they look cute and say their prayers or even do the “Govinda, Govinda”, you will be ok…..

Just when you are wondering when this will end you find yourself right upfront  and the vaadiyar (priest) is in a hurry to get rid of all you! But wait you have seen only the feet of the main deity and not his face or any other facets of the marvellous being in front of you! The vaadiyaar is shouting at you to get out while you like others try to make the best of the opportunity to get a good look at the detity and submit all your prayer requests at that moment.

Now the best way to avoid the priests yelling at you, pull out a curreny note in the highest possible denomination you can afford and make sure that the vaadiyar can see it!! Bingo! Now that you have his attention…slide towards him to get the best seats to look at the deity and start praying…you might probably get an extra 30 seconds but then its worth it compared to just having 5 seconds!

Image Courtesy: Internet

😡 Be prepared for a lot of jostling as there are those behind and around you who feel that you don’t even have a right to stand there…..so there may be pushing (usually a lot of it),  some name calling (not anything outrageous, it is a temple after all), etc.,

When your 30 seconds are up, make sure you drop the currency note into the vaadiyar’s plate; don’t worry if you are lost in your payers! The vaadiyar will definitely remind you to drop off your dakshinas! 🙄  It’s all about the money baby!! Do budget for the Dakshinas too!!

If you are generous you can drop the note you have. If you feel that the vaadiyaars have no rights behaving the way they do by denying the rights of a devotee to see God in the first place or if you feel that they wanted to get rid of you anyway, you can pull out a smaller curreny note at that point and drop it in his plate and rush away from the spot before the vaadiyar can say “Show me the money!!” You know he can’t run after you…the crowd will get in his way if his stomach doesn’t! 😆

Trust me, getting away from the hullabaloo is always a walk in the park!  It’s  always easy to get out than it is to get in!

Image Courtesy: Internet

By now you will be filled with a feeling of exhilaration by your achievement of having seen the deity for whom access should have been easy in the first place! But then what can you do about the ways of the government, a population that  never shows signs of slowing down and the functioning of  temples which these days has become more business like rather than personal!

For the grand finale: you can look at the other poor devotees standing in line about to embark on the same journey that you have completed with a look of achievement and pity and then be off to embark on the next journey! To visit the next deity in the other part of the temple! But do hurry there are only 800-1000 people waiting in line. And make sure you have budgeted for the expenses and have an energy shot before you get into line!

Good Luck with your temple visits!!! As long as you have a sense of humor, you will find that these visits do rejuvenate your soul 🙂

A dummies guide to visiting famous South Indian temples!! – Part 1


Visiting any famous South Indian temple is nothing short of a marathon and when it is a temple like Srirangam, Tirupathi it definitely is! A popular temple is one where the minimum waiting time to see the main deity 1 hour at any given point in time! In case you are planning a temple visit gear up and be ready to be physically jolted and have your patience meter tested! Here is a dummies guide to survive the ordeal! The challenge begins as you enter the temple:

Image Courtesy: Internet

As you enter the temple be ready to get accosted by  flower vendors  [or any kind of vendor] who will try to sell you their over priced flowers and  garlands to the extent that you may trip on their baskets of flowers as you try to get away!

Be doubly aware of the savvy ones that will tell you that there is hardly any crowd inside the temple and that your flowers and garlands will definitely make it to the Lord!! Now, you need to be on alert and grab your spouse and kids and make a run for it!  Make a dash for the lines leading to Rome [I mean the inner sanctum] avoiding any other tricksters on the way who might make you loose some of your precious time

There is a 98% chances of being part of a paid line at most popular temples. If you are in a race against time, you may want to invest in tickets to see God the earliest. Do budget for ticket costs inside the temple.

Image Courtesy: Internet

Armed with the tickets, you will find yourself standing behind a harangued devotee who is behind at least 50-100others…the number of devotees in line will increase depending on factors such as day and time…..evenings are crazy and Fridays and weekends nuts! If you have a love for adventure and enjoy jostling with a crowd where someone invades your personal space and you repay the honors, you should definitely opt for Fridays and week ends! 🙂

As the line moves at snail’s pace, find something to keep yourself occupied with. Here are some choices:

  • Read a book
  • Converse with your group
  • Admire the architecture, frescoes and murals, if you are into that kind of thing
  • If you are some kinda of fashionista you can come up with catty comments and phrases to describe the fashion sense of fellow devotees
  • If you are a blogger you can think about what your next post would be!! 😈

Image Courtesy: Internet

Be on the look out for folks  who will try to line jump. Some will also succeed! If you decide to confront them and send them back to the end of the line where they should be in the first place, be prepared to deal with the audacity with which the line jumpers will converse with you because in their world it’s perfectly legitimate to line jump….so good luck with that…

After about 45 minutes (or maybe more) of being a snail, you will find yourself standing some 50 -100 feet away from the main deity!! Ah haa!!!

Now pay attention as this is very important: Start trying to get a glimpse of the Lord as best

Govinda, Govinda!! Image Courtesy: Internet

as you can from this point itself. Yes will see only about 100 heads in front of you and a few bodies blocking your entire view as they try to stand on railings and put up their hands “Govinda Govinda” style!! But never give up..if someone digs you in the ribs ignore the pain and be focused on your goal! If you are lucky you might get to see a finger or some jewellery of the main deity! If you are tall be prepared to be accused by the rest of the shorties behind you…if you wanna bug em put up your hands “Govinda Govinda” style!!  :-p

In between all the fun you realize that you are about 25 feet away from the main deity!! Yes….that’s it! But then follows the “Oh oh…..” moment. It is the point where all the lines merge…the free darshan lines and all categories of paid lines.

Now what are you going to do??? 😯

Part 2 of the dummies guide to visiting famous South Indian temples will be completed in the next post 🙂