February 18, 2019

Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer, as everyone would have heard of it by now, a satirical comedy which has won the Pulitzer prize. Coincidentally, it was picked by the book club I am a member of, as the first book for 2019. I am not the usual Pulitzer reader, and in fact i stay away from them from fear of not understanding the essence of a story without repeated back and forth! And, in this regard, I must add, this was a pleasant surprise. I could pick it up, read and get back to it on the go making it a perfect weekday read.

A not so great author, being pushed to take up many engagements, all against his will. But, a path he must walk down because his love is walking down another path with another man. It seems that there is so much going on in his head, so much to complain about and look back upon. As I look back it is one my first books where the protagonist is a homosexual, but that is not one of the highlights of the book. There is very little which is specifically around his orientation, it is more of his mind and the thoughts that run through. His continuous urge to get away from and keep no contact with anyone who can possibly give him information of the fated marriage of his love is the primary focus.

As I read the book, there were many instances when I related strongly with the protagonist. He questions the very essence of relationships, much like how I wonder how marriage functions as a practice. How is it feasible that two every evolving pieces stick around together for years. 10 years seem to a good enough time, but beyond that seems very questionable. This has been my vice with marriages also, but sadly this isn't something I thought through before. This 10 year ideology made perfect sense for me and helped me see how human beings change through time. And changing people mean they need not change in an ever aligned manner, but as different beings, completely moving away from each other. Very pertinent questions!

The writing style was one which I did find difficult to follow, not very frequently though. At times with the quick period jumps, it left the reader scrambling to get the pieces connected. One minute you are in a house party somewhere in Paris, and the next minute you are far back in your house trying to figure out why your current marriage is not going to work. We move through a marriage, cheating, spending time by oneself, not speaking of feelings and then regretting all that not expressing.

But at the end of the book, a happy ending was not what I was looking for. It felt too perfect and one which I was not too happy about. And that alone would be the reason why I would not rate it a perfect five!

Rating: 4 /5

August 26, 2018

Book Review: Liberation of Sita by Volga

Liberation of Sita was a title which I had never heard of. It came to me via the Bangalore Book Club, which I am a member of. It is a translated work from Telugu, written originally by C. Vijayasree, who goes by the pen name Volga.

This book picks on the smaller unknown women in Ramayana and highlight their interaction with Sita, and each of these interactions changes her perspective about the meaning of her life, and what society has made her believe, and all that she has to unlearn. The story starts off when Sita has been abandoned by Rama and she lives in Valmiki's ashram with her two sons. She meets Surpanakha, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila through her years on being married to Rama and each of them impart their learnings to her, helping her shape herself and be ready for the time when her sons will leave the forest to head back to their kingdom.

Surpanakha helps her see how beauty and the importance given to women's beauty by the society need not be a shackle on the woman itself. She explains to Sita how she found peace and solace in growing beauty in her garden and growing beyond physical beauty.

Ahalya questions the importance attributed to chastity when it comes to women only. She tells Sita much ahead in time they she should never prove her chastity, and at Lanka, that is exactly what she is compelled to do. Sita assuages her broken heart by trying to explain Rama's plight, but fails to look at the alternative, how Rama could have stood by her, being the king of the land they were headed to, Ayodhya.

Renuka and Urmila similarly opens Sita's eyes to the injustsice to women and how society has set rules which are unfair. They show Sita how breaking out of these bonds is essential to find your true self, and how each one of them has achieved peace and happiness on their own, with no husband, no societal rules and no bonds.

The interweaving of mythology and fiction is beautiful. and it did leave me in a state where I was believing each of the stories to be true. A very short read, and being a translated work, I am unsure how the language would have flowed originally in Telegu, but this book felt a little too simplistic, for a writer who is so acclaimed in Telegu. I believe, there is always some bits which are lost in translation.

Rating: 4/5

August 16, 2018

Book Review: Mandodari, the Queen of Lanka by Manini J Anandani

A book which will give every reader a completely different perspective on Ravana and it might even help in appreciating his decisions. The view on Lanka, the ruling of Lanka and how the kingdom came to stand at its zenith before its downfall at the hands of Rama.

We see a woman, thrown into the hands of fate, married to a powerful man, a determined and shrewd man, who she can only follow. She tries many times to advice, but Lanka seems to be ruled by a man who believes strongly in his beliefs alone. A man set to prove the world wrong in their expectations from him, and in the process, lose sense of how and where life is taking him.

Although the book is named, Mandodari, Queen of Lanka, I felt at the end of the book, that I knew so much about Ravana, his life, his achievements and his deeds. I can not say I know the same about the Queen though. The life at Lanka through the eyes of the Queen is what the book portrays, but if you are looking to understand the Queen more, that is something you would be left craving for, as I was. The only bit where I saw Mandodari, and her views and thoughts clearly, was when she decides to go away and deliver her baby, who she wants to bring into the world without anyone's knowledge. Her conviction, her belief and decisions are seen only here.

But, I have to add I enjoyed the story, the narrative was simple and engaging, at times a little too detailed though. I can very confidently say I learnt so much about Ravana and Lanka. This seems to fit the missing link, more like the alter story when we think of the Ramayana. 

June 12, 2018

Bali with kids

A beach is always a favorite when it comes to kids, and Bali is no different.

It has some beautiful beaches, and with great waves which attracts many people for surfing. There are even surfing classes which will work great for older kids.

And, as you sit there watching then run in and out of the water, you would have innumerable ladies who would approach you, offering a massage, manicure or a pedicure. And to add to that, we have shacks which would serve you some drinks and eats on the side, as you lounge under that beach umbrella.

From the moment you step into Bali, you see the the many references to Hindu mythology, from scenes from the Ramayana and various temple sculptures.

Just outside the Bali airport
Outside many temples, you would see statues which are very intricate and worked on stone or wood.

One of the great places we visited, was the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre. This was something which I had read about, and we were looking forward to seeing the kind of work they do there. They had a huge space where the housed and took care of the turtle eggs which were laid on the Bali beaches. And, these beaches being now touristic attractions, makes it difficult for these eggs to survive and the baby sea turtles to reach the sea. The folks at the centre worked to personally collect these eggs, house them in the correct conditions and ensure that they babies are send back to the sea to lead a life in the wild.

They also housed many injured or terminally ill sea turtles, who would find it difficult to lead a regular life out at sea. They took care of the animals, continuous care and monitoring to ensure that these animals, who can not be cured are also given the care which is possible. This centre ran on donations, and there was not even a ticket for entry. It was a great experience for kids to see, learn and touch these tiny and big creatures.

One of the things I learnt was the difference between sea turtles and land turtles. 

Sea turtles can not contract their body within the shell to save themselves, making them more vulnerable to predators. But, land turtles, can save themselves by using their shell to pry away from unnecessary interactions and predators