29 August 2009

Book review: The kite runner by Khaled Hosseni

Oh, what a book!

The story is starts in the 1970s in Afghanistan and tells the story through the eyes of Amir, the privileged and only son of a rich, widowed, philanthropic landlord. The main crux of the book is Amir's friendship with his servant's son, the devoted and more talented Hassan and his always-under-the-burden-of-expectations relationship with his own Baba. And neither relationship can escape the political upheavals in Afghanistan- first the invasion by Russians and then by the Taliban.

The book is an absolute emotional roller-coaster and one of the best books I have read lately. Hosseni is utterly compelling in his first book (hard to believe considering how well written the book is). The personal relationships between Amir, his Baba and Hassan are beautifully depicted as well and manage to tug at you heart time and again. Interestingly, there are no female leads in the movie and the thankfully, Hosseni does not use the 'love-for-women-changed-the-story' idea (I am tired of how many times poor women are blamed for making or breaking stories).

One of the things that struck me when I read the book was about an unfortunate incident Amir witnesses but doesn't do anything about. I wont give the story away- read for yourself what the incident is but it did leave me thinking for a while. It is interesting how your choice of not doing anything, being mute witnesses to a crime haunt your conscience more than committing the crime itself. Not all of us have the courage to stand up for someone in need and this is the price we pay for it- having a guilty conscience that eats on us for the rest of our life.

Hosseni also manages to present the old-day Afghanistan in a new humane light- one of happiness and peace. It is a shame to read about how power hungry politicians have reduced this once beautiful country to its present-day state of chaos, instability and unhappiness. Mind you, the book doesn't even talk about the plight of Afghan women- I read an article in the Economist about child brides, teen pregnancies and about 80% illiteracy in Afghan women. I still remember the picture of a 11 year old child bride seeing her would-be, well in his 40s husband for the first time on their wedding day (shudder!).

Coming back to the book, this one goes on my 'must read' list. Read it for its mature content, beautiful portrayal of human relationships, Afghanistan and for the emotion than runs throughout the book- hope!

Happy reading,

24 August 2009

Festive Sunday: Ukadiche Modak

Its that time of the year...Lord Ganesha is visiting everyone's houses this week..if you ask me, this is the cutest of all Hindu Gods...with his elephant head and rotund stomach, he is easily one of the most liked deities in Hindu culture..he tops my list for sure!

'Lalbaugcha Raja', one of the most popularly worshipped public Ganesh idols in Mumbai

Ganesh puja at this time of the year is a big event in Mumbai and both N and I miss the fun here in Vancouver...miss bappa coming home..bringing in his tow hundreds of friends and relatives, yummy food, carefree celebrations- in short, 'beshhtest times'. Growing up, I always wanted to bring bappa home but since each (extended) family is allowed to bring only one idol home and one of our uncles has been bringing our family idol to his house over the last few generations, there was no way we could do that. My wish was granted, however, when I got married...N's parents bring their (and now mine) family Ganesh idol to our home in Mumbai...its absolute fun time..miss the mood (sigh, sigh, sigh).

So this year, after being away from Mumbai for a few years (7 for N, 4 for me), we decided to create the magic ourselves....for the first time ever, we made the modaks (recipe follows), did a small puja at home in the morning, volunteered to make food at a local (Marathi mandal) celebration function and then enjoyed the prasad food in the evening at that same function....good times, I say!!!

Marathi Mandal Ganeshotsav, Vancouver

Modaks and home puja

The best part about making the modaks? N and I made them together...anyone who had tried them before should know that making the modaks and moulding them into a nice shape takes time and practice...N and I were like kids in the kitchen...each trying to make better modaks than the other...at the end, I have to admit, N did so much better than I did (hmmmm)!

joint effort- N made the one at the centre- adjudged as the best modak of all :D

For the recipe, I followed the instructions in this video..the recipe the lady uses is exactly the same as N's ma (I am guessing its a standard recipe) but the art lies in making the rice dough while its 'just hot' and then moulding it into beautifully shaped modaks...check out the video here..she has some very interesting techniques for beginners like N and me!

It took us well over an hour to make 12 modaks but we were both quite pleased with the end result...hope bappa liked it as well!:D

May bappa bless everyone,

17 August 2009

Resuming Trip recap: Day 3- Bye CPH!

As a welcome change, we woke up early this day...why you ask??..well, we had booked the breakfast at the hotel on the last day and it was open only until 10...by now you should know that only food (that too made by someone else) will make me wake up at a reasonably early time while on vacation (or not-on vacation).

So we had this lovely Danish breakfast..complete with the 'Danish' pastries (of course, what else?)..and enjoying the harbour view as we ate..fabulous! Once done, we packed and checked out of the hotel and took the metro to the CPH airport.

A few things we learnt about 'commuting in CPH without paying through the nose':
-the best way to get around CPH is using the public transit i.e. metros and buses...the transit system is awesome and connects almost all tourist attractions and more
-tickets for the transit system are available right at the airport...the costs vary with the number of zones you might want to visit...since we were going to be in CPH for three days, N and I each bought a 10-ticket card that cost us about 130 Danish kroners (about Cdn$30....expensive, I know!!!) but it lasted us throughout the trip...we even had a couple tickets left at the end but didnt find anyone to pass them on to!
-each of the bus drivers we met was very helpful so getting around the city was quite easy (in spite of not knowing Danish at all...of course, we ended everything with 'Tak' meaning Thanks in danish)
-another good way to go around the city is rent a bike...we would have loved to explore this option but came to know about it after we had already bought the 10 ticket cards....next time though, I will keep this in mind...not only is it super-cheap (2o DKK) but also a lovely way to see the city from up close...mind you, the weather in CPH is very finicky and I would take up the bike only if Mr. Sunshine comes along

With that, we said bye to CPH, our first European country visited, and started for Rome...I cant begin to tell how excited I was at the prospect of visiting this city...I am a kind-of-history-and-arts-enthusiast and what better place to know about history than Rome???

More about my first impressions of Rome in the next post!

Bye bye CPH..tak!!

15 August 2009

Happy birthday India!

India turned 62 today.

In the world of people, that's pretty old...but in the world of countries, that's young....a vibrant, diverse country on the altar of youth...she is beautiful on the outside...growing at a lovely healthy pace (healthy enough to draw some envy form others)...she even has a few jewel-cities she shows off.....but when i look carefully enough, when I prod a little, I see some scars and wounds...some of her neighbours have tried to inflict much pain, her own corrupt netas have tried to sell her for their selfish motives and everyone has neglected her heart- her villages, her beauty, her land....Mind you, she tries to hide these scars under the veil of 'India shining' but I don't think she will ever be completely happy till these scars heal (sigh, sigh, sigh).

I came across this video on my cousin A's orkut profile last week...it is a dance sequence on a show called 'India's got Talent'....the concept, choreography and skills touched my heart...the group performing the sequence are labourers from Orissa..interestingly, they didn't want to reveal that they were labourers because they didn't want any sympathy votes but wanted to win on the basis of their talent....amazing video!

To me, this is the perfect embodiment of the Indian spirit...India, too is in a race with other countries, in the race for progress...she, too, is handicapped by corruption, illiteracy, terrorism...but she has the skills, the concepts and the determination to go ahead...not with sympathy votes but because 'India's got Talent'!

Happy birthday India!!!


14 August 2009

A fuzzy week

This week has been nothing but 'fuzzy'...I cant think of any other word to describe it (maybe 'foggy'..but in the fuzzy-world thats quite close to 'fuzzy')...the days and nights have been a blur...I havent done anything meaningful from Monday to Friday (neither at home nor at work)...and all under the excuse that 'I am fuzzy'!

I don't know if its the vacation/jetlag hangover but it sure seems that I am cranially slow this week!...for those who may not know, I have these slowing down tendencies once in a while but usually N will shake me out of it (he'll give a prep-up speech about how the slow-bug is for sloths and not youngsters like us...how the rain outside is not a reason to slouch but rather one to get excited about, etc etc...occasionally, he will also grace me with a special, Bombay-ishstyle tapori dance...and this, if nothing else, always makes me laugh and get back on my feet)...but this time, N was crazy busy in lab and came home almost each night at 9 so my fuzziness stayed longer than I wanted!

Anywho, Mr. Weekend's arrival seems have done the trick...he has made me wake up from my slumber and asked me to start being a little more active...like maybe working on my blog, writing a post, cleaning the house, cook something interesting, go out for a walk, get a haircut, do some shopping, go on a vacation (I have reminded Mr. weekend that I could start working all items on his list except the last two...N will scream and roar if I spend money on shopping or even as much as utter the word 'vacation')!

Some may or may not notice but I did work on the blog already...I have added some widgets for my books (one about the book reviews and other on the books on my reading list) and hope to add some more on the travel/food ones very soon...have also added the 'subscribe to posts/comments' on the right...any comments/suggestions on the layout are welcome!....will also resume the trip recap very soon!

Back from the land of fuzzies,

09 August 2009

Book Review: Q & A by Vikas Swarup

The name 'Q & A' doesn't ring a bell, does it??...well, how about 'Slumdog Millionaire'???....with all the Oscar hype, I don't think there is a soul left on this earth who doesn't know about that one!
(Pic from here)

Anywho, just finished reading the book by Vikas Swarup yesterday...I had seen the movie before I read the book and was just curious about how the book and the movie matched each other (I am a big believer in 'books 100 times better than the movies' philosophy)...and let me tell you, my philosophy still stands...the book is so much better than the movie...in fact, other than the basic premise about the orphan, poor boy from winning the jackpot..that too based on his memories and life experiences rather than his knowledge, the movie and the book are completely different...a few scenes like the child-begging racket, boy falling in love withe the prostitute are common too...but others like the 'falling into shit' (yuck!!) scene, Salim-the-brother projected as almost a villain and then the local don posing a threat to the young lovebirds is all a part of the movie masala...I personally found the movie 'just okay'..but I definitely like Swarup's version better..its more human, more realistic and gives the lead character, Ram Mohammad Thomas (interesting name, isnt it!!) a fair share of happiness (unlike the movie...which is all about pain and grief).

Must also commend Swarup's writing style..this being his first book, he does wonderfully well to engage the reader..not only is his concept interesting, so is his story telling style...the book moves along two lines...one of the quiz show itself and another about the episodes from RMT's life that help him answer the question...there is even a twist at the end of the story which I didn't see coming!..all in all, I would definitely recommend the book to anyone looking for a witty, interesting read!


07 August 2009

Trip recap Day 2: Copenhagen

So after a lovely first day in the city of fairy tales, I was all set to make it most of the next day...and how did we do in reality???..we made the least out of it!!!...at least that was what I was thinking at 4 in the evening when we were still stuck in our hotel!!!!!

The day started off quite like the previous one, I woke up around 10 (jet lag, you see..and not laziness..ahem) and since N had his presentation that day from 12 to 1.30, I only wandered around our hotel and the mall nearby till he came back...I also made a nice long list of places I wanted to see (including some museums which closed at 5....but I had plenty of time until then...or so I thought).

Harbour at the back our hotel...this is the view from our window

After N got back at 2, we headed to a place close by for lunch and almost as soon as we got there, it started raining cats and dogs...just my luck!!!....having lived in Vancouver for 3 years now, I have grown used to rain anytime of the year...but rains on vacation is just not done!!!!...I even tried the 'rain, rain go away...come back some other day' thing but I think that works only for innocent kids and not for grown-ups like me with selfish, vacationy-ulterior-motives...sigh!!...amidst all this, N seemed actually happy...he is just not a 'museum person' you see....wonder if he secretly prayed for the rain to keep pouring!!!

Anywho, when the rain finally did stop at 4, we no longer had the museums option (by this time, both N and the sun were beaming...and I was fuming)...so we decided to do the next best thing...we took a train/bus ride to Nyhavn...literally meaning 'new harbour' in Danish, it is actually a 17th century waterfront in the heart of the city and is a lovely area to dine and move around.
We liked the place instantly...it has lovely residential, colourful buildings that lining it on both sides.....people dining outdoors in restaurants...and little boats moored along the harbour...pretty!!...we decided to take a boat ride here..it lasted for an hour and took us on a ride along the harbour to show us a lot of interesting places including H.C.Anderson's House, the New Opera Place, Christiania, Little Mermaid statue, the Danish Royal Palace (one of the places on my list...sigh), the old National Bank and Stock Exchange Buildings and a few other notable places...the tour was lovely as the boat guide also gave bits of history on each place as we passed by it!

I wish I had more pics to share....but as can be expected from N and me, our camera buttery died 10 mins into the ride (sigh...sigh...sigh!!)...we did capture everything on the video cam but these are the only pics I had to put on the blog...By the time we finished the ride, it was almost 8 and we were ready to head back...we picked some food on our way and were back at the hotel by 10.

The second day of the trip went well...we could have done so much more....with N busy with the conference, I must confess that I wasn't hoping to see much of CPH in the first place...given that, I seem to have seen quite enough...next time though, I will make sure we have enough time for the palaces and museums...and also that I pray harder than N to keep the rains at bay :)

(Almost) content,

05 August 2009

Festive times

Its Rakhsha bandhan in India today...the time to celebrate love between a brother and sister...I wonder why they dont have any such celebrations here in the West..to me, its a lovely occasion to let your brothers and sisters know much you care about them!

(Picture from here)

While I was growing up, typical RB celebrations in India would involve all of us cousins piling over my Uncle's house...this worked out great you see...my mum has two girls (me and my sis) and her siblings each have two sons....two generations of brothers and sisters...the bond strong and love in the heart!

By the way, I am sure it was a sister who started this festival...think about it....by tying a thin band on my brother's wrist, I get not only 'unlimited love and protection from all possible bad things'...but also a lovely gift....both the untangible and the tangible...pretty good deal, I say! and if you have more brothers than sisters (which was our case), the gifts were even more fantastic...oh man, miss those days!

Anywho, a very happy RB to all the brothers and sisters out there (especially mine)...may the bond of love grow stronger with each passing year!!

Missing the fun,


03 August 2009

Trip recap Day 1: Copenhagen

So where do I start??...guess its best to start at the start...so I start with Copenhagen...our first destination...this is where N has his conference (the basic pretext under which this trip idea began...and slowly ballooned into a 2 week mini-Europe one...bet N will be more careful with his next conference..haha)...N left a couple days before I did and then I joined him on Sunday night...the flights were uneventful, got my baggage without any issues and finally met N at the CPH airport before we went to the hotel, ate a little and slept like a log.

The next day, we started with our sightseeing around 1 after lunch (N did the muh dikhaai at the conference in the morning while I slept...yes, like a log)...there was a mall right next to the hotel and we ate a buffet meal here....that too an Indian/Mexican one (funny combination, i say)...at first, I was a bit turned off...why would i want to eat Indian in CPH????But N, the wiser-by-two-days-in CPH, reassures me that this is the best thing to do....firstly, things in CPH are way too costly...he tells me that he had a measly salad the day before and it cost him $20!!!!!!!!!!!..poor thing even mixed the salad himself (the shopkeeper just put his salad on a plate)!!..Secondly, Danish food doesn't best suit Indian palate like ours...they have a lot of meat (which neither N nor I eat) and it isn't spiced enough..all in all, I decided to trust N on this one..after all, he had 'tried and tasted' it!...the buffet meal itself was nothing great...there was a funny guy greeting everyone at the entrance saying 'dhanyawaad' (thanks in Hindi) to everyone who entered the place..at first we were impressed...but soon he started asking everyone eating their meals if 'sab dhanywaad hai'?(is everything thanks)...from then on, N bugged me with this phrase till the end of the trip....is the food thanks, is the sight thanks, is the hotel thanks...thanks but no thanks, I say!!

Anywho, so after the meal we began with the sightseeing...our hotel was a 10 mins walk from the Tivoli Gardens...this is supposed to be the world's first Amusement park (info source: travel guide N...hmmm...I know he is wiser-in-CPH-by-two-days but not sure if I can trust him on this one!)......but it sure is very popular with the Danish...when you enter the place, you think that the whole of CPH is here...it was super-crowded, especially for a weekday....and the crowds kept coming well into the night...I am scared of rides (yes, I admit it) so I didnt take any...and N refused to go without me (very sweet, I say)...so we walked through the gardens, listened to a live orchestra, heard other people screaming on the rides and spent a good couple hours there.

Once outside the gardens, we headed towards the 'Stroget'...a very long pedestrian street right in the heart of the city lined with shops on both sides...this turned out to be a lovely walk.... there were not just shops, but much more on the way....live street performers..musicians...vendors selling their fares...people sitting outside of cafes enjoying food...gave us a true feel of the city..we walked on for a good 1 hour before heading back....the walk back took more than an hour back and we were ready to hit the bed after dinner.

(Pic from the web: forgot to take one of the Stroget ourselves)

So the first day of the trip went lovely...what are my first impressions of the city and its people?....the city seems 'just okay' at first..but grows slowly on you...I liked it better at the end of the day than I did at the beginning..and from what little I saw the first day, there seemed to be some historical monuments in there too..hoped to see more of them the next day....as for the people, they have the blondest of hair, the bluest of the eyes and loveliest of the skin...really exquisite, I say!!!!!...No wonder Hans Christian Andersen wrote fairytales here!!!

From the land of fairies,

01 August 2009

Blogger's back!

Well, well, well...we are back from the trip...how was it, you say?? It was AMAZING!!...of course, it was....and it was interesting in more than a few ways!! I was so hoping to write a day-by-day account as we went along but the tight travel schedules together with the unbelievable heat left us so tired at the end of each day, we barely managed to crawl into our beds and sleep (leave alone blogging!)

Anywho, plan to write some posts in the next few days...in the meantime, how have all the dost mandali been doing all this time??

For the Vancouver junta, happy long weekend!..and if you thought what you are going through here is a heat wave, let me tell you, its nothing close to Europe!!!!..one thing I have learnt during this trip is how much we take Vancouver for granted!

A little wiser than two weeks back ,

P.S. yes, its 6:22 am here...the jet lag made me wake up at 5:30 today...got a chance to catch the sunrise in Vancouver...it was utterly-butterly-loverrrlyy!!!..wish I could do this more often..catch the sunrise that is...but anyone who knows me knows that this can happen only if I am jet lagged...hmm...N might not like the huge airlines bills as a price to watch the sunset!!jaane do :D