These are a few of my favorite .. err.. memories?

WhatsInAName tagged me to write about 7 childhood memories. Since, I've been reading a lot of these posts and didnt want to pass off someone's memories as mine (ya I'm that impressionable) I thought I'd approach it largely from the food angle and throw any other memories in between. I noticed the tag just says childhood memories, no good or bad, and that's just fine. Some of my memories I have no idea whether I'm fond of them, sure I laugh at some, but also cringe at others and so on and so forth. I'll try putting the pleasanter ones down here ...

  • A long time ago before I was worried about calories or acne, my fondest memories are of peeling little sweet wrappers and popping a delectable treat into my mouth. Available at any price range from the 10p lemon, orange slice shaped bakery sweets, the little Ravalgaon lemon and orange round sweets, to the pricier 5 Star bars, Cadburys Dairy Milk and Fruit and Nut bars, Nutties, Eclairs, Coffee Bites, I ate them all. And evenings and tea-times saw me munching happily on Britannia Bourbon and Jim-Jams. I loved pulling the bourbon biscuit apart, licking the chocolate cream off and then eating the biscuit. I still do it if no one's watching while the Jim-Jams, a fabulously sticky cream biscuit with a jam center, sprinkled with sugar crystals I can still eat anytime. Recently, I bought a 5 star bar, hoping to relive my childhood, all i realised was i'm old now, booo :(
  • I love certain food traditions my mom setup for us as we were growing up. So, every Sunday the house would be redolent with the smell of a traditional chicken recipe and fish fry. Festivals, picnics, birthdays saw various other food customs being set which I still looked forward to even amidst all the other stuff going on. If there's one thing I ever pass on to my kids, it would be a Sunday lunch tradition. Even though the menu never changed, the anticipation and fulfillment of eating a familiar delicious meal combined with family bonding made Sundays extremely special for me.
  • We werent huge movie buffs. However there was a time when the drive-in theater in Bangalore just opened and every Friday night saw my parents bundling us into the car with blankets, food, drinks irrespective of the movie playing. Neither LilBro nor me lasted the entire length of the movie, we just loved the mini-picnic feel of watching a movie under the stars part of a crowd, yet alone in our little car, the tinny sounds emerging from the speakers hanging over the car windows, eating samosas and pooris on paper plates. Even the rapacious mosquitoes were just minor irritants. We'd settle down happily into the back seat ensconced in a blanket, play or chat if we were bored and would be driven home completely and deeply asleep when the movie was over.
  • Summer vacations saw us going back to my dad's village. I loved the train journeys esp the food that used to be served. It might not have been the most hygienic (we saw them place the trains outside the loos in the second class compartments :), but until I ate that tray filled with dal, subjis, spiced chicken if you wanted it, sweet yogurt, pickle, pooris/parathas and rice I never felt as if my summer vacation had quite started. The rest of the time was spent reading comics like Tinkle, Chandamama, my stash of Enid Blytons and Carolyn Keenes, while munching on clandestinely stolen pieces of drying mangoes, salted and spiced waiting to be pickled, playing cards through the day with cousins and sleeping on little khatiyas under the stars if it got too hot to sleep indoors. Summer vacations also saw me reading all the prescribed literature books for the next school year, except the poetry books that is. I hate poems!!
  • We used to play the most amazingly corny games in our all-girls school. First was the hopscotch which I dont think any girl ever got tired of, then there was this game where an elastic would be stretched between 2 girls who acted like bookends holding the elastic in place and the rest would take turns hopping and twisting the elastic into the most fascinating shapes. And lunch times often saw entire snake-lines of giggling, pig-tailed girls in a strange marching-dance manoevre to the uninitiated, mouthing the mantra 'There was a girl, so thin and tall and fair .....'. You had to play it to understand :) I wonder if it was some strange Bangalore tradition or everyone else played it too? Living in an building with 52 flats meant there were always tons of kids to play with, we used to play dodgeball, lagori, chor-police but the one game we never got tired of playing was something inventively called tackling - our variation of another game. The compound of my building had huge concrete rectangle slabs (probably 8 ft by 5 ft) with tar fillings in between, and these became our tackling rectangles. The objective was to position the 1st team on the rectangles so that they could only move perpendicularly on the black tar lines, while the other team would try to run across 5 of these rectangles and back without getting caught by the 1st team. We even had complicated strategies per team, let the slowest kid across first to catch them while coming back, the fastest kid would man the last rectangle etc. Loads of fun!!!
  • We've been going for early morning walks most of my life, atleast for the time I lived with my parents and wasnt allowed to be a lazy papaya. We used to walk around MG Road and Cubbon Park. At that time of day, there would be no cars around and on MG Road, the stretch between Brigade Road and Cubbon Park, you would find kids practising roller-skating on the road itself. When I was older I walked with a friend and we had the most amazing encounters - from the uncle with the military haircut who wished two silly, giggling girls every morning, to the sophisticated women who walked with weights in their arms, to the aunties stopping for a gossip after every chakkar, to the men who blared music from their cars while doing their weird versions of sit-ups only to get back in and find they couldnt start the car, to the lovebirds who setup clandestine meetings before school, Cubbon Park was a fascinatingly busy place early in the morning. (I didnt mention the flashers but if you are a parent reading please be aware that it happens).
Ok social conscience appeased, and I think I'm done. I just realised I'm terrible at writing about myself. Why have a blog I wonder? Before I dwell further on my existential angst, let me pass the tag (remember it's 7, people, SEVEN memories) onto a few others Avdi (ms. avdi please tell me which blog you will put it on), Samir and Angel's Flight. Do with it what you will :D

Review: These Old Shades

Rating: 5 / 5

These Old Shades is a vivid Georgian (1714-early 19th century) romance by Georgette Heyer.

A mysterious page, Léon, employed by Justin, the Duke of Avon, is found to actually be Léonie. The mystery deepens as Justin makes Léonie his ward, providing her with jewels, clothes, security and everything she has ever only dreamt of. Justin conceals some deep reasons for adopting her, concerning an old rivalry with a French nobleman, the Comte de Saint Vire who tries desperately to get Léonie in his power. But, as Justin sets his plans concerning Léonie in motion he little thinks that the affection he feels for the page would deepen into a completely different and stronger emotion towards the woman ....

The plot and story is simple enough. The magic of These Old Shades lies in the masterful layers to the novel. Heyer is at her best with her trademark romance and intrigue, the delightful and witty banter and dialogues and the wry reading of certain character types. TOS is also chock-full of Heyer's research into Georgian and French fashions - for the men and the ladies, speech, mode of transport, lifestyle and amusements.

But, where TOS exceeds beyond a generic romance is in the detailing of her characters. Every character comes to life through the action and dialogue, whether it is the beautiful, intelligent, fiercely loyal Léonie, Justin's flighty sister Lady Fanny, his irresponsible brother Lord Rupert, the villainous Comte de Saint Vire or Justin's moralising friend Hugh Davenant. But, with the suave Duke of Avon and his redemption through the power of love, she has created an unforgettable romantic hero.

When we meet Justin, he is a hardened rake, an inveterate gambler given over to vice and laden with cynicism towards his fellow men. He is also a slightly sinister character, having cultivated among his acquaintance a reputation for omniscience and has rightly earned his nickname of Satanas. Into this slightly lonely existence bursts Léon with youthful impetuosity and innocent wisdom. As we come to know him through his dealings with Léon then Léonie, we see her breaking down the barriers surrounding his heart until the true man emerges.

It is difficult for me to name a favorite book by Heyer. I've re-read her books for the better part of 8 years and have found my tastes altering depending on age, mood and temperament. While TOS doesnt remain my favorite (now I prefer her older heroines and mature stories) I still look on it with a lot of fondness. It's the first Heyer I read, and I never looked back.

And, for those who just cant get enough of these characters, read the prequel (of sorts) The Black Moth and the sequel to this one, Devil's Cub.

Review: The Black Moth

Rating: 3.5 /5

Jack Carstares, the Earl of Wyncham has had to leave England because he was wrongfully accused of cheating at a card game. In an age where honor and courage was prevalent, this is the ultimate sin for a ’gentleman’ to commit. Forced to earn his living, he becomes a higwayman.

Closely entangled with the cause of Jack's disgrace is the Duke of Andover, Tracy ’Devil’ Belmanoir, a confirmed rake, who has his own reasons for wishing to keep Jack away from the Earldom. Lady Lavinia, Devil’s sister, a thoughtless, spoiled romantic, is married to Jack’s brother, Richard.

Also in the mix is an exotic beauty, Diana Beauleigh, who Andover has designs on. Andover plans to kidnap the lovely Diana, but of course as with all villains in romances, a spanner is thrown into these plans by Jack, but how, why and what happens next is a wonderful, action-packed, humorous ride with Heyer that I promise, you will not regret.

Secondary characters aplenty like the loveable, shatter-brained Andrew, Devil’s brother, the stolid, dependable O’Hara, Jack’s friend, mischievous Lady O’Hara and Jack’s serious and troubled brother Richard Carstares are masterfully woven into the plot.

The Black Moth, a historical romance by Georgette Heyer, was written at the age of 17 and is a wonderful induction into the world of Heyer. Since it was her first novel, it doesnt have quite the polished writing and sentence structure, wit and plot development that the later novels do. More importantly, TBM laid the groundwork for the novel These Old Shades. Almost the same characters from TBM make their appearance in TOS albeit with different names and with more intriguing personas. TOS is the better book by far, however if you wanted a prequel of sorts to the characters in that story (and you will once you read it) TBM comes as close to the real thing (Heyer's vivid world) as possible.

Them reading habits ....

So, here's a fun list doing the blog-rounds lately. Apparently, the average adult has only ever read 6 of the 100 books on the following list, ofcos I had to see how I stacked up...

The rules are as follows:

* Look at the list and bold those you have read.
* Italicize those you intend to read.
* Underline the books you really love (and strikethrough the ones you hate!).
* Reprint this list in your own blog.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

eeps ...
only 40/100, this means that I must stop whining that I have nothing to read (and stop reading the romance covers squirrelled away on my nightstand) !!

As for books I hated, the only one that evokes that knee-jerk reaction is Moby Dick which I read the first few chapters of and vowed never to pick again, so I'm sure it doesnt count.

So, how many have you read??

Review: The Palace of Illusions


A proud, egoistical princess. A proud, illegitimate prince. Five noble husbands. A 100 enemies. A divine ally and a war which will change the face of Bharath forever. Of course, I'm talking about the greatest of all the Indian mythological epics - the Mahabharata. And Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni's thoroughly involving version, the Palace of Illusions.

'Palace of Illusions' is the Mahabharata re-told from the feminine perspective and who better to take us through it than the woman who will be the cause of the Great War - the exquisite Princess Draupadi.

We follow Draupadi from her extraordinary birth through her teenage years, and get to know her as the little bit of woman in every one of us - spoiled, egoistical, foolish in love and with the desire to do great things to chart her course in history, and come to know the woman she becomes. A woman moulded by the fire which gave birth to her and flamed by the desire for vengeance until her future lies scorched in the blazing heat of that same spark she ignites.

Divakaruni's handling of Draupadi's thoughts, wishes and dseires is masterful, making the woman who seems to be an enigma in the original version of the great epic come to life between her pages. But, she is of course at her best with the effective, imaginative prose layered all through the story, and also describing simple people like Dhai Ma. One can imagine one's favorite grandmother or dai bent over a stove and ladling out the same effective doses of wisdom. And the treatment of Krishna is inspired! He is fun-loving, caring, taunting, a wise councillor, a dreaded enemy, but always that little bit inscrutable, much as every account of the God seems to relate.

It is not easy to retell a story which most Indian knows the salient points of and keep it fresh, but Ms. Divakaruni manages this with astonishing ease with her first person POV. She evidently has the epic well-in-hand as she uses tales out of chronology to illustrate a point, such as the story of Ekalavya, Drona's hapless disciple.

Possibly the only shortcoming I find with this book was that it was brief, but how can one condense the Mahabharata anyway. I did find myself wishing that Ms. Divakaruni had used her ample imagination and vivid prose to explore the other feminine perspectives too, Kunti comes to mind. Possibly the other disappointment was that with saddling herself with a biased point of view, we dont get any insight to the one character who is the most tantalising and mysterious of them all - Karna. I think I will have to look up Shivaji Sawant's much-acclaimed Mrityunjay after all!!!

Review: The Mists of Avalon


The time is medieval England, a land of mysticism and rigid faith, where the old religion of Goddess worship and the newly founded Christian religion battle to gain prominence over the hearts and minds of the people. The mystical island of Avalon is the center of the pagan religion, with a temple training Priestesses and Druids into the Mysteries.

But, the island of Avalon is slowly receding into the mists surrounding the lake, as it is pushed further from the memories of men, and only those men who know the location can find it. Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, is determined to bring back the old religion of Goddess worship, prevent Christianity from becoming the one true religion of the land and keep Avalon in the world from which it is being lost.

The 'Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley, starts with the story of Arthur's parents Igraine and Uther Pendragon and proceeds to weave in all the numerous legends surrounding King Arthur and Camelot and a number of characters. We have, Morgaine who is Arthur's half-sister and Lady of the Lake after Viviane, Gwynhwyfar - Arthur's fanatically Christian wife, Lancelet - Arthur's cousin, chief knight and Gwynhwyfar's lover, Mordred - Arthur and Morgaine's son, the Merlin of Britain - one of Arthur's advisers, the famous sword Excalibur, the Round Table of the stories and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

As told from the feminine perspective, Viviane, Igraine, Morgause (Igraine's and Viviane's sister), Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar this forms an interesting re-imagining of the Arthurian legends weaving in all the fantasy elements nicely with the myth of Avalon and the Fairies. The only places I found it to be heavy going was with the endless arguments between the Christian and pagan religions (and there are a LOT of these) and the wearisome, hypocitical, piety of Gwenhwyfar. Also, Arthur as he is written, comes across as being a very ineffectual King - always wanting to please everyone, which is at odds with his fame as a commander of men and a leader on the battlefield.

Well worth a read for a lot of fantasy, medieval culture and for anyone remotely interested in the Arthurian legends. For someone wanting to go a little further back in time to the Romans in Britain, you could watch the Last Legion featuring Aishwarya Rai, though I cannot say I would recommend it!

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl


When I first came across Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Boleyn Girl' on all the bestseller lists I must say I was intrigued. After all, it featured Henry the 8th and a tumultuous time in British history from the human interest perspective as well as the historical perspective.

I was thoroughly disgusted with the book which wasn't so much historical fiction as a means for the author to hash together an unwholesome mix of sensationalism and salaciousness in a poorly written story. Having washed my hands of the book, I wasn't interested in anything to do with it, until they announced the casting of the movie. Having often been brainwashed by Hollywood I thought, Eric Bana, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson in a movie couldn't be all bad could it?

Unfortunately, it's worse. The script writers took an already salacious book and spiced it up with so much more sex and wholly missed the intrigue that I might have to bite my words and say that Gregory's book is the lesser of the two evils.

If you are not familiar with the book, it tells the story of the Boleyn sisters in King Henry's court. Henry the 8th has suffered a severe disappointment when his wife Katherine of Aragorn fails (yet again) to present him with a male heir to the throne. The Duke of Norfolk, sees in the situation, a way to improve his fortunes alongwith that of his sister's family, the Boleyns. Presenting Mary to the king as his mistress, she provides him with a son and also falls in love with him. Unfortunately by the time her son is born, her jealous sister Ann has managed to draw the King's attention away from her so that the son remains unacknowledged. Henry manages to divorce Katherine and marries Ann, but their problems with having a male child persist, until the King's wandering eye and Ann's unpopularity with the people and in court lead to the end which a person familiar with British history would be all too aware of.

But, let me say that the sequence of events mentioned above, happen in the movie NOT necessarily what is historically known, excepting for the gruesome end. In this version, the courtiers are all pimps and the women of the court all conniving schemers. And, the screenwriters took all that made a little bit of sense out of Gregory's book leaving a convoluted story of a weak, voluptuary king, a harpy whom we are damned if we know why the king is bothered with and a mistress who apparently the king has 'respect', 'trust' and 'love' for after she has been discarded.

And I did think that since it was a period piece, because I knew the loathsomeness of the story beforehand I could atleast entertain myself with the costumes, locations, period detail etc. WRONG! I could go to any carpet upholstery store to look at the what comprised of materials the men were wearing and the women's costumes were uninspired and with the weirdest head-dresses. Yeah I dont think I dig 15th century fashion. Nor their morals.

The leads dont have much to do except look beautiful, the acting as non-existent as the British accents. The casting of the rest, except for Kristin Scott Thomas, is badly done especially the William Stafford character who looks younger than Johansson, and even more clueless.

The end is laughable because the movie states that an action which Henry performs in the movie changed the face of England forever. But, if you missed the nanosecond where this is referenced in the movie and didnt know the importance beforehand, you would be left wondering. And having the gall to add some sort of historical frame of reference to your movie when the entire is made up of insinuation and bad imagination really frustrates me. Atleast have the guts to call it fiction or a poor-excuse-for-making-a-raunchy-costume-drama and be done with it!

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