Tagged ...

So, I was tagged by Smita and didnt want to be the last one standing. Anyways, rules are as follows:

RULE #1: People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by them.

RULE #2: Tag 6 people to do this quiz and they cannot refuse. These people must state who they were tagged by and cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by. Continue this game by sending it to other people.

1.If your lover betrayed you, what will your reaction be?
I'd be hurt and wanting my pound of flesh.

2. If you can have a dream to come true, what would it be?
Achieving a perfect balance between home and work life ... and world peace :)

3. Whose butt would you like to kick?
The q. should be butt's'. There are a few ....

4. What would you do with a billion dollars?
Invest and travel the world.

5. Will you fall in love with your best friend?
I did. I am.

6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?
Being in love.

7. How long do you intend to wait for someone you really love?
Am impatient, so not for long ... 6 months should do it.

8. If the person you secretly like is already attached, what would you do?
Move on ...

9. What takes you down the fastest?
An elevator.

10. How would you see yourself in ten years time?
In a mirror ....

11. What’s your fear?
Teeth falling out, going bald, falling through the gap in the subway, becoming fat, being eaten by sharks ... where to stop :(

12. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?
Smita is an extremely friendly fellow bookie !

13. Would you rather be single and rich or married but poor?
Married and happy. Money will come and go.

14. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
switch my comp on ...

15. Would you give all in a relationship?
Yes ...

16. If you fall in love with two people simultaneously, who would you pick?
The one who loves me ..

17. Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?
See Q. 1. Though after all that was done, I 'c'ould forgive and forget.

18. What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
sun, sand, siestas, snorkelling, scuba diving ....

19. What are your three most important expectations in love?
Just one, the vulcan mind meld ... too much to ask for ?

20. List 6 people to tag:
Samir, Amit and all you lovely readers who havnt done the tag yet (this means you WIAN), chop chop now ...

Not for the picky eaters !

There's this new food tag doing the blog rounds, and of course, I have to weigh in. For the sole reader who cares, here's the origination and the author's reasons for creating this list.

Anyhow, rules are as follows:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating (CP: I'm making them blue)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi :)
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (drawing a blank here, anyone know any examples?)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (best version ever - indian kesar pista yummmmy :)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (why???? i saw someone eat a whole habanero once! it wasnt pretty)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (well, separately, yes ... the author has a note in his FAQ about why the two should be tried together. must be a male thing)
37. Clotted cream tea (will try not to repeat this tho)
38. Vodka jelly/jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (Carribbean dish)
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (eh??????? Indian curry dish. If anyone recognises it, enlighten please)
44. Goat’s milk (hope the cheese counts)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (again, why???)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (as sushi)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (and never again!)
50. Sea urchin (sushi)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer (mmmm... paneer!!! boy am stoked so many Indian items are on this list)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (but just barely, the delicious Chimay Blueu has 9% ABV :)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (reader pls note: healthy NEVER tranlates to tasty :()
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (heh, this is clay!!)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (in a custard not the actual fruit)
66. Frogs’ legs (tastes like chicken, of course :)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (heh, see previous post)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (v.v.scary, now this is where i draw the line)
76. Baijiu (pretty sure i wont like it, check this out, but i really, really, really wanna know what it smells like)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (hmm, bit scary, not to mention slimy, but never say never)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef (kinda! have eaten the american kobe-style beef)
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (rose petals/rose essence, should count methinks :)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab (again, sushi)
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (scary. and MUST be cooked, unlike idiotic survivor dude who plucked one out of a louisiana swamp and proceeded to eat it .... alive)

That makes 45!!!! Slightly better than I expected .... but that's after all the broad interpretation :)

Going over the list, I realise that most of the foods I wont try are milk/milk products (I have the greatest aversion), American junk food and food items made of offal. That being said, I have eaten haggis and survived, I even think it's pretty decent. It will be interesting to get back to the list in a few years time and see if any of the blue items have been tried (and liked?).

And I'm sooo surprised at some of the mundane things I havnt eaten - oysters and venison and huevos rancheros and root beer floats!!!!!! Will remedy soon !

All you fellow foodies, how do you fare? Or better yet, copy this into your blogs and let me know!!!

As for me, I'm making a plan of where my next few meals are going to be .... for I have a ton of things to eat before I sleep :D

Chino Latino and the Pineapple Affair !

This weekend saw BigB, me, MGirl and MBoy make our way to Chino Latino, a trendy bar and restaurant in the Uptown area in Minneapolis.

Now, CL is so hip, that they dont advertise their name on the outside, being fronted only by a silver-gold shimmery facade and a scary black industrial-type door, the one which you know will lead to a darkened warehouse with chains and meat hooks gleaming from the ceilings , the type in the movies that people enter but never leave alive (aside: do the restaurant industry get a discount on these doors?? after the movie's over ?? because lately I see them everywhere) .... and, of course, being trendy means that the average wait time for a table is anywhere from an hour to longer.

Not that I was bothered by any of the above, it was our first visit to the place, after hearing about it from the M's who love it. So, I was enjoying myself, the company was good, I loved the atmosphere of the place, some faux-bamboo seating for that oriental feel, the bright art and colors on the walls, the urban crowds, the full bar, the idea that all the food was meant to be shared so every entree was for 3 people or more ...

What I didnt enjoy was the level of noise in the place, I heard only 1 word in every 10, and that was before the music started. And the food was underwhelming and expensive. So we had the popocateppe, which in the tradition of messy American finger foods, were fries piled high with black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole, some fried plantains, Brazilian empanadas (bars and fried food, what can I say) and Phillipine paella. All so-so. The paella was good but the only thing Asian about it was that it contained spring onions. And the least they could have done after making us pay through the nose for it was to use saffron, but they used annato. Hmph, cheapos!!! The cocktails were yummy, inventively named though, I loved the caipirinha and my flirtini a pineapple, champagne and vodka martini. Now, all woould have been well, if only we hadnt ordered a drink which was delivered in a honking big pineapple, the cynosure of all eyes as it made it's winding way to our table and the waitress announced the name in the middle of the only lull all night long - El Orgazmo ... aarghh!

Ordinarily, the pineapple thing would have bothered me quite a bit, but not that night (is it just me, or would anyone else have been embarassed too??). See, B's nickname for me is Tiny, I'm an average Indian woman, my height is .... average, for an Indian woman that is (5'3" if you must know). But, that night, I had on my 4" heels, had already made a very drunk male who got a little too close extremely sorry by stepping innocently on his instep and while still nowhere in the range of B's rarefied stratosphere, the personality of the AmazonPapaya did not include shy and retiring from any angle. So, I laughed it off and continued having a great time, until later when I told B about my 'slight' embarassment. And he decided I was nuts. With a capital N.

Needless to say, the evening didnt end as well as it began :(

Review: Earth Children Series

Rating : 4 / 5

The Earth Children series by Jean M. Auel is historical fiction set in the period of the Great Ice Age around 35000 years ago. Originally intended to be a set of 6 books, then later expanded to include 7, the series was first published in 1980, enjoyed unprecedented success with the first novel and led to a dedicated fan following for Auel. So much so, that in the 1980's there were an unprecedented number of female babies named Ayla (Ey-LAH) in the US after Ms. Auels' protagonist.

As a writer Ms. Auel isnt remarkably innovative, where the writing gains momentum is in things that interest her - the botany, geography, arcaehology of the paleolithic period. As an amateur anthropologist, Ms. Auel takes liberties with her subject material, doing an incredible amount of research but advancing theories which are not 'established' in the literature.

So, Ms. Auel's world contains two species of humans - the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons referred throughout as the Clan (from the Clan of the Cave Bear) and the Others. In her fictional world, the Cro-magnons communicate with a fully fledged language, the Neanderthals, due to the physiogonomy of her jaws have a (as richly developed) sign language and guttural sounds. While the brains of the Others are more receptive to new ideas, the brains of the Clan depend on ancestral 'memories', locked in their brains over generations, only needing reminding to awaken a memory but not very capable of new learning.

The series is bound together by a Cro-Magnon character called Ayla. While making her character the original feminist, Auel tries too hard to gain reader sympathy, the tall, blonde, blue-eyed Ayla is reviled as ugly by the Clan, is discriminated against but has many progressive ideas and comes up with the theory of reproduction all by herself. Since Ayla can be a little trying to read about, over the series she evolves into Superwoman with her very own blonde, blue-eyed, a little-less-than-Superman-ish consort, it becomes obvious that character development isnt really Auel's forte. What is, is her ability to construct and describe for the readers paleolithic civilization, the culture, the dwellings, the flora and fauna, the weapon making techniques, hunting strategies, spiritual beliefs, all these and more are amply described over the course of the books. So, if you are looking for a series with incredible historical detail the first three are for you. Reading the rest should depend on how involved you get and how patient you are with all the pontification.

Auel tries to deal with a number of issues in her books, equality between the sexes, prejudice and discrimination, culture, religion, medical knowledge, alcoholism and drug use, superstition and sex. While some issues like the religion and medical knowledge are judiciously presented, her world view of some topics is through rosy-tinted feminist glasses. So, an incredible amount of writing is devoted to the sexual liberation of women and matriarchal societies, which while not necessarily a bad thing, deviates from the hunter-gatherer norm of the period. Auel's writing on sex is clinical at best, touch on a required number of points/positions and move on, but that doesnt stop her from adding it in spades to every book in the series. I just mention it so that those who are contemplating reading are forewarned!

A break-down of the books is as below:

Clan of the Cave Bear: Inarguably the best of the lot, the story starts with the Cro-Magnon baby Ayla, being adopted by the Clan after an earthquake kills all the members of her tribe. Describing Ayla's trying childhood, from her love for her adoptive parents - the medicine woman Iza and the spiritual leader or Mog-ur of the tribe, Creb - to her fighting the jealousy and hatred of a Clan member Broud, her education in medicine and her rebellion towards the restrictions imposed by the Clan members on themselves and the woman, this is a quick and very engaging read.

Valley of Horses: The end of book 1 sees Ayla banished from her tribe and looking for the Others. While she doesnt find them, she finds herself in a valley where she takes refuge against the coming winter and remains for 3 years. In her solitariness she tames a horse Whinney and a lion, Baby for company. A parallel storyline follows the Cro-Magnon men (tall, blonde, blue-eyed, of course) Jondalar and Thonolan of the Zelandoni as they leave their tribe for a sort of Europe tour, until they end up in Ayla's valley. Jondalar and Ayla fall in love at the end of this book.

The Mammoth Hunters: Ayla and Jondalar come across the Mamutoi or the Mammoth Hunters and decide to spend a winter with them. Here she finds the companionship she has longed for and even an admirer in the tall, dark, brown-eyed (about time, you say?) sculptor Ranec. Ayla's many talents, make her beloved among the Mamutoi and she is adopted by them into their tribe testing the strength of her love and attachment to Jondalar. At the end, Jondalar who is longing for his home sets out to return to the Zelandoni, taking Ayla with him.

Plains of Passage: This is where the reader's commitment to the series is tested. As pages after pages of descriptive writing on vegetation, topology or the mating habits of mammoths go by one can see that the story has taken a backseat to the research. Which isnt terribly interesting either. Ayla's and Jondalar's reverse European tour, sees them meeting many tribes, some welcoming and innovative, some dysfunctional, others distrustful, combating prejudice or ignorance along the way, always with Super-Ayla making new discoveries. Jondalar is even given one discovery to make all by himself but it's Ayla's show all the way .... The end of this book takes Ayla and Jondalar on a death-defying trek over a glacier and puts them within reach of the Zelandoni camp.

Shelters of Stone: Released in 2002, this book took 12 years to write and has a significant amount of Auel's research into the French region where the large Zelandoni tribe lives. Apparently, the length of time between books also altered Ms. Auel's memories of her plot. Much had been made in the previous books about how the Zelandoni would not accept Ayla, pejudiced since she was raised by the Clan, but that premise fizzles out here. Also, after the Clan and the Mamutoi where Auel established certain character types living in a tightly-knit community, she takes the easy way out and rehashes them all here, just on a larger scale. Jondalar and Ayla finally get married and have a baby Jonayla, thus following the established romance novel precepts and the rest of the book sees them making efforts to settle down domestically.

While the scope of the rest of the series remain unclear, I think Auel will set the stage for the extinction of the Clan, as much has been hinted at in a recurring thread through the series. With no new book in sight, it seems unlikely that Auel will be able to accomplish completing her story. While I'd recommend the first 3 (and the rating is based on these), my interest has been tapering off in intervening years, so I might just take the time to see where Ayla and Jondalar end up. Then again, I might not.

Of subs, strangers and schweine ....

It hit me when the girl at the counter looked at me like I was a Martian for mentioning roasted and pepper in the same breath. I hate Subway! In fact I really, really HATE Subway!!! The thing is we frequent Subways most often since the other fast foods are too unhealthy and I probably hate Subway just an ounce less than I hate McD's, Burger King, Arby's, Insert-Random-North-American-FF-Chain-Here.

That epiphany happened on the Labour Day weekend (Sept 1st) on our road trip to South Dakota. It started off well enough - just me, BigB, prairie grasslands, endless road, humid weather, blue sky and Natalie Merchant's Motherland. We had bought Stephen King's The Cell expressly for the trip, but the evils of modern technology as a topic is just sooo old (apparently some zombie-fication or somethin is spread through the cellular network), the introduction was long and boring and by mutual agreement we stopped listening. There even was a nice old man whose slipstream I drove in for the better part of a 200 miles until I got bored of sticking to the EXACT posted speed limit.

So, anyways, the point is that all was well in our little world until those hunger pangs started panging away and myriad fast food signs later we spotted the Subway logo. And after that it was as much as I could do not to gag while eating my steak sandwich. Even B, who has survived on steamed veggies for months at a time, agreed that he was just a little bit sick of fast food when travelling.

Which brings me to the question - people I need help!!! I really need tips for packing food when on vacation or a road trip. My fav foodie writer on the net, did this helpful post a couple days ago about food to pack while travelling. As I ran my eye over the gamut of suggestions from nuts, granola to oatmeal, I felt the tears build up. Apparently, the days of our pulling over to a little roadside restaurant and eating a tasty South Indian thali are over. Excuse me while I have a little cry in the corner ....

Anyhow, the rest of the trip was a lot of fun as long as we made conscious decisions about where to eat. We covered the Badlands and Black Hills parks and while we didnt do too much hiking this time around we were busy making a note of all the trails and quaint hidden campsites for a later trip. Of course, my enthusiasm for this has waned A LOT since I spotted the 'Beware of rattlesnakes' sign at most of the campsites :( And we spotted the North American bison, a dopier looking animal I have yet to see.

But the most interesting thing was the people we met. The first was a waiter at a restaurant in a completely out of the way lodge in the park, a desi from Mumbai, studying to be a doctor in -wait for it - Russia, moonlighting here to pick up some extra cash! Plus, he knew about 5 languages, Russian being one of them and was learning another. Plus, he had most of his life figured out as in where he was going to work thereafter etc. Damn, we were impressed. I'm still wondering how he landed in SD from Russia but refrained from asking in the spirit of politeness, he was a total stranger.

The other desi's were a couple, the owners of the hotel we lived in and they were 1 of 2 Indian families in a town with a population of 200. While being impressed with their pioneering spirit so to speak, I was also a bit shocked. Keep in mind, this was a small town in a place which is mostly populated 3 months out of 12. We know because we drove through last November and were amazed to drive through a town which had houses, restaurants, gas stations, in short everything, excepting the people. Apparently, it's only populated during summer, the people moving back in during the 3 months of the tourist season and heading out after August. So, basically, there's nothing to do here the whole year around.

The other thing that struck me was that we went to a restaurant across the street one evening and the minute we walked in there was that moment's silence and the eerie feeling you get when every single person in the place turns to give you a once-over. It gave me the shivers, I tell you. Being a minority in a place so small cannot be easy. And most importantly, I feel that being in such a minority it's almost impossible to pass on a sense of your culture to your children. I know I wouldnt be able to live like that. Would you?

The other thing that happened was that Abha gave me an award and said some very nice things about this blog. Thankee much, Abha!!

I know I've been tardy in picking up the award but better late than never I always say. The rules of the award are

This award is for blogs whose content and design are brilliant as well as creative.

The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.

1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!

And here's the list of people whom I want to pass it onto.

Smita - who's eventful life I will never get tired of reading about. Her effortless writing style makes you feel she is talking directly to you and her joie-de-vivre makes hers a blog I turn to for putting that smile on my face early in the mornings.

Brevity, soul and wit, thy name is Avdi. She has a couple of blogs (all delightful) but I point to the books blog because that's the one I enjoy the most.

Bouncing-bubble - who doesnt write much, but when she does her straight-forward and realistic observations from books to music to life reflect the person she is.

It's been a pleasure knowing you ladies!!

And finally, is it just me or does anyone else find this song by Glukoza insanely catchy ?? oh and the music video absolutely hilarious ??


Dont disturb me now, I'm off singing

eins, zwei, drei, shiky-shiky schweine .........

Review: The Calcutta Chromosome

Rating: 3 / 5

Amitav Ghosh's mind-boggling The Calcutta Chromosome is an engrossing medley of science fiction, medical thriller, supernaturalism, eastern mysticism and colonial Indian stories. Set in an alternative vision of a run down New York in the 21st century, the protagonist Antar finds an old ID tag of a former colleague, Murugan, a self-proclaimed expert on Sir Ronald Ross. Murugan, was last seen in Calcutta in 1995 and has hence disappeared. Retracing Murugan's steps, Antar as well as the reader is taken on a journey through colonial India in the 1850s, specifically the steps leading to Ross's discovery of the malarian vector. Murugan is convinced that Ross had help with making the discovery, help from someone who already knew everything there was to know about malaria and was pushing Ross in the hopes of unravelling a greater mystery. A secret so secret, that it existed only in the medium that gave it birth, in Silence.

When I first read the book, I was extremely dissatisfied with it. Dissatisfied with the ending Ghosh gives it and with the ultimate failure of my own comprehension. Mostly because I hated feeling dumb.

I knew I had to re-read it, but never got around to it until Avdi's review got me interested all over again. And this time, not being bogged down by where the story was heading I was able to appreciate the book much more. So, I enjoyed Murugan's delightful politically incorrect banter, the malaria research lore, snapshots of contemporary Bengali culture and Ghosh's deft story-telling skills, especially a very RK Narayanesque ghost story of an uninhabited railway station and his subtly evocative narrative style

... morning commuters with the smell of dhal still buried deep in their finger nails ...

I did make a couple more connections I missed the first time around, but if put to the test, I cannot say I still 'get' it. All I know is there's not going to be a third time ....

To figure out how you as a reader will respond to the book, the closest analogy I can think of is putting together a complicated jigsaw puzzle and ending up with a murky outcome, unsure if you put the pieces in the right way around. If you are the type who anticipates a challenge and believe most of the fun was in putting it together, the book will be a rewarding experience. If you are the type focussed on the end goal and are displeased because there's nothing concrete, you might end up feeling cheated.

3 mistakes on my reading list ...

Does anyone remember the 'use this word in a sentence' portions in the ICSE Engish exams. I imagined our english teachers, either a) laughing uproariously or b) crying copiously (depending on their personalities) when grading these talented efforts.

Incidentally, I mucked up one of these sections. The word was 'cliche'. I misread it as 'clinch' (hold fast/make final/to embrace). Of course, I decided to use the lesser known latter meaning. I remember Rhett Butler making his appearance in that sentence. In my defense it was a timed exam and I exhibit poor judgement at the best of times (consider this a warning if you are ever sharing the road with this papaya and her papaya-mobile). It was only much, much later that the thought of the aged male lit teacher, let's call him GarrulousG, reading that sentence made me cringe ....

GarrulousG was one of those teachers who idolised English as the language of Shakespeare and Byron yada yada yada and once described the meaning of misogyny to the class with great relish. I forgot abt the exam soon enough, but it later became obvious that my innocent little sentence was the Hermione to his Malfoy (without using the obvious cliche here) ...

Came the day of the PTA meeting and Garrulous triumphantly pulls out my exam, handling it like a potential anthrax carrier. I saw a section of the paper marked all through with red and my face started achieving a similar hue. Garrulous read The Sentence out loud to my father and spat out the fatal words 'This is what comes of reading too many novels', following this obscure observation (I mean, what comes??) with a lecture on inculcating good reading habits (like good vanilla, ever notice how a reading habit always needs a qualification), describing a book-arrest of sorts for me, all blaringly delivered for the benefit of scores of interested classmates and their bored parents.

That I was largely unscathed (only my reading choices affected and often accompanied by guilt for about a decade) was all due to DearDad. Peeping at him, I saw polite interest and was joyfully relieved. That expression on his face meant Garrulous could have had a background track of crickets chirping and Dad wouldnt have known the difference, he was antsy over G wasting his time when he could have been speaking with the REAL teachers, the Math and Science ones that is ... and I was going to be allowed to continue with my very own reading habit, be it a good one or a BAD one.

I did learn though never to skim over any exam questions ..... and to think twice before I got carried away on the tide of my own cleverness :S

Anyway, the only reason this memory popped into my head was because I started reading The Duke by Gaelen Foley. It's best described as Hollywood Cliche Central. Authors making use of obvious cliches is a no-no at the best of times, what do you say when readers have apparently lapped up this book? Yes, You, Amazon-Reviewer-Who-Gushingly-Gave-This-5-Stars, I'm talking about You. Lovers bellowing names anguishedly outside windows. Soulful gazing into each other's eyes at a dance while the world blurs away. The sudden realisation of love and running feverishly into someone's arms followed by a make-out session. A white horse and a proposal. Didnt horses in a romance go out with Lochinvar?? Stopped reading.

Next, I read Elyza by Clare Darcy. Every conceit Heyer ever used made it's appearance in the first few pages. Stopped reading.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali was my attempt at tempering all the lighter stuff I was reading. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. To someone unfamiliar with London, Brick Lane is to Bangladeshis what Southall is to the Punjabis (or Chinatown is to the Chinese :). The book has been made into a movie starring Satish Kaushik, and I was really looking forward to reading it.

Now, I cannot review this book since I didnt complete it, I just sped-read through and skimmed over other parts (never said the skimming was entirely useless) so I have a basic idea of the story. I couldnt really get into the author's writing style and while I was hoping for a portrayal of the Bangladeshi immigrant community, the book is more concerned with the life of the protagonist, Nazneen, who marries a man twice her age and settles down with him in Brick Lane. All very dull and dreary. I laughed (in disbelief) when a Bangladeshi mid-wife is described as being so hungry she could have eaten the baby she delivered, the single light (?) spot in a depressing narrative.

Gah! 3 lousy reads in as many days. I think, tonight, I'll paint my nails instead.

The birthday.

The shrill ringing of the doorbell woke her up. She lay still, trying to ignore the madman outside but just as she had convinced herself he'd gone away, it started again.

If it was the doodhwala come to collect his payment a day early, she was going to kill him, she thought savagely. Wasnt a body entitled to a sleep-in on their birthday?

A young boy was standing on the doorstep grinning widely.

"For you, madam," he said, carrying two flower arrangements.

He seemed to think it a matter of congratulations that she had rated not one, but two, and his joy at bringing these excellent tidings was palpable. She sighed, no she really couldn't send him away with a flea in his ear. Instead she handed over a generous tip.

Both were orchid arrangements, that sensuous, elegant flower she loved. These could only have come from two men. Even the flowers they contained revealed something about the personalities of the senders. One had the most vivid selection of orange & yellow orchids, the colours clashing together in a harmony of exuberance and joy, while the orchids in the second arrangement were a pure stately white.

She pulled out the cards, laughed out loud at the first which had a sappy love poem and was signed flamboyantly - Akash, while the other one said simply 'Have a nice day, R'. Rajan, Rajan, she thought, mentally shaking her head at him. Private & reserved as usual.

After arranging them in the living room to her satisfaction, she wondered about the rest of the day. On a sudden impulse, she called the magazine and took the day off. When was the last time she'd treated herself on a birthday? She had a dinner date with Akash, but now was for her alone. Akash's gift this year was a package at the exclusive Kavya salon. She would go today, get pampered, get her hair done, so she would be glowing in the evening.

Thinking of Akash, in her eyes, he was perfect - intelligent, thoughtful, kind, generous, loving. She and Rajan had a standing date on their birthdays, this changed slightly after the divorce. When Akash found out he had been swift to continue the tradition. Rajan wasnt backward these days, but he wasnt in the city and she loved Akash for wanting to make it special for her. She wondered if she would tell him, Rajan had been giving out some very direct hints about getting back together and she kept putting the decision off.

Who would have thought at the time of their divorce that they would ever be at this point now? It had been particularly acrimonious, two strong controlling personalities determined to hurt the other person worse, but their little boy had been the saving grace. Both loved him dearly and their determination to shield him had caused them to bond again and they had grown into a very easy-going and honest friendship. They could talk to each other about anything under the sun, from career decisions, monetary matters, to discussing their various relationships.

Truth to tell, they were now even better friends since the divorce and this was one of the reasons why the decision was so difficult. Did she want to lose such a hard-earned friend? She hadnt married all these years, hadnt even came close.

But, this was Rajan, she had carried a torch for him over the years, they'd been through a trial by fire together .... and that their son was so well-balanced was proof of how well they did together. Her boy was perfect allright, she thought fiercely, wiping away the easy tears surreptitiously. The girl, Sarita, massaging her gave her a startled look, but she closed her eyes and allowed the repetitive massaging soothe her back into happy somnolence.

Driving home, she thought ruefully that Sarita must have had magic hands and had bewitched her. What else could explain the nail polish colour she currently sported, Purple Passion??? She gazed at her feet aghast anew, ever since the divorce she had been a Bashful Brown or a Pretty in Pink. Akash wouldnt notice, but Rajan would, he always noticed everything about her. Was her subconscious sending her signals ? She would think about it later, HAD to think about it later, for now she would concentrate on a pleasant evening.

She selected a deep purple, crushed silk saree with golden undertones to the rich colour, tinted her lips with a matching shade, delicately applied mascara and was just slipping her feet into a pair of particularly frivolous sandals when she heard the door open. Akash bounded up the stairs, handsome in a charcoal-gray suit with the special smile he reserved for her and enveloped her in a bear hug.

"Happy birthday, gorgeous!," he said, his eyes twinkling warmly as he bent to kiss her.

She laughed, delighted "So, where are we going?" as he ushered her out of the house.

"The Blue Dahlia. I know how you love sushi, Ma!"

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