Alphabet Soup for Lovers

anita

The world is a canvas, they say, wide enough to paint with a myriad hues or write a poignant paragraph. Break the limits, be creative they tell you. But Anita Nair goes beyond that in her latest fiction ‘Alphabet Soup for Lovers’. In fact she redefines creativity itself with her unique storytelling format, a blend of alphabets, food, and forbidden love that whets your appetite leaving you wanting more!
From A for Appalam, though I for the ubiquitous Inji, and Z for Zigartanda, the story narrated by Komathi the cook, flows through her delectable dishes encompassing the aroma of Leena’s forbidden love cooking in the picturesque vessel of Annamali hills.
It is visible from the ‘A’ that Leena’s life with KK, the perfect non -interfering husband lacks the crispiness of the perfectly fried Appalam. But with the entrance of the seemingly unreachable B for ‘Badam’ or actor Shoola -her life spices up a bit. The stolen kisses, the gleam in Leena’s eyes, and walks in the scenic tea plantation at Annamali unfolds the story of love, of passion and emotion that knows no age or marital status. The comfort of each other company is all that matters to Leena and Shoola. None of this goes unnoticed by Komathi, who believes in making her own rules for the perfect ‘Ooorkai’ (pickles), refusing to follow tradition whether it is in the making of pickles or her life. Yet she can’t digest the fact that the child she cares for so much, is trying to live life on her own terms. As she confesses:
” Sometimes we must make our own rules, depending on what works for us. Which is why I don’t understand myself. When Leena is making her own rules, why do I find myself unable to accept or approve?”
Does Komathi’s love for Rayar have anything to do with this? Or is it that she cares too much?
Does Leena walk away with Shoola leaving a loveless marriage?
Read and find out! But here is something to keep you guessing…..
“An old love. A new love. The limbo in between. The waiting. The wanting. The not knowing what becomes of your tomorrow.”
The least we can do when we find a really creative author is to BUY HER BOOK AND READ IT!
Thank you Anita Nair for redefining creativity!

The Bestseller She wrote- Ravi Subramanian

bestseller

Ravi Subramanian’s novel is what it claims to be,  a cocktail of love betrayal and redemption. The plot spins around the hot and happening banker com novelist Aditya Kapoor who has it all- money, career fame and a loving wife. Between promoting his new novel to interviewing new recruits at IIM he meets Shreya who wants to be a bestselling author. Taking her  as his protégé Aditya gets involved with her as her guide and lover. So is it a   “Pati patni or woh” kind of story ? Not really read on…

The seduction which begins at an IIM lecture, goes through the recruitment process and ends in Shreya landing a job at the same bank as Aditya’s after a strong recommendation to his friend Sanjay of HR .Shreya’s single minded determination and fierce ambition comes to the fore as she pushes him to do her bidding right from speaking to his publisher to reading drafts of her novel and editing it. But before he realizes it Aditya is pulled into the quagmire of a forbidden affair, and is on the verge of facing harassment charges, and almost loses his wife to a dreaded disease. Does he redeem himself? If so how?  Does Shreya love him or is he just a means to an end? Does her book see the light of day? does it become a bestseller

That’s for you to read and find out! Ravi is an engaging storyteller .

The plot, the narrative and characterization has all the trappings of a successful Bollywood blockbuster, and as the book proclaims, will soon be one.

Ravi Subramanian brings in real life superstars into his fiction , making Aditya Kapoor almost real! Chetan Bhagat, Anurag Kashyap and finally himself as a celebrated novelist! Good one that!

If you like the Karan Johar kind of movies you will love this book.

For me it was a relaxing read on a 3 hour flight. It’s the kind of Indian fiction you can read once, but will I watch the movie? aah!  Well! maybe not.

 

Menaka’s Choice

 

The untold story of  the divine nymph Menaka who is both sensual and spiritual, who loves and looses, sacrifices and seduces. A poignant tale of an apsara’s choices who is not a lowly seductress, as popular portrayal would have us believe, but a woman of dignity , courage and above all self respect and compassion.

Though set in surreal surroundings and in an epic era, Kavita Kane unveils the character of  a strong woman who is truly a woman of substance. Whether it is being aware of  her own sexuality  which she uses subtly to win an argument with Indra or the raw anger with which she exposes his devious means in banishing her love Vasu, she comes across as a woman who is prepared to face the wrath of a king to stand up for herself, for truth and love. She is not merely a  divine dancer who “loves and leaves”, but a woman who has the courage of conviction, for whom conscience and honor are paramount. Her declaration that she will not adorn Indra’s court with her dancing, but that he will “pine for her..” , brings out the fiery character of a woman who had loved truly and lost. A woman born from the mind of Brahma- a ravishing beauty but who is exceptionally intelligent.

Her “choice” to help Indra in accepting his mission to seduce Vishwamitra, makes the reader wonder for a  moment why she would accept to do something for a conniving king  who was responsible for her loosing her love and her child.  Was it revenge or ruse ?  Was she just following her dharma? You can read and have your own opinion about it. It has layers of emotion wrapped in evocative storytelling!

The famous seduction of Vishwamitra, unlike popular belief unfolds as a beautiful story of true love and an ultimate sacrifice. A love that gives more than it takes, a strength that spurs Vishwamitra on a journey to becoming a Bramharishi.

Many more instances of her motherly care,  her passionate and true love for Vishwamitra, her anger when she hears of the violation of Rambha by Ravana, all illustrate her almost “human” side.

Our epics are rich and lend themselves to retelling and reinterpretation, but Kavita Kane’s characterization and retelling whether it is in Karna’s wife  Sita’s sister or Menaka’s Choice endows the personality with values and emotions that one can relate to easily- they seem like women from real life -you can almost reach out and touch them

Its a must read for all who love Indian fiction.

 

 

 

 

Vishwamitra- by Dr Vineet Agarwal

Brought up on a sumptuous diet of Amar Chitra Katha and grandmas stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the name Vishwamitra conjured up images of Menaka and Shakuntala and reminded me of sage Vashishta. The picture of a sage  with a kamandalu, who was part of the epics but never a hero, Just  another sage who had the ability to curse and cure and teach and guide his disciples. Then came Vineet Agarwals “Vishwamitra” and changed it all, putting Vishwamitra at the center of my imagination.

After reading this book, I have grown to admire Vishwamitra’s character as an exemplary example of grit, determination, ambition and perseverance that a mere “manav” is capable of. Dr Vineet has done a commendable job in providing a narrative that defines the sage as an achiever who reached for the stars, quite literally created a new solar system.

Though born a Kshatriya , he had the streak of the divine and spiritual thanks to the exchange of the potion that would beget worthy sons, between Satyavathi and queen Ratna of Kanyakubja. He is a feared warrior and discharges the duties of a King brilliantly, and is able to conquer and expand his kingdom. The story also reveals a certain arrogance of King Vishwarth (earlier name of Vishwamitra) which is visible in his urge to obtain Kamadhenu the holy cow from Sage Vashishta , and his ultimate defeat at the hands of Vashsihta  which spurs him towards higher goals, and ultimately leads him to become a Bramharishi !

Vishwamitra’s journey towards becoming a Brahmarishi which starts with the single minded determination to exceed Vashishta’s powers takes him through severe penance, hardship, a torrid love affair with divine nymph Menaka and the revelation of the powerful Gayatri Mantra to the world! He also creates a parallel universe for Trishanku who seeks his blessing.

There are little stories and characters that walk in and out of the story, some of whom you may have heard before, some other you will see in a new light, I don’t want to reveal much because I recommend you beg borrow or buy the book and read it.

A warrior, a king, a powerful Brahmarishi  and spiritual guru who revealed the Gayatri Mantra- this take of Vishwamitra by Vineet Agarwal is worth reading.

The author also has a blog- Decode Hindu Mythology- do follow- it’s refreshing.

CUB REPORTER

sketch

The summer of 1990 in Bangalore. It was a perfect day as I walked towards my first job as a cub reporter in Deccan Herald with dreams in my heart, a prayer on my lips and brand new Bata slippers on my feet. I was going to meet the news editor for my first assignment. Apprehensive and excited I trotted up the stairs to meet a slightly old balding man sitting in the Centre of a big hall, and people on typewriters clicking away around him( For all ‘ye young ones, computers weren’t part of a journalists a life yet) Without looking he gestured to me to sit down, looked at me and asked me “You have come to meet your mother? Father?”- I replied an emphatic NO!- and introduced myself as one of the reporters selected after a grilling interview. Visibly surprised he smiled and said “you look like someone out of school”!  I found out later that the smile was a near miracle which not many witnessed. He gave me my first assignment, a press briefing with a minister. He liked my first article and from then on took a personal interest in my career, but had the terrible habit of referring to me as “nursery school escapist’ everytime he spoke to me. Well I endured that, as I came to learn and love the newspaper office for all its din and bustle, fast paced mad activity with loads of fun!

 

Since I was the youngest entrant I was indulged as well as teased a bit. Sometimes the line of demarcation between indulgence and teasing was so subtle I dint know what to think.  One such situation was when I was asked to do a series of stories on wildlife. When I entered the office that morning I found quite a few of my colleagues giving me knowing nods and smiles, which for the life of me I couldn’t decipher. Anyway the editor called and sniggering all the time told me to travel to Mysore to do a story on a particular species of a gorilla which was becoming extinct. This was a female gorilla. I took a train to Mysore and met my Mysore correspondent Krishna Vattam who with a smirk on his face introduced me to this creature and said- “Ok heres  Sumathi!”..and laughed endlessly. After he caught his breath he looked at my puzzled expression and said “Gorillas name hahahaah!! is Sumathi!”. As you might have guessed my next day at office was a ragging session. But somehow the similarity dint seem to end with the name alone…ok before your imagination takes off..tarry a while!

The zoo authorities decided to mate this gorilla with another from a similar species just to ensure the species lives on. At the same time my father was looking for a “suitable groom” for me. No prizes for guessing my predicament! So they got in a French gorilla and at the same time I was introduced to a ‘prospective groom’ from the tyre industry, whom I refused to even speak to since he was overweight and bald. Well she refused to mate with the French guy too. The next was a German gorilla , She kicked him in the face injuring him and he almost ran from her. Well, my next prospective groom was a guy from BEL, who was so shy he kept looking at his feet. Well, you know I love conversation, so I decided we dint get along. Finally they got a gorilla named Polo.She accepted him. That was when I met my husband and  said “Yes I will”!

After a few years I moved on from the publication, was on another assignment, and forgot about the whole incident. One fine day  I received a call from my former colleague in Deccan and we chatted. The same day I received calls from quite a few  other  former colleagues from the same publication. Mysterious!  I latched on to one of them demanding an explanation as to why I was top of their minds today. She said ‘Look at page 4 Deccan Herald today” . well my gorilla counterpart had passed away peacefully in her sleep…and thank god..I was alive and kicking!

The hands of providence had decided there were to be no more coincidences. This was one of my  most memorable assignment as cub reporter!

The Goddess

Mysore! The city of palaces with its old world charm, memories of summer holidays with cousins, trekking up Chamundi hills to get a glimpse of the divine goddess, the Dasarafestivities, the smell of jasmine, the craving for  my aunts  home cooked food and the love of literature which I share with my uncle beckons me every year.

This year too I was on the train chugging along, fond memories and happiness in my heart. Smiling involuntarily I turned around to see a child wailing for Chocolates which a hawker was selling but the parents refused to buy, two newlyweds talking and laughing in a world of their own, a man immersed in a book, and a face that struck me as familiar! Where had I seen this lady before? I knew her! But who was she? I wondered as leaned forward   to get a better look at her face, hoping to recognize this woman.  “ANJALI”! I called out realizing who this was! She was a friend from college! The one we always referred to as “Goddess”. My mind immediately conjured up images from the past…the smell of joss sticks, the rendering of the Durga Sapthashatahi, Anjali elegantly performing the classical Bharathnatyam steps to the beat of the Midangam. I got up and moved towards her as she smiled at me vaguely acknowledging my greeting with a smile that was neither open hearted or encouraging. Something was wrong. “Hi” she said feebly. “How are you?” By then a fellow passenger had generously offered me a seat next to her in exchange for my seat at the window.

I sat down next to Anjali and we spoke about a few common friends. As we chatted, I wondered what happened to the vivacious girl who would laugh at anything and everything. The talented young woman who was part of every cultural festival at college. She had  won every competition she entered. HerArengateram –the stage debut performance was a huge affair, which was attended by film stars, politicians and theatre personalities. The dance reviews in the press were all praises for her dance and her beauty.  Anjali was the daughter of a successful businessman and needless to say very popular at college. Most girls, including me were a bit jealous of the confidence she exuded at the same time loved to hang out with her. We were a gang of giggly girls who did our bit of bunking classes and sneaking out to movies, but made sure we scored well. So what had happened? Why was she looking so forlorn, a little lost, and definitely sad?

I decided to ask. “Anjali is everything all right? You actually seem to be uncomfortable with me around? Do you want be to..go back to my seat?”.

“OH No” she replied “Do stay” … I sat down hesitantly. Unsure of how to continue the conversation with my slightly unresponsive friend, I asked , “You are travelling to Mysore for a dance performance?”…..and all hell broke loose! I realized I had said something that opened the flood gates and tears streamed down her face. She was sobbing. I put my arm around her and did my best to calm her. After a few moments she opened up slightly and told me her story.

She had married into a prosperous family. Kaushik was good looking and successful. The marriage was a grand affair. Anjali’s wiped her tears and showed me some bruises on her arm saying “my hubbys gift” , touching them gingerly tears cascading down her cheeks. I needed no more information to realize that Anjali was a victim of abuse.  The outbursts of violence had started, hardly 2-3 months after their marriage, when she had agreed to a performance at Mysore’s prestigious Dasara festival, without consulting her husband. “No wife of mine will dance in front of others. Disgusting” he had declared. Anjali had argued that it was an art. “Art my foot“ he had said angrily, twisting her arm so hard it hurt “It’s cheap. Forget about it from now on. There’s enough for you to do at home”. Anjali insisted and was strongly arguing her case, when suddenly Kaushik’s hand had moved swiftly and slapped her hard. Shocked she could not react. Sitting down on the bed she had watched her husband walk out of the room muttering “That should take care of your art”. Several such episodes occurred regularly, for different reasons. Rice was overdone, the vegetable was not of his choice, or he simply dint like what she was wearing! “I always told  myself -this was NOT happening to me! Every morning I got up and tried to convince myself that this never happened. But it did again and again”, she said her voice reflecting the pain and abuse she was subjected to. More than the pain it was the humiliation that troubled her.She sensed in her an inability to retort which further ruined her confidence, killing her zest for life completely.

She told me that her parents had blamed her squarely for his misconduct; never for a moment did they listen to her side of the story. She should know how to “adjust”. What was the necessity to quarrel over the pursuit of an insignificant hobby? Anjali had tried to explain “But mama I am made for dance. I love it! And for Kaushik dance is an excuse. Even if I stopped dancing he will find something else he doesn’t want me to do”. That fell on deaf ears! She felt defeated, stuck in a situation which she could neither live through nor walk out of. If she were to walk out the marriage, which she knew was the sane ting to do, where would she go? What were the options? What would she do? Her parents’ had made it clear they had nothing to do with her. She was a prisoner! A prisoner in the comfort of a plush home and artistic interiors! The always confident Anjali had lost the battle. Her self -esteem was at an all-time low. She felt lonely, with no strength to fight Kaushik, no dreams in her heart, no dance in her life, no desire to even get up in the morning! There was no hope, nothing she looked forward to. She had for months felt adrift and aimless.

One day as she went about her mundane tasks at home as she heard the sound of dancing feet! “Tha Kitta kitta Thai”.. The sound ad come from house opposite Anjalis! They had new people in the neighborhood. She had decided to pay them a visit. As she opened the gate, she saw a group of students learning dance. This was a dance school! She involuntarily smiled. The dance teacher returned her smile. Anjali had introduced herself as a dance teacher and a few minutes later the owner of the school had offered Anjali a job to teach the afternoon batch. She would get some money and Kaushik wouldn’t even know about it. More than that she had dance back in her life now. A small silver lining at the end of the tunnel! She was careful not to disclose or drop a hint to Kaushik. She lived in fear, sneaking out every afternoon, to teach her students. Praying that her husband would not call on the landline or decide to come home in the afternoon. The earlier Anjali would have defied her parents to do what she wanted, but this Anjali was a different. She lived in hiding, with the fear of being discovered.  Her fear of Kaushik haunted her every day. But her love for dance kept her going! However she could not hide it for long. One day Kaushik had returned in the afternoon to see her walk into the neighbor’s house had followed her inside and seen her teaching the students. He had quietly walked away and waited for her to return. As Anjali entered he kicked the front door shut, holding her by her long hair and banged her head against the wall. Caught off guard she had slowly recovered and touching her bleeding forehead  and looked at Kaushik. She felt a surge of anger! Her mind conjured images of goddess Kali ! Just as Kali had seethed in anger at evil , she seethed in rage at Kaushik. The bubble of endurance burst had burst! Ik Kaushik was saying “You choose dance over your husband?….do you think…” ,,before he could complete his sentence something hit him on the head! It was the vase on the center table! He looked up reeling from the pain and saw Anjali holding it in her hand  ready to strike again .She was now the goddess herself who refused tolerate evil. Anjali stood towering over Kaushik screaming “Don’t you dare raise your hand again! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! It hurts doesn’t it? That’s how I felt every time you hit me. Don’t you dare come anywhere near me again!’. Throwing the vase on the ground with such fury that it lay shattered to smithereens on the ground. She HAD LOOKED AT Kaushik with disgust and had walked back slamming the bedroom door behind her. She had cried into the night.

The incidents of abuse had ceased after that. Anjali had shown that she could defend herself. She had continued her dance lessons and slowly her role in the school had increased and she was now being called to perform at a few events. “I earn a moderate amount. Enough to maintain myself. I am sure it will pick up.”. I patted her on the back and expressed that I was happy she had stood up to her tormentor. That was worthy of praise! Like Anjali put it “Never suffer abuse. Suffering it is as bad as encouraging it. It initially leaves you stunned, but one has to get over it”.

And Kaushik? Had she continued to live with him? “Of course not! I know enough not to trust him. The man is sadistic! He asked for a divorce and I willingly agreed”. Looking away she added “He begged me not to complain to the police. He offered money to buy my silence. But I did lodge a complaint. He received a warning and paid a hefty sum. This was not because I wanted to hurt him, but I wanted people to know that you can’t get away after committing a crime! Some people felt I should have forgiven him and not subjected him to public ridicule by complaining. But I did not want him to go scot free after what I had suffered. I was right wasn’t I?” she asked and I nodded.

“My parents were angry for some time, she continued, “ but they now realize what I have gone through. They have invited me to live with them. That’s where I am going.” I smiled at her, and she returned my smile, this time a lot less labored and more genuine. “And yes I am going for a performance to Mysore. Hey ! why don’t you come and see me perform?.. Do come..”  She said as she pulled out an invite from her bag handing it to me. “I will” I assured her.

As we were gathering our belongings to get off the train, she turned to me and said “I feel a lot lighter now. Thanks for listening”.

As I walked towards the auto stand the image of Anjali holding a trident and performing the dance of durga vanquishing evil Kaushik loomed large. All I could do was close my eyes and pay tribute!

Cut Like Wound

I loved Ladies Coupe and after a long interval,  picked up another Anita Nair- “Cut like Wound”, judging by the illustrations and excerpts which promised a good story set in our very own Bengaluru. Judging a book by its cover?! Preposterous! You may exclaim, Guilty as charged is my reply. But this technique has rarely failed me.

While the whiff of Bangalore attracted me, what kept me glued to my seat was the story that unfolded through the streets of Shivajinagar, ran through Corporator Ravi Kumar’s house on Inspector Gowda’s bullet!

The mystery of the serial killings had me turning the pages feverishly trying to finish it in one sitting and get to know the “Who dunnit”??!  bit, with complete faith in the quick witted, slightly flawed but nevertheless endearing Inspector Borei Gowda. Characters like Chikka and Akka helped thicken the plot leaving me completely confused about their intentions while Urmila’s open flirting with Inspector “Borei” as she fondly called him, added the necessary spice.

However as the mystery unfolded, it took me through a world of transgenders, that Anita has so touchingly portrayed. Take this para for instance, it gives you a peek into a world of their own, which for a purely biological reason they inhabit.

“With elaborate care he arranged himself so he was the woman from a Ravi Verma painting, fresh from a bath…..shy yet seeking more…all woman”

In the words of the hero inspector Borei- “The sexual preference of a man or woman does not make the freaks”

Anita Nair captures  their intense emotions sensitively. Their world borders on scary, but somehow she makes you accept that their world exists with a lot more empathy. Whether this was the intention of the fiction or not I do not know, but their world of transgenders is definitely an intrinsic part of it.

Anita Nair’s plot is well constructed, with all the twists and turns for a satisfying read, creating the perfect imagery and explaining the deepest emotions, exploiting the English language in a way few authors do today, while giving it just a bit of Bengaluru Oggarane(seasoning) .

The character of Inspector Gowda is as endearing as a Byomkesh Bakshi , an easily loveable desi version, who I hope will feature in yet another thriller.

 

Curse of Surya

Dev Prasad

 

Epic, mystery, terrorism, with a tad bit of romance and an international star cast- makes The Curse of Surya-by Dev Prasad “unputdownable”. It keeps you turning the pages until the mystery of the 5000 year old Shyamantaka is resolved.

It belongs to a genre of books that are quite popular in Indian fiction today, a rare combination of mythology and history, all rolled into a mystery in the present times. Curse of Bramha, Guardian of Halahala belong to this clan. I have a voracious appetite for these kinds of books, which is why I loved Dev’s book.

The story of the Shyamantaka is not unfamiliar to most Hindus. The jewel originally belonged to the Sun god, who wore it around his neck. It was said that whichever land possessed this jewel would never encounter any calamities and would always be prosperous. But it seemed to bring ill luck to the owner. The sun god gave it to King Satarajit, who later presented it to Prasenjit, who died while fighting a lion in the forest. The jewel ultimately reached Jambhavan the king of bears, who then surrendered it after a long battle to Krishna who had come to retrieve it. Satrajit was killed by Satadhanva for the jewel. Ultimately it was taken by Akrura and returned to Krishna.The jewel then rested in Dwarka, the city of Krishna. Archeology and history tell us that Dwarka was submerged in the ocean. Was the jewel lost here? Where did it go? did the sun god decide to take it?

This is where Dev’s storytelling genius comes into play. He weaves such a tale and offers a beautiful explanation, you almost believe it be true! Well it is a feasible theory!

His varied characters Sangeetha Rao, Davies, Anton, Inspector Nisha Sharma are intriguing. To top it all there are cryptograms and poems to decipher before Sangeetha can find the jewel.

Father of Godess Lakshmi

 Near the submerged palace

He who saw the divine form Prostrated in front daily

Who will help her? who is a friend? Who is the foe? Through helicopters, motorboats and yatches she makes her way towards unravelling the secret.

As the events unfold you are tempted to read the last page to know what exactly happened, but the twists and turns and surprising developments don’t let you do that. You have to read every page, every little incident- like a typical Agatha Christie Whodunnit.

Dev’s hold over geography and history shows that this is a well-researched book. It may be fiction, but like The Da Vinci code it makes you think if it is a possibility that the jewel is hidden somewhere in this world. In this world of immense possibilities and inexplicable mysteries who knows?!!

But what I do know and endorse is the reading of this book. I loved it..you will too