Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ramayana: The Game of Life- Shattered Dreams


Hmmm…

Usually when I write a book review, I always have a notion in my head that acts as a guiding light or a strong motivating factor that helps me paint the review canvas. It could be a thought from the author that really made an impression on me, or my personal feelings as I traversed the course of the story. However, this book has left me with a vague sense of irritation that perhaps something’s missing…

Photo courtesy: Anchal Sharma
The copy of Ramayana: The Game of Life - Shattered Dreams given to me by Blogadda

A few days back, I received Ramayana: The Game of Life – Shattered Dreams as a freebie to review. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and wondered what a great addition it would make to my book shelf. I opened the package and took my first good look at the cover. 

The first thing that jumped out at me were the words Game of Life instantly reminding me of the font of Game of Thrones. (Now, I am not saying Martin holds monopoly over the usage of this font. This is just my personal observation.) 

The second thing I noticed was the lovely body of a sleeping Rama. Rama on the cover page manages to look both agitated (symbolic of what is to come) and beautiful at the same time. I loved the use of bold background colours which add to the godliness of the sleeping divine basking in golden glow. 

Then my eyes fell on what appeared to be a badly photoshopped example of a chariot run by horses (though they look more like donkeys to me). Riding this chariot is a demoness (actually, she is Keikeyi, the woman and co-wife who saved her husband Dasratha from the demon Sambarasura) along with a man wearing a black kurta, jewels, scared expressions, and a garland fashioned from marigolds. This is Dasratha I suppose, the mighty king who fails to look like a king.

Then I opened the book with many expectations. I read the acknowledgement followed by the author’s note which exuded calmness. Though I was slightly miffed by the conjoined words, I let it slide thinking, “It happens, and it’s just one time.” From his writing style I could make out that this person would be someone who speaks after careful consideration and is well-articulated. I turned to the last page and felt instantly validated to know that the author is a motivational speaker.

Then I finally began to read the book. The story begins with Dasratha (the man whose chariot could move in ten directions!) having nightmares of an impending doom. He wakes up and takes the decision of crowning his eldest son Rama as the new King of Ayodhya. And so begins the saga we all know and have practically grown up listening to.

So what was new about this book, and why should anyone read it?

I would say the answer lies in the concept of the book. I like how the author has made use of a genius work such as Valmiki muni’s Ramayana and told the people that it does have real world applications, and the philosophy, actions, decisions, and mantras of yesteryears can be applied today, especially in a world like ours!

What I liked about the book?

·        To me, the footnotes and pearls of wisdom dropped here and there in the pages of this book were the essence and made Ramayana: The Game of Life - Shattered Dreams (sequel to Ramayana: The Game of Life – Rise of the Sun Prince) a worthwhile read. The footnotes served to explain Sanskrit terminology and further elucidate concepts. These I found to be very nice and helpful.

·        I loved the Trijata story where Rama tests Trijata muni before giving him so much property. It shows that things when achieved through hard work feel rightfully earned. By this charitable action Rama was able to give without making another feel obliged. And that is a splendid deed. 

·        I absolutely loved the part about ‘True Communication’. It’s the part where Rama puts a garland around Sita’s neck and Sita in return weaves an imaginary garland around Rama’s neck by moving her beautiful eyes. It was incredibly romantic and speaks volumes about the silent communication between a husband and wife.

·        Another noteworthy thing is the character of Bharat which is amazing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is actually my favourite! What’s not to like? He is an action man. The guy who thinks critically, and this is evident from the way he passes with flying colours all these mission tests to determine his ability and potential as the next best thing in town, i.e. the formidable ruler of Ayodhya in place of Rama.

Here are the tests he is subjected to:

·        The test of 'Confronting Criticism' (by Queen Kaushalya)
·        The test of 'Confronting Subconscious Desires' (by Vasistha, the spiritual guru of the entire Ikshvaku Dynasty.
·        The test of 'Confronting Confusing Choices' (by Vasistha)
·        The test of 'Confronting Blame and Praise' (by Guha, King of the Nishada tribe)
·        The test of 'Confronting Accountability' (by Bharadwaja Muni, the expert seer of past, present, and future) 
·        The test of 'Confronting Irresistible Temptations' (by Bharadwaja Muni)

Here are a few things that bothered me:

·        I didn't get the Bollywood like dialogues. In a book that spans mere 387 pages, you can’t show too much of drama without validating the same with proof. Had I not been aware of the Ramayana story, I’d be like “Why are these Ayodhya people crazy about Rama and Sita? What has this couple done for the people besides looking radiantly divine?"

·        I don’t get the horrible grammar! This is just not acceptable. While the author seems to have had clear thoughts put in sentences that feel weirdly constructed at times, the editing is just plain bad! When I read a book I do not like to see words strung together like Siamese twins. Had there been a couple of errors, I would not have even bothered bringing this up. But trust me, there are just far too many for a book published at this level.

·        Easy to please Shiv and Brahma keep on granting wishes all the time (more to Ravana and his son actually!) and if Ravana didn't have to play any role in this particular part of the story why was he even mentioned. It would have been better to either omit him entirely in this part, or to extend the story of this part to the point where he makes some dramatic entry, and we as readers are filled with anticipation for what’s to come.

·        I didn't particularly like the portrayal of Sita in the second half of the book. The Sita I have in mind, the one who has been etched perhaps in all of our minds is this steadfast, sincere, and regal woman radiating a goddess like aura. That divine lady does not gel with this “I am too happy frolicking in the hills” silly princess. She feels absolutely unreal to me.

·        Lakshman is making Rama and Sita’s bed, he’s preparing their seats (decorating with the seasonal flowers no less!), constructing their house wherever the trio goes, fetching them fruits, he is collecting logs and paraphernalia for conducting prayers, and he is in fact NOT SLEEPING! (Lakshman tells the goddess of sleep Nidradevi to go and give his fair share of sleep to his wife Urmila, just so he could watch over and protect his beloved brother and sister in law while they slept.) And I don’t get this slavish behaviour because all Rama and Sita seem to be doing during this exile time are watching sunrise and sunset, visiting munis, resting under the trees, or laughing at mating geese! (The exile seems more like a picnic here to me.)

Here’s what Kaushalya has to say about Sita, “At least Rama is a rugged warrior and Vishwamitra has trained him well about the vagaries of forest life, but Sita is a delicate flower. She has not experienced hardship. I made sure that She never set foot on hard ground. She always sat on a bed, a soft seat, an ornate swing or my lap…”

·        I don’t understand (this is because of my lack of knowledge) if Rama knew about the promise Dasratha had made to Keikeyi’s father about making their yet unborn child the next king of Ayodhya, then why didn't he just give up the throne. Why did he accept Dasratha’s decision and cause all this emotional turmoil for practically EVERYBODY in the kingdom? Was this to fulfill a bigger role he was meant for? To be instrumental in doing something that has already been written and for which he had no say? Also, it shows Dasratha as an oath-breaker and Keikeyi the warrior woman wrongly accused of being the villainess. 

·         Author: Shubha Vilas     
·         Genre: Mythology
·         Publisher: Jaico Books
·         Publication Year: 2015
·         Number of Pages: 387
·         Price: Rs. 350
·         My Rating: 2.5/5

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Kitchen Confidential: Review

“Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . .”
                                    - Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

A veritable chronicle of his professional life, Kitchen Confidential reveals the dark side of the culinary world with much chutzpah. The book is a fast paced ride filled with some funny and some not so funny episodes. There are parts that might be just a bit shocking to your sensibilities, parts that are simply extraordinary, parts that will tickle your taste receptors, and parts that might (in all honesty) fill you with disgust. However, beneath all these parts lurks an honest soul, and Kitchen Confidential is Tony’s memoir of both tremendous failures and successes in the cut throat culinary underbelly. It wouldn't be wrong if I said that this rumbustious exposé is a must read for all those who possess and profess passion for cooking. 


Kitchen-Confidential-Adventures-in-the-Culinary-Underbelly, anthony-bourdain, book, autobiography

There are many things I liked about KC. And, I definitely liked the fact that Bourdain has been as critical of himself (perhaps harder) as he has been of the other characters. This says a lot about the kind of person he is. At first, he comes across as this badass swashbuckling dopey CIA graduate with a litany of failed restaurants forming the bulk of his resume, but then he grows and transforms, and when he does that, when he soaks in that learning from each failed attempt at the grandiose (all the while smoking pot), it is a treat to watch! And this my dear reader is what makes Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly a genuine and delightful affair.

It could have easily gone the other way, but thankfully it didn't and Bourdain’s “kitchenese” coupled with his brusque New York attitude are quite endearing actually.

Why?

Because that’s his domain and he loves it, lives it, and thrives on it!

I loved everything about the book, especially the unexpected way Bourdain began the journey of his gastronomic adventure, coincidentally traipsing around what better place but France! It was the way he wrote about his first encounter with food as something to think about and savour rather than a substance one (to put it in his words), “stuffed in one’s face when hungry” on that transatlantic voyage to his ancestral homeland that got me hooked. He writes,

“This was something of a discovery for a curious fourth-grader whose entire experience of soup to this point had consisted of Campbell's cream of tomato and chicken noodle. I'd eaten in restaurants before, sure, but this was the first food I really noticed. It was the first food I enjoyed and, more important, remembered enjoying. I asked our patient British waiter what this delightfully cool, tasty liquid was.

'Vichyssoise,' came the reply.”

Another important moment in the life of the nine-year old came when he tasted his first oyster which he refers as ‘this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive.’ 
Interspersed with story of his life, Bourdain munificently doles out very helpful suggestions and tips on how one can garnish food in the haute cuisine way, what kind of food to order on what days in a restaurant, and also the essential quality items along with the best brands (He gives you the brand names too!) one must have in a kitchen that will always give your food an edge over the others. These I personally found to be very average. But then, this could also be because we watch too many cooking shows and are quite exposed to the tricks of gourmet food plating and presentation.

Some of the quotes I quite liked were:

  • “My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.”
  • “No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.”
  • “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don't have.”
  • "So you want to be a chef? You really, really, really want to be a chef? If you've been working in another line of business, have been accustomed to working eight-to-nine-hour days, weekends and evenings off, holidays with the family, regular sex with your significant other; if you are used to being treated with some modicum of dignity, spoken to and interacted with as a human being, seen as an equal — a sensitive, multidimensional entity with hopes, dreams, aspirations and opinions, the sort of qualities you'd expect of most working persons — then maybe you should reconsider what you'll be facing when you graduate from whatever six-month course put this nonsense in your head to start with.”
  • “Assume the worst. About everybody. But don't let this poisoned outlook affect your job performance. Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn't prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining.”
Kitchen Confidential is a well written tale of the chef’s life; it will show you the world of cooking like you had never imagined. And most importantly, it will instill in you a new respect and admiration for these people who work all day, on all days, and very especially on holidays to tantalize your taste buds.

Felicitating the bonhomie of all epicureans, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly packs a powerful punch!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Call Me Crazy!

If I jotted down all of my thoughts people would call me a raving lunatic. Good thing I am lazy! My sister actually thinks I am one and leaves no opportunity to chance to comment on my being a loony tune. But that’s forgivable. What are siblings for anyway? However, there’s something that’s been bothering me for quite some time now. I think it would be better if I just said it out aloud once and for all.

I think I am crazy.

Actually No. I don’t think that I am crazy just that I say I am crazy so that you might not find my crazy activities too crazy or weird. Anyways, considering the deadly simple life I lead with no crazy activity during the whole day or night for that matter, how can I call myself crazy. I am just being humble here, nothing else and… and… and… trying not to be a little too critical of me as I mostly am.

So, why did I say that I am crazy to begin with?

That’s because I sometimes think I am crazy. Scratch that!

I think I am crazy most of the times.

Why?

Because I am always trying to judge myself from the normal standards. But then what if those normal standards are crazy and that I am normal?

Frustrated? Don’t know what the crazy heck am I rambling about?

Courtesy: Objectivised/Creative Commons/Flickr

Don’t worry! This piece of writing isn't going to be that long. How do I know that? Call me crazy, I was only trying to hold you so that you might read this worthless monologue which was supposed to say something, but in all honesty is turning out to be a really pointless piece of crap with nothing to say except for a shit load of words!

You’re asking me to do something?

What?!

You want me to think, improvise and lend it some meaning?

But what can I do?

I can’t. You see, I am having fun writing something pointless and seeing how words can just be wasted without having to mean something! It is awesome. I’m feeling awesome! I feel so awesome that I wanna draw a smiley though this page and do a happy rumba, though it might look totally ridiculous here. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Love is Many Things...

“Love is many things, but mostly a remembrance of things past. It’s a memory of a time when you were young and naive. It’s a wisp- a figment that despite its immaterial condition makes you go on. And so, all your life you go ahead thinking of the past, trying to be that past.”

More often than I should care not, I dwell on this monosyllabic English word ‘Love’. More often than happiness it has been a major cause of concern and unnecessary tears. It has caused me to spend my attention on itself far too much. As I am growing, I regret it I think. But then I could easily have regretted not having it.

So what is love and what does it really mean to be in love and in a relationship? Is it the same thing? Or two different things connected by a cord so strong and unseen that you wind up considering them synonymous?

Honestly? I don’t know. 

All I know is that love is some emotion that makes you want to care for some person/persons much more than you do for the others. So is that it? Is that all? 

People say it’s the happiest thing you could ever have in your life. 

I remember being happy once.

think I have become disillusioned now. And I think I used to create too much drama about Love when really there was no need. I think I can love but to expect anything out of it is self-defeating. ‘I Love You’ only says ‘I’ love ‘you’, and not ‘you’ love ‘me’. My problem is that I assume ‘you love me’ goes hand in hand with ‘I love you’ like an unspoken complementary pact. So all I have to do to alleviate my problems is to love you without expecting anything from you back. Because really, to hope that you will do anything for me once, a hundred times, forever or never is just so horribly wrong. It is wrong on so, so many levels that it will be my demise if I did not change my perception of love.

You could do something for me, or you could not do, it doesn't matter anymore. But then why do I feel this pain in my heart? Like it’s been pierced and gouged. 

I think of you when I think of Love. Why are you so in my thoughts? Maybe it is not you I am speaking to. Maybe it’s your face that masks my imaginary friend.


Courtesy: Daniella Brown/Creative Commons/Flickr

I am not strong. If what I think love is, then it is only for the strong. And I think it will perhaps come to me one day when my mind has become resilient enough to withstand you. 

Till then I am letting you go...


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

To Kahlil, With Love…

Courtesy: Simon Howden

If I could meet you,
I’d stand before you and say nothing.
Words won’t do a thing.
But if I remembered in future having loved you in the past,
I’d stand in future,
Someday, I’d stand naked in front of you to say nothing,
Hoping you’d know what I wish to convey,
Because we've been fashioned from the same clay of the one you like to call ‘Unseen’.
When that blessed silence would enclose us,
Your heart would resonate with mine,
And you’d know that I love you…

That I have always loved you ever since I saw your picture in your work.

A Visit to my Inner Sanctum

Sometimes when I sit doing nothing, those very few sometimes I’m able to hear my heart best. Sometimes it beats in a way that lets me know that things in my life are about to change. You know, just a little premonition of what’s to come and what to expect or not expect maybe. But mostly, it beats to keep me alive needing no acknowledgement, no appreciation or gratitude. It beats the same and not quite the same. Often times I have chanced upon my heart beats singing in different rhythms, chorusing their intent. It’s like they have a language of their own- a secret language.

Those rare times when I sit to hear my heart speak, I get a peek inside this vast yet small world that is alive with a life of its own. I enter it, taking baby tentative steps. I lift my skirt just a little as I proceed barefoot and find myself facing the sea. It is here that I hear the voices. All those silenced desires, ambitions, regrets and secret wishes. This is my haven.  My inner sanctum.



I walk the shore. The air is so fresh here. It unlocks my mind immediately and for the first time I open my eyes and stare at my vastness. The enormity of it is staggering and I think it scares me a little. But then follows the elation and I have never felt so happy. I will never be as exultant as I am right this instant.  I observe. I see my eyes brimmed with tears. I always cry when I see something beautiful. I always cry when my heart is solitary in that beautiful loneliness. I smile as I cry, brushing a stray drop as it falls down my cheek.

I can see my life spread out before me. Wave after wave carries with it an important moment of my life. And as I see them crashing against the shores, I wonder if I am contented, I wonder if a tiny little soul like me is happy and okay in this world. I wonder if I’ll ever be held gently as if I’m precious, if I’ll ever find some protective warmth when the waves around me get too cold. Sometimes my heart actually finds contentment. Other times it wails silently, and some other “other times” it remains in a passive state of activity. And I think mostly when I am contented I am alone. But even that loneliness has a certain poignancy to it that I love so much. This has always been my natural state. I do not think I’ll be able to explain it to anybody. After all making any “body” understand you is such a waste of time.

So I go on looking deep into myself. And then Life suddenly changes her pace. She becomes slow in her movements and quite gracious indeed. And I realize that somehow she manages to give me the space and time I need to savour what I have and dream of what I don’t. But then so miser I am in visiting my inner sanctum and so less do I give to myself. Funny, isn't it? To have to think so much before giving a little piece of time to myself. I find myself forgetting what brings me life when I step out of my haven. I am scared, and I think a part of me wishes to put on the facade of life herself minus the voices of my sanctuary. However, I will not do that. 

"The sea is my soul, my mirror and reflection. And now that I have seen myself, I want to remember my visage, so that when I step out of my sanctum I venture into my everyday life with strength and humility. I hope not to be counted among those that lived without living but among those who were conscious of their life force and its beauty."

I have always believed that you don’t go through life, you take it along with you, just like you carry your heart, its billion heart beats and longings. I hope that this visit serves as a reminder of those dreams that I often forget. So, I’m thinking, I’ll take it one day at a time, starting today.

Today, I just wish to be “me”. I want to be quiet today. I am not contented but surely I can be calm. I want to sit and watch, watch the skies, and see my words fill up my diary. I want to do everything and nothing at all.  Today, I wish to rest my head against my desk, close my eyes and drift into myself.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Albert Camus: The Artist


Each time a writer writes he puts a little of his soul into his work. As his work grows, a spectator is allowed a peek inside his mind. To an onlooker, at first it might seem that he is caught up in a kaleidoscope of the myriad shades of glass as seen in white light. It is bedazzling. So, the onlooker must be careful to shield his eyes or better yet close them for his own good. These shards are nothing but pieces of the artist’s soul. He embeds each piece in his work. In some he puts a little of his spirit, in some others he dips these shards into hues of other people’s reality and personality and thus gives us a reflection of his own soul and inadvertently a picture of the life and time of which he is an inextricable part. He stands at the center witnessing life with both its point and pointlessness or meaning and meaninglessness.


Courtesy: Ehnemark, Jan via Wikimedia Commons

A beautiful line comes to my mind as I think of this. 

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." 
-Albert Camus

I don’t think that I would be able to go on here without mentioning Camus and his contribution to literature and philosophy.

Born into a poverty stricken Pied Noir family with a cat named Cigarette, the professional quirk of writing while standing and Jean-Paul Sartre as a friend turned lifelong rival, Albert Camus was the second youngest person and the first African born writer to be honoured with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for his work "Reflexions sur la Guillotine" (Reflections on the Guillotine) against Capital Punishment.

There is no teacher like ‘Life’ because she lives with you from the moment of your inception until your last dying breath. “You cannot create experience, you must undergo it”, he said once and so Life taught him much. It was a different world then where people led strange lives during a difficult war time.  And so, Camus wrote much about human frailties, exposed the internal working of man’s psyche and became a firm proponent of the concept of ‘Absurdism’ which finds speech in his famous essay “The Myth of Sisyphus’.
Naked language that needed no support of extravagant words and thoughts stripped of all superfluity, Albert Camus was a writer whose works till date are an exposè of the veritable ramblings and musings of a common man.