Tag Archive | Indian culture

Beneath a marble sky


marbleHistoric fiction has come to be one of my most loved genres and I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book. This tale has everything that a great story has – battles, victories, romance, politics, greed, lust and more. Hailing from India and never having visited Agra or seen the Taj Mahal this book has made my urge to visit Agra more fierce.

As a chapter in history we have read about Shah Jahan building this architectural marvel of a mausoleum in loving memory of his wife and also about the wrath of Aurangzeb and his succession to the throne. But never have given such a first-person (though fictional) thought to the process.

The story is narrated by Princess Jahanara who is the daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. She is intelligent, witty, a hopeless romantic, brave and knows the rules of politics and power. As a child she learned a lot from her mother Mumtaz who herself was a kind and intelligent women. Other important characters are Jahanara’s two brothers – Prince Dara & Prince Aurangzeb. Dara was to be king in succession is portrayed to be kind and open to all religions while Prince Aurangzeb is someone whose greed for the Peacock Throne and conservative interpretations of the Koran portray him as insensitive and brutal.

Meanwhile, Jahanara is married off for political reasons and loathes her husband. He is everything she despises – insensitive, does not respect women, illiterate and crass. During a childbirth Mumtaz passes away. After her demise, Shah Jahan becomes inconsolable and lost in grief. He decides to build a mausoleum for Mumtaz and asks Jahanara to head the project. This is where she met her Isa, her lover.

Jahanara suspects Aurangzeb’s intentions to succeed to the throne and overthrow his father and does her best to warn and prepare Dara but unfortunately that doesn’t have quite the ideal outcome. Aurangzeb kills Dara and imprisons Shah Jahan and succeeds to the throne. Jahanara manages to escape and leads one of those ‘happily ever after’ fairy tale endings.

My favourite character of the book is Ladli – who is Jahanara’s gorgeous, witty and loyal Hindu friend. She comes to Jahanara’s aide when the Peacock Throne needs her. Her language and use of expletives just cracked me up. She adds some more colour to the already wonderful tale. This book is a must read! Entertaining and gripping all at the same time.

Overall verdict: 5/5

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The Secrets of the Nagas



Today, He is a God.

4000 years ago, He was just a man.

The hunt is on. The sinister Naga warrior has killed his friend Brahaspati and now stalks his wife Sati. Shiva, the Tibetan immigrant who is the prophesied destroyer of evil, will not rest till he finds his demonic adversary. His vengeance and the path to evil will lead him to the door of the Nagas, the serpent people. Of that he is certain.

The evidence of the malevolent rise of evil is everywhere. A kingdom is dying as it is held to ransom for a miracle drug. A crown prince is murdered. The Vasudevs Shivas philosopher guides betray his unquestioning faith as they take the aid of the dark side. Even the perfect empire, Meluha is riddled with a terrible secret in Maika, the city of births. Unknown to Shiva, a master puppeteer is playing a grand game.

In a journey that will take him across the length and breadth of ancient India, Shiva searches for the truth in a land of deadly mysteries only to find that nothing is what it seems.

Fierce battles will be fought. Surprising alliances will be forged. Unbelievable secrets will be revealed in this second book of the Shiva Trilogy, the sequel to the #1 national bestseller, The Immortals of Meluha

This is the second book of the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. Normally when the first book is fantastic, the sequel barely ever lives upto it. This book was a welcome change. This is an action packed book with a lot of of food for thought. An extremely well thought out book with some very strong messages which have been weaved intricately with Indian mythology and lots of imagination. This reflects a lot about the author and his idea of eutopia.

One of the main ideas in the book revolves around the question -‘What is Evil?’. This is closely related to the phrase – ‘Har Har Mahadev’ which means there is God in everyone which was a phrase used by Shiva’s army while attacking the Chandravanshi’s. The other main idea involved is that of a caste system by skill instead of by birth. This is where Maika, the birth city comes in. The author truly believes that each person should be assigned a caste (which equates to role in the Indian caste system) depending on the skill-set the child possess not the household he/she is born in. To be true to this thought, the author does not have his last name on the cover of the book as his surname Tripathi is associated with the Brahmin caste.

This book focuses on Shiva’s quest to find the murderer of his dear brother-like friend Brahaspati, the chief scientist of Mount Mandar. Shiva is also determined to find an unknown skilled assassin who attacked Sati thrice in the past. Both of these motives lead Shiva to the Nagas. Despite the above facts the question is – are the Nagas evil?

In the process of getting to the Naga kingdom, Shiva discovers some shameful secrets about Maika, the city of births. Some of these secrets affect his near and dear ones. Shiva along with the Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi soldiers proceed to the Branga territory as the Brangas are said to have close ties with the Nagas.

Shiva’s entourage consists of both the Suryavanshi’s and the Chandravanshi’s. Shiva leaves Sati behind with a heavy heart as his son Kartik is too young for the journey. During their journey to the Branga territory, there is another shackle that is broken for the Suryavanshi General Partvateshwar.

Parvateshwar had vowed to be a celibate as a family decision to protest against the wavering Maika policy for the various castes to respect his grandfather’s word. He had been true to his vow for 120 years. Anandamayi the Chandravanshi princess, fell in love with Partvateshwar and tries her best to rope him in. The character of Anandamayi is that of an bollywood ‘chamia’ who would do anything to get her man. She is saucy, tangy and everything more!

Meanwhile Sati discovers another tradition which like the Vikarma law is unfair. She sees her dear ones suffering because of that and makes a brave, over-the-top attempt to stand against it. As you may have guessed, I am not quite impressed with the role Sati plays in this book. There is nothing exciting or unexpected about her. How can a woman leave her infant to fight against the lions??!! Like I said earlier, a little over-the-top.

Aside the role of Sati and some rather loose language, a fantastic read!

Overall Verdict: 5/5

The Immortals of Meluha


1900 BC. In what modern Indians mistakenly call the Indus Valley Civilisation. The inhabitants of that period called it the land of Meluha a near perfect empire created many centuries earlier by Lord Ram, one of the greatest monarchs that ever lived. This once proud empire and its Suryavanshi rulers face severe perils as its primary river, the revered Saraswati, is slowly drying to extinction. They also face devastating terrorist attacks from the east, the land of the Chandravanshis. To make matters worse, the Chandravanshis appear to have allied with the Nagas, an ostracised and sinister race of deformed humans with astonishing martial skills. The only hope for the Suryavanshis is an ancient legend: When evil reaches epic proportions, when all seems lost, when it appears that your enemies have triumphed, a hero will emerge. Is the rough-hewn Tibetan immigrant Shiva, really that hero? And does he want to be that hero at all? Drawn suddenly to his destiny, by duty as well as by love, will Shiva lead the Suryavanshi vengeance and destroy evil?

This is the first book in the Shiva trilogy which was a national best-seller. This book portrays the vivid imagination of the first time author Amish. In one line this book sets the myth of Shiva in today’s world which makes the readers more receptive and open to it. It is key to note that this book is classified as the ‘Alternative History/Fiction’ genre so the original myth has been twisted and turned to make the story more gripping and dramatic.

Shiva is the leader of the Guna tribe of Tibet which occupies the area near the Mansarovar lake at the foot of Mount Kailash. The ways of being of this tribe are rather barbaric and their constant challenge is to fight the aggresive Pakrati tribe. Shiva is convinced by members of the Suryavanshi tribe to immigrate to the other side of the hills – to India.

After Shiva immigrates to India (or Meluha), he consumes the Somras – a medicinal drink created by the Meluhan’s which transforms his throat colour to blue. This causes a certain excitement and anxiety among the Meluhans. Shiva seems puzzled at the strong devotion of the Meluhan folks. He later discovers that according to the Indian legends – an immigrant with a blue throat or a neelkanth would be the destroyer of all evil.

Shiva is invited to the city of Meluha and meets the emperor. He is astonished by how well planned the cities were. They were a sheer engineering marvel. Once he is at Meluha he falls in love with princess Sati who is a great dancer and a fierce warrior. Sati is also subject to some unfair traditions of the society called the Vikarma laws. Shiva removes the Vikarma law which was an unfair tradition being followed among the Meluhan’s. He also discovers that the reason for the rather long lives of the Meluhan’s is their secret medicinal drink – the Somras which is manufactured at a secret facility at Mount Mandar. During his stay and travel Shiva makes many friends. Some key characters like: Nandi – the Meluhan chief who convinced Shiva and the Guna’s to migrate, Brahaspati – the chief scientist at Mount Mandar, etc.

Throughout the book there are some hooded creatures (the Naga’s) who try to attack and abduct princess Sati. They are believed to be notorious and their fighting skills are feared. Not much is revealed about them in this book but their presence makes the book even more gripping.

The story about the union of Shiva and Sati as per the book is not in-line with the original myth. Shiva is pictured as an ordinary human being with his desires, flaws and regrets. His flaws to smoke weed, desire to obtain Sati, regret from a childhood incident where he did not perform his duty. This makes the story more acceptable to the mordern logical Indian who cannot accept the existence of a ‘perfect’ soul. To conclude, this book is an absolute page turner and a must read!

Overall Verdict: 4.5/5
PS: I may be biased in my overall rating as I love Indian Mythology!

 

Sarson ka saag and Makki ki Roti


For those of you who don’t know this is a famous Indian dish that is typical to Punjabi’s. Sarson ka saag refers to the leaves of the Mustard plant and Makki ki rotti is an Indian bread made out of Corn.

Ingredients:
Sarson ka saag(Mustard Greens)           1kg
Fenugreek leaves (Methi)                     250gm
Spinach                                                    250gm
Green chillies                                 3-4 in number
Ginger(chopped)                                  4tbsp
Garlic(chopped)                                   4tbsp
Salt                                                        to taste
Red Chilly powder                              to taste
Onions(diced)                             3-4 medium sized
Tomatoes(diced)                        3-4 medium sized
Oil/Ghee

One of the following depending on choice :
Turnip                                                        250gm
Baathu (Goosefoot/Fat-hen)                 250gm

Chop the Mustard Greens, Spinach, Fenugreek leaves, and one of the optional ingredients. Next, add these and ginger, garlic and salt to boiling water. Once boiled, grind it to get a green paste.

Next, in a pan heat some oil add the finely chopped onions and fry them until golden brown. Next add the chopped tomatoes and red chilly powder and cook until the oil leaves the bottom of the pan. Finally, add this to the green paste and bring to a boil. Add some extra butter or ghee before serving.

For makki ki roti mix powdered corn and wheat flour in a 3:1 propotion and knead the dough. Make sure it is not very soft as it may make the process of making the roti extremely tough. Using only corn flour (please note it isn’t cornflour that I am referring to, it is powdered corn ) would make it impossible to make roti. Wheat flour is added to help it bind better. This cannot be normally rolled using a rolling pin (belna) as it does not hold well together. You would need to do it by hand. This is a bit of an art… Still learning from my Mom! 🙂 Cook this like a regular roti (with a little extra butter/ghee).

Hope you all enjoy your saag and makki ki roti!

India and Regional Stereotypes


Trying to distinguish between those that aiyyo,aielee, amma, eesshh. Be it a chai party or kitty party or a high society gathering, regional stereotypes is very often the topic of discussion. Stereotyping isn’t great and is amusing when some people get offended with these… Please proceed only if you belong to those class of people who can laugh at themselves.

Tamilian: A Tamilian Anna is:

  • Often pictured as the brainy serious person who excels at academics
  • Loves his carnatic music and quizes his friends and family on the raga’s of a song on hearing it
  • one who is asked to sing songs for any and every family gathering ‘oru paatu paadein’
  • an ardent religion follower with photos of God staring down from every possible wall in the house
  • Cannot get over idolizing Jayalalitha and Rajnikanth
  • Hates Hindi
  • Often look jaundiced. No they do not suffer from any health issues. They are just beauty concious and love to use their turmeric face pack in excess.
  • someone who doesn’t like women to be size 0 in fact, they like them a little (or a little more than) plump. Thunder Thigh Rambha would sure be an example of this. Most actors belonging to this industry would easily be XL or XXL. Apart from this the hero in their movies can single handedly fight 20 bad guys and still save the girl!

Punjabi: A Punjabi is often pictured to be:

  • with a dhol doing his signature ‘balle balle’
  • over the top and excited
  • the funny one and one who laughs the loudest
  • drinking uncontrollably
  • gauges how good a wedding party is by the amount and quality of alcohol being served ONLY
  • love ghyo (a punju term for ghee ), lassi and pronthe (paranthas)
  • have a lot of ‘teri toh …‘s in his dictionary
  • screaming ‘chak de phatte’  out of ecstasy
  • fierce and brave. Thus the unsurprising large number of Punjabi’s in the army
  • extremely hard working and do not shun away from doing menial jobs
  • the jaan and shaan of a gathering always
  • food lovers and a large percentage of obese people in the country would belong to this category
  • the kind who overdo make-up
  • The kind who love to have some awesome shawsome type rhyming usages

 

Malayali: A Mallu chettan:

  • loves coconuts and has it on his plate, on his head, on the sink (to do vessels with the chagrin), in the fireplace and everywhere possible
  • just cant do without rice and needs a mid day meal having rice. Due to its presence in every household at any given point in time, mallus (Malayali’s) have discovered alternate uses of rice. I have even seen it being used as glue! (You already have an answer to the standard interview question which says ‘Give me few non-conventional uses of blah. If the blah is rice, we have hit the jackpot!)
  • doesn’t use shampoos very often. The common/healthy practice is to pluck certain leaves and flowers and use the soaked water to wash hair
  • man is that typical mooch (moustache) man you have read about or seen
  • can be found anywhere and everywhere.There is a popular saying, “You dont meet mallus they just happen to you” 😛
  • is one who shops for ONLY two things (esp. in mallu land) – sarees and gold
  • is obsessed with fairness creams and powders
  • loves his lungis for various reasons…1. when getting bored u can fold it, undo it, redo it and all in public… 2. makes scratching easy 3. facilitates unrestricted ventilation due to reason 1.
  • When it comes to movies here, I think they are very similar to their Tamil counterparts with the difference being, the hero here would first fold his lungi ( while the bad guys stand and watch) and  fight a whole battalion of bad guys alone and save the girl! The hero is in short a lungi clad superman! 😛

Kerala fact-sheet: half or more than half malayali’s are NRIs settled in ‘DuFai‘ or ‘GElf‘. They louve to catch the ootoo (auto) by ccch-ccch‘ing it (a way of calling any and every random person and we thought call signals only existed in the animal world!). This state has 100% literacy but no they still don’t believe in working… They believe in strikes. Which turns out to be a blessing when you are in school or college. Who doesn’t like extra holidays?! 🙂

Gujrati: A Gujju bhai:

  • is known to be stingy
  • is the businessman of India
  • is a vegetarian
  • likes everything sweet including their dal (lentil soup) !
  • has a taste for shiny/sparkly clothes
  • is exaggerative
  • calls every one baain (behn)
  • loves to speak in english. Errrrm his version of it, where Pop is Pope, Hall is Hole. These variations of the language can at times result in ridiculously hilarious meanings. Try permutations with the above words and be creative. You would know what I mean! 😀
  • look for a reason to perform (sing/dance). This reminds me of that scene in Kal ho na ho… right before the song Mahi Ve. 😛 Can be fun (to the extent of being lame! ;P watch KHNH for further reference ) . Even the most obese oldie gujjus can put those fit gymming youngsters to shame with their garba and dandiya moves.

Bengali: The Bengali Babu and Boudi

  • love feesh (Fish) in a spicy jhol curry
  • love their mustard in every form… you name it, they use it!
  • uses mustard oil for cold, earache, cough, etc. It is the Bong panacea.
  • have shrill voices and can be heard a couple of houses away owing to their habit to speak errm softly.
  • obsess wearing bindi and the rule says, the bigger the better.
  • like everything colourful from their houses to their clothes.

Bengali fact sheet: They are the true artists of India.  Most of out actors, musicians, poets hail from there. They are known for their flawless beauty and beautiful skin. Other than this a rule that applies to the Bong English is that ‘a’ and ‘o’ are equivalent. This means that Office is Affice, Mahima is Mohima, West Bengal is ‘Waste Bengal’  or ‘Bhaste Bengal’ and Veg is ‘Bhaej’.

UP waala’s :

A UP waale bhaiya is extremely hard to spot and classify. They come in different packages. One variety would be the paan eating ‘Kya kahat hain babua?’ types while another contrasting variety would be those ‘pehle aap‘ Lucknow Nawabs. The UP waalas are found all over India and claim to be the hindustani’s which is what makes them hard to distinguish. Cant decide which part of India a person belongs to? Must be a UP waale bhaiya.

On a personal note, I can relate to 3-4 of the categories mentioned above as my family has representations from the different states in India.

Desi in Videsh – First glance at UK


Okay this post comes after a very very looong time. There has been so much on my mind and so much happening. Somehow just never got to it. Getting back to the observations of a desi in videsh. 🙂

Pursuing studies in a country which is not your home is a new experiences which both scares and fascinates you. I have been going through a similar experience myself. It is very often that what we read and expect is in fact very different from the reality.

In the east, a developed country is pictured as utopia which of course is far from the truth. They have many fallacies of their own. These countries may promise transport, health and other facilities around the clock but the quality suffers. Of course, when I talk about the quality I do not refer to the top-notch private health or transport services but those provided by the government.

The importance the British people give to issues relating to Health and Safety is commendable. Every building (at least those I visited)  have clear instructions and safety equipment installed and well maintained. Apart from the health and safety issues, the way historic buildings are maintained is something we need to learn. Another thing that took me by surprise was the number of people who read. It would be common to expect people indulging more in some games on their iGadgets which is clearly not the case.

Listing some of the first things I noticed:

People have a great taste in shoes. From boots to high heels everything is plain AWESOME!


Women wear makeup in excess! I was taken aback to see the amount of makeup women here wear on a daily basis. What a colossal waste of time and money. No, I am not anti-makeup but tonnes of it everyday is surely going overboard.

The number of RATS!!! : The London Underground is a living example of how well they treat their dear little friend.

The number of sorry’s and please’s people use : Append or prepend any sentence with Sorry and/or Please

Curry: It is actually a little amusing when you ask British people about their traditional food. After Fish and Chips you hear Curry… Curry? Really?? Makes me smile. To be fair, the curries here taste nothing like the real stuff back in the east. In fact, on several occasions I have noticed that most (if not all) curries may be called different but they taste the same. The only few things that differ are the amount and type of colouring used; the salad it is served with; and the veggies in the curry. Considering how popular curries are, London is rightly called the curry capital of the world.

To order a regular burger or sandwich can seem more like an interview. As soon as you are done with one question the next one comes straight at you. Would you like brown bread or white bread? What sauce? What salad? What meat? I think having some standard configurations would make the whole process of getting a burger much quicker. After answering all those questions you might just want to get a drink! Coming to think of it now, may be that is what the intention is… 😀

Graceful Ageing doesn’t seem to be very popular. This is a guess I am making by the number of botox’ed faces I see.

Hopefully the next post wouldn’t be too long from now.

East Vs West- Dilemma’s of a NRI


I don’t know how this thought came up but I do think it was interesting one…. This is not about why we ape the west or the cliched stuff! It is just about the differences…. That’s why I call it Dilemma’s of a NRI! 😛

Something I have never been able to understand about the way the human mind perceives things is that, why it always plunges to look for differences before discovering similarities? This makes the statement ‘humans are innately social’ sound plausible. If we humans were innately social beings, then wouldn’t we be looking for things that would help me identify with someone instead of the those that don’t? I just don’t seem to understand this!

(FYI, I am a north Indian born and brought up in South) For instance, when I meet someone from the south of India, they call me a North Indian while in the north i am known as a Madrasi. Who am I really? People in the south think I am not one of their kind while people in the north feel the same way. If this is the case in migrating from one part of the country to another, imagine migrating to another country all together! Phew! Another dilemma of a NRI, that which relates to what we love to have a big fat ego about-identity…

Ok, moving on… The next in the list is Arranged vs Love.This may not seem significant to a non-Indian but it makes a world of a difference here in India. Traditionally, a spouse is chosen by the family of the bride/groom. Many non-Indians have appreciated this because even if things dont go your way you always have your family to bank on and you WONT have to have sessions of  “See… I told you” ‘s… It does remove the risk factor involved but what’s the fun! 😀 😛

Next being Wash Vs Wipe! 😛 Some people from the west are completely baffled seeing a bucket and a mug in the restroom and wonder its use while people from rural parts of the country do not get the logic of having paper in the toilet! Such a wide gulf even in following nature’s MOST basic rules…

Buckets Vs showers!
The MIGHTY Indian Bucket is the cynosure yet again! This is a mighty contender of essentials when it comes to the daily Indian routine. Even when it comes to the daily activity of bathing, the bucket makes its presence felt. Quite the contrary most english bathrooms lack this and rely heavily on showers.

Hand Vs Spoon
Coming to eating habits now… The desi Indian would any day prefer eating with their hand rather than using spoons, forks and knives… Even for me hunger is satiated only when I eat with my hand… I am a true DESI at heart! 😛
On the other side, the west beliefs are it is unhygienic!

There are a lot of other differences but I guess I will stop here. If you can come up with any others let me know…

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