Friday 25 November 2011

Mughal chronicles

Alex Rutherford is the pen-name of the husband-wife writer team of Michael and Diana Preston. Their Empire of the Moghul series of books is currently a trilogy. The first book, Raiders from the North, is about Babur's initial conquest of Hindustan. The second one, Brothers at war, is about Humayun's legacy, his long dreary years of battle and wandering in the Indian subcontinent - from Kabul to Agra and Delhi to Rajasthan to Lahore and back to Agra - as he fought off and subdued the machinations of his half-brothers to keep him from the throne which he considered rightfully his. The third book, Ruler of the World, takes off from Humayun's death, the ascension of 13-year old Akbar to the throne and his consolidation of the Mughal empire, and his troubled relationships with his sons especially Salim.
The trilogy is fascinating to anybody who likes historical fiction, as I do, particularly if the Mughal era and the preceding 2 centuries are of interest (again, check!). The amount of research that has gone into these books is evident from detailed descriptions of everything from styles of dress and decor, food, jewellery, weapons and  household implements, and new technologies of that period. The Baburnama, Humayun-nama and Akbarnama/Ain-i-Akbari have been extensively used as foundation research material but the focus is on drawing a picture of the first 3 Mughal kings as people, individuals who were husbands, friends, sons, fathers and brothers, not necessarily their portraiture as administrators/rulers; so to that extent, a significant portion does comprise creative licenses taken as to how the characters thought, felt, said and did. For example, it is known that Akbar married one (or two) Rajput princesses and in fact it is probable that he did marry one of the princesses from Amber (Amer) near Jaipur, but historians disagree over her existence and her identity. Almost nothing is known of this husband-wife relationship so the authors have interpreted it in their own way. As our guide in Fatehpur Sikri asked me, with a twinkle in his eye, as he guided us through the city "Are you thinking of Hrithik Roshan?" I replied with a straight face "No actually, I was thinking of Prithviraj Kapoor"! 
Military strategies and battles have been recounted in great detail, so the book can seem somewhat slow. Having been to a lot of the significant places described in the book brought it incredibly alive for me. Highly recommended if you are into Mughal/Indian history. The authors are planning to come out with 2 more books - looking forward to them!

I don't know how she does it

After a long time, I enjoyed, really enjoyed, a book. The type of enjoyment that comes when you are nodding along with the author at every page, when you have so many OMG moments (as in: OMG!!! She could be talking about ME!). "I don't know how she does it" by Allison Pearson did that for me. Note of caution: The only only reason I probably enjoyed the book so much is because I could identify, if not myself, then many of my friends, in so many of it's pages. So, nope, I am not setting the book up for universal popularity here :) I remember reading "Bridget Jones's diary" back when I was 24 and giggling over it and thinking what a wonderful read it was. I recently tried to read it again and all I could think of was "What crap is this. How did I ever enjoy this nonsense?" So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a time and a place and a life-stage to enjoy any good book and I just happened to be right there for this one.
Okay, now that all disclaimers and caveats are out of the way....:)) 
I picked up the book because I saw a TV promo about an upcoming movie based on this book and it seemed interesting so I googled it and ordered a copy from the library. You can read about the book here at Amazon. In ways subtle and non-subtle, wise and crass, comic and tragic, poignant and flippant, the author sketches out the many many dilemmas of working mothers. The book is funny, sad, ironic, penetrating - often all in one page. It resonanted with me even as it brought back memories of my days as a working mother, and the struggles and frustrations of all the Kate Reddys I know.
I also ordered Samhita Arni's Mahabharata but before Ads and I could read more than a few pages, it had been requested and borrowed by a very eager 12-year old neighbour who is heavily into mythology and  history. Knowing a tween BOY who LOVES READING and loves HISTORY is such a pleasure that I promptly lent it to him. Now we wait for the book to come back before we can start on it.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

What I love about this time of year

Winter is setting in. The sun is weak, flights and trains have been getting delayed due to the infamous Delhi fog, and the warm clothes have been aired and are all ready to be worn. My kids are very excited and keep asking me "Amma, when can we wear GLOVES?"!!!
I know people crib all the time about the winters in this part of India, but I love this season. Especially now, when it's still autumn but steadily getting colder, when the mornings and evenings are chilly but still warm enough for the kids to shrug off their jackets after a few minutes of playing outside. Delhi weather is so monumentally unpleasant for 7 months of the year, but between Diwali and Holi, I enjoy it to the hilt. Even in dreary January when most people are waiting for the cold to end, I feel only dread for the long months of burn-and-swelter that lie ahead of me :)
So. What I love about autumn/winter/spring:
1. Picnics!!! Everything that needs to be done outdoors, 'tis the season to do it. Especially picnics, which one can do in style because Delhi has so many large and well-maintained parks, scattered all over the place. The larger parks are atleast 70-80 acres in size, which means on any one excursion you would only explore a small part of it. We've set ourselves a target of a picnic every weekend - we'll see how well we do :)
2. The long-sleeved t-shirts come out and the capris/shorts/sleeveless clothes get packed away. One can revert to one's hirsute natural self :) Less grooming = more time!!
3. Stylish clothes! Stockings, jackets, pashminas, turtlenecks, stoles, leggings, boots - all these get their day in the sun. Even stodgy corporate types look nice as they leave for work wearing suits and blazers.
4. The pleasure of having a steaming cup of ginger-and-clove chai is something else during the cold season. I'm too much of a chai addict to not have several hot cups even when its a blazing 42 degrees outside, but during the winter it is pure bliss.  
5. The markets full of colourful produce - large juicy brinjals, methi, spinach, radishes, guavas, long red carrots, capsicum and fresh sweet peas which Ads and I love to pop straight into our mouths. 
6. The torture of leaving the warmth of the comforter/razaai and getting out of bed in the mornings, balanced by the exquisite anticipation of getting back into it during bedtime! The delights of snuggling into small warm bodies in the middle of the night (in the summer, it's all I can do not to throw the kids violently off me when they get too close in the bed!)
7. Having alfresco lunch everyday in a sunny balcony. Food just tastes better when the warm sun is beating down on you and there's a good book on hand. I see people already heading down during lunchtime with blankets and hampers and having an impromptu picnic on the lawns.
8. Not having to apply sunscreen - a job I hate doing and which always falls to my share. 
9. I'd say eating makki di roti and sarson ka saag except that I am not such a fan of either. Still, it will be nice to have it a couple of times.
Drat - I should have been able to make it a round 10 :)

Monday 21 November 2011

Review of Ra-One

I wanted to review Ra-One after we saw it more than a fortnight ago. I took Ads and Y and the 12-year old son  of one of my neighbours (aside: felt very proud to manage 3 kids all by myself!!). This neighbour's son was very enthusiastic about watching the movie and Ads had heard it was a superhero movie and wanted to see it too. Y conveniently sleeps off in most movies (the darkness and for some reason the noise, lulls her to sleep!) so I had no worries about her witnessing any scenes of violence and/or scantily clad females. 
Now here's the thing. I went to see Ra-One a good 2-3 weeks after it's release and after hearing/reading about how bad it was (and really, not a single soul said the movie was even halfway decent), my expectations were understandably very very low. As Ads would say, they were at minus infinity :) So obviously, this frame of mind to a certain extent (but only a teensey-weensy bit) explains why I found the movie to be not bad at all. It was ok. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. I wouldn't pay the money to go see it again. SRK played out his standard half-dozen expressions. Kareena Kapoor looked hot, as usual. There were the usual foot-thumping songs, the usual melodrama. In fact, it was exactly like any other Hindi movie. So the horrible reviews had me a little puzzled especially as I thought  the SFX were pretty good and classy. The scenes which are supposed to be from inside a gaming console were especially very well-done and realistic (err...I meant game-like). My humble opinion is that everyone has been a tad unfair on panning the movie. I don't think the producers ever claimed they were making a work of cinematic art. Ra-One is in the same genre as Robot (quite as entertaining) and much much better than Krrish. Indeed it is the same genre as the movies that can be clubbed under "mindless summer Hollywood blockbusters". Transformers, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Superman, anyone?? 
On the same topic, if there was a movie worth watching, go watch Tintin. The animation is just superb! Superb! The performance capture technology is a little surreal because it looks so real (the character's faces do look somewhat more wooden than one might expect). In the middle of the movie, I actually leaned over to S and asked him if they'd changed from animation to real people. It was that good! Also, it's based on my favourite Tintin books and it's a trilogy, so lots to look forward to! But, strictly for Tintin fans, methinks. Ads simply didn't get why amma and appa were so excited :)

Friday 18 November 2011

Recent pet peeves

  1. Kids running upto the convenience store in our condos, halfway through playtime, and buying 1 large bag of Lays chips, each, everyday. No kidding. I see the same kids doing this everyday, and there are a lot of them!
  2. Aunties and uncles whom I don't know, commenting on Y's skinny appearance and glasses and dispensing free advice on how to correct both. 
  3. Kids not saying hello and not acknowledging my hellos. My kids do it too! I've been prodding Ads for 5 years to say please, thank you, and hello and even now he doesn't do it a lot of the time without some prompting. How long is it going to take???? 
  4. Lavish birthday parties and even lavish-er return gifts. Cakes are being cut in class and gifts to each of the 25 children distributed then and there. This is separate from the birthday party to which all the kids are invited and from where Ads returns with laden sacks of goodies. I'm going to have a chat with his class teacher as soon as I can. What happened to old-fashioned, simple birthday celebrations?
  5. Other kids calling my son Idiot, patla, buddhu. I'd go on but what's the point. They also call other children these same names but obviously it hurts when they say such things to your own child. My kids would never dream of calling anybody such names - it's a simple thing to teach your child not to, y' know. It's called manners. Sadly, meeting a well-mannered child has become, for me, a ca(u)se for hope. Or maybe I should say, a hopeless cause!
So these are my top reasons to crib this season. What's yours? I'm disappointed and appalled at parenting standards. Is it me, or is it Gurgaon, or what is it?

Friday 11 November 2011

And baby turns 3

I'm sitting at my laptop, wanting to write a post about my daughter who turned 3 last week. All the sweet awwww-inspiring things. And nothing, nothing, comes to mind. Mommy guilt strikes hard as I think about the eloquent prose I churned out when Ads turned 3. 
This happened just a couple of days ago. I gave up and saved the post as a draft, knowing that the words would come later.
I've found this time and again, that the sense of wonder, of surprises waiting around every corner, the sense of accomplishment that I had with Ads - these do apply to Y as well, just in a highly diluted form. Or put it another way, been there, done that. With Ads, one exclaimed over every new achievement and felt the same upsurge of emotion in the heart. With Y, one still exclaims (!) but in the heart, we just take it in our stride. She was also always a little more advanced for her age than Ads, who always did things bang on time, not a week less, nor a month more. We still call him our babycenter baby because he used to hit his milestones just around the same time that babycenter sent us a mail telling us to expect that particular milestone :) Because she was so precocious, we got used to her punching above her weight. I often think we have been so unfair. We expect her to do more than she should. But when she does, we never give her the credit for it! 
Anyway, our 3 year old has been going through some personal crises lately. I had blogged earlier how she was going to school quite happily and with no fuss . But then there was the kid who was hitting her, pulling off her glasses etc and she got petrified of encountering him in class. That matter got sorted out after a chat with the teacher but Y continued to dissolve into tears every time her school van came to pick her up, and sometimes even in school. She went off her food and became very quiet and withdrawn, not even playing with her friends in the complex. This continued for about a month. Over the last few days, there has been some improvement. She is eating a lot better, starting to be more social, less clingy, and so on. I was telling one of my friends that Y is passing thro some 'phase' and she promptly said "Yaar, mujhe in phases se bahut dar lagta hai!" (Translation: These phases scare me!)
Another thing that is putting her off school is the language barrier. Tamil is her strongest language and she cannot communicate anywhere at that level of fluency in either English or Hindi, although she is slowly learning both. I've seen Ads encounter the same problem in his school in the US, where he was one of the few kids who knew very rudimentary English when starting off. So I am confident Y will vault over this particular barrier sooner rather than later. 
My daughter is affectionate (VERY affectionate), very stubborn (wonder where she got THAT from? :)), very bright. She loves dancing, singing, playing the fool, reading, spicy food, especially Punjabi food, nice clothes, handbags, shoes, hairclips and bangles! In short, all the things that make life so pleasurable! She absolutely loves to go out, an area where she is diametrically opposite to my homebody son. She has an amazing zest for life, or as she puts it "I like masti!"
If there is one thing I wish for you, girl, it's this. May the masti never end.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Udaipur - Part 2

On our 2nd day in Udaipur, we drove 22 kms out of the city to see a temple complex called Eklingji. Although less well-known than Nathdwara (which I had deleted from our itinerary), I somehow instinctively felt that it would be something that we would all like, Thankfully, I turned out to be correct. It is a complex of 108 small temples to Lord Shiva, all closely clustered together in a small area, so that the overarching impression as soon as you enter is of thick bunches of elaborately carved white gopurams and not much else. But so so so beautiful!!!!! Most of the temples are very small (and cordoned off), so one can access only 20 temples of so to go inside. Intricate carving work on marble and granite and the same on silver walls inside the main temple left me spellbound. We were not allowed to take cameras and cellphones so I have no pictures but I would heartily recommend a visit to Eklingji if travelling to Udaipur. It was the 2nd nicest thing we did in Udaipur; the nicest was a cultural performance at a run-down museum a few minutes walk from our hotel, called Bagore-ki-haveli. It seems to be on the must-do list of every Udaipur tourist, judging by the crowds (tip: get there early, atleast 30 min before the start of the show to ensure good seating). Latecomers had to make do with floor seating and standing. The show is interesting because it showcases lesser-known folk dances of Rajasthan other than the Ghoomar and Bhavai which are the only ones we normally see. The Chari dance involves women balancing brass pots on their heads, the pots carrying a flame inside them. In the Tera tali dance, the women sit on the floor, cymbals tied to various parts of their body, and they strike the cymbals rhythmically (and fast!!) in tune to the music. Fascinating. 

See the cymbals in the photo below? They're all down her calf and she had several along her arms and even her back!

This amazing lady ended up with 10 pots on her head! What a hard life it must have been when they had to trudge miles and miles for water.
We went to Mount Abu from Udaipur and spent a day there. Suffice it to say it was a waste of time. Mount Abu can be missed because there is nothing to distinguish it from other overly-commercialized hill stations in India (Ooty, anyone?). We could have spent our time better visiting some other places near Udaipur, but lives and learns :) The Dilwara Jain temples are very nice but one tends not to enjoy anything when there are a hundred people elbowing you around.
So that's what our trip was like. A lot of walking, lots of culture and architecture and history, quite a lot of fun!

Friday 4 November 2011

Udaipur - Part 1

My parents were here for Deepavali so the enthusiasm levels got notched up a little higher. Diwali with kids is always fun, add family to the mix and we want to do so much more. The condominium association here held their annual Diwali Mela a couple of weeks before Diwali itself. Lots of stalls including food stalls, a ferris wheel and merry-go-round installed in the lawns, a makeshift dance floor with DJ and horse-drawn buggy rides all around the complex -  the children, not just mine but all of them, had a blast. Last year, in our Noida complex, there was a caparisoned elephant doing the rounds and taking children and adults for rides and I wondered at the lavishness and expense of it all. This year, I left my wallet at home, partook the Idli and chutney-sambar from the stall put up by some friends and watched my kids dancing.
Amma made almond burfi and bakshanams which almost got depleted the same day! She created a kolam and the kids and I lit diyas on Choti Diwali. Sparklers, flowerpots and ground-chakrams were duly bought and used that same evening. We were one of the few families bursting crackers that evening because we would not be there for the big event the next day. On Diwali day, we left to catch the train to Udaipur in the evening. The highlight of the overnight journey was a small mouse which woke me up in the 2nd tier AC compartment, nibbling away inside our bag containing food and snacks!! Terrified me didn't even think of waking up S, who would have assured me that the mouse would have no designs on me and Y and would have promptly gone back to sleep! Instead I woke up my parents and asked my dad to get rid of the mouse, which he did successfully. Needless to say, the thought of the mouse coming back kept me up for the latter part of the night journey and apparently my dad also spent the rest of the night swatting away flying cockroaches! Such is the state of our Railways, never mind if you pay through the nose for a 2nd tier AC berth. Maintaining basic cleanliness is obviously not a given.
Udaipur is very different from Jaipur, the only other Rajasthani city I have visited. There are 6 large lakes in and around the city (2 artificial ones watering the city themselves, the Pichola lake and Fateh Sagar lake). The lakes are large and for the most part, very clean. Havelis and palaces abound on the lakefronts (prime property!) and it is a common sight to see women washing clothes on the steps near the lake. We stayed in a very nice place, the erstwhile urban residence of a minor princeling which has now been converted into a heritage hotel run by the family themselves.
This is the hotel courtyard. I specifically asked for ground floor rooms because my parents were accompanying us. We still had to climb 3 flights of steep stairs to reach the restaurant at the rooftop.

The lovely picture window outside our room.

Our room, the windows at the far end open out to the lake :)

The day we arrived, we walked to the city palace, just a 10 min walk from our hotel. The roads are incredibly narrow and some are very steep since the city is built on undulating terrain. So walking even at a slow pace can be stressful to the joints, especially for young children and seniors. However, ever so often you come across a treat like wall paintings and a pretty door :)

The City palace is stunning. A portion of it is retained by the royal family as private quarters and a further large portion have been converted into 2 heritage hotels. Our guide provided us several interesting nuggets of information about the founding of the city, the Royal family with special emphasis on Rana Pratap, his tiffs with the Mughals and the battle of Haldighati. One of the contributions of the Mewar school to Indian art are miniatures which are forerunners of video, in a sense. The same painting will depict a continuing story - for example, the guide asked Ads how many bears were there in a picture (we saw 6) called "Maharaja shooting a bear". All of us answered "6 bears" but the correct answer was '1 bear" because the picture showed the entire sequence of events - the bear under a tree, running out, being shot, etc etc.
Other popular tourist spots in Udaipur include the Rana Pratap memorial and enjoying an evening sunset cruise around the lake. Our rooms had a fantastic view of the Lake Palace (a Taj property) - very picture-postcard. The Aravallis are in the background.
I'll stop this post here now since it's already a lot longer than a I like! More Udaipur snapshots coming up :)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Only until I exist!

Dear firstborn of mine and I are having some random conversation. I forget what it was about but while talking I told him "To a mother, her son will always be a baby, even when he is an adult."
Ads said "You mean I will always be your baby?"
I said "Of course!"
Ads said "Only till you are alive, no?"

Note to dear son: I'm happy that you understand at this tender age that all flesh is as dust, but I do wish you wouldn't be quite so casual at the prospect of my eventual death.