Saturday, June 25, 2016

One year!

It has been a year since we arrived at these shores. It has been a good year. New friends, new experiences, and new thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Largely, the year has been good, barring some incidents beyond our control that I wish had rather not happened. Perhaps I'll talk about them someday when the time is right.

I have missed several little things about India, here and there, a little bit of this and a tiny bit of that, but on the whole, I haven't felt any searing pain of separation. Yet.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for, in this new land:

- My sister and her family, who live close by, but not close enough ;) Immensely pleased that I'm getting to know my niece first hand, and not through pictures and FaceTime. Such a warm feeling to see Puttachi and my niece play together.
- Great family friends.
- Puttachi's best friend here, who lives in our complex. I cannot speak enough of the two of them. Such good friends, and they complement each other so well.
- Puttachi's school and teachers and the education system - I was worried about how she'll do; it turned out that I worried needlessly.
- The predictability of traffic  - The pleasure of knowing that I can set out from home at 12, drive 8 miles into town, finish some chores, get a haircut, spend quality time at the library and drive back 8 miles to be home in time to receive Puttachi's school bus at 3.
- A corollary to the above - no place is too far. i.e. You don't avoid going to places just because the traffic scares you. That is a kind of freedom, for someone from Bangalore. [There are other kinds of freedom that this place might lack, but this is a post about what I'm grateful for, remember?]
- The fruits - New fruits, new favourites.
- Baked goods - I love baked things, and there is just so much choice here.
- The location of this place - just a couple of hours' drive can take you to such a variety of places - the beach, the mountains, the woods, lakes, parks, museums, San Francisco... add another hour or two, and the choice becomes even larger.
- The hills that surround this area - their constant presence -- sometimes I orient myself with reference to them. The way they look in the changing light of the day. The way they change colours with the season.

It is true that every place you live in becomes a part of you, and you're going to miss it when you leave.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Celebrity status - a case of mistaken identity

Back when I was a student of MTech, I'd been to an industry to conduct an energy audit, as part of a project that I was doing. I was alone that day. After I finished the audit, I took a bus back to the city centre (Trichy, in Tamilnadu) after which I needed to take another bus back to my hostel. But my hostel was an hour away by bus, and it was already 2 pm. I knew that the mess would be closed by the time I reached, and so I decided to have my lunch at a restaurant in the city.

I chose one that looked decent, and stepped in. Let me stop for a moment and tell you what I looked like (you'll know why later). I was just about 22-23 years old. I was tired, my short hair more unruly than usual, as I'd been crouching and crawling around industry equipment. I wore an extremely simple and ordinary cotton salwar kurta without a dupatta, but it was well-fitting and suited me. I had a file in my hand, and a purse, I guess (though for the life of me, I can't remember what kind of purse I used in those days. Anyway, it would have been a handloom cloth purse or something ordinary like that.)

So, I entered the restaurant, and found a table. There were very few diners, as this is a part of India where they have early lunches. And all the diners were male. But again, this is a comparatively safe city, so I wasn't uncomfortable.

A few seconds later, I heard hurried whispering among two of the waiters, and then the manager arrived. They all spoke, looking over at me, and then the manager came to me, and asked me to follow him to a "better" table. I said it was okay, but he insisted, and so I went, and it was indeed a nicer table, set in a recess, for two. And then there was a flurry, as the waiters fell over each other to hand me a menu, and give me water, etc. I had no idea what was going on, but was too hungry to think. And I wasn't worried or anything, they all looked decent and not the least shady.

I ordered a plate meal, and it arrived. The manager hovered over me as I ate, asking me if everything was alright. By the way, all the conversation was in Tamil, and I answered to the best of my ability, and it was obvious that I didn't know Tamil that well. If I remember right, they also served me a complimentary item - a sweet or a fruit juice, that wasn't part of the meal.

After I finished, and paid the bill, the manager came over again, smiling and shuffling. And then he asked me in Tamil, "You are the chairman of DM foods, correct?" [I don't remember whether it was actually DM. It was an acronym, one I hadn't heard of.]

I said, "What?"

He repeated his question.

"Chairman?" I said, and shook my head, frowning in confusion and laughing, all together.

And then he also frowned, and then he also laughed.

And then I left.

I have absolutely no idea what had just happened. He had obviously thought I was some food industry bigwig and was being attentive. But - from which angle did I look like a bigwig?

If it had been the age of Google and smartphones, I would have whipped out my phone immediately and searched for DM foods chairman. But then, if it had been the age of Google and smartphones, the manager would have made that search too to confirm that I was who he thought I was, before showering attention and complimentary food upon me!

This is one of my regrets - that I'd stopped to find out more and see who it was that he had confused me for!

Book Pact - 51 to 60

51/100 Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary.
I've heard a lot of Beverly Cleary, but hadn't read her work. I picked up a couple of her books for Puttachi from the library, after which I spotted this one on the shelf marked "Newbery Medal winners" and so picked this one up too.
Leigh Botts is trying to deal with his parents' divorce, and someone stealing his lunch at school, and he gets his life under control through the letters he writes to his favourite author Mr. Henshaw. This book brings out the greyness in human beings very well. Vert sensitive. I recommend it.

52/100 The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Faith Sunderley is a 14-year-old girl whose father is a naturalist, and she wants to be one too, back in a time when girls and women were just supposed to be "good", not smart, and definitely not clever. She craves for her father's attention and approval, but when her father dies mysteriously, with several questions left unanswered, Faith takes it upon herself to get behind the mystery. And she does it with the help of a tree that bears fruit when it is fed with lies. And this fruit contains answers to your questions. A beautiful, layered story. Reminded me of Calpurnia Tate, which I enjoyed a lot too, about a young girl in the nineteenth century who wants to be a naturalist against all odds. But this one is darker.

53/100 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
One of those books that have to be experienced, not read. This is a book that pulsates with life. It is a suspense thriller set in the Victorian era, featuring two young girls from different backgrounds. It is full of dizzying twists and turns. The first twist in the tale left me literally breathless, and the words danced around until I took some deep breaths. So satisfying!

54/100 Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty.
Well, meh. Puttachi liked it and asked me to read it. I can see why she found it exciting, and the idea is, yeah, interesting. But the writing and the treatment left me feeling, "ok, whatever".

When I was helping Puttachi's teacher pack away books at the end of the school year, she pointed out some books and recommended them to me. Of course, I got them from the library immediately. The next three books are among those.

55/100 Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
A little gem of a book, based on a true story. Caleb and Anna's father puts in an ad in the paper for a wife for himself and a mother for them; and Sarah, who is plain and tall, answers the call. The book is an exquisite study in subtle emotions and longings, fear of abandonment. It is very rare that I read a book twice, that too immediately after the first read, but this one demanded it.
I believe it is the first of a series. I'll look up the others too.

56/100 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
This is the amazing and beautifully written story of a young girl who is left alone on an island just off the coast of California, for many years. Basically, a female Robinson Crusoe. It is based on a true story - the actual woman was finally rescued after 20  years by missionaries from Santa Barbara, and was known as Juana Maria or the Lost Lady of San Nicholas (the name of the island). Unfortunately, there was nobody alive who knew the language she spoke (isn't that searingly sad?) so they could only guess at her story. But Scott O'Dell has done a magnificent job with the story. Strength and serenity shines through the pages.

57/100 My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
A delightful, whimsical book of a little boy who goes to strange lands to rescue a dragon he's never seen.

58/100 The Great Cake Mystery - Precious Ramotswe's First Case by Alexander McCall Smith
I had no idea this book existed - imagine my surprise when I found it at the library. Written for young readers, it is a case that Mma Ramotswe solved when she was a young girl. His trademark style, a very short book. But a good introduction to the series. And a good read for Mma Ramotswe fans. Puttachi liked it too, and is thinking up stories from the POVs of the characters in the book

59/100 Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith
I had no idea this author has written so much for kids. This one was an exciting story of how a young boy catches elephant poachers. There are several Akimbo books. Puttachi loved this one, wants to read the others in the series.

60/100 Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Picked it up for the first essay "Santaland Diaries" that was recommended to me - the experiences of an "elf" at Macy's, during Christmas. It is very interesting, and funny and sad at the same time. The other essays are darkly funny, almost crazy. LOL at places.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Here we go again!

I've been very lax with regard to my blog, and that's ironic because I have so much to say. I know it's been a long time since I did a-post-a-day on my blog, and that should ideally be the right way to go about it, to kick myself into action. But I've been dithering about even that for several weeks now.

But now that the anniversary of our move is just a couple of days away (so soon!) -- I realize that there is so much to say, and there are many observations that I've made about this new home of mine that I haven't written down for myself to read after a few years. So, perhaps not a post a day, but close enough - that's going to be my target.

On another note, I wonder how many such "I'm going to blog regularly" posts there are on my blog!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Secret Garden

I'm very pleased to announce the release of my latest book for children, The Secret Garden.



Published by Nature Science Initiative, Dehra Dun, it is a book about the Peepal tree (which is a Ficus tree), its inhabitants, and the fascinating story of the relationship between the Ficus tree and the Fig Wasp.  It is aimed at children between the ages of 8 to 14.

The book is a product of a collaboration between several people.  I "translated" the science produced by many researchers, including Soumya Prasad, Geetha Ramaswami, Mahua Ghara, Anusha Krishnan, Raman Kumar. Sartaj Ghuman contributed illustrations.

The superb cover and many of the cartoons in the book, are by the brilliant Rohan Chakravarty of Green Humour, and some photographs are by Pradip Krishen (of Trees of Delhi fame).

The beautiful layout and some pictures and illustrations are by Anita Varma of Graphic Alley, who's done a fantastic job with it.

It is truly a fabulous book and I'm proud to be associated with it.

You can order the book by emailing nsi@naturescienceinitiative.org.

The book was released in Dehra Dun, during a Peepal Walk organized by Been There, Doon That? with Dr. Soumya Prasad of Nature Science Initiative, who is an ecologist and my childhood friend.

A report of the walk and the book release in the Hindustan Times:




Rains - A story

This is a story that I wrote 4-5 years back. I dusted it off and sent it to Spark for the "Rains" theme.

Read it here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Pact - 41 to 50

41/100 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I saw a lot written about this book, and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Crime thriller. I identified with it because I'm also the kind who sits on a train and imagines stories about the people living in the houses that I pass. This book has some seriously gripping storytelling. I read it at breakneck speed. But it kind of let me down. Right from the beginning, it was fairly obvious to me who did it. So I read on, waiting and waiting for the twist to turn everything topsy-turvy and make me draw a sharp intake of breath. But guess what, it was whoever I thought it was all along. So at the end of it, I'm like, meh !
Gone Girl, which this book reminded me of, was more satisfying for me, with its evil and unexpected twists and turns.


42/100 The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Yeah, I'm in the phase of "Let's see what all the fuss is about." For this book, my verdict - a Thumbs Up. But then I would advocate any book that lies quietly on the table, exerting an intense magnetic pull on me when I'm forced to leave it aside while I attend to my duties in the Realm of Reality.
Ok, back to the book, yeah it is about a chillingly satisfying (for the reader) secret that affects the lives and worlds of many other families. And the characters -- I want to pound the floor in frustration while I say this -- I want to learn to create characters like these that are so real that I feel that I can reach out and touch them. Even though I've never felt many of the emotions in the book, I get the feeling that yes, this is exactly how I would feel if I were in that situation.


43/100 East Wind: West Wind by Pearl S Buck
This is the story of a young Chinese woman who has been brought up in the ancient ways (bound feet, subservience to men, the works) and who is married to a man who has studied western medicine and wants her to unbind her feet and wants to treat her as his equal (the horror!!) By the time she gets adjusted to those ideas, the winds of change blow even harder when her brother, who also goes to the west to study, brings home an American wife. I'm quite sure Indian lives and sensibilities were similarly torn asunder when the first few people brought home white spouses.
On one hand, the novel gives you an intimate look into the old Chinese home and customs. On the other hand, it is an exquisite study of points of view. How we view "others" and the disbelief about how "they" view us.
The last 50-70 pages dragged a bit, but I'd recommend it anyway.


44/100 Holes by Louis Sachar
Puttachi had placed a Wayside series book on hold at the library, but I couldn't pick it up on time. So on my next visit to the library, I went to the Sachar section to see if I could find some other book in the series. I didn't, but I found Holes, which had been recommended to me, but I had kind of placed it on hold (in my head) but since I was there anyway, I picked it up.
This is another of those books that remind me that in spite of the number of books I've read so far, I actually ain't read nothin' yet. Holes is the story of boys in a juvenile detention facility who have to dig holes every day. Why? We come to know, little by little, each piece of the big puzzle unveiled nonchalantly but oh-so-effectively until you're left gasping for breath (figuratively). The movie is on Netflix too, and I guess I'll watch it sometime. I don't think it is quite suitable for Puttachi yet, neither the book, nor the movie.

45/100 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
What a book! Set in Germany-occupied Paris of WW2. Short, crisp sentences. In the present tense. Each sentence feels like it has been crafted with care, weighed, and then written down. Follows the stories of two main characters. Their storylines meet, oh-so-briefly, but it is like every step of each one's story is leading inexorably to their meeting.
How the author handles the POV of the girl who cannot see is a lesson in writing. How each sound and touch is highlighted, and we are made to "see" what she is "seeing." Wow.
On the lighter side, I was blow away by a huge coincidence. Both this book and the previous one I read, Holes by Louis Sachar, feature:
A can of peaches in syrup,
-- Which is the last bit of food available
-- Tinned by a woman who is now dead
-- Shared by two people
-- One of whom has come to rescue the other
-- Both of whom are starving and thirsty
-- The tin is with the one who is being rescued
What are the odds?


46/100 The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I'd read Eat Pray Love by this author just because everybody was talking about it, and I remember not being too impressed. However, I enjoyed the author's TED talk on Genius. This book was being recommended by a lot of people, and so I read it, and am glad I did. I'm glad I didn't dismiss the author just because of one book. The Signature of All Things is one of those sweeping sagas that stretches across decades, a period novel, a book full of new facts and information, basically, the kind I am partial to. Besides, there is this strong (literally) female protagonist, Alma Whittaker, who is scientific and curious and clever and brave and human, once again, the kind that I'm partial to. I'm in awe of authors who write books like this.

47/100 Princess (The Puppy Place series) by Ellen Miles.
Puttachi always finds her way to puppy books, and this is her recent discovery, about a family that fosters puppies, and obviously she insisted that I read "at least one" in the series, and I did.

48/100 Five Get Into a Fix (Famous Five series) by Enid Blyton
I have no explanation for why I read this. Call it nostalgia. And it was just lying around. And I didn't have anything else to read.

49/100 Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I've been reading this book for the past ten months, I think. As a filler between two books. Or if the book I was currently reading was too large to carry in my handbag, I took this book along when I went out, and read snatches of it here and there. Finally I finished it yesterday. It is just like any other of Bryson's books, and I think you already know how I feel about his brand of humour (I like it). Only he can be crazy enough to waddle to the nooks and corners of a small Island (the UK) and make strange observations and experience the weirdest things and express it all in a way that, if it doesn't make you snort your coffee out of your nostrils, makes you grin non-stop without your knowledge, making you wonder later why your cheeks are aching.

50/100 Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
I read this aloud to Puttachi. It was slow at first, as both of us tried to adjust to this entirely new kind of story and language. The author makes absolutely no effort to dumb it down for children, in terms of language/slang/technology/action. I had to stop after nearly every sentence and explain a slang term, or an idiom, or some reference. I nearly gave up, but Puttachi begged me to continue, and then later, it became smoother.
Artemis Fowl is a boy-genius, a criminal mastermind, who kidnaps Captain Holly Short, a fairy, for gold as ransom. And this fairy is not a pretty and delicate, flitting and flying creature -- she is one of the highly-trained, technically-advanced creatures of the underground. It was a very different experience and we enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spring

Remember my fall pictures?

I took pictures of the same tree, this time, in spring. Here you go.

Feb 11

Feb 19

March 1

March 10

March 15

March 29

March 31

April 12

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

An interview

Chandana Banerjee, writer, journalist and health coach, interviewed me about writing and the inspiration behind Avani and the Pea Plant.

She says this about the book. "My son and I enjoy reading this book called Avani and the Pea Plant because of its simple story and gorgeous illustrations. Since we plant vegetables in our garden and just finished gobbling up the sweetest peas, this book about how a little girl discovers a pea plant in her garden felt so familiar and endearing."

Read the interview here.

Also read an interview with the illustrator of the book, Debasmita Dasgupta, of My Father Illustrations. It is her illustrations that have made the book what it is.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Pact - 31 to 40

31/100 Tintin - The Castafiore Emerald by Herge
I've read all the Tintins multiple times over the decades. This one was the first one I ever read, if I remember right, which makes it a coincidence that this was the first one that Puttachi read. I had vaguely been thinking that Puttachi might be ready for Tintin, when S picked up some for her from the library. When she was reading this, she could be heard giggling and guffawing, and at one time, I found her on the floor next to her bed, clutching her stomach and laughing breathlessly. So of course, I just had to read it again, and I tried to read it as if it was my first time, just so that I could feel what made her laugh so much and so hard.

32/100 Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
I can't begin to count the number of books and authors that Puttachi has introduced me to, thanks to her school. Her teacher started reading out the first book of the Wayside Series to the class, and she liked it so much that she borrowed the second book from the library to read at home. She laughed throughout and then commanded me to read it. I enjoyed it thoroughly too. It is about the children in a classroom on the thirtieth story of a building, and their absolutely crazy and wicked and clever stories. After a long time, a children's book made me laugh out loud.

33/100 The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Lucien Bernard is an architect in Nazi-occupied Paris. Though he is almost anti-Semitic initially, he starts creating ingenuous hiding places for jews in the houses of gentiles. He initially does it for the money and the challenge, and then for the joy of duping the Nazis, and finally, because he actually starts to care. And before he knows it, his life has changed beyond anything he thought possible.
I enjoyed this book. It is both thrilling and has well-rounded characters that I started caring for.


34/100 The Doll People by Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin.
Puttachi was recommended this by her friends. What's not to like in it? Dolls that lead secret lives when humans are not looking! The dolls have pretty strong characters, but they do a lot of gasping, I must say. Come to think of it, lots of books for children have characters that keep gasping all the time. No wonder that the stories Puttachi writes are also full of gasps. "Oh no!" she gasped. "What is that?" he gasped.
Actually Puttachi brought home the third book in this series, but I couldn't read it in time, and she had to give it back to her school library today. She was so upset that I've promised her to request all the books in the series from the City Library and read them all.

35/100 The Children Act by Ian McEwan
I cannot just pick up an Ian McEwan book in passing and read it like I do other books. I have to step into another level. So it requires a certain will, an effort. But once I am in that zone, and I start reading, I cannot stop. His words are also like that - puts me into a kind of trance, and I feel like I am inside the minds of the characters, I feel things like they do, I know what they are going to do, and understand their actions. It is a very strange feeling.
And I need more time than usual to extricate myself from the world of the book, and get back to reality.
This book is about a judge whose marriage is on the crossroads, and one of the cases she is presiding on threatens to overpower her life and emotions.

36/100 SandRider - Alice TodHunter Moon Series by Angie Sage.
The TodHunter Moon Trilogy follows the Septimus Heap series, of which Puttachi and I are fans. The beloved Septimus Heap characters are adults in this series, and hold positions of responsibility, and another bunch of young characters take centre-stage in this trilogy. We had read the first of the series, PathFinder, shortly after we moved here. SandRider was released in Nov last year, but we were busy with Harry ...Potter, so we didn't read this. After I told Puttachi that we must take a break after the fourth HP book, she "remembered" that PathFinder had just been released, and so we read it. (This is one of those books that I read aloud to her.)
The first book in the series was good, but this SandRider, I felt, was very random and all over the place. The plot, that is. The writing and the humour is still as good, the characters and places as vivid and lovable. But the tight plots of the Septimus Heap series are missing in this one. It was a disappointment for me. Puttachi, of course, like a loyal fan, insists that she likes this as much. In fact, for this week's composition at school, she even chose Alice TodHunter Moon as the book character she would most like to be friends with.


Considering the fact that I've started and abandoned four books since the last one I read, I thought I'd never move forward in my book pact, but help came in the form of this little book:
37/100 Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, by Dr Seuss, with help from Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith.
Puttachi's teacher read it for them on Dr Seuss day, and we requested it from the city library because Puttachi wanted to read it out to me.
She read it out (very well, I must say) but the interes...ting thing about this book is not the story itself (which is fun and cute) but the story behind the book (which is also included in the book after the story). Ted Geisel (Dr Seuss) had been working on the drawings for this book but hadn't arrived at a story yet. And then he died. His editor took these drawings and sought help from an author and an illustrator to bring the book to life. This is the result. The story behind the story contains the original illustrations that Ted Geisel had made, and all in all, it makes for an interesting book.


38/100 The Mother by Pearl S Buck
This book was picked up by the reader as she had read the author back in her days of youth and she had read and she had liked, but time has passed and water has flown under the bridge as it is wont to do and the likes of the reader has waxed and waned along with the vagaries of life. So the reader went forth and picked it up with trepidation and not a little wariness, and the language was thus, as if it were picked from an ancient text, and t...he reader hesitated, lest she grow weary with the toil of reading this kind of language. But the hours turned into days and the days went by and the words flowed like the river beyond the curve of the hill on the horizon and the reader read. Put the book down she could not. Even so it had been in the old days that the reader had read and liked this author but remember she could not if the words flowed like this then when she was but a young girl not having known yet the ways of the world. So the reader read of the pages of the book and she be sated and she be content.
Ok. I got that out of my system. Seriously, this book is gripping, unputdownable (yes, in spite of that language). The nameless Mother is someone I see in myself and in people I know - and in spite of being the simple story of a woman in a remote Chinese village, it is amazing how the author brings it to life, and in the process, holds up a mirror to society.

39/100 Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Often said to be one of the best books on writing, this book is indeed full of tips and advice, written with self-deprecating humour. I especially liked how the author spoke out about the difficult emotions of being a writer - the lack of self-worth, the self-doubts, the jealousies. On a practical level, I got some ideas and some inspiration. But on an emotional level, the book didn't really touch me, or rather, I didn't warm up to it.

40/100 Wonder by RJ Palacio
This is a feel-good story about August Pullman, a ten-year-old boy with a facial anomaly, who starts school in 5th grade. You cannot help loving the characters in the book, though I think they are too good to be true. I quite liked the book.
In a way, my case is similar to August's, though far milder. He has a facial anomaly, and I have a speech anomaly, so I relate to that feeling of people pointing and staring and laughing behind my back (and som...etimes in front of me). But as a child, I used to be fine as long as I didn't open my mouth, but August can't get away with it unless he hides his face (which he did for a while). So in the face of that (pun unintended) this is a story of his courage (children can be very cruel, believe me) and the importance of friends, which is what helps him make his way through school (and that holds good for me too).
I think Puttachi is old enough to read and appreciate this book. I've asked her to give it a shot.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Website

Here's my website!

Shruthi Rao

And if you have anything that needs to be edited (stories/manuscripts/books/documents) on any subject, you know whom to ask. (Me!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Avani and the Pea Plant

My picture book "Avani and the Pea Plant", illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta and published by Pratham Books, was released last week.


Copies are available here - https://store.prathambooks.org/p_9789350225479?proid=9789350225479

Friday, February 05, 2016

100 Books Pact - Books 21 to 30

21/100 The Castle Crime by Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries)
When I asked people for recommendations for Famous Five-like mysteries, this series came up in all their suggestions. Puttachi brought a few copies home from the library. I asked her to give me one of them to read, for me to get an idea, and she gave me this one.
The mystery and solution is a lot like "The Missing Necklace" by Enid Blyton (Find-Outer series) but it is a very different kind of book. I liked it, and so did Puttachi. So we have some Enid Blyton substitutes to tide us over!

22/100 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
I had said that I would take a break from reading out HP to Puttachi after the third book. But she wore me down with her incessant arguments and requests. So there you go, we finished Goblet of Fire yesterday.
There were several things about the story that she didn't appreciate fully, which was what I was afraid of. I did stop from time to time to explain things to her, yet, obviously, it wasn't enough for her 8-year-o...ld sensibilities. But yet, she got the overall story, and that satisfied her immensely. And sure enough, she has been talking about the book non-stop ever since we finished.
Also, funnily, as I read it, I realized that either I have completely missed reading this book, or else, I have read it in a great hurry, because I remembered next to nothing about the details in this book.
Oh and what a long, long, long book


23/100 "The Crossing Places" by Elly Griffiths.
The one thing that stands out about this book is the unlikely heroine. Ruth Galloway is an overweight archaeologist who lives alone with two cats for company. The writing is nothing to rave about, sometimes it is a little clich├ęd. The mystery was not that much of a mystery. But why did I finish this book, given that I abandon books left and right nowadays? Because the storytelling is compelling. And because it has archaeology, which I like reading about. And because I really liked Ruth Galloway and the other characters. And so I am going to read more Ruth Galloway books (yes, it is a series).

24/100 Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh
This is the third book in the Ibis Trilogy, after Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke. Mere words are not enough to express the feelings that these books have evoked in me. Historical fiction at its best. I revel in the way these books whirl me away from reality and plonk me into another land, another time, amid people who have never existed -- and I start to care deeply about these people and feel personally invested in their fates, weep along with them, exult along with them.
Even as the reader in me loves these books with a mad passion, the writer in me hates them, because they make her want to pack away her writing tools forever and dissolve into the ground.


25/100 Charlotte's Web by EB White
For years, I've been hearing the name of this book. Top 50 children's books of all time? This book is on the list. Top 10 children's books on friendship? This one is on it. Top books a child should read before s/he turns 10? You get the idea. Not only that, this name used to crop up in articles on effective writing too. And I still hadn't read it.
So yes, finally read it. And I was preparing to be disappointed. However, it deserves all the accolades it has got. This is one of those books that ought to be read several times, and that, probably, is the mark of a good book.
Puttachi loved it too. Give your child this book, and you read it too, if you haven't already.


26/100 Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
I wanted a quick, gripping read, and this did the trick. Not as astounding as Devotion of Suspect X by the same author, but this was "different" too. More of a howdunit than a whodunit, and I found that a welcome change.

27/100 and 28/100 - The Big Red Lollipop, and Ruler of the Courtyard - both by Rukhsana Khan.
A couple of years ago, I'd been to a 2-hour picture book workshop by Canadian-Pakistani author Rukhsana Khan. This coincided with the release of her young-adult book "Wanting Mor" by Duckbill (which I recommend highly)
During the workshop, she spoke about her picture books, and these were among the ones she mentioned, telling us the story behind them. Ruler of the Courtyard is a very... layered story. I am not too crazy about the illustrations, but it is such a wonderful book to read out aloud - the rhythm of the text is breathtaking.
The Big Red Lollipop is hugely popular and she told us about how she toyed around with different narrators but nothing sounded right, until finally, the present version did the trick. She also narrated to us (all adults) the story of the Big Red Lollipop, as she does in her book readings for little children across the world, and what an energetic, inspired performance it was! Here is a recording on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8UQWdhhy8s

29/100 A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay
I give a lot of importance to recommendations by friends whose choices I trust. And so even though I hadn't even heard of this author, when Shyamala Ramanathan-Edwards recommended this (it was on her 100bookpact list) I jumped at it. She promised it would be a gripping read, and it was. I seem to be in the mood for fast-moving thrillers, come to think of it, and I liked the characters, the story, and how it held my attention until the end. However, the editor in me found too many mistakes in it for my comfort - ah well, occupational hazard.


30/100 Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams
I've had mixed luck with Douglas Adams' books. The first time I tried to read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", I couldn't finish it. But in my next attempt, I finished and loved it. I've tried another book of his (I forget which one) but couldn't get through it.
However, this one called out to me, and I think it had something to do with the name of the book, and the name of the character. Dirk Gently, se...riously? And Holistic Detective Agency? I just had to see what it was. I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed it tremendously. His brand of humour is different from anything else I've known. And the plot is completely insane, and yet makes so much sense.
What I like best is how he takes a situation, turns it on its head and makes the reader look at it with completely new eyes, and not only does that perspective amuse you, but it also astounds you, and you wonder why you never thought of it like that before. And I think therein lies his genius.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three recent Puttachi anecdotes

Nowadays, I am more active on Facebook, drawn to it by the instant feedback and conversation that Facebook affords. However, so many things just seem to disappear in the great fog of Facebook. And so I'm putting them all here, so that I'll have a record.

Anyway, here are three recent Puttachi anecdotes:

A couple of days ago, I asked Puttachi to wipe the dining table clean. Two minutes later, sensing no activity, I peeked in to see what she was doing. She was standing next to the dining table, clutching her head.
Me: Puttachi! What happened? You ok?
She: *no answer*
Me: *alarmed* Puttachi!...
She: Amma, I can't bear it.
Me: Bear what? Are you hurting somewhere?
She: Questions! Questions! My head is full of questions that have no answer!
Me: What kind of questions? Tell me, tell me!
She: Even you don't know the answers to those, Amma.
Me: Then we can discuss and try to find out, tell me Puttachi.
She: Who are we? Why are we here on this earth? What is life all about? Amma, I feel like crying when my mind is full of questions like this! What shall I do?
The question is - What shall *I* do? :O

----

Puttachi: Amma, I'm just going down with Papa to check the mailbox
Me: There's a hole in your pyjamas, see? Near the knees? Change and go.
She: Amma it is alright
Me: No it is not.
She: It is really ok, Amma. I've seen people wearing jeans, torn at both knees. Not just small holes like this one, Amma, huge holes, with the threads hanging out. It really is ok.
I let her go.

---

Puttachi: *peering into jar* Oh no! Nutella is getting over!
My cousin who was visiting: First World problems!
Puttachi: What is a First World problem?


I launch into a detailed explanation of First and Third Worlds. I go on for five-ten minutes, talking about poverty, hunger, and how privileged we are, and how there are millions all over the world who don't know when they will eat their next meal.
Me: .... And we are worrying about Nutella. The luxury of luxuries! This is a First World Problem - that is, it is not even a problem. We won't fall down dead if we don't eat Nutella. We can live the rest of our lives even if we never eat Nutella again. If you want to look at it another way, we are so fortunate that if we indeed want Nutella so desperately, we can go to the store TOMORROW and we can buy it! *I pause and assume an impassioned voice and a theatrical stance* We can go to the store TODAY and buy it if we want!!
*Pause*
Puttachi: So, shall we?

BS Madhava Rao Circle, Basavanagudi

A few years ago, my Tata visited me in my home in Basavanagudi, and told me that 70 years ago, he had lived just a couple of streets away from where I did. Later that day, as we drove out of our apartment complex, we reached BS Madhava Rao circle. My Tata read the board, and was immensely pleased.

"Very good," he said. "Excellent. I didn't know that they had named this circle after BS Madhava Rao. Great man."

Today, while translating my Tata's memoirs, Nenapina Alegalu (which I'm doing along with my aunt), I arrived at a passage where my Tata remembers the kindness and generosity that the mathematician Dr BS Madhava Rao displayed to him, by renting out a house to him at a reduced rent, when my Tata was in a difficult situation. It was the same house that my Tata had spoken about to me that morning all those years ago.

Now that I know all the circumstances behind that renting incident, I understand why BS Madhava Rao Circle made him so happy.

More about Nenapina Alegalu: Redemption

I Wonder - Science Magazine from Azim Premji University

My article "The Success of Costa Rica", where I speak about how the country of Costa Rica manged to run on 100% renewable power for 75 days, appears in the inaugural issue of "I Wonder", a magazine brought out by Azim Premji University.

It is aimed at middle school science teachers, but anybody with an interest in  science will enjoy this for sure. There are some great articles in the magazine. And it is free to download - here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

100 Books Pact 11-20

11/100 The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelley.
This is one of those books that make two voices scream in my head, each louder than the other. "I want to write like that!" and "I want to read more books like this one!" This is a sequel to "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" which I enjoyed equally. This is a book for children, actually, but Puttachi is not old enough to understand or appreciate it. I can't wait for her to discover these two books when she is a little older. A must-read!

12/100 "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
This book has jostled its way into the top ten list of my favourite books of all time. But what is it about this book? The format is unique--written entirely in the form of letters. The characters--Each one so clear and well-defined, that they are etched into my mind, and I feel that I know each one personally. The theme--one that I find endlessly fascinating--stories of what wars do to common people, and how they inevitably rise above tragedy and resume their lives, scarred, yes, but alive in every sense.
After a long time, I shed tears because a book ended, and I felt a sense of loss!
Can't recommend it enough. 

13/100 "The Mystery of the Runaway Ghost" - The Boxcar Children series - by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I had asked around for recommendations of mystery books for kids, in the Famous Five genre, and had been recommended the Boxcar Children Series. Had never heard of this series before. Puttachi found some titles in the library, brought them home and loved this one. And naturally, she held it at my throat until I read it. This is a good alternative to Famous Five/Find-outers, especially when one is *sniff* missing Enid Blyton books (Why, again, isn't Enid Blyton known at all in the US?)

14/100 Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins.
This book literally fell into my hand at the library. I was trying to pick up another book from the shelf, and this one slipped and I had to catch it to keep it from falling down. When I read the title, I did a double-take--I had just read that Duckbill had published this book in India, and this was the US edition of the same book. Of course, I had to bring it back home.
Puttachi read it first, and liked it. She gave it to me to read, saying, "The first two chapters are boring, but don't give up. You'll like it. It's a good book." I dutifully followed her advice, and she was right.

15/100 Beagle in a Backpack by Ben M Baglio (Animal Ark series).
I had only vaguely heard about the Animal Ark series before Puttachi brought some books home from the school library. It is about a girl whose parents are vets, and their clinic is called Animal Ark. Perfect books for kids who love animals - simple, engaging reads filled with action, adventure, and overflowing with animal love. One thing that stood out about this book is that the author doesn't hesitate to describe an animal's condition, and its treatment/surgery/diagnosis in detail, complete with technical terms.

16/100 Geronimo Stilton - Creepella von Cacklefur #4 - Return of the Vampire
The fascination with Geronimo Stilton still doesn't make much sense to me. In Puttachi's school library, a condition is imposed upon the children, that when they check out two books each week, only one can be Geronimo Stilton. That itself speaks for its popularity. Puttachi regularly brings one Geronimo Stilton home each week. She knows that I don't care for it much, but she pressed this book in my hand and said, "I won't ask you again, but please read only this one, please. There are some cute monsters in this story. I just want to share them with you." How could I say no? I read it. The things we do for our children! :)

17/100 Cinderella ate my Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
A study into the girlie culture that has gripped our society. Deals with all those things I've been fuming about ever since I had Puttachi - the early sexualisation of little girls (including item girl frocks in shops and provocative dancing on talent shows) and the Pink madness, and the Princess craze and beauty treatments for little girls. Different packaging and marketing for little girls, separate aisles in shops with "girl stuff" and "boy stuff"... The book didn't really give me answers - it just told me that the situation is much worse than I thought! It scared me a little.
It is a good read. I recommend it to all parents of little girls.

18/100 Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
They call it literary crime fiction. This book is a series of seemingly unrelated cases, all of which come together at the end. (Kind of.) If not for the deep sense of mystery in the beginning, I am not sure I would have finished this book. That is, it had some good writing, and some compelling action, but it didn't grip me. If it hadn't been a crime thriller, if I hadn't been keen to know what would happen, I would probably have abandoned it (like I do so often with books these days - yes, the ones that make it here are the ones that haven't been abandoned).
So do I recommend this? Yes. I have a strong feeling that I would have enjoyed this book much more if I'd read it some other time, in a more receptive mood.

19/100 Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
I picked this up because a friend recommended it. I just finished it five min ago and I wanted to put this up when I am still feeling the buzz of the book.
This is the story of Japanese Picture Brides, who came to the US in the early 1900s. It is not a story in the sense of a set of characters going through a series of experiences. Written in the First person plural (We, us) (Think of it as a bunch of narrators, but no narrator st...ands out, we don't know their names) it is a series of scenes, each expressed in a single, concise sentence. Almost like poetry. And so vivid and compelling. Each scene is so clear that I felt like I was in it. Like it was happening to me.
Another thing about this book is that it is set in California, and it is more or less about the American Dream. So it hit me on multiple layers.
Reading the first sentence of the book was like being sucked into a whirlpool. I found the book really hard to put down, and read it more or less at one go.


20/100 Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham
I have read lots of short stories and novellas by Maugham before, but hadn't heard of this one. Yesterday, at my sister's place, I was unexpectedly faced with a few minutes of time and no book in my hand. So I raided her bookshelves for something small and light to read, and came up with this. After a mini-panic-situation when the book went missing (and was found neatly placed at the bottom of my niece's tub of toys, still in great condition) I finished it. A simple story of a woman and three men, all very different from each other. Contains many truths and spot-on observations of life and love.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Toblerone

Growing up, Toblerone was one of the highlights of our lives. Back in a time when chocolate itself was a rare treat, a bar of Toblerone was right up there, at the pinnacle of all our wishes and desires.

A bar would make its appearance every once in a while at home, mostly as a result of my father's official trips. We would watch with bated breath, waiting for the gold and yellow triangular pyramid to slide out of his suitcase. My sister and I stored it with great care, eating only one little triangle at a time, sometimes breaking each triangle into two to make it last longer. And when only one piece was left at the end,  we would offer it to everybody at home, and gape in wonder and pleasure when our parents said, "We don't want it. You can eat it," and shake our heads over how anybody could even refuse Toblerone. And then we would break it into two equal pieces (we would have weighed it to ensure fairness if we had measuring scales) and then we would savour it till the last chocolatey crumb.

So, when I saw this, I chuckled, imagining how Child-Shruthi would have reacted at the sight.




The sad part is this. As it is with so many things in life, now Toblerone is within my reach, but I don't have any particular craving for it. The irony!


Monday, December 07, 2015

Bangalore - Nostalgia

Two or three years ago, I wrote a piece on Bangalore, overcome by nostalgia for the old  Bangalore. It was lying in my folder, until now. Spark Magazine has published it in the Dec 2015 issue.

Do read.

The 100 Books Pact

There was a hashtag going around on Facebook, called #100sareepact where people wore sarees, and took pictures of themselves and posted them, with a little backstory about that particular saree. The idea was to make sarees popular for daily wear again among urban women. Taking a cue from that, someone else started a #100bookspact, for the book-loving population on Facebook.

I'm taking part in it, and just so that the list doesn't fade away into oblivion on Facebook, I'll be posting the list on my blog also, 10 books at a time.

Here are the first ten:

1/100 Jumping right into the ‪#‎100bookpact.‬
I'll start with Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah. Because I just finished reading it. And because I wish there were more books out there like Americanah. And because Adichie is my favourite author. And because I want to write at least half as well as Adichie does.

2/100 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling.
When you have a voracious reader for a child, most of the books in your reading list will be children's books--books that the child has finished reading and forced you to read. And some of them will be books that you've been reading out to the child. And the current book falls into that category.

3/100 I finished reading The Lighthouse by PD James last night. Anurupa Rao, thank you for lending it to me. It turned out to be educative for me.
I've read only 2 Adam Dalgliesh books. The first one was The Black Tower, and it was set on an isolated, forbidding island with a few cottages, and featured a tower as the scene of action. The second was this one, The Lighthouse, and it is set in an isolated, forbidding island with a few cottages, and features a lighthouse as the ...scene of the action. So yes, they were far too similar, and yet, because these books were written 30 years apart, it was interesting to see how the author's style has changed, and how the popular culture references and settings are dealt with differently in each book.
However, I don't see myself reading any more PD James, in the near future at least.


4/100 The book with no pictures by BJ Novak.
Puttachi's teacher read this to her at school. And then their librarian read it to them during library hour. When the kids told the librarian that their teacher had already read it out to them, the librarian said, "See how different it sounds when I read it out." And it was.
The next step for Puttachi, was, of course, to check the book out from the public library--she read it out to me, and then I read it out to her, and each time, she laughed non-stop. The book is just a bunch of nonsense words, really--and kids love it. I think this is good for kids (and adults) of all ages.

5/100 Gargoyle Hall (Araminta Spookie) by Angie Sage
Since Puttachi is a fan of Angie Sage, thanks to Septimus Heap, it stands to reason that the moment she heard of the Araminta Spookie series that Angie Sage has written for younger readers, Puttachi had to get her hands on it.
And of course, since she loved all the books in the series, she had to get me to read them too. Ages: 6+

6/100 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Considering that this is the kind of book I love to read, and considering how famous this particular book is, I have no idea why I had heard of neither the book nor the author until recently.
(I like to read books that tell me how people live, and so I am partial to books set in places like Africa, South America, Japan, China, Eastern European countries, etc, in addition to books set in lesser heard of places and communities of India.)
Things Fall Apart checks all the boxes for me on how a good book should be. Subtle, smooth narration, unpretentious, a gripping story, great characters.

7/100 When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.
Puttachi read "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry a while ago, and asked for more books that talk about the holocaust. She was already clued in to WW2, thanks to the latter half of The Sound of Music. Anu Jagalur recommended When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I read it first, and then Puttachi read it. It is gently told, and though it doesn't shy away from telling the child about reality, it does it in a way that a child can understand. This, and Number the Stars are good books to introduce a child to the holocaust.

8/100 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
It's been a while since I read a book that made me laugh out loud and squirt beverage from my nostrils (The last ones that had that effect on me were Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods and Neil Patrick Harris' autobiography.) It had also been a while since I read a book that made me want to grab every single minute I could get to continue reading it.
It made me laugh and cry and think. Thanks.


9/100 Beastly Tales from here and there by Vikram Seth.

10/100 - Diary of a Wimpy kid: The Long Haul - because Puttachi's recently discovered this extremely popular series (and was upset with me because I hadn't told her about it before even though I knew of its existence) and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Well, it is a fun book, but I don't see myself reading any more in the series.


Want to join? Here are the guidelines. Please copy into your first post as a participant....
-To show case your love for reading.
-This is not a competition.
-There is no strict timeline.
-As you read, you post the picture of the book you read with hashtag #100bookpact.
-You get to know what your friends are reading and pick up recommendations. Yes, we do have apps and websites with the same intent and purpose, but hopefully this is something light and motivating as FB makes sure that it is right in your face all the time.
-You can include books that you have already read too. It does not have to be, from now on. If so make sure that these book have been something that fundamentally touched you in some/many ways.
-If you have a child, you can post your child's reading updates also.
In that case there can be repetitions too. My children take pleasure in reading the same book again and again and I believe that they dig deeper with every repetition.
-Here is the format(1)add #100bookpact mark the book as 1/100, 2/100..etc(2)Post front cover of the book(3)Add review - optional(4)Tag people who you would think would enjoy the book - optional(5)If it is your child you are posting for do #100bookpact 1/100 nickname/name of child. ‪#‎100bookspact


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