Friday, March 20, 2015

Congratulations! It's a girl!

We had moved recently from a different city to Mumbai. We unpacked our bags, and all the clutter of the domestic life fell out. Ahead of the internet connection, the other more important requirement was the all-important cook and a helper to help with the cleaning. .  Finding a house is extremely simple thanks to housing websites these days, but unfortunately there is no app to find helpers with a good work ethic and who have a heart of gold.

As we sent the word out for the vacancy, a plump looking decently dressed humble looking lady accompanied by her young teenage daughter walked into my house for an ‘interview’. She said she was new to the place and knew no one and had worked for no one in the area. She had no references she could give me but she just wanted an opportunity to find some work somewhere. Something in her sincerity appealed to my otherwise suspicious mind as I thought I should give her a chance. Looking at her daughter, I wondered if she would train her to wash utensils and clean houses too. But as I look back to that day, I see how mistaken I was in my assessment on this front.

It turned out that the lady had three daughters around the same age and she was working hard to educate the girls to enable them to make a good living better than what she could manage.  Her husband was fortunately not a drunkard but a good man with a steady income and a living quarter that allowed them to live with their daughters with dignity. And both were happily providing for their three daughters to study well beyond the free school education. Vocational courses, a laptop, anything to help the girls learn and get good jobs even while they slogged all day.

On a similar note, another woman I employed had three daughters too.  But she had left them in the village she came from. She often spoke about how young she was but had so many responsibilities and mouths to feed. She felt the best way of reducing her ‘burden’ was to hand it over to another in the form of marriage.  And even though she lived in the big progressive city of Mumbai, she had no qualms in marrying off her eldest daughter at the age of 15 to a lad of 18 to live a wretched existence like she did.

While the second case made me despondent, the first case gave me hope. Save the girl child, and cherish her is not just another campaign. It is a very real awareness requirement in both rural and urban India where girls are routinely killed, treated as a burden and never a priority. If only, all parents started looking at daughters not as a burden, but educated them and loved them as they would love their boys, the country would be a much better place. 

A giant mithai box at the Chembur Festival

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Day in Dubai

It was the month of December and I was deep in the middle of work at office and work. The last vacation I had seemed to have been years back, (okay, I am exaggerating). Proposals to be submitted, events to be held, projects to be completed, I seemed to be drowning in a truck load of work. Fortunately there was the amazing holiday in the middle-east that I had to look forward to, light at the end of the tunnel and a glimmer of hope to come back rejuvenated.

I had made plans with the two SSs in my life (daughter and hubby) to visit the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat for a lovely long trip during the Christmas and New Year break.
Dubai is a city of man-made wonders. I am not the biggest fan of man-made wonders, but when I saw this glittering city, I thought otherwise. A city that came up in the desert, a city with few resources, and a city that is one of the largest commercial hubs in the world is a force to reckon with. It showed the perseverance of mankind to conquer a hostile environment and transform it completely, that people now flock from far and wide to it. Tall buildings do remind me of Howard Roark of The Fountain Head and make me believe, they truly are testament of the human spirit in achieving such heights!

With its man-made palm islands, skyscrapers that adorn the skyline, endless shopping malls, one can only marvel at the rulers who achieved all of this in a short span of time. Besides these man-made wonders, the desert and the beaches are natural wonders that can be seen in Dubai.  The sheer scale and size of everything here are mind boggling. Be it the miles of shopping malls, or the ‘sky is the not the limit’ height of the tall buildings, they did make me feel very small. How I wish I had a house in one of those tall buildings with fantastic views from up there or atleast a similar building in Mumbai! Perhaps a housing website will help me find me a great deal in Mumbai in those coveted towers downtown (the day I can afford it!)

Apart from the artificial wonders, Dubai is also blessed with natural wonders of the beach and the sea that are of course humongous and you feel insignificant when faced with these natural wonders. Our day had us visit the sand dunes and the beach. It is incredible how sitting on a sand dune and watching the sunset, or sitting on the beach can make all your stress dissolve away as you realize how small you are as compared to the vastness of things around you. I am guessing that going up one of those sky scrapers (esp. the Burj Al Arab) would have the same effect. The tranquility along with little SSS troweling her way through the sand and picking out shells made for a blissful day!

We wrapped up the day with a lovely dinner with one of old school friends and her family and truly felt thankful for the people I was with for being such fun and being there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reading Bed Time Tales to your Toddler

Being a working Mom means a hectic evening with the little one. The two hours I get after I get home is the most precious time of the day. Strictly divided into three slots of dinner time, play time and bed time, (and the fourth is my slot of MY Time after she sleeps!). My 1.5 year old SSS is becoming naughtier by the day and with extended play times, her dinner time and bed time are fast morphing into play time as well!

While her favorite activity is running around the house, and opening all the drawers and kitchen cabinets she can, my favorite activity is definitely not fetching the balls she throws!  Being from a family of avid readers, my personal favorite activity is reading of course and reading to her is a delightful way of spending time with her. Alas! The only time I get to do that is at bed time! Dangling a pretty picture book is the easiest way to divert her attention from ransacking her cupboard for socks and get her to clamber to the bed!

If you are Mom, you may tell me how short their attention spans are and how difficult it is to make them read, but patience is key. Here are some of my tips to make your kids read –
  1. Get board books with bright pictures. The larger the pictures the better it is.
  2. Large Pictures of animals, objects they recognize make for ideal reading
  3. Forget long stories of the Arabian nights and Gulliver’s travels for now. Read small stories that have very few sentences on each page.
  4. You don’t have to read. Spin a different story around the picture
  5. Point out little objects in the picture
  6. Allow them to turn the pages.
  7. If they start tearing pages, tell them a firm No and take away the book for a while
  8. Start off for as much time as they let you read to them.
  9. You read! If they see you reading, they will want to automatically read too
  10. Patience Patience Patience
Of course, I make it sound easier than it really is. Truth is, it is hard work, but I am hoping it pays well in the long run!

Now the only problem is, once they start reading, there is no stopping them. If a juicy mystery can keep me up till wee hours of the night, the teddy bear tales are just as powerful in invoking tears and tantrums to not put the book down and to finish the stories! Then the only thing you can then do is offer that glass of warm milk, change her diaper, switch off the lights and sing her favorite nursery rhymes to lull her to sleep. And that my dear readers, is how SSS sleeps a cozy night to sweet dreams of crows and fairies and cows!

What books do you read to your child?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Shattered Dreams - Part 2 of Ramayana: The Game of Life by Shubha Vilas

In continuation to my earlier blog on ‘The Rise of the Sun Prince’(you may want to read the review here), here is a review of the second part of the Ramayana series titled ‘Shattered Dreams'. This book like the previous version has tales from Valmiki's Ramayana as well as the Kamban with some sprinkling of folklore which is what makes it worthy of the mythology hungry reader.

Twelve years have elapsed in Ayodhya since the royal wedding of Rama and Sita – the next part regales the reader with the tale of Rama’s planned coronation, subsequent banishment to the forest and Bharata’s efforts to bring him back. The romance of Rama and Sita is also quite very well depicted without the theatrics of overwhelming the reader. 

In a similar vein to the previous book, the tale has been dramatized and narrated with a fervor that keeps the reader hooked. The story takes off with Dasharatha’s foreboding of evil which prods him towards a hasty decision to coronate prince Rama to be the ruler of Ayodhya. There is jubilation in the city with this news but for one person, who bears a long time grudge towards Rama. The evil hunch back Manthara plots a nasty conspiracy to displace Rama as the crown prince and anoint Bharata, son of Keikei in his place. This sparks off a chain of events that shape the destiny of many lives and kingdoms thereafter.

Again, I am not going to particularly elucidate on the story of the Ramayana which is all too well known. However, as was in the previous book, there are a few tales which may be little known which are brought to light in this book. The story of how Bharata endeavored to persuade Rama to come back is well narrated revealing interesting nuggets such as, Dashratha’s promise to Keikei’s father at the time of seeking her hand that her son would be the crown prince. Although this particular story makes me wonder, if he was unwilling to abide by that promise, how was it that he was willing grant Keikei the boon she asked for? 

However, the story aside, some takeaways from this book are what ideal behavior should be towards all, the importance of being detached in times of happiness or sadness, and how to be positive no matter how trying the times may be.  Incidents in the story are linked to various life lessons that it is meant to impart and the author has lucidly interpreted various aspects with analogies and examples. The footnotes make for excellent reading to understand the underlying message behind each of the stories in the Ramayana. Lessons such as the five management mantras towards effective leadership, solutions to success, and the six anarthas to conquer make for interesting reading as do the notes on understanding ideal behavior.

All in all, it makes for some decent rereading of the Ramayana although I would still say that the narrative style could have been better.  My verdict on this book is the same as the previous book with a rating of 3.5 out of 5.

If you would like to buy this book you can preorder the book from Amazon or any of the other leading book sellers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Book Review: God is a Gamer by Ravi Subramanian

In yet another of the banking series, Ravi Subramanian comes up with a thriller that spans continents, governments and different companies.

The story:
The book starts with various seemingly disconnected events that happen in the same timeframe. These incidents include the assassination of a high ranking government official in the US, a Nigerian Phishing scam in the Indian branch of the New York international bank and a chance meeting of two acquaintances in a drug exchange in Goa, and an ATM heist. These incidents are preceded by a major development in the world of banks and the payment industry and the rise of the controversial virtual currency or the world of bitcoins.

The story continues with its crisp page-turning pace with the introduction of several characters at various points in the book. Starting with the US official who was murdered, his wife Nikki and daughter Gloria, Ashok, the owner of India’s largest BPO and gaming site, an Indian American who was the chief operator of the ATM heist, Ashok’s long lost son Varun who returns to turnaround his dad’s fortunes in the gaming industry, Malvika, the CEO of New York International Bank and her daughter Tanya, and some recurring characters from his previous book ‘If God was a Banker’ – Swami, a banker with the New York International Bank , and erstwhile banker Sundeep who is now Ashok’s right hand man.

What I liked about the book:
I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of the bitcoins and how they are woven into the storyline. At the end, even if all does not make sense, the means to get the bitcoins certainly does. Ravi Subramanian true to his financial industry background has done some justice to this emerging world of bitcoins.  
I found some of the final revelations on the mastermind behind it all and the motive a bit far-fetched. It was only at the end in which the by-line which accompanies the name of the book ‘Is revenge a crime’ angle is disclosed. Although I enjoyed most of the book, the end seemed to be just not right and just strange!

What I didn’t like about the book:
Well, I have mixed feelings regarding the size of the chapters and the number of characters introduced. The story flits from one context to another a little too fast and it becomes hard to keep track at times of the number of characters that continually get introduced.  However, if you do manage to remember who’s who, the end might just make some sense to you. What I also didn’t like was the unnecessary incorporation of steamy scenes which this author could have really done without. His books are really not from the genre where the author needs to titillate.

To sum up, the story is well built, the bitcoin concept is brilliant. However even so, although all the ends are tied up, I was left with a sense of too many things being too far-fetched or unnecessary. I wouldn’t say this is Ravi Subramanian’s best book yet. However, I would still recommend this as a one time, one shot, entertaining read. All in all, I would give a rating of 3 out of 5 for the book.

Thanks Blogadda for the autographed copy of the book!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Healthy kids make for happy homes

As we peered over my little daughter when she was born, all we wanted to do was keep her happy! And we promised to ourselves, we would do the best we could to keep her happy always!

And then started the flurry of advice as we scurried around her for 24 hours a day. “Give her breast milk for atleast 2 years” said one. “Give her ‘Bal-ghuti’ to increase her strength and immunity” said another. “Tie a black thread around her hands and her feet to ward off the evil eye and keep her from falling sick”. “Sing the hanuman chalisa everyday to protect her from all ailments”. “Put a blob of kajal on her forehead, cheeks, leg, her eyes and near her hairline to protect her” Grrr…and turn my pretty little baby into someone unrecognizable, I muttered under my breath. “Nazar utaro so she always eats well” and so on and so forth!

By and by I realized that the main concern around a child is her health. An upset tummy, a small cold can delay her from taking the next baby step in her growth etc. are not good things! A child should never be sick but be always up and about ready to play, and hungry to eat! Breast milk provides great immunity, but the immunity needs to become only stronger once kids need something more once they start mingling with other kids when they get to school.

I have seen the tantrums kids this small can throw when it comes to eating the right healthy food. You may decide to give her amla juice everyday, but watch her squirt it right out at you and never drink it ever again! Try that with other herbs used in the popular ayurvedic bal-ghuti for the same result! I even tried masking the amla juice with her favorite strawberry jam but she was on the alert and there was no fooling her! And then, gave her a spoon of Dabur Chyawanprash which she mistook for jam and actually lapped it up quite happily, Amla and all! In exciting flavors of mango and mixed-fruit, this magic potion can increase immunity by 3 times and keep your child safe from those dreaded colds and coughs are so unpleasant and cause such discomfort. And you can watch your kid gulp down the Amla happily along with the range of other herbs that increase immunity.

Now that the October heat is on us, the weather is sultry and the mosquitoes are back! But this time, my little girl seems to be prepared.  As I watch her happily prance about in the park with the other kids, I know she will be well, healthy and happy.

Read more on Chywanprash here.

This post is written for an Indiblogger contest and is not entirely true! Dabur Chywanprash with all its health benefits can be given to only children over 3 years which I will when my daughter turns three!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

When two best-selling crime authors come together, the result’s got to be one helluva novel right? Private India is a part in a ‘Private’ world wide series written by James Patterson and a local author (usually),in this case Ashwin Sanghi and is a super murder mystery set in Mumbai that keeps the reader guessing.

The Story
A murder is discovered in a hotel by a maid, and strange symbols appear on the site of the murder. The murdered woman is discovered to be an accomplished surgeon. Tied to her hands are a lotus and a fork, and tied to a foot is a tiny Viking helmet. She has been strangulated, and a yellow scarf tied to her neck. Private India, an investigating agency headed by Santosh is called in to investigate the case in collaboration with the Police headed by ACP Rupesh.

 After the first murder of the doctor,  the series of murders continue with more women being discovered with strange symbols around them and the yellow scarf around their necks. After the doctor,.a journalist, a famous singer, an influential politician, a social-worker, and a school principal are all found dead killed by seemingly the same person in a similar fashion. All the women are found with yellow garrotes around their necks and strange symbols around them.  The team is flummoxed and is unable to find the common link apart from a few unrelated people whose names keep cropping up during the investigation. Santosh and team need to find out how the murders are connected, what the symbols are, what story the murderer is trying to tell and who the next targets are before the murderer gets to them. The urgency to solve this case increases further as sinister events unfold on the side and the murderer strikes again and again.

Other parallel story lines involve a gang lord who is simultaneously plotting bomb blasts, a corrupt Attorney General whose name crops up during investigation of several murders, Santosh’s team members most of who have a troubled past and Santosh’s turbulent relationship with erstwhile close friend ACP Rupesh.

My take
The mystery in itself is quite a page turner which keeps the reader hooked and wondering what will happen next while trying to analyze the preceding murders to see how they are connected. I also enjoyed the characterization of the many people introduced in the book and could almost imagine the story unfold.

However, what I didn’t think fitted with the main storyline were all of the parallel storylines that I mentioned earlier.  Infact, the book could have entirely done without including any of the other parts even as they added words and more complexity to the script and tried to befuddle the reader. For example, I found the terrorist links in the book to be completely unnecessary and a waste of words really.

All in all a thrilling page turner, and a nice juicy murder mystery you may say, complete with clues, plenty of suspects, involved investigators and a great storyline. I will give the book 4 stars on 5.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Catching the Departed by Kulpreet Yadav

The Indian literary scene seems to have a lot of thrillers off-late. Some based on stories of the past interspersed with the current age, others focusing on a particular sector say Banking, and yet some others who have not carved a niche for themselves yet have a promise of doing so.

The book I am reviewing here is yet another piece of crime fiction. The author has tried to differentiate himself though by giving us a new detective – Andy Karan.

Like some books I have read recently, whoever is out on a killing mission or on a saving mission in India, must have an army training and Andy Karan is no exception, except that he is no longer serving the military directly, but posing as a journalist but is really an undercover agent.

The Story
Set mostly in Delhi and a village near Delhi, we hear that a villager has been killed under suspicious circumstances. Andy Karan’s boss, Monica (obviously female and obviously single and good looking like she would be in all Indian novels) at the magazine sends him on a mission to find out after getting a tip off from a random source she doesn’t bother to verify about. Andy Karan lands up at the village and without much ado raises hackles without bothering to do anything cautiously and gets beaten up. His boss, Monica is apologetic about sending him there but Andy wants to go back.  Why, because there is this mysterious old man boss who shows up, and says that he is Andy’s boss and Andy wants to do as he commands him to. One would think, someone with an army training would be more cautious, but no, apparently the secret investigation cells of India work so secretly that detectives like Andy don’t know who they are working for!
The story however far-fetched, was believable till this point in time, till it revealed the villain who according to me bordered on insanity although he should have been a really astute person. If you read it, you will realize how inane the villain is and even less believable are his plans that follow to unleash terror in India. And then I have my pet peeve..the story is interesting but it seems to be written for a film with its unnecessary heroine, good looking army jaawan, and multiple locations of Delhi, Mumbai and a rural village near Delhi.

I would say the effort by the author is not too bad. While I like the idea of Andy Karan, the promising detective, I would have been happier with a better execution of the story
I will give this book a rating of 3 stars on five.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: Rise of the Sun Prince- Part 1 of Ramayana: The Game of Life by Shubha Vilas

One of the most revered tales that is a part of Indian mythology, folklore and history is that of the Ramayana. This tale of Prince Ram has been handed down through ages and is considered to be one of the greatest love stories and the most dramatic stories of good versus evil.

I have read several interpretations of the Ramayana. Some of my favorite books on the Ramayana include those by the very popular C Rajagopalachari and Kamala Subramaniam. However, I am always looking for new interpretations that provide me with more answers and new stories and am happy to say that I have found yet another version that I quite liked.

Shubha Vilas who is a spiritual leader and a motivational speaker has done justice to the Ramayana through this first volume called as the Rise of the Sun Prince in a six part series called as “Ramayana, the Game of Life”.

I was quite happy to receive an autographed copy of the book that provided a lovely message – “With this book I wish to share traditional wisdom to deal with the twists and turns of life. I hope this book will bring you a new perspective on living a progressive life.” And that is exactly what the book seeks to do. The Author has included not just the story but also interpreted it with reference to our everyday life and the life lessons we should get from the various chapters of the book.

The first book of the Ramayana details the story of Lord Ram, prince of the Ikshvaku dynasty, the descendants of the Sun God (and therefore the name of The Sun Prince). In this book you will read about Lord Rama’s birth, his young exploits in guarding the sacrifice of sages led by Vishwamitra against feared demons Taraka and Maricha, the freeing of a stony Ahalya from a curse and ends on a very happy note of Rama’s wedding with Sita. The book also has a substantial part devoted to the famous sage Vishwamitra. 

As most of the Ramayana story is well known, I will not get into more details of the story. But particularly interesting are some nuggets that the author has imparted throwing light to some questions we have on this epic tale. To cite an example, I always wondered why Lord Rama’s childhood was not as extensively covered as was Lord Krishna’s childhood in our scriptures. The author provides a note –

“Lord Rama’s childhood is underplayed in the Ramayana, with the entire childhood occupying merely 10 verses. In comparison, Krishna’s childhood has been elaborated extensively. Lord Rama is called Anusthana Pradhan, meaning the One who has descended to teach human lessons on discipline and morality. Lord Krishna is called Anubhava Pradhan, meaning the One who has descended to impart fascinating experiences.  Because Lord Rama had manifested to impart discipline, His childhood was kept low key.”
Let me provide an example of the lesson that he has provided on the Sage Vishwamitra’s enmity with the great Sage Vasishtha –

“Often in life, like Vishwamitra, we are so busy pursuing our short-term goals, that we do not find any time to pause and reflect on the direction we are heading toward. Life gives us many hidden doors, which become visible only if we pause. Most people live their lives by the clock, running at a frantic pace. A balanced individual needs to use a compass from time to time to check if one is running in the right direction. Else, the faster you run in the wrong direction, the farther you stray from your goal.”

I also don’t however know how true some of the stories are although I am sure the author has done his research. For example, I had no idea Dashratha, Rama’s father had 350 wives apart from the four we know of commonly, and had married them to escape the axe wielding hermit and Kshyatriya hater, Parshurama. Apparently, Parshurama had vowed to kill all the Kshyatriya kings except those who were getting married. 
But well, it may be true too.

All in all, an interesting book with some good interpretations.  However, I have found more compelling narratives in other books. That being said, I am glad to see a book in mainstream publishing that carries more than a story and also provides readers with a way of life.

My verdict:
I will give this book 3.5 stars out of five.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

10 Life Lessons Learnt from a Baby

It is ridiculous how much babies can teach you instead of the other way round. Some of the most profound life lessons come from babies. Here are ten life lessons my ten month old baby girl SSS has taught me by example!

1. Try and keep trying no matter how many times you fall (literally!) -  It is truly laudable how tirelessly SSS keeps trying to make those new movements. Be it sitting, crawling, standing, climbing or trying to walk. She never ever gives up no matter how many times she fails, falls, or hurts herself! This is certainly something we grown-ups need to learn from.

2. Be Bold - It could be out of ignorance of the unknown or just plain daring, but babies venture out into unknown territory far more easily than grown-ups do. Perhaps SSS is telling me to go out of my comfort zone and do bold new things I haven’t done before!

3. Find joy in simple things - Splashing in the water during bath time, untying a parcel, chasing a ball, playing for hours with a piece of string may sound mundane but are a source of joy for the little one. I need to sit back, relax and find pleasure in the simplest things I do!

4. Forget the bad parts easily - She stands up, she slips, she falls, she cries. You pick her up and soothe her. The next moment she is laughing out loud! How lovely life would be if we could forget the hurt as easily and move on with life!

5. Explore the world - However tiny her world maybe, her surroundings will always be interesting to her and she will continue to explore every nook and cranny. I need to start exploring my surroundings – the new park nearby, the attractions the city has to offer, a trip to the nearby hillstation…

6. Find new uses for old things - A tiny box is just a box until she puts a pebble into it and shakes it to make for a new rattle! A chair is just a chair till she learns to push it around to learn to walk! Babies are born innovators not knowing the intended use of things, and manage to use things in ways we grown-ups cannot imagine! I have learnt to convert all sorts of household objects into toys for her and had fun along the way!

7. Surprise us – This element of babies is one of the most endearing aspects. There is never a dull moment with her. You may think a box of expensive toys would wow her, but surprise! She puts the toy aside and plays with the wrapping paper! How fun life would be if we started surprising one another with the smallest of things and putting in efforts towards goals to surprise ourselves!

8. Ask questions – Although SSS is too young to start probing verbally, her curiosity in the smallest of things is amazing. The look of wonder on her face when cars go by, or the baffled look when she sees anything new tells me I need to start getting ready to answer a host of questions. And also start asking some pertinent questions I have ignored in my general life.

9. Exercise - Right from the time the baby develops arms and legs in the womb, they are continuously kicking them and exercising. SSS is never still in one place and forever wants to move around tirelessly.  I need to take a leaf from her active lifestyle and get mobile for a fraction of that time for a slim me!

10. Eat only as much as is required – Last but not the least, babies know exactly how much they should eat and refuse a morsel of food beyond. Now if only we could apply this when presented with a buffet of the most deliciously fattening fried and sweet stuff, life would be much fitter than it is!