Tuesday, February 26, 2019

#641 : Eco Friendly Products by Dopolgy - Review


With the recent plastic ban in the state, all of us have been pushed to look for Eco-friendly alternatives for bags. I successfully managed to switch to cloth or jute bags for everything including grocery shopping and vegetable shopping. It was that forced switch which made me realize that we were all literally drowning in mounds of plastic which cannot be recycled. I decided to slowly switch one product at a time and do my bit for a sustainable environment. 

In spite of the plastic ban in full swing, tender coconut vendors are still providing plastic straws. They tell me it's very much available in the market. To do my bit, I got myself stainless steel straws and have begun to carry them around in my bag. Just as I was looking to throw out a couple of other items - toothbrush and my plastic loofah, I chanced upon a tweet by a person running this Eco-friendly store - Dopolgy. They were offering Charcoal infused bamboo toothbrush, News paper color pencils, news paper seed pencils and news paper pencils. My employers - Schneider Electric - a company known for it's green initiatives - had earlier provided us all with paper seed pens which turned out to be quite good. These pencils by Dopolgy are the latest addition to my conscious stationery kit. 




Having used them for a little more than a week now, these pencils are no different from the regular wood pencils. I found no difference at all whatsoever. They are study and as perfect as the ones made out of wood. 



Having used a natural loofah made out of Vettiver roots ages ago, I had very less expectations of these loofahs. They aren't exactly durable. The fibers tend to come loose and irritate the skin in a very short span of time. This loofah are comparatively thin and do look sturdy. It's been more than a week, so far it is quite good and do not show any signs of tear or wear. 


The charcoal infused toothbrush was the perfect product of all. The brush felt weightless and the bristles are super soft.  It feels refreshing to use a product which is easy on the nature and our health as well.


All the above mentioned products are quite reasonably priced as well. 

More than the overall quality of the products, which of course is good enough, it feels good and satisfying to have made the switch! 

Please do make the switch, it's just the little bit that we can do. 

Do buy these fantastic brushes and loofahs from Dopolgy from their store here. 

Note: Dopolgy sent these products for a review, however, the opinions stated are my own.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

#640 : Women In Business - Wands by Megha : Interview


It is every Potterhead's dream to own a wand. For unlucky people like me, who are yet to visit the UK and buy the actual merchandise from Warner Brothers (which might end up burning a hole in your pocket), Megha's wands are a dream come true! Albeit at a lesser cost. 

Here is my interaction with this beautiful young woman with a quirky business!

Hello Megha,

First of all, congratulations! Your wands look so perfect.

Me: Warner Bros have their own official wand merchandise. What made you to take up this idea of wand-making?

Megha : Wand making wasn’t an idea as such , being a Potter head I wanted to own a few wands and that’s how it all started J One instagram post later people had me asking if I was selling them , and here we are J

Me : How do you really make a Wand? What’s the process and effort that go into it? Give us an inside sneak peek. 

Megha:  Magic! ;)

Well , the wands are hand made and hand painted and go through several drying processes to finally look like the end result and That’s all the Tea I can spill!

Me : Investing time and money into a business is not an easy decision, especially if you are a woman, the society tends to treat us with kid gloves. Though that is a changing one step at a time, there is a long way to go. Enlighten us on the trials and tribulations you faced when you decided to get into this business.

Megha : Wand making wasn’t something I thought I would get into you know , but when I first started I invested  my own money on it . Self doubt was one aspect that kept bothering me .Will people like my work was the one thought I had 24*7 but then I let go of that and everything was easier after that , also , not to forget ,the shipping! But … it got better with time so we’re all good now J

Me :Your business is online predominantly. Do you have some offline sales as well?

Megha : Yes , people who know me in real life are my offline customers J

Me : The small business scenario in India – How would you describe it from your experience, what are the procedures you had to follow to bring your product out.

Megha :  I think there is a lot of scope for small businesses if you base your store on something that isn’t already available and with the emerging use of social media it seems even easier , but you cannot just depend on what’s in front of you , you need to work equally hard and give them the best so your business flourishes ! Hard work gets you places is all I can say for now.

Me : Pillars of support! Immaterial of gender, we all need support to embark on a venture, who were yours?

Megha : I have always had weird dreams but nevertheless I have gotten endless support from my family and my Boyfriend J

Me : Words of wisdom for women aspiring to start their own business.

Megha : Work hard and give your all without calculating the outcome ! You’ll be shocked to see how much you achieve!









                                           

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

#639 : The Heart of You by Aarti V Raman : Cover Reveal

~ Cover Reveal ~
The Heart of You 
(A Geeks of Caltech Novel)
by Aarti V Raman


Mixed martial arts studio owner Kit Barranos has always been a fighter. He will fight for his family. For his friends. For anyone in need.

What he doesn't know how to do is fight for himself...

... Or the inconvenient and consuming desire he has for single mom Lily Fallahil.

Office manager, Lily has spent the last decade raising her son and proving her independence to her protective and overbearing brother, Drake.

She has no time for romance. Especially with Kit Barranos, who has a body to die for and eyes that rip at her soul.

When Kit reveals his heartbreaking secret to Lily - he has a brother he never knew about, one he considered his closest friend - it brings them closer, creates a bond neither can deny.

And paves the way for a steamy attraction that explodes between them.

But it isn't just Lily that Kit is slowly but surely falling for. It's her adorable son, Bret.

Navigating the holidays, their families and their feelings is no easy task.

Flawed and fiercely loyal, Kit and Lily have fought the odds and survived.

But, survival no longer seems enough.

Can they take a chance on each other, on their hearts... On a love that braves The Heart of You?

The Heart of You is Book Three of The Geeks of Caltech, a unique band of friends bonded by loyalty, brotherhood, and pain. The Geeks of Caltech are to die for and their women all they wish to live for!

COMING SOON!

About the Author:
Aarti V Raman lives in Mumbai, India and has been a commercial editor and business journalist for the better part of a decade.
She is an incurable romantic who has taken up the task of bringing Happily Ever After to life for the characters in her head. She has three traditionally published novels out, all contemporary romances from 2014-2016, with the next one slated for release in 2019.
She currently writes and self-publishes steamy contemporary romance for urban millennials with a global twist. Sometimes, there are guns and car chases too.
Her new contemporary romance series include GEEKS OF CALTECH and ROYALS OF STELLANGARD as well as standalone romances - all of which have become Amazon India and US bestsellers.
She has also appeared as speaker at lit festivals and events around India and also dabbles in poetry, while conducting creative writing workshops.

Contact the Author:
Website * Facebook Page * Twitter * Instagram


This Cover Reveal is powered by b00k r3vi3w Tours


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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#638 : Maha Vishnu Trilogy: Part 1: The Code of Manavas by Arpit Bakshi : Review


Set in the future,2 million past the year 2050 to be precise, the story talks about a mysterious element called Bhoomodium. While the element makes people immortal and improves their cognitive abilities, on the long run, it is does have other consequences. Kali yuga has ended and the Swarnim yuga has begun. The people of the day are much evolved and are know as the Manavas. Lord Krishna, the actual protagonist of the book, is a scientist and the sole reason for the people,ie. the Manavas to have survived Kali yuga. Would Krishna be able to work his magic again to save the Manavas from the negative force which threatens to usurp the clan. 

When it comes to a science fiction set in the future, I'm apprehensive about reading such a story. While the genre by itself gives that freedom to let one's imagination run wild, it really doesn't warrant that the writer gets too carried away with the technicalities of it. This writer didn't do that and I a managed to read through till the end. The premise - Lord Krishna as a scientist in far future - seemed very interesting. However, I wished the writer explore the connection between the Krishna from Dwapar Yuga and the Swarnim Yuga a bit more. 

While the first quarter of the story was very interesting to read, the rest of story felt forced and quite unsure. I felt the writer could have done away with the female characters and the love triangle. They really didn't have any major role to play which seemed a bit chauvinistic to me. 

The editing felt a bit choppy in a sense that the flow felt quite inconsistent. The characterisation was basic. Since this is a trilogy, it could be that the writer intends to develop the characters in the forthcoming books. 
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Monday, February 11, 2019

#637 : Women In Business - Hooty Hoot Store by Abirami Kumaraswamy : Interview



Can happiness be brought? What is really the definition of happiness? All these questions popped in my head as I scrolled through Hooty Hoot store's beautiful Instagram feed. Her store is based on the concept of Hygge - translate loosely to cosy in Danish. I looked up and did a bit of research and realise that it was all to do with mental well being. 

Curling up in a comfortable nook with a steam hot cup of chocolate and a nice book when the weather if icy cold can really bring happiness. That just sounds a lot like what the Danish people prescribe to be happiness. Most of the products that she sells - the Hooty hoot crate, Vintage Journals, Valentine day combos, all seem to focus on experiencing happiness in a aesthetic manner. Intrigued by her concept, I decided to have a little chat with her about her business, here is a snippet of our conversation. 

Me :  How did this of concept of creating/curating a box based on Hygge come by? What or whowas your inspiration to start this business?

Abitu :  Year 2017, when I learned about the concept of Hygge, it got me hooked to it. As a person with a bit of OCD and seeks something comfy all time to read or watch, hygge sounded perfect to me. Hygge is not only about comfort and relaxation. It changed my way of living, making me more productive and positive. The 2017 Christmas season gave me a perfect opportunity to start a business, focusing primarily on gifts. The fusion of hygge and vintage products I ideated and created made my friends happy. I wanted to bring smile and glow to more such faces, thus began my journey of Hooty hoot.

Me : Investing time and money into a business is not an easy decision, especially if you are a woman, the society tends to treat us with kid gloves. Though that is a changing one step at a time, there is a long way to go. Enlighten us on the trials and tribulations you faced when you decided to get into this business.

Abitu : Investing money is a big step, it took me almost six months to make my family to understand what exactly I’m trying to do and how far I need help financially. There are few things about this subscription box that is tricky. Many people are not aware of how a subscription box works. Though there is an active and support Instagram community which understands all this, there is a long way to go. We cannot be pros overnight, every hurdle and every problem faced will help move forward.

Me: Your business is online predominantly. Do you do some offline sales as well?

Abitu :No, there aren’t any offline sales yet

Me: The small business scenario in India – How would you describe it from your experience, what are the procedures you had to follow to bring your product out!

Abitu : Small or big if you have an innovative idea, you’ll be certainly noticed by the crowd.  It is important to be clear about the idea, research this thoroughly and do a good deal of value addition to it before indulging in sales.

Me: Pillars of support! Immaterial of gender, we all need support to embark on a venture, who were yours?

Abitu: Without my two friends Indhumathi and Sara, Hooty hoot would have been hiding in some notebook’s last page. The concept of Hygge was introduced to me by my friend Harish DV on his trip to Denmark. He sent me a photo explaining Hyygge and few more Hygge concepts followed all over Denmark. This literally was the a good twist in my life which change my way of thinking and living. All thanks to my dad, who believed in me every time and supports me mentally and financially through this start up. 

Me: Pearls of wisdom for women aspiring to start their own business.

Abitu: Whatever makes your weird is probably your greatest asset, be weirdly creative and be your own boss.

About Abirami Kumaraswamy :


Abirami kumaraswamy (Fondly known as  Abitu by her friends) is  26 years old and lives in Coimbatore. Given the count of engineers of India, well she is an engineer too.  She finished her M. Tech Computer Science and Engineering and Worked with TCS. Scrap paper and Scissors was always her hobby and passion. The hectic round the clock job was unsatisfactory for this one awesome life, so she quit her job to start a small business. Almost 2 years later and three notebooks of ideas Hooty hoot was born. Hooty hoot is all about hygge, vintage and more. The love for Vintage, writing letters and making postcards are things from her childhood, all thanks to her mother.  Apart from hooty hoot and crafts she loves reading has published a book titled MazhaisaaralumTheenerkoppaiyum (Tamil poetry). The Japanese word Tsundoku, used to describe a person who owns a lot of unread books suits her perfectly!


Do check out her store here - Hooty Hoot Crate

As I signed off my conversation with her, I realised that one really needn't put in effort to find happiness.

PS. Her journals are super cute, her valentine combo is real pretty. DM her on Insta, she is really active and responds with such enthusiasm!  
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Friday, February 8, 2019

#636 : Women In Business - Happiness is Handcrafted by Archna Sudarshan : Interview


Up-scaling is probably only of the favorite activities of women from my previous generation. I've seen my mom turn our old skirts to fully functional pretty cloth bags for shopping.  People have become a bit more nature conscious these days making way for recycled and ups-scaled items into their homes.

I stumbled upon Archna's Instagram handle - Happiness is handcrafted, where she sells beautiful art items which are made from bottles (decoupage) and other scrap. Here is a snippet of my conversation with her.

Me : So what made you take up this business?

Archna : So - this initiative didn’t start as a business up-scaling things has been an integral part for dad and me since my childhood. When I had projects at school to make models, we wouldn’t buy raw materials from a store, instead try use materials from home waste. 

For example, once I had to make a skyscraper. We could have done it with cardboard and get done with it, Instead my dad encouraged me to make the building with empty shampoo bottles - this would be way back in 1996-1997, my third grade. Though it wasn’t appreciated at school, I had this satisfaction that I could make waste products beautiful.

Likewise I did my graduation in architecture and the first year had many exercises with art from waste - 
- made wind-chimes with newspapers, shoe laces and broken anklets
- collages with magazine sheets
- Jewelry with coconut Shells 
- slippers with straws, etc
It was reminiscing my childhood and the beautiful times dad and I shared making such projects.

Now being a design consultant for architecture and interiors - designing spaces having personalized touch has been my forte.

The 2 above points put together makes my interior space exciting. Mostly I work with jute ropes, wool, glass bottles - be it honey jar, pickle jar or liquor bottles.

Glass as such is a wonderful material and what an amazing way to articulate it and make it a designer piece of the home interior!!

Also, I started making personalized gifts for family and friends using these bottles which gained a lot of appreciation. Thus making my passion also my home Business and creating drama with up-scaling 😇

Me:  Investing time and money into a business is not an easy decision, especially if you are a woman, the society tends to treat us with kid gloves. Though that is a changing one step at a time, there is a long way to go. Enlighten us on the trials and tribulations you faced when you decided to get into this business.

Archna : Getting into this business has had its ups and downs just like any other business, with time being such an important factor.

Bring a handcrafter - time is of most essence. The time and energy that goes into making a product is enormous and I really wish people do realize it and appreciate it.

Also managing home, work and passion has been crazy but beautiful. Everything is what I love doing - so it’s been an amazing journey so far.  With my backbone being my husband, encouraging me to be more creative - be it interiors or handicrafts, helping me collect materials and not term me a hoarder, help with ideas and give feedback and be my support system with house hold chores, there’s nothing more I could ask for.

Money wise - it’s majorly the supplies needed, which cost wise is high in our country also with much lesser options (it’s getting better now) compared to other places, but it’s all about how you manage it.

Also this being a home business, there ain’t any major investment but for the storage spaces for all supplies and products with their packaging materials and that occupies a whole lot of space 😌

Many have realized the importance of supporting handmade artists but there’s a long way to go.


Me : Your business is online predominantly. Do you have some offline sales as well?

Archna : Yes I do make offline sales as well - but that’s usually with word of mouth, within family and friend’s circle, apartment-mates, existing client referrals, etc.


Me :  The small business scenario in India – How would you describe it from your experience, what are the procedures you had to follow to bring your product out. 

Archna : So there wasn’t a particular system I followed. It was all just trial and error.

Many products which I made for family and friends were gifted to them and only till about recently (until about 2-3 years ago) I realized I do not have pictures of them. Back then I didn’t have the idea to sell them - that’s something I truly regretted.

But of-late I’ve learnt from those mistakes and making progress.

Also, in order to get recognition - I had to make one each of all the products I had made in the past just to take pictures and post it online.

The bright side of it is that, few of them are displayed at my home, making my place colorful.
Also when someone visits my home, these products excite them and I get orders, either for the same product or something similar with customization.

Instagram has been the primary source of online sales - if not sales in a big way, at least recognition and contacts . I do have plans in the future to sign up with recognized organisations for online sales, taking it one step at a time.


Me : Pillars of support! Immaterial of gender, we all need support to embark on a venture, who were yours?

Archna : Nagarajan - Dad being the first - to teach me or even get me into the idea of up-scaling or up-cycling 

Bhuvana - Mom - being supportive of all the excitement, disappointment, mess I’ve made and everything under the roof

Sudarshan - my teenage love and now my husband 
The support, encouragement, the push, the critics, all of it through the last 15 years and forever to go - makes me what I am today.

Gowri - my mother in law
She is the primary support to help me procure raw materials here in Chennai and go around with me to markets or suggest where I can get what.

My girls - friends, sisters and sisters in law - who are always around to be happy for me and get excited with every product I make.

My regular courier service guys - who know how delicate these products are and take good care of them while packaging and shipping, in however possible ways.

This is just the start and there’s  a long long way to go.

Me:  Words of wisdom for women aspiring to start their own business.

Archna : It might be scary, may think it’s impossible, could be a doubtful move - but it’s just fine
Jump into it.

We are here to make the impossible - possible 

Create whatever starts a revolution in your heart

Be strong enough to stand alone.

Smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it!

Thank you Archna for taking time out to have this conversation!


Please do reach out to her via her Instagram Handle - Happiness is Handcrafted or her Mail ID!








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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#635 : Dance With Me by PG Van : Review



The protagonist, Suhana, fresh out of divorce from her husband of 14 years is struggling to find a footing and raise their only son Karan. Amidst all this, videos of her dancing and working out while doing her household chores go viral. In appears Samyan, her neighbor's son. He is handsome and caring, helping out Suhana with the various challenges of life. Eventually, one thing leads to another and life literally happens. 

The book is a short yet intense read. The writing is great, the characters are perfect. One thing I had a problem with, was the setting. While the characters feel almost Indian, the story is set in America. This wasn't really clear until few pages down. It didn't really matter at all in the end, but I prefer to know the geography of the setting. 

The central theme of the book is all about second chances. Moving out from a fruitless relationship and finding love sounds very romantic and easy. The hard work, the emotional trust one has to put in and the trauma one has to experience due to a heart break of sorts if often swept beneath the rug or at times over romanticized. However, this writer has portrayed all that in correct proportions. Moreover, in spite of going through all that, it is hard to move on and rediscover yourself. The writer did a fab job making sure Suhana discovers her passion for dancing. 

In short, the book was an intense and romantic read. 

Do buy the book here on Amazon.

Note : Thanks to TBC & the writer for a review copy! 
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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

#634 : Women In Business - Introduction



At one of point of time in their career, every working woman would have dreamt of quitting their job and taking up a business. Then there are the others, who actually took that plunge and are doing a fabulous job out of it. 

Social media has become a great playing field for small time entrepreneurs. Instagram particularly is buzzing with entrepreneurs who start small yet are steady with their sales. Women these days are finding it easier to gain much needed exposure via social media. 

While offline businesses pose a huge volume of challenges, online businesses are comparatively easier to handle. One can manage a good online business with a proper website, some social media skills, and a reliable delivery system. The legal part of the whole set up is a tad bit complicated though with GST kicking in. 

Being an extensive user of social media, I've had the opportunity of meeting (virtually & offline too) and interacting with many women who run successful small time businesses. Most of the women  I interacted with have either had to give up their career because of their family commitments or they were just done being tied down to a monotonous job. Then there are this minority of young women - who are in college or school or have just completed their college education - who use their spare time or have that thirst to prove themselves trying their hands in running a business. 

Such women need to be lauded for doing what they are doing. They serve as an inspiration for young women who need to be taught the value of financial independence. 

Why "women" only you ask? 

Frankly, this is a no-brainer. The board rooms of big corporates and conglomerates hardly have female representation. How many big businesses are run by women today? a handful may be. These so called big businesses didn't begin big, it all started small. For all we know, these women run small businesses might grow big and that skewed gender ratio there might gain a balance. It's not wrong to dream and hope. 

It's my small way of showing support to women how are aspiring to set that ratio right. 

All this month, I plan to post snippets of conversations I had with such small business owners who predominantly have a business online (some have offline presence too). First post coming up some time towards this weekend!

Please do support these people by visiting their stores and buying from them! 

PS. THIS IS NOT SPONSORED. The whole series is purely my initiative. I hand picked all the women to be featured and reached out to them to feature them.


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Friday, February 1, 2019

#633 : The Month that was - January round up!



 I embarked into the New Year with a vague plan in mind. I wanted to bring my life to an order, but chaos reined and continues to do so. Amidst all the personal chaos, I managed to write about 5 posts (This one included) out of which only two were reviews. However, I did read 6 books in this month. I've never really kept track of the number of books I read per month, but this month, inspired by Bookstagram, I decided to keep a track.


Here is what I read! 

                                    

I picked up Elanor Oliphant as the bookstagram community was raving about it. It felt mildly over rated, nevertheless, the writer did a great job of portraying a trauma and it's effect on adulthood. Me Before wasn't really on my list but I picked it up on a whim. I wanted to watch the movie since Emilia Clark was in it, but it's always a good thing to read a book before watching the movie. The Forest of Enchantments was also surprise addition to the list. I didn't want to read any of Chitra B Divakurni's other works after The Palace of Illusions. That book for me is such a high benchmark and from the reviews of other books, I knew she hadn't really surpassed herself. Personally, I felt it would some how lessen the impression I had on the writer if I read her other  below the bar books. Braved that notion I had and picked the book. It didn't exactly fail me but it wasn't mind blowing like The Palace of Illusions was. I also had the chance to meet her in person and get my copy autographed. 

The Chef's Secret was a great addition to the list. I loved reading ever bit of that book. P.S. From Paris was on my kindle for a long time. After the Italy effect, I decided to move to France. The book felt like an American movie or may be things were lost in translation? 

I loved Six of Crows series, with The King of Scars out, I wanted to read the Grishaverse series for  a bit of a background. It's a book you would either come to hate with all might or love equally. I'm yet to really decide if I like it or hate. I loved the writing, the suspense element, but the characterization and story line was disappointing. I've just stared the next in the series. 

I did a bit of planning for the blog for February & March. Something very interesting coming up from Monday. Lookout for it. I had a blast interacting with many people for it. 

On the life front, I managed to attend The Hindu Lit for Life. Nothing really inspiring. Lit fests are supposed to spark inspirations for aspiring writers, but I felt the quality of the event as such has degraded a lot. It was a common opinion that the panelists were mostly clueless about the topic they were discussing and the moderators were even  more average. I still remember Sashi Tharoor's and Omar Abdulla's enlightening speeches from previous editions. They really did know what they were talking about. This year it was all pseudo intellectual trash barring a couple of sessions. 

I began making some tweaks to my diet since I realized the importance of nutrition. Slogging in the gym taught me that. 

Overall, January was an okay-ish month. Nothing really exciting, but that's how my life is most of these days!

Am I looking for excitement? Nope. I'm perfectly fine with my boring life.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

#632 : The Chef's Secret by Crystal King : Review




A story set in renaissance Italy and centering around gastronomical delight is every Italophile's perfect idea of a book. This book fit's that box perfectly. The plot is loosely based on 16th century cook(or "Cuoco" in Italian) Bartolomeo Scappi. Scappi served several Popes. He is also famously known for his mammoth of a book of recepies - Opera dell'arte del cucinare. 

The story begins with the funeral of Bartolomeo Scappi. He bequeaths his estate - his favorite knife, a collection of his recipe and a vast sum of money - to his nephew Giovanni. He also gives keys to his safe containing his personal diary and asks him to burn them. The diary is coded to maintain the secrets, but Giovanni ends up decoding it and stringing together the story Scappi's life in the process. The diary holds treacherous secrets which when fallen into wrong hands would literally lead to the doom of Giovanni and his family. 

The writing is delightful. The writer took her sweet own time to build the plot thread by thread. There were few place where the story felt like it slacked and turned a bit boring, but just then another plot twist would come in to make things interesting again. I felt the pacing to be rather different and surprising in a sense for such a story line. It felt like a sinusoidal wave with alternating moments of slack and thrill. Being a Vegetarian, the dishes described in the book apart from the pies seemed a bit overwhelming. However, it was quite interesting to read about sugar sculptures and Papal history. 

Note : I thank the writer & the publisher for providing me  a review copy on request via NetGalley!

You can buy the book here from Amazon.
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Monday, January 21, 2019

#630 : The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni : Review


An epic with countless versions, narrated in hundred of different ways to suit the reader - it is indeed a mammoth of a task to narrate it in yet another perspective. 

The version of Ramayana I read as a child was conspicuously devoid of certain emotions and events like the Agni Pariksha or banishment of Sita. It was a simple narration of a complicated story, narrated to ensure that a 10 year old understands the perils of stealing. As I grew up, I "heard" various versions of the same story narrated by my own mother and grandmother as a bed time story or mostly as a lesson to learn patience. However, none of the narrations bother on focusing the women of the story and their feelings. Sita was epitome of patience and virtue they said, while one not ought to be like Kaikeyi they said. That was the maximum attention they got. Kaikeyi did what a mother would do, yet she was vilified. Sita is portrayed to be meek when she agreed for the Agni Pariksha, but she did really wish to die in the fire. People conveniently  focus just on one person - Lord Ram.Time and again, one fact seems to have escaped from most of the narrators focus - If it weren't for Sita, there would be no Ramayana, if it weren't for Draupadi, there would be no Mahabaratha. 

With the high standards that 'The Palace of Illusions' set, it is natural of a reader to expect a work of such magnitude from this book as well.  She almost lives up to her own standards with "almost" being the key there. How do you narrate a story that's already widely popular, yet keep the reader hooked to the book? How do you ensure that you don't bring in shades of a very strong character from your previous book because that was a benchmark hit. You do it by sticking to the basics and keeping it simple. That's precisely the crux of this narration. 

Sita, as a character, is commonly described to be mellow but a strong person. Being mellow often translates to boring and weak. It is hard not to draw parallel to Draupadi who is portrayed to be feisty. The fundamental difference that is often used to justify this portrayal is that, Sita, is the daughter of Mother Earth, while Draupadi was the Daughter of Lord Fire. What one fails to realize is that, Sita was probably as fiery as Draupdi but in a different way. The writer has exploited this line of thought to the maximum.  But then, this isn't really a first attempt at writing a Sitayan. 

What particularly stands out is the who construct which feels mellifluous. While the writer has done abundant justice in making the women of the story heard, it all feels slightly single dimensional. Agreed that it was of paramount of importance to ensure Sita had all layers portrayed, but few characters could have been given those extra layers. For example, the bond between Sita and her sister Urmila, seems superficial as Sita feels over bearing whenever there is Urmila around. While it was interesting to read about Sita's mother, again, the angle on the bond that she shares with Urmila wasn't taken into account much. While it might not be very crucial to the story as such, it could possibly add to the very pleasure of understanding the women of Ramayana better. The surprise however was Mandodhari - Ravana's wife. That part was possibly the highlight of the book. The writer ensured to portray her beautifully.

One passage particularly made a realistic impression about Sita's mother when she sees her daughters off to Ayodhya,

"Draw on you inner strength. Remember, you can be your worst enemy- or your best friend.It's up to you. And also this : what you can't change, you must endure" 

The whole narration hangs on this very word - Endure. Time and again, Sita seems to be a personification of the word - the personification of every woman who endures all injustice meted out to her. While we have often looked upon Ram and Sita as divine beings, it was refreshing to read the human side of them - the one that I could personally relate to. Two particular passages I could connect with was (the first set in Lanka, while the latter set in Panchavati or Panchabati as the writer prefers - The Bengali version may be?!), 

"Once mistrust has wounded it mortally, love can't be fully healed again"

"How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine! The stronger the expectation, the more the anger towards the beloved if he doesn't fulfill it - and the less the control over ourselves."

Sita's pain felt real, her struggle in the Lanka felt real, the torrent of emotions felt real - the writing was such. In spite of the minor qualms I have as reasoned above, the book was every bit a great read, with such vivid narration and complex emotions all centered around the biggest emotion of all - love. 

In times of such harshness, reading about truthful love feels heartwarming.  


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Friday, January 11, 2019

#629 : When words fail

Writing has been my "thing" for a long time now. I love the sound of my keyboard clattering while I hammer away my thoughts, broadcasting it to the world. I love scribbling on my notepad about anything and everything. I would never rate myself as a good writer, but I can string words without making major grammatical blunders. I don't agree with people who call my writing good. I brush them off with sigh and tell them there is always room for improvement and I need to improve. People mistake it for arrogance, but that's just how I'm built. I cannot take a compliment and I absolutely push my self hard to excel. 

Over the course of time, I began feeling a slight sense of disorientation every time I had a blank document or a paper in front of me. I couldn't simply get myself to write a sentence without being anxious about how I should continue. Thankfully, my day job does not need me to wax about eloquently. A couple of technical reports, a handful of instructive mails and a bunch of markings on engineering documents is all is needed of me through the week apart from the occasional howler when things go wrong. I get through that comfortably, but the minute I open a document to pen down a review or continue the story I started writing, words fail. My fingers hover over the keyboard hoping words tumble out magically. A million of thoughts zip by and by the time I manage penning some of them down, they are  a incoherent mess which needs to be read, re-read and re-written. Desperation sets in and I save my work for the session.  I always read thrice and edit like mad before I hit publish, but never have I ever given up in frustration and hit the button. Of late, that seems to be the general way of getting through a piece to be published or mailed. No amount of editing seems to be make me happy. In fact, this very post took me a week to write, edit and re-write. I would have done this in day.

Personally, my life is almost peaceful barring the general feel of mild discontent with various finer aspects of life, just like any other normal human. Being the person that I am, I sat down to contemplate and work on a solution. No amount of introspection helped me arrive at a conclusion on the reason behind this phase. I don't know if it would have helped to speak to my friends.

That's when it struck me that I had become an introvert. I used to have a handful of people around me who used to support me or just be there.I used to love talking to people, hearing their stories, that too in person. Over the time, the handful seems to have dwindled and boiled down to just a couple. Must be the hectic schedule and my day job, I reasoned, but that sounds like a watery excuse to not make that effort to socialize. On the other hand, nor did those people make an effort to come talk to me. It's supposed to be a two way street isn't it? Or may be I'm not really a like- "able" person.

I even considered a social media and general interaction detox. However, I did realize that my story, the things I write, all of it stems from interactions with people. It would be like killing my golden egg laying muse.

What do I really do?

I decided to stop coercing myself into writing for the sake of it. I have short term plans for various features on the blog which are not really writing intensive. I'm planning to wade through my review commitments step by step with a general format in mind.

As far as the creative writing bit is concerned, I'm researching various activities which would help. Also planning to unlearn the language - English - and learn it again with vigor.

Would all the plan work, I wonder! 

I do hope all this works! *Fingers Crossed* *No scratch that, hands crossed may be?*
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Monday, January 7, 2019

#628 : Another Year gone! - 2018

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
2018 - A year of changes. Frankly, it's been like that since Dec 2016! 

I welcomed 2018 in a tiny claustrophobic room lying on the bed despairing to be with my loved ones. I was in Spain for work and home sickness had begun to set in. It did eventually get better though. Days passed by in a blur as I worked my head off for a good 4 months there before I got packed off to home. Being home felt good, but I missed the independence and the peace that Spain offered me. 

The year turned out to be a complete surprise in many ways. Just like 2017, the "adapt" streak continued. I moved to a new house, took a good vacation ( A perfect trip to Thailand) and ended up experiencing a lot of new things. 

Most important of all, I published my first short story book. In the process, I did realize a few things which lead me to my goals for 2019. I also indulged quite a bit by eating out a lot exploring different cuisines, shopping for good organic skincare/makeup and clothes and books. However, with all the expenses, I realized the value of budgeting and planning. I also decided it was high time I got fit, joined a gym and also stumbled on a group on Facebook which mentally supported me to realize the importance of fitness. A special mention of thanks to Janaki & Rubina. 

Blogging wise, it has been a stellar year. I set up my own domain, customized mail ID and managed to blog pretty regularly. I also worked on supporting the blog-sphere by commenting on most of the blogs I read. Thanks to Blogchatter's My Friend Alexa campaign, I discovered pretty interesting blogs and my Alexa ranking hit the roof. 

Reading wise, it has been a mixed bag. I didn't really read the books I wanted to, with Shashi Tharoor being an exception. Missed out on reading works of Perumal Murugan, Jeet Thayil & Manu Joseph. I began actively participating in the Bookstagram community, but then again, some harsh lessons there. I attended a book club meet this year finally! Met a lot of interesting people and of course, I met my book-reviewing-idol - Vishy. Been following his book reviews for a long time now. He is so humble and simple for a man who has read so much. 

The highlight of the year however was one goal that I set for myself and accomplished it perfectly - cutting off toxic people from my life. I shut out all of them. Aishwarya, my friend from school, helped me mentally to do that. Thank you Aish :) 

Some goals for 2019. 

1. Plan, plan, plan & execute - I discovered that once I have a plan in place, my mind refuses to stray and sticks to it. I intend to efficiently bring about a routine to incorporate my personal goals. Time to explore bullet journal may be?

2. Explore DIY - I'm not much of an arts and crafts person. This year, I intend to dabble with something that would help me focus on the beauty of little things of life. 

3. Improve my writing - The ever helpful Bragadeesh, writer & fellow blogger, helped me chart out a structure for the novel I had started to write. However, I realized my writing was weak. I need practice. This is the year for it. Detailed post later. 

4. Forget Bookstagram - Detailed post about this later. 

Wish you all a peaceful year ahead. I wanted to take some time to gather my thoughts before I penned this post down, hence the delay of 7 days! 





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