Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Eating out in Delhi

Published on Expat Arrivals for the benefit of expats in Delhi.

Restaurants in Delhi

It's said that cuisine in India changes every 500 metres (1500 feet). It comes as no surprise then that restaurants in Delhi, one of the nation's cosmopolitan centrepieces, offer an enviable range of both regional Indian and international fare.

restuarants in DelhiPeople of Delhi take their food seriously and love to eat. There are dining options on every street, some small with mid-range prices and some expensive. While Chinese, Thai, Italian and Japanese are most popular, you can also find Lebanese, Mexican and Mediterranean restaurants in Delhi.

There are plenty of vegetarian choices as well, and vegan selections make common appearances on menus in the city. That being said, chicken and mutton are the meats most often used for cooking, while pork is served only in some establishments.

Some expats may be surprised to find that beef cannot be sold legally in Delhi, and can only be served with the appropriate licences. It follows that beef dishes are largely restricted to five star hotels. If beef dishes are offered in other restaurants, it would likely be buffalo, rather than cow meat that is used.

If you're a newly arrived expat to Delhi, then it would be better for you stick to bottled water and the larger, more mainstream restaurants. These do tend to be more expensive, but they will also be more hygienic and a safer option until your body adjusts to the local conditions.

Once you get rid of the fabled "Delhi Belly" and you're stomach develops a bit of the steel lining that Indians pride themselves on, you can even start enjoying the street food and hole-in-the-wall kebab eateries; some of Delhi's most precious hidden gems.

For up-to-date reviews and comprehensive contact details expats can check out either the Hindustan Times or the Times of India. Both newspapers release annual top 10 rankings, and put together print publications as well. Otherwise, magazines, like Burrp and Time Out also review a smaller selection of restaurants in each issue.

Recommended Indian restaurants in Delhi

[Frontier Food] Bukhara
A favourite of the Clinton's, and a multiple award winning restaurant that has dishes named in honour of the famous presidential couple. Arguably the most famous Indian eatery, it is ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world and it serves delicious Northwest Frontier Province cuisine.
Tel: 2611 2233

[Mughlai] Karims

Karims' cooks are rumoured to be descendants of the royal cooks of past, and many of the recipes used are hundreds of years old. While there are many outlets spread across the
city, the best is undoubtedly the original - located in the picturesque Chandni Chowk area. This is the place to go if you are craving authentic kebabs.
Tel: 2326 9880, 2326 4981

restaurants in delhi[Punjabi] Moti Mahal
Moti Mahal claims that its originator, invented the famous "butter
chicken". While the bold statement can't be authenticated, their version of the dish is excellent and can be enjoyed with hot rotis and Makhani Dal. There are many branches in the city, expats should be sure to choose Moti Mahal, and not the Moti Mahal Deluxe chain.
Tel: 2327 3011

[Punjabi] Punjabi By Nature
The first restaurant to experiment with Indian flavours, try their drunken
prawns, tandoori quail and vodka golguppas.
4151 6666, 4151 6668

[South Indian Vegetarian] Sagar Ratna
This is the place for excellent crispy dosas, hot idlis and sambhar and a host of other vegetarian dishes popularly known as Udupi cuisine. Sagar Ratna also serves some North Indian vegetarian dishes like Chole Bhatura and Rajma Chawal. They also have multiple locations across the city and NCR.
Tel: 2433 3688

[Indian Fusion] Indian Accent
The chef here does some innovative takes on Indian food using local and seasonal organic ingredients. There's a wonderful Chef's Menu if you want to taste the highlights; a wine pairing option exists as well.
Tel: 4323 5151

[Kashmiri] Chor Bizarre
While Chor Bizarre does serve food from across the Northern region, the best option on the menu is the Kashmiri Wazwan cooked by chefs from Kashmir. Both vegetarian and non vegetarian options are available. The a la carte is much better than the buffet.
Tel: 4366 3600

[Bengali] Oh Calcutta
Bengali food focuses on fish and seafood, so it can be a welcome respite from the chicken and mutton heavy menus found in the rest of the city. Their lunch buffet is excellent value for money.
Tel: 2646 4180

[Gujarathi & Rajasthani] Rajdhani
A Bombay institution that has opened in Delhi and Gurgaon. They serve only unlimited vegetarian thalis. There is no menu, whatever they cook that day is what you get. The range is huge and the servers will keep feeding you until you are about to burst. Be sure to save space for dessert.
Tel: 4374 5577, 4109 6346

[Kerala] Gunpowder
This small eatery requires hungry patrons climb four flights of stairs, but the excellent Kerala food on offer is well-worth the trek. The fare is spicy, but the waiters can guide you towards less potent preparations and the appams and parathas are outstanding. Call for reservations before making the journey.
Tel: 2653 5700

[Anglo Indian] Brown Sahib
When the British were in India, a unique kind of cuisine was born. British staples recreated with Indian ingredients and Indian staples adapted for British palates. Brown Sahib is one of the very few restaurants in the country where you will get to taste this cuisine. They also offer Bengali food.
Tel: 4082 0027, 4082 0030

[North Indian] The Great Kebab Factory
You have a choice of vegetarian and non vegetarian. The menu for the day will have a limited variety of kebabs but in unlimited quantities. Excellent kebabs. Stick to the kebabs and breads, although the price also includes biryani and dhal. Multiple outlets in Delhi and NCR
Tel: 2677 9067

Recommended International restaurants in Delhi

[Japanese] Ai
Ai serves excellent Japanese food including sushi flown in fresh daily. They
have three seating areas. The restaurant, the open air terrace and the lounge
Tel: 4065 4567
restaurants in delhi
[Thai] Ego Thai
The waiters are extremely helpful and will accommodate most requests to
eliminate or change certain ingredients. A lounge cum restaurant
spread across two floors, it offers excellent soups and Thai curries.
Tel: 2633 1181

[Chinese] The China Kitchen
Chinese was one of the first international cuisines that was available in India because Chinese traders came across and settled; opening shoe shops and restaurants along the way. A few years back, what passed as Chinese would actually be Indianised versions of Chinese dishes (called Indian Chinese), but some recent restaurants like The China Kitchen are doing excellent business, serving authentic Chinese Cuisine.
Tel: 6677 1334

[Italian] Diva
Chef Ritu Dalmia is well known for her passion for Italian food and she sources a lot of her ingredients from Italy itself. There are some unique pastas other than the standard white and red sauce options.
Tel: 2921 5673

[Greek] Its Greek to Me
One of the first authentic Greek restaurants to open in India it is heavily frequented by the expat crowd.
Tel: 4101 2240

[Middle Eastern] Shalom
All the standard favourites from the Lebanese and other Levantine and Middle Eastern menus can be found at this eatery.
Tel: 4163 2280

[European] Smoke House Grill
They change their menu regularly and have some excellent dishes on offer. There's even a charcuterie on the premises if you want to pick up sandwich stuffers. Their Smoke House Deli in DLF Place in Vasant Kunj is also excellent and has an outdoor seating arrangement too.
Tel: 4143 5530

[Mexican] Rodeo
While expats will find many a familiar Mexican dish on this menu, they may not taste exactly like their original inspirations. Still, the food is quite good.
Tel: 2371 3870

[Café]The Big Chill Café
One of my favourite eat out locations in Delhi. They have two outlets in Khan Market and one at DLF Place in Saket. The décor is Hollywood posters and the food is excellent - from the home made ice cream based milk shakes and malts to their humongous dessert servings. Salads, sandwiches, pasta, grilled meat, pizzas, you can find it all here. Definitely try their baked potatoes with toppings.
Tel: 4175 7533

[American] All American Diner
They serve breakfast all day - sausages and eggs and skillets. Their portions are large, and they have an all you can eat offer until 11am.
Tel: 4122 0000

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Keeping in Touch in India

I've just started writing for ExpatArrivals - an online resource for expats across the globe. Keeping in Touch in India is my first article for them.

Keeping in touch with family and friends back home during your stay in India is easy and the options are many, especially if you're an expat in one of the metros (New Delhi, Gurgaon, Bombay/Mumbai, Bangalore/Bengaluru, Madras/Chennai, Hyderabad, Calcutta).

Internet, telephone, mobile phone, and post are available and service standards are quite good. Online news sites are accessible with any Internet connection to help you keep abreast of current events in your home country and most Indian newspapers can be viewed online, so you can always stay informed.

Using Internet to keep in touch in India

Until a few years ago, Internet in India was unreliable and sporadic, with only government players to choose from. Fortunately, better sense prevailed and today expats can choose from quite a variety of services and service providers. Internet speeds are still lower than a lot of developed countries, but with the sanctioning of 3G, which should be in working order by 2011, things should improve.

Internet connections

Dial up connections are possible but the speed can be extremely frustrating. Since you are charged for the time you spend online, this can get very expensive and hence Dial up is no longer a popular option.

DSL and Broadband are the two leading forms of Internet connectivity in India.

The major DSL providers in India are Airtel, BSNL Dataone, Airlink Broadband, Reliance Communications and Tata Indicom Broadband. For Internet access via DSL, you will need to have a DSL land line installed.

For most broadband connections too, you will need to have a land line installed, but speed is generally faster than DSL and monthly download limits are generally higher.

Internet costs and service providers

Costs vary depending on the company and the packages on offer (download "x" amount each month for a fixed sum, or pay a higher amount for unlimited downloads). The major broadband providers in India include BSNL, Tata Indicom, ZeeNext, Railwire, Cable Internet services, Airtel, Sify, MTNL, Tikona, DSL, Reliance, Hathway, YOU broadband and Connect Broadband.

Some major cable operators provide internet services along with their cable services. Sify and Hathway are well-known recognized providers of both. But organised cable providers are a recent phenomenon in the Indian marketplace. The majority of cable television service providers in India are not formally organised, and they operate in small areas.

Internet cafés abound across India; even in smaller towns. Rates are pretty reasonable, around 60 Rupees per hour, or less. However, hotels charge much more.

While WiFi technology is rampant and you can get it for your home or office use, the concept of free WiFi is not yet popular in India. If you want to be connected on the go, then the best option would be to go for a Blackberry or a smart phone; for more frequent use a "data card", which is a mobile Internet device which you plug into a USB port of your laptop, is recommended.

Reliance, Tata and MTS provide the best connectivity in this segment.

Using telecommunication to keep in touch in India

There are multiple fixed line (land line) providers in India. This includes the state run BSNL and MTNL, which have been in the running since inception, and the private newcomers Bharti, Reliance and Tata Teleservices.

Expats will need to provide identification proof and proof of residence at the location where you want to get the phone installed. Make a refundable deposit and in a couple of days, you will be good to go.

Fixed lines offer discounted rates in the evenings and on holidays. To dial internationally, you will need to pay a higher deposit.

The international code for dialling India is +91 and each city has its own STD (Subscribers Trunk Dialing) code. Delhi - 11, Gurgaon - 124, Bombay/Mumbai - 22, Bangalore/Bengaluru - 80, Madras/Chennai - 44, Hyderabad - 40, Calcutta-33.

Phone booths in India

There are manned phone (PCO) booths on most major streets across the country where you can dial local, international and mobile phones. A meter attached to the phone you are using will show you how much the call costs in real time, and then you pay the person at the booth,once you're finished. You can also ask for a receipt for the calls you made.

Payphones are common only in Airports where you prepay with coins to make local calls. Some of these phones may allow you to make calls to mobile numbers.

Using mobile phones to keep in touch in India

Mobile telephony (58% penetration) has completely overtaken fixed lines (3% penetration) in the race for connectivity in India. Fixed lines are generally used only because they are a prerequisite for a stable Internet connection or at offices.

The reason for this is that mobile companies have infrastructure which makes it easier for them to offer new connections in remote locations than fixed lines. With fixed lines you pay local rates for calling within the city, but pay higher rates for outside the city also called STD (Subscribers Trunk Dialling) calls.

With a mobile connection, expats can pay the same flat rate for the entire circle, or state (with the exception of Maharashtra) and there are discounts across circles if the person you are calling also uses the same mobile services provider as you do.

Mobile service providers also offer closed user groups (CUG's) to companies, where all registered mobile numbers of employees working with the company get free or highly discounted call rates when calling each other.

Initially, mobile telephone provider licenses were limiting and it was difficult for people who travelled a lot to find a service provider who operated across the nation. Fortunately some of the restrictions have eased and service providers have formed alliances which allow their subscribers to travel across India with almost seamless connectivity, except for a few areas.

Jammu and Kashmir and some parts of the North East still have a lot of restrictions on mobile telephone connectivity because of security and insurgency issues. But other than this and a few blind spots between cellphone towers on long distance roads, you can be constantly connected on the go while you are in India.

Mobile phone costs and service providers

The major operators in this segment with pan-India presence are Vodafone, Airtel, Aircel, Reliance (GSM & CDMA), Tata Indicom, Idea, BSNL (except Delhi and Mumbai), MTS and Virgin CDMA. Tata Docomo, Uninor and Videocon. Other than these larger players, there are some smaller operators who operate in a very few circles but provide good service. These include Connect – Punjab, Loop – Bombay/Mumbai, MTNL – Delhi & Mumbai, S Tel – Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh.

There are 2 payment plans with mobile telephony: pre-paid and post-paid. At times it may seem like the calling rates and schemes with pre-paid are much better and more reasonable than those on post-paid. Rates and plans keep changing, so they can be extremely confusing especially if you consider the small print. It is recommended that expats choose a provider depending on connectivity in your base location, and commonality with the people you call the most, as calls will be discounted.

SMS (text messaging) comes with a basic plan, but you may need to pay extra or give instructions to your provider if you want MMS (multimedia messaging), international roaming, Internet access and other options.

You can buy your phone and Sim card separately in India and upgrade your phone at any time. There are no lock-ins barring a few exceptions.

Blackberry services are provided by most major operators with the major ones being Vodafone, Airtel, Idea (Recent launch), Tata, Reliance, Aircel, Docomo and MTNL/BSNL. Blackberry chat is a cost efficient way to stay in touch with friends and family across the globe who also have a Blackberry connection.

Due to security and other issues, mobile telephony is highly regulated by the government and an array of paperwork is demanded before you are sanctioned a Sim card.

Documentation for prepaid connection includes:

  • Proof of Identity
  • Photographs
  • Valid passport
  • Visa
  • Local Reference
  • Local Address & Contact Number
Documentation for postpaid connection
  • In addition to the above, the subscriber needs to provide Standing Instructions to a bank for bill payments.
Companies often take Sim cards in their own name as COCP (Company Owned, Company Paid) connections & provide them to their employees. In such cases, the onus of payment lies on the company. When the connection is taken in the name of the employee himself/herself, all valid documentation as described above has to be provided. When the onus of payment lies on the individual, the individual has to sign a Standing Instruction form.

When the companies officially declare that connections are taken for expats, valid copies of passport and visas have to be provided.

Other forms of Telecommunication in India

Satellite telephony is illegal in India.

VOIP services like Skype are partially available in India. They can be used to dial numbers outside India and to make Skype to Skype calls. Calling Indian MSISDNs from Skype is not yet available as a service in India.

Phone cards in India

Phone calling cards are available in India, but they are not as popular as abroad.

MTNL Delhi has a product called the “Virtual Calling card” (VCC) which enables customers to use any MTNL landline/PCO to make calls using VCC.

Vodafone WCC (World Calling Cards) are also versions of Phone cards which allows the customer to use the card on any Vodafone India phone for making a call.

Mobile Companies have now launched several calling cards with reduced call rates to specific destinations covering US/Canada/Middle east/Europe etc. They are not heavily advertised but they do exist and can be purchased from certain locations.
  • For Example: Calls to US/Canada are now at Rs. 1.5/min with Vodafone ISD cards. Similar rates are also offered by Airtel & other operators. This has reduced ISD rates considerably in India. Landline companies in India have also launched cards which can be used only on their network for calling.

Using postal services to keep in touch in India

The Indian Postal Service is the most widely distributed post office system in the world. Due to its extensive reach across the country, it also offers a range of supplementary services.

Post Boxes are located on most major roads and the mail is picked up once or twice a day, depending on location. Regular post takes two to three days to reach a recipient in India, except during the heavy mail deluge of the festive months from October to January. The Indian Postal Service also offers Registered Post and Speed Post facilities at slightly higher prices, for which you have to visit a Post Office.

Local Courier companies offer extremely competitive rates, with same day delivery in metros and next day delivery to most towns.

Media and News in India

India is a land of many languages and newspapers are printed in all the major languages. The Times of India is published across India. The Hindu is popular down South and The Hindustan Times has large readership in the North. The Economic Times is the most popular Financial newspaper in India. Newspapers like DNA, Mid-Day, Indian Express, New Indian Express, Deccan Herald and Deccan Chronicle are printed only in some locations but are leaders in their circles.

Expats who prefer to read a favourite publication from home will find some foreign newspapers available in the metros; although, they may sometimes arrive a day or two later than the date of release in their home countries.

Weekly and fortnightly magazines like India Today, the Week, Outlook are also great options to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the news. There are plenty of financial magazines in the market and quality of coverage is quite high. Time Out is published in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and is a wonderful resource for local event listings.

Newspapers are door delivered every morning by the local paper boy. You can request the delivery of magazines, or subscribe directly from the company who will mail or courier your copy to you.

CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and BBC are broadcast in India. Twenty-four hour news channels abound in all major Indian languages. NDTV and CNN IBN are good Indian channels for English news.

Almost all the major newspapers and news channels have an online presence. links to the top 5 stories from all the major news sites.

More information:

STD (Subscribers Trunk Dialling): codes for Indian cities
Mobile Phone Cards
India Postal Service

Saturday, 13 November 2010

2 Cookbook Prizes in a Week

Looks like the Diwali season has brought its own foodie blessings upon me. I had entered 2 food contests last week, before I left on my diwali trip to the inlaws place and both results came within 24 hours - since yesterday. I won them both. Yay!

The first contest was hosted by Rushina of A Perfect Bite. She had asked her readers "If you could be a spice, what would you be and why?
Best answer wins a copy of The Mainland China Cookbook! !"

My response was "Cinnamon - I go well with everything (sweet, savoury, drinks) and just add a subtle hint, yet my presence is not unnoticed. Also enjoyable completely undiluted and a bit of me, can be relished for hours leaving behind a fresh feeling."

So thats the Mainland China cookbook in the mail for me. I'm really happy with this one as it was released just a month or so ago and I haven't been able to find it in any of the Delhi bookstores or Flipkart either. Was thinking I would have to trek to Gurgaon to eat at Mainland China and check up if they had any books in stock. Given the high possibility of non availability, I've been postponing that for a bit :)

The Second Contest was held by Pratibha Jain and Jigyasa Giri of Pritya Books, the authors of 2 wonderful collections of Heritage Recipes: Cooking with Pedatha and Sukham Ayu. The Ayurvedic Cookbook - Sukham Ayu stood second in the category of  "Best Health & Nutrition Cookbook in the World" by the Gourmand awards (2009) organization.

The Contest asked "Can you think of a traditional, vegetarian, festival dish which is your favourite? Write a description and your reasons for liking it in 100 words".

Well, I do love to write about food and there are plenty of festive dishes that are so much a part of my memory. The best memories and experiences of cooking festive foods was the assembly line of my mom, her sisters and some of the kids that was set up around the dining table under the eagle eye of my grandma (to whom this blog is dedicated) - who supervised the proceedings and of course the sneaking of bits and bites of the fillings and batter during the processes.

Now to choose just one, a Vegetarian one (all dishes with eggs were out) and to describe it within 100 words, seemed nigh impossible. But this is what I finally sent in: "Kidiyos (khulkhuls) - maida and coconut milk shaped into little worms (kidis) on the back of a fork and then deep fried are my favourite kuswar (Christmas Goodies). As a special treat, one batch would be dipped in sugar syrup and left to crystallise. These treated kidiyos would have the sweet crunch of a layer of frosted sugar, followed by the crisp outer shell that had been deep fried and the soft heart that had not been directly exposed to the boiling oil. A combination of textures and flavors that even today make me miss grandma more than ever.

It won FIRST place. You can take a look at the other entries on The Contest Page. I would love to hear your favourites too, so leave me a comment.

I'm now waiting for my copies of the Mainland China Cookbook and Sukham Ayu.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

I'm Cooking on BBC

Just did a food photo shoot with BBC for their program "India Business Report".

It will be aired this Sunday,  4th of July at 11am and 10pm IST.

Its a section on International food in India and I cooked a Thai Glass Noodle Salad. Will be posting the recipe soon on my food blog

Very excited as this is the first time someone other than the husband has recorded me cooking :)

Here are the timings for those countries where we have the most friends, for other countries, please check the timing online at

India: 11:00 & 22:00 (11am & 10pm)
Egypt: 8:30 & 19:30
USA (Pacific) : 9:30 - repeat (There may be a show on Saturday) and another repeat at 17:30
Canada (Eastern) : 1:30am, 12:30 & 20:30
UAE: 9:30 & 20:30
Germany: 18:30 - repeat (There may be a show on Saturday)
UK: 17:30 - repeat (There may be a show on Saturday)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Book Review : Yajnaseni - the story of Draupadi

This is a translation of the work of Oriya writer Pratibha Ray on the story of Draupadi. This tale portrays Draupadi in a completely different light from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Draupadi, in Palace of Illusions

I feel this book has lost a lot in the translation. The first half of the book was very diffcult to get through. The language is clunky and for someone unfamiliar with the multiple names for Arjuna, Krishna, Yudhishtir and Draupadi, the characters can be extremely confusing.

The translator Pradip Bhattacharya, is an IAS officer and the text of the first half is very heavy with convoluted sentences which made me feel like I was reading a bureacuratic report. It takes until the second half, for Bhattacharyato get into his groove and start writing a bit more naturally which really helps the story flow more smoothly.

Pratibha's Draupadi/Yajnaseni/Krishnaa is a woman trapped by circumstances. First having given her heart to Krishna (then told by Krishna himself that her destiny lies elsewhere) and then to Arjun, she is forced to split her time as a wife between 5 husbands, each with their own personalities and peculiarities.

A pre-occupied Yudhisthir, a demanding Bhim, Arjun who blames her for accepting his brothers as her husbands (for not saying no to the suggestion, although he himself didn't), childlike Nakul and Sahadev. Each husband needing to be treated differently according to his temparament. It is easy to empathise with Ray's Draupadi and feel sorry for her predicament.

To love Arjun and want to be his alone and yet have to spend 80% of her time with her four other husbands. Plus Arjun's long travels, as penance for intruding on the privacy of Yudhisthir and Draupadi, to gain astras from the different devas while marrying different princesses along the way. The final straw is when he marries Subhadra and brings her back to Indraprasth, before Draupadi herself has had the chance to be a wife to Arjun (in Ray's sequence of events). Yet, she manages to reconcile herself to all of this with the help of Krishna's council.

In this interpretation of the Mahabharath, Draupadi and Krishna share a spiritual level of trust and love that her five husbands accept and understand unquestioningly. Draupadi, even instructs one of Krishna's wives on how the wives have got it wrong in their constant fighting to possess Krishna for themselves, while what they should be doing is surrendering themselves to him.

Karna is not the flawless noble hero, but an insecure man who nurses his insults and loses no opportunity to rub salt in Draupadi's wounds, even though he also saves her life at one point of time.

Ray, bases her novel on the Mahabharath by Vedvyas and the Oriya Mahabharath by Sarala Das. She also adds a few incidents from her imagination and mixes up the sequence of some events to help her own narrative.

Although Draupadi is one of the five satis, she is often insulted as the one with five husbands and hence implied to be a woman of loose character. Ray's objective in writing this tale was to clear this "negative" interpretation of her and to give her the honor she deserves for holding the Pandavs together and being an "agent of change" in her time.

Also published on

Yajnaseni - The Story of Draupadi

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Book Review : The Hadrian Enigma - A Forbidden History

The Hadrian Enigma - is a story of love, intrigue, politics, and scandal set in pagan Rome and Egypt, about 130 years after Christ.

The story is based on real characters and falls in the genre of speculative fiction. It starts with the discovery of the body of the Bythinian youth Antinous rumored to be Caesar Hadrian's lover or eromenos. While history says that his death was an accidental drowning in the Nile, George Gardiner weaves a story of intrigue around the incident that is quite entrancing.

The tale is revealed as a series of depositions to Special Investigator Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus who is charged by Caesar, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Antinous within 2 days.

Within the first few pages, it seems the suspect is so evident, that you wonder why the story runs to 476 pages, but as you read along, you realise there are many more players in the mix.

Gardiner has written an interesting and gripping story, but I do wish the editing was tighter. Given that large parts of the book are third person reports, a lot of the minute details included seem superfluous and out of place. He seems to have suffered from a typical writers problem of having done extensive research and then wanting to include as much of the details as possible into the end product.

The language keeps oscillating even when the same person is speaking, from high brow Latin and Greek peppered sentences (sending one scurrying to wikipedia and to American colloquialisms like "that guy".

Font sizes change suddenly and inexplicably, quite often. Words are underlined for emphasis, which left me feeling like I was reading a manuscript or a draft, rather than a final copy.

While the novel is based on the same sex relationship of Caesar Hadrian and Antinous (currently deified as the God of Homosexuality by some) and marketed as a male-male romance novel, it isn't a turn off to the average reader who wants to read it as a mystery novel. What is vexing though, is the repeated use of the word "crutch" when the author actually means "crotch". Whether this is a problem of the "spell check" software or new slang (I checked which did not imply any such meaning to the word - crutch), I'm not sure.

Its an extremely readable story, shedding insight into the life and times of a not-as-renowned Caesar, who had one of the most peaceful and prosperous reigns of his dynasty. It's a page turner, once you get past the initial Greek and Latin terms. I just wish the editing could have been tighter. Then this book would have really stood out for me.

Also Published on

Book Review The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

The latest book from the Philip Pullman stable, being called in certain quarters as the Gospel according to Philip.

The plot is based on an innovative concept - that Mary gave birth to twins - Jesus and Christ. In Philips narrative Jesus starts out as the mischievous one, getting into trouble which his quiet, academically oriented brother Christ keeps getting him out of. But then Jesus goes into the wilderness and returns as a preacher and Christ follows him around discreetly chronicling his words and deeds and yet giving a "twist" to the tales to make for better reading. And these twists are what are commonly accepted details today.

Pullman draws on various sources and uses commonly accepted "facts" and twists them around in this book. It is an insight into how details "might" have changed in the re-telling.

For eg: the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana is offered a possible explanation of Jesus shaming the chief steward into producing the wine that he had hidden away to sell on the side.

While staunch Christians might find the book blasphemous, Pullman disclaims the book with "This is a STORY" in a large Gold font on the back.

The writing style is extremely simple and may come as a shock for those who enjoyed the complicated storylines and concepts of his Dark Materials Trilogy. The book makes for extremely easy reading with short simply written chapters.

Pullman also finds time to denounce the current child abuse scandal being faced by the church in the words "prayed" by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. For me, it is this chapter written as a monologue of Jesus - trying to communicate with God - that holds the crux of the book. The whole point of writing this book, seems to be concentrated in this chapter.

As someone who was brought up on the Bible and has read up on the beliefs of the orthodox churches too, it was very easy to correlate all the incidents and compare them to their "original" tales. I would be interested to hear from someone who is not that well versed with the "original material" who has read this book. Did you find it confusing? Did any of the tales seem irrelevant?

Also published on


Thursday, 29 April 2010

Book Review : The Other Queen

This is my first book by Philippa Gregory and I admit that it was the movie version of "The Other Boleyn Girl", that got me interested in her as an author.

While I knew the basic outline of the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, this novel still kept me engrossed. It brought to life characters from history in a way that only movies seemed to be able to do until a few years ago. It is wonderful the way so many new authors are re-looking history in the form of personal stories. It humanises the past as no text book or ledger of facts and figures ever can.

This novel tells the tale of Mary Queen of Scots from 3 perspectives between 1568 and 1587, with a few flashbacks thrown in for good measure. Bess, a self-made woman who has used husbands as stepping stones to the higher ranks of aristocracy until her current rank as "My Lady Countess of Shrewsbury". Her current husband George the Earl of Shrewsbury, forced by a request from Queen Elizabeth, to keep Mary under house arrest in his home and Mary, Queen of Scots herself.

Bess is a woman constantly worried about the finances of housing Mary, who though a prisoner is also a Queen and has to be treated as such. The Earl slowly finds himself falling under Mary's spell and Mary manipulates everyone around her to try and get what she wants.

Unfortunately for Mary, (as you all know) things did not work out for her. But Philippa's novel has done a wonderful job of bringing her to life. Not as a helpless twit at the mercy of political machinations, but a young woman entrapped by birth and circumstances to spend most of her life as a prisoner, but never giving up on hope and the desire to free herself and rule her own country.

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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book Review : The Immortals of Meluha

Part 1 of the Shiva Trilogy from Amish Tripathi. One of the first books by an Indian author to be introduced by a viral video on youtube

The story of The Immortals of Meluha is set in 1900BC and operates on the premise that Shiva was a mortal, a simple man whom legend turned into God.
Amish summarises his fundamental premises as:
I believe that the Hindu gods were not mythical beings or a figment of a rich imagination.
I believe that they were creatures of flesh and blood, like you and me.
I believe that they achieved godhood through their karma, their deeds.

With these premises, an interesting read is assured.

While parts of the story are rooted in mythology and some parts are corraborated by history - like the description of town planning by the Meluhans - most parts are pure speculative fiction.

The story is very interesting and keeps you gripped. I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here, so let me try to avoid that while sketching out the basics.

The Suryavanshis are the descendants of Lord Ram who have created an extremely stable society based on strict rules and regulations. An ideal state except for a few rules that Shiva finds unfair. Shiva is a Tibetan immigrant, invited to Meluha (the land now known as the Indus Valley Civilisation) and slowly recognised as a saviour and deliverer from evil.

The evil being the Chandravanshis - who live on the opposite side of India in Swadweep between the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, that also holds Ayodhya - the birth place of Lord Ram.

At times the philosophy in the book sounds like it comes from the Matrix - "You don't earn a title after you have done your deeds... It doesn't matter what others think. It's about what you believe. Believe you are the Mahadev and you will be one"

But there are some statements that make you think and reflect and question previously held assumptions. Amish belives that the cry of Har Har Mahadev actually stems from the thought Har ek Mahadev - Each one of us, has it in us to be a Mahadev.

A lot has been said about the language in the book. While the setting is 1900BC, the language is 21st century AD, with Weapons of Mass Destruction and Departments of Immigration. At times it is difficult to reconcile the two. Amish in an interview said that he had a huge struggle with his editor/publisher about this issue. He wanted the dialogue to be more authentic and his publisher wanted it more modern.

I can empathise with the editor/publisher. The language makes this an easy book to read and will defintely increase sales. But purists searching for authenticity will be disappointed.

Personally I enjoyed the book. I can't wait for books 2 and 3. I have my suspicions, but will try and be patient. :)

He says Book 2 will only be out next year as his day job keeps him busy. Amish, chuck the day job, don't keep us in suspense for that long!

Should you read this book? Definitely. But if you hate cliff hangers (which is how this part ends) then you may be better off waiting for all the books to be released before starting on this.

As a teaser, the first Chapter is freely downloadable from

Take a quick glance. If you are in the least bit interested in Mythology, I guarantee that you will be intrigued.

Also published on

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Book Review : One Amazing Thing

The latest offering from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - it is a set of short stories strung together with a common narrative much like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that is referenced in this book.

The basic setting of the book is that nine people are trapped in the basement of an Indian Consulate in the US during an earthquake. With limited supplies of food, oxygen and light and unable to get out themselves, they are forced to rely on each other to keep up their spirits and morale. 

Uma, born of Indian parents in the USA (who needs a visa to visit India), suggests that they tell each other a story of "One Amazing Thing" that happened in their lives.

The initial sketchy characters reveal the depths of their layers as each tale unfolds.

What is really interesting to me is how Divakaruni has tried to shed light on the same issue from different perspectives. Take for instance, the heavy book that Uma carries with her to the consulate, that she needs to review for her class and hopes to read while making use of the time spent waiting at the consulate. Malathi, a recent arrival from small town India to USA, to work at a secretarial level at the Consulate interprets it as a brash young girl, trying to show off her college education.

It is these insights into the various individual interpetations of events based on each characters past experiences that makes this book a fascinating read.

An ex-army vet, a second generation Indian muslim in a post 9/11 America, an estranged American couple, Uma, Malathi, an Indian Chinese emigrant and her talented grand-daughter (who didn't even know that her grandmother spoke English!) and an Indian bureaucrat at the Consulate. Each brings a different tale to the table.

Some are touching for their bravery, some bring understanding, some leave more questions than before. Romance, courage, hopelessness, helplessness, frustration, promise, hope - no matter what the underlying theme of their story is, each one is a powerful tale taking the readers and the listeners on a journey to a different time and place.

The book is an easy read, but the stories stay with you for awhile because they are human and touching.

There has been some criticism of this book in the USA as to why the trapped individuals wasted their time telling tales instead of brainstorming their way out of the situation. I think that stems from the stereotypical way each culture reacts. In General, Americans are action-oriented and the host of disaster movies from Hollywood have heroes whose sole focus is on rescuing themselves and those closest to them. Indians are more pragmatic/fatalistic in their actions and if initial efforts aren't successful, then further consequences are left for a higher power to decide.

The ending is a bit abrupt and doesn't tie up all the loose ends. But isn't that what life is like?

Also published on


Saturday, 17 April 2010

Book Review: The Indian Epics Retold

I had been looking for a translation of Ramavataram - Kamban's Ramayan since I read In Search of Sita, when I came across this collection by R K Narayan. This book is a collection of 3 of his books - a translation of The Ramavataram, The Mahabharath and also his collection of short stories "Gods, Demons and Others"

Looking at the size of the book, I should have realised that I would only be getting an abridged version, but I was so excited to see an English translation of the Ramavataram, that I did not think twice before picking it up.

The Mahabharath in this book is a compressed version (18 chapters of the Bhagavad Geetha are compressed into 5-6 paragraphs) of the main incidents and there isn't anything spectacularly remarkable about that section.

Narayan conducted an indepth study into the Ramavataram to fulfill the dying request of an uncle. Kamban himself is said to have spent every night studying Valmiki's Sanskrit version and every day writing thousands of lines of his own poetry in Tamil. He described himself as "I am verily like the cat sitting on the edge of an ocean of milk, hoping to lap it all up". Unfortunately Narayan has only translated this epic in an abridged format.

A few minor variations I found from the Valmiki Ramayan include the reasoning attributed by Kamban for Ram killing Vali from behind a tree. However this was too short a version to appreciate Kambans other variations (if any). I will have to look for a more comprehensive translation. Perhaps Shanti Lal Nagar or P S Sundaram.

Both these translations, while not what I was looking for, are a quick and easy read for those who want a brief introduction to the Indian epics. Easy to read, covering the main highlights of both.

However I really enjoyed the third section of this book : "Gods, Demons and Others" These short stories help tie-in a lot of characters referred to in the main epics. Told in the form of the narrative of a village bard/story teller, they include the stories of : Lavana, Chudala, Yayati (stories concerned with a discovery in the realm of the spirit), Devi, Vishwamithra, Manmatha (depicting a process of sublimation), Ravana, Valmiki, Draupadi (incarnation of God to destroy, inspire and assist), Nala, Savitri, the mispaired anklet, Shakuntala (wives who overcame obstacles to regain lost husbands), Harishchandra & Sibi (ideal rulers)

Most of these are stories of characters from the epics including that of Shakuntala. This version is slightly different from the Kalidasa version Abhijnana Shakuntalam which is more popular in the South. The Mispaired anklet is a Tamil classic.

What might seem suprising to those unfamilair with Indian mythology is that certain characters (even if they aren't Gods) are present at different periods of time. Like Durvasa (of the famed temper) whom the Kauravs sent to visit the Pandav's in vanvas in the hopes that he might curse them, the same Durvasa who blessed Kunti with the mantra for calling upon a God to beget a child, is the same one who cursed Shakuntala. Sages like Vyas, Valmiki, Vishwamitra make guest appearances all over the epics.

I was at a gathering the other day, where some mothers of young children confessed that is was easier to let their kids read Disney comics rather than Amar Chitra Katha. The problem being that, if their children read stroies from mythology and asked for clarifications on characters and incidents, the mothers did not have the knowledge to answer them immmediately.

A collection like this, is like a Cliffs Notes to update the reader on all the major events and characters of these epics. So its ideal for someone who wants a quick introduction to the epics or an easy refresher. For me, I am still searching for more comprehensive translations to better appreciate regional variations in the stories.

Also published on


Narayan sums up the yugas very succintly & I would like to record that here:
Each yuga lasts 3000 celestial years. One celestial year is 3600 human years. Hence the 4 yugas cover 43,200,000 mortal years. Each of the 4 yugas possess special characteristics of good and evil.
In Kritayuga, righteousness prevails universally.
In Tretayuga, righteousness reduces by a quarter, but sacrifices & ceremonies are given greater emphasis. Men act with material and other objectives while performing rites instead of with a sense of duty. A gradual decrease in austerity.
In Dwaparyuga righteousness diminishes by half. some men study 4 vedas, some 3, others 1 or none. Ceremonies are multiplied as goodness declines. Disease and calamities make their appearance.
In Kaliyuga, righteousness, virtue and goodness completely disappear. Rites and sacrifices are abanadoned as mere superstitions. Anger, distress, hunger and fear prevail and rulers behave lke highwaymen, seizing power and riches in various ways.

So what do you think, are we in Dwaparyuga or Kaliyuga?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Book Review : In Search of Sita

In an introduction to this book at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Devdutt Pattanaik aptly summed up the dillemma facing authors who want to write about the Ramayan and its principal character - Shri Ram.

"When in India, if you write about Ram, you will invariably be gagged by someone. If you say something positive about him, the left wing will get all upset and call you patriarchal. If you say he was a good husband, the feminists will jump in to say that he was definitely not a good husband. If you say anything negative about him, the entire right wing gets upset and says that he is a God, how can you say anything against him?"

This anthology however, is a collection of stories on Sita. The Sita, who Ram is the husband of, not Sita - the wife of Ram. There are different themes within this anthology, but the common thread running through them all is the attempt to envision the tale of Sita from a perspective different from her supporting role in the popularly known Valmiki Ramayan/Tulsi Ramayan(Ramcharitmanas)/Ramanand Sagar televised versions.

The ideal of Sita who is held up as a role model for Indian wives (aadarsh patni) is that of a woman who followed her husbands directives unquestioningly, who got into trouble when she dared cross the line (Lakshman Rekha). A woman on the sidelines, silently suffering and enduring, helpless and unable to control anything that happened around her. Absolute submission.

However in the many regional variations of the Ramayan that abound across India and abroad, there are other aspects of Sita's personality that shine through.

There are 33 different essays in this anthology, broadly divided into four sections. The first deals with commentaries on Sita - vs other women in the epics, as Gauri/Kali, as Janaki. My favourite from this section is: Reba Som's essay on Gandhi's vision of the Indian woman as Sita vs Nehru's ideal of Chitrangadha for the Indian woman to emulate.

The second section, is dialogues with personalities who have explored Sita through different media. Sonal Mansingh(dancer), Indira Goswami (Jnanpith awardee, Ramayan researcher), Madhu Kishwar (founder editor of a woman's journal), Nilimma Devi (Kuchipudi dancer), Madhureeta Anand (documentary filmmaker), Nina Paley (animator and producer - Sita sings the Blues)

The third section deals with different versions of the Ramayan from Himachal to Assamese, Bengali to Telugu. Interesting variations crop up based on regions. For eg. in the Mahasuvi Ramain, Sita's culinary skills are supposed to be at the root of her abduction. Superior culinary skills being equated with superior home-making skills - highly prized in the Pahari culture.

The final section deals with Creative Interpretations, including paintings and speculative fiction. Kumudini's "Letters from the Palace" is brilliant in its narrative and thought. Here the story is told in letters from Sita to her mother, just by describing the saris that she wants from Mithila.

The importance of a collection like this, is that as Namita Gokhale says "Mythology in India is not just an academic or historical subject, it is a vital and living topic of contemporary relevance"

Extremely engrossing, not at all a stuffy academic treatise that it might be mistaken for, its extremely readable. This collection has defintiely created a strong desire in me to read as many versions of the Ramayan as possible. Not just as a story or mythology but as an insight into local customs, mores, social structure and fabric. My only constraint is that I will have to look for versions that have been translated into English. Kamban (Tamil), Kandali (Assamese), Krttivasa (Bengali), Vilanka (Oriya) are just where I hope to start. I'm open to recommendations for any other versions too. Drop a comment.

Also published on


Thursday, 1 April 2010

IPL T20 @ Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds : Delhi Daredevils vs Rajasthan Royals

I am not a cricket fan! The husband is a cricket "fan"atic!

In a desperate attempt to get me to "share" the cricket watching experience with him, he tried to bribe me with "Delhi Daredevils Marquee tickets" for yesterday match between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. I couldn't exactly be churlish and refuse after he had procured the tickets, so I consented to join him, given that at least the 20-20 matches are finished within 3 hours or so.

Little did I realise that, that time frame works only at home on TV. If you want to watch it at the stadium, you have to get there at least an hour earlier. To reach the stadium you also have to battle mind numbing traffic, crazily numbered gates (Ferozeshah Kotla grounds management - numbers have a sequence or has that concept passed you by?), one ways, thronging crowds.

If you have been daring enough to wait till the last minute to buy a ticket, you also have to battle Delhi's famous non-queues to arrive at the ticket counter, all the while praying that they do not run out before you jostle your turn to the front.

Hence it means leaving from home at least 2-3 hours before the start of the match. Oh and if you have to pick up someone who works on the other side of town, add another hour or so. So that now brings us to 7 hours. Then of course there is the rush to get out of badly managed parking spaces at the end of the match, that can easily add another hour or 2 to your "evening outing" and the drive home through traffic. 8-9 hours! Thats how long it takes to watch a 3 hour match in the stadium. That's a full "working" day for government employees.

Traffic hurdles crossed, you also need to remember that you aren't allowed to take anything inside with you except cell phones, paper money and keys. Pens, paper, water bottles were all duly retained at the multiple checkpoints. If you are coming to the venue from the office. remember to leave your laptop behind. Some people did manage to get cameras and small purses into the venue. But unless you are a famous face, it may not be worth the time wasted at every metal and human detector to explain why you are carrying a purse when expressly instructed not to.

Once we got in though, things improved drastically. The marquee, had an airconditioned inside section which would later serve dinner & dessert. 2 bars and 4 semi-self service refrigerators stocked with Coke products (aerated, water and juice) and Beer.

Beyond this was an open seating area with 3 rows on each side designated for the team owners (home & away). Many of the seats were marked with stickers for sponsor companies and this was being regulated to a decent extent. The DLF hopitality staff was very polite about it all. "Im sorry sir, but this particular area is reserved for SAB TV, you can take your choice from any of the seats which do not have a sticker on them" This did upset (to put it mildly) people who had paid Rs20,000 per ticket for each member of their family, but the staff did try to be as polite about it as they could.

There was a further diferentiator even within this enclosure beyond the owners/sponsor ticket holders/ ticket buyers. Some got blue paper hand bracelet tags, some got pink plastic and some got red leather. All that I could figure was that the red leather bracelets could walk in front of Shilpa, Shamita and Raj get an autograph/photograph/smile, while the others were kept a fair distance away by her personal security. 2 burly rude goras who snarled at even the littlest kids who wanted an autograph. Such behavior was uncalled for, as the crowd within this particular enclosure was quite well mannered for the most part. But maybe the snarling, scared the trouble makers away. There were quite a few Delhiites in the audience who suddenly switched allegiance to Rajasthan just to get Shilpa's attention. Each time Pathan hit a 6, they would spring out of their seat.. First check to see if they had by chance caught her attention and then look back at the grounds and continue their half hearted jig.

For all of that, she herself was pretty obliging towards her fans who were at a distance. Before the match started and during the strategic time out and break, the stalls next to us would suddenly erupt screaming her name and she would turn around and oblide them with a smile and wave. This behavior obviously did not continue once the 1st over of the 2nd half was bowled.

After this the crowd had to content themselves with blowing kisses at the cheerleaders. I read somewhere that 50 of them have been hired 40 South African and 10 Ukrainians on standby. Thackeray's next target anyone?

The cheerleaders closest to us were clearly even less interested in the game than I was. They were normally just sitting on their seats, backing the grounds, having their little conversations in their groups of 3. They knew it was time to do a little jig when the music started to play and when it stopped, they duly climbed down to revert to their conversations.

Coming to the game, there was obviously huge excitement when Karthik and Pathan hit their sixes into the various enclosures. Fortunately unlike baseball, if a spectator catches a ball, he can't keep it, so the scrambles to get ahold of the ball weren't too vicious.

Perspective is sorely lacking when you watch a match at the ground. You have to keep checking the large screens to see if the ball had been stopped before it touched the boundary line. Unless you are following the game really closely, you lose track of who is at bat. In this regard the big screens really help you stay up-to-date.Perspective improves slightly as you climb higher. The stalls had 3 tiers. So I assume the top tiers would have the best overall perspective. Suprisingly, the stadium was completely full. Cricket in India, can draw more crowds than even Big Bazaar's annual sales

Sitting outside in the heat can get quite oppressive in Delhi's summers. So, while it is already hitting 40C during the day, we were fortunate that it at least cools down in the evenings, without the oppressive humidity of Bombay's summers.

Food and drink are complimentary in this particular enclosure (as compared to a minimum 100% mark up on soft drinks and packaged snacks in the stands). The refrigerators were self service although there were bar tenders who would serve you wine, alcohol and beer in appropriate glassware.

There were waiters serving finger foods like kebabs and corn cakes and stuff, but this was only inside, in the bar area. The inside area was divided into 2 horizontally. One half for bar and snacks and the other half for dinner.

Dinner was an average spread that wasn't great tasting food, (don't buy the ticket, hoping to make up the price on the food) but it wasn't terrible either. Chicken biryani (one of the few good things on the menu), chole pulav, chicken curry, paneer curry, grilled fish, potato curry, rotis. A salad table, a fruit table, a dosa counter and 3 types of dessert - a layered chocolate mousse cake, a dryer date and walnut tea cake with custard on the side and moong dal ki hawla.

We did leave after the 8th wicket fell, as there was no chance of a turnaround and because we did not want to get caught in the outgoing rush. It was a good thing that we did, because there was so much barricading on the way out that we had to walk for almost 2 kilometers from our gate to our exit on to the road. Fire and stampede hazard anyone?

Has the experience made me convert? Well, while on the ground I had no choice, I couldnt carry a book or my laptop in, so I had to watch the game in between my people watching and behavior observing. Being in Delhi, the sheer crowd energy can make even a reluctant cricket watcher happy when the team scores a boundary or drops a wicket of the opposition. But will it carry forward? Well, he's watching the Kolkatta KnightRiders vs Deccan Chargers and I'm in the other room at my desk, blogging about it. Enough said. . .

Also published on

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Book Review: Palace of Illusions

For the first time, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni writes about Indian mythology rather than just characters influenced by it or stories inspired by mythology.

In the genre of speculative fiction, she retells the story of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's point of view. Draupadi plays an essential role in the epic. If not for her, perhaps the Pandavas might not have lusted for revenge against their cousins as much.

Divakaruni takes the commonly known episodes of Draupadi's life, starting with her "birth" from the fire with Drishtadyumna and the prophecy at her arrival, her swayamvar and subsequent marriage to five husbands, her laughter when Duryodhana accidently falls into a pool in her palace at Indraprastha, her being staked and lost in a game of dice and the attempt to disrobe her in front of Dritarashtra's entire court and the miracle by Krishna, Krishna's assistance at the time when Durvasa and his numerous sages arrive at the Pandava's residence during vanvas, Kechakas infatuation with her and his death at the hands of Bhima during their year of being incognito, the loss of her 5 sons in the war and her being the first to fall by the wayside when she and the Pandavas begin their trek towards the heavens.

With this framework, Divakaruni fills in the blanks. What did Draupadi think about being the "girl who will change history"? What was her relationship with her father, her brother, her mother-in-law, her 5 husbands?

The introduction of the character of her nurse - Dhai Ma - helps to bring in a lot of background and history, which are narrated as stories. Divakaruni's Draupadi is an immature, impatient feminist who is filled with anger and the desire for vengeance (against Drona on behalf of her father and then the Kauravas).

She paints Kunti as a controlling mother who did not want to let go of her hold over her sons hearts and the obedience she commanded from them. Kunti in "The Palace of Illusions" constantly tests Draupadi and chastises her often.

The feminist Draupadi bemoans her empowerment of being granted 5 husbands yet having to follow an arrangement which has rules made by men. - 1 year in turn with each husband while attempting to put the others out of her head completely. She says "instead of a boon which turns me into a virgin before I begin my year with the next husband, I would have much preferred to be given the boon of forgetfullness - being able to forget the time I spent with the other 4 while I am with my current husband".

While the Mahabharatha has many strong female characters, Kunti, Draupadi, Gandhari, Amba, Subhadra they do not have much of a voice. Divakaruni attempts to give that voice at least to Draupadi.

This is a brilliant work of fiction and definitely worth a read.

Also published on

Martha Stewart is following me on Twitter!

Yes, its the authenticated Martha Stewart! and she is following Me

So kicked about this. She has close to 2 million followers (1905158 last I checked) and she follows about 2500 and "I" am one of those!

It has to be because of My Food Blog - Jhovaan

Going to get some chocolate to celebrate. No, its not made at home :)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Book Review: Cuckold

After Ravan and Eddie I was itching to read "Cuckold" as this is a book that Kiran Nagarkar himself considers his masterpiece. In the midst of packing and leaving, I did not have the time to buy or read the book. On subsequent visits to India, we bought up all the latest best sellers (Egypt takes time for new books to be relased due to censorship issues) but sadly the Cuckold lost out in the race to my baggage, primarily because of its size and weight.

Once we moved back to India, this was one of the first books that I picked up. The premise itself had seemed very interesting. A fictionalised biography of Maharaj Kumar of whom little is known except that he was the son of the famous Rana Sangha of Mewar and the husband of Meerabai(hence the title).

Nagarkar has carried out a lot of research into Rajput history of those times and he sets his story against the backdrop of real events.

Although Nagarkar says "I was writing a novel, not history. I was willing to invent geography and climate, start revolts and epidemics, improvise anecdotes and economic conditions and fiddle with dates. As luck would have it I didnt get a chance to play around too much except in the case of the main protagonist, about whom we know nothing, but the fact that he was born, married and died"

The period during which Meerabai lived was momentuous. Rana Sangha her Father-in-law had united the in-fighting Rajputs for the first time, Babur was showing interest in conquering Hindoostan, Rana Sangha's kingdom was surrounded by the hostile Lodi Dynasty in Delhi, Muzaffar Shah II in Gujarat and Sultan Mahmud Khalji II of Malwa.

Nagarkar has used known incidents and woven them into his tale. His hero Maharaj Kumar is a brave warrior and a forward thinker who plans many grand and innovative schemes like a water and sewage system for the fort, a brilliant tactician who prefers to watch his enemy in action and then plan an attack as opposed to the straight on confrontation preferred by Rajputs of those times, who ultimately becomes a victim of his circumstances.

The book is a wonderful introduction to Rajput history and culture which can reinvigorate interest, in someone who has been inured to history by lacklustre textbooks.

Politics, scheming, spies, romance, affairs, eunuchs, concubines, cheating wives, dancing queens - this novel contains them all. Nagarkar is a wonderful story teller on the lines of the bards of yore. Each characters development is well etched out and their actions become completely believable.

Its a wonder Bollywood has not yet seized on this book. It would be a far more gripping story than Jodhaa Akbar.


Also published on

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Expat Focus awards Whazzup Egypt blog - Recommended Website for Egypt

Close on the heels of the the last recognition this blog got, I have now received another excellent piece of news.

The Expat Focus Website has given this blog, the award of "Recommended Website for Egypt"

Expat Focus Recommended Website

Their website states that:

The Expat Focus Recommended Website Award is only given to outstanding expat websites which meet the following minimum criteria:

- Usefulness: Whether it's a fact packed, well known expat portal or a small personal blog, the website provides information which others moving to or living in a foreign country would find useful.
- Integrity: We only recommend honest, responsible sites. We will not recommend any site which would be in breach of our own Acceptable Use Policy

- Activity: Sites which are updated frequently or have active forums.

- Free: We do not recommend sites which require paid subscriptions or membership fees.

You can see that this particular blog has been awardedhere.

Again thank you so much to each and everyone of my readers.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Whazzup Egypt blog has been recognised by Global Relocation Finder

A few days ago, Elyse wrote to me, to let me know that my Whazzup Egypt Blog had been selected to be RSSed on their Best relocation and expatriation news blog.

Best relocation and expatriation news is a Corporate Relocation Guide created to promote an easier way for people to share more information especially pertaining to relocation.

Thank you to all my faithful readers, who help keep this blog active and me motivated :) mwah

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Book Review : In an Antique Land

In an Antique Land was a unique book for me, as its two threads focus on a small town that I grew up in for the first 20+ years of my life and a Country that I have lived in for the last 3 years. So I had a unique connect with this book.

Not so suprisingly, the description of my hometown did not ring a bell as it focussed mostly on the town as it existed 800+ years ago. The description of rural Egypt created a veritable clang in my head as I kept thinking to myself "How true" or "Yes, I know someone who would have reacted the exact same way"

This is a book of non fiction. Amitav Ghosh chanced upon a letter between Abraham Ben Yiju, a Jewish merchant living in Mangalore, India, and Khalaf ibn Ishaq from Egypt, written in 1132AD. Part of this narrative focuses on Ghosh's search for more documents relating to Ben Yiju and part of the narrative tries to imagine the world that Ben Yiju lived in.

The other narrative in the book, covers Ghosh's stay in rural Egypt (Mashawy and Lataifa) and it was this section that I found infinitely more interesting and hence hope to pick up his book of essays The Imam and the Indian which promise to shed more light on this phase of his life.

It is in this second narrative that Amitav's gift of story telling is showcased, while in the first narrative it feels stilted, focussed on facts and doesn't flow as naturally. Blending history with a a current travelogue is an art perfected by William Dalrymple and sadly in comparison, Ghosh didn't match up.

While Ben Yiju did spend time in Egypt and his letters were written to people living there and most of the surviving documentation came from the Geniza Documents cache from the Ben Ezra Synagogue in the Coptic Cairo area of modern day Cairo and Fustat of Ancient Cairo, this is the only point at which the two narratives seem to meet. For the rest of the book, they just continue parallel to each other.

In the final chapters, when Ghosh heads out towards the tomb of a Jewish Saint in rural Egypt venerated by Muslims and Jews alike, I hoped it would bring about a meeting of the parallel stories, but unfortunately it didn't.

Both narratives on their own are great and very illuminating, I just didn't see the point of putting them together.

Its a great read for someone visiting the Fustat area or interested in observations/revelations from the Geniza Cache or life in Rural Egypt.

Also Published on desicritics


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