Book review Thought and Reason

Unaccustomed Earth – book review

‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri was lying on the bookshelves of the rundown library round the corner, where I had gone in search of ‘time-paas-chick-lit’. I grabbed the book, (1) Because the author is so well-known, and (2) Because I enjoyed her other book, ‘Interpretor of Maladies’.

Image courtesy: randomhouse dot com

Unaccustomed Earth is, like her other books, about the lives of people of Asian origin, born/settled abroad, and the life they lead, their cultural background always casting a shadow/spell on them as they merge into western society.

As always, much has been said about the book and the author. And now, let me add my twopenny worth…

For one, the writing is very simple, yet both gripping and evocative. Lahiri skilfully captures the lives of Indians living abroad, the mundaneness and the pressures of merging into a whole new society.

What however, stirred something in me, is the loneliness in every story. And by that, I do not mean, sorrow caused by catastrophies, but a strange loneliness that entraps a person, a feeling that one just gets accustomed to, begins to enjoy. It is what makes one huddle into a shell, even when surrounded by people who love him/her.

To me, I would attribute this to a conflicting interplay of culture. I believe that children born/raised in either the homeland, or in the company of extended family/friends are more communicative, and enter mainstream society easily. While on the other hand, children born/raised in a country different from the homeland, are prone to a lot of pressure. Coping with different cultures, language, looks.. this can be rather overwhelming, especially to a child/young person. [There are several exceptions, ofcourse, but this is my theory 🙂 ]

Coming back to the book.. the characters are all extremely well etched. It is easy for the reader to understand a variety of sentiment.. the thrill of having a crush, the pain of unrequited love, the loss of a dear one…!

What I fail to understand, not about the book, but about Life in general, is : Why cannot things/situations be simple Black or White? What is the necessity of varying shades of gray? Consider a person with a drinking problem.. why can he not overcome his addiction? A person in love, why can he not just be bold/communicative enough to follow his dream?

It scares me to think of the ways in which we, ourselves, complicate life.. that we find it easier to compromise than to sort things out!

That ignoring/living with problems is the only way forward, because other attempts fail?

That we do not believe in fairy tales any longer!

That even when there is a choice, we would rather be ‘practical’, than risk all considering there could be a whole, beautiful, new world lying ahead!

So, this book, to me, was a touching account of relationships. Of everyday lives.. of families next door. It could be the story of the author. It might just be that of the reader!

A read that stirs something, somewhere.

Edited to add:

The review would be incomplete without fair criticism (which incidentally was mentioned by Smitha and Mon)

A regular reader of Lahiri’s may tend to find the book repetitive or stereotyped. This is partly true, in terms of frequent references to the lifestyle of immigrant families, Bengali culture/cuisine, inter-caste marriages, affairs, the families themselves becoming affluent, etc. Also, [at the risk of being repetitive myself 🙄 ], there is this underlying loneliness, sadness and stark nomadic tendency in many of her characters. While this can be moving to some, it may seem, to others that she were writing about the ’same’ character every time, only changing the name/gender.

Now, to give the author her due, this is clearly the epicentre of her writing. Tales of Bengali families merging into a different culture. And if one were to analyse, the individual stories in this collection focus on a unique conflict / relationship problem. For eg., one is about a brother going wayward.. the other about a woman silently in love with a man she is not ’supposed’ to think of!

To me, this repetition enhances the bitter taste… of truth. I cannot help feeling sad for the characters. And for the conflict they have within themselves.

The common backdrop, is what makes the stereotype. I do not know, if a variation, is too much to ask for 🙂

Having said that, I would be very curious to see if Lahiri’s writing would be just as moving, if it were on any other topic. We will have to wait and watch!

Poem Thought and Reason

I wonder at possibilities (Poem, Indus Ladies contest)


As I grow older, and a little wiser, I observe vast disparity all around me. Sometimes it sickens me. Sometimes it just makes me numb. Thinking about this, made me realise, that I believe what CAN make a difference to situations, to destinies, is education. Not that all educated people are sensible or sensitive. Still, I believe education empowers. So this is the topic I have chosen. Here is my entry to the Indus Ladies contest on Women’s Day (P.S: Been tagged by Shail).




Sometimes I wonder
If I were the girl who delivers milk at my door
What would I have done?
..Borne silent testimony to
..The brutality of a man who hit me?
..Toil endlessly day after day, only
..To donate it to the local liquor store!
..Walk my children barefoot on scorching roads?
..Hoping they, at least, would lead a better life!

Sometimes I wonder
If I were the girl who irons my clothes
What would I have done?
..Been a speechless spectator
..To baby clothes that morphed into designer wear
..And peers who eventually flew high
..While I gazed from below, Resigned!
..Wiping away an endless stream of sweat
..Amidst fumes from a hot coal box!

Sometimes I wonder
If more girl children
Could go to school, rather than
..Skip around potholes
..Oblivious to the heights I scale
..Or sweep or swab my home
..While I whistle in a cinema
..Or skilfully balance a brick wall on the head
..As I crib about glass ceilings!

I wonder at this wonder
This creature – smart, practical, beautiful
Who is just like me
..Only we live worlds apart
..Because I am empowered,
..I have read widely
..About how life CAN be
..About basic rights that belong to me
..And about infinite POSSIBILITIES

I wonder, if she were educated
Would she too, learn to believe
That destiny CAN be changed?


And now, I have to tag three people.. hmm.. and that would be (1) Roop (2) Pixie (3) Piper

(Thank you, Pragya, for reviewing this at such short notice!)


Thought and Reason

Tradition of touching feet

I came across this topic posted on a parenting forum, where people were debating if the Indian tradition of touching feet is a good thing or not. While general opinion gravitated towards the former, there were a couple of people who emphasised, that it is more important that respect stems from the heart, and not merely in an action done out of habit.

Now I come from a very unorthodox family, which, has hardly practised traditional things (for eg., belief in stars, thread functions, fasting, etc.) I hardly remember my parents asking us to touch the feet of strangers. We would simply be asked to say Hello or wave Goodbye!

Now, however, much older, and a little wiser, I feel that Life moves at such a fast pace. The brief moment when I do touch an elderly person’s feet to seek blessings, now that really gives me solace… an odd sense of comfort. A tiny spark of hope that their wishes would probably come true?!

Also, if one knew the actual method of seeking blessings, it is truly meaningful. The younger person stands before the older, very softly whispers his own name, gothram, etc. and only then prostrates, and then the older person utters blessings for a long life, prosperity, children, etc. Also, by bowing to the person in front, one is actually bowing to God and the Godliness in them.

So, I do believe, it is a beautiful thing to do. That is, if the person is front of you is truly respectable. Like for example, I enjoy taking blessings from my relatives (the few good ones 😉 ) Luckily, sonny boy is fascinated by the act of prostrating before elders, and does it willingly, whether he understands or not.

This link from Yahoo Answers made a very interesting read.

A very close friend of mine used to place her palm on her head, instead of prostrating, and I thought this was equally lovely.

Because, it is very simply, the act of a person, who, behaves with both humility and respect.

I think, this tradition as a concept, is both scientific and humane, and altogether beautiful.

What do you think?

Thought and Reason

Let’s have a blast!

Barkha Datt’s tweet: ‘…strange how brutalised, almost numb, we have become as a society after continous exposure to violence and terror…’

A year ago, the entire nation was riveted to the TV screens, watching in horror, as terrorists held Mumbai city to ransom. We are nowhere near sentencing the guilty (the Kasab trial is a mockery of justice!). And we have been attacked again?!

I fail to understand the point of this all! Who is trying to prove What, in the larger scheme of things? Isn’t it obvious to a man of even bare limited intelligence, that killing people is futile? This is wrong…inhuman.. barbaric!

I am angry at the audacity of the group/people who have bombed Pune. And too numb now, to write anything sensible here.

As Sols tweeted again, the blame game has already begun. Let’s ready another VIP suite near Kasab’s in case a terrorist is found alive, and let’s feed and take care of him for the rest of his life. After all, we Indians believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.

SRK, Bollywood – go ahead, promote ties with Pakistan! Let’s have a blast!!

Also take a look at Open letter to SRK here, and Roo’s post here.

Incidents MommySpeak

When time stopped…

It was a cold wintry night.

Mummy was exhausted, but Sonny was at the peak of energy! Mommy was left with no choice. Cleaning, dishwasher, laundry, dinner…it was all done. She even managed to pack in a bedtime story. When she finally had a minute to spare, she glanced at the clock. 8:40 pm. ‘Woohooooo’ , she yelped with joy! Super-efficient, aren’t I? She smiled gleefully.

So she settled down with a nice book and a mug of warm milk. The perfect way to spend the evening! Half-way through the book, she looked up again.

The clock beamed back at her. 8:40 pm.

Mummy jumped out of her skin, and checked the computer. 12:40 am.

The end (Of book-reading and internet-surfing).

Good night.


[P.s: As you have smartly guessed, this is a non-post. I need to find a battery to get this da*n clock working now!]

Thought and Reason

Signing off…

Thank you, folks, for your overwhelming response to my previous post and thank you, Blogadda for showcasing it 🙂

And today, its time to ‘sign off’.

No, I am not taking a blog break or anything of the sort. Am too much of a blog-addict to do that!

I was just clearing up a stack of old emails today. Friends, old schoolmates, collegemates…ex-best-friends.. and every time I had to ‘sign-off’, I was thoroughly at a loss as to what to say! In the good old days, it was just a plain, simple ‘Yours lovingly/affectionately’ as the case may be 😉

But today…the list is bewildering… Have a peek!

‘Love’ – Ooh la la 😉 WTH are you talking about?! You don’t use that word any more! 😯

‘Luv’ – too young…quite unnecessarily close too! Could probably use this to address an old-flame 😉

‘Regards’ – too formal…like you don’t know them anymore?! 🙄

‘Warm regards’? – Again, formal, and forcibly warm 😀

‘Best regards’– Sounds like a job application 😦

‘Best wishes’ – Boring!

‘Yours’ – Huh? Crap!

Confusing, isn’t it? This is why I have resorted to a simple ‘Cheers’… as in ‘cheers..have a nice day’ or ‘a toast to being specific reason’.

So, how do you sign off ??

Cheers 😉

Humour Thought and Reason

The TamBram’s guide to saving Money

(Thank you, BlogAdda)

Aaah..finally some useful tips in the wake of the new year (Oops..are we in Feb. already?!)

The TamBram’s guide to Saving Money. And these are just simple steps that almost every middle-class TamBram household practise on a day-to-day basis.

Step 1: Save milk, Save gas

Image Courtesy: Internet!

Place ancestral milk-boiler on hob. Snip milk packets at very end, pour gently. Now, tip boiler sideways or backwards (its an art, mind you, to ensure the boiler doesn’t just fall off the hob!), and click a couple of times, until finally, the sticky, old lighter yields to emit a tiny spark.

Warning: ‘Gas Saved’ inversely proportional to ‘Time saved’.

And now, the master stroke. Carry empty milk packets to Kitchen sink, rinse with around 12 ml water (roughly 2 tablespoons Plus a little extra that goes in ‘FREE’), and WAIT, do not throw away this. Add this milky water (er.. I meant, diluted milk) to the boiler. Hardly matters that you open the boiler again, increasing gas/time to boil!

Double stroke: Boiler lets out shrill whistle when milk is done…shrill enough to awaken both your household and also your neighbour’s.

Note: Effective Annual Savings on Milk = 12 (ml) * 365 (days) = 4.38 solid litres of milk per year!

PLUS, A one-off saving on Cost of ‘Alaram Clacks’ = Rs.85 * 3 (your’s and your neighbours R and L) = Rs. 255!

Step 2: Save food

Ensure you buy only the smallest quantity of vegetables for that day’s cooking. Don’t bother yourself with stocking food properly, you know, to efficiently save time, energy and effort. You must only buy 1/4 kg Okra, 1/4 kg Potatoes, exactly 2 Tomatoes, and a few chillis for that day’s cooking. Hey, and don’t forget to harass ‘that cheat’ of a vegetable-vendor for your entitlement of FREE sprays of ‘Karvepilai’ (curry leaves).

Most important – while cutting vegetables (or making poor servant do it), ensure you peel the thinnest layer of skin, so as to Maximise use of vegetable in question. Especially Onions. You must ensure that new daughter-in-law peels ONLY the top-most and thinnest layer of the onion and chops it up finely, through watery eyes. (Itseems water/tears are good for eyes, so you can save on Visits to the Opthalmologist too) Ignore fact that DIL is getting late to work, and that she probably earns a 6 or 7-figure salary! You are, after all, saving about 10 paise on that Onion, you see!

Note: Effective Annual Savings: 1) Onions: 10 paise * 365 days = Rs.3.65 per annum (2) Opthalmologist for DIL: Rs.2500 ?! Wow!

Step 3: Charity and Economy

Ahem..sounds tricky, doesn’t it? But here’s the secret. Give tired servant her daily dose of coffee. Only, use cheapest brand of instant coffee powder (not your ‘Dikaaktion Filter Kaapi’) and WAIT, its supposed to be ‘half-milk, half-water’, didn’t you know? Needless to say, it has to be a pint sized tumbler and not the regular one, Duh!

On a side note: If servant asks for loan, ensure you say, you need to check with husband/son (as the case may be) and give it to her in installments, as ‘we don’t have that sort of money, you know?’. Ofcourse, she doesn’t know about those 15 sovereigns of gold (and unused assorted silver lamps) in the cupboard.

Note: Effective Annual Savings: Marginal amount of milk saved: 75 ml a day * 365 days = 27 LITRES! Gosh, sounds huge when you see it this way!

Step 4: Recycle, Recycle.

Now, now, we aren’t talking about recycling Plastic/glass or any other thing that the Western world is so hell bent on using, to make the world a Greener place. We are referring to the Art of recycling gifts. (Do Read Salil’s post on this, its one of a kind!)

Now, let’s set a few ground rules here.

* Gifts for strangers – Go for that cheap plastic ‘lemon set’ that Patta maami recycled (er, gave) you as a house-warming gift. Ensure you peel off her husband’s ‘Retired Mr.So-On-So’ Visiting Card that also served as a ‘Gift Message Tag’. Ensure you paste your own husband’s visiting card.. er.. gift Tag, instead. And most important, cram in names of EVERY FAMILY MEMBER so you economise by giving one single gift. Also shows how ‘close’ the family is, doesn’t it?

* Gifts for close relatives – Look for a tattered envelope, chuck in an even more tattered 500-rupee-note, and again, remember to cram in names of entire family on the envelope, and if there is space, write in a ‘congratulations/happy birthday..blah..blah’ message too. Now, you can display your family’s diminishing fortunes, by using a ‘used envelope’ and striking out the existing name from it, and writing your recipient’s name below! Ta da!

* Gifts for VIP relatives – For instance.. your ‘Sammandhi-amma / Samdhi-ji’…(and by that, it is strictly meant, ‘Divine MIL of Daughter’ (NOT Mom of DIL)), then make sure you get out that tiny stock of ‘phaarin scent’ that ‘Rukku Maami’s son sent from Kaalifourniya’ and actually gift-wrap it for the big occasion.

Note: Effective Annual Savings: Rs.150 (chalta-hai-gifts) * 4 occasions = Rs. 600 and Rs. 1000 (VIP gifts) * 2 occasions = Rs. 2000 PLUS Re.1 (estimated cost of envelope) * er.. 2 occasions = Rs.2 . Total savings: Rs. 2602 (ATLEAST).

Step 5: Regular  / Forced savings

Gold is an everlasting investment, as everyone knows. Most TamBram households regularly invest in a chit fund or gold chit.

Ting Tong! Maturity time… Now you have 12 months of savings.. say, about Rs. 6000. Woohoo…you have a choice of investing (ahem!) that into white or yellow metal. That is, traditional Chit companies usually offer either stainless steel utensils or gold. So you can either get that stainless steel ‘paniaram pan’ you never wanted OR that pair of old-fashioned fake-looking-pearl earrings you never liked!

But wait, if you do want to buy a decent piece of Gold jewellery during Akshaya Tritiya.. er.. the last I heard, one gram cost about Rs.1600. So you can get.. er..3.5 grams.. but hey! we forgot the making charges..wastage..blah blah!

Whatever! The emphasis here is on ‘regular / forced savings’ and not ‘unnecessary spending’.

Note: Effective Annual Savings: Er.. what savings? We’ve invested everything into metal !!!


So there! Traditional Tips for a Modern Lifestyle! Go on, Save, Save and Save this year 🙂

[All images are from the Internet..the great WWW]