Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"The Sari Shop Widow" by Shobhan Bantwal

This is probably the first time I have read something written by an Indian living in the United States, about Indians living in the United States. Being set in Edison in New Jersey, which is nicknamed "Little India" and has a large Indian population and all manner of Indian stores selling clothing, jewelry, food, groceries and what have you, it's actually not very different from the way it would have been if it had been set in modern day urban India.

The central character is a 37 year old widow who has devoted her life to expanding and running her parents' sari shop, after she turned it into a more upscale and exclusive boutique. She lives with her parents, having moved back in after losing her husband. The family is a relatively conservative traditional Gujarati family. They are in financial distress and they bring in the autocratic rich uncle to help them out and save their business from bankruptcy. The uncle also brings with him an English-Indian business partner, who develops a love interest in the widowed niece.

As far as I am concerned, the story could just as well have happened in Delhi. I have not been to Edison and have not seen any Indian clothing stores in this country, though I am told that there are a couple in Cambridge in Massachusetts as well. There is only one character in the story who is American, a bar keeper and owner. He could just as well have been an Indian guy from a less conservative family.

Anyway, the point is, there's nothing in the book, as far as I can see, that is specific to the lives of Indians in America. However, it is still an entertaining read with quite a bit of Bollywood style drama and romance thrown in. A bit of suspense, a bit of action, flashbacks from thirty years ago, the works. Enough to keep me entertained and wanting to read more. A colorful, vibrant story and a reasonably light read.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

After nearly four days of taking care of household chores, being rather bored and being miserable about not being able to go to India at this time, I decided that all of this had to stop. My husband is in India. I know I am not by his side, but he has friends and family by his side. He even has my family by his side. I'm the one who is alone and sad and with nobody around who can really cheer me up. So I have to take things into my own hands and do some cheering for up myself. So I decided to go out for a movie, and Farhan Akhtar's latest work seemed promising. Well, it turned out to be exactly what I needed. A few good belly laughs and some inspiration about living life to the fullest and celebrating the fact that you are alive.

It had been a while since I went out for a Hindi movie. It had also been a really long while since I caught a movie on its opening weekend. I think this may be the most enjoyable movie I've seen since 3 Idiots. Though, of course, I have been watching a relatively limited number of movies lately.

It was nice to see Katrina Kaif opposite a relatively good looking, non annoying actor. A charming actress like her needs and deserves to be seen opposite the likes of Hrithik Roshan and Ranbir Kapoor and to stay away from those of Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan.

The other day I was watching MTV India and they were playing the title song from Rock On!! The words Rock on!! Zindagi milegi na dobra... merged beautifully into the next song, which happened to be Dil Dhadakne Do. Some lovely tracks have gone into this soundtrack, which, like the rest of the film, are reminiscent of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's earlier collaborations with Farhan Akhtar but manage to hold their own.

Performances by the lead trio were all really good, especially Farhan Akhtar. The character he played was also very interesting, with his almost cheesy sense of humor. Almost cheesy but not quite. He had the audience laughing their heart out at various points in the film with his jokes. And he also managed to hold their hearts with his poetry. Farhan Akhtar may be one of the best things that has happened to the Indian film industry in recent times. Although, if I may add, when they screened a promo of Don 2 right before the movie, I was thinking, I can't believe this same guy made that movie too. But you know, he's a versatile guy. He can make a commendable Karthik Calling Karthik and a wonderful Rock On!! so it's okay if he occasionally disappoints with a Luck By Chance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Random Thoughts

Does anyone else think that Reese Witherspoon and Konkona Sen resemble each other from certain angles? I was watching a Reese Witherspoon movie last night and I thought that when you see her profile and she is smiling, she looks exactly like Konkona.

I am stuck with quite a lot of food that I need to eat by myself before it goes bad since my husband left for India rather suddenly. The fruit and vegetables I can take care of, and I drink most of the milk anyway, but there were two loaves of bread and I don't normally eat that much of it, he eats most of it. So tonight I adapted from a recipe I saw on Food Network once. I put four tomatoes and four slices of bread in a blender, and used that blend as the base for my lobiya dal. The end result was a thick curry with a rich taste and texture. Not bad at all. Food Network rocks.

Is it just me or does anyone else crave peanut butter when they read the Peanuts comic strip?

Why is that some people spend all day on Facebook and then complain about how people resort to text messages or Facebook posts for things that warrant a phone call? (Bhatti, this is not targeted at you.)

In Memory

My father-in-law passed away yesterday after about ten days in intensive care. He was quite critical, and all of us were preparing ourselves for this for those ten days. What we were not prepared for was him going from walking about and talking almost normally to being unable to breathe on his own in a single day.

It was less than a year ago that my father-in-law told me that his father-in-law had passed away. I lost my grandfather a few months later. I thought we were at the age when we would have to deal with the loss of grandparents.

I saw my husband off yesterday as he took a flight to India. I would give anything to be with him right now. I cannot travel internationally right now because of visa hassles. I have been trying my level best to console and comfort him over the last few days but I hate that I can't do all that when he really needs me to. Today was the first day in a long time when I ate all three meals by myself. I'm not too happy about that either.

When I was a kid, I had all four grandparents. My maternal grandmother was paralyzed, wheelchair ridden and unable to speak intelligibly, but she still had a presence that could not be denied or ignored. We lost her when I was only eight, and then my maternal grandfather went to be with her only a few months later. But I still have memories of all four grandparents. I can visualize their faces. I can hear their voices in my head. In the case of my other grandmother, I can hear still her voice on the phone. I am sad at the thought that any kids I will have will never get to see and know their other grandfather. As a matter of fact, even I didn't really get to know him all that well, in the limited time we spent together and the weekly phone conversations we had.

Life has its way of reminding us, every so often, that we cannot take anything for granted and that our time with our loved ones is limited and we should do what we can to make the best of it. My heart goes out to my mother-in-law in this moment of sorrow.


For lack of a better title, I put what I put in the title box. This is about my perspective on my little brother's engagement, who, I am beginning to see, is not so little any more.

I was a little taken by surprise when my mother first told me that my brother was getting engaged in June and then they would set a date for the wedding. The first thought that came to my mind was, isn't he too young? I know he's financially stable now and doing pretty well for himself, but, you know, even though I am only a little over two years older than he is, he has always been the little one. When we argued and fought, my mom always told me that I ought to know better since I was the older one. I guess that's true for pretty much every mom. Every Indian mom, at least. My husband had the same sort of experience with his not-so-little-any-more brother.

When I had had a chance to think about it, after they had set a date for the wedding, I calculated that he would be a few months older on his wedding day than I was on mine. Which is, I'll admit now, not too young to get married, although at the time I was constantly telling my family that I wasn't quite ready yet. It's about the right time and the right age. But of course, what is more important is finding the right person. And that piece of the puzzle is in place.

"Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh

I'd wanted to read something by Amitav Ghosh for quite a while. This book was the one I happened to pick up.

Set against the backdrop of the lead-up to the opium war, the central character is woman with a young daughter and an opium addicted husband. Part of it is set in poppy fields and an opium factory, and part of it aboard a ship. The two settings come together in the play of words that forms the title.

Readers can tell that a lot of research went into this book. The author has taken great care to get all his facts right. He has explored at great length the dialect spoken by Indian and middle eastern ship workers, the cultural situation and the caste divide of the time and the issues faced by farmers forced to cultivate poppies. He's also acquired a lot of knowledge on how every part of the poppy plant, the flowers, seeds, leaves and stem, was used at the time.

The story itself is intriguing. It starts out as four, maybe five independent stories which evidently are going to come together later in the book, but it is interesting to keep guessing exactly how everything will come together. The only downside was that the book was a little long for my liking, but I surprised myself by managing to finish it anyhow. Good read.