Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Book Review: The Marvelous Mirza Girls


This is a book of many treasures, but ultimately a book about love. Love of many kinds, let me add, besides the romantic, which is also beautifully depicted here. It is not an easy book to describe, since it deals with a multiplicity of events and contexts, all adding up to a richly detailed narrative.

Noreen and her mother Ruby are exceptionally close. Her father has walked out on the marriage even before Noreen was born. Ruby's older sister, Noreen's beloved Sonia Khala, has died a year ago, and Noreen is still trying to come to terms with her loss. Grief and loss are described with great empathy.  Ruby's own relationship with her elderly parents, especially her mother, can be turbulent. When Ruby's employers want her to go to India for a year, our brand new high school graduate Noreen decides to take a gap year and accompany her mother. Sonia Khala, besides being a pathologist and a bass guitarist, was also very devout, and was fascinated by India, sharing with Noreen stories about Delhi that her own grandmother had told her. Visiting some of the places she had wanted to visit, like the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, would be a kind of pilgrimage for Noreen.

When Ruby and Noreen reach New Delhi, they discover a city with air so polluted that breathing itself is hazardous. Their very first purchase is of three air purifiers for the apartment they have rented. Noreen is pleasantly surprised to find that they have a cook cum cleaner coming in six days a week, a luxury unimaginable at home. 

While Ruby gets busy with her work, Noreen finds a friend in Kabir, the son of a friend of a friend of her godfather, Adi Uncle, Ruby's best friend, and, perhaps, a surrogate father figure. (Noreen's actual encounter with her father and his second wife, some years earlier, is beyond surreal). The author, throughout the book, explores familial relationships with great sensitivity and deep insights, including the particular issues faced by migrants to the West and their often inevitable clashes with their offspring. 

Kabir takes Noreen to a Delhi that is perhaps unfamiliar to many of its denizens. They first visit the ruins of Ferozeshah Kotla, where, motivated by Kabir, Noreen leaves a letter for the jinn, in which she actually manages to write, for the first time since losing her aunt, and expresses her feelings for her aunt, her grieving family, and herself. She is deeply affected by the place and its particular atmosphere of longing, grief, and unfulfilled dreams. There are subsequent visits to Nizamuddin, Tughlaqabad, and Jahanpanah, and other places, all beautifully described, all part of Noreen's personal growth, her budding romance with Kabir, and her personal pilgrimage. Some of it is so deeply spiritual that you cannot help but be intensely moved. 

Owing to visa issues, the mother and daughter only have three months in India, which scuttles many of their travel plans. However, they do make a little social niche for themselves, exploring the world of art and artists, and making friends. The topical Me Too movement features, along with its impact on the families of the "Me Too-ed."

The mood of the city is captured in all its beauty and ugliness. The rising communal tensions and the  awareness of gender violence are a harsh reality that Noreen has to contend with.

Although the book is fast paced and written with a light touch, and some delightful humour, I found myself often floored by the sheer wisdom I encountered.

Yes, Noreen is an outsider to Delhi, and her perspective is definitely very Western. Her eye is critical , yet not unkind. In her own words, I read somewhere that for each thing that is true about India, the opposite is also true. I'd add that for each thing you may not like about India, you will find something to like as much. or more.....When you return to America, your lungs may be grateful, but your heart will be incredibly sad.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Morning Musing

Two pugs and an apso
Walking together,
Leashes held by one man,
Presumably housemates.
Do the pugs know
That the apso looks different?
Does the apso feel
That the pugs are different.
I think not and hope not:
All one species,
Despite the differences.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Digestive dirge

Yesterday evening

Made pakodas

Ate pakodas

(Delicious pakodas)

In the watches

Of the night


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Tea Time, Summer of '21

Bed tea is the tea                                                                                

That you sometimes                                                            


Share with your bed.


Fridge unwell

Awaiting treatment

Milk unwell

Bed tea sad,

Bad tea.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pondering Yama, once again.

यम भाइसाहिब भी मजेदार हैं

बता कर नहीं आते हैं।

कभी तो दरवाज़े पर खटकाये बिना ही घुस जाते हैं

और अपना काम करके,      

मूछ्चें पोंछते हुए टहल जाते हैं।

और कभी तो इतला दे कर भी इतना वक्त लगा देते हैं 

कि इंतज़ार करते करते लगता है कि यों ही दम निकल जाएगा।

कभी तो आते हैंफिर कह देते हैं 

अभी तो में बहुत व्यस्त हूँ फिर आऊंगा।"        

और बैठे रह जाते हैं उनके चाहने वालेजो कहते हैं          

कितना और भुग्ताओगेमेरे दोस्त?        

मियांतुम दोस्त हो कि नहीं हो

तुम हमें समझ में नहीं आए।

तुम्हारी समय सारणी भी तो अजीब है।

कभी एक नन्ही सी जान को ले जाते हो, 

कभी बड़े बुजुर्गों को तड़पाते हो,      

कभी इकट्ठे ही पूरे के पूरे गाँव और शहर, हवाई जहाज़ या रेल

कुच्छ भी उठा ले जाते हो।

कभी अस्पताल में आँख मिचोली खेलते हो,                

कभी कभी डॉक्टर लोगों को थोड़ी देर के लिए जीत जाने देते हो      

अजीब हो तुममियां।            

फिर भी तुम मेरे प्यारे दोस्त हो - 

एक  एक दिन आओगे ज़रूर।

I wrote this sometime in December 2000, a few days before my mother-in-law passed away. I published it on this blog in 2009, here:

And now I wonder if Yama had been laggardly with his targets all these years, if his top management is driving him to meet his annual quotas ASAP, if in this vast pressure to meet targets there are no proper parameters, so death is happening in a completely random fashion.

There are only questions. Absolutely no answers.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Random Verses


Tailor bird chirping
at the top of its voice
On top of the
fountaining bottlebrush
The placid dove quiet
On the adjoining branch,
A leafy branch
Sweeps gently overhead
Its touch a benediction.

Death Anniversary
My sister passed away
On this day, six years ago.
It was sudden, hence shocking.
Each year we would have
prayers at her home, a havan,
All the family together
Marking this day as hers,
As much as her birthday.
Late that night, six years ago
When we heard the news, we drove
The several miles to her home
Not willing to believe its truth.
For the past two years
We mark the day privately
No gatherings, no travelling
Cities in lockdown.
And I find myself glad
That when she went,
We could mourn her
Together, sharing our grief
Celebrating her life
Hugging each other,
as we bade her farewell.
Covid has changed
So much, for so many,
Snatching whatever
Comfort and support
We could share
When bereaved,
Especially when
Covid has claimed that life.
Living this way is hard enough
Dying, unthinkable.

25th April, 2021

For Indu
A friend spoke of her dream
To live near a water body,
And I remembered my years
On the banks of the Chao Phraya
With rafts of logs floating downstream
Many kinds of river craft,
and bhikshus on the bank across
Begging, early mornings,
for their sole meal of the day.
The sunset among the palms
Such beauty, so much beauty.
And in spate, the river overflowed
Boats plied in the fields,
Milk and vegetables came by boat
And once we took our infant son
To the hospital, by boat,
Across those fields...
In memory again, I remember
How that beautiful river
Became the background
rarely noticed
In the busy-ness of our lives.
And I grieve, for having taken it
So much for granted.
Today, each tree I encounter
Most mornings, is a friend
That I mentally embrace,
And hold close to my heart.
Have the intervening years
Changed me so much?
I hope so.
I salute you once again
In memory,
Beautiful river.

24th April, 2021

The elderly gentleman
Sits on the garden bench
Every morning
Listening to the music
Of Pandit Jasraj
On a device with
Two hundred compositions
Of the master
Whose divine voice
Wafts by on the breeze
As I walk along.

31st March, 2021

Three salwars drying
Astride a washing line
Ghostly riders
in a strange tandem.

24th March 2021

Waiting for the death
Of the terminally ill seems
Akin to a difficult pregnancy,
The patient immobile,
Bedridden, dependent, helpless
In a particular, unique reality,
But with no end date in sight.
A date after which you know
You can get on with your own life
And so you pray, both for patience
And for a merciful release
For all concerned.
Each such death that you witness
Tells you more about yourself
Than you would really like to know.

8th March, 2021

I walked earlier than usual
This spring morning
Around the colony garden
When there's a loud, composite roar.
A dog barks, alarmed.
It's five elderly men
Being tigers and lions
Before they clap in unison
And laugh in unison
Kindergarten days again!

22nd February, 2021


Recent Reads

Recent Reads

 I finished this book a couple of days ago, reading compulsively, eager to know what happened next. I am still trying to process my thoughts, and hope to be more coherent in a detailed review at some point. For now, I can only say that Kiran Manral has surpassed herself with her latest book. It is mysterious, spooky, atmospheric, lyrical. It takes you to places that may or may not be familiar to you, but are so vividly described that you feel that you know that Bandra, that Goa, those mountains. The characters are etched with finesse, each one authentically portrayed, including the protagonist as a child, as well as the details of her family history, all adding to a richly nuanced story.

4th May, 2021

Belly Dancing! When life seems impossibly hard, more unpredictable than ever, it's an instant pick-me-up. Gouri Dange writes about food with knowledge, wit (at times acerbic), and her characteristic sense of fun. From an absolutely magical stew concocted with her father, to his pithlas, to the tricks children resort to to get rid of unwanted food, tiffins included, to food flavoured fiction from her wide ranging oeuvre, to the (undeserved?) snob value of certain foods, Belly Dancing is truly A Romp Through The World of Food. 3rd May 2021
Greatly impressed with Peggy Mohan 's new book:
Wanderers, Kings, Merchants: The Story of India through its Languages.

It takes you on wonderful journeys, introducing fascinating concepts, at times deeply philosophical, at times warmly personal. Ancient history gets a new perspective, that of migration, and its effects on local languages. I was particularly fascinated by the chapters which spoke of Amir Khusro and Mirza Ghalib, and their linguistic heritage. Hinglish figures in the final chapter, and one realizes how muchour worlds are circumscribed by the languages at our command. I am most impressed by the author's scholarship and her vast range of interests.

29th April 2021

Murder she wrote.
Anuja Chauhan's latest, Club Me To Death, is brilliantly written, with a delightful cast of characters, an insider's view of club life, a subtle yet highly perceptive look at social issues, snide potshots at the current dispensation, an adorable ACP, and a very juicy murder or two. Gripping. Her desification of the language adds to the fun. A classic, juicy murder mystery, set in the heart if Lutyens' Delhi. What's not to love?

19th March, 2021

Just finished reading The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav.
It is a brilliant, authentic account of the lives of three brothers, their family and friends. It takes you across time and space and political history, many issues of identity, of boyhood, manhood, and the pressures of the situations the characters find themselves in. A rollercoaster of a book, rich in imagery, written with deep empathy. Brilliant, Anubha. Looking forward to your next!

10th March, 2021