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Friday, August 28, 2015

Raksha Bandhan, Stratford on Avon, Shakespeare's cottage, and my brother Navtej

Tomorrow is 'Raksha Bandhan' or 'Rakhee' which is a very significant day for Indian brothers and sisters.The name 'Raksha Bandhan' suggests 'a bond of protection'. On this auspicious day, brothers make a promise to their sisters to protect them from all possible troubles and the sisters pray to God to protect their brother from evil. The ceremony involves sisters tying the silk thread called 'Rakhi' on their brother's wrist and in return brothers generally give them a  small and interesting present. 

My brother Navtej and myself have always shared a close bond and today when I was thinking about some significant moments in our lives this particular incident came to my mind as extremely memorable and so I decided to write about it.

For that, I have to go back in time to an earlier visit to the UK where my brother is based.We were there for about a fortnight and high on the agenda was a trip to 'Stratford on Avon' which is the birthplace of Shakespeare. It was a regular working day and since Navtej couldn't join us, we decided to make the train journey to Stratford. The plan was to spend the day out and get back by dinner. 

Soon we were on the train journey to Stratford. The weather had changed by then and soon we were dogged by intermittent rain which lasted through the day. But did that deter us in any way? Not in the least as we moved around as we were reasonably well prepared for the possibility of rain, any day and all day.

Standing outside Shakespeare's cottage, Stratford on Avon

The untouched interiors
Shakespeare's Birthplace in Warwickshire has been welcoming visitors for over 250 years. This is the house where William Shakespeare was born in 1564, grew up and wrote a lot. Shakespeare also spent the first five years of married life in this house with his new wife, Anne Hathaway. By 1592 he was in London working as an actor and a dramatist. Between 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. Many of these plays were very successful both at court and in the public playhouses. In 1613, Shakespeare retired from theatre and returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. He died and was buried there in 1616.

For millions of Shakespeare enthusiasts worldwide, the house is a shrine. Inside it, one truly discovers the world that shaped the man and one can also find out what other famous writers thought when they visited here-Charles Dickens, John Keats, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy. Close by is the enchanting cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway, who is believed to have been a few years older to Shakespeare and came from a very well to do family.
Anne Hathaway's cottage
This is the original cottage where the young William Shakespeare courted her  and finally got her to agree to his marriage proposal.

It is a thatched farmhouse with beautiful grounds and gardens, which overflow with fragrant blooms and traditional shrubs.The cottage is in Shottery, a hamlet within the parish of Stratford-upon-Avon. It was absolutely delightful to see many original items of family furniture, including the Hathaway Bed, crockery, cutlery and even some dresses and shoes that are believed to have been worn by her.

Walking around in the rain had finally taken its toll and despite all the wonderful things and places we had seen, by 5 pm when the place closed, we were all cold, tired and  hungry.We stopped at a small tea shop and had a quick bite but when we reached the station, learnt to our dismay that the train to Worcester had just left and the next one would only come an hour later. By the time it did, we were exhausted and by the time we finally arrived in Worcester, even more so.

But every cloud does have a silver lining and this is the best part of that day. Navtej was home when we arrived  and as we entered, the aroma of a delicious 'Tandoori' chicken and 'Rotis' and 'Ma Ki Daal' was probably the most delightful thing that one could have hoped for! All he told us was to wash our hands and settle down to the delightful Indian meal that he had put together for that evening- needless to say that is exactly what we did and as my brother insisted on serving me with the 'chest ' piece
( which is what my mother always does)

I realized two things that day.

The fact that Navtej had observed how my mother served me and had actually replicated the same in his own home.

That memorable dinner

And the most important fact-'family' really does mean a great deal. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My book An Autumn Melody now an e- Book. So E Books or 'real' books? Some thoughts..

Last year,  my third book, An Autumn Melody, published by Rupa, went on sale as an e-book on, and I found myself dealing with a range of mixed emotions.

After analysing my thoughts, I concluded that this is probably the best thing that the publishers could have done for my book.The simple fact of the matter is that the book is now available to an unlimited potential audience, and the more I look around on a daily basis, I find more and more people reading on iPads and Kindles.

To be absolutely truthful, that audience now includes me as well, and in the last few months, I have become increasingly addicted to reading books as well as magazines on my iPad. But don’t take that to mean that my habit of reading 'real’ books has been replaced by e-reading, it simply means that I now read in different 'modes’ to suit the occasion.

For example, while travelling, I would probably settle for e-reading. But if there is a ‘real’ new book or magazine that is available, I just can’t wait to read it. Today’s reality is what I would like to think as each to his/her own.
Some people love reading physical books, some people love e-books, most people hate reading on a computer, but then quite a few love reading on a tablet.

Some of my friends are convinced that the smell of opening a new book, the feeling of turning a page, the texture of each sheet of paper, and the ease of grabbing a book, leaves a much nicer feeling than holding a device and trying to read from that.

I personally believe that there’s something to suit everyone and it's really quite pointless spending hours and hours locking horns on what can quite possibly become an endless debate. I’m sure that all of you would remember what happened recently to Borders.

According to a recent report that I referred to, on February 16, 2011, Borders, one of the largest and most well known bookstores in the world applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and began liquidating 226 of its stores in the US.Despite a purchase offer from the private-equity firm Najafi Companies, Borders was not able to find a buyer acceptable to its creditors before its July 17 bidding deadline, and therefore began liquidating its remaining 399 retail outlets on July 22, with the last remaining stores closing their doors on Sunday, September 18, 2011.

The Chapter 11 case was ultimately converted to Chapter 7. Rival bookseller Barnes & Noble, then acquired the Borders' trademarks and customer list. On October 14, 2011, Borders' former website was replaced by a redirect to Barnes & Noble's site.

As for me, I believe that while e-books might be rapidly gaining ground, there lies a particular charm in opening a new book and flicking through the pages, and even more than that, in the smell and feel of a new book. I’m very interested in knowing what you feel so do let me know and maybe I can write another post on the same subject a few months later. 

NB- This piece originally appeared in my column My Take in Muscat Daily

Monday, July 20, 2015

Memories of how my father inspired my love of storytelling, reading and writing

Ever since people began to communicate with each other, "Tell me a story" has been a request of both children and adults. For there is something absolutely fascinating about sitting around and listening to words which come out of someone else’s mouth and trying to put picture associations to those same words. Then finding oneself transported into a the fantasy land which might comprise anything as far removed as fairies, trolls and goblins to the more real adventures of Arabia, World War Two exploits or then the cold war and the numerous real and imaginary spy stories that it generated over the years. 

Miles and miles of flowers and memories

While listening to stories from almost anyone is good enough for a child whose mind is probably the most curious and absorbent thing in the whole wide world, there is a special charm in asking one’s own parents to tell a story. Like I always did, with my father and do so, right till today, when the two of us get a chance to spend some quality time together.

As children, almost every night for many, many years, whenever we could manage, my brother and myself would wait for him to tell us one of his enthralling tales. I don't know how he did it, but all his stories, whether based on real life incidents or a creation of his imagination, were very exciting, taking us into a whole new world, where we could actually almost see and experience all that he used to talk about. Which is exactly where I started from, that very great pleasure that a child gets when ‘visualising’ what is being told. It is also a matter of great credit to the storyteller for being able to generate such a response in a young and impressionable mind and this is something for which I’m able to give credit to my father only in retrospect.

Particularly memorable were his stories about Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh (who was obviously one of my dad's heroes)and some of his daredevil missions in the skies, Naval stories, particularly those set in the INS Vikrant and all the exciting and adventurous things that things people did on board. Then there were the stories which taught us all about our history, culture, tradition, valour along with great things that people had done and achieved in this world. These were the stories about people like Guru Gobind Singh, Shivaji Maratha, Rani Laxmibai and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Helen Keller.

Then of course, there were the funny stories, which consisted of make believe characters and an extended storyline where the four of us as a family would get involved in their lives and adventures. The real beauty of these tales were that these were a never ending saga and could go on and on endlessly, taking right up from where it had been left off the last time around as there was no defined beginning or an end to these.

Keeping both of us enthralled for hours and hours on end, then after one got over, repeatedly begging him, "Pop, one more, just one more" which he would always, always, always oblige.

Time passed and I became a mother. Of a very bright child with an equally hungry mind. One who demanded “Tell me a story” whenever she wanted to hear one. So that I learnt to delve into the inner recesses of my mind and pull out some of those I remembered my father telling me and when I ran out of those I learnt to improvise, just as I remembered him doing. Creating some characters with whom the family travelled together, went on adventurous trips with and did a whole lot of fun stuff. One of the characters who became an all time favourite with my daughter was a little monkey who I called ‘Pikoo’ and one who went wherever my mind decided to take him. Alternately, wherever my daughter wanted him to go and so began the next generation saga along with a new series of never ending tales.

Today, as I'm reminded of those days, I'd like to take this opportunity to say “Thank You Pop, for that's where I really learnt my love of storytelling and now that of writing stories. I loved your stories then and love them even more now.”

I close with a beautiful line by Melody Beattie, “Live from your heart, and share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal"

Note-This is a piece originally written for my column 'My Take' in the Muscat Daily two years ago.