February 2, 2021

Book Review: Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


Title: Last Quees
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published by: HarperColiins Publishers, 2021
Price: Rs. 599
Pages: 351
Rate: 4/5

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni needs no introduction. Since she has started to write in the different genres of delving deep into the mythology and historical events, crafting her novels splendidly, she has uplifted herself to a different realm. The female voices from the epics and histories, come to your drawing room to share their stories as if they are one of you. Where it is Sita, Droupadi or Jindan Kaur, they become alive again, their stories breathing with you, their journeys become intertwined with your emotions and you hypnotically meander through the fictions. “Last Queen” does its justice, glorifying the story of the lost queen, Jindan Kaur, whose story is not only buried under the tattered pages of history but also many of us are totally ignorant.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh is one of the childhood heroes whose heroic attainments still engrave the heart with honour and pride. The heroic saga keeps on stirring up all the emotions and compels to bow down to patriotism. But never thought to get a chance to read the life story of his, where the other side of his character would move you in wonder. Apart from having several wives, concubines, he ended up in love with head over heels with Jindan Kaur, the last wife of Ranjit Singh, from a lower birth.  A girl - determined, innocent, matured beyond her age, made the king a seer to foresee a queen in being. And destiny incidentally awarded her the ‘Messalina of Punjab’ - Rani Jindan Kaur.

The novel can be divided into three phases of Jindan Kaur’s life. The first half of the novel portrays Maharaja falling in love with the daughter of his dog-keeper. How a sixteen year old girl mesmerises the King with her simple innocent and quick witted personality and the double aged Sarkar determines to marry her. But a life of a king is crafted with betrayals, treachery, conspiracies, rivalries et al. Jindan Kaur’s marriage to the king paved her path as challenging as life threatening too. But her wit and the King’s love wane off the hurdles on her way. But happiness is very short lived for her as the old king died just after their son turned 10 months old. With the death of the king the world becomes upside down and Jindan Kaur has to flee away with her son. The second phase started with the spine chilling incidents followed by each other and consequently Jindan Kaur has to return back to take over the control over the throne. Coming out of the veil, revolting against the ‘Zenana’ culture where women are tabooed to step in a man’s shoe, Rani Jindan Kaur stands tall with the last heir, her son Dalip Singh, a mere six year old to rule over Punjab. But few of her decisions and betrayals from her loved ones, forced her to lose everything and estranged her son to exile. A destitute Jindan Kaur’s suffering continues. The third phase exposits how she becomes the fear to the British, a tigress to fight for her country and how she reconciles with her son after fourteen long years. 

'Last Queen’ is not just simply a fiction to travel through the history of the 18th Century but how a girl from a small village with an innocent childhood became a queen of Punjab and then a rebel to fight against all the odds and the British. Her formidable character shook the British emperor for a while, to treacherously defeat her and send her to imprisonment. After finishing the book all the emotions got ignited and the eyes welled up. 'Last Queen' baffled me with the articulation of recounting the events so skilfully and adding Jindan as a part of our life. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni definitely added another masterpiece to her creative list and gifted us to adorn our bookshelves.

December 10, 2019

Book Review - Made in China by Parinda Joshi

Title: Made in China
Author: Parinda Joshi
Published by: HarperColiins Publishers, 2019
Price: Rs. 250
Pages: 306
Rate: 4/5

The Blurb speaks:
“Raghu Mehta is a desperate man. His handicraft imports business has unexpectedly collapsed and cash is drying out quickly, his wife thinks he is a loser and society considers him irrelevant. Meanwhile, his closest friends and family all seem to be running flourishing businesses and living luxurious lives in Surat, the diamond capital of India.
A trip to China to scout for a new consumer goods business offers a glimmer of hope. But Raghu instead gets sucked into the black-market trade in the back alleys of Beijing. Everything about this new opportunity goes against his god-fearing, vegetarian, middle-class mindset - can he quash his natural instincts to make a success of it?     
Darkly comical, 'Made in China' is a soul-stirring and thrilling entrepreneurial journey of a man willing to do anything he can to make it big.”

The book starts with a dream sequence reciting the typical aspiring middle class people to dream big. The dream is described in such a manner that the protagonist, dashing Raghu in a tweak will own the heart as an established, famous and wealthy businessman. But it’s just a dream. And the dream too doen’t miss the typical male chauvinist insecurity to see his wife with another person. The portrayal of Raghu’s character from the beginning to end is sketched with subtle attainment. Mainly when you have Rajkumar Rao in your mind who played the role of Raghu in the movie Made in China after this book, the character comes out too lively. Raghu, a middleclass Gujarati businessman suddenly get doomed to his ongoing business and then incidentally landed up in China to start afresh a new way to earn money, a new way to give a kick start to a new business. Business is flowing in his blood and being a true blue entrepreneur Raghu always looks positive to choose the path of being a successful businessman any time soon.  The struggling journey of Raghu continues with ups and downs painting some hilarious incidents through out the book.  Whether Raghu will turn out as a renowned wealthy businessman or not, the readers have to finish the book. The suspense shouldn’t be broken at any cost. The story of Raghu’s struggle floats with a gripping thrill, where the writer meticulously described how Raghu reached China and his experiences over there then back to India with a new aspiring dream. Few hilarious moments would bring tears in your eyes. Like - being a hard-core vegetarian, Raghu is served with the typical non-veg Chinese food that is also when his hunger pangs almost thrust him to starve to death. Thinking in mind the dishes like gobi manchurian or fried rice are going to be served, his encounter with rattlesnake or baby cobra’s heart is thoroughly rib-tickling.

Parinda has described the dungy lanes and the lifestyles of China in such a manner that one will literally feel walking as a shadow of Raghu. Though the elements of comedy is fully tried to be incorporated, keeping in mind the genre Dark Comedy, Parinda to some extent failed to create the magic. The characterisation of each role portrayed vey soundly. One will always feel like meeting them in person, not as a character from the novel. Even the description of the places where so well described that it intends the reader to visualise as if being there. Being a budding script write Parinda Joshi did a praiseworthy job. The grip in the writing skill and usage of a vast arena of vocabularies call for an applause. Hope the movie will do the justice to the book.

June 25, 2019

Book review: Meant to be Together by Faraaz Kazi

Title: Meant to be Together
Author: Faraaz Kazi
Published by: Srishti publishers & Distributors, 2019
Price: Rs. 195
Pages: 218
Rate: 4/5

The Blurb says:
“Preeti Thaker moves to Mumbai to run away from herself, to put behind a painful childhood, plagued adolescent years and the recent death of her only support system – her brother. She is on the verge of ending it all, succumbing to her depression, when the doorbell rings. Little does she know that answering it will change her life forever! The guy on the other end of the door will offer her solutions to all her problems, but in the process, she will end up losing the only thing she had never lost till date – her heart!

Inspired by the true story of an artist who found that love was the only colour missing from the palette of her life, 'Meant to be Together' is a tale of love, friendship, courage, determination and above all, hope. Hope that makes us look for the rainbow when it rains and for the stars when it is dark.”

Book covers attract me first then the blurb on the back. The fascinating book covers instigate my creative thought process to accumulate all the imaginary components to reckon the storyline. When Faraaz extended the blurb of ‘Meant to be Together’ with a request if I could review the book, my reply was affirmative as I liked the story line. Honestly the book cover didn’t reach my expectation ( as the cover tuned to me cinematic) but the story did.

Preeti Arora, the protagonist had a challenging childhood. Preeti’s childhood projected in front of me the thousands of girls who had complications and that suffering led to psychological trauma. But few turns Lucky like Preeti to get a super supportive brother to pull her up, fearing off her woes to boon. But Preeti’s tragedy struck fate turned out to be too cruel when it took away Preeti’s most favourite and loved person, her brother. From her childhood Preeti loved to pour her heart out to her paintings. The colours on the canvases were her soul friends who silently bore all the secret stories, the stream of thoughts and her sufferings. Those were not mere paintings but each cried out the inner agony of Preeti. Being a financially Independent lady she had chosen to lead an independent life style staying alone, confining all the paintings rather her secret talent only in the bedroom. But suddenly like a dream one day a magician entered in her life who gradually started to change her life with the colours which were totally throttled in her paintings but not in her life. Sameer Arora, the hero, remained the rain man unless he himself fell in love with Preeti head over heals and Preeti too. But this love story didn’t turn out that easy as it looked like. The love story of the duo was articulated in such a way that one would drawn him/herself in the stream of emotional upheaval. Sameer’s appearance with the gang of his friends injected the life that was totally missing in the lifeless life of Preeti. The fun that she had missed in her college days almost returned back. Sameer’s extreme jovial nature, for a moment, didn’t let anyone feel the pain he had gone through, only one would keep on speculating - was Sameer hiding something!! It has a rhythm to flow you down till the end and then let you take a breath. One need to wait till end to know if the duo will become one soul or not. 

I found a very interesting point after finishing the book. Though the storyline and the book cover project to a mere love story, that has two love birds with differences. But ironically it spreads the truth of life. Preeti and Sameer are the epitomes of life. One shows the pessimistic side of life that dejected people to live in hell and the other one always tries to spread happiness around him suppressing all his grief. This philosophical aspect of life skilfully penned down by Faraaz. Even the epilogue at the end was quite new to me how the writer brought himslef as a character to give the stroy a more realistic look. His accomplished flare of writing skill and the dramatic aura of the book will surely hook his readers to keep on reading till it ends.  Faraaz Kazi who is known as ‘ the Nicholas Sparks of India’, fascinatingly ended up his truly romantic novel – Meant to be Together

February 3, 2019

Review: Amritsari Express

Address: Amritsari Express
South City Mall,
375Prince Anwar Shah Road

One of the most perquisite advantages that the modern era offers us is a Shopping Mall – a place to live up to a shopper’s dream to indulge in an exquisite utopia. Apart from exhibiting the renowned fashion brand chains and bringing the bare necessary living essentials under one roof, the main attraction is always the junctions where the food meets the foodies. The Food court is proliferating with high demand as this one place brings up the flavours from different region, encompassing a diverse array of cultures, countries and cuisines. Recently, after almost a decade, the food court of South City Mall, Kolkata, is refurbished and reopened with new offerings.
Chur Chur Parantha with Dal Makhani and Onion Salad
It’s been just a month and half that not all but few food stalls in the Food Court of South City Mall, Kolkata, have opened. Apart from the well known food joint chains, few stalls strive to partake the regional cuisine of India. One such is Amritsari Express. As the name suggests, there is no need to explain what cuisine is on offer.  They vouch to bring on plate the authentic Punjabi flavours picking up the most praised dishes that a Punjabi cuisine is respected for. The menu offers a plethora of pure vegetarian varieties of Paranthas/ Stuffed Paranthas with lip-smacking sides, Naan and Kulcha platters, Biriyani and rice combos, Flavoured lassis and many more.
Paneer Kulcha

The dishes, we tried, were Chur Chur Parantha along with Dal Makhani and Onion Salad,  Aloo PyaNj Kulcha with Rajama Curry and Onion Salad and Paneer Kulcha with Butter paneer and salad. The ghee slathered Paranthas/Kulchas are well made, very filling, well stuffed and tasty. The curries were silky smooth which were drown out by the flavours of nose prickling aroma. It flooded all my senses with heady froth of perfect blending of all spices that a Punjabi dish called for.

Here I should correct myself a bit. When people question about the authentic taste of a dish belongs to a particular cuisine, it becomes too judgmental. Like here, I have never been to Punjab or can’t vouch that I know exactly how authentically a Punjabi Dal Makhani or Rajma curry should taste. But I really rely on my sensual coherence that has already cooked up the dish in my mind with all the experiences, I have gathered so far. And if my taste bud approves, my heart smiles back with satiation. Here the dishes from Amritsari  Express have made no exception. Really enjoyed their food which are perfect pinch to value money. 

Specially to mention about their flavoured Lassis. Five types of chilled Lassis were served - Mango Lassi, Kesar Lassi, Strawberry Lassi, Rose Lassi and Sweet Lassi. It is so difficult to mention which one tasted better than the other. All were equally tasted good and won over my quenched soul - thick and perfectly balanced.

Happy to mention that Kolkata has one more destination to head ahead to enjoy pure vegetarian Punjabi meal. Food Plazas or Food courts always stay near to my heart. This is one place that you will never get bored trying out the same menu. So many food stalls with so many varieties, will always keep your taste bud changing. A place to succumb yourself with your near ones and let the flavours to seduce you. 
Happy Eating and Happy Blogging.

[Disclaimer: This is not a paid review but an invited on. Whatever experience got plated was served honestly.]

January 15, 2019

Book review: Bestseller by Ahmed Faiyaz

Title: Bestseller
Author: Ahmed Faiyaz
Published by: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd 2018
Price: Rs. 295
Pages: 190
Rate: 4/5
It took me a while to reconcile that the novel itself was called “Bestseller”. First the title and then the blurb made me more inquisitive to swallow down the pages. A story revolving around the Publishing house Kalim, seaming a bunch of captivating characters, was so well narrated and portrayed that compelled me to finish the book at one go.  

The blurb reads:
Akshay Saxena, an out of work editor of a defunct literary magazine in the UK, is told to move to India for a year to help shore up the value of Kalim, an ailing Indian publisher. Akshay finds himself in a job where he has to do the impossible. Angus Lee, the new owner of Thomson Lee Books, wants at least five bestsellers in the coming year, failing which the business would be wound up. He has to find a way of making a success out of books he would never publish or would never even read. To complicate things further, he has to contend with motley crew of has-beens and misfits working for the publishing house as well as wannabe writers, dealing with their follies and derisive tactics, and battle his own affections for Zorah Kalim, the impulsive daughter of his former boss. Will he succeed in bringing out that one ‘bestseller’ from his publishing house? And what about his own life and love in office? Find out in this riveting read. ”

Bestseller in simple term was the story of Akshay Mathur’s struggle to sustain with the protocol of the moribund publishing house and his own code of conducts. The time span of 367 days stated how a sinking publishing house restored to a summit that actually called success. I found two protagonists who eventually and parallelly faced the same fate – Akshay Mathur and the Publishing house Kalim. Both of their lives were compromised, burdened  and dimming. Akshay was deep in debt and sneaked an escape from UK to look for a better life in Kalim – the publishing house in India. His past story did not gloriously scream but told that he was a divorcee. His honest approach towards an editorial’s job was in stake, all beamed up in the novel to raise a question in the minds of the reader- what future was waiting for Akhshay and the publishing house. On the other hand the Publishing House Kalim was almost on the verge of closing down. How Akshay and the Publishing House Kalim unwantedly tied up their future with the prim and pompously glittered world of celebrities highlighting their lifestyle, played a crucial role here. Fake and false fame was actually the other side of the picture that often success is mistaken to – Ahmed sarcastically and humorously presented it in novel. It was a captivating story that heralded to engage its reader without taking any break. The characters were portrayed in such a skilful manner that they came almost alive as the story developed. The relationship between Zorah (Daughter of Iqbal Kalim, the founder of Kalim publishing house) and Akshay started with a quick note where the hunger of the body spoke first but then it ended up in a true love story. All the characters – Sita, Tarun, Anya Malik, Roshan Khan, Angus Lee, Mr. Samuel, would make you feel that they live in your neighbourhood and you met them on and off. 

I must appreciate the simple colourful and interesting book cover that might attract the readers at fist glance. A publishing house or an editor’s job always looks luring and coveting. But we hardly get a glimpse of the inside story of these places. The pressure, the politics, the fame game everything was narrated in this book with minute detail. While reading the book I almost became a part of the lives of Kalim. Ahmed’s writing skill is utterly commendable for the easy and simple flowing language. He knows how to hold a grip to keep thoroughly engage his readers from the beginning till the end. The book really didn’t fail me except one error. In the book it was mentioned that Tamas was written by Bapsi Sidwa where Tamas was written by Bhishm Sahni. Coming back after 6 years, Ahmed Faiyaz truely won the heart of the readers once again and did a commendable job I must say.

December 4, 2018

Book review : Saudade by Shreen Vaid

“ There’s a word that we Brazilians love to use to convey raw emotions, feelings such as those that resonate in the depths of my being right now – Saudade, english doesn’t actually have a correct interpretation of it. And before anyone misinterprets it as a simple ‘ miss you’, let me tell you that it’s much more than that. It is a bitter-sweet feeling – bitter for missing someone and sweet for the happiness and gratitude for having experienced their love. It describes your experience of Sahir’s absence in every moment of your life since his demise. Saudade is a recognition of all the emotions he brought out in you, calling you to live by his example. The closet explanation in English is perhaps ‘ the love that remains. ‘ “
                                                                                         Saudade By Shreen Vaid (Page : 141)

The novel Saudade is a portrayal of an intense feeling of loss and then how the protagonists win over the purgatory feeling to celebrate the bond of love. It is a story of intensified love and bonding between the siblings and the exultation of true friendship. The book starts with a strong emotional upheaval of Samarah who is trying to keep a balance between the upbringing of an almost 4 years old Dhiraj and her afflictive process of coping with her sorrow. Saudade is a gripping story that slowly unfolds the relationships in-between the characters. The relationship between Samarah, Ahil, Sahir and Dhiraj opens up with synchronisation. Every page will keep you baffled with the sentimental ups and downs that might tear one’s heart with a deep hollow of melancholy.  The main harmony of the book is the suspense to know more about the characters, the relationship they share with each other and the facts which lead to endless speculations. It actually works as a wonder to engage the readers to flip through the pages. Love, hate, anger can all build up from a feeling of loss, can make people shattered from the every corner of life and can push to an edge from where one can’t find out a way to return back. Unless one day, an angel appears in a disguise of a friend from the pages of past memory and works as a catalyst to show the true faces and a streak of hope that makes one to regain the strength to live and to live for others. The real hero of the novel is actually Thiago Dantas who is a very well balanced, sensitive, matured person who knows how to tackle a worst situation. He is the one who has changed the meandering way of the story to an enlightened way. Someone might not like the too much emotionally shattered character of Samarah the protagonist or the agony of Ahil that turned him into a heartless giant. But to be more in life this actually happens and people wait for miracles to step back to the normal life that they urge for ages.

Shreen Vaid’s valiant writing skill will touch the heart of the readers. The novel is actually a portrayal of the psychological melancholy with its negative and positive sides. It is a story about loss and gain. It is a story of dispersing and then uniting again. Strong and a well gripped writing skill of the writer made it a successful debut novel.

November 20, 2018

Book Review : Ambling Indian diaries by Aina Rao

Two main things attract book lovers before delving deep in a book. The first impression catches one's eyes is the cover and the other is the blurb. The “Ambling Indian Diaries” on the first go will give an impressive sight and insight after looking at the cover and reading the blurb as well. The cover itself tells the story or rather the elements that worked as the fundamental growth to weave the story. The book is a phenomenally consideration of modern India that is satirically projected through the experiences of an ‘aam aurat’ with  the tinge of humour and wit. 

The book doesn’t have a proper story that starts with this or end with that, rather it is a verbally picturesque scenario that India is recently more vocal and rich with the facts and the factuals. The book started with a hue of hilarious political glimpse through an interview between the protagonist Aina, who is a reporter in Chunga Times and Chand TV and the Railway Spokesperson Mr. Chugga. The interview is on the launch of Wedding on Wheels (WOWs). The interview session will sheerly give one a bout of laughter and one can so well visualise the perspective that the author ironically  portrayed. Very wittily the author picked up the names, the terms and the incidents that added the sarcastic components well blended. Bollywood plays a very dominating role in the present prospective India. And Aina Rao skilfully depicted the pomp and glory of the society and none the less how ‘Shila ki Jawani’  or ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ actually regulate the lane culture. The book takes a lift more from the views of  an ‘Aam Aurat who ambles the nook and corner of India. While reading the book I felt like reading a news paper that actually covers everything but it has the sense of humour, sarcasm, satire and the irony that will lead you to find out the dual meanings that the parts of the book carry. What interested me more is how well the author picked up the most common topics - ‘can’t leave without’ glares that actually building up the present India. A very minute observation and the precision make the book more versatile.

The blurb speaks: “ This unusually take on India offers a never-seen-before view of the country through the eyes of the Ambling Indian – a new generation aam aurat. This delicious mix of laughter, spice and nuggets of reflection to savour, delights the mind. We meet people just like us and experience hilarious happenings through just like us and experience hilarious happenings through the 31 stories woven together with one common thread – India’s journey.” These few lines narrate and  give one the vivid glimpse what the book is all about. But before reading the book one has to be well versed about India. Writing skill of the author will surely won the heart of the readers. To be more precise the author has painstakingly achieved a daunting task in portraying the true faces of present India by satirically leaving few inherent notes to discover.

October 27, 2016

Besan ka Ladoo

Hello All.. Wish you Happy Dipabali. I am blogging after a long time on this space. Hope you all have celebrated grandly Durga Puja this year. The year is all most coming to an end and the festivals for this year are also almost over. This year past in a wink and we are ready to welcome another year. This year I experimented a lot with Indian sweets. For the first time, I made those at home. I have always avoided making sweets at home after coming to India. Because of the availability of so many varieties of delectable sweets around. But now I am becoming more incline to provide mostly homemade foods to my family. Today will share the recipe of Basan ka Ladoo. It came out so tasty which I actually didn't expect. I have adapted the recipe from Amrita's Blog Sweet 'n' Savoury
1 1/4 cup Besan/gram flour
1/2 cup Powdered sugar 
3 tbsp melted Ghee (or a little more if the mixture does not bind)
2 pinches Elaichi/cardamom powder

1. Take a Kadai and dry roast the besan on low heat till the raw smell goes away. It will take approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Continuously stir it otherwise it will get burnt.
2. Add melted ghee little by little and keep on stirring. Keep a check that it should not turn into a liquid. So when you see that it has turned into a dough kind of consistency then stop adding ghee. Even if you feel more ghee needed then add. Remember to add always melted ghee. (Please see Note))
3.  Keep stirring and cooking on low heat till you see the mixture binding well and leaving ghee. 
3. Remove from heat and add the powdered sugar and cardamom powder and mix well.
4. When it is almost cool shape them in round balls and place them in an individual wrapper or place them on a greased plate. 
5. Decorated them as per your creativity and enjoy.
After adding ghee if you feel the mixture turned into a semi-liquid mixture, don't worry add more besan little by little to come to the right texture. I have done the same mistake first time. But it came out very tasty.
Happy Diwali

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