Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: The Harem

How far would you go to be free? THE HAREM, is a fast-paced novel about young Asian women and their quest for freedom.Farina has only one dream: to be free and move away from Peckville, a Muslim ghetto in a large city. She is eager to escape the clutches of her strict parents who will not let her drink, party or have any kind of contact with males. As soon as she turns eighteen, she sets her dream in motion and gets her own apartment. The only problem is that her minimum-wage job leaves her feeling anything but liberated. How can she resist when her ambitious best friend Sabrina proposes an infallible business idea? How harmful can running as escort agency really be? Will she finally be freed by her increasing wealth and independence, or will she remain enslaved by her increasing guilt?


How far would you go to be free? The words that can be found on the back cover of the book. It would probably be the apt way to concisely describe this wonderful book. When I started reading The Harem, I was a little anxious about where it would go. But the book definitely exceeded my expectations.

Fazlul's book is contemporary and fast read that deals with some very real issues. It is humorous and tragic at the same time. The conversations between the girls is often lighthearted and simple. I found that her writing was uncomplicated though, most of the issues addressed through this fiction story of freedom, restrictions, gender and class biases are mostly very complex. She also discusses beautifully the gender division of labour within a home; the restrictions of living in a muslim ghetto and the immense restrictions that it brought to her identity.

Following the start of the escort agency, Farina begins to see some of the truths in the sex industry. She notices the racist, sexist attitudes of the clients her girls attended to. Despite Sabrina assuring her the women knew what they were getting into, Farina's judgment left her sleepless on many an occasion. She noticed the desperation in some of the girl's eyes when they couldn't get a client for several weeks at a stretch. Though the money it brought in was much more than she imagined, the heavy heart was more than she wished for.

The book despite dealing with very serious issues never bored me. It was interesting the way the character's shaped up. The end however was very disturbing and I found that the maturity with which it was handled commendable.

I would recommend others to read because I found it portrayed relationships and dynamics intricately well. The transition between present and past was also smooth. I refrain from making any assumptions about how this story came to Fazlul but I am glad it did.

Overall rating: 4
Cover rating: 2 (I personally didn't understand it!)
Writing: 3.5
Story: 4
Character sketching: 4

(This book review was long overdue)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sisters and sisterhood

For most of my teenage life, I lived in a cocoon. I knew I was lucky for I had found friends, soul mates in my sisters. Ever since then, I have had the fortune of being surrounded by amazing women who I affectionately referred to as my soul sisters. Some more like me than others but each of them brought to my life a myriad of hopes, dreams and ideas with which we attempted to shape the world around us. We struggled some days and some days we succeeded. All along we decorated our lives with as many colours as possible. With this support from my growing sisterhood, I never felt the need to give up.

I remember the time I began identifying with the word feminist. I remember the powerful things it gave me access to. The biggest part of it was a sisterhood of known, unknown women and men. Women who were vibrant, passionate and wonderful. Women who were entertaining, kind and supportive. Women who gave me strength to continue fighting my battles. Women who inspired me to continue writing. Women who shared my ideals, my ethics. Women who understood and acknowledged the mundane everyday violence and resisted it in the ways they could. Women who went from being victims to survivors. Women who stood for equality and everything else I believed in. Women writers who articulated their struggles. Women writers who years ago spoke of discrimination I know today.

Many of these women are faceless for I have only heard of them from others. But many others are faces I will never forget. The others remain a constant in my life today. Who make even the drudgery of life worthwhile.

To all of you, I thank you. For showing me the warmth of a sisterhood. I thank you, for being my soul sisters.

Link to the soul sisters contest on Women's Web:

Friday, May 10, 2013

To Paris and back...

Recently, I passed the obnoxiously lit up Buddha statue in Hyderabad. It reminded me of a somewhat similarly lit, with a little more class perhaps, Eiffel Tower. Though frankly, the two have little in common barring the lights of course.

Writing about Paris, though, is far from easy. Adjectives don’t describe it well enough. Descriptions seem to not do justice to its remarkable spirit. I find myself failing to accurately portray the effect this city had on me. So, instead I have been wandering in and out of my Paris memories. The experience itself was less body and more soul. There is no less cliche way for me to put it.

The memories are varied. Some are of the ancient street lamps on the streets with a fountain or a sculpture at every junction. Some memories are of the vast public spaces to sit down and read a book. Others are of the one too many quaint coffee shops sprinkled in every arrondissement. Often, I think of the Pont des Arts with the thousands of love locks or fondly in my memory, the bridge of love. Sometimes I remember how grand and magnificent the Lourve looked at night. I get lost in images of how the city lit up subtly at night (of course, not the Eiffel Tower with its lighthouse lights). I remember how warmth spread through my body as we entered an unique bar right next to the circus. I visited the city in the winter and everything indoors was heated! But importantly, the feeling of walking around breathless and in awe of the beauty and charm of Paris. 

I had wondered many times before if people had exaggerated when talking or writing about Paris. After having walked in the city for a mere few days, I felt unsatisfied and a little disappointed at my departure. I vowed to return to Paris someday and stay for a while. To breathe the air, to wander aimlessly, to write in one of those coffee shops, to feel the romance, to know the unknown places to eat, to perhaps even learn about fashion, to get accustomed to the Parisien way of life, to revisit Shakespeare and Company, to see every room in the Louvre, to not feel like an outsider in that city.

Amsterdam: travel thoughts

Four souls who had never been to Amsterdam before made a plan to spend new years in this city. With our guide books as our strength and of course, our secret weapon of asking the locals themselves, we set off. We reached the city of Amsterdam by noon bundled up in warm clothes and high energies. We were truly in for a treat.

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I have been in. The greenery, the countryside and the craziness was the perfect vacation spot for us, the crazy lot. Throughout our trip we relied on two modes of transport, our feet and the public transport. This was the best way to see the city. And the city we did see. We left our tiny room early and without an agenda on our minds, we wandered the streets. It took walking on the same streets a few times to even recognise the name of the street. The Dutch have a complicated language with words I usually mispronounced. They were warm and didn’t fail to understand despite the badly pronounced names. 

But what I loved about the city was its mix of extremes. Known for its ‘coffeeshops’, the city was high inducing. On the contrary to that was the lovely cycles everywhere and the marvellous river flowing right through the city. We took a nostalgic boat ride through the city to learn many things about the people. For instance, many of the Dutch lived in wooden, long and elegant boathouse. The reason they lived in them was not so nice though. Shortage of space in the city had driven them to the river.

As I play back the trip in my head, I remember all the random walks we took. We even accidentally walked into the red light district. It wasn’t like I imagined it to be but I must say, one of the women’s faces remains with me. I do have one complaint though. Amsterdam as a city is full of tourists. The food, therefore, is customed to their needs. In a small number of local restaurants, we found dutch food. However, our snooping around led us to one of the most marvellous little bakeries where we spent a good few hours binging. From the best cheesecake to the best lemon jam was all consumed in this establishment. If I return to Amsterdam, the first stop would be De Bakkerswinkel.

This trip out of India for me has led me to marvel at the public spaces. The entire city gathered in the centre squares, lit fireworks and drank champagne from bottles. It was goose-bump inducing. I watched the city welcome the new year with zeal. I am not much of a party person but I couldn’t help feel the energy the city radiated that night. As we walked back to our room, we were all high. Not on the alcohol or on any other drugs. But on the joy of celebrating an occasion with complete strangers, on the streets.

I don’t think I will forget that feeling for a long, long time.

This same feeling reminds me that a myriad of cities are waiting to be explored; a whole range of new feelings are waiting to be discovered. I will wander the lands till my heart is content. I doubt that moment is going to arrive anytime soon.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Thanks to my previous job, I spent a lot of time designing. But the designs were always for someone else. The free time in my life has led me to design some posters just for me. These are quotes by two women writers I completely love...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is someone getting the best of you?

I am getting tired of starting again, somewhere new. Were you born to resist or be abused?

Recently, I was exposed to the development sector professionally. I had earlier heard a lot about the work being done in the sector in India and I was interested in doing my two bits. I was sadly forced to deal with some realities that have since haunted me. I understand that some of it is a problem everywhere and that causes more worry rather than reassurance. To some, there seems to be a distant understanding of a field, of it being situated outside one's immediate surroundings. This is the most disturbing part for me. I was always of the belief that if we could not change our immediate surroundings in a small way, then a 'larger' change couldn't be experienced. However, many differ with my notions of change and values. What makes matters worse for me is their complete lack of need to keep to their word, which I have always felt is the essential part of working with people and communities. 

Keeping up appearances, Keeping up with the Jones', Fooling my selfish heart,  Going through the motions, But I'm fooling myself, I'm fooling myself

Such ideas and notions have challenged my values, ethics and behaviour patterns. In some ways they have strengthened me for the cause I believe in and driven me closer to where I hope to be someday. But I find it discouraging and disheartening to be left dealing with such realities so early. I had imagined cynicism would arrive much later. Much to my dismay, I need to deal with the bitter truth of the matter as I struggle to not lose faith in my own capabilities and talents. But I know the anger, distress I feel against the injustice in the world can be used for good rather than allowing my insides to erode. 

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be...

As I start moving on, I am lucky enough to look forward to the wonderful things the year and life hold for me. To help me change my mood and prepare me for larger, more relevant battles.

Were you born to resist, or be abused? I swear I'll never give in, I refuse. Is someone getting the best of you...

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Wildings: Book Review

A small band of cats lives in the labyrinthine alleys and ruins of Nizamuddin, an old neighbourhood in Delhi. Miao, the clan elder, a wise, grave Siamese; Katar, a cat loved by his followers and feared by his enemies; Hulo, the great warrior tom; Beraal, the beautiful queen, swift and deadly when challenged; Southpaw, the kitten whose curiosity can always be counted on to get him into trouble… Unfettered and wild, these and the other members of the tribe fear no one, go where they will, and do as they please. Until, one day, a terrified orange-coloured kitten with monsoon green eyes and remarkable powers, lands in their midst—setting off a series of extraordinary events that will change their world forever.

Books written about animals' perception of humans is not a new concept. That being said, despite not being a cat lover, this book has opened the doors to a whole new world. The story is fast paced and intriguing. You find yourself moving quickly from page to page, anticipating the next fight or what trouble Southpaw has gotten into. Though Mara and Beraal are the most detailed characters, you find yourself captivated by all the others. The cats communicate with each other by linking to a cat network through their whiskers. One night their network is interrupted by the calls of a new cat, called Mara. The calls are very strong, indicating that Mara is a sender. Disturbed the cats set out to hunt this powerful outsider, only to find that it is a kitten that has no clue how to control the sending. Beraal takes Mara under her wings to train her to send and link.

The book is definitely written by somebody who knows cats well. The new terms – Bigfeet, Sender, linked - she has coined extend the experience of the book, leading the reader into a cat world. But there could have been many more such terms adding to the larger scope of such a book.

I am unsure if this was supposed to be a whimsical tale about cats or if it was intended to be more serious than that. But if not anything else, The Wildings is a terrific adventure situated in a corner of Delhi ensuring the reader is seriously entertained.

The writing:
It is clean, uncomplicated and well knit. I loved the descriptions in the book. They make the scene of the ruins of Nizamuddin come alive. The personalities of each cat is different and you begin to see each of the characters strengths and weaknesses. It is a pleasure to see how the magic unfolds as they defend, fight and get along with each other.

The illustrations:
Fabulous! I love how every black and white illustration adds a bit more class to the book. The illustrations are superbly done and leaves one looking forward to their next appearance. Their existence makes this book worth the price.

My verdict: I recommend you to read. A MUST read for cat and animal lovers. I am not sure I wish to label it an adult book or a children's book but I think it might actually be really fun for children to read. The language enables readers across ages to enjoy it. The imagery makes for light and enchanting reading for adults. If possible, I suggest you take this book into a park and enjoy it. Let the wildings come alive (like they did for me)! You never know, a bunch of beautiful Kites might be flying around above your head :)

Price: 595.

Sneak peek into the illustrations: 

One   Two
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Still I rise.."

For a while now, I have been very angry. So much so that my anger was not making sense to me. I knew I needed to calm down to see things objectively. But I also knew after a long time of being hurt, I had finally found it in me to turn those feelings into anger. Now I do believe that anger is not a bad feeling. It is not an unnecessary feeling. In fact I find it an important and a driving force sometimes. But I also know that anger that lingers can turn into bitterness (and if there is one thing I hope I never am, it is bitter).

So for now, I have let myself be angry. There will come a time when my anger will fade away only leaving traces behind of what I should to take away from this experience. Hopefully I will be driven by that feeling to not treat others badly, to try to be a good person.

Till then, I softly repeat the words of a wonderful fighter and feminist...

"Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise...

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise." - Maya Angelou

But still, like air, I will rise.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Introducing Lulu! :-)

Three sure shot ways of turning my day around.

Step one: Walk out of office.

Step two: Scream Lulu.

Step three: See him happily passed out or running towards you! Either way, he's a mood changer.

Introducing, Lulu! As his previous mistress fondly calls him, The dog that lived. He had a brief period where he fell really sick and then went missing. His absence upset me as I missed the little sanctity that he always brought in plenty. But one fine day, he returned. And what a magnificent recovery it was! He came bounding into my arms and made the most adorable noises as he sat next to me.

Even though, he has found himself a nice home, he still comes running to me every morning before work and every evening after. Only ever so occasionally do I have the fortune of capturing this active, hyper and loving dog. (Picture is cute no?)

There are far better stories about his misbehaviour and the ease with which he settled himself in my heart. But for today, I just wanted to remember and bask in the love and warmth he brings into my life. Cheers to the brattiest dog I have met! :-)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy birthday Amma!

I have tried many times before and failed every time. I don't think it is easy to write about any mother; your own is far more difficult. As she turns 50 tomorrow, I will try to attempt it.

Ain't she pretty? :-)
Amma, as we call her, is a remarkable woman. She is calm, yet fierce. She is kind, yet not naive. Our relationship was on the rocks for a long time. After years of fighting and reconciling, we have found our little corner where we can talk, laugh and just be. She visited me in Bangalore and stayed for a week. Professionally, the week was miserable. Personally, it was a discovery. I discovered my mother's strong faith and her love for travel. Both of which I had already come to see in her. But this week was an up close, personal discovery. I saw her put up post-ids in my house of slokhas to protect me; I saw her climb 600 stairs to go to Shravanabelagola; I saw her crave to travel to Talacauvery.
A few years ago, this feisty woman had a bad fall. Travelling a lot in the seated position gives her body aches. But she bites her teeth, does it anyway and then sleeps with a hot water pack. How does she do it, I asked her. She said, life is short. I have too much to see still. Even after she returned from her vacation in Bangalore, she is busy making plans to drag my Dad to a temple in Kerala, if not Badri. Remarkable right? I wonder which one is more powerful in her life. Her faith in God, or her love for travel. Somewhere along the line, the two streams of thought have blended into one tough river that keeps her happy and sane.
They say, you get a lot of your parents qualities. I look at her and I want so many of her traits. Her kindness: She used to visit an old aged home to serve lunch. A couple of times we did it together and I saw how much the old ladies, the nuns and even the volunteers loved her. It made me love her a lot more. Her love for teaching: Oh so often she will offer to teach children for a minimum amount and take as much interest in their education as she would in mine. Her giving nature: I snap a lot. No wait, A LOT. Especially with her. But she gives and gives and gives. I want this trait of hers. I want to be that giving. Change: I don't think I have ever met someone who has accepted change like she has. My dad used to travel a lot when we were kids. He moved cities and she went with him. Even there, he travelled a lot.  Somehow, she got used to it. She tells us stories of how it was hard at first, but she adjusted and found friends around. I can't imagine being that way. I tell her that and she says, it will happen with time. Reading: She loves to read and often asks one of us to buy her some books when we go shopping. Recently, she was complaining that she cannot find Tamil books in Hyderabad. I hunted online and much to my surprise we found books on Flipkart by her favourite Tamil author (YAY!) I went ahead and bought her a few books. :)
I have hung out with my mother in the past few years much more than before. We have had deep conversations about life, marriage and love. We have had pointless conversations about people. We have laughed and laughed. It is hard to imagine another relationship like ours. It is hard sometimes to think the same two people fought like rat and cat just a few years ago. But our relationship has matured and I am eternally grateful for that. 

I love you Amma! For the woman you are and the woman you make me want to be! :)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! May the years ahead have lots of travel and lots of encounters with the force above!