Book review – Home at Last by Sarvada Chiruvolu

Note – Thanks to Amaryllis for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

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Home at Last is the kind of book which works best for someone who is looking to take a leap into the higher consciousness and finding the true self. I had my doubts about the book thinking I won’t be able to relate to anything the author said because unlike her I’m not on a quest to attain higher consciousness. But I’m aware of some niggling questions which have lingered in my psyche for years and they don’t have easy answers. In that respect, Home at Last was a step in the right direction.

It is funny how things find you when you are ready. The opportunity to review Home at Last – A Journey to Higher Consciousness came my way when I was in Puttaparthi, one of the places the author Sarada Chiruvolu, felt compelled to visit after her spiritual awakening. I was there as a volunteer this time and not as a tourist although that wasn’t my initial plan. Volunteering changes the way one looks at things because being on the inside the perspective changes, and thus I could identify better with the book.

It’s a blessing just to be given the opportunity to be of compassionate service.

The first chapter follows the foreword by Amma Karunamayi, her guru. She tells the readers how she began her journey and shares her experience while meditating. She ends the chapter with some tips concerning the frame of mind or the things one needs to do to mediate better.

This is not a how to book in the conventional sense, mainly because the path to enlightenment can’t be laid out like directions in a cookbook, step by step with exact measurements. However the book provides essential signposts of progress based on my own direct experience.

Sarada Chiruvolu makes that clear in the introduction itself and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

In the next chapter she talks about Reiki healing and how after initiation by a Reiki master she healed herself and others including her husband. After learning Reiki she feels more compassionate towards anyone who is suffering. You can scoff at the statement but I know people like that.

In the chapter ‘Renunciation and Detachment’ she talks about how being in nature and meditating outside has a calming effect on her. I worship nature so I was delighted to have this in common with the author.

I can’t express profoundly enough in words the attachment I have with nature.

I like the way she explains free will, karma and destiny even though parts of it were unclear to me.

She found her guru in Amma Karunamayi but she doesn’t follow her blindly. She visits the ashram for meditation retreats but remains true to her duties in the material world. Later on we see that she finds it increasingly hard to balance both the worlds. The author, in narrating her experiences gives us a peek into the relationship she has with her guru and the ashram’s inner workings. As she starts meditating twice a day she talks about an inexplicable sadness taking root in her and losing interest in her job and other day to day activities as she progresses, which used to give her pleasure earlier.

Continue reading “Book review – Home at Last by Sarvada Chiruvolu”

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Book review – Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson

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I found Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson in the book fair and promptly grabbed it. The book was on my list of books (and author) to explore though I am well past the age the book is intended for. What can I say my inner child/teen continues to live on. I have a few other books by her too but this was the one that beckoned me. You know how it is. Some books you have had for ages but they sit on shelves for eons before they get read and a new book catches your eye and gets instantly picked up (I can almost hear all the old books grumble at the newcomer who made it with the least sweat. Unfair life is even books know that!). I can never understand how the timing works. I guess our subconscious knows what it wants at a certain point in life and goes for it.

Violet is naive (annoyingly so!) for a 13 year old. The book was published in 2003 and that’s got something to do with it, I think. It was the time when cellphones weren’t ubiquitous yet and people still wrote letters to authors instead of stalking them or talking about/to them online. Violet adores reclusive author Casper Dream, the author of the beautifully illustrated fairy books and writes to him regularly. She loves the fictitious universe created by him. She draws inspiration from his books and sews fairy dolls.  As you can see she isn’t your boisterous teen but quiet and artistic. Midnight offers interesting insights into the mind of a writer and on creating imaginary worlds which appealed to me greatly.

Violet has two ‘friends’ but she can’t identify with them. Whereas her brother Will is good looking and the entire school thinks he is cool. She looks up to him and adores him in spite of his snide comments and rudeness. Violet and Will are only a few years apart. It is apparent he cares for Violet but he never let’s a chance to take the Mickey out of her go.

Their father doesn’t like Will’s choices, and he in turn is constantly at loggerheads with him. We see Will after he knows a distrubing secret so there could be something to Will’s recklessness. Will is an intriguing character but I was always wary of him. Their mother is a docile woman and allows her husband to run roughshod over her. He’s taken for granted that his wife will do her job, regardless of how he treats her.

Violet’s life changes when the new girl in the school, Jasmine, who cares two hoots about fitting in, takes a shine to her. She cannot believe her luck. She adores everything about Jasmine – her spirit, her house and her family. Best friends fall in love with each other. It is an intense little place and I know that space well. Violet is an oddball whereas Jasmine is a popular kid. Is Jasmine truly her friend or something else is going on?

As I read I felt uneasy about certain things and I can hazard a guess as to how my teenage self would have reacted. The writing is good and the author is magnificent at building an atmosphere. Though at the heart of the story is Violet, a girl obsessed with fairies and fairy stories and the author who writes them, it’s not for younger readers. People expecting fantasy would be disappointed. This is as real as it gets for the intended age group!  I thought it was clever how subtly the  author showed bitter realities of the world which won’t affect younger readers but older readers will see it for what it is.

I like the quirky illustrations by Nick Sharratt which match the dark tone of the book.

Continue reading “Book review – Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson”

To forgive or forget that is the question

Forgiveness like betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. And you have many options at your disposal but you have to figure out how to go about it.  They are peddling instant gratification, and we are drawn to it like honey to bee, which in the long run turns out to be fatal like white sugar. And, no it won’t stop me from biting into a macaroon or eating a gulab jamun (or two) once in a while but it’s a good comparison, isn’t it? Technology for all its advantages is making our lives more complicated and giving birth to mindless drama pregnant with chaos.

One can forgive and forget, the best thing to do really. Grudges are a colossal waste of time and energy. Also, they tamper with future connections without you being aware of it because that’s the vibe you are sending out into the world. I know because I used to be a champion grudge holder and the queen of sulking. (Yes, I used to be that stupid.) The other person doesn’t have a clue or has forgotten or moved on and there you are waiting for an apology to make things right. People aren’t mind readers true but there are always signs and silence screams louder than words, or so I thought. Some people are plain stupid or they are too busy to notice or they actually don’t care. Take your pick of the reason least harmful to your ego!

One cannot forgive but still forget (a rare breed but they do exist). And as I grow older this is becoming easy for me on account of being more forgetful. You heal yourself, put a stop to the nonsense and get an apology from the person in your head by playing out different scenarios and you are done. Simple, eh? What if the person shows up again and again interfering in the healing process? Not to worry, use their stupidity obstinacy to your advantage. The more they show up, the less it bothers you. No jolts, just the reassurance that one fine day it won’t matter. In a fit of rage you might feel the need to delete or block. I won’t tell you it’s a childish thing to do because it has its benefits but it’s a waste of limited energy reserves. Along with numerous social media accounts, people now have multiple numbers and change phones like they change shoes so you can’t actually keep up (if you are like me).

One can neither forgive nor forget. Time will do your work for you so no point in losing sleep over it. (Didn’t anyone tell you that patience is a virtue? Me neither!) So many ways to deal with forgiveness. What if you are the one seeking forgiveness? Do the same rules still apply? Or do you become a hypocrite? Continue reading “To forgive or forget that is the question”

Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

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I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

Continue reading “Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman”

Intelligent design and evolution

How do you explain to a ten year old that there is no God when asked how did the first human originate without telling them about evolution because she does not know what the word means?

I told her it happened by itself. There is no intelligent design and no sentient God, and so he didn’t create the first human. We evolved from other primates (okay I used the word monkeys). Of course she didn’t understand. If adults have a problem understanding evolution and say that it was intelligent design, how can a little child understand the concept.

She asked me if there is no god why are there so many temples and why do so many people worship them? I said people do it to to placate themselves if they have done something wrong. It is something that gives them hope or rather sells them hope and grants them peace of mind  letting them believe that everything will work out in the end. What I didn’t say – it is also a way of absolving responsibility and laying it at the feet of God since he controls the universe (even a leaf won’t budge without his permission). The world was not created by God but rather man created another man (typical) and designated him as the creator. Of course the Hindu pantheneon has 330 million gods and godesses (no I don’t know their names).

I had never been the one to follow rituals just for the sake of following it. I have always asked why how what where to the annoyance of my parents and relatives. I refuse to follow rituals just for the sake of following it to appease someone beyond my reach, who may or may not exist.

I hadn’t always been an atheist; I believed in a God which I had never seen or heard (thanks to my upbringing), who would come to my rescue when the need arose. But now I believe in the power of the universe. I believe that mother nature is superior to all.

Religion failed me in the darkest parts of my life. The parts of my life when I needed hope to stay afloat and I couldn’t find solace in religion. I found strength in myself and it was the people who loved me that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wanting to be saved

A Coldplay kind of day today, and when Death and All His Friends come to your rescue, you listen. It was not all​ Yellow not by a long stretch but​ blue and no one will bleed for you or die trying except perhaps your family (their job description since the day you were born) and a few close friends (if you are lucky).  So what are you cribbing about, you ungrateful wretch. Get over yourself. Live, thrive, survive (whatever suits you). No one can Fix You except you.

No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge

It’s like I ​heard the song for the first time. For a long time the song was misnamed in my playlist as Lovers in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how a song will be whatever you want it to be in that moment – romantic, cathartic, healing, inspiring and so much more.

Sometimes a song saves you. The memories associated with it, the lyrics or the music itself (words become superfluous and it is the rhythm which carries you through).

​Watching This is Us brought Mandy Moore back into my life. For me Mandy Moores’s Cry is not about the lyrics but about nostalgia for me. It is about a bygone era when me and my friends used to read Nicholas Sparks (oh the horror). Now if I see A Walk to Remember (a fate comparable to being inside an MRI machine) I will definitely sob but it will be due to laughing hard and snorting at the dialogues. Thank god we grew up. Idealism has no place in the life of old people. (No, don’t tell me 30 is the new 20!) Youth and idealism go together just fine, complementing each other in envisioning a better future full of realized dreams, lost opportunities nowhere on the horizon and the harsh truth yet to dawn. The blinders come off eventually, either voluntarily or forcefully.

Sometimes humour saves you. Satire, sarcasm, nonsense, black – all shades of humour. Your sense of humour is the most important thing about you, so keep it close and try your best not to lose it in the chaos that is everyday life, unless you live on one of many moons of Jupiter. It might desert you and vanish from time to time but prepare a grand welcome when it reappears. Continue reading “Wanting to be saved”

A Christmas Miracle

Christmas holds a warm place in my heart because of the tradition from the school days. I went to a Christian school (people’s words not mine) and every year students take part in the Christmas play which is basically staging the nativity scene. It was followed a long Christmas vacation. One time I essayed the role of a sheep and boy wasn’t I happy to be an animal on stage. Happiness didn’t cost much then. Those were good times.

One never has to go too far to look for a miracle. A stranger helped me meet Ruskin Bond which was my very own Christmas miracle. I could never have imagined meeting him in my wildest dreams that too here in my hometown.  It was  a few days before Christmas and just like any other cold winter day. Somehow even old crusty me can’t call what happened a coincidence.

When I found out Mr Bond would be gracing a literary festival in the city I asked my sister to ask her friend who studied in the institution which was organizing it to inquire about the system of entry of non-school students. Her friend told her to tell me to gatecrash the event because it isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you it was a big deal. Clearly her friend doesn’t read many books. The guard at the door wasn’t budging if you weren’t in a uniform or didn’t have a pass. I asked on the festival’s online page and wrote an email asking if there’s a way for people like us to meet and greet (their phrase) Ruskin Bond but there was no response. So I just decided to land up at the venue which was quite unlike me. It was at the other end of the city but I was by my parents told to give it a try in spite of my illness, and I did just that.

Why would a stranger, who has never seen you before in her life, cared if you meet (or didn’t meet) Mr Ruskin Bond. And what are the odds that the stranger was dressed like you and lived in the same locality as you. And someone who wore the adjective bookish like a badge of honour. It was like at first sight. She was wearing a kurti in the same shade of green I was, it was the same length as mine and we had the same hair style even. Had I been plump like I’m now and not leaner like I was then, we really would have looked like two peas in a pod. (I just wanted to use the phrase.) Not believable? But then truth is stranger than fiction. The similarities end here. Unlike garrulous me she prefers silence.

She helped me realize my lifelong dream of seeing Ruskin Bond in flesh and blood with my very own eyes. Had I reached a minute before or a minute later, our paths wouldn’t have crossed. Should I call it destiny, fate, coincidence, serendipity or just my luck? I could have been a serial bomber for all she knew, wanting to go inside the venue to blow it up into smithereens but didn’t have a pass (obviously). Perhaps she could see in me the same thing which had brought her there, a love for the written word and the worlds created by Mr Bond and a fervent desire to hear the man whose words were synonymous with our childhood. Any interaction was the cherry on top of a richly iced cake. At the last minute when he was leaving I was egged on my another young friend to go and get my book signed. And that’s how I spoke two sentences to him. I wasn’t going because everywhere he was surrounnded by hordes of school students or posing for group photographs.  Mr Ruskin Bond exudes warmth and generosity. He actually had twinkling eyes that we read about in books. Larger than life yet down to earth. Yes I’m gushing. I was over the moon.

This holiday season spread good cheer, it is infectious. And when you feel too lonely, remember solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin.