What is the best book you have read ?

I used to watch a quiz show on TV growing up where the mascot was a (book)worm, who would come in saying "A book is your best friend". I was sold on that idea and grew up believing that was true. 
In some ways, it was. I read a lot, loved that my father drive 45 minutes on a Sunday to take me to one of the best libraries in town. 

As an architect, I now like books with pictures more than books with words, but I will try to make a list of the books that have impressed me over the years. I should confess, however, that if you give me a list of top 100 books everyone must read, I will do poorly checking off that list. 

Favorite kids book: 
When I was 3 and couldn't read yet, my mom would read out this counting book to me about pom pom bunny preparing for his birthday party. I had made her read the book to me so many times that I knew the words by heart. I would sit there by myself, reciting the words out loud, turning the pages at the right time.  I forget the name of the book, but it started like this : 
"Pom Pom bunny is writing a letter - Please come to my birthday party, it said. How many letters are there? There are 10 letters." 

Favorite toddler book: I loved the "Little Golden Books" The Poky Little Puppy, The Fox and the Hound and Bambi were my favorites. 
My pick : The Poky Little Puppy 

Favorite elementary / middle  school book(s): 
This is more an author than a book. I grew up reading everything Enid Blyton. From the mystery and adventure series to the Naughtiest girl and finally when my tastes started becoming more girly, St,. Claires ; she kept me entertained, informed and left me with a strong desire to travel to England and live in the English countryside.
My pick: Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton

High School books: 
I was a confused kids. My reading choices will tell you that. I would read Nancy Drew, Classics Illustrated, Sweet Valley and did the typical Jeffery Archer , Robin Cook and anything else I could lay my hands on. 
My pick : Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer. 

Grown-up books: 
If I was confused in High School, I am worse now. I will try to pick some books that genuinely impressed me and left me thinking. 

A million little pieces, James Frey
It is a semi-fictional autobiography of a 23-year old guy through alcohol,drugs and rehab. Immensely powerful because it is bereft of any self-pity or excuses. It is blatantly objective and honest. 

The Namesake , Jhumpa Lahiri
An amazing story about the Indian diaspora in the US, and their identity crisis. The story is narrated in aw way that endears you to the characters and leaves you thinking about how to define home, family and identity. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns , Khalid Hosseni
A story of two generations of women in Afghanistan, oppression, terror and the Taliban. It is a story of a male-dominated society, of friendships and hope, of betrayal and the struggle to survive. It is a beautiful portrayal of Afghanistan before the Taliban and how their policies affected the daily lives of people. A beautiful book about human spirit. 

India Calling, Anand Giridhardas
First generation American citizen, NYT columnist goes back to visit the land his parents left decades ago in search of a better life and understand his roots. His book is an objective commentary on the state of the country now and his views on the future direction it will take.

The Snakehead , Patrick Radden Keefe
Another of those narratives, this time about the Chinese mafia in NY Chinatown. It is the story of how one woman almost-single-handedly managed to transport an entire district of China to the US illegally and help them lead a better life. It is also about perceptions and how a most-wanted fugitive in one part of the world is a most-revered figure in another.  

And, of course. Atlas Shrugged. Before I am accused of blasphemy, let me mention The Fountainhead. Although I might not agree in principle to the underlying message of these books, it is the idea of power and changing the world in these books that impresses me. 

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20 years hence ...

20 years ago, I was 6. Thinking about what I would do for the next hour and the next day seemed to be the farthest I thought. Today, I am 26. Thinking about what I will do in the next couple of years is how far I have gotten. 20 years is a long time - I will be 46 and hopefully thinking about the next couple of decades.

I am both terrified and thrilled by thinking about 20 years hence. I can only hope - life hands me lemonade; and not make me hunt for the lemons. I can sweeten it, still lemonade would be nice.

I am 26, have a masters degree in architecture and care for the planet and the less fortunate. I have also been unemployed since I graduated, for the last 8 months. In 20 years, I hope to be doing something that unites all three of my passions. Of course, I hope for world peace, healthcare and food for everyone in the world and an end to poverty, but lets be practical here.

I believe that the rich / poor divide is going to grow. It will be a survival of the fittest, and competition will get intense. Today's technology will become obsolete : kids will wonder how we survived without gizmos (you remembered things -really ? what do you mean you didn't write to everyone - you TALKED ?) Technology will start ruling architecture, we might see entire sections of the building 3D printed. LEED will be a part of the building code - wait - buildings will be blobs. Architecture will start becoming blobitecture - blobs will be self-sustaining independent living systems. People living in the blobs will only socialize with the people in the blob; therefore becoming independently functioning entities. Kids will think cows are a type of food and sparrows are found only in zoos. Villages and small-towns will become unheard of, with cities growing to 4 times their current size.

In the midst of all this mayhem, there will be a group of like-minded professionals who still find beauty in purity and simplicity. People who cared about the past, people who care about the future. People who do not think that technology is the answer to everything - people who want to help. People who believe that if we looked outside, we will find the right answers.

I will be among those people, hopefully not having abandoned my dream of becoming an architect because the world didn't have enough money to hire me and people wanted blobs, not buildings.
I hope.

A participating Lets Blog Off Post.
The table below is a list of the other posts in this series.


Traditions - Lets blog off

Once every two weeks, the blog world unites to blog about a common topic. The topic this time : "What traditions do you keep ?

I cant think of traditions without thinking about my roots. I was born in a city called Chennai in Southern India, where my parents grew up and went to college. However, we lived in different places until I was 5, and when it was time for me to attend regular school, settled down in a place I consider home, Bangalore.
In India, traditions (religious and cultural) vary from state to state. Although we have a lot of national holidays that are celebrated by the entire country, the way the religious festivals are celebrated widely differ, sometimes even falling on different days. There is always a set of conventions that each family follows, each fine tuned to suit their individual preferences.
Growing up, my family always celebrated all the religious festivals that our family traditionally celebrated at home, but with a local flavor. One thing common between all of them was food, new clothes and sharing - a tradition I still continue to maintain.

Of course, moving halfway across the world changes things. Living in a different timezone and following a different cultural calendar is confusing, add to that being married to a guy whose husband's family follows a slightly different cultural calendar ; and things are seriously complicated.
One tradition I still continue to keep through all of this, is the one I was raised with - celebrating all festivals with a local flavor. The number of occasions has increased - from 1 to 3 different sources, but I'm not complaining !
I cook traditional meals for Pongal and Diwali, bake a traditional fruitcake for Christmas, complete with dry fruits that have been soaked in rum for a week. Considering that  my family here is too widespread to visit, thanksgiving is the time to celebrate with friends who have become family here.

So I guess I should say that the only tradition I really keep is amalgamation !

Here's a list of other participating posts:


Relax and recharge

Relaxing is stressful. To find the perfect thing to do to feel your best the next day stresses me out !

The topic of this blog made me start thinking about relaxing, and how the concept has changed for me over the years. .
As a kid, relaxing meant running around, trying to dodge homework and playing imaginary games with imaginary people. As a teenager, all I wanted to do was curl up with a book, shut off from people and the world. I am a TV snob, and tend not to like most of the things I watch, so that stressed me out too.

Somewhere between my teens and my tweens, I developed a love for the beach. Although I cannot go lie on the beach for hours together, its too passive, I loved the sound of the waves and the moonlight bouncing off the waves especially on a full moon night.

Now on the wrong side of my twenties, I think relaxing is mental; and about food. My favorite thing to do after a stressful day is to cook. The coming together of the dish, the intermixing of all the different flavors and sometimes contradicting tastes to come together to appeal to a larger audience is magical. Top it off with home made dessert, and I am ready to go !

I am also a page traveler. I love traveling, especially through books. The idea of being in a foreign land, where no one knows you and you know no one is thrilling. I am happiest when I have some travel / guide books around me and I am making notes for all the touristy things to avoid and the non-touristy things to do! Of course, actually going to the less visited places would be the icing on the cake, but that is for another day ! 


India Calling

by Anand Giridhardas.
I havent finished reading it yet, but this is something I would recommend.
It is a first generation american's account of his return to his parents' homeland and his understanding of the changing dynamics and energy of the country. It is strong without being depraving. The first ever book in recent times that has made me sit up and face the facts.
(It took me a long long time to accept Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" ; anything slightly negative puts me behind a veil of denial from where I finish reading the rest of the book).
I am making a conscious effort this time not to go behind that veil, mainly because of my fear of losing the experience of the journey. I hope the rest of the book is a good experience. Will update soon !


Dear Sachin (the man we all want to be)

Thank You, for the World Cup victory. Yes, thanks not congratulations, would reflect how a vast majority of us feel. We have been given the opportunity to witness what is probably one of the most poignant moments of our lives. Grown men (and women) cried, people danced on the streets, atheists prayed, rational people succumbed to superstition and we rejoiced. All those sleepless nights of people all over the world (especially in the N. American continent), waking up in the dead of the night to watch, all the lost productivity, all the arguments, the emotional roller-coasters were all worth it. For that, a big thank you.

Also thank you for not getting your 100th 100 in the final. I know that you will have plenty of opportunity to do it in the future, and I hope that when you do get it, it will be significant to the team's success. By leading the way all through the tournament but not playing the key role in the final, you have proved to the cricket-loving Indian public that the team is in good hands. We were still suffering from a big 4 hangover. That is fully cured now, thanks to Dhoni and Gambhir and Yuvi leading the way in the final.

Finally, a big thank you for being you. We respect your straight drive as much as we respect your personality. We hope our children will grow up to be as calm, level headed and sincere as you. We hope that they will not let success get to their heads and have the same work ethic as you do. We hope that they will have someone like a Sachin Tendulkar to emulate while growing up, just like we did.

Best wishes,
a fan.


The thin line between smart puns and distasteful jingoism

India defeated Pakistan to be in the Cricket World Cup Finals 2011. The social networking world (at least for people from the subcontinent) has been a frenzy of activity with people posting newspaper articles, status updates, comments, discussions, strategies and analysis before / during and after the match. It all made for some interesting reading (for us) and some annoyance for some others (who don't follow cricket and wondering why this word that sounds like the name of an insect has taken over your friends' pages).
Facebook, twitter and other social networking sites have given people a chance to express themselves in ways that we could not have imagined before. However, it has also made people believe that one can get away with saying anything. Comparing a cricket match to war, bringing politics and mythology into it, using profanities and attacking the opponent's culture does not show your support for your national team, it just shows your lack of character. For every 'retweet' or 'like' you might be getting, have you thought of the people whose sentiments you might be hurting ?
Attacking the opposition's culture will not help your team win. Cheering them on will. Hate messages on social networking sites does not make you more of an Indian than anyone else. However, it makes you less of a human being.


During a time that everything seems dark, all we can do is focus on the bright spots that seem to appear from nowhere. Wishing hope and courage for the people in Japan to recover from this calamity.  


Where you live shapes who you become

I recently started exercising again. I have always been doing it, on and off, after college. Initially, I did it because my parents wanted me to. After I moved to the US, I restarted after the first year because I felt it was a shame not to use the facilities we were being given. I joined group exercise classes, and it felt great to try something new and make new friends.

Although I can wax eloquent on the health benefits of exercise, weight loss has never been a reason for me to exercise. I do it because it makes me feel good. Physically, mentally, emotionally. (Yes, if you are my parents or brother or husband,  you know why being emotionally fit is important - more to them than to me).

My recent foray into the world of work outs and conviction to stick to it is for a completely different reason (yes, the fact that I have paid money for a whole year has something to do with it too). For the first time, I have a reason to be fit and more active. I want to be able to run / bike along the charles river in the summer; I want to be able to run in the cold on the sidewalks like all the people I see on the street. I want to be able to hike for hours and feel good about it. I want to be able to bike to a far-ish picnic spot, lay on the grass all afternoon and come back biking in the evening. Also, sometime in the (more near than far, I hope) future, I want to be able to run at least a 5k.

The fact that the outdoors are much more accessible now has inspired me. Which brings me to believe in the title of the post, "where you live shapes who you become".

P.S. In the process, if I have nicely toned abs and calves, I wont be complaining :)


ICF 2.0

I blogged about being an Indian Cricket Fan or ICF 4 years ago, during the last world cup.

Since then my active involvement in the game has been waxing and waning. More waxing of late, since I can spend time actually watching the match rather than have to listen to interrupted commentary while working.

 I have also been observing the newer brand of ICF : the transplanted ICF

The basics remain the same, you are still subjected to high levels of stress, lessened productivity and mood swings; just compounded by the fact that you have to wake up at unearthly hours to watch the match.
Cricinfo is bookmarked and always open on your laptop.

The hour before the scheduled start of play is spent in frantically testing and finding a *working link*. *Working link please* becomes the most used phrase on IM during this time.

You groan with the same agony when the link stops working as you do when an Indian wicket falls or a catch is dropped.

You  are excited about day/night matches being played in West Indies and South Africa because it is during normal waking hours. Even if they are insignificant matches that you wouldn't normally watch. 

Within 10 minutes of the match ending, 8/10 of your friends have fb status messages and tweets that have their analysis of the match, there are about 20 comments and 30 'likes' to every status message.

You try to explain to a Rangers fan why you are so passionate about a game that *lasts 5 days and has tea breaks*, but cant appreciate baseball.

Every tournament final is as important as the superbowl. The debates about the state of Indian cricket are almost as passionate as the debates about politics at every Desi party you go to.

Joining a cricket league is your most important summer activity. You think you are an IPL player and scheme about how to join a better team  next season. 


Uncle Pai

I haven't written in what feels like forever. Wait, it HAS been forever. :)
Uncle Pai has had such a profound impact on me growing up that I thought it was perfect for me to restart blogging with a tribute to him.

Uncle Pai defined my childhood. I don't remember seeing a picture of him ever, I couldn't just do a google image search back then, but I had this image of an average-height black-haired man with kind eyes sheltered by thick-black framed glasses with a face that had a formed smile sitting behind a desk with a pen and writing all those letters on nice paper. I was content with that image.

I actually used to find science fascinating; because of the way he told us. Unfortunately, that fascination ran out when I had to face it in a real school with real teachers. I would try and get into adventures so that I could write to him to tell him that it had happened to me and see my name in print. Most of what I know about Indian mythology is thanks to him, after my grandmothers. To me he was Santa Claus, who gave us a present every week, through the newspaper man. A Santa who knew everything about everything that there is to know.

I attribute my love for reading to him, he showed me snippets of an alternative universe through his books, a universe that I decided I wanted to explore further. Dog Detective Ranjha led me to believe that normal people could solve mysteries; Shikari Shambu taught me that luck can only help you fool other people, Tantri taught me that being cunning is not always being smart, Kalia reinforced my argument for the advantages of being small built.

I used to have every single edition I had bought at the back of a shelf that was used to store old newspapers. Everytime the raddiwala came, I used to stand and watch my parents take the newspaper out like a hawk, so that none of my books from my precious collection were unwittingly thrown away. I would read them, re-read them and re-read the re-read comics, until my parents had to intervene and say "no more tinkle" for the week. We had to give all those "books" away when we moved. That was when I realised that I was not a child anymore and had to grow up.

Thank You, Uncle Pai - for all the fond memories. I hope future generations continue to be as fascinated by Amar Chitra Kathas as we were.