Tuesday, December 20, 2016

100 Book Pact - 71 to 80

71/100 The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Ellie's scientist-grandfather experiments on himself and turns into a young boy who is barely a couple of years older than her. As Ellie adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new (?) grandfather, she also learns about the immense possibilities of science, and about how far it can go - sometimes too far.
This book ticks a lot of boxes for me - it has science, open-mindedness, the importance of questions, strong female characters, cultural diversity -- it is even set in the Bay Area haha! So I should have liked this book better than I actually did. I have no explanation for that, though.
Appropriate for 10-14 ages, I think. Some of the ideas might be too much for younger readers to appreciate. Puttachi hasn't read it yet, so I can't say for sure.

72/100 Infinity Ring Book 1: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner.
This is a series of books, each by different authors, about two children who live in a parallel universe, but keep going back in time to "breaks" in history, and try to set things right. In terms of literary merit, this doesn't have much going for it. But the storytelling and plot is exciting - just what a kid would want to grab and read. Puttachi is on the fourth book now, but I stopped at this one.

73/100 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Puttachi saw this in the library of a different county, and thought it looked interesting. After all, it is about a boy who wants dogs desperately, and she identified with him :) So I got it from our county library, and both of us tried reading it simultaneously. Billy Colson wants two coon hounds, so that he can hunt raccoons. The book speaks about a very different time and life, in rural America decades ago. The book is autobiographical, and is full of hunting and killing and skinning of raccoons. It does have a whole lot of dog-love and loyalty and friendship and bravery. But the hunting got a little too much. I had gone ahead in the story, and after one point, where there was a particularly gory incident, I told Puttachi to stop reading it, knowing her as I do. She agreed with alacrity, which probably means that she wanted to stop too. I ploughed on ahead and finished it, and can see why it is a classic, but I wouldn't recommend it in a hurry.

74/100 Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Rarely has a book been recommended to be by more people. And I can see why. Most (perhaps all) the people who suggested that I read it have read the English translation by Srinath Perur, which I've heard is very good. But I decided to read the Kannada original, because, well, why not?
It is the story of a middle-class family that attains sudden wealth. There are so many things to praise in this novella. The nuances. The details. The emotions. The depiction of the way that the nature of humans change, with variations in their fortunes. And the characters! So clear! And when they change, they do so true to their nature, making one wonder -- was that behaviour really surprising? Wasn't that characteristic present in them all this time? Didn't it just come out now, thanks to circumstances?
The sense of foreboding in the novel is a character in itself. Its presence is so slight that sometimes you wonder if it is even there. And then, the ending, which initially disappointed me. But as I dwelt on it and turned it over in my mind, I realized that this was the best ending that this story could have had. And this ending gave the story another layer. I simply have to read it again.
By the way, the Kannada book is actually a collection, and has other short stories of Vivek Shanbhag's. They are good too.

75/100 A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Short review: Absolutely loved it.
Long review: I'd placed a request on this book at the library, but knew it would be some time before I got it. So in the meantime, I got another book by him "My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry", but I couldn't get through that one at all. I almost wondered if I should read A Man Called Ove after all. But I'm so thankful I did.
Ove is a grumpy man who isn't what he looks like. That's all I'd like to say about him without giving too much away. The shades and the layers in this character are phenomenally well-done. This is one of those books that gave me satisfaction in so many respects. I laughed, I cried (while reading it in public, and got strange looks), I was touched, I was inspired. And probably another reason I liked this so much that Ove is a lot like a certain man I know, and I had to stop reading at times in order to hold my tummy and laugh at, and appreciate the similarities.

76/100 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

After a long tussle about whether to continue reading the Harry Potter series to Puttachi, or wait until she is older, I caved in, and continued, partly because more and more of her peers are finishing the series and it is becoming nearly impossible to keep her away from spoilers.

We hurtled through the sixth book, thanks to things heating up in the story, and very often, I ended up with a strained and croaking voice, reading through long passages. As I write this review, we are already on the seventh book.

*Spoilers ahead*

For Puttachi, last week was a double disaster because, within a few hours, she went from 'What? Trump won?" to "What? Snape killed Dumbledore?"

Somehow, she has always been an ardent believer in Snape. ("I'm sure he is secretly good.") So she is deeply disappointed at the turn of events. Now I can't wait for her to find out that she wasn't wrong after all.

Here's to the final book!

77/100 The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schiltz

This is the diary of a girl who escapes drudgery on a farm, to go to Baltimore to work as a hired girl. She is employed by a Jewish family who is kind to her. A beautiful, sensitive book of growing up, discovery, feminism and freedom. This is a young adult book, but I think adults will appreciate it too. Too early for Puttachi, though.

78/100 The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I like Allende's writing. Simple and flowing, and lyrical and deep. This book speaks about the many different kinds of love. Informative too - I didn't know much about Japanese internment camps before I read this.

79/100 The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain by Neil Gaiman

I haven't read anything by Neil Gaiman before, so I picked this up on a whim. It is a graphic novel, and the story itself is like a short story. I wasn't too crazy about the kind of illustrations, though I must say that some of them gave me creeps and I had to hide them with another book while I read the text. So they are effective, obviously, and definitely suit the text which is very dark and macabre. And yes I did like the story.
I almost gave it to Puttachi to read before I did - glad that I didn't. By no means is it for children.

We did it! My throat is raw, my jaw is stiff, but I just finished reading aloud to Puttachi -

80/100 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

With a lot of nail-biting and wide-eyed apprehension and tumbling around the floor with joy and excitement, Puttachi absorbed the final chapters. I had to take several breaks to choke back tears all through the book, with Puttachi waiting patiently or offering to take over when I couldn't continue.

Now I can finally sit back and relax, and not worry about stifling Harry Potter spoilers that seemed to be waiting in every corner, poised to spring out at her.

Once again -- especially now that I'm making feeble attempts at writing a short novel -- I am in awe of Rowling, her capacity for imagination and her painstaking detailed planning of this complex plot.

We started the first book 18 months ago, during our move from Bangalore to the Bay Area. And now it is done.

The question now is - what next?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

San Francisco

- Have I told you that I love San Francisco? Something about it. The charming houses, the juxtaposition of the old and the new and the weird, the skyscrapers, the graffiti, the sense of vastness, the crazy inclined roads.
- It has character, something that the suburbs -- even with their wide open spaces, and the hills (green now) and even though one such surburb is home to me -- don't have.
- Going to San Francisco is a sure-fire way to recall that I am in the US. Else, most of the time, I forget ;)
- I saw San Francisco in darkness for the first time this weekend. The night lights, the skyline with those lit windows - they drive me crazy with delight.
- A San Francisco winter evening is like being in a Christmas movie. Without the snow.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Article in National Geographic Traveller India

Ever since I was a little girl, I've held National Geographic magazine in awe and respect, and so, imagine my delight to have an article published in the November issue of Nat Geo Traveller India.

You can read it on Page 32 here - https://issuu.com/11blabmagg655/docs/9scsdcs

Friday, October 28, 2016

Come and say hello at FSACC!

The Festival of South Asian Children's Content, presented by Indian Moms Connect is going to be held on Nov 5th, at ICC Milpitas, California. It promises to be an exciting event - do see the Facebook page and website for details.

I'll be reading from Avani and the Pea Plant at 11 am. I'll have with me little jars with pea plants in different stages of growth, for kids to see, and hopefully be inspired!

If all goes well, I'll also have lots of copies of The Secret Garden for sale. 

Do come over, and say hello! And get signed copies of my books! If you don't live around here, or cannot attend, please do share the event details with friends and family who might be interested.

The details of the event:

Venue: India Community Center, 525 Los Coches St, Milpitas, CA 95035

Date: Nov 5th 2015

My session: 11 to 11 30 am.

See you there!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Pact - 61 to 70

61/100 - The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
An unusual story of a centenarian who decides to avoid his 100th birthday party at the senior home, and skips town, going on a long journey and leaving bodies and unbelievable stories in his wake. The story see-saws between the present and the old man's past as a bomb-maker who has participated in the major events of the world. The book was fun about half-way through. Then the novelty wore off, and I skim-read the rest of the book.

62/100 - A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy
Had never read anything by this author before, and I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of her words, and the amazing insight she has into human psychology. This was a collection of short stories, and I read them in bits over a long time, partly to savour them, and partly to not get muddled up over the narratives. I'm going to try her longer works next. Any recommendations?

63/100 - The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
I wasn't expecting this kind of a story when Puttachi pleaded with me to read this book. This is essentially a book about the beauty of nature, and the importance of bravery and friendship, with a little fairy protagonist, written with sensitivity and love by an author I have come to admire.

64/100 - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A beautiful, moving story of a bookstore owner in a small town. Unlikely storyline, engaging narrative, and sympathetically written. Loved it.

65/100 - Writing down the bones by Natalie Goldberg
One of the better books on writing that I've read. It is honest, encouraging, and kind. Halfway through the book, I was sure this was the best book I've ever read on the subject of writing, but towards the end, I changed my mind. Not the best, but among the better ones. Deserves a re-read.

66/100 This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
This is a collection of her published essays, essentially her memoirs. It contains one essay on writing, "The Getaway Car" which I would say is the one essay that any writer needs to read. It also has a foreword she wrote for "Best American Short Stories 2006" which talks of my favourite form of fiction - the short story. The rest of the essays are good too.

67/100 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
I read this one out to Puttachi over the summer. I don't remember reading this before at all, though I know I did. Phew, its a big book. On one hand, I kept thinking -- get on with it, enough with the description! And on the other hand I couldn't marvel enough at the depth and the width of her imagination. Rowling's success lies in this - that she has built this wide, believable world full of the tiniest details, allowing the reader to get completely immersed in it. And if anybody had ever told me that I would read such a big book out to somebody, I would have laughed at them. The things we do for our kids! To be honest, though, sometimes, my throat would get hoarse but we would be in the middle of an exciting thing, and then Puttachi would take over and read it out to me.
Anyway, it was fun, though ideally, I would have liked Puttachi to wait for some more years before she read the 5th, 6th and 7th books.

68/100 Criminal Tendencies: Great Stories by Great Crime Writers by Mark Billingham
I don't recall why I picked up this book. Was in a mood for crime (reading it, that's all) but wasn't in the mood for something long, I guess. Anyway, it was okay. A collection of stories by famous and emerging crime writers. Only about 3-4 stories among the 20 or so in the book were good.

69/100 The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie series) by Alexander McCall Smith
Too meandering a story for my taste, and too much of pondering over ethics and morals. Besides I couldn't bring myself to like, or even tolerate Isabel Dalhousie, and it became worse after I found shades of Anne of Green Gables in her (of whom I'm not too fond). Yet, I ploughed through the book out of loyalty for the author, but halfway through, I just gave up and skimmed through to the end.

70/100 Swimming Lessons and other stories from Firozsha Baag, by Rohinton Mistry
I've been bowled over by Mistry's novels. They are dark and depressing but leave an indelible mark on your mind, and they always leave me with the feeling that I shouldn't have read them, and at the same time, that I'm glad I read them. I hadn't read these short stories of his, though, and they didn't appeal to me as much.

Friday, September 02, 2016


It all started off, for me, with the yellow boards on recently cleaned floors, saying, "Cuidado: Piso Mojado" and in English, "Caution: Wet Floor".

I love languages, and when a new language constantly makes its presence obvious to me, I feel the need to learn it. Learning a new language is like being able to get a glimpse into another world.

In many public places here in California, there are boards in both Spanish and English, and for me, it was but a natural progression to want to learn Spanish.

Duolingo came to the rescue. It is free, and fun and convenient. Both the website and the app are great to learn from. Puttachi and I have been learning Spanish together over the summer.  It's exciting to recognize words written in Spanish on boards, and to guess what the notice is about, without having to look at the English version.

It cracks both of us up when we speak like this - "It's going to be cold manana, so don't forget to take your chaqueta azul, and I'm going to cut manzanas and put quesa in your emperadado for el desayuno" :)

It doesn't have Indian languages yet, but I read that Hindi will be added early next year.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Avani and the Pea Plant on Storyweaver

You can now read Avani and the Pea Plant online in English, Hindi and Marathi.

Read it here.

Share it with the little ones in your life, please! And I would love, love, love feedback!! :)

Roald Dahl's stories for adults

Here's a piece I wrote for Scroll.in, on Roald Dahl and his stories for adults.

Read it here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Olympics

The Olympics has the power to move me to tears, and a lot of it flowed in the past two weeks.
Those emotions on display.
Those remarkable, beautiful bodies - fit, ready, and tuned to reach great heights.
That grit, the determination.
The thought of all the hard work of these athletes through the years, all for this single moment.
The sacrifices and dedication of the unseen forces behind the athletes.
The thought of those who couldn't make it so far.
It is a sobfest. And the end of the Olympics is always bittersweet - I'm glad that I witnessed another Olympics, but there is a wistfulness that I've to wait another four years for the next Summer Olympics.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pratham's Storyweaver

Puttachi had been learning Hindi in her school in India, and she was about to start learning the Kannada alphabet when we moved here. So I taught her the Kannada alphabet myself during the break that she had between schools in India and the US. I didn't want her to forget the Hindi alphabet, and I wanted to make her more familiar with the Kannada alphabet. So whenever we have a few minutes, she chooses a Level 1 story on Pratham's Storyweaver platform, in either Hindi or Kannada, and she reads it aloud. It is working really well. Just wanted to share this with anybody else who might be looking for something like this.

Note: Since this is an open platform, some of the translations and stories are by members of the community, and the language/grammar might not always be top-notch. Check before you let your child read it. (It is indicated on the book whether it is a Pratham original, or by a community member.)

The weather here

The weather here is weird. You never know when it will change. Just because it is hot now doesn't mean that it will stay hot. I never go out without a jacket handy even if it is sweltering hot, because by the time I come back in two hours, I might be frozen. And if I'm walking in the shade, I'll need a sweater, and if I step out in the sun, I'll need to peel it off. And yesterday, I needed sunscreen and a jacket at the SAME time. All I can say is "Whaaat?"

And of course it doesn't help that I'll need a jacket if I enter a store like Trader Joe's or Sprouts, especially near the frozen foods section. It is not fun lugging around a jacket everywhere you go, I can tell you that.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Portola Valley Redwood Park

I've talked about my previous experience with Redwoods before.

This time, we were careful to choose a shorter hike, especially because I had a hamstring injury last year, which affected me pretty badly. It has healed now, but I didn't want to take any risks. But the experience was as good, and the redwoods still hold me in thrall.

The redwoods, to me, feel like they are giants, benevolent ones, who stand tall and look at us puny creatures with a mixture of loftiness and compassion. I feel they are just standing there, leaning against each other, arms crossed, perhaps. Sometimes I even feel like I am intruding upon their privacy. I know, I am probably nuts, but then that's how they make me feel -- like they are real.

The roots of a fallen tree

Old Tree - 1200 years old, and 12 ft in diameter

Old Tree soaring into the clouds

Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley

Perhaps not as glamourous and flashy as the Exploratorium in San Francisco, but the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley is a place where you and your kids can spend an entire day. There are a limited number of installations, but there's so much you can do with them! We caught a show at the 3D auditorium (Tiny Giants) and the planetarium (How far are things in the universe.)

Also, the views from the place are spectacular!

In the foreground is the University of Berkeley, and across the bridge, you can see San Francisco. Being inside a big city like San Francisco is one thing, but looking at the same city from a distance is quite another thing. It gives me goosebumps. As the day wore on, the fog receded, and we could see the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz too.

Looking for a song - in the previous century

In this age, when any song you wish to listen to is a click away, and when you have software that can find out the name of a song for you if you just hum a few bars to it, it seems like an eon ago when you had to bend over backwards if you wanted to listen to a certain song.

It was just before the advent of the internet. I felt a strong urge to listen to the male version of the song Tujhse Naaraaz Nahin Zindagi from Masoom. I tried humming it to myself for a few days, but when the longing didn't subside, I asked a few friends if they "have" the song. ["Have the song"! The phrase sounds so awkward now!] They didn't, and so I decided to go to the shop and buy a cassette with the song. [Go to the shop to buy music! And a cassette!]

I had to search in more than two or three shops before I found the song in a Gulzar collection - it was a double cassette, but I bought it. I had to go elsewhere after that and so I had to put off listening to it [One had to go home to listen to a song, unless you had a Walkman on you!]

Finally, I got home, tore off the plastic laminate wrapper, and put the cassette into the player. I fast-forwarded  to the song. [One had to fast forward or rewind, and it took some trials to get to the right spot! Couldn't go straight to the song!]

Finally! I thought, and pressed the Play button. And paused with anticipation . . .  and it turned out to be the female version of the song, which I don't like at all.

The frustration!

We have it so good now!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In praise of the hills

Living in a city that is lined by hills that you see anywhere you go, it is natural to come to think of them as home. It was brought home to me when, a few months into this country, we were driving back from San Francisco, and the moment these hills came into view, even though we were miles away from home, I felt, "We're home." And it was then that I realized how much these hills have become  a part of me -- one of those things I know I'll miss when we leave.

For most of the year, these hills are full of grass that is yellow or brown or golden depending on the season or the time of the day. They wave in the breeze, and the hills look stunning against the bright blue sky.

But come winter, and the hills start turning green. It is a hazy green at first, something like moss on the ground just after a rain.

And then they become rich green, a verdant, pure colour that makes the heart skip a beat. So beautiful that sometimes I cannot trust myself to drive on the freeway that meanders through these hills. So beautiful, that several times, I have asked S to just take the car and drive a couple of miles on the freeway just so that I can sit in the passenger seat and look at the hills and absorb as much of the beauty as I can without having to worry about changing lanes or bother about speed limits.

And just as you think it cannot get any more beautiful, winter comes to an end, the rains cease, and the hills start looking like clothes that have been out in the sun too long. They fade, ever so slightly at first, making you wonder if your eyes are just playing tricks on you. And as the jackets and woollen socks come off, and your clothes get lighter, the hills become lighter, but they make up by pushing up thousands of wild flowers of various hues.

And then, before you know it, the sun bleaches the grass and you are left with shades of yellow, green and brown.

But you know that it is just a matter of days before it is gone and the long months of dry brown and yellow grass is back.

And you look back with fondness at that dark green of winter and wonder how you will get through the dreary summer months of beige, and yet, when the hills are yellow and brown again, the waves of yellow grass rippling in the wind make your heart lighter again, and you think -- I'll be just fine.

Monday, June 27, 2016


This weekend, we'd been to Sonoma. We went to 2-3 wineries, and to downtown Sonoma, which is historically interesting and significant. General Vallejo's garrison was here, and the Sonoma barracks, which is an adobe structure, is still standing, and has several rooms full of museum displays that speak of the history of the place.  A couple of links here and here

A volunteer dressed as a Mexican soldier from the early 1850s showed us how to fire a musket. As he described the parts of the musket and explained how to load it with gunpowder, I saw that within 5 minutes, he had used about 4-5 terms that have come into regular English usage - "lock, stock and barrel." "Don't go to barrel with your gun half-cocked," etc. And did you know what a ramrod is?I certainly hadn't thought about it -- It is a rod used to ram the gunpowder down the barrel of the musket! And the volunteer also told us that a good soldier would be able to fire three shots a minute. Just three shots!

Some pics:
Grapes in a vineyard

Can you spot the frog?

The historic Toscano hotel, Sonoma. This place
was right out of a Western movie.

Servants' quarters, early 1800s

The kitchens, early 1800s

Sunday, June 26, 2016

How to explain to children about people being gay

In the wake of the Orlando shooting incident, I'm reading a lot about people being worried about how to "explain" to their children about people being gay. Just wanted to tell you how it came about in our house.

Puttachi had been asking to know who the voice of Dory was (this was about 2-3 years ago) and so I pulled up Ellen DeGeneres on Wikipedia. There was a picture of her with Portia De Rossi.

Puttachi: Who is this?
Me: She is Ellen's wife.
Puttachi: What do you mean, wife? Ellen is also a girl.
Me: Yes, usually, women get married to men, but there are some women who like women, and get married to them. 
She: And are there men who like other men and marry them?
Me: Yes.
She: Oh, okay.

That was IT. "Oh Okay."

I think children can understand and accept anything. Later on, of course, she raised other questions, about what they'll do if they want babies, etc., but I dealt with her questions one by one, as I do other "non-problematic" questions. And she is totally fine with the whole concept.

So I do think that you shouldn't worry about what children will think.

While on this subject, I must tell you about this fabulous, uplifting movie, called Pride, based on true events. It has outstanding performances. I recommend it highly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_(2014_film)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

One year!

It has been a year since we arrived at these shores. It has been a good year. New friends, new experiences, and new thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Largely, the year has been good, barring some incidents beyond our control that I wish had rather not happened. Perhaps I'll talk about them someday when the time is right.

I have missed several little things about India, here and there, a little bit of this and a tiny bit of that, but on the whole, I haven't felt any searing pain of separation. Yet.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for, in this new land:

- My sister and her family, who live close by, but not close enough ;) Immensely pleased that I'm getting to know my niece first hand, and not through pictures and FaceTime. Such a warm feeling to see Puttachi and my niece play together.
- Great family friends.
- Puttachi's best friend here, who lives in our complex. I cannot speak enough of the two of them. Such good friends, and they complement each other so well.
- Puttachi's school and teachers and the education system - I was worried about how she'll do; it turned out that I worried needlessly.
- The predictability of traffic  - The pleasure of knowing that I can set out from home at 12, drive 8 miles into town, finish some chores, get a haircut, spend quality time at the library and drive back 8 miles to be home in time to receive Puttachi's school bus at 3.
- A corollary to the above - no place is too far. i.e. You don't avoid going to places just because the traffic scares you. That is a kind of freedom, for someone from Bangalore. [There are other kinds of freedom that this place might lack, but this is a post about what I'm grateful for, remember?]
- The fruits - New fruits, new favourites.
- Baked goods - I love baked things, and there is just so much choice here.
- The location of this place - just a couple of hours' drive can take you to such a variety of places - the beach, the mountains, the woods, lakes, parks, museums, San Francisco... add another hour or two, and the choice becomes even larger.
- The hills that surround this area - their constant presence -- sometimes I orient myself with reference to them. The way they look in the changing light of the day. The way they change colours with the season.

It is true that every place you live in becomes a part of you, and you're going to miss it when you leave.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Celebrity status - a case of mistaken identity

Back when I was a student of MTech, I'd been to an industry to conduct an energy audit, as part of a project that I was doing. I was alone that day. After I finished the audit, I took a bus back to the city centre (Trichy, in Tamilnadu) after which I needed to take another bus back to my hostel. But my hostel was an hour away by bus, and it was already 2 pm. I knew that the mess would be closed by the time I reached, and so I decided to have my lunch at a restaurant in the city.

I chose one that looked decent, and stepped in. Let me stop for a moment and tell you what I looked like (you'll know why later). I was just about 22-23 years old. I was tired, my short hair more unruly than usual, as I'd been crouching and crawling around industry equipment. I wore an extremely simple and ordinary cotton salwar kurta without a dupatta, but it was well-fitting and suited me. I had a file in my hand, and a purse, I guess (though for the life of me, I can't remember what kind of purse I used in those days. Anyway, it would have been a handloom cloth purse or something ordinary like that.)

So, I entered the restaurant, and found a table. There were very few diners, as this is a part of India where they have early lunches. And all the diners were male. But again, this is a comparatively safe city, so I wasn't uncomfortable.

A few seconds later, I heard hurried whispering among two of the waiters, and then the manager arrived. They all spoke, looking over at me, and then the manager came to me, and asked me to follow him to a "better" table. I said it was okay, but he insisted, and so I went, and it was indeed a nicer table, set in a recess, for two. And then there was a flurry, as the waiters fell over each other to hand me a menu, and give me water, etc. I had no idea what was going on, but was too hungry to think. And I wasn't worried or anything, they all looked decent and not the least shady.

I ordered a plate meal, and it arrived. The manager hovered over me as I ate, asking me if everything was alright. By the way, all the conversation was in Tamil, and I answered to the best of my ability, and it was obvious that I didn't know Tamil that well. If I remember right, they also served me a complimentary item - a sweet or a fruit juice, that wasn't part of the meal.

After I finished, and paid the bill, the manager came over again, smiling and shuffling. And then he asked me in Tamil, "You are the chairman of DM foods, correct?" [I don't remember whether it was actually DM. It was an acronym, one I hadn't heard of.]

I said, "What?"

He repeated his question.

"Chairman?" I said, and shook my head, frowning in confusion and laughing, all together.

And then he also frowned, and then he also laughed.

And then I left.

I have absolutely no idea what had just happened. He had obviously thought I was some food industry bigwig and was being attentive. But - from which angle did I look like a bigwig?

If it had been the age of Google and smartphones, I would have whipped out my phone immediately and searched for DM foods chairman. But then, if it had been the age of Google and smartphones, the manager would have made that search too to confirm that I was who he thought I was, before showering attention and complimentary food upon me!

This is one of my regrets - that I'd stopped to find out more and see who it was that he had confused me for!

Book Pact - 51 to 60

51/100 Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary.
I've heard a lot of Beverly Cleary, but hadn't read her work. I picked up a couple of her books for Puttachi from the library, after which I spotted this one on the shelf marked "Newbery Medal winners" and so picked this one up too.
Leigh Botts is trying to deal with his parents' divorce, and someone stealing his lunch at school, and he gets his life under control through the letters he writes to his favourite author Mr. Henshaw. This book brings out the greyness in human beings very well. Vert sensitive. I recommend it.

52/100 The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Faith Sunderley is a 14-year-old girl whose father is a naturalist, and she wants to be one too, back in a time when girls and women were just supposed to be "good", not smart, and definitely not clever. She craves for her father's attention and approval, but when her father dies mysteriously, with several questions left unanswered, Faith takes it upon herself to get behind the mystery. And she does it with the help of a tree that bears fruit when it is fed with lies. And this fruit contains answers to your questions. A beautiful, layered story. Reminded me of Calpurnia Tate, which I enjoyed a lot too, about a young girl in the nineteenth century who wants to be a naturalist against all odds. But this one is darker.

53/100 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
One of those books that have to be experienced, not read. This is a book that pulsates with life. It is a suspense thriller set in the Victorian era, featuring two young girls from different backgrounds. It is full of dizzying twists and turns. The first twist in the tale left me literally breathless, and the words danced around until I took some deep breaths. So satisfying!

54/100 Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty.
Well, meh. Puttachi liked it and asked me to read it. I can see why she found it exciting, and the idea is, yeah, interesting. But the writing and the treatment left me feeling, "ok, whatever".

When I was helping Puttachi's teacher pack away books at the end of the school year, she pointed out some books and recommended them to me. Of course, I got them from the library immediately. The next three books are among those.

55/100 Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
A little gem of a book, based on a true story. Caleb and Anna's father puts in an ad in the paper for a wife for himself and a mother for them; and Sarah, who is plain and tall, answers the call. The book is an exquisite study in subtle emotions and longings, fear of abandonment. It is very rare that I read a book twice, that too immediately after the first read, but this one demanded it.
I believe it is the first of a series. I'll look up the others too.

56/100 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
This is the amazing and beautifully written story of a young girl who is left alone on an island just off the coast of California, for many years. Basically, a female Robinson Crusoe. It is based on a true story - the actual woman was finally rescued after 20  years by missionaries from Santa Barbara, and was known as Juana Maria or the Lost Lady of San Nicholas (the name of the island). Unfortunately, there was nobody alive who knew the language she spoke (isn't that searingly sad?) so they could only guess at her story. But Scott O'Dell has done a magnificent job with the story. Strength and serenity shines through the pages.

57/100 My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
A delightful, whimsical book of a little boy who goes to strange lands to rescue a dragon he's never seen.

58/100 The Great Cake Mystery - Precious Ramotswe's First Case by Alexander McCall Smith
I had no idea this book existed - imagine my surprise when I found it at the library. Written for young readers, it is a case that Mma Ramotswe solved when she was a young girl. His trademark style, a very short book. But a good introduction to the series. And a good read for Mma Ramotswe fans. Puttachi liked it too, and is thinking up stories from the POVs of the characters in the book

59/100 Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith
I had no idea this author has written so much for kids. This one was an exciting story of how a young boy catches elephant poachers. There are several Akimbo books. Puttachi loved this one, wants to read the others in the series.

60/100 Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Picked it up for the first essay "Santaland Diaries" that was recommended to me - the experiences of an "elf" at Macy's, during Christmas. It is very interesting, and funny and sad at the same time. The other essays are darkly funny, almost crazy. LOL at places.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Here we go again!

I've been very lax with regard to my blog, and that's ironic because I have so much to say. I know it's been a long time since I did a-post-a-day on my blog, and that should ideally be the right way to go about it, to kick myself into action. But I've been dithering about even that for several weeks now.

But now that the anniversary of our move is just a couple of days away (so soon!) -- I realize that there is so much to say, and there are many observations that I've made about this new home of mine that I haven't written down for myself to read after a few years. So, perhaps not a post a day, but close enough - that's going to be my target.

On another note, I wonder how many such "I'm going to blog regularly" posts there are on my blog!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Secret Garden

I'm very pleased to announce the release of my latest book for children, The Secret Garden.

Published by Nature Science Initiative, Dehra Dun, it is a book about the Peepal tree (which is a Ficus tree), its inhabitants, and the fascinating story of the relationship between the Ficus tree and the Fig Wasp.  It is aimed at children between the ages of 8 to 14.

The book is a product of a collaboration between several people.  I "translated" the science produced by many researchers, including Soumya Prasad, Geetha Ramaswami, Mahua Ghara, Anusha Krishnan, Raman Kumar. Sartaj Ghuman contributed illustrations.

The superb cover and many of the cartoons in the book, are by the brilliant Rohan Chakravarty of Green Humour, and some photographs are by Pradip Krishen (of Trees of Delhi fame).

The beautiful layout and some pictures and illustrations are by Anita Varma of Graphic Alley, who's done a fantastic job with it.

It is truly a fabulous book and I'm proud to be associated with it.

You can order the book by emailing nsi@naturescienceinitiative.org.

The book was released in Dehra Dun, during a Peepal Walk organized by Been There, Doon That? with Dr. Soumya Prasad of Nature Science Initiative, who is an ecologist and my childhood friend.

A report of the walk and the book release in the Hindustan Times:

Rains - A story

This is a story that I wrote 4-5 years back. I dusted it off and sent it to Spark for the "Rains" theme.

Read it here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Pact - 41 to 50

41/100 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I saw a lot written about this book, and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Crime thriller. I identified with it because I'm also the kind who sits on a train and imagines stories about the people living in the houses that I pass. This book has some seriously gripping storytelling. I read it at breakneck speed. But it kind of let me down. Right from the beginning, it was fairly obvious to me who did it. So I read on, waiting and waiting for the twist to turn everything topsy-turvy and make me draw a sharp intake of breath. But guess what, it was whoever I thought it was all along. So at the end of it, I'm like, meh !
Gone Girl, which this book reminded me of, was more satisfying for me, with its evil and unexpected twists and turns.

42/100 The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Yeah, I'm in the phase of "Let's see what all the fuss is about." For this book, my verdict - a Thumbs Up. But then I would advocate any book that lies quietly on the table, exerting an intense magnetic pull on me when I'm forced to leave it aside while I attend to my duties in the Realm of Reality.
Ok, back to the book, yeah it is about a chillingly satisfying (for the reader) secret that affects the lives and worlds of many other families. And the characters -- I want to pound the floor in frustration while I say this -- I want to learn to create characters like these that are so real that I feel that I can reach out and touch them. Even though I've never felt many of the emotions in the book, I get the feeling that yes, this is exactly how I would feel if I were in that situation.

43/100 East Wind: West Wind by Pearl S Buck
This is the story of a young Chinese woman who has been brought up in the ancient ways (bound feet, subservience to men, the works) and who is married to a man who has studied western medicine and wants her to unbind her feet and wants to treat her as his equal (the horror!!) By the time she gets adjusted to those ideas, the winds of change blow even harder when her brother, who also goes to the west to study, brings home an American wife. I'm quite sure Indian lives and sensibilities were similarly torn asunder when the first few people brought home white spouses.
On one hand, the novel gives you an intimate look into the old Chinese home and customs. On the other hand, it is an exquisite study of points of view. How we view "others" and the disbelief about how "they" view us.
The last 50-70 pages dragged a bit, but I'd recommend it anyway.

44/100 Holes by Louis Sachar
Puttachi had placed a Wayside series book on hold at the library, but I couldn't pick it up on time. So on my next visit to the library, I went to the Sachar section to see if I could find some other book in the series. I didn't, but I found Holes, which had been recommended to me, but I had kind of placed it on hold (in my head) but since I was there anyway, I picked it up.
This is another of those books that remind me that in spite of the number of books I've read so far, I actually ain't read nothin' yet. Holes is the story of boys in a juvenile detention facility who have to dig holes every day. Why? We come to know, little by little, each piece of the big puzzle unveiled nonchalantly but oh-so-effectively until you're left gasping for breath (figuratively). The movie is on Netflix too, and I guess I'll watch it sometime. I don't think it is quite suitable for Puttachi yet, neither the book, nor the movie.

45/100 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
What a book! Set in Germany-occupied Paris of WW2. Short, crisp sentences. In the present tense. Each sentence feels like it has been crafted with care, weighed, and then written down. Follows the stories of two main characters. Their storylines meet, oh-so-briefly, but it is like every step of each one's story is leading inexorably to their meeting.
How the author handles the POV of the girl who cannot see is a lesson in writing. How each sound and touch is highlighted, and we are made to "see" what she is "seeing." Wow.
On the lighter side, I was blow away by a huge coincidence. Both this book and the previous one I read, Holes by Louis Sachar, feature:
A can of peaches in syrup,
-- Which is the last bit of food available
-- Tinned by a woman who is now dead
-- Shared by two people
-- One of whom has come to rescue the other
-- Both of whom are starving and thirsty
-- The tin is with the one who is being rescued
What are the odds?

46/100 The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I'd read Eat Pray Love by this author just because everybody was talking about it, and I remember not being too impressed. However, I enjoyed the author's TED talk on Genius. This book was being recommended by a lot of people, and so I read it, and am glad I did. I'm glad I didn't dismiss the author just because of one book. The Signature of All Things is one of those sweeping sagas that stretches across decades, a period novel, a book full of new facts and information, basically, the kind I am partial to. Besides, there is this strong (literally) female protagonist, Alma Whittaker, who is scientific and curious and clever and brave and human, once again, the kind that I'm partial to. I'm in awe of authors who write books like this.

47/100 Princess (The Puppy Place series) by Ellen Miles.
Puttachi always finds her way to puppy books, and this is her recent discovery, about a family that fosters puppies, and obviously she insisted that I read "at least one" in the series, and I did.

48/100 Five Get Into a Fix (Famous Five series) by Enid Blyton
I have no explanation for why I read this. Call it nostalgia. And it was just lying around. And I didn't have anything else to read.

49/100 Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I've been reading this book for the past ten months, I think. As a filler between two books. Or if the book I was currently reading was too large to carry in my handbag, I took this book along when I went out, and read snatches of it here and there. Finally I finished it yesterday. It is just like any other of Bryson's books, and I think you already know how I feel about his brand of humour (I like it). Only he can be crazy enough to waddle to the nooks and corners of a small Island (the UK) and make strange observations and experience the weirdest things and express it all in a way that, if it doesn't make you snort your coffee out of your nostrils, makes you grin non-stop without your knowledge, making you wonder later why your cheeks are aching.

50/100 Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
I read this aloud to Puttachi. It was slow at first, as both of us tried to adjust to this entirely new kind of story and language. The author makes absolutely no effort to dumb it down for children, in terms of language/slang/technology/action. I had to stop after nearly every sentence and explain a slang term, or an idiom, or some reference. I nearly gave up, but Puttachi begged me to continue, and then later, it became smoother.
Artemis Fowl is a boy-genius, a criminal mastermind, who kidnaps Captain Holly Short, a fairy, for gold as ransom. And this fairy is not a pretty and delicate, flitting and flying creature -- she is one of the highly-trained, technically-advanced creatures of the underground. It was a very different experience and we enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Remember my fall pictures?

I took pictures of the same tree, this time, in spring. Here you go.

Feb 11

Feb 19

March 1

March 10

March 15

March 29

March 31

April 12

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

An interview

Chandana Banerjee, writer, journalist and health coach, interviewed me about writing and the inspiration behind Avani and the Pea Plant.

She says this about the book. "My son and I enjoy reading this book called Avani and the Pea Plant because of its simple story and gorgeous illustrations. Since we plant vegetables in our garden and just finished gobbling up the sweetest peas, this book about how a little girl discovers a pea plant in her garden felt so familiar and endearing."

Read the interview here.

Also read an interview with the illustrator of the book, Debasmita Dasgupta, of My Father Illustrations. It is her illustrations that have made the book what it is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Pact - 31 to 40

31/100 Tintin - The Castafiore Emerald by Herge
I've read all the Tintins multiple times over the decades. This one was the first one I ever read, if I remember right, which makes it a coincidence that this was the first one that Puttachi read. I had vaguely been thinking that Puttachi might be ready for Tintin, when S picked up some for her from the library. When she was reading this, she could be heard giggling and guffawing, and at one time, I found her on the floor next to her bed, clutching her stomach and laughing breathlessly. So of course, I just had to read it again, and I tried to read it as if it was my first time, just so that I could feel what made her laugh so much and so hard.

32/100 Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
I can't begin to count the number of books and authors that Puttachi has introduced me to, thanks to her school. Her teacher started reading out the first book of the Wayside Series to the class, and she liked it so much that she borrowed the second book from the library to read at home. She laughed throughout and then commanded me to read it. I enjoyed it thoroughly too. It is about the children in a classroom on the thirtieth story of a building, and their absolutely crazy and wicked and clever stories. After a long time, a children's book made me laugh out loud.

33/100 The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Lucien Bernard is an architect in Nazi-occupied Paris. Though he is almost anti-Semitic initially, he starts creating ingenuous hiding places for jews in the houses of gentiles. He initially does it for the money and the challenge, and then for the joy of duping the Nazis, and finally, because he actually starts to care. And before he knows it, his life has changed beyond anything he thought possible.
I enjoyed this book. It is both thrilling and has well-rounded characters that I started caring for.

34/100 The Doll People by Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin.
Puttachi was recommended this by her friends. What's not to like in it? Dolls that lead secret lives when humans are not looking! The dolls have pretty strong characters, but they do a lot of gasping, I must say. Come to think of it, lots of books for children have characters that keep gasping all the time. No wonder that the stories Puttachi writes are also full of gasps. "Oh no!" she gasped. "What is that?" he gasped.
Actually Puttachi brought home the third book in this series, but I couldn't read it in time, and she had to give it back to her school library today. She was so upset that I've promised her to request all the books in the series from the City Library and read them all.

35/100 The Children Act by Ian McEwan
I cannot just pick up an Ian McEwan book in passing and read it like I do other books. I have to step into another level. So it requires a certain will, an effort. But once I am in that zone, and I start reading, I cannot stop. His words are also like that - puts me into a kind of trance, and I feel like I am inside the minds of the characters, I feel things like they do, I know what they are going to do, and understand their actions. It is a very strange feeling.
And I need more time than usual to extricate myself from the world of the book, and get back to reality.
This book is about a judge whose marriage is on the crossroads, and one of the cases she is presiding on threatens to overpower her life and emotions.

36/100 SandRider - Alice TodHunter Moon Series by Angie Sage.
The TodHunter Moon Trilogy follows the Septimus Heap series, of which Puttachi and I are fans. The beloved Septimus Heap characters are adults in this series, and hold positions of responsibility, and another bunch of young characters take centre-stage in this trilogy. We had read the first of the series, PathFinder, shortly after we moved here. SandRider was released in Nov last year, but we were busy with Harry ...Potter, so we didn't read this. After I told Puttachi that we must take a break after the fourth HP book, she "remembered" that PathFinder had just been released, and so we read it. (This is one of those books that I read aloud to her.)
The first book in the series was good, but this SandRider, I felt, was very random and all over the place. The plot, that is. The writing and the humour is still as good, the characters and places as vivid and lovable. But the tight plots of the Septimus Heap series are missing in this one. It was a disappointment for me. Puttachi, of course, like a loyal fan, insists that she likes this as much. In fact, for this week's composition at school, she even chose Alice TodHunter Moon as the book character she would most like to be friends with.

Considering the fact that I've started and abandoned four books since the last one I read, I thought I'd never move forward in my book pact, but help came in the form of this little book:
37/100 Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, by Dr Seuss, with help from Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith.
Puttachi's teacher read it for them on Dr Seuss day, and we requested it from the city library because Puttachi wanted to read it out to me.
She read it out (very well, I must say) but the interes...ting thing about this book is not the story itself (which is fun and cute) but the story behind the book (which is also included in the book after the story). Ted Geisel (Dr Seuss) had been working on the drawings for this book but hadn't arrived at a story yet. And then he died. His editor took these drawings and sought help from an author and an illustrator to bring the book to life. This is the result. The story behind the story contains the original illustrations that Ted Geisel had made, and all in all, it makes for an interesting book.

38/100 The Mother by Pearl S Buck
This book was picked up by the reader as she had read the author back in her days of youth and she had read and she had liked, but time has passed and water has flown under the bridge as it is wont to do and the likes of the reader has waxed and waned along with the vagaries of life. So the reader went forth and picked it up with trepidation and not a little wariness, and the language was thus, as if it were picked from an ancient text, and t...he reader hesitated, lest she grow weary with the toil of reading this kind of language. But the hours turned into days and the days went by and the words flowed like the river beyond the curve of the hill on the horizon and the reader read. Put the book down she could not. Even so it had been in the old days that the reader had read and liked this author but remember she could not if the words flowed like this then when she was but a young girl not having known yet the ways of the world. So the reader read of the pages of the book and she be sated and she be content.
Ok. I got that out of my system. Seriously, this book is gripping, unputdownable (yes, in spite of that language). The nameless Mother is someone I see in myself and in people I know - and in spite of being the simple story of a woman in a remote Chinese village, it is amazing how the author brings it to life, and in the process, holds up a mirror to society.

39/100 Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Often said to be one of the best books on writing, this book is indeed full of tips and advice, written with self-deprecating humour. I especially liked how the author spoke out about the difficult emotions of being a writer - the lack of self-worth, the self-doubts, the jealousies. On a practical level, I got some ideas and some inspiration. But on an emotional level, the book didn't really touch me, or rather, I didn't warm up to it.

40/100 Wonder by RJ Palacio
This is a feel-good story about August Pullman, a ten-year-old boy with a facial anomaly, who starts school in 5th grade. You cannot help loving the characters in the book, though I think they are too good to be true. I quite liked the book.
In a way, my case is similar to August's, though far milder. He has a facial anomaly, and I have a speech anomaly, so I relate to that feeling of people pointing and staring and laughing behind my back (and som...etimes in front of me). But as a child, I used to be fine as long as I didn't open my mouth, but August can't get away with it unless he hides his face (which he did for a while). So in the face of that (pun unintended) this is a story of his courage (children can be very cruel, believe me) and the importance of friends, which is what helps him make his way through school (and that holds good for me too).
I think Puttachi is old enough to read and appreciate this book. I've asked her to give it a shot.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Here's my website!

Shruthi Rao

And if you have anything that needs to be edited (stories/manuscripts/books/documents) on any subject, you know whom to ask. (Me!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Avani and the Pea Plant

My picture book "Avani and the Pea Plant", illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta and published by Pratham Books, was released last week.

Copies are available here - https://store.prathambooks.org/p_9789350225479?proid=9789350225479

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