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Spiti - Why It Should Be Your Next Adventure

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The landscapes. Spiti falls in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. And so, like it’s bigger sister Ladakh, it is part of the desert Himalaya. What that means is, you get to see the Himalayas in a different hue- grey, harsh in a way the greener parts can never be. But those greys and the whites of the snow capped peaks, the deep canyons and gorges, the small whitewashed villages, the crumbling monasteries, all set against the incredible blue of the sky make for landscapes that inspire awe, quite like no other.  The river Spiti itself. It looks like a wide stream of mercury in most places, the glacial grey glinting in the sunlight. Spitian villages are mostly on its banks, or the banks of its tributaries, and you are invariably following it as you drive around the valley. It’s rarely very wide, but you can feel its power as you gaze awestruck at the gorges and canyons it flows through. The monasteries. Spiti is Tibetan Buddhist land. And there are an incredible number of monasteries, for su…

In Defence of Liberal Hinduism: Tharoor's Why I am a Hindu

The politics of religion forces one to re-evaluate faith. At least, it did for me. You are born a Hindu,
you grow up conditioned in the traditions of the religion, follow the rituals almost unthinkingly. And then
there comes a time when you feel you can’t defend it in the world anymore. Not when you see terrible
things committed in its name, not when you realize the contradictions within it (the caste-ism and
sexism, for example), not when you start to despise at least some of the people who proudly claim it.
Your liberal soul revolts.
Yet you want to defend it. Because there really is so much to love about it. Those rituals, for one - the
ones you cannot do without, the ones that center you - the lighting of the lamp every morning, the
reciting of the shlokas you learnt as a child, the visits to temples where you can almost feel the power
of the idols that have been prayed to, for centuries. And then what about the sheer beauty of the idols
and the architecture? And the joi-de-vivre of …

2017: My Year in Reading

59 was this year’s number - slightly above my average of a book a week.
Poetry was a theme. It was probably that kind of a year, where you needed the consolations of verse to deal with the world. And I actually bought physical books of poetry this year, having decided poems need the tactility of paper and pen. Mary Oliver was, of course, high up there, as a means of dealing with the world - American Pastoral, her Pulitzer winner, and her New and Selected Poems, Vol 1, the best kind of self-help book there is. There was also AK Ramanujan’s classic translations of ancient Sangam poetry The Interior Landscape - gorgeous, lush love poems; and his translation of medieval Kannada Bhakti poetry, Speaking of Siva - mystical, obscure sometimes, beautiful always.
Some of my favourite reads this year were non-fiction. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was powerful beyond measure. Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time was a very long read; but it was a heart-breaking one about the collapse o…

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness : An authentic, beautiful mess

It’s untidy. Like the India in which it is set. Characters, each of whom deserves a novel himself/ herself, drift in and out. All the causes worth fighting about, in this strange, beautiful country of ours, find their space - gender, caste, religion, class, Kashmir. All the major political events in the last three decades are there in some form or the other. Like I said before, it’s a complete unholy mess. Like watching the world in Krishna’s mouth. It works, though. Because somehow, in spite of the overwhelming political backdrop, Arundhati Roy does what she does best. Makes you care about the small people - the boy Aftab who becomes a girl Anjum, my favourite character in the book; the IB officer Biplab Dasgupta, on the wrong side of the war in Kashmir; Gulrez, the old, simple Kashmiri, who is killed and paraded as a dreaded militant; Dayachand, aka Saddam Hussein, the lower caste boy who sees his father lynched by upper caste Hindus as he clears a dead cow’s carcass; Azad Bharathiya…

Goa, beyond the beaches

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The received wisdom of what to do in Goa is find a shack on the beach, and enjoy the sunset with a beer and some seafood, and either chill or party, depending on what floats your boat. Over the years, the restaurant scene has picked up and these days, deciding where you will eat is part of the planning you do before you land in this state. Goa though, can be different things to different people. And if like me, the beach scene and the food scene are too sybaritic for your taste, it has other pleasures to offer. Here are three of them.
Forts: When I dream of Goa, I dream of forts by the sea. My favourite spot in Goa is atop Chapora fort in Vagator. It’s a short climb up a very small hill. A little effort for some absolutely fabulous views of the shoreline from the top. Fort Aguada is of course the most popular fort in Goa - and if you get there at sunset time, the stone, the sun and the sea can prove magical. There are other forts worth your time as well - Terakhol up north and Reis Mago…

2016: My year in reading

54 is the number of books I read this year, says my Goodreads app. That is about a book a week - pretty much what I have averaged most of my adult life. What was a bit different this year, though? My list had more non-fiction than usual. I am a fiction junkie through and through, and when I find myself drifting towards non-fiction, I worry I am growing old.
In any case, I enjoyed some great books here - Krakauer’s Into the Wild was a revelation. Who knew you could turn the story of a foolish young man into a page turner!. Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy was a five rater for me - and led me to read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which I have resolved to read in a more modern translation soon. Travel was a big theme. Colin Thubron’s In Siberia was a moody, dark study of post Soviet Siberian hinterland; and his Shadow of the Silk Road described his Marco Polo-esque journey through possibly some of the most interesting places in the world today. Alice Albinia’s Empires of …

My grandmother: A life

Have you heard the term ‘matriarch’? I am very familiar with it. Because I knew its embodiment - my grandmother who passed away yesterday at the age of 96. The word conjures up images of a strong woman, a strong-willed woman, presiding over an extended family. She was all of that. What she wasn’t, was a grandmother who was soft, and who cuddled you and told you stories from the epics. She did stuff you with the most delicious food, though.
Gomathy Kunjamma was just 17 years old when she was married to a man she had never met before. She came from a large family, with wealth in the form of large tracts of land, a ‘kalari’ and a ‘kaaranavar’, a family presided over by yet another matriarch. She had never seen the ‘city’ before - which in this case was Thiruvananthapuram (hardly a city by any standard but that of the village she had grown up in), she had only been home-schooled, and most of the men in her family stayed home to tend the land and property. And till the end of her days, I be…