Saturday, September 04, 2021

Anyone still here?

It's been too long, I know. How have you been doing, my loves?

I had a couple of really tough years but am okay now. If you have specific questions, ask me in the comments, but for now here's a few highlights.

We have a lovely home.

Nilesh has become an artist.

I also like painting and sketching a bit, with far less skill and work.

I had an essay featured in the book Skin Stories published by Point of View in late 2019. (If you want the book, you'll have to email PoV.) Here's Nilesh standing next to me holding the book at the launch.

We live near the sea.

I host a weekly poetry reading room on Clubhouse. (Even if you've never used Clubhouse before, it's easy, the link will take you there.)

Okay, now your turn. What had you been up to?

Monday, January 28, 2019

When Apollo becomes Cassandra: Re-reading Arundhati Roy’s The Algebra of Infinite Justice

Something I'd written for an assignment over a year ago.

It is a discomfiting experience rereading Roy’s essays after so long. I agree with her more now than I used to: my political views have moved so far left I’m probably to her left now. But I am surprised to find myself grimacing at the prose here and there: where is the luminous writing I had always associated with her? Some of this is strident, uneven in tone, cliched. Was she so celebrated by then, I wonder, that the editor did not edit much, grateful just to be able to publish her?

I tell myself I’m being unfair. The years since the essays were published means they have lost much of their urgency. The tone of outrage that now feels overwrought must have been much more powerful as an immediate reaction to unspeakable events.

What I am struck by, over and over again, is her prescience. She reminds me of Margaret Atwood. Both prophesied to their respective lands of the impending doomsday, and we ignored Cassandra, as she always is ignored.

While the essays are not about art, she brings up the old question of whether artists ought to focus on art or be involved in the world around them. If there is no world left, Roy seems to say, what will we write about? Who will write, if everyone is destroyed? If we don’t save the world, how can we save art?

And maybe also: If we don’t stop our government from committing horrific crimes, what right do we have to continue with our privileged lives, to enjoy art, to make art? What right do we have to live when we look away as others are killed? Art should be the best of humanity: our best instincts, our most intelligent thoughts directed into works of such sublimity that they rival nature and challenge time. But adopting neutrality towards state-sponsored brutality and genocide displays the worst of humanity: an instinct that is both self-serving and will, soon enough, be self-destructive.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy new year, if you're still reading

This has been a hard year.

It seems so privileged and oblivious to even say this, because the world has had a hard year. The world is burning down, but it’s not one brilliant conflagration that sears everything clean, it’s a blend of slow messy relentless poisons that leave us gasping and waiting for the end.

But petty as my life is, here’s what it’s been like: I’ve spent a lot of it in pain and a lot of it working and a lot of it worrying about work and my health. As a result, I’ve been cranky and angry and in too much pain and exhaustion to not show it to my partner, who deserves so much better, who’s nearly always gentle and patient and should have more kindness and love than I’ve been able to offer.

And then: my partner lost his father. I’ve seen friends and colleagues go through hard times. I’ve distanced myself from friends who seemed content to only spend time with me as long as they could use me, who took my kindness and hard-won calm and patience as an invitation to take as much as they could get.

As a result, I’ve retreated. I’ve only had energy for some things, and I’ve let go of everything that seemed optional. As a result, I’ve grown lonely, I’ve grown shut in, I would travel to Kolkata every few weeks and spend the rest of my time holed in at home and only going to the office. I haven’t visited my mother in two years. I question my priorities all the time, never sure I’m giving the right things, the right people, enough of my time and attention, always wondering if I’m being too selfish or not selfish enough.

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m in office and I was in office till 8 last night and I’m not even supposed to work on Mondays and Tuesdays and my life looks very different from what I expected a year ago and my carefully constructed part-time job and enough-time-for-life life has slowly broken down. I want to get it back up, but I’m not sure it’s possible.

But yet. Yet.

There’s so much I have to be grateful for.

Nilesh, most of all. Always Nilesh. He’s comforted and loved and waited and advised and cooked and baked and smiled and joked and given me so much of his time and attention and love. Even if I had nothing else, this would make me rich.

Bhuvi, who’s grown from a friend to THE friend. With whom something feels real and solid and not like one rough wind will blow it away. Who’s capable of the kind of kindness and dependability I’d only so far found in Nilesh and tried to build in myself.

My few other friends who’ve been around for a while, and who are family. Whose conversations, presence, silence I can sink into without having to explain myself. Who may not talk to me in months but it doesn’t matter, because we’re both here.

A couple of new budding friendships. Isn’t every beginning and gradual deepening of a relationship so exciting, so full of promise?

My colleagues, especially my team. So much love and gratitude for them, for their brilliance and their youth and their optimism and their kindness. The biggest reason I'm pouring in so much time and effort into my job is because I want to work with them, I want to make things better for them.

Money and privilege. This year would have been so much harder if I hadn’t had a ton of those.

Late in 2017, I got myself two tattoos. Both of them reminders of what I value most: art and love. Reminders of who I am. I was explaining them to a friend recently, and that was a reminder, because even though they’re on my skin, they’re easy to take for granted, easy to ignore. I had another conversation with another friend last month that reminded me that I need to remember my goals, that I need to again reach for the kind of life I want.

So I want to start going back to that this year. Not get swayed – much – by what others expect of me, but do what I want to do. Stop worrying about opportunities and openings and lost chances. Stop living out of fear, and live with love.

I wish you the same.

Monday, January 22, 2018


I owe a lot to social media. I made most of my current friends on Twitter. But I’ve spent less and less time on Twitter these days. 

This is partly because I’ve been unwell and in pain, and typing is physically painful. But also because I realised spending time away from Twitter helps me think, gives me time to read, to engage more deeply and meaningfully in conversations with friends. 

(Not to say Twitter doesn’t have meaningful conversations; I have learned so much from it. But many of the people I most enjoy following are also spending less time here, and also because I’ve found (finally, which others have been saying for years) that people (including me, at times!) are often kneejerkly accusatory instead of thoughtful, bringing their personal pain forth in defensive reactions that don’t usually further engagement and kindness. I’m not saying that outrage isn’t good or needed; this is about my inability to deal with the kind of engagement Twitter requires. I’m beginning to feel jaded, seeing the same conversations over and over, and I want to spend time introspecting and channeling my thoughts into longer writing, and into improving myself. I'm also spending more time reading fun books of the kind I used to love -- crime, romance, children's crime stories -- without guilt and with immense pleasure.)

I don’t think I’ve been missed; no one has said so, but my friends continue to reach out and talk to me, so I am not missing much either.

(And I’m enough of an introvert to not need, or even want, many friends. Right now, my circle is small and rich and full, and I am content.)

I have also withdrawn physically, becoming more of a recluse, for the same reasons. I am taking strength and nourishment from my home, my husband, my self, my closest friends. I am pouring that strength into my work, into my relationships, and have little left over.

I was becoming quiet on Instagram also, but have started posting regularly again, just to keep track of my life and my reading. But even when I don’t, I don’t feel like I disappear. I was afraid I would, away from social media and not proactively reaching out to friends. I haven’t: my sense of self seems stronger than ever, and I feel lucky and grateful. 

This is not to say I don't want to hear from you, if you want to reach out. I would love to hear from you. This is only to say that the open-endedness of Twitter, which had been one of its primary charms, has grown difficult for me, and I prefer one-on-one interactions with friends. If you email/text/call me or comment here, I'd be very happy to hear from you. And even if you don't, I hope you're doing well. I hope you're taking care of yourself in these difficult times.
But if you have wondered why, this is why. And much love and gratitude to the friends who have reached out and continue to do so, who don’t wait for me to reach out, who don’t let me disappear from their lives.

All of this is to say: I don’t know when I’ll start posting here or tweeting regularly again. Soon, I think, but not as often as I used to. If you want to see what I’m reading or what I’m up to, look me up on Instagram. These days I’m finding pictures and emojis easier than words.

So 💜💕💖💪✊💋

Friday, December 01, 2017

Books I read in November

Eleven books, but I also spent much time feeling unwell (cold and flu) and watching a lot of Netflix: the entire (latest) season of five shows: Gilmore Girls, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Alias Grace, Riverdale, and Mindhunter. (All excellent in different ways, except for GG, which is largely about nostalgia.) (Someone take away my Netflix: yes, this was all in two weeks, and that's at least a full workweek worth of tv-watching.)

Kuttiedathi and Other Stories by M.T. Vasudevan Nair (and translated by V. Abdulla)
This is one of a big box of books Sue had generously sent me. I've been trying to read more Indian writing. The stories here are of variable quality, and I almost always feel I'm missing something when I read in translation. I didn't much like the title story, but a few were moving and overall the collection has stayed with me. 

Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessa Crispin
This brilliant book offers some incisive criticism of contemporary feminism, though I don't agree with all its arguments. It seems relevant for us in India, even though it's a very western perspective. My friend Srinidhi reviewed it for the Ladies Finger.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
This book has been getting a lot of buzz, for good reason. It's a retelling of Antigone, but read it even if you know nothing of Greek plays. It's beautiful, brilliant, heartbreaking; about love (familial and romantic) in the time of terrorism. 

Unraveled, Unlocked, and Unveiled by Courtney Milan
I reread a bunch of Courtney Milans over two days when I was too sick with the flu to do anything else. Unraveled remains my favourite by her; I also have very fond memories of A Kiss for Midwinter, which I haven't read in a while. I like heroes who have professions they do good in, basically, and aren't rich entitled landlords.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
I love Wharton, and this is one of her most celebrated, but meh. I'd much rather reread Age of Innocence. Apart from everything else, the framing of the narrative was very unconvincing. Why would Frome -- known to be taciturn and reclusive -- tell an acquaintance/client every single embarrassing detail of his personal life just because he had to stay over overnight due to a snowstorm?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My first Ishiguro: it's taken me a long time to come to him but I definitely want more. I love SFF that feels so real and has so much heart.

Two Magnus Chase books: The Sword of Summer and The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordian
I really like the first of these, at first. I hadn't liked what I tried of Rick Riordian after the first Perch Jackson series, so I was really glad that he's back to form in this one. But somehow Magnus Chase remains a less compelling character than Percy Jackson, even though he had much promise. Samirah is wonderful, but we don't get enough of her. 

I loved the early part of the second book, again. Especially because Alex. Alex is a wonderful, complicated, attractive character. But I didn't love the book overall. Among other things, there was a very unsavoury episode of coercing and robbing a weaker being, without excuse or reparations or even remorse. Percy Jackson wouldn't have done that, Magnus.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
This was my favourite book in recent weeks. The cover proclaims it an erotic novel, but it is so much more: it's inspiring, thought-provoking, life-affirming. It's a meditation on women's lives, on work, on writing, on love. I paused often to reread and copy down lines for their wisdom and beauty.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books I read in September and October

I seem to have read more than usual lately: not least because for a few days I did nothing but read, wanting to get through some of the several dozen books I'd got in Bangalore's wonderful bookstores (Blossom and Bookworm) and which I had no room to pack and haul home. I also wanted to read a couple of books on the shelves of the friends who were generously hosting me.

Crime novels

It was a good time for crime. (Sorry.)

Ministry of Fear and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Ministry of Fear not only kept me awake while waiting for a late evening flight at the end of a looong day (and week), but I was so engrossed I read on the airport shuttle and in queues and forgot to turn on my phone till I was at the baggage carousel. Brighton Rock was probably even better: unfortunately my copy got stolen (I'd foolishly kept it on the table outside my hotel room) before I could finish it. But I've finally read Graham Greene and now I want to read all his books. 

Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth
I love elderly women detectives in cosy mysteries. Miss Silver is great fun, and I want to read more Wentworth too.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
This book has been on my wishlist forever (since I read Jai's post on it: read this if you want a review). It's about a handsome young man who preys on rich young women — narrated mostly from his perspective. It's a gripping read.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler
This is only my second Chandler, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (much more than I did The Big Sleep). It's so stereotypical noir it sometimes reads like a parody, but the plot and writing are so taut it works really well.

Final Curtain and Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh
I enjoyed both of these, even though the mysteries were somewhat predictable. Marsh is a master of the cozy mystery, kind of like Christies with a slower pace and more meat.

Myth/fantasy/magical realism

Haroon and the Sea of Stories and The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
I think Rushdie should write more (or maybe exclusively) children's stories. There's something about his sense of humour and his imagination which works wonderfully in a child's fantasy universe. On the other hand, I eyerolled at manifestations of these traits in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I worked at for weeks and finally gave up because it was such a plod (and it's some 600 pages too). Haroun, though, is wonderful: it still has satirical references to the real world but is the kind of Indian fantasy we don't have enough of, with a hero who travels to a fantasy world, (SPOILERS AHEAD) rescues it from destruction through bravery and empathy, falls in love with a plucky girl, and in the process fixes not just his family's problems but that of the entire city. I'm going to buy copies for the kids in my life.

However, The Ground Beneath Her Feet has some wonderful sentences, such as this one: "Suppose that it's only when you dare to let go that your real life begins?"

The Liberation of Sita by Volga
This much celebrated book is a collection of short stories on the same theme that reads 
much like a novel. It's a retelling of the Ramayan from Sita's perspective, and what's beautiful is that it gives Sita a sisterhood. Surpanakha, Ahalya, and Urmila mentor Sita and offer their affection. I think the translation is a bit clunky at times, but overall it was an easy read, and I'm sending it to my mother.

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud
The last of Lockwood & Co, a fun YA ghost hunting series with a girl hero/narrator, perfect for a day spent in bed waiting for the cramps to go away. (Stroud is awesome at humour, at fantasy, at teenage angst; romance is not his thing.) But if you haven't read him yet, try the Bartimaeus series: I'm a big fan.

Corridor by Sarnath Bannerjee

Weird, interesting graphic novel set in Delhi.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
If you've read any Coates at all, you know what to expect. This book uses the memoir format to delve into the black experience — including, of course, racism — in the USA. It's brilliant, like all of his writing. Have you read My President Was Black? I finally finished this long essay on Obama and American politics last week.

Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? by John Sutherland
Illustration of Amelia EarhartSutherland explores mystifying asides in classic literature: such as how did Lady Catherine de Bourgh hear a rumour of Elizabeth's engagement to Darcy, when gossipmaestro Mrs Bennet had no idea? (SPOILER: In this case the answer he offers is Charlotte Collins nee Lucas. I don't agree: Charlotte was not so mean-spirited as to try to sabotage Lizzy's relationship: from what I remember she seemed genuinely happy at the prospect of her friend making such a brilliant match.) The essays were overall less exciting than I'd hoped. 

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls Also a great concept but somewhat disappointing experience. Highlighting 100 women who "rebelled" is important, and the illustrations are magnificent (the one above is of Amelia Earheart). But the writing is less than perfect, and lacks nuance, perhaps limited by the one-page-per-woman format. I'm leery of a feminist book that glorifies, for example, Margaret Thatcher, without even hinting at problems. 

Everything else

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Bernard
What a beautiful book this is. The best kind of YA romance: two wonderful young people, strong friendships, complicated family relationships, and enough emo love to give me all the feels. 

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
I'd read the first Neapolitan Novel last year; I gobbled up the rest last month. So much to love; such brilliant, interesting, selfish, principled women characters.

Sula by Toni Morrison
This is my third Morrison, and I think I like it third too, after The Bluest Eye, which is brilliant and beautiful and I want to reread often, and Beloved. But it's a complex tale of black women's lives and female friendships and female violence.

Ordinary Love by Jane Smiley
A novella about motherhood and family. Smiley is great at family relationships, and I enjoyed rereading this one, though my favourite of hers (I've only read three) remains A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear set in a contemporary farm.
Cover of A Necklace of Skulls
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
This is... not what I expected? It's sort of a mix of historical thriller and erotica without any actual sex. It was strictly okay.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
Typical dudeliterary novel with "ideal" young man and lots of annoying rich people, including the narrator (who is less rich but super annoying). It was well written and enjoyable, despite my occasional eyerolling.

A Necklace of Skulls 
by Eunice de Souza

Found this treasure in my friends' home and greedily devoured it in one afternoon. I'm not a great reader of poetry, but the poems here are so accessible, so simple, without being simplistic. The poem 'Untitled' gut-punched me, even though I have no one to feel that way about. (TW: grief, death.) 

Friday, October 20, 2017


I'm doing Inktober and trying to draw every day, with mixed results. Here are a few: the rest is up on Instagram. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Books I read in August

I'm in Bangalore for a while, and it's not been a great month for reading, because I'm spending a lot of time hanging out with friends. No regrets!

But look at this magnificent haul of second-hand books.

Picture Books and Graphic Novels
(from the shelf of friends I'm staying with)

Three Pigeon books by Mo Willems
I like The Pigeon Wants a Puppy best. Not only does it remind me of myself (when I was a kid, and also like right now because I do want a puppy dammit!) but it also has Pigeon hilariously promising to water it once a month. Get it for the babies in your life, even if they're adults.

A Gardener in the Wasteland by Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan
This beautiful, beautiful book describes the work of Jotiba and Savitri Phule. The art is gorgeous, and I don't know enough about the Phules, so this book was a lovely introduction.

Everything else

The Inner Courtyard edited by Lakshmi Holmstrom
I've been wanting to read this, and was got it as a gift recently. It's a lovely collection of stories by some of the most eminent writers of twentieth century India (and one from Pakistan/UK).

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
A friend had lent me her copy and asked me to read this book ages ago; I finally got around to it. Fittingly, because I read it soon after coming to Bangalore and the book is set here. It's a thin, delicate novel, much more nuanced than it appears at first.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This book was really popular a year or two ago, and I can see why. It's a thriller, but an extremely intelligent one. It reminded me of Emma Donoghue's Room in style, though in genre it's probably closer to Gone Girl. I found Gone Girl extremely disappointing ultimately, and this book is everything that one wasn't.

The Cosmopolitans by Anjum Hasan
Another book I've been intrigued by since it first came out, and finally got around to reading. I loved its meditations on art and artists, and Anjum is, of course, a very good writer. (Check out this beautiful piece on her fiction.) I felt the novel handwaved a rather major incident (and flaw in the character), and I felt one plot twist was contrived and sort of predictable, but it's a really interesting book that's stayed with me.

How Fiction Works by James Wood
This is a surprisingly easy-to-read, engaging book on literature and art. I loved it and mean to reread it soon.

In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh
This amazing book blends history and memoir and is set in Egypt and India (mostly Mangalore). It's Ghosh's personal account of discovering the story of an Indian slave owned by a Jewish Egyptian who moved to India in the fifteenth century.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Books I read in July

I've left home and am living in friends' homes in a different city for a while — if it works out, till October. My laptop conked off and I had internet issues and health issues, but here I am finally with my books of July.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
I am really enjoying Schwab's fantastically (heh) light touch and her wonderful heroine, Lila Bard. Highly recommend this series: start at the beginning, A Darker Shade of Magic. The Kindle books are not expensive.

The Strange Haunting of Model High School by Shabnam Minwalla
This is the YA ghost story that is not scary. You have school, friends, boys, competition, mean girls, and a friendly but sad ghost. Pretty entertaining stuff.

Boats on Land by Janice Pariat
I finally read this book I had heard about for years. The stories and writing are hauntingly beautiful, and I always have a weakness for stories and characters from Assam or even Shillong.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
This novel fascinatingly combines science fiction with a Victorian London in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are at work, and the daughters of certain fictional mad scientists are in need of help. But Holmes is not the hero, he is more of a romantic interest: the women save themselves. This is one book that I greatly recommend to everyone.

Mr Majestic! by Zac O'Yeah
I'd been curious about O'Yeah for a long time but never read anything by him until this book. It's a thoroughly entertaining and curiously realistic thriller that I must imagine someone is planning to make into a popular movie right now. I rarely rarely enjoy thrillers based in India, but this is the real deal.

The Foucault Reader 
I'm not always a big fan of "readers", but they help me decide whether - and which of - an author's books to read. I'm new to Foucault and this was a very interesting introduction to his work. I'm more interested in his literary/art theory, but his social theory is interesting too.

The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy
I vaguely remember reading these essays when they had first been published in Outlook and other magazines. Rereading them had me marvelling at her prescience, while also often feeling disappointed that her prose seems less luminous than in my memory. (I might share further thoughts on this book in a separate post later.)

The Blind Lady's Descendants by Anees Salim
I'm surprised that I haven't read Salim before. This is a beautiful, clever book about family and sanity, and how much the two affect each other. The prose is enchanting; I found the protagonist/narrator annoying, but was compelled to read on nonetheless.

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto
At times more anti-bigotry treatise than murder mystery, this was a fun and also deeply moral book. For more, read this lovely interview of Pinto by my friend Shreya.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Self-promotional announcement: the food blog is active again.

In the last couple of years, various friends have adopted dairy-free or gluten-free diets for themselves or their children. I have often found myself offering suggestions, since I got on the bandwagon years ago.

So I decided to revive this blog and share my tips for cooking or finding food that's safe for my body. Check it out or follow me on Tumblr, and do recommend it to friends who might be interested.