Random Ramblings

#152 : I’m Not From Around Here by Ishai Klinowsky : Book Review

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I’m not from around here is a memoir of a Jewish man whose family survived the World War II. It typically reads like the diary with sequence of events which moves on from generation to generation with each set of characters slowly fading out of relevance as the generation progresses. The denominator in such memoirs have always been the torture methods used and the impact it had on the person’s psychology. This book was slightly different in that aspect for me as it was a diary which focused more on resilience rather than failures.

The author traces the journey of his mother from surviving a labor camp to being married twice breaking cultural norms. The author also talks about his father and step father – both of them ended up getting arrested for smuggling cars into the country. The rest of the story is how the family survives in spite of ending up in different places.

The narration is surprisingly from a young version of the writer. However, there were multiple POVs in some place which really didn’t work in favor of the memoir in general. Given the diary itself is spread across generations there were too many characters which really didn’t seem of consequence once this generation faded.

I jumped at the chance to read this book primarily at the mention of Israel. I’ve not read a single account by an Israeli about the war. I expected the narration from a middle aged man. It was uncharacteristic of a memoir to be narrated by a young boy. I could connect quite well with the story and the underlying emotions as the tone of the narrator is quite young.

Note : Received the book as a part of b00k r3vi3w Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Spain Dairies

#179: ¡Buenos días! – Spain Diaries – The People

A nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people remarked a very learned man from my country – Mahatma Gandhi.

The people of Spain are quite friendly, warm, passionate and generally do not indulge in racism unlike their other European counterparts who are notoriously famous for being racist. Of the 72 days I’ve been here, there was just one instance where we catcalled for being brown and Asian. Right from the receptionist and the janitor in the hotel where I stay, to random strangers on lifts, colleagues from work, people in super markets and restaurants, are quite friendly. They always greet you with polite hello (¡Hola! or ¡Bueno!) or the wishes appropriate for the time of the day (¡Buenos días! – Good Morning, ¡Buenas noches! – Good night). Immaterial of the gender, the age, the color or the creed, they go on wishing with a smile. This is one thing I wished my hometown learnt. Yet again, people are different and cities are different.

Physically, it is near to impossible to stereotype a Spaniard. The features are all mix – Tall, short, bearded, blondes, blue eyed, black haired and what not. This can be  attributed to a fact that Spain has a very rich history in terms of the DNA make up. This is bound to happen as the country was conquered, invaded, influenced and ruled by various kinds of people including the Vikings, the Arabs, the Jews and the Catholics. Every town I visited at least had a mix of two cultures as a part of their history.

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Madrid’s Sol square. Teeming with people – Taken weeks before Christmas

One thing that scares me a bit is the intensity and passion of these people – again attributed to their genetic make up. It is a bit unnerving to watch a very jovial person turn all red and intense when they are conversing on certain topics which mean a lot to them. There was this one instance where a Spaniard I work with disagreed with me on a technical topic we were discussing. The discussion quickly went south and I decided not to indulge in an argument. It took that person quite a while to come back to the normal and talk to me like before. Witnessed “Intensity” first hand. There were several instances with several other different people who went from being laid-back to serious in fraction of seconds when touched upon certain subjects including that of Catalonia – a topic I have very limited knowledge and literally no opinion.

Madrid however, seems to be a melting pot of cultures. There are a lot South Americans from Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela to name. Though they share same language with the Spanish people, they seem to have a slightly different accent – evident even to a person who doesn’t know Spanish. Immaterial of the accent and dialect, they also seem to be as intense as Spaniards.

One thing I truly love about the Spanish people in general is their sense of equality. Men and Women are equal. It is apparently characteristic of the people to not bat an eye to the vagaries of women folks. Being from a country where public displays of affection (of any kind) is quite frowned upon, this culture was mildly shocking – in a good way though. Initially I was quite jumpy when my male colleagues touched me to call me. That never does happen back home. You simply don’t touch a woman who is not your wife or daughter or sister. Much to my utter shock (initially again), it is customary here to kiss people to wish them or greet them. I always thought it was only the French who believed in kissing. Turns out, the Spanish are no different. I was just a bundle of nerves all during the Christmas and New Year season. Yet again, I strongly believe in adapting. Different country, different culture – different customs. It was one learning experience. I concluded strongly that this kind of a gender indifference is probably what paved way to equality. It is also not surprising to note that the culture has embraced all sexual orientations quite well.

One aspect of the culture that I would not wish to comment upon is the sense of commitment. Yet again, my Indian upbringing refuses to really let me adapt to notion that a man and woman can live together, have kids without being married.  To me, that kind of a relationship cannot be dissected and debated until one has first hand experience.

At the end, it all boils down to one simple golden rule – When in Rome, be a Roman. Adapting is the key. It is important to respect the culture and way of life of other humans. When you are being treated with respect, I don’t think it is difficult to reciprocate.

Note : I’ve steered clear of talking about the food. The Spanish cuisine deserves a post of its own.

The other topic I have not touched upon is Literature and books in general. That’s a work in progress because literally everything is in Spanish and I need to obverse and converse with people to understand about that.

Spain Dairies

#178 : ¡Muy bien! – Spain Diaries – An Introduction

It’s been a little over two months since I landed in Madrid. My time here has been nothing short of fun. Exploring a new place and adapting to a new culture is certainly fun and is also slightly daunting. I plan to chronicle my time here in Spain via a series about the food, the people, the culture and various places I visited.

An introduction is in need before I go on – I’m here in Madrid for a short term project based assignment for my employer. I’m put up in a hotel minutes away from my work place. I typically work 5 days a week with the 5th day being shorter than the rest. I get to explore Spain during the weekends and other public holidays.

Chennai is quite well connected to Spain, particularly Madrid with a lot of flights by various carriers like Emirates, Ethihad, British Airways to name a few. I took an Emirates which had a 2 hour stop over at Dubai. The Dubai to Madrid leg of the journey was operated by Emirates and Qantas jointly. Madrid is 4.5 hours behind Chennai. Thankfully I traveled on a weekend making it easy to manage the jet lag. I had 2 other colleagues travelling with me in the same flight. We landed in the Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport at 7.50 PM (UTC +1:00). Given it was November, the winter had just begun. Thankfully we came quite prepared to ensure we didn’t freeze before we could board the cab to the hotel. Paid EUR 40 for a 24 Km ride from the airport to our hotel.

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Madrid City View – From Roof top of Azotea Del Circulo

Highlights

  • DXB to MAD – Its an 8 hour flight. Prepare to be tired and dehydrated.
  • Madrid is  quite a dry place – My skin went from dry to super dry in just about an hour. It is wise to come armed with a moisturizer and a lip balm. Preferably a strong one. However, it is best to use the ones locally available ones as those are made for this kind of a climate. More about this later!
  • The people are quite friendly, but they don’t speak English well. After all Spanish is the third most spoken language. Be ready with a snap shot or a perfect address of the location you want to reach once you land.
  • November and December – Cold, January is Colder and the wind makes it even more difficult. You can really notice the days getting longer! – If you are here for work like me, Inner thermals aren’t really needed. You need a decent sweat shirt and a good jacket. I purchased my sweatshirt here in Madrid from Decathlon. Chennai isn’t the best place to go winter shopping. A good pair of gloves and something to cover your head is also a must.
  • Shoes – Best solution to wade through the cold. Also, I’d recommend using a good foot spray to ensure your foot stays moist.
  • EUR is the currency. I carried some cash and the rest as a Forex card given I am here for a long time. Most of the cabs accept cards, but it is best to carry some cash in case of emergency. Also, it would be wise to carry coins since most of hotels have a coffee vending machine.

Stay tuned! More about the food and people soon!

PS. This post is strictly for people like me who haven’t been abroad before for work.

Random Ramblings

#177: Book Review : Waterboarding by Bragadeesh Prasanna

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Waterboarding – involves the torturer to pour water over the face of the captive, over a damp towel to give a sensation of drowning. While the mind knows that he is not actually drowning, the captive’s body sends contrasting signals to the brain making it a very painful experience- The kind of a title that you would expect of a psychological thriller or a love story which would probably involve an absurd character. This story turned out to be neither, however, the title was very relevant to situation the protagonist Ved is in.

Post a life changing accident, the protagonist Ved’s memory is blanked out. He relies on his friends – Sara and Ramesh to fill in the gaps. What follows is a story of a complicated man and a perfect love triangle.

The story was simply gloomy. It is fairly apparent that the writer intended it to be this way. The characterization, the narration all of it gave just one feel – The feel of gloom. Having read the previous work of the writer, it was quite a surprise to see his writing undergo a paradigm shift. His previous work was more of a rant rather than a coherent story. Though this plot is fairly similar to of his last publish novel (300 days), this story was a much better read in terms of writing in general and the narration/characterization in particular. The writer has crafted all the characters with care showing enough amount of their traits and aspirations. However, there were parts of the story where I felt a couple of secondary characters weren’t of much use – like the prostitute and the friend who comes from US. It felt like they were are in a mild deliberation to properly tie everything up and bring in a conclusion.

To sum it up, the book was a good but a gloomy read.

Review

#176 : Book Review : Destined by Rubina Ramesh

As the world around me rang in the New year with fireworks and celebrations, I curled up inside the comfortable quilt in my tiny hotel room’s bed with this very book and a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea. 4 hours into the dawn, I was done with the book. What a way to begin the new year!

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Esha Mehra, the protagonist, is a young woman with dreams and aspirations of marrying the man she loves and progressing in her career just like her peers. Her dreams are shattered when her family is struck by tragedy yet again. Her father is diagnosed with cancer. Esha is forced to choose between her father and love.

The story progressed in a break neck speed right from the start. No halt, no pause and no beating around the bush with eloquent waxing. Not that I had a problem with the pacing, just that one part of me wished that the writer should have taken it a bit more slower. For example, the break up phase was way too quick for my taste. It would have been a bit more realistic if Esha were to mop about it for a while. After all she was breaking up with her friend turned boyfriend. People don’t get over that quickly. I also felt that the writer has handled one issue women face – the choice between parents and their love life – with kid gloves. Esha didn’t really eloquently wax about that part of her feeling for me. Yet again, it’s just my way to seeing things!

The best thing about the book is the writing. Hard hitting phrases – That seems to be the writers style. Especially the following lines,

“So?” she glared at him. “I shouldn’t feel hungry? I knew what you call my ‘responsibilities’ at a very young age, Rohan. The time you were flying kites. So freaking don’t lecture me about responsibilities. I took my mom for chemo when I was eleven years old. I watched her wither in pain night after night, while doing my homework and getting ready for school. And do you know what happened when my mom died?”

“What?” Rohan whispered. He felt it in his bones that here lay all her pain.

“I felt relieved, Rohan. I fucking felt relieved.”

Silence. Rohan just stood there stumped. Not moving at all.

Those are the kind of words and phrases which hit you squarely on your head when you are least expecting it! Evidently, the writing and editing is crisp. The characterization is near good. Brownie point for the stunning cover (Incidentally designed by a fellow bookworm Flyorie BL)  In short, the book was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It was worth every minute I spent lying awake smack in the middle of the night instead of sleeping or partying  on the New Year night! (Okay, didn’t have company, I would have just slept!)

Note : Thanks to The Book Club and the writer for the review copy.

Random Ramblings

#175 : Another Year Gone!

“Another year gone!” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “And I must trouble you with an old man’s wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were…”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

What a year 2017 turned out to be. Sitting all alone in a different country, it is not difficult to slip into a pensive mood, reflecting and looking back at the year that has almost gone by. 2017 turned out to be a year of learning. I learnt to adapt right from the start of the year to the end. I was just a little over 20 days into being married when the year began. Adapting to new place, people, food and culture is not an easy thing and that’s exactly the challenge 2017 hurled at me. Again, at the end of the year, here am I, in a different country adapting to a different environment, food and people with out my loved ones near by. Thus by large, I spent the whole of 2017 adapting and re-adapting. However, I have no regret at all in doing what I did.

I managed to take some time out to make beautiful memories – A neat trip to Kodaikanal and a short one to Pondicherry. Of course, towards the end of the year, the trip to Cordoba, Aranjuez and Toledo. I did discover that I loved clicking pictures, especially when the visuals in front of me were vivid and rich.

Reading wise, 2017 was one of the best year I had. A Harry Potter re-run, my first Neil Gaiman and what not.  Thanks to all the kind folks who gifted me books.

I’m not divulging much am I? As they say, be happy and tell no one.

However, I have a list of goals for 2018. The use of the word “GOAL” is deliberate here. Resolution aren’t my thing. Here are my top 5 goals for the year.

  1. Being Thoughtful and Mindful – I have never been the type to be expect much from people. That just worsened when a certain relationship I had turned toxic. I stopped emoting much and that leaded to me being less thoughtful.  I ought to pick myself up and become a better human.
  2. Cutting out all toxic relationships completely – Some people enter our lives just to teach us few important lessons. I learnt mine the hard-way. High time I flush such people out.
  3. Click better pictures and build a scrap book – I hope to learn the art of photography a bit. Not that I am keen on buying a professional camera. I simply hope to learn the science of light and lenses.
  4. Read a variety of books – Manu Joseph, Jeeth Thayil, Shashi Tharoor – Just the starters there. Wish to go wild and explore this year!
  5. WRITE – I ought to complete what I stared. One full length novel is about 20% done and a collection of short stories 15% done. However, not really beating myself up over this. Writing is a creative process which requires immense discipline. My life right now is way too exciting to bring in that discipline.

Its the first day of the year, here I am miles away from home in a tiny room reading a nice book while sipping a hot cup of tea. What a way to start the New year! 2018 – you better be good to me.

 

Random Ramblings

#174 : Me Time @ 11PM

The clock struck 11 as I entered my bedroom. It was one hectic day filled with tons of technical discussions which made me want to pull my hair apart. On the home front, the husband wanted some help with his project work. The in law wanted me to help her with some grocery shopping. All of that was finally done! Looking back, I realized I had hardly spent time for myself in the entire day. I woke up at 6AM and I’ve probably spent all of 1 hour to wash, eat and dress! My in-laws are asleep and the love of my life is snoring softly already.

Finally! It was time to clear my head out and un-wind for the day! I sat down with the journal and began penning down my thoughts randomly. I lost the habit of journal keeping after my school days. Engineering and a business degree didn’t give me the luxury to write, nor did incessant travelling to remote factories. Marriage however, seems to have made me find the time to write. I know this isn’t going to last with plans for raising a family soon on the cards. Ought to enjoy while I can!

30 minutes down and I felt relaxed. The feel of a rich ink pen gliding over a smooth paper when words flow like there is not tomorrow is unparalleled. Just as I shut the journal, I heard a weird rumbling noise. I burst out laughing as I realized the origin of the sound – It’s was my own tummy! The husband stirred a bit on hearing the noise. I decided it’s time to raid the cupboard! Mid-Night snack it was.

It’s been ages since I ate something post 11PM. I used to sneak about and munch on biscuits while studying in the wee hours, during my college days. I grew up and my sleep cycle changed. Plus to manage weight, I started cutting down on anything other than vegetables, fruits and nuts! My stomach rumbled again as I tip-toed to the kitchen caring not to wake up the people.

I slowly opened the lower rack of the shelf. That shelf contained all snacks. I wasn’t much of a snack person. That was my husband’s forte. He stocked the snacks for the week. This week, much to my surprise, I found a couple of packets of Kurkure!  It was unlike of him to buy any form of chips, that’s of course partly because of me. I tend to binge eat any fried form of potato. He swears by fried grams, puffed rice and peanuts. Kurkure was a complete surprise. I was craving for something tangy. There was one pack of Lime Pickle triangle and one pack of Masala Munch. The choice was easy! Lime Pickle triangle it was.

I slowly opened the pack ensuring not to make any noise. A tangy citrus smell filled my nostrils. I slowly popped in one triangle into my mouth and savored the flavor. Yum! Just the tangy taste and right amount of crispness like I wanted. I tip-toed back to the bedroom, munching away my perfect mid-night snack. Just as I took another bite, I suddenly remembered the video that had gone viral some time ago. It had been something about Kurkure burning and containing some form of plastics. Must be some competitor at work I mused. After all, my really picky husband wasn’t going to stock a snack which was rumored to have plastics. While eating I got a distincttaste of corn.

 I turned the packet and read the contents just as I always did. Being from the manufacturing services industry it intrigues me to no end to know what it takes to manufacture something. It read just the basic ingredients as does for any other traditional snack. I couldn’t find one chemical name or a preservative. I decided to fire up my tab and do some Googling. What I found thoroughly surprised me. It was common knowledge that anything which contained a form of carbohydrate when combined with high quantity of oxygen can burn if ignited. The traditional kurkure is light and puffy. Evidently, Kurkure contains Corn, dal and rice. All the three ingredients are high on carbohydrate. Thus when ignited, it burned. This didn’t imply that it contained plastics. I also found a good video of their manufacturing process. Given it’s my own domain, I decided to dig deeper. I found out a very basic outline of the process which goes as follows,

1. The raw material – Corn, Dal and rice, is first cleaned, ground and mixed in a specific proportion.

2.  It is then sent via an extruder to bring in a shape.

3. It is fried in oil and then seasoned with spices in a rolling drum for uniform coating.

Having never worked in the FMCG domain before, all this interested me a lot. I powered off the tab and went back to munching the snack. With my mid night pang satiated, I slipped into the bed, thinking about how I could come up with such a formulation and prepare my own snack. One can dream to achieve greater things. After all, for all we know the snack I just had would have been one such formulation!