#BookReview- The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Book 2 of 2020
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Pulitzer Prize 1997

Those few precious hours over a lifetime when we feel we have a chance to do something special, to prove that we can do something that will forever immortalize us as someone exceptional

“There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined , though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.”
~The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The story depicted in this novella is equal parts pain and beauty.

Pain being those interminable, almost unbearable hours life has to offer.

Always, the hours…

Beauty being those precious hours that stand out to you after decades have left them behind, but you still see them glittering, shining warmly as a reminder of what your life is all about


Three people are straddling life and death.

Michael Cunningham re-created Woolf’s personal story and interwove it with that of two characters in two later time periods who battled mental health issues.
Lives of 3 women:
1. The Author-Virginia Woolf while she is beginning to write her novel “Mrs. Dalloway” in 1923,
2. The Reader- Laura Brown, a housewife reading “Mrs. Dalloway” in LA in 1949, and
3. The Character- Clarissa a woman who seems to be a real life Mrs. Dalloway in current NYC.

Three stories that are equally mesmerising, and each linked to Virginia Woolf’s novel.

The Hours captured the interior world of these three women over the course of one day.

The Hours grapples with the thought life of vulnerable individuals. Cunningham distilled with insight and empathy the myriad shifts in mood over the course of an ordinary day: the dark abyss into which any ordinary person can descend when overwhelmed by self-loathing and rejection as well as the sunlit moments where life offers a gift that is accepted with gratitude.

The references to Virginia Woolf are omnipresent as she also comes to life under Cunningham’s pen along with Mrs Brown and “Mrs Dalloway”. Yes, it did relight a flame in me to read the primary Woolf works (Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, The Waves).

Also I have to watch the movie

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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood | Book Review

Absorbed in Books

  • Publisher: Viragro Press Limited
  • Published: 2 September 2000
  • Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

This was a difficult book to put down. I had to stop taking this book with me to college, not because its heavy, but because I couldn’t stop reading it, even during lectures.

This is the first Margaret Atwood book I’ve read, and I am in absolute awe of the lady and her genius storytelling.

This book is about Iris Chase Griffen, an 83 year old woman, and her younger sister Laura, who died years ago. These are the opening lines of the book:

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow…

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Book Review: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Absorbed in Books

I started this book with no preconceived notions as I had never heard of this book or watched the movie before picking it up from the library shelf. So it was just a casual read. From the cover and the name, I expected a clichéd, cheesy romance story. However I am glad to announce that I was proved wrong. This book, in no way portrays a romance between the two main characters. So along with a book review, you also get a lesson of “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk (and Anouk’s imaginary pet rabbit) are wanderers who have spent their lives travelling place to place, never staying at one place for too long. On Mardi Gras, they stumble upon a quaint little French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes attracted by the beautiful festivities. They rather enjoy themselves at the festival and decide to stay. Vianne…

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The Wild Wisdom Quiz Book- Review

Children are curious by nature and if we wish to raise kids who love the Earth, all we have to do is expose them to the awe-inspiring beauty, diversity and immensity of nature. Their natural curiosity can then be trusted to propel them further in delving deep and gather more knowledge.  But how can learning be made more fun? How can their knowledge of giant mammoths or tiny frogs, venomous snakes or flying squirrels be tested? A quiz book that exclusively talks about nature and wildlife comes in as a handy tool and WWF-India has taken the first step to create just that.

The Wild Wisdom Quiz Book, aimed specially for middle school children [Classes 6, 7 and 8], was launched by WWF-India and Penguin Books, in June 2014 to mark the World Environment Day. It is compiled from India’s only national quiz on wild life- The Wild Wisdom Quiz. This quiz is an initiative of WWF-India and TRAFFIC India that has been an annual affair since 2008. The objective behind this quiz was to inculcate the values of conservation amongst middle school children.

I would strongly recommend this book not just for the middle school children, but for all school going children. Even adult animal lovers and quiz aficionados would love this book, packed as it is with amazing information and trivia about the wild.

The cover of the book is quite attractive and colorful featuring eye-catching cartoons of animals.  In fact, each and every page is dotted with cute sketches and cartoon giving the book quite a lively feel.

The questions are divided into 7 categories- Plants, Fish, Arthropods and Annelids, Amphibians and Reptiles, Mammals, Birds and Potpourri and the answers are given at the end of each section. Each section begins with a brief description of the category and the question bank is interspersed with nuggets of fascinating trivia which not only stokes our sense of curiosity but at times, leaves us dumbfounded at the awe inspiring diversity of nature.

Bees are found in every continent except one. Which one?

In Buddhism the peacock is the symbol of? a. Calm b. Power c. Wealth d. Wisdom

Which is the only snake that builds its nest like a bird but on the ground? a. Green Anaconda b. King Cobra c. Indian Krait d. Russell’s Viper

Overall, there are 500 questions like some mentioned above, covering a gamut of wildlife topics mainly from India but including important world wildlife facts too.

What I liked most about the book is that it has strictly adhered to being a children’s book as far as the level of the questions is concerned. The difficulty level of the questions is maintained at an optimum level so as to keep it challenging enough to stimulate the brain but not too difficult for children which can become demotivating.

The book gives an exceptional peek into the biodiversity and richness of India and is a good way to introduce children to many fascinating nature related trivia of the country.

Another interesting element added is the inclusion of questions based on animals in literature or movies. Also included are questions about famous conservationists, various movements and conservation laws. This gives a somewhat holistic picture of the interactions between humans and their environment. Our natural environment has an impact on our life as well as culture and the questions make it easier for children to make the connection.

Over all, it is a deeply satisfying book and must have for all school libraries. The book can be used quite easily during quiz competitions for an instant dose of interesting wildlife questions.

But I wished certain elements of the book were done in a better way.

Since this book is intended for school going children, the obvious consideration is that it should not be too voluminous. This further means that each and every question must go through strict scrutiny. We would still wish to maximize the information contained in this short volume. But I was disappointed to notice the repetition of some questions – which is such a waste!

Another area which fell woefully short of expectation was the introduction of each section. I found the level of information provided here to be very basic more suited to primary school students. More attention could have been paid to this so as to invoke the sense of wonderment about each section.

Given that children are the target audience, coloured photographs would have suited the pages much better to grab their attention. At times it seems the book is still a question reservoir for verbal quizzes and needs to be made more interest worthy for children to sit and read it.

In spite of these flaws which surely will be rectified with newer editions, this still is a wonderful book to get a glimpse of the bizarre as well as mysterious biodiversity of this wonderful nation and planet. I would strongly recommend it to all nature lovers as well as quiz enthusiasts. If you wish to “test your knowledge and learn about the incredible plants and animals that share our country”, this is the book for you.

Book Details

Author – WWF- India

Publisher – Penguin Books India,

Price – Rs. 199.00

This review was originally published at India’s Endangered  

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Book Review: Grey Hornbills at Dusk

Grey Hornbills at Dusk: Nature Rambles Through Delhi

Delhi is a truly fascinating city. It reflects the diversity of India where religions, languages, customs & cultures co-exist in a splendid plural harmony. Magnificent ancient monuments and architectural wonders, enchanting museums and art galleries, a scintillating performing-arts scene, exceptional eating places and vibrant and bustling markets. Delhi has them all. So, is it any surprise that Delhi boasts of an amazing range of avian diversity?

This polluted, claustrophobic and downright dirty metropolis hosts as many as 449 distinct species of birds amidst its many parks, ruins and gardens.

Delhi with its graceful old gardens and sprawling parks, unexpected patches of scrub forest and elegant avenues of old trees, has an amazing range of bird habitats. All you have to do is find a good spot with flowering shrubs or old trees and then wait to be entertained. The birds will arrive one by one and they do not care if you greet them or not…..


In her latest book “Grey Hornbills at Dusk”, Bulbul Sharma highlights Delhi as a veritable paradise for the urban bird watcher.  By providing an account of Delhi’s resident and migratory birds, Bulbul Sharma not only opens a new perspective for her readers of observing their city, but also makes them a little bit more aware of the amazing gifts nature has given us. Its remarkable variety of habitats and species makes Delhi the perfect place for an introduction to birding. It takes little or no effort at all to become a bird watcher in Delhi, because the birds are right there in front of you at your very door step.

Birds have flocked to Delhi for hundreds of years to seek shelter, food and companionship and made it one of the best cities for bird watching in the world. There is no part of the city, however crowded, that does not contain at least a dozen different bird species on display at any given time. The narrow crowded lanes of Sadar Bazaar, one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia, will have mynas, sparrows and parakeets flying around shops. The ruined tombs on the outskirts of Delhi give shelter to many birds and the playing fields of various schools in Delhi have koels, parakeets, Brown Doves, Flame-backed Woodpeckers and many other birds sharing space with the children.

Grey Hornbills at Dusk” is not a scientific guide to birds and trees. As an introductory book to bird watching, it is something more valuable than that. Bulbul Sharma has been an avid birdwatcher for the past 25 years and in this book she has distilled her delight and pleasure of bird watching in particular and observing nature in general. For any one embarking on the bird watching journey for the first time, it can serve as a handbook thanks to the comprehensive information about the various floras and fauna of Delhi provided here. But the task does not seem daunting thanks to the amusing and often hilarious anecdotes interspersed throughout the book. The anthromorphic narration of her encounters with various birds, bring them to life making the reader eager to seek them out and talk to them. Therein lays the success of the book.

The author’s passionate love for nature is contagious and as we explore every nook and cranny of Delhi, seeking out the elusive birds and delighting in what we find, some of her enthusiasm brushes off on us as well. Even if someone is not very interested in nature, “Grey Hornbills” will make a reader feel involved and just might evoke a desire to explore our wonderful world of nature.

The author has weaved in the nature related quotes and passages from folk lore as well as literary works by such authors as Kalidasa, Amaru and Kipling. This adds to the charm. So even if a person is not yet sold out to the cause of nature, this book would still prove an interesting read for a variety of reasons.

My only lament regarding this book is that it did not have enough pictures of birds. The words and description evoke such curiosity about the birds that one wishes to seek them out and see them.  Had there been pictures too, the book would have become a Ready Recknor for a beginner bird watcher. The book does contain a series of pen and ink drawings of birds done by the author herself, and they are excellent by the way, but my complaint is that they are not enough. Here I must make a special mention of the book cover, which is a total delight to behold.

Since Delhi offers something interesting in every season, the book is divided into four sections, each corresponding to a season. I’ll let the author herself explain to you her reason for this format of the book.

Every season brings a new flavor to Delhi’s parks and gardens. Sometimes the change is so dramatic that you may not recognize a tree when it does a quick change t wear a different look for summer or winter. The laburnum, for instance, looks like a shabby, bad tempered tree in winter when it has no flowers. Its branches are covered with long brown sticks which rattle in the breeze like witches muttering curses. It does not care that the other trees like the Silk-cotton and the coral have brought out beautiful red flowers. It waits and watches and it knows, like the ugly duckling, it will change its form one day. Once the winter flowers fade and the Delhi spring arrives and is about to leave, making way for summer, the blossoms on the laburnum arrive slowly. And suddenly, one day, the tree becomes a fairy tale creature with streaming golden flowers-the magical yellow pyramid shimmering in the sunlight.

Delhi wears a beautiful cloak of verdant green during the rains, changes it for a thick shawl for winter and then quickly discards it for a lighter, cotton-shirt-look for the fierce summer. We, who live in Delhi, follow the rules and change our lives according to the seasons. If you spend a year in Delhi you will realize residents of the city are so tough and thick skinned. Unlike balmy Mumbai with its soothing sea breeze, hot and humid Kolkata with its delicious cool evenings and always tranquil Goa and Bengaluru, Delhi makes its residents struggle for a bit of warmth and then for a bit of cool shade.

There are rewards of glorious summer flowering trees, the crisp air of cold winter’s day or the scented nights of the rainy season. We complain as we shiver in the bitter cold, burn under a harsh summer sun, then gasp and sweat when the monsoon arrives, but there is the belief and beautiful Delhi spring which brings fragrant flowers, gentle sunshine and joy to our hearts.

This is a rather long excerpt. But this is my favorite passage from the book, as it not only made me fall in love with Delhi, but actually made me feel grateful for all Delhi has to offer us, if only we have the eyes to see.

Book Detail

Author – Bulbul Sharma

Publisher – Aleph Book Company

Price – Rs. 244 /-

This review was originally published at India’s Endangered  

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Book Review: Sapiens:A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

I spoke about this book in an event organised by Speak India

Here is the link to my presentation on youtube

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De-cluttering and Writing-A.K.A. The Tale Of Conquering Two Monsters

End of October is, traditionally, not the time of the year to retrospect. But, strangely, for the past hour or so, I have become rather overwhelmingly aware of the fact that 2016 has, so far, been  rather good to me. 

And boy! What a wonderful feeling that is!!!

And then, simultaneously with this awareness, came an overwhelming desire to write and share this thought on the blog.

The fact that I have not blogged in a long time, is a thorn in my flesh. This, in fact, is a major blot on my above said contentment. 

I WANT to write.

There are things that I want to say.

There are things, I feel, I MUST say.

And yet, whenever I thought of blogging, it was always in the future tense.

 “I AM going to write, have no fear”, I would tell myself. “As soon as I finish reading this stack of books because they are due at the library next week. And I’ll be darned if I return these unread!!” Or I would say “after I finish knitting my current project, because, you see, it is URGENT!” As it turned out, SOMETHING or the other always, but ALWAYS, took precedence over writing. Basically, because writing is not easy for me. I am not readily given to expressing my thought. In other words, I did not particularly, enjoy expressing my opinions. Not because of an absence of thought. But, because as soon as I have thought a thought, I have already experienced it. Writing it out and even speaking and discussing it means just spending more time on the same instead of experiencing something new! 

Any way. 

Now ironicallyThese aforementioned  “new experiences”that I have gained at the expense of writing, have changed my opinion about writing.I  I have realised the value of interaction of thoughts and ideas. So, to me now, the expression of ideas, however inane and time consuming, is becoming increasingly coveted. 

No wonder then, that as soon as I felt that I should share this feeling of contentment on the blog, I decided that I must act on it. So, that’s the reason for this post.

But, now, to the initial feeling that prompted this post.

This evening, I was feeling rather vanquished by the clutter monster.

For the past 6 months or so, I have waged a concerted and protracted battle against clutter in my home. 

 Being a minimalist at heart, I get upset by too much stuff in the house. So, I sat down to systematically exterminate clutter. And as Diwali approached, I intensified my efforts to de-clutter every nook and cranny of my house. But now that diwali has come and gone, I just sat down to review the progress, and I had to admit that the things are still far from my vision. This, frankly,was a rather tiresome realisation because not only do I NOT enjoy decluttering and organising stuff around the house, I would rather spend that time reading or knitting or even doodling. Decluttering was just a means to the end of increasing my overall productivity. In an organized environment, I would get to spend more time reading/knitting/doodling. But now I am running out of stem as I was physically getting tired of the all the work involved. So, I was feeling rather pensive this evening and about to give up the effort and just let the things be.

And then, in a moment , my perspective did an about turn.

Suddenly,instead of seeing all that still needs to be done, I saw clearly, how FAR I have come! I realised that the scenario today is, definitely, less than ideal But 6 months back, it was so much worse and I truely deserve a pat on the back for having come this far.

This blog post is that well deserved pat.

Not just for taming the clutter monster, but also for knitting more, reading more, exercising more, meditating more. And as this blog post is nearing completion, dare I add, “blogging more” to this list

“Oh yes , you could”, said the tamer of the clutter-monster presently, poised and confident to tackle the blogging-monster as well.

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The Great #TSBC Book Exchange Programme 2016

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The LowlandThe Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Reading books about revolutions usually plunges me into a deep melancholia specially if it features and idealist revolutionary willing to lay down his/her life for the revolution convinced that utopia is just round the corner.

I almost did not read this book for this reason. But since this was given to me as part of the #TSBCBookExchange, I wanted to read it too. Now that I have read it, I find that it has a lot more to offer. The movement is the framework on which Lahiri weaves a rich tapestry of relationships, feelings, conflicts between various characters.

I usually like it when an author, instead of following a chronological order, keeps jumping back and forth through time.I keep a look out for when and how the authors reveals the various folds in the narrative and why did she choose to do it this way. In this book, this was used skillfully to keep the interest in the story alive but sadly what was lacking was content. The characters though interesting are not fleshed out fully and I particularly found the third person dialogues rather stilted and this failed to engage the reader. I remained detached from the characters as I never got a chance to peep “inside”.

Relation between Bela and Gauri is the least publicized aspect of this book. I found myself reading the confrontation between the two on Mother’s Day this year. Weird! 🙂

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666533Chesterton remarked that the “detective story differs from every story in this: that the reader is only happy if he feels a fool”.

Chesterton’s detective is a clumsy, amiable little Roman Catholic priest with “a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling”. His appearance in the stories is so unobtrusive that spotting him in the story is almost like a game of hide and seek with the readers. He seems to be lurking in the shadows somewhere. But don’t get taken in by his humble exterior. He had been keenly observant all this while  and proceeds to display startling flashes of brilliant understanding. He has such a deep understanding of the psychology of the criminal mind which he gained while listening to confessions in his capacity as a Roman Catholic priest.

In “The Secret Of Father Brown” G K Chesterton revealed the process through which Father Brown arrives at the clear insight and solves the seemingly insoluble paradox

“I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done,and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was……

I try to get inside the murderer. . . . Indeed it’s much more than that, don’t you see? I am inside a man. I am always….inside a man, moving his arms and legs; but I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions still I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes, looking between the blinkers of his half-witted concentration; looking up the short and sharp perspective of a straight road to a pool of blood. Till I am really a murderer.”

Chesterton created Father Brown as a contrast to Sherlock Holmes. That, in my opinion,is quite a burden to carry. This is what Father Brown has to say regarding the “Science of Detection”

Science is a grand thing when you can get it; in its real sense one of the grandest words in the world. But what do these men mean, nine times out often, when they use it nowadays? When they say detection is a science? When they say criminology is a science? They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect: in what they would call a dry impartial light, in what I should call a dead and dehumanized light. They mean getting a long way off him, as if he were a distant prehistoric monster; staring at the shape of his ‘criminal skull’ as if it were a sort of eerie growth, like the horn on a rhinoceros’s nose. When the scientist talks about a type, he never means himself, but always his neighbor; probably his poorer neighbor. I don’t deny the dry light may sometimes do good; though in one sense it’s the very reverse of science. So far from being knowledge, it’s actually suppression of what we know. It’s treating a friend as a stranger, and pretending that something familiar is really remote and mysterious”

Father Brown, though an admirable character, is weighed down by the burden of Chesterton’s rhetoric and theological message. Unlike the brilliant logician created by Doyle in Sherlock Holmes whose sole aim is solving the mystery, father Brown as a subtle evangelist of the Catholic faith has to not only solve the crime and catch the criminal but also hopes to redeem the criminal.

But unfortunately, Chesterton not only totally fails to extend this honorable and charitable attitude towards non-Christians but reveals himself as a downright bigot in “The Wrong Shape” where just the presence of a Hindu Yogi is enough to infuse the environment with “evil”.

This, unfortunately, did not go down well with me.

Besides the didactic and theological aspect so overshadows the narrative that the mysteries get flimsier and the reader gets impatient thereby making it more and more difficult to get into the stories.

So, if this was the collection of the “best” stories by G K Chesterton, then you are not going to find me reading the rest of the stories.

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