Books I Loved This Year

2017 is almost coming to an end. And, of course, it’s time to reflect upon the year that was. And I’ve chosen to revisit some of the books I read and fell absolutely in love with this year. There have been a lot more books than I have chosen to write about. However, this is a list of books that truly inspired me. 

Asura by Anand Neelakantan

This book is an excellent parallel narrative to the popular epic of Ramayana that most of us, Indians, grew up with. It openly provides a bold new perspective to the popular characters of the epic and convincingly so.
It left me questioning what my grandma had told me about Ram and Ravan, their inherent qualities and the actions that they took during various turning points of this literary marvel.

What’s so refreshing about the book is that it humanizes the characters, thereby allowing us to view the characters in a more realistic manner, without attaching the idea of supremacy to the characters that we were taught to view as gods. Thus, the characters become so much more relatable, and their stories become that much more relevant to present times. It powerfully convinces the reader of the many layers that the popular characters possess. And it allows one to view the epic as a literary masterpiece and steps away from religious sentiments for a bit.

This book became a personal favourite because it came at a time when I began to question a lot of popular narratives of great epics, often followed in the world of Bharathanatyam and wished to step away from them.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

This outstanding book pulverized my preexisting notions about feminism. It has helped me evolve into the feminist I am today; by offering a unique definition for feminism and by allowing me to question every aspect of what I previously believed in and seek answers for the same. 

Additionally, it helped me gain me a deeper understanding of the fact that there exist many layers to feminism; affected by personal stories, literature, education, economic conditions, cultures and upbringings.

This remarkable eassy definitely goes a long way in helping one take a stand on the entire idea of feminism.

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This book blatantly displays the deep dysfunctionalities prevalent in an Indian family. It effectively portrays our inherent capacity to be openly bourgeois and unapologetically so.
The book strikes a chord because it speaks of the deep-rooted problems that exist in the way society associates honour with caste and unabashedly displays the carnal desires of men and women, caste and societal norms notwithstanding. 

This wonderful piece of literature craftily tells a sad story very hilariously. It’s complex and overwhelming. And I’d love to go back and re-read this book a million times over. 

Redrawing India by Shaheen Mistri

This book is an account of the various experiences that the cohort of the Teach for India Fellowship have had, in addition to the story of the inception of the whole movement.

The stories are inspiring, heartbreaking and endearing. All at the same time. The book gives you a clear view of the problem of educational inequity in our country and makes you rethink the entire premise on which the idea of education is built. It confronts you with the bitter facts about the millions of girls and boys who don’t get to dream of becoming writers, doctors, journalists, lawyers or teachers, like us because they have no access to education.  

Personally, it made me realise that I have been extremely fortunate to have the privileges that I do. An education, a job, the comfort of exploring various career paths, and most importantly, a roof over my head. And it also reassured my faith in human beings who are willing to go out of their way and help eliminate the idea of educational inequity in the country. 

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Morteson 

This book taught me how a little belief can go a really long way. 

This book is the story of an American mountaineer and his quest to bring education to the most remote villages in the north-west frontier province of Pakistan. The book gives a clear picture of his journey from building his first school in Pakistan to building more than a hundred schools, across Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

This book inspired me and gave restored my faith in the undying human spirit and belief. It helped me understand that when one believes in something with so much conviction, one will go to any lengths to prove it to the world. For me, it provided with a whole new idea of philanthropy at large. 

The book is undoubtedly a remarkable account of the story of a wonderful human being, who gave up so much of his own life for the betterment of thousands of children who lived halfway across the world from him. 

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Riveting Content I Found

I came across an article in The Hindu that spoke about the term “curation”, and how with time, the term has gained (or lost) so much of it’s meaning. 

The reason I found this article riveting is because, as an artist, I have come across several individuals and companies that boast themselves of having “curated” dance performances. There exists a certain thrill in using such a fancy term, I presume. However, this article made me realise that the term means so much more than it’s given credit for. And that it might not be the best idea to throw the term around so casually. 

It’s quite the eye-opener, this article. Find the article here: www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-meaning-of-curation/article22271431.ece/amp/

We Are The Same

Presently, our generation if trying to fight about 3000 years of oppression we women have faced. And we’re doing a brilliant job at it. We didn’t start this fight. Our great-grandmothers did. And those ladies have fought way harder than us, I’m sure.

This isn’t about the oppression my grandma faced; nor the struggles that I continue to face. No, that’s a whole different story altogether. Safely put away in a box; not ready to be brought down from my attic as yet. This is about a group of human beings I know. They identify themselves as women. And I’m one of them too.

In fact, this is about you and me. About how we both are so similar. I’ll tell you how. Take a seat.

You like cussing loudly while ranting about your horrible boss? We do too.
You like to code? We do too.
You go to the bar hoping to get lucky that night? We do too.
You get lazy and wear the same underwear for days on end? We do too.
You talk about boobs and balls? We do too.
You like to wear less clothing as possible while at home? We do too. But we also know you like to occasionally dress up, just like us. Oh, hey. And we both also like to check ourselves out on a reflective surface now and again, don’t we?
You worry about running out of toilet paper? We do too.
You enjoy cold beers and whisky? We do too.
You check for body odour so you can avoid bathing? We do too.
You like chai and sutta? We do too.
You check out that hot person that works on your floor? We do too.

You see? We’re similar in so many ways. We’re the same level of barbaric and civilized. There’s clean freaks, bookworms, movie buffs, foodies, creepy stalkers, badass coders, master chefs and a whole lot of weirdos between the both of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to ignore or belittle your struggles. I know you have your fair share of worries and struggles. And I support you a hundred percent. But I’m fighting 3000 years of oppression. Why? We’re the same, you and I. Then why is it that I’m still fighting to be an equal? 

Kindly note: This was not written with the intent to generalize what men and women prefer. It was only to draw a comparison between our popular likes, dislikes and behaviours.
Also, there is content on the internetworks that suggests women have faced oppression for more than 6000 years. My use of ‘3000 years’ was an approximation.
And once again, this post in no way is to belittle or rubbish the struggles that men are faced with.
And if isn’t clear already, I respect you all. 

Exercise

I was always a chubby kid. As a pre-teen, I was, well, “healthy” looking. I also quickly gained the 13 kilos I had lost due to a severe attack of Typhoid, when I was 12 years old. And as a teenager, I went back and forth between being chubby and “just fine”. But I’ve always been a fit person. Thanks to dance.

For most of my adult life, I have remained concious about the way my body looks. I had been extremely unhappy with my appearance for a while. And it was mainly because I let what a boy said get to my head. He compared me to other girls in our class and always made me feel inferior. I was naive and let him make me feel awful about the way I look. But, I still remained fit. Thanks to dance.
Once I started university, all that changed. With dance progressing toward being so much more than just a physical activity for me, I started taking exercise more seriously. I began exploring other forms of exercise. Ever since, I have pushed my body to do things which once seemed like an unachievable feat.

I have tried various forms of exercise. Yoga, running, pilates, even explored a little bit of Kalaripayattu solely for body conditioning purposes. Of course, I still view dance as a fantastic form of exercise. But exploring these other techniques has made me realise that I really do love exercising. Be it dancing at the studio, or sweating it out in the gym. Plus, it’s made my dancing a whole lot better. What with the increased stamina and extra energy.

Regular exercise has made me a far more productive human being. And I’ve found that it’s a wonderful way to clear your head and improve focus. It’s obviously helped me lose weight and tone my body. And it has also made me think about what I eat. Also, exercise has helped me immensely with setting a schedule for the entire day.

More than helping me with my appearance, exercise has helped me mentally; to overcome issues I had with my body. And by realising that each body is so unique and responds in different ways to different things, exercise has taught me not to give a rat’s ass about what anybody chooses to say about my body. And most importantly, it has taught me to respect every person’s body and their struggle (or lack thereof) with it.

The Big City

I live in the ever growing melting pot that is Bangalore, India. Of the twenty three years I’ve been here, the city has transformed in more ways than one. For starters, its name changed. From Bangalore to Bengaluru. But I’m going to call it Bangalore. I’m more used to that name.

I still remember the pleasant, sunny summer mornings which would turn into crisp afternoons and then cool evenings. Now, of course, Bangalore has changed in more ways than one (most importantly, it’s climate). And considerably so. And I share a love-hate relationship with the way this city has changed, over the years. 

It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of numerous things, this city. You’ll find people dressed to their nines, briskly walking towards their destinations; and you’ll find people in tatters, wandering around, unsure of their next meal. There are large, striking pieces of architecture both old and new; and then there are quaint little stalls and temples that have stood there since time immemorial. You’ll find fancy, high-end pubs and right next door, you’ll find tiny old stalls selling the yummiest dosas. It has an old world charm while being set so much into the future. 

For me, the city is much more than it’s once perfect (now dwindling) weather. Much more than the crazy nightlife. Much more than it’s crazy traffic. It’s the yummy vada at Veena Stores. It’s the beautiful sarees at Rangachari. It’s the hustle and bustle of Avenue Road. It’s the breathtaking plays at Rangashankara. It’s the great beer at Brewsky. It’s the warm cups of chai at Chai Point. It’s the long walks in Lalbagh. It’s the fragrance of books at Gangarams. And I can go on and on about how this city manages to play with my emotions. 

Bangalore is the only city I’ve lived in, all my life. And as much as I love to travel, I love coming back home to this city. It has made me the person I am today. For me, Bangalore is an emotion. Bangalore is home. 

A few of my favourite things

First things first. CHAI. I absolutely love chai. Be it 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM. Something about how inclusive the beverage is; it appeals to me, makes me feel warm and fuzzy, and of course, the taste of a hot cup of chai is absolute bliss. Plus, it’s versatility facilitates conversations right from politics to fashion trends. It’s a little bit of heaven, chai. 

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to a couple other things I absolutely love.

Travelling is another thing I thoroughly enjoy. Yes, I’m a cliched millennial in numerous ways, and this is one among them. And hey, as much as I love Pondicherry as the next guy, I also love to go to less-touristy cities like Cuttack, Tirunelveli and such. And like anyone who enjoys travelling, I want to visit every corner of the country (and the world!).

Moving on. I can’t express my love for chaat enough. In fact, I love food in general, but that’s too vast a topic. So chaat. It’s one food category that is so uniquely Indian. Plus, there’s something for everyone. And need we talk about the crazy innovation it allows for? 

Not chaat. But this picture rightly articulates my love for food.

Indigo, Ikkat, Ajrakh, Mangalgiri, Phulkari, Kanjeevaram, Banarasi. I immensely adore the classic Indian fabrics. Be it a beautiful saree or a vibrant dupatta, these fabrics suit all occassions. For me, it’s an added advantage that my mum has an exquisite collection of the most impeccable sarees. 

Lastly, reading. There have been a couple books that I came across this past year. And they have changed my life, to say the least. There’s something very powerful about the written word. It compells and inspires you to stop and reflect about the choices you’re making in life. I came across a bunch of books written by Indian authors like Arundhati Roy, Anand Neelakantan, Devdutt Patnaik, and Amitav Ghosh who have all produced some thought provoking literature. Reading is one skill I’d endorse and urge everyone to develop.

Thoughts on Patriarchy 

I’m not a small town girl. I was never asked to discontinue my studies because I’m a girl. I was never forced to learn to cook and clean. Yes, patriarchy still is my problem. 

Growing up, my mom has always been the big decision maker at home. And she’s always been fiercely independent and ensured to teach her daughters to be independent as well. However, I haven’t always been immune to the deep rooted problems of Patriarchy. 

In retrospect, although my mother regrets saying it, there have been numerous times when she said “If I had a son, this wouldn’t be the case….he would’ve done that….he would’ve done this”. And these statements she made have affected me strongly. I have gotten over it by convincing myself that although my mom’s actions might suggest otherwise, she was brought up in the 60’s and 70’s. And this was a time when a woman was considered incomplete without the existence of a male figure in her life, a time when having a son was considered having supreme power, a time when women were not allowed to make life choices freely. 

Granted, we’ve come a long way in trying to step away from this supressive way of societal norms. But the ideology of patriarchy is so deep rooted, we have a really long way ahead. 

There are a few things that both women and men of this generation and the previous generation say and do that feeds this ideology. 

1. The assignment of chores in the household based on the concept of “Man of the house” and “Woman of the house” baffles me. They’re chores. They just need to get done. Man or woman. Period. 

2. Educating a woman and letting her make her own career choices, only to finally give it up and get married at 22 or 23 because a “well settled” 29 year old male is available is STILL REINFORCEMENT OF PATRIARCHY.  Statements like “Oh he’ll take care of you” is not the reassurance we’re looking for. Give us some time to show you that we can take care of ourselves. 

3. Patriarchy deeply affects men too. A majority of men around the age of 25 are under extreme pressure to find a well paying job so that they can be deemed fit to “support a girl”. Give them a chance to explore career options and experiment. 

4. Need we revisit the preposterous “boys don’t cry….boys don’t get hurt” concept? We as society, need to stop teaching people how to feel. We’re humans. We’re capable of feeling. Let go and show it. Laugh, cry; just emote. (And hey, if remaining stoic is your thing, go for it. You do you, human!)

5. Another huge problem I have faced and have seen most of my girl friends face is body shaming on the premise of “Which boy is going to find you attractive?”. If a boy needs to find my appearance attractive before he can fathom a conversation with me, no thank you.

There are so many more problems that I have faced at the hands of patriarchy. Both directly and indirectly. And it’s been a struggle. I strongly feel that we neither require patriarchy, nor matriarchy to function smoothly. It’s coexistence. Surely we can do that as equals?