Book Review: Winter Garden

The story of Winter Garden is something that builds up bit by bit. It is a story within a story and is pretty slow at first. It’s about two sisters, Meredith and Nina, and their mom, Anya who has been very cold to them all her life, and they couldn’t understand the reason for the same. When their father is on the deathbed, he takes a promise from the daughters that they will listen to Anya’s fairy tale in detail and try to know more about their mom.

After his death, Nina cajoles Anya to tell them the story and slowly but surely they uncover that their mom is actually Vera and has a past that they know nothing about. Vera’s family and her kids had witnessed pretty hostile situation during the Second World War. They come to know how Vera dealt with the war situation and lost her sister, mother, and son under extreme circumstances. I got very emotional at one point when the story turns very gloomy when Vera details out how they went through life without food and how she even fed her own blood from her finger to her son, whom she couldn’t save from the clutches of death. That’s the reason why later in life she was very interested in cooking and always used to cook much more than what was required. She had seen very bad days in life.

This book beautifully illustrates why it is important to know your mother’s past to be able to understand your own bearings in this world. Indeed, I felt that Vera was a very strong woman who did her level best to tide over the disturbing war conditions but sadly the impact of that experience on her life was so profound that she could not get involved and participate in her daughter’s childhood. The mother daughter relationship though is presented in a warm manner and one does feel that Vera should have disclosed the secret much before to her daughters. But it all comes together towards the end.

The latter part of the book is actually a sad account of the extreme living conditions that Vera had to face during the war. Later in the story she does come out of her shell and starts interacting with her daughters in a friendly and open manner. I would say it was a beautiful read towards the end. In real life, some moms are very communicative with their children while others just go through the chores without much thought. But a healthy mom-daughter relationship is required to be successful in life in general. This book drives home this point as well.

Birding trip to Surajpur Bird Sanctuary

Before I go ahead and tell you how much I enjoyed birding at Surajpur, I would like to stress that reconnecting with nature has both physical and psychological impact that is good for human health and well-being. Keeping that in mind, it is time to introspect if your outings are just restricted to closed spaces. If that is the case, you need to get some fresh air too! In times of smoke and pollution all around and the air quality index shooting off the roof, a morning visit to a bird sanctuary will help calm your senses and will prepare you to take on life as it is. Though to be frank, I was myself coaxed to be a part of this birding trip by hubby and my daughter.

We started early around 6 am and reached Greater Noida in around one and a half hour. The parking was almost full and people of the birding group that we are a part of were already there. It was cold but pleasant and we started the walk into the forest-like space. A narrow ‘pagdandi’ helped us keep track of the direction. We got to see many boards with details of the birds that we could find in the wetland vicinity.

Soon enough, darling daughter started taking quick shots in succession with her camera to capture the birds idly resting or flying around. Some common sense rules of birding include maintaining silence so that the birds are not scared away. In addition, you need to wear clothes that act as a camouflage so you do not become the object of attention. The birds need your attention, not the other way round.

The walk was refreshing and we wanted to linger on for some more time. I would like to recommend this place and have also added a few pictures so that you get the overall idea of the place. So, wake up early and visit Surajpur to be one with nature!  

Udaipur Diaries

I had heard that Udaipur is called the city of the lakes and when I got there it was much more beautiful than what I had expected. It is also called the ‘Venice of the east’ due to its lakes, gardens, havelis, and forts. As we went to see the amazing picturesque spots in Udaipur, one thing became clear that this place was loved by the tourists and locals alike. This city was founded in the 15th century by Maharana Udai Singh on the advice of a sage he encountered on his hunting expedition to Lake Pichola. The sage bestowed his blessings that the palace the king builds will add to its prosperity. The boundary of lake Pichola was clean and free of litter which seemed to be an achievement in itself. Lake Pichola looks resplendent and you would like to instantly take a few pictures out there. This city has, for decades, inspired everyone from authors like Rudyard Kipling to filmmakers. The James Bond film Occopussy was extensively shot here.

So on the first day, after settling down at Lalit Laxmi Niwas palace, we headed off to the City Palace to witness the rich cultural history of Udaipur. It took us a couple of hours to take in the beautiful City palace after which we rested for some time in the Sunrise Restaurant. Then we headed off to the boat ride to the Jag Mandir, which is located at the center of Lake Pichola. The boat ride around the lake should not be missed as it will rejuvenate you beyond doubt. We also visited the Sajjangarh widelife sanctuary where we were able to spot many wild animals. There are golf carts functional there which will take you to the enclosures and bring you back to the fort exit. We also visited the Hathipole market where we did some shopping. But a word of caution here. Don’t trust the Uber drivers in Udaipur. If you want a cab, you should prefer Ola over Uber which are easily available. If you wish to explore the local restaurants, you can reach Chand pole by the cab and then walk up to Gangaur ghat. There are many good restaurants there. One of them is Café Boho, which we liked very much. The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming and the food is good too. Same is the case with Yummy Yoga which is a rooftop restaurant. But you will have to climb staircases so think before you plan to go there. We had our breakfasts at Padmini, which is at Laxmi Niwas and would like to add that the breakfast was good. However, when we tried out Aangan restaurant inside Laxmi niwas, it did not live up to the expectations.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Udaipur and then headed off to the next destination, Jodhpur.

Bijay Niwas – More than a stopover

If you are planning to drive to Udaipur from Delhi or Gurgaon by any chance, then stopping by in between might be required as it requires all of 11 hours to reach Udaipur from Gurgaon. Bijay Niwas Palace is an excellent stopover in between. It takes 7 hours to reach Bijay Nagar from Gurgaon and it would give you a much needed break. We reached Bijay Niwas around 5 pm in the evening and found to our surprise that we were the only guests there. We had booked a suite in advance and were elated to enter the grand haveli like setting. Bijay Niwas comes across as a quaint, little place where you can forget all your tensions and can relax in the lap of nature. Our room had a balcony attached to it where we spent a lazy afternoon eating pakoras and French fries and having our tea in the evening sun. The room had an old rustic feel to it as the switchboards and fans were quite old fashioned though all modern amenities were available in it. The whole palace had a central theme which was reflected in its tapestry and linen. It was last day of the year and we were amused to know that we will be treated with a bonfire out in the open. They also gave us an option to eat outside near the bonfire but we declined as the biting cold edged us to come inside once we took the warmth of the bonfire and enjoyed outside. It was a memorable day I would say as we were treated like royalty by the staff and served a wholesome three-course meal. We also spent some time near the swimming pool in the evening as it made us feel fresh and energetic. All in all it was a good decision to stop by at Bijay Niwas Palace and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have some peace and quiet for some time.

Book review: Ikigai

If you are still searching for your ikigai or raison de etre, it’s time to look deep within. This book deals with staying young as you age and finding your purpose in life. If you are struggling in life and have not yet comprehended the real reason you get up in the morning, this book is for you. It is even more relevant in present times when stress and pollution are resulting in further shortening of the human lifespan. It is like a breath of fresh air.

According to various surveys and studies, Japanese people live the longest and it is because they keep themselves busy doing what they love and never retire. Their keys to longevity are diet, exercise, finding a purpose in life and forming strong social ties.

If you want to jot down your reasons to live, a logotherapist can help you with it. Logotherapy pushes patients to consciously discover their life’s purpose which propels them to move forward and confront the obstacles of life. The book offers several case studies through which the basic principles of life have been explained.

The power of flow in everything you do has also been touched upon in this book though you can read Mihaly’s book “Flow” if you want to understand it in greater detail. Basically, there is no sure shot way to find the elusive happiness but if you can develop the ability to be in a state of flow, you will literally achieve happiness. The book outlines various strategies to achieve this flow or optimal experience.

This book also provides you with the experiences of supercenteniarians – people who live to 110 years or more. Last but not the least, the book provides 10 golden rules to achieve ikigai in life. If you are already feeling eager and excited, go grab a copy of the book and find your ikigai in life!

Screen time dilemma

Half-yearly exams are ending tomorrow and finally I have got some time to put my thoughts to words. More so, because the only exam left is the third language and darling daughter is well-equipped to deal with French on her own. I am not exactly a passive listener for other subjects and try to give my two cents in the time of need. And yes, Google baba is always there for us when we get stuck.

Moving on from the family brouhaha, today I would like to bring up the topic of ‘screen time’ which was almost absent in our times. These days, kids are engulfed with various categories of screen time, starting from television, tablet, laptop, and our very own favourite gadget, mobile! So one thing after another and there you go. Children do not have time to lift an eyelid or go play outside; remember physical activity is a must. They are glued to the available gadget whenever they can make fool of their parents. I have noticed that some parents in an attempt to complete their work at home themselves provide these amenities to their children. They will do their own work while the child happily watches youtube videos to the hilt. Even infants these days would not eat their food if they don’t see a specific program on the tablet which the poor bai holds right in front of their eyes…

Coming to the point, needless to say that I am not against the concept of screen time, but I feel that it should be restricted by the parents and should be available to the children under some form of supervision. It is for the experts to decide how much time should be spent by a child in front of the screen. It should not happen that the child’s eyesight suffers due to the neglect by the parents. That’s the reason why grandparents are again in demand these days as they can at least engage the child in a conversation and distract his/her mind from the screen.

There are parents who are giving a mobile to their children at a young age of 10 or 11 but it should be used under guidance. Similar should be the case for all other screens. Most importantly, there should be some emphasis on the family time when either everyone eats together or are engaged in an activity. What do you feel about this topic? How much screen time are your children getting?

General musings

This month saw the untimely passing away of two stalwarts of BJP, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. It is indeed a sad month for the party as these leaders are irreplaceable. The void that they have left cannot be filled by anyone easily. Both the leaders were very knowledgeable and had a large fan following across the nation. May their respective souls rest in peace.

Right now I am a little excited on hearing the news that our very own badminton player, P. V. Sindhu has won the World Championship. Incidentally, it is her mom’s birthday and she has dedicated her win to her mother. What a nice piece of news to end a Sunday with. Sindhu was trying to win for the last couple of times but could bag the medal this time round. Coach Gopichand must be on cloud nine and why not. It’s a big honour for the nation.

The situation in J & K is slowly returning to normal. It will take a lot of time though. Due to the militancy, the development could not take place but slowly people are realising that the government decision to scrape Article 370 was the right one. Recently read about a couple who left their high profile jobs to settle down in Laddakh and help in the overall development of the region. Thanks to them, solar panels have been installed in many schools and children are getting the education they so rightly deserve.

I have been reading a book or two and the next post would most probably be a book review. So, stay tuned!

Goodbye, Beetle

Beetle, as a pup

I lost my baby Beetle yesterday. He was a pet dachshund and lived his life to the fullest, being ill for about a month before moving away to a whole new world. I am still coming to terms with the fact that he is no more around and I can’t take his name often. I am remembering all the good moments spent with him one by one. He was always active and jovial at home. Outside of home, he used to become a bit territorial but we could manage that. I was his mom and he was closest to me though Harsha and Eva were also very close to him, something I witnessed when his last rights were being performed. All of us broke into tears as we shared a bond and Beetle was our family member.

What was the most funny thing about Beetle? Well, he had a liking for the carpet in the living room and used to dig right in its middle whenever he felt like. It was as if a tunnel was being built with all diligence. This breed, dachshund, are famous for their digging and hunting capabilities. Also, he had a very loud bark, enough to scare a non dog lover. He used to guard the gate with all his might and wouldn’t allow anyone to come in easily. I had to lock him up briefly before I could even talk to the person at my door. Whenever I felt low, he would come and sit with me and try to comfort me.

Beetle was a perfect apartment dog and stayed with us for close to 15 years. We will miss him terribly and the void cannot be filled by anyone else. I feel like I have lost someone very near and dear. Hope he finds even more loving parents in his next life. You will live with us in our memories, Beetle! Goodbye for now.

A fresh start

When I see the world from pure lenses,

There are many things that awaken my senses,

I see purity in a mother’s eye,

I hear the laughter in a child’s voice,

I see the nature which is pure and untouched,

I notice a person who is inspired and unperturbed,

I hear friendly voices over cups of coffee,

I see the sailing boats coming from deep seas,

I hear the chants that help meditate,

These are some words that we should replicate,

These things truly warm my heart,

And give my mind a fresh start!

Reflections

Whenever I close my eyes to relax,

It’s not always to sleep but to reflect,

It is necessary to reflect after a tough day,

To help understand what went well and what went awry,

Our reflections portray our inherent character,

So don’t get swayed if there is something to bother,

You get a chance to correct your misdoings,

And start with a prayer in the fresh mornings,

Every day you’ll learn a thing or two,

When you reflect without much ado,

So keep that smile on your lips,

And find your inner peace and the bliss.