Saturday, November 20, 2010

Travel Essay: Vienna

The drone of early morning traffic trickles in through the thick double-paned kitchen windows and into our apartment in the heart of Vienna. I hear buses, cars and a couple of motorbikes, usual fare for a modern city. Then, distinct from the mix, I hear a familiar sound from a long time ago—the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves. In an instant I’m transported to my grandmother’s house in Mysore, to the sounds of jataka gaadis packed with children going off to school.

The memory propels me to look outside. I leave the water for the tea to boil on the stove and open the windows wide.

A shopkeeper spruces up the display case
in a candy/pastry shop.
There are no bars or screens and I can lean out far enough to see the ends of the street on both sides. Crisp sunshine bathes the multi-storeyed building across from our window. The air is fresh and holds the promise of pleasant weather. Stylishly dressed women walk briskly on the pavement, jackets and sweaters swinging on one arm. The owner of the art store downstairs rolls up the shutters. A couple of taxi cabs roll by and then the horse carriage comes into view.

The driver, sitting straight on his perch, guides his two horses and the carriage between rows of parked cars on either side of the street. A bus and two cars follow slowly behind, their drivers seemingly patient, their pace forced but stately. Then, as the carriage slows for cross-traffic at the intersection to my right, one of the horses decides to answer nature’s call and deposits copious amounts of waste in the middle of the street.

The sight rings a discordant note in the otherwise harmonious tableau outside the window, only because the street is otherwise spanking clean. The carriage continues on out of sight, as do the cars and the bus, leaving a messy street and making me wonder how the street manages to stay as clean as it does.

Half an hour later, I get my answer. An enormous machine slowly rumbles up the street, spraying water, scrubbing the street clean and scooping the mess right up into its bowels.

The new has figured out a way to live with the old.

When the Viennale, Vienna’s highly anticipated annual film festival (first held in 1960, this year will see the 48th event), lights up movie screens from 21 October-3 November, judges and film buffs new to the city are likely—in addition to settling disagreements on their way to crowning the winners—to notice one or two or 10 such discordant notes. They are bound to discover, however, that in a city so comfortable in its skin, such dissonance merely forms happy interludes in the mellifluous magnum opus that is Vienna.

Nowhere is the push-and-pull of the old and the new more obvious than at St Stephen’s Square (Stephansplatz) in the old city. The jaw-drop inspiring 12th century church of the Gothic variety dominates the pedestrian-only city centre. Straight across the cobbled street stands Hasshaus, a modern edifice of the shiny glass variety, whose catoptric facade offers a resplendent mirror image of the church.

Vienna’s most visually striking (and popular) example of departure from the norm, however, is Hundertwasser-Krawinahaus, an apartment complex designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Nestled in a quiet street off Weissgerberstrasse, amid street upon street of identical, monochromatic, linear buildings, the apartments of Hundertwasser-Krawinahaus are a world apart. They appear to be stacked whimsically one on top of the other—we don’t detect straight lines other than in the window frames—the walls and pillars coloured in as if by a child. The interiors are closed to visitors (a note on the front door politely explains how discombobulating it is to have strangers traipsing through their homes), but a few blocks away, Kunst Haus Wien, a museum, is a visual and tactile journey into Hundertwasser’s philosophy. The floor is bumpy and uneven; the walls are wavy; colours seem to explode, rarely ending in straight lines.

Hundertwasser-Krawinahaus confirms what we have been feeling ever since our jaunt around the old city on the day of our arrival in Vienna—this city likes to have fun. And it doesn’t hesitate to call upon monuments and other historical landmarks in its pursuit of modern versions of entertainment.

So what if Vienna is not on the sea? Its denizens are not about to pass up a day at the beach. The 21km-long Danube Island, the by-product of Vienna’s elaborate flood protection system, is the go-to place for summer fun.

For year-round fun, the city boasts an expansive fairground for children and adults alike, the Prater. The century-old Giant Ferris Wheel which has come to symbolize Vienna dominates the Prater. Not only is it not cooped up in a museum, it still functions well enough to offer rides. More than 60m off the ground as you reach the highest point, it offers a bird’s-eye view of the tile-roofed, chimneyed, steeple-chased inner city, the glass and steel high-rises and the apartment buildings in the outer reaches.

At Schönbrunn Palace, the magnificent summer residence of the Hapsburgs—itself an ode to the good life—we find workmen constructing a massive stage with floodlights and speakers for a concert the next day. Inside, the private rooms, salons, galleries and reception rooms are a remarkably well-preserved window into the life of an empire that lasted six centuries. They offer a view of a monarchy appreciative and encouraging of the arts—Mozart performed for Maria Theresa in the Hall of Mirrors when he was six years old.

Schonbrunn Palace

The gardens and the expansive grounds of the palace

Perhaps one may find warm, welcoming cafés, lively city centres, rich museums and palaces or a prolific artistic legacy in other world cities. But to find them all, and to find a love of tradition, an enthusiasm for innovation and a hankering for fun, all in one neatly wrapped brown paper package tied up with strings, is a tall order indeed.

The essay was originally published in Mint. The trip planner (by Ahmed Raza Khan of Mint) is here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, by Sylvia Plath

A few weeks ago we were at the library and I came across a book by Sylvia Plath in the children's section. I had never heard of Sylvia Plath writing books for kids. Out of curiosity, I picked it up. The jacket was bright and colorful with a happy-looking kid and his cat populating the front cover. The jacket blurb said that the book had remained "undiscovered for years within the Plath collection at Indiana University..." and that "Parents and scholars alike will also cherish this glimpse into the mind of a literary genius."

So did Calvin. He wrote about it for his book review column. Here's the review in its entirety.
Max Nix is seven years old and lives in a town called Winkelburg with his huge family. Everybody in Winkelburg has a suit. Every body except Max.

One day, a gigantic box arrives in the mail for the Nix family. Inside the box is a … bright mustard-yellow suit! First Max's father tries it on because it looks about his size. But he is a banker. No banker wears a suit like that! It's too yellow and bright.

With a little bit of stitching from Mama Nix, Max's eldest brother, Paul, tries it on. He says that he'll wear this suit for skiing the next day, but he changes his mind because he thinks his friends will laugh at him as the suit is too yellow.

This goes on and on. Each brother has a reason to not want the suit. Mama Nix has to keep on snipping and cutting at the edges until Max gets the suit. Max is very happy. He has his own suit! He says he will wear the suit "today and tomorrow and the day after that."

Everywhere Max goes and everything Max does, the suit is perfect for it. If the suit gets wet, it dries up immediately. If hay gets stuck to it, it's OK because hay is yellow too. Not a single person in Winkelburg has ever seen such a suit. If Max slides on ice, the suit doesn't tear because the cloth is extra-tough. If rain falls on it, the water slides right off. If anything happens to the suit, it doesn't matter because the suit is conditioned for everything. Max has the perfect suit!

The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner, is vivid and interesting. Sylvia Plath describes each of the brothers' situations in detail. Emil, one of Max's brothers, for example, likes riding the toboggan. But none of the other tobogganers wears such a bright suit. Emil thinks he'll look like a big show-off if he wears it.

It's a feel-good story. You feel happy when Max finally gets his suit. In the beginning, the book starts out with Max desperately wanting a suit, a suit that has uses all year round.

But I have questions about the book. Who sent the Nix family the package with the suit, and why did they? If it was meant for Max, why did they send it in such a big size? I'm inferring that this was a big set up and that the package was originally for Max. His parents probably sent it to themselves, and Paul and all the other brothers were forced to give the suit to Max and Mama Nix did all that cutting and snipping on purpose. I think they wanted it to be a big surprise for Max because he was the only one without a suit and because they loved him.

If you like a lovely, warm story, this is absolutely, one hundred percent, the book for you.

Article first published as Book Review: The It-Doesn't-Matter-Suit by Sylvia Plath on Blogcritics.
The-It-Doesn't-Matter Suit makes for a fantastic first foray into Sylvia Plath's writings. When Calvin gets to read her poetry, how wonderful for him to be able to recall this heart-warming story he'd already read years earlier! She has written other books for children as well, as I've now discovered - Collected Children's Stories and The Bed Book.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Advertisements and Parenting: A Little Bit of Help From an Unlikely Source

I am not a big fan of blaming television or video games for kids gone wild. Nor do I expect sports stars to be role models for my children. I don't believe that schools are solely responsible for making sure our children are well-educated. I don't blame advertisers or broadcast companies for airing enticing ads for sugary junk in the middle of what are touted to be educational programs.

What I believe is that parents have a big role to play in the lives of their children. Parents do have the responsibility, and, if they choose to use them, the resources and ability to guide their children in a way that does not let all those extraneous factors have more influence than the parents themselves do.

But I will be the first to say that it sure does not hurt to have some help from the inside. A couple of months ago, Businessweek carried an article about Alex Bogusky, an adversiting mogul whose biggest client was Burger King and who had a change of heart:
By June it was clear Bogusky wasn't just leaving the industry, he was turning on it. While most of his peers were at the annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, he was advocating on his blog for a ban on advertising to kids. He named names, citing McDonald's (MCD) and Burger King, still a CP+B client. Then he sent the post by e-mail to Porter in Cannes. Porter has spoken about Bogusky and the piece just once, to Advertising Age: "I told him it was well written and made some great points, but I also said he needs to make a choice because [it's not compatible with the business we're in]. And the next morning he sent me a note saying, 'I resigned like you recommended.' "

In mid-July he interviewed Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick—and What We Can Do About It, and focused on genetically modified soybeans. "God created all these seeds but never got around to monetizing that s—t. God's a bad capitalist. So we said, let us show you how it's done," he said, to the bemusement of his guest. "We have a right to critique a food system created by a corporation....What if things don't turn out well and your kids come to you and ask: 'What did you do to try to stop this?' "

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After School Care in Bangalore

I know day care is a big concern in Bangalore for those families in which both parents work and who don't have family there. A quick post to tell you about a new after school care center called Spectrum (via Sue). Here's their blurb and address:
Spectrum is an After School Care Centre where children nurtured through holistic development, leaving parents worry free to concentrate on their careers. Spectrum also has an Activity Centre and provision for academic support.

#213, 9th Main, HRBR Layout, Bangalore, India, 560043
I don't have any personal experience with this center. I'm just passing this information on for those who are interested. Needless to say, please investigate the center and their services and make sure you are comfortable with them before signing up.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Update on Devan's Bone Marrow Transplant Search

Update to this post below, from Time Magazine:

Devan's doctor informed the family a cord blood match had turned up. It's not a perfect solution, but Devan's doctor says it's good enough. Blood from the umbilical cord is rich in blood-forming cells, and cord blood doesn't have to match quite as closely as marrow from an adult. In the U.S. registry, compared to the over eight million potential marrow donors, there are only about 160,000 cord blood units. Tatlow urged pregnant women to donate their cord blood: "For pregnant women, your baby's umbilical cord, which is otherwise thrown away, can save a life. It just seems like a very simple thing to do for the greater good of mankind."

Devan's ordeal isn't over. He still needs to go through weeks of chemotherapy and then a dangerous transplant and recovery period. "It's pretty tough as a parent to see our own child facing this road ahead," Tatlow says. "But this is a lifeline for us."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Activities in the DC Area for Children

A quick post to point to a few interesting activities for children in the DC area.

  • Registration is open for German language classes at the Goethe Institut. Info here.
  • Acting for Young People's summer program is open for registration. Info here.
  • The India International School's language, music and dance classes are continuing. Info here.
  • Inf0rmation about children's summer programming at Wolf Trap is available here.

Update (June 15, 2010) - The German lessons at the Goethe Institut are targeted at adults, not children. Thanks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A 4-year-old needs a bone marrow transplant; the situation is dire

I'm copying here a note circulated by Bloomberg on behalf of their colleague. If you have never registered with the Bone Marrow Registry, please consider doing it. It's a very simple process. This story puts a face to all those people that are waiting for a match. Due to his family ancestry (1/4 South Indian, 3/4 European) Devan's potential match could come from someone who is of mixed Asian and European descent.

Our colleague Indira's only child, Devan, needs your help. He’s four and has relapsed with a rare form of high-risk leukemia. His doctors believe his life depends on a bone marrow transplant that they hope to do after 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

What is difficult is finding a donor match – 1 in 200,000 in his case, we've been told - and we haven't found one yet. You or someone you know might be the person who can save Devan’s life. All you need to do is a simple cheek swab to find out. The organizations below will send you a kit. Donating is easy – these days it’s much like a simple blood draw.

1.PLEASE, REGISTER NOW. The test is easy & free, but processing takes time (10 weeks in the UK), and Devan doesn’t have much. Register below.

2.PLEASE FORWARD THIS ON TO OTHERS. Anyone can be a match, but those who are mixed Indian/Caucasian have an even better chance of helping Devan. Please, please, cut and paste this message to strip out email addresses and forward this to everyone you can. By forwarding this email to at least 10 people now, we can spread the word to 50,000 possible donors within 48 hours.

3. VISIT DEVAN’S SITE - - we will be including details on how to organize your own drive, valuable information on leukemia and FAQ’s on registering and donation.


=> In the US go to Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry, (you need to
be 60 or under)
=> In the UK go to the Anthony Nolan Trust,
(you’ll need to be 40 or under)
=> In other countries go to Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide,
index.php?id=addresses_members&no_cache=1 Finally, if you’re pregnant, your
cord blood is particularly valuable for helping children like Devan - please
look here to learn more:

Thank you so much for helping.

Update: June 3, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010

Blog on Hiatus

This blog will be silent for a while. I hope to be back soon and I look forward to catching up with you then on your blogs and in comment boxes. In the meantime, feel free to cursor your way through the archives.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Blog Admin - Comment Replies

A quick note about replies to comments.

I love reading comments, especially the thoughtful ones that keep a conversation going. And the way to keep a conversation going (as long as it will organically go) is to reply to them. When I first started blogging in India, it was apparent that the convention was to reply to the comments on your blog and on your post, i.e., if someone commented on one of my posts, I would leave a new comment on the same post in reply.

Then when started reading a lot of American, British and Australian blogs, it was equally apparent that replies to my comments came in other ways. I found them landing in my inbox. Bloggers would read my comments on their posts and instead of leaving a reply via another comment on their post, they would write to my e-mail address and keep the conversation going that way.

When I was able to identify which blogger did what, I tried to do both - leave replies on my post and send e-mails in reply to those bloggers that did the same for comments on their blogs. Pretty soon, though, it all became hairy and I was doing both regularly or neither. Mostly neither.

Hence this note, particularly for those bloggers who reply to comments via e-mail. I love receiving your replies by e-mail (it spares me having to check your comments box for replies), but it seems to me that replying to comments on my post is what will work best for this blog. I like it, and it also has the virtue of having questions (that other readers might have as well) and answers in one place. If you are used to receiving replies via e-mail there's a handy-dandy blogger feature that allows you to receive comments on a particular post via e-mail. You just have to click a button and never have to come back to the same post for follow-up comments. I hope you will use it.

No matter what, thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bangle Shop

Long, long ago, in villages and towns across India, the 'bangle man' roamed the streets. A cloth knapsack slung on his shoulders, he called out his wares - glass bangles in resplendent colors, some plain, some decorated with gold or silver paint - and made the rounds of his beat perhaps once a month, but more frequently during the marriage or festival seasons.

Inside the knapsack - fashioned out of a large cotton cloth whose four ends were knotted together - the bangles would be strung on long jute strings tied up at the ends to make a garland of the bangles. Many such colorful garlands nestled together in the knapsack.

The soles of his feet cracked from walking miles and miles on dry, dusty roads in worn out sandals or in bare feet, his head wrapped in a towel to ward off the heat of the sun, his teeth stained from years of chewing tobacco, the one-man, walking, talking bangle shop was a welcome sight nonetheless, his sing-song call a cause for great excitement especially if you'd been waiting for a delivery.

Women-folk (like my mom-in-law's mother, for example) hardly ever left the house, even to go to the market. They got their vegetables and grains from their farm and nearly everything else was home-delivered, including saris. Each family would have their favorite street hawker, one who knew the family's needs and would make special trips to his suppliers make sure he had what his customers needed. The same for bangles.

Most homes had a porch, screened with mesh or metal bars, where the bangle man and the women-folk would settle down to pore over the bangles, trying them on for size, flipping their wrists back and forth to check out the feel of the bangles, the clinking sounds providing a rhythm to their conversations. It was more than likely that neighbors would gather together on one porch, saving the bangle man from having to pack and unpack his knapsack over and over.

An old home with a screened porch

This little interlude was a welcome break for the women from their household chores and a welcome respite for the bangle man, a chance to rest his aching feet and take the load off his shoulders.

I wish I had a photo of one for myself and to show you because these days, the bangle man is a dead breed, especially in cities and the larger towns. Although street hawkers can still be found in the older residential neighborhoods, their wares are limited to vegetables in most cases.

The bangle shops have taken over. Even a small shop is able to carry a much larger variety than a hawker ever could. Street-side shops, such as the ones below, are quite popular in Bangalore.

And then there are ones like Bhavani Bangle Shop, which is a shop of the bone fida variety and is spread across four floors in Jayanagar, one of the busiest commercial areas of Bangalore. In all the years I lived in Bangalore, I dissed that shop. I grew up hating the thought of having to wear bangles or bracelets. Now it's a different story. Every time I've been back in the past few years, I've visited that shop, trying on and buying what a few years ago I thought was junk.

In the picture above, the owner receives boxes of new supplies for his shop.

The rows and rows of bangles and ear rings are mesmerizing. They are all costume jewellery, many of the designs (even those of the 'bindis' or the dots worn on the forehead) inspired by the heavily bejewelled heroines and vamps of the Indian soaps that rule the airwaves at all times of day and night.

Costume jewellery has caught on so well that this shop even offers to put together an entire set (bangles, necklaces, ear rings and other accessories) that will match your sari or other dress you might be planning to wear for a special event. I'd never heard of such a service before!

Most interesting of all, have you noticed something? The sales people are all men. A holdover from the bangle-man days, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers as Seen From the Air

ABC News has obtained aerial photographs of the collapse of the Twin Towers taken in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. They were taken by Det. Greg Semendinger of the NY Police Aviation Unit, the only photographer allowed in the airspace around that time, according to the NY Times.

They make for stunning visuals. All of my visual memory of that day seems to contain images of the towers seen from the bottom up, of debris falling all around the people fleeing the carnage of building parts falling, of ash falling.

These pictures offer an entirely new perspective, especially when grouped together as aerial pictures - the ash looks like it's spreading sideways and up, not falling.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Hurt Locker: A Review

The Hurt Locker is the tale of a trio of soldiers that makes up the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), a bomb disposal squad, attached to an army regiment on rotation in Iraq. Of the three, Staff Sgt. William James (played by James Renner, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year) functions as the bomb-disposal technician, Specialist Owen Eldridge (played by Brian Geraghty) and Sgt. JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie) serve as look-outs, scouting the area for threats (other than the bomb which obviously everyone is very aware of) and keeping it clear so the expert can focus on the job at hand and there is as little human casualty as possible.

The movie starts ominously, with the nail-biting suspense of the team heading out to diffuse a bomb. Just the visuals of the team preparing to approach the bomb in full protective paraphernalia - including the act of putting on the elaborate bomb suit - set your pulses racing. Of course, the fact that the very first outing goes horribly wrong and the team has a dead bomb-disposal expert on its hands (Guy Pearce in a short appearance) does nothing to dissipate the tension.

Thus it transpires that the EOD must now find a replacement, which arrives in the form of a barely-restrained ball of energy known as Staff Sgt. William James. We soon find out that James is a strange animal - he courts danger with a vengeance, does not heed sensible advice, likes to get into violent fist fights in the barracks with his fellow soldiers, and has difficulty adjusting to situations that do not involve tons of explosives, nails and a tangle of colorful wires.

James' proclivities cause tension within the team, which has only a few days left on its rotation and the two original members want nothing more than to finish up and go home to their families. How the team learns to work together and comes to respect James' uncommon ways and his leadership forms the rest of the movie.

People who've been in the military might find aspects of the movie wrong from a factual point of view (like such and such gun was not in use during the year in which the movie is set), but The Hurt Locker does a stupendous job of conveying to the layperson the horrors and the vagaries of dealing with explosive devices - which has become an unavoidable aspect of war - and the grit, dedication and determination of a band of soldiers.

The title of the movie refers to a figurative place of intense physical or emotional pain. The film succeeds in opening a window into that dark and little-known space, and into the psyche of a person who is very, very good at a job that most of us would never entertain even for a second as a viable career choice; it shines a light on a situation in which showing even the slightest bit of humanity might bring swift retribution (such as when James - who has left behind a wife and a toddler son at home - befriends a young boy near the army base and a few days later, in a particularly gory scene, finds an nearly identical boy killed and wired with an explosive that James must diffuse by inserting his hands into the boy's dead body). Mind games played at a dangerously high level of intensity, the stakes ratcheted up so high the protagonists (and the viewers) can barely hear themselves think.

We might think we know something about roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices given how much of it we hear in the news every single day. But what do we really know? What do we know about the devious minds that build bombs to extricate maximum damage? About how any one of the innocent-looking onlookers, that you are trying desperately to protect, might hold the trigger that sets off the bomb? What do we know about how to tell who the enemy is or who might be the victim? Do we really know what kind of human being it takes to willingly walk into a trap knowing fully well that one wrong move could blow him and everyone else within a radius of a few hundred feet into smithereens?

The film ably crafts the message that in urban warfare all bets are off, that the only rule in modern-day combat is that there are no rules, and draws the viewer deep into the characters' tension-filled world. From the moment the team hears of a possible explosive device that must be diffused, as their truck winds its way through dangerous streets and alleys, as the look-outs scour their field of vision for suspicious movements, as the technician makes his way to the wires and the odd-looking lump on the rocky, dusty ground, we see every aspect of the scene from their perspective and feel their nerves and desperation. The reaction is visceral. I wouldn't be surprised if you jumped out of your seat once in a while or found yourself trying to brush off the dirt and grime off your clothes as you walked out of the theater.

Before The Hurt Locker I had never heard of its director, Kathryn Bigelow, and I was rather surprised to see Ralph Fiennes in a small role as the leader of a band of British mercenaries (which the protagonists end up fighting alongside in the middle of the desert), but apparently she is a prolific movie maker with a cult following, and they had both worked together in Strange Days as director and actor early in their careers.

The movie is certainly deserving of its nine Oscar nominations and with a win at the Directors' Guild Awards, it looks like Bigelow is well on her way to a Directors' Oscar as well. And I'm on my way to mining Netflix for more Bigelow movies.

The movie's IMDb page. Image from.

Seen on the street: Snow art

Gotta love the wicked sense of humor that produced this! Can you make out the tiny flush handle on the left?

"Building a snow man is so boring," the man said. Yup! When you can build something like this, why settle for a snow man?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Blizzard of 2010 aka Snowmageddon

The snow came down thick and fast and wet. If you didn't keep up with it, it got heavy as the minutes ticked by. Fluffy and light on top, watery (later icy) at the bottom.

Just beyond the windows, the kitchen was warm and inviting.

We shoveled and shoveled. And shoveled. At least five times on the deck in the back and four times out front.

This morning, the sun was out!

Our fence grew a few inches overnight.

Winter is here, but spring seems so far away.

Icicles cling on to the roof edge for dear life.

A jet zooms across a nearly cloudless, blue sky this morning.

The sidewalk looks like a tunnel.

We lost the top of our holly tree to the weight of the snow.

I have a feeling we'll remember this for a long time.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Karadi Tales' Will You Write With Me? Contest

From my inbox:
Karadi Tales, India’s pioneer and leading producer of children’s audio-books announces the ‘Will You Write With Me?’ contest. Here’s a chance to win a publishing contract with one of India’s foremost children’s publishers! The three best entries will be published in an audio-book narrated by the inimitable Jaaved Jaaferi. The winners will sign a publishing contract with Karadi Tales.

For details on the contest and to read the first half of the story, visit This contest is open to everyone! Entries must be received on or before 28 February 2010. Email your entries to
The first part of the story they want entrants to complete is pretty intriguing. If you intend to enter the contest, all the best to you!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Akbar and Birbal by Amita Sarin

I was at one of my favorite book haunts in Bangalore, looking for books for my children when I came across a book titled Akbar and Birbal. It was on the shelf with other novels and non-fiction books targeted at teens and young adults, but it seemed like it would be a good introduction to a part of Indian history for my nine-year-old. I added it to the growing stash in my arms and gave it to him along with a book from the Lemony Snicket series and a couple of Ruskin Bond books.

As expected, he picked up the Lemony Snicket book first and later in the day moved on to Akbar and Birbal. I could tell he was tentative, not really sure what it was all about, but he gave it a shot. Half an hour later, he had not put the book down, which was a good sign. When he was done with it, he did not stop raving about it for days, recounting parts of the book that he liked best. He liked it enough to want to write about it. The indented text that follows below is his review of Akbar and Birbal. It was first published in Blogcritics Magazine for his own feature (!), A Kid With a View.

[Start] Akbar, the emperor, and Birbal, his top minister, were wandering through the streets of Agra disguised as ordinary men. They heard the yelling of a woman from inside a house. They both thought she had been screaming at her child. But to their surprise a man came sprinting out of the house. Akbar was furious. He could not believe that men in his kingdom were cowards. Birbal disagreed and said that while Akbar was a great king, men like the man who was running away from his wife were ordinary men and had to be kind to their wives or get kicked out of the house.

Akbar and Birbal argued for days and days. Finally Akbar called a meeting in his palace gardens. He invited all the married men in Agra. He then asked the men who listened to their wives to move to the left and the men who did not to move to the right. One man moved to the right. All the rest moved to the left.

Akbar told Birbal that he wanted to reward the man that had moved right. But Birbal asked the man why he had moved to the right. The man said that he did so because his wife told him to stay away from crowds!

Birbal had won the argument with Akbar. This was no surprise because Birbal's wit always outsmarted Akbar, and Birbal did it in the most clever way imaginable.

Akbar, the great Mughal emperor, lived from 1542 to 1605. He thought of himself as an incredible emperor, which is what he was. Birbal lived from 1528 to 1586. He was Akbar's most trusted advisor and a wise ambassador who found a way around war. Birbal helped Akbar see through problems that he could not fully understand. Birbal was an outstanding minister both to his people and his king.

Amita Sarin has narrated this book elegantly and in a funny way. I found myself smiling or laughing at the end of each story. The author has sneaked in some historical facts along with the anecdotes. The way Birbal solved problems stunned me.

This is a joyous book. Anyone can read it because it is a fantastic swirl of Indian history, Indian ways of life and hilarious descriptions of events.

Unbelievably, I thought this was going to be some boring history book my mom bought for me. Finally, I learned my lesson. Never judge a book by its cover or its blurb! [End]

I haven't read the book myself, yet. But needless to say, I am a fan already!

Update following Amy's (She Writes) comment: The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Flipkart (for readers in India).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Children's Summer Theater Workshop in the Washington, D.C. Area

From my inbox:

Adventure Theatre Announces the Summer Musical Theatre Workshop Productions Adventure Theatre, the longest-running children’s theatre in the Washington, D.C., area is kicking-off its 31st Annual Summer Musical Theatre Workshop for children ages 6-15 with an exciting line-up of children’s productions including Disney’s Aladdin Jr., Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids, The Magical Land of Oz and Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum*, each facilitated by professionally trained Directors, Choreographers, and Musical Directors.

The Summer Musical Theatre Workshop is a daytime workshop in which children audition for one of four age-appropriate productions, and will then participate in two full weeks of show rehearsals, music and dancing which culminate in a full-scale production of each show on the Adventure Theatre stage. Students will also attend Adventure Theatre’s main stage performance If You Give a Pig a Pancake, ride Glen Echo Park’s carousel, participate in a talent show, receive a commemorative t-shirt and enjoy a cast party.


Adventure Theatre’s Summer Musical Theatre Workshops run Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm, June 14th to August 27th. Before and aftercare options are available.

Session 1 (mini session)- June 14 – 18
Session 2 – June 21 - July 2
Session 3 – July 5- July 16
Session 4 – July 19 - July 30
Session 5 – August 2 - August 13
Session 6 - August 16 - August 27

For more information or to inquire about tuition prices, please contact Adventure Theatre’s Summer Musical Theatre Workshop Program Coordinator Selena Anguiano at 301-634-2275 or Also, visit for more information on the Summer Musical Theatre Workshop and other educational programs at Adventure Theatre.
It's time to plan for summer already!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Went Home and Came Back Home

I'm at my brother's desk at home in Bangalore, hogging his computer to check e-mails and check on what's going on in DC, making sure the house is still standing after that whopper of a snow storm (the house was still standing thanks to some truly fantastic neighbors). A dear friend comes online and as we begin chatting. At one point, I tell her I miss home. Radio silence for a few seconds as she digests that line.

"You're home and you're missing home? That's strange," she says.

Yes, I was home and I was missing home.

I was with my parents and my brother and my sis-in-law and nephew and loving every minute of it. A set of distinct memories that doesn't surface any other time made itself available. We laughed at all the jokes we've been laughing at for ... ahem... many, many years. We ate all the foods that we've grown up eating, feasted on the gossip that makes sense to no one else but us. But in the midst of it all, I missed my own kitchen and my bed and all the things my eyes can rest on when I'm in my own space.

So there - or here - I am. One foot there and one foot here. On the cusp.

But still, it's great to be back ... home. I hope you all had a good last few weeks and I wish the coming weeks and months treat you and your loved ones well.