Review: The Blogging Affair

The Blogging Affair
The Blogging Affair by Amitabh Manu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I came to know about this book from the author himself, when he sent me a note asking if I could do a review. The bibliophile that I am, I never say no to a book. So that’s how I came to read this book.

The book is a murder ‘mystery’ (I’ll explain the quotes) – a young girl is found murdered in her home and the immediate suspect is the married man with whom she was having an affair. There are 2 cops trying to unravel the mystery and to add to all this, there’s a parallel thread with posts from a blog, written by an anonymous blogger. Who confesses to killing a girl.

Think what you want, but that got me interested. But sadly, that’s pretty much the only interesting part in my entire read.

‘The Blogging Affair’ is an extremely shoddy, insipid and poorly written book. Not to mention, the complete lack of proper editing. Not to disparage the author or anything, but there are such gaping holes in the plot that I’m really surprised it even got published. Even if I ignore the typographical errors (there were loads and I cannot ignore them, to be honest – if you can’t take the effort to correct typos in a book, you have no business being an author or a publisher), I cannot overlook the non-existent plot and the extremely crappy writing.

What’s the matter with the plot? Let’s see – I figured out who the murderer was at Chapter 4, page 28. The book was 340 pages long. I’m not kidding. Hence, the quotes on ‘mystery’.

There are 3 PoVs in the book: the blogger (or the blog posts), the married man having the affair with the murdered woman and finally, the cops.

The blogger: The first 3-4 chapters of this PoV is all that’s needed in the book. The rest of the 10-15 odd ones can plain be deleted and it would not matter one teensy bit. And the big deal about this part is that we do not know if the blogger is the married man or not. Well, the pains the author has gone to to not use words that’ll give out the sex of the blogger (no he/him/she/her etc.) was like a big red indicator pointing to the fact that the blogger is a woman.

The married ‘sex-crazed’ (the author’s description) man: Total WTF narrative here. I mean, here’s a guy who gets a call from the cops saying they suspect him in a murder and all he can think of is his male reproductive organ, booze and his missus/mistress. Extremely shallow characterization and absolutely no credibility or a base on reality.

The cops: Again, total waste of paper. The whole narrative was very artificial. Oh, the best part? Know how the cops figure out the blog is written by a woman? Because one of the blog posts mention something about the blogger seeing red blood in a dream. Didn’t get it? Apparently, only woman dream in color. Men dream in black and white. That was the cop’s reasoning on how he figured out who the blogger is.

And all this, when the cops already have a print-out of the whole blog and the very first/second post of the blog, the blogger mentions that she’s a she and she’s in love with a she and that she’s married to a he. Yeah. Einsteins, the bunch of them!

It could’ve been a good book with a bit more effort into the writing and editing. Could have been.

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Book Preview: Trade Winds to Meluhha, by Vasant Dave

[Blogger’s Note: This Book Preview is at the author’s request. I haven’t read the book (it’s not out yet!), but I do hope to pick it up when it’s available.]

Book: Trade Winds to Meluhha
Author: Vasant Dave
Genre: Historical Fiction

Author Vasant Dave’s debut novel, ‘Trade Winds to Meluhha’ is set in the Bronze Age and weaves a tale of adventure, love and strife between two ancient cultures – Mesopotamia and Harappa.

In the year 2138 BC, a youngster named Samasin worked as a stable boy with a wealthy Babylonian named Nergal. One day he was falsely implicated in the murder of a visiting Meluhhan businessman. Tipped off by Nergal’s divorced wife Elati, he fled to Lothal in the distant land of Meluhha, searching Siwa Saqra whose name the dying man had uttered. During the voyage, he met the beautiful Velli with whom he fell in love but was dismayed to find that she was still devoted to a man who had jilted her. He also met Anu, a Mesopotamian woman who concealed her identity because she was searching for a couple of faceless men for revenge.

On the way, Samasin learnt about the ten glyphs of Dholavira and with the help of Anu deciphered them, leading to an adventure in the ravines of the Saraswati. He faced a series of obstacles including a few which almost killed him. Finally when he found Siwa Saqra in Mohenjo-daro, he was surprised to learn that there was more to the murder in Babylon than met the eye.

Circumstances brought all characters together in Babylon when with awe they discovered the truth about the trade between Meluhha and Mesopotamia, and the identity of the brain behind the diabolic operations. A trial before the Council of Elders turned ironically to jeopardize the judiciary itself. That was when Anu spoke up and shocked everybody, but more so Samasin.

For what happens after that, we’ll have to wait for the book!

‘Trade winds to Meluhha’ is scheduled to be published as an eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble by December, 2011.

Review: The Help

The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ is a disturbingly haunting narrative of life during the 1960s America, with the rampant racial discrimination against African Americans and almost zero civil and human rights for these people. The reason why it’s disturbing to read now is because it made me realize how easy it is for the rest of the world (us!) to forget that dark chapter of USA’s history.

You read this book and then you see Barack Obama in the White House and it hits you how big a deal it is. Yeah, we’ve all seen the ‘Yes you can’ campaign, all the joyous crying and shouting when he won, but I never really gave it a second thought – just another American President, winning another term in office. The thing is, a little over 50 years back, a black man could not even sit at the same table as a white man.

It’s that big a deal. And for that realization to strike me, I have Kathryn Stockett to thank. It made me so angry that I actually thought these racist white people were no different from the Aryan-supremacy-spouting Nazis! But we never talk about it that way, do we? We forgot. But now I know and I’m not likely to forget. Know why? It still happens. All that racism? It’s not gone. We actually have more shades of skin now to discriminate against.

Enough with my rant now. Been a while since I got this emotional about a topic. đŸ˜¦

The story, set in Jackson, Mississippi, is from the perspective of three main characters –

– Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, a white woman, who wants to be a journalist in a society that expects women to be married and with children by the time they’re barely 21-22.

– Minny Jackson, a black woman, who’s a ‘sassy-mouthed’ maid for one of the white families in the neighborhood. Her day starts at the crack of dawn and till dusk all she does is slog. And comes back home to her children and an abusive husband.

– Aibileen Clark, a black woman, who’s also a maid to a white family, but who comes home to an empty house ever since she lost her only son in an accident.

The book chronicles the everyday trials that these women undergo (Skeeter included) and how their single act of rebellion brings them together in ways even they could not have imagined. This, during times when atrocities against blacks is increasing around them and Martin Luther King Jr. is in far off Washington, on a podium, saying ‘I have a dream’.

The only other book on a similar topic that touched me as much as this is Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’ (which makes a guest appearance in this book!). However, the kind of details that’s gone into ‘The Help’ is more disturbing and painful.

‘The Help’ is not a book of tragedy or sadness – if I gave that impression so far, my mistake! It’s still a very happy book, with hope and faith and loads of love. Love in such unfathomable ways that it makes you want to hug every one of these women and never let go.

I haven’t given out anything about the actual story and I’m keeping it that way so you can read it for yourself and enjoy it the way I did. It’s a free trip to Jackson, Mississippi, folks!

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Murder in the Office Cafeteria

Hyderabad: Guthi Vankaya, a quintessential Andhra dish, was murdered in cold blood in the Office Cafeteria today. The little Vankayas were found swimming in a bain marie of yellow curry, with no salt or chilli for company. Cafeteria goers say it is possible that they died of drowning, over-cooking and less seasoning.

The time of death is said to be around 9:00 AM local time. The murdered dish was carried into the Cafeteria at around 11:00 AM, with a clear aim of disposing it off on unsuspecting lunch-eaters. This reporter noticed that the perpetrators, who work for the Catering Company, were still serving the dish when she went to have lunch. It is not known how many people were involved in this atrocious deed. Cafeteria officials refused to comment on the matter.

The murder has caused untold misery to the Guthi Vankaya fans in the Office. They feel they were cheated out of a heavenly experience of having Guthi Vankaya with hot rice and blame the Cafeteria officials for not providing enough security to the Guthi Vankaya. Staunch supporters of the ‘Make good Guthi Vankaya’ foundation plan to stage a rasta roko in the city to protest against this heinous act. They also plan to resurrect the actual Guthi Vankaya to show Cafeteria officials and Catering Company the beauty of the dish so they can prevent more murders of the darling dish.

‘Some’ political parties are providing support to these agitations and demanding a separate state of Telangana, in view of the atrocities committed against Guthi Vankayas of the Telangana region. They are promising the gullible people that if a separate state if formed, they will ensure the Godavari river will flow in Hyderabad, right next to Musi, so all the Vankayas produced in the region will be of good quality and the Guthi Vankaya will not be subjected to any further pain and torture.

Special Correspondent.

Weekend baking: Blueberry Challah bread

We all have our ways of stress busting, after a long tiresome week at the office. Some of us travel, or watch movies..or the weird few do extra rounds of exercise (never understood these fellows, no). My stress busters are the 2 Bs – books and baking. (I just made that up about the 2 Bs. What coincidence!)

Ever since the Kindle came into my life, there’s been a definite increase in the number of books I read every week/month. Likewise, ever since I figured out the convection mode in my microwave oven, baking sessions have increased manifold! Yes, I’m one of those schmucks who didn’t know about the convection mode in the oven for the first 6 years of owning the oven. But now that I HAVE figured it out – oh, what joy! For the husband too, mind you.

Now, I’ve baked enough cakes to feel moderately confident of the whole thing – I even baked some for the folks at work and it turned out ok. But bread? No sire, not yet. When my husband oohed and aahed on the cakes and called me a ‘baker’ I told him I won’t consider myself good at baking unless I can bake bread. That’s how big a deal it was to me.

The first bread I baked was a fiasco, so I no longer consider it my first bread. It was an attempt at baking a rosemary-garlic focaccia bread and it was disastrous (the bread was so hard I could’ve used it for a ping-pong bat). I like to think it was because of the bad quality of the yeast (and not because I didn’t follow the recipe to a T) and that’s how I learnt by first lesson in baking – make sure you have good ingredients. It makes all the difference in the world.

I got my current batch of yeast from my MIL who in turn had got it from the US, courtesy my bro-in-law.

This year's loot from the in-laws' place, courtesy mom-in-law

My second bread.. I mean, my first proper bread was a Rosemary Olive Oil bread, based on this recipe. It was a thing of beauty, if I may say so myself! It came out exactly how it was supposed to – the smell, the texture and the taste! That’s when I realized how utterly satisfying baking can be (the downside being how awfully disappointed one can get if the attempt bombs).

Rosemary Olive oil bread, in the oven!

Not bad, eh? So after that confidence booster of a loaf, I was bold enough to try something a wee bit more complicated (or so I’d like to imagine). A challah, or a Jewish egg bread. I’ve never had it before and the first time I even heard of it was 3-4 days back. Apparently, it’s a lot like a brioche (again, never tasted it but heard a lot about it on cookery shows on TV), but uses oil instead of the butter. This is probably a good time to mention that I only bake using recipes that do not involve butter. I have such an aversion to using butter in my cakes/bread! It probably stems from the fact that I’m not supposed to have any butter given my physical dynamics and dimensions. So rest assured, any cake or bread I bake will be butter free. Just like any pasta I make will be cheese-free (yeah, go figure).

So..on to the challah. I followed the very precise recipe given on Smitten Kitchen for an Apple and Honey challah. I didn’t have any apples or raisins, so I went with re-hydrated blueberries instead.

How did it turn out? How do you think – see for yourself!

Blueberry challah, fresh off the oven!

It tasted out of this world! The texture was soft and airy, the bread not too sweet and not too bland.. in short, perfection.  My husband thinks I have a back-up profession in case I get sick and tired of software engineering. I tried telling him it’s just 2 breads, 1 batch of muffins and 9-10 cakes (2 of which were eaten off the oven floor) that I’ve baked till date, but you know what they say about love being blind, deaf and plain dumb.

The bread practically makes itself if you follow the recipe diligently. Given my bad experiences with the finicky yeast, I tend to be extra cautious in the measurements and try and stick to the recipe as much as I can. And it helps! So at least till I’m confident enough to try out more variations, the recipes will be my gospel.

Had the bread for last night’s dinner, with a Vodka cream pasta (recipe by Rachel Ray). Yummeh!

Now that I’ve slowly started logging back into WordPress to look after my poor little bloggies, expect more of my baking adventures on this space. The good ones and the bad ones.

Go Goa

The only visible reminder of a vacation are my shiny pink toes and fingers, courtesy a ‘Hasta Snana’ and ‘Pada Snana’ (that’s posh-speak for manicure and pedicure) at Vivanta by Taj, Panjim, Goa. And a few thousand grams of what looks like muscle but can never really be muscle (I’ve stopped kidding myself on this count. Haven’t you?).

Well-vacationed, wouldn’t you say? I’d say so.

Room 112, Vivanta By Taj, Panaji

Now, you all know how to vacation in Goa. I was probably the last person to know, given how this was my first trip ever. So I will not go into the details of how I got there, where I booked the tickets, what I spent on the flights and accommodation – basically, nothing about the boring ‘trivialities’ of planning a 4-day, 3-night travel. If you came here to read about those things, well, tough luck. Seriously.

So you know who's writing this blog

That said, I will however give a quick rundown of some parts of the trip that’s crib-worthy or praise-worthy. Also, mildly WTF.

1. These fellows on MakeMyTrip will one day cause my marriage to fall apart, without even enough dough left for any alimony nonsense (pretty hassle-free, come to think of it). How? By changing the ticket prices, making them around 8-10K more expensive, in 2 hours flat. That’s right – 6 PM, they cost 15K. 8 PM they cost 24 K. To the same place. On the same carrier. On the same dates. On the same everything!! And what does it have to do with my marriage? Everything. Because I was the one responsible for the tickets. So I have only question for you MMT blokes – what the heck are you smoking?!

2. Most people in airports seem to have no sense of personal space. Apparently, it’s now ok to run into people and not say sorry, shout in their phones thereby shouting in everyone’s ears, fidget non-stop in the next seat and/or bust into the queue mid-way while boarding, acting like it’s all some sort of first-come-first-serve concept. Well, I got news for you Mr.Uncle-in-flowery-shirt-khaki-shorts-with-1ton-bag – the aircraft is not going to leave without your holy backside, so chill out. Get that BP down. And get off my feet, while you’re at it.

3. In the closed confines of an aircraft, never ever ever sit near an NRI family that contains at least one non-teen kid. If they are 4 in the family and there are 2 non-teen kids – get the hell out of the plane! Like, now! They will not stop talking or getting excited over clouds and the sky. Or the wing of the aircraft or it’s wheels. If they happen to see a river or sea down there, rest assured you will be subjected to a running commentary of the movement of every fish that ever swam that body of water. Bottom line, they will not stop talking. Even if they do, their parents won’t.

Right. So we got that out of the way. Next for the actual vacation itself.

Shadows are slimmer. Hence.

Goa was kind of a revelation for my husband and me. Here’s what happened.

We were dropped off at the entry to Calangute  beach and we started walking towards the sea. Now, I haven’t been to a beach in about 3-4 years – my last was a quick trip to Kovalam a long time ago – so I was pretty excited to ‘see the sea’ finally. Only, what do we see there when we got there? Sand. Lots of hot, icky, sticky sand. I hated it. I couldn’t wait to get out of it. And above all that, the crowd! It was like the Koyambedu bus-stop on a beach – so much, that I could barely see the water’s edge amid all those human bodies! I looked at my husband and he had this very same ‘what the heck are we doing here’ kind of expression on his face. We didn’t even bother going to the water – above turn and marched right back into the cab.

And that’s how it struck us that we’re not the beach-type people. We love the hill-stations. And places with a cultural history. Not sand and sticky sea-water, no.

But hey, we were in Goa. So we did a bit of..ok, a lot of..road-side shopping and bargaining. And we checked out the other beaches in the hope that they were not as bad as Calangute. Baga was ok – not as crowded, but one does get tired of constantly being asked ‘bed chahiye sir, only 100 rupees’. What? Oh c’mon – I mean those beach lounging chairs with that umbrella on top, to laze around by the beach. They call those beds there. What did you think? Dirty rascals.

Sands of the Baga

After Baga, came Anjuna. If there was ever a beach that I would call my-kind of beach, this would be it. Why? Because there is no sand. Yeah baby, there’s no sand! Yay! Just rocks. Such clean un-icky, un-sticky rocks. So we spent some time there in the water, taking photos, passing comments on the other people (there was this one couple – the guy would’ve taken some 1000 snaps of his wife in various poses. Newly weds, maybe. Even then, it was kinda WTF for people like us who’ve been married for 8 odd years. You know why.) and generally having a good time like one should on a beach.

Anjuna, with the rocky beach

Then Vagator. It was already 6 PM by the time we reached there, so we didn’t bother going down to the rocks. Mostly because I was known to fall and break assorted bones even in broad daylight, with floodlights around. 6 PM on the rocks is like a death-trap for me.

But the best beach experience we had has to be at Palolem. Since we were staying at Panjim, it was a pretty long drive to Palolem which is in South Goa. But man, was it worth it! Pristine sands, hardly any tourists and clean clean clean! I finally didn’t mind getting into the water. And by ‘getting into the water’ I mean standing a 1-2 feet inside from the beach. Yeah, that’s it for me. I saw 3 year olds who were farther out into the water with full gusto and enthusiasm. What do you mean why didn’t I?! They had those little life-jacket thingies and 2 adults holding them. I didn’t have any of that, mind you. Better safe than sorry, no?

Palolem. Pristine sands. Clean water. Not many tourists.

(Palolem  Beach, South Goa)

Amid all this beach-hopping, we also checked out the churches in Old Goa. Completely worth it! I do wish they took better care of the monuments and their artifacts – there’s so much that could’ve been preserved better, cleaned up more, etc. But like I’ve seen in a lot of other Indian ‘heritage sites’, no one really cares. Sad state of affairs that.

Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, aka Panaji Church. Claim to fame: SRK's movie, Josh

I took this photo. Just saying. Nice, no?

The Basilica of Bom Jesus. Houses the tomb and remains of St.Francis Xavier

And then well..rounded off the vacation with a jaunt to the in-house spa at the Taj, where I got my toes and fingers shined up. Hubby enjoyed a massage and we vegged out in front of the TV..actually HE vegged out watching Mani Shankar Aiyar and Swapan Dasgupta fight it out on NDTV. I slept. Vacations can be so darn tiring, dudes!

Now if you’re wondering how come I’ve not mentioned even one single word about the food.. you wondered right. I haven’t. ‘Coz that will be a post by itself. I have to do justice to the foodie inside me, right? It’s only fair.