Reading update

It has been a while now. I did a fair bit of reading in June and July and practically none in August.  What I remember of what I read is –

I started with Mindy Kaling’s book of personal essays ‘Is everyone hanging out without me’. The book’s title had always rather fascinated me and I had waited for a while to get my hands on this book. It was duly ordered online during an India trip and I began to read it in the flight back. Except I was so tired and sleepy that the book slipped from my hands and as can only happen when you are travelling with a toddler, the book was forgotten in the plane. So I had to wait for a trip to the library to get another copy. In the end, I need not have made so much effort. The book is nice but not brilliant. The problem is that the essays are all mostly about Mindy, which is ok except that she has not been in the comedy business long enough to have super-interesting stories. She has some funny stories about her childhood, as we all do. She tells it a damn sight better than most people. A few essays were quite entertaining indeed but I as read further, I had the vague feeling of ‘is this it?’ Maybe I should have paced my reading over a few months

This was followed immediately by Anne Fadiman’s At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays, a collection of essays on various topics of interest to her, ranging from Coleridge to the postal system. Reading this, I realised that what was lacking in Mindy Kaling’s book. Fadiman retains the personal interest angle in her essays by narrating relevant parts of her life in them. She also includes a reasonable bit of research into her topic, making the essays both entertaining and interesting. Maybe I prefer regular essays to personal essays. When I say ‘regular’ I am trying to differentiate these from the other end of the spectrum a.k.a essays that read like text books. Any author recommendations on this front are most welcome.

The Sis had just finished Tess Gerritsen’s Silent Girl and suggested that I give it a shot if I wanted to read a thriller. I spent all free time in two days reading it, gripping as it was. In the end, I was left with the hollow feeling of the book not having been entirely satisfying. Since that is my usual reaction to page turners when I finish them, I suspect I will try one more.

I had borrowed ‘A Bali Conspiracy’ in Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh series, in order to do some apt reading during the Bali holiday. I had somehow assumed that this book would a breezy read, with some light local mystery being solved by a bumbling and cheerful policeman. It turned out to be a story on the Bali bombings and more serious than funny and overall only an average read. In the end I did not even read the book in Bali since I got distracted by the hotel’s copy of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and ended up browsing through it in Singapore.

Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s psuedonym for her new mystery series line) introduces us to an English detective, Cormoran, who is hired by a recently deceased supermodel’s brother to investigate her death. The police believe it is a suicide but the brother believes otherwise. Cormoran is just in the process of exiting from a relationship that extends beyond loss of companionship and is happy to have the case to work on. Assisted by his earnest temporary secretary, Robin, he sets about solving the case. J.K.Rowling knows how to write and I was delighted to see the birth of a character and a series with much promise. The ending reminded me vaguely of an Agatha Christie I had read long ago but that did not take away from the pleasure of reading rest of the book.

I had picked up Yann Martel’s ‘Beatrice and Virgil’ on a whim and the book itself was whimsical. Very well written, it combined a strange little story about an author taking a respite from writing in a new city, and excerpts from a play being written by a stranger the author meets. It all ties up with the holocaust and is strangely mesmerizing, I am not quite sure why. It is the kind of book you read to remember that not everything in life is straightforward and there is plenty of joy to be had from delving into a creative universe.

The library had been promoting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’ Americanah and I read the book, impressed by the author’s unapologetic rant about the non-American black experience in America. I could understand a lot of what she tried to say. After all prejudice often expresses itself in similar ways no matter what the reason for the prejudice. The central love story is just an excuse for the author to get her views going and the story wraps up quite abruptly. Still, an interesting book.

Another discovery from the library was Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake. I had not heard of her at all, but apparently the author’s nom de plume was a good one since the name really stood out as I browsed the book rack. A quick google later, I borrowed the book. The tale of two troubled young people finding love in each other was told slowly and I enjoyed the pace and the settings. It is always nice to read something that is set in a country you have heard so much about but whose culture continues to perplex you.

June and July were such good months when it came to reading that August was bound to come up a cropper just to even out things. The month began with William Thackersay's Vanity Fair which I ready half of but could not get beyond. I could not really see the point in trying to finish the book. So it has been, with nothing interesting yet having crossed my path.

Happy reading. 

Bali holiday

Bali is to Singaporeans, what Goa is to Mumbaikars. You go there mostly to chill out and get away from the stress of city life. Everybody you meet in Singapore has been to Bali. Even people whose moving vans have not even left the unloading bay in their Condos. We, on the other hand, had stayed over a year without going there and I could not wait for the first opportunity to go.

The folks were visiting and it seemed as good a time for a Bali holiday as any. As the regular reader knows, our holidays usually involve hanging around a family friendly resort and keeping sight seeing down to a minimum. We followed this simple and successful formula this time around too.

On day 1, we flew into Bali after a reasonably good flight where Bobo did not protest much, excited as he was to have the grandparents around. We checked into our resort hotel and immediately hit the kids club (How exciting for Bobo. How not at all for me). Post lunch, our rooms were ready and we all had a nice long snooze. The evening was spent walking to a nearby restaurant cum shopping area, with a spot of dinner from an Italian place.

On day 2, we spent the morning sightseeing in the famous Ubud area. Bali has the rare distinction of being a Hindu-majority island in a country where people largely follow Islam. Balinese people are very religious and the place abounds with temples. These are supplemented by the private temples that people have in their homes. Offerings are placed in every door step, be it a house or a shop. Needless to say, we had plenty of temples to choose from and decided to focus just on the most famous ones which were also easily accessible from where we were staying.

The first stop was at the Tanah Lot temple complex. There were two temples, located atop bits of land that projected into the sea. One temple was connected to the shoreline through a natural bridge. The sight was breathtaking. The temple not so much. It was in ruins and there was not much to see. The other temple was accessible through a path that was covered by the sea on account of the high tide. So we could not see it and perhaps it may have been more impressive.

Bobo had been safely tucked into a carrier through the temple visit. Once we had seen what we could of the temples, we moved to an open ground where he was finally let down. He excitedly ran around, fell down and split his lip. Blood gushed out and D and I were both shocked and rather mechanically picked him up and washed his mouth. The cut was a superficial one, but the lip stayed swollen through most of the trip. It seemed to bother us more than Bobo. Apparently even if you were careful and alert all the time, there was no escaping small mishaps.

The next stop was at the Taman Ayun temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple was more impressive than the previous one in terms of size, but here again there really was not much to see. There was a large courtyard with a few pagodas. A couple was performing a religious ceremony, dressed in ceremonial white. We were not permitted to enter the courtyard and hence walked around pondering over the cockerels which had been placed in solitary confinement in tiny cages in various corners around the temple campus. We never found out why but it did not look pleasant at all.

Post the sightseeing, we made a quick stop at a tourist trinket shop which was both overpriced and ordinary. Then it was onto lunch at a place obviously popular with tourists. I laughed at the other tourists taking lots of photos of the fields adjoining our restaurant. Till I realized that even Bobo had never seen a field before, and then humbled, took him for a quick walk.

The evening was spent at the beach where Bobo got to inaugurate his new beach kit which included a water can that fascinated him no end. He refused to step into the water and was not in the least bit influenced by his mom who enjoyed prancing around in the water as usual.

When it was time for dinner, on popular demand, D was commissioned to pick up food from the Italian place again. It was a short walk, which would have been uneventful but for the fact that a stray dog picked up the smell of food emanating from D’s takeaway and gave him the chase till the hotel gates. The man bravely made a dash for it without abandoning the food!

The next morning was spent getting massages and generally being pampered. In the evening, it was time for sightseeing again and this time we headed out to the Uluwatu temple, made famous by the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ book and movie. We walked up the long flight of stairs with an extraordinary view of the beach and the clean, blue waves. The temple, here again, was nothing special. I realized that it was not so much the temples themselves as the spectacular settings that made the trips worth it. We were scheduled to see a Kecak dance performance in the open-air amphitheatre adjoining the temple. The setting here again was beautiful, with a view of the sun setting into the sea. The seating comprised long rows of steps and there were no seat numbers. We got there well in time to make sure we sat somewhere close to an exit. It was to be Bobo’s first ever show. Conscious as I was of my own low tolerance levels during my childless days, I was stressed about whether he would be able to sit through the hour-long performance without fussing. There were plenty of other kids, so we had company. Still, before the show began, I gave Bobo plenty of exercise to get his energy levels down. As show time neared, I watched with growing alarm as the crowds swelled and the route to the exit also got converted to seating. The two young couples sitting one step below us looked rather annoyed by the presence of a toddler behind them and were alert to all possibilities of snapping at us. This they did at one point during the performance when my dad tried to distract a fidgety Bobo by saying something. I was mortified. In the end, they left ten minutes before the show finished, thus blocking everyone’s views. So much for their being on a high horse and so much for my being upset about one instance of fidgeting by an eighteen month old.

Bobo’s reaction to the show was interesting.  The dance-drama was based on scenes from the Ramayana. The dancers performed entirely to the ‘kecak kecak’ sound that the vocalists made throughout the show. There were no songs or instruments. When the vocalists made an appearance with a loud ‘kecak kecak’, I looked at Bobo and learnt how the expression ‘jaw-dropping’ came about. Bobo remained that way for five whole minutes. After that, he fiddled around a bit and moved between our laps, but he was overall very well behaved for his age.

We were scheduled to complete the circuit by making a dinner stop at the Jimabaran beach. However, looking at Bobo’s drowsy mien, we decided to just head back to the hotel, making a stop for dinner (rather imaginatively) at the Italian place. When you traveled with kids, I had come to realize that sometimes it may be worthwhile sticking to the predictable.
The last morning was mostly breakfast, packing and then to the airport. Despite the fact that we had been there three nights, I still did not feel like we had made proper acquaintance with Bali. Maybe it was do with the fact that we had stayed in the santised Nusa Dua area or that I had not had a chance to shop for a souvenir or that I had sampled the food in non-touristy local restaurants.

I suspect there may be another trip to Bali in the future.


Bobo starts pre-school

Bobo started school on Friday.

Not school technically. Just a playgroup whose basic purpose is to keep him entertained and give him self-feeding practice. Our helper does a good job of entertaining him and letting him self feed. But as we had anticipated, he has now outgrown her company and is ready for more social interaction.  So it seemed like a good thing, throwing him into the company of other children.

What I had forgotten was that he had never been alone among strangers before. He is a sociable kid and runs off to explore and play wherever we take him. Except he keeps an eye on us to see if we are around.  The first day at school, he wandered through the gates confidently without a backward glance and promptly began to play with one of the toy cars. He was introduced to the head mistress and to his teacher. After ten minutes of watching him, we told him bye and left.

A few seconds later we heard him bawl. We kept walking away from him. It was all I could do to not turn around, snatch him and do a runner.

We hovered outside the gates while we waited for Bobo to calm down. I watched parents come and drop off their kids. A few cried even as the parents bade them good bye and left. Most calmed down a few seconds later and went off to play. One little fellow just stood and bawled.  It was increasingly clear that I would burst into tears at any moment. D just played games on his mobile and told me to relax. I tried to do that by walking past the front gates taking photos of his school from every angle. A passing stranger could have mistaken me for a kidnapper.

Finally a teacher told us that Bobo was ok and we could leave. My son had actually disappeared into a building and was going to lead a life of his own, unsupervised by anyone I knew well. Granted, it was a well-known childcare centre and we had chosen it after much thought and consideration. But seriously? They expected me to carry on with life as if nothing important had happened?

Anyway, we did carry on with our lives. We went home and waited for the call to come to tell us that Bobo had not settled down well and we better come and fetch him. An hour later the call had not come and it was already time for us to go and get him after the two hours that we were planning to leave him for.

When we reached the gate this time, Bobo was really, really bawling. He looked sleepy and tired. The big curse of being parents is that you had to act mature and responsible EVERY SINGLE MINUTE. I put up a cheerful front and while D comforted Bobo, I checked with the teachers on how he had been. Bobo had apparently done pretty well for the first day. It was only in the last five minutes that he had started crying.

Bobo was clingy the rest of the day. As also thoughtful like something had changed in his life but he could not quite put his finger on it.

The very first steps in cutting the apron strings has been quite hard. Hopefully it gets easier with time.