“My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk

Gifted by Jasmine from Blossoms Bookstore, Bangalore.

I picked up a book written by Orhan Pamuk after ages. Istanbul was his first book I had read and loved but post that, I didn’t like any other book I had read by him (like Black Book and Snow), so I assumed he was good at writing non-fiction but not so gripping with fiction. This book, however, proved me wrong. Perhaps one of his most popular works, it’s a gripping murder mystery and an interesting love story set in 16th century Istanbul, amidst miniaturists . There were many things about the book, due to which I couldn’t put it down: unique narration style, Istanbul, historical setting and most of all the in-depth description of the miniature painting scene: practices and influences prevalent in that era.

Unique Narration Style: Every chapter has a different narrator, starting with the corpse who had just been murdered. It took me some time to figure that out, so had to reread the initial chapters to comprehend the story completely. Besides the main characters, the book also had interesting non-human narrators that had been painted like: dog, tree, horse and coin.

Miniature Painting: The book describes in great detail the prevalent miniature painting practices and beliefs of the period in Istanbul and how from Persian (eastern) influence, it was getting influenced by the realist style of the west- Venice, regarded as infidels, especially the use of perspective and life-like portraits. Calligraphy was regarded higher than illustration as an art form and a miniaturist was not supposed to have a style and couldn’t sign his name. Illustrations thrived under a Sultan who was a patron of art but died under a Sultan who was not. The book also talks about Bihzad, the master miniaturist from Herat, in great detail and also the common stories like Shirin and Khusrow, they used to illustrate. The book definitely holds immense value to anyone who likes and appreciates art. This was the feature that really drew me to the book. It successfully transposes you to that golden era.

Cover: Here’s something which I didn’t quite agree with. I had the book edition with the black cover and illustration by Master of Flémalle (a Flemish painter) of a murder scene. I would have preferred the illustration by Bihzad of the scene from Shirin and Khusrow where Shirin sees a picture of Khusrow in a garden and falls in love as both Bihzad and this illustration are so central to the plot of the story. I have, anyhow, designed my version of the cover using this illustration 🙂

Historical Timeline: I have prepared an illustration below to depict the era that the story of the book has been set in and the dynasties and cities that influenced art of that period. Interesting to now how art and artists traveled between the country, despite the distance,

My Favourite Quotes from the book:

“Before my birth, there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. I’d been living luminously between two eternities of darkness.”

“For if a lover’s face survives emblazoned on your heart, the world is still your home.”

“A letter doesn’t communicate by words alone. A letter, just like a book, can be read by smelling it, touching it and fondling it.”

“Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight.”

“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony.”

“Colour is the touch of the eye,
Music to the deaf,
A word out of darkness.”

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“The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This book was gifted by a friend, I wouldn’t have picked it up myself! It was an interesting read and I definitely loved learning about the flowers and their implied meanings during the Victorian era, Communicating through flowers and not words was a very unique and special romance.

I would love to sketch out a few flowers described in the book myself. Again, I was disappointed that the book did not have a single sketch. There should have been at least one sketch of a flower on the cover page as the book even talks about several sketches.

I also liked the narration style as each consecutive chapter goes from present to 10 years back and forth, maintaining the mystery.

I, however, didn’t like the ending. It just felt like an imposed happy bollywood ending, when suddenly the protagonist who has been screwing up and running away from every person suddenly transforms and reconciles things with everyone, all of a sudden, without any reason. It didn’t feel in sync with the book or the character.

Also the author is mainly focused on the plot and the flowers, whereas character sketch is quite perfunctory. All characters are just brushed upon and no insight is given into the minds of any character.

Despite huge potential, the writing falls short and hence the book is a good one time read but not something that would leave an indelible impression!!

Posted in Book Review, Thought

“Sybil” by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Cheers!! This is to resuming blogging after ages to celebrate revival of my reading habit, thanks to my weekly 6 hours metro ride.

Sybil was a book I had stumbled upon at my all time favorite bookstore – Midland (Aurobindo Market, New Delhi) on my birthday. One may buy a zillion books online, but nothing beats the pleasure of random browsing at a bookstore. Given my latest fetish for mental illness thanks to my recent project, the book summary really fascinated me. After reading few reviews online and getting a confirmatory nod from the bookstore owner (who thankfully does know his books!!), I made this purchase. This 400 pages book or rather Sybil became a part of my life as the story unfolded and was actually sad when it came to an end as if a part of my life had been taken away.

The book was based on a true story of Shirley Ardell Mason who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder, written by a journalist- Flora Rheta in close consultation with Sybil’s psychiatrist: Dr Cornelia Wilbur. It was the first documented case of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The book and the movie became a huge hit in 1970s and many cases of multiple personality were diagnosed post it. Reading reviews online, I discovered perhaps the psychiatrist and the journalist had fabricated the whole story to earn quick fame and the multiple personalities had been created only under the effect of drugs. Irrespective of whether or not it was true, the book was a very interesting read, especially since it presented the syndrome from a psychiatrist point of view and not the weird mystical way it had been presented in most Hollywood movies I had seen thus far.

The book describes in detail Sybil’s therapy spanning about 11 years. Initially, her conscious personality had been too tightlipped about her problems but the other personalities made appearances to help the doctor diagnose the disorder. It was disturbing as the book slowly unfolded the shocking extent of childhood abuse by her schizophrenic mother that had triggered her unconscious mind to develop 16 different personalities, each equipped with a unique trait of coping with a particular situation. It was very interested to know the symptoms of Sybil’s syndrome. It was interesting that the main personality- Sybil was not aware of the other personalities but all the other personalities knew each other. Sybil just knew she couldn’t account for time and many things in her wardrobe or paintings.

The book forces you to question your own sanity as you do hold repressed memories and develop different traits to cope with challenges life throws at you and society doesn’t allow you to express. It truly makes you question if there is another unconscious personality beneath our conscious one, doing things inaccessible to our waking self. Time and again I had to put the book down, get my sanity back and then resume reading the book.

I could personally relate to Sybil more because she was an artist with a quiet reserved personality like me. Only, I would have preferred if some of the sketches/ paintings described in the book, had been included. Adding one sketch from my side below, which I would have designed as the book cover for this one!sybil

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First Experience

I watch my niece’s first experiences with the world around her. She satiates her curiosity and completes her exploration of a new object with all 5 senses: look, touch, feel, smell and finally take it in her mouth to taste. I don’t stop her, just ensure she doesn’t hurt herself.

As adults, for which new experience do we let all our senses be involved?

I got a chance to indulge an adult, much younger than me, live through experiences again vicariously.

His first flight. I observe and guide.

His ascent in life and profession. I wait and watch. His genuine glee.

I gave him wings, my only plea, don’t use them to fly away from me. He did exactly that.

When the initial attraction is over, you need something to fall back on; there was nothing, only mind’s play. Fell down with a thud.

Posted in Thought

“Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History” by Romila Thapar

I read this book for the book discussion of Delhi Heritage Walks and it was so fascinating that I finished reading in less than 2 days (about 200 pages). I have a fascination for history but this book is different from other historical books in that unlike most historical books that describe a trail of events, this book is describing different voices of a single historical event- the raid of Somanatha temple by the Afghan ruler- Mahmud of Ghazani and how the single event has been modified by different sources to suit their own interests.

downloadThe original Hindu and Jain sources of the period barely mention the event and it is fast forgotten and the temple soon becomes derelict on its own due to perishing trade in that region. But it is fascinating how the event is given such significance in the later British sources earlier to represent the defeat of Hindu pride by the Muslim invaders. It is also funny as to how the gates of Somanatha Temple are added by a British which have no mention earlier and still they become the central point of negotiations post that till the gates are brought back and then forgotten completely when it is ascertained that the Gates have Islamic architecture and not Hindu. The event is still being cited by the RSS and other Hindu fanatics.

Thus it is important for anyone to read all historical sources before one forms an opinion about any event because history will always bear the perspectives of the author.

This review was more from the perspective of a layman like me. For a historian’s perspective please do read this blog: http://blog.delhiheritagewalks.com/dhw-book-club-discussion-on-romila-thapars-somanatha-6-dec-15/#more-2408

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“Cakes and Ale” by W. Somerset Maugham

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Act II Scene III Twelfth Night

1616166My discovery of Maugham is entwined with my discovery of College Street at Kolkatta and I can’t describe one without the other now. I had heard a lot about College Street at Kolkatta but it turned out to be even better than the description. True that unlike Daryaganj, the street is not very long and most of the vendors are selling books for college and competitive exams but when I finally spotted one vendor selling novels and picked up a Somerset Maugham lying there, he got me all the Maughams he had and it was difficult for me to choose which ones among them I should pick. Then I spotted a Tennyson- Complete Works, he sold it to me saying that it is a collector’s item. I was so happy that he actually knew who Maugham and Tennyson were and was not selling the books based on the thickness.

Cakes and Ale was one of the Maughams I had picked up from the shop- published in 1976 and first bought by someone in 1986, hence a prized possession for me.

The opening preface by Maugham itself got me hooked on to the book. I love how he tries to explain as to how the book fell into controversy as it was considered to be about some authors whereas he says it was mostly autobiographical taking inspiration from some living personalities.

The most striking part of the book is the satirical description of the literary world- facetious and fickle, wherein the success of the book is more dependent on the marketing of the author and the book and not on the content of the book itself.

The only person non-conforming to this facetious world was Rosie Driffield- a promiscuous ex-bartender who has a childlike smile and a unique zeal for life. Like the characters of strong independent women created by other authors, Rosie was highly promiscuous and touched the life of everyone around her including the protagonist, who doesn’t think highly of any character in the book except Rosie.

I wished the book would never end, but now that it has, I have a lingering urge to reread it or pick up another Maugham.

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The ‘In Bruges’ walking tour

“In Bruges” Movie: A must watch for Bruges


I can’t remember the last time I read a blog about Bruges that didn’t mention the black comedy ‘In Bruges’. So rather than just mention it, I thought I’d write a whole blog post on it. Come with me as I go on a self-guided tour of Belgium’s prettiest city in search of key locations from the film.

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Posted in Thought

“Samarkand” by Amin Malouf

979196Most of the historical fictions and translated books are badly written but this one is a total exception. This book is very well written. Also I discovered  only later that the book was written in French and was translated to English by Russel Harris.

The book covers interesting phases in Persian history. The first half trails the life of Omar Khayyam in 11th century Central Asia, his 9 year affair with court poetess Jahan, his success as a philosopher, astronomer, mathematician etc. The story also features – Nizam ul Mulk, the Muslim Machiavelli who is still remembered for his brilliant innovations in government and Hassan Sabbah, the founder of the Order of the Assassins and the castle at Alamut.

The second half trails the life of an American scholar who after getting obsessed with the Samarkand manuscript travels to Iran in 1896, and lives through the Persian revolution post Shah’s assassination and the Persian struggle to establish democracy, amidst extreme foreign interference. The story culminates when the Samarkand manuscript sinks with the Titanic in 1912, lost to the world forever.

All I can say is that I had picked up the book for Samarkand before my trip to Uzbekistan but the book has piqued my interest in Persia (Iran) so much that I have bought 2 books: Understanding Iran by William R.Polk and Rubaiyat by Khayyam, published in 1942 (oldest I could find and had to get it shipped from US.

Time … has two dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion.” (Pg 26)

“I am not poor for my desires are simple.” (Pg 27)

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Photo Prompt

Fuel your Story Writing Skills!!

The Heart of Writing


Use this photo to write a story. Set a scene here, pick a particular shop or restaurant and begin a scene in there, create characters who are walking through these streets on a particularly significant night or write about someone who lives nearby or works here. What happens?

Happy Writing!

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The Joy of Writing Rediscovered


In today’s wIMG_0321orld of ever-changing technology, I have doggedly stuck to the old ways and supported them: paintings/ sketches versus photographs, books versus kindle/ ipad, no phone versus the constant buzzing of mobile phones. It is not that I am Amish or neophobic or an octogenarian but I do feel there is a certain appeal in the old way of doing things and we shouldn’t right away reject them for any new technology that comes in.


However, mainly due to convenience I have taken to typing on phone or laptop as opposed to writing while penning down my thoughts as mostly you think while traveling while you can’t really write and it is easier to retrieve a typed document. But there is a reason why the phrase is called “penning down one’s thoughts”. I am rediscovering the magic of writing through my latest obsession- Sheaffer fountain pen!! Somehow one can certainly express oneself better while writing! The added advantage is also you can doodle along with your writing!!


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