Book review: Empires of the Indus – Alice Albinia

In Empires of the Indus, Alice Albinia traces the route of the River Indus from Pakistan and Afghanistan, upstream through west India and to its source in Tibet. Part travelogue, part history lesson, Albinia goes where angels fear to tread in her quest to trace the route of the River Indus. During the journey, she shares details about the myths and legends associated with the river, which through millennia, has been worshipped as a God and used as a means of imperial expansion.

A major portion of the book is set in Pakistan, and as an Indian reader, it gave me a rare glimpse into that country’s culture and history. While it is a known fact that Pakistan is a Muslim dominated country, what is not so widely known is just how badly it treats its minorities.

Sheedis of Pakistan

For instance, Sheedis — an African-Muslim tribe — have worked very hard to erase their rich musical past, having all but given up playing the mugarman, an African drum, and singing and dancing in order to better assimilate themselves into Pakistani culture. Still, the community largely remains mired in poverty and illiteracy. Another tribe that is tenuously holding on to its culture is the Kalash, who live in the remote Bumboret village, 150 km north of Pirsar.

“Neither Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, the Kalash religion is syncretic, involving a pantheon of gods, sacred goats, and a reverence for river sources and mountain tops. [But] Such is the pressure from Islam in Bumboret, few young Kalash seem proud of their pantheon, or even to know of its existence.” — p. 225

Albinia travels through remote areas of Pakistan, through the now Taliban-infested Swat region (which at the time of her travel itself was seeing a resurgence of that fundamentalist faction) and into Afghanistan on foot, as she traces Alexander the Great’s route along the River Indus as he set out on his campaign to conquer India. What is most surprising is the danger she knowingly put herself into in this quest, but it is heartening that she met a number of helpful people along the way.

River Indus, Skardu, Pakistan

Vast swathes of regions that Albania travelled across are now disconnected from the rest of Pakistan due to the heavy floods there, which have set back the country’s infrastructure by at least 30 years. So in a way, her book serves as the most recent glimpse into the culture, geography and people of that area.

From Pakistan — the bulk of her 305-page book is about her travels through Pakistan and her two cross-overs into Afghanistan — Albinia travels into India and then Tibet as she traces the Indus to its origin — the Senge Khabab. Her trip to India is covered in one 22-page chapter, while the last chapter, 24 pages, details her travel through Tibet, up to the source of the river.

Though her travels through these two countries are glossed over, this is an interesting novel given the breadth and depth of history and geography that she covers. If you want to know more about Pakistan, or are an avid historian, you’ll definitely like the book.

If you’ve read this book, do let me know what you thought about it!

My favorite things…

The Sound of Music LP cover.

Image via Wikipedia

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

I love that song from Sound of Music! Which is why I decided to name this latest series after that song. I got this idea from Misadventures with Andi, and thought it was an excellent way of keeping track of some of the things I love and sharing them with you!

I was contemplating if I should make this into another of my regular features, but then decided against it. I want this to be a totally fun post, without having to worry about missing out a day, so I’m going to post these whenever I have a few new things to share with all of you.

I was looking for the Now What? magazine this morning, which used to be published by Jessica Wesolek over at crea8it! While browsing through her site, I came across this lovely  luminara. It would look beautiful on my sidetable! The best part? You can make it yourself at home! Click to know how to make a luminara.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself loathe to throw out wine bottles, hoping I can alter them in some way to use them as showpieces around the house. Don’t these painted, stamped and wired treasure bottles look absolutely divine?

Inspired by all this craftiness, I headed over to Karen’s Whimsy, my favorite altered book artist, to have a look at her beautiful relinquaries. For some reason, this particular relinquary has been one of my favorites since a while.

Well, that’s it for this time! Hope you enjoyed looking at these beauties as much as I did while putting them together!

Wandering Wednesday #4: It's all about books

Old Leather Books-- Thomas Love Peacock

Image by Wyoming_Jackrabbit via Flickr

Want to read something, but stuck for ideas? Take a look at my bookshelf!

You could also look at Random House’s list of Top 100 books – both novels and non-fiction. Or try Biblomania’s free online literature.

If classic literature is more your style, head over to Planet eBook and download them for free!

Don’t want to download? Then head over to 101 Zen Stories and read stories online!

Hope you enjoy visiting these sites as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you!

Do you have any favorite sites that you’d like to share?

(Click to read older Wandering Wednesday posts)

White Nights – Paul Auster

White Nights – Paul Auster

Cover of "Disappearances"

Cover of Disappearances

No one here,
and the body says: whatever is said
is not to be said.  But no one
is a body as well, and what the body says
is heard by no one
but you.

Snowfall and night. The repetition
of a murder
among the trees. The pen
moves across the earth: it no longer knows
what will happen, and the hand that holds it
has disappeared.

Nevertheless, it writes.
It writes: in the beginning,
among the trees, a body came walking
from the night.  It writes:
the body’s whiteness
is the color of earth.  It is earth,
and the earth writes: everything
is the color of silence.

I am no longer here. I have never said
what you say
I have said. And yet, the body is a place
where nothing dies. And each night,
from the silence of the trees, you know
that my voice
comes walking toward you.

Book review: The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga

Cover of "The White Tiger: A Novel"
Cover of The White Tiger: A Novel

Munna, aka Balram Halwai, the narrator and main character of Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger, narrates the story of his journey from a village in the Darkness to becoming an entrepreneur in the Light.

Starting out as a cleaning boy in a small tea shop in his village Laxmangarh, Munna moved to the city of Dhanbad with his elder brother to become a cleaner at a bigger tea shop. But his yearning for a uniform and a better life attracted him to the drivers that he saw at the tea shop, and he convinced his family to let him learn how to drive. By a strange quirk of fate, he soon gained employment with Mongoose, the son of a landlord (Stork) from his village. Learning the ways and means of the house, his cunning and intelligence enabled him to move with Stork’s younger, US returned son to Delhi, the city that eventually corrupted him. Detailing the sequence of events that led him to murder his master and flee to Bangalore, Balram narrates his life story in the form of seven letters to the Chinese Prime Minister who is visiting India shortly, in order to acquaint him with the “real India.”

I have to admit that I approached this book with a great deal of skepticism, which is why I read it this late! (It won the Booker in 2008.) I typically do not like Indian authors (chicklit authors aren’t included in this discussion), as they seem to write solely for a Western audience, depicting India as a completely backward country filled with murderers and marauders, and Indians as either backward, narrow minded people or people who fawn over white skin and want nothing more than to ape Westerners (think Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss). But there are some, like Suketu Mehta, whose hard-hitting Millenium City took a brutal and honest look at the underbelly of Mumbai; Jhumpa Lahiri, who beautifully evoked the pathos and stories of Bengalis living abroad in Unaccustomed Earth; and Chetan Bhagat, whose books have mass appeal because he can connect to readers, young and old alike. (His 2 States took an honest look at the difficulties that youngsters face if they want to marry outside their caste.) I add to this list of believable authors Arvind Adiga.

Dharavi slums, Mumbai
(image via Wikipedia)

Representing India as two Indias, the Darkness and Light, Adiga takes a dig at the “India Shining” campaign launched by the BJP. The Darkness represents rural India, where poverty and illiteracy and feudalism still exist, the Light refers to the metros and fast-growing Tier I and II cities, which were the focus of the India Shining campaign. The Great Socialist, the political party that features in the novel, takes a dig at Mayawati, who rose to power in order to empower Dalits, but since then has only lined her pocket with cold hard cash. Adiga’s character sketch of Munna could fit almost any migrant worker, the so-called floating population that comes into big cities in search of work and a way out of their grinding poverty. His eventual corruption and betrayal of his master is a reflection of the corruption we see all around us.

Though he does focus on poverty and illetracy, on the great divide between rich and poor, this is a novel that is believable because India still remains a land of contradictions. The gaps have narrowed, but the economic and social divide remain.

All-in-all, it’s an interesting read, and I’d gladly recommend it to anyone.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it?

A moment of happiness – Rumi

A moment of happiness – Rumi

Crescent Moon (NASA, International Space Stati...

Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr

A moment of happiness,
you and I sitting on the verandah,
apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.

We feel the flowing water of life here,
you and I, with the garden’s beauty
and the birds singing.

The stars will be watching us,
and we will show them
what it is to be a thin crescent moon.

You and I unselfed, will be together,
indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.

The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar
as we laugh together, you and I.

In one form upon this earth,
and in another form in a timeless sweet land.

– Rumi – Kulliyat-e Shams, 2114

My name is my identity, or is it?

Image via stanford2008

Would I ever change my name? No! Why? Because I love my name – it’s musical and has a beautiful meaning. It’s also unique, and I like that!

Most of all, though, I think this topic brings up a bigger question for me – a question of identity.

We go through life with various labels — girlfriend, wife, mother, employee, friend…the list goes on, but which of these really defines us? None of these labels is all-encompassing. If someone asks me who I am, my answer would change based on the context, my life experiences at the time, or maybe even my mood! But is that really my identity?

I don’t think so. My identity is my name — a window into my culture and myself, linking me with my parents and my spirituality — combined with my belief system, values and preferences.

What do you think is your identity? Given a chance, would you like to change your name?

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Wandering Wednesday #3: Looking back

Page 9 of the Dresden Codex showing the classi...

A page from the Mayan Dresden codex. Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes it’s good to look back — way back in human history — far enough in the past to examine some lost civilizations.

Of the many lost civilizations, the Mayan civilization has intrigued us to this day. Be it their art and architecture, or the Mayan codices, people are still studying their civilization for clues about the end of the world!

Aside from the Mayans, there are 10 other intriguing mysteries of lost civilizations that you could explore.

Hope you enjoyed this journey back in time. Got any links you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments! 🙂

(Click to read older Wandering Wednesday posts)

Soul food:Prawn rice

I’ve been dreaming of prawns recently. (Don’t laugh, it’s true! You can dream of food!) Anyway, I ordered some stir fried rice with ginger garlic prawns the other day at work, but the craving didn’t go away — it got stronger! That’s when I realized I wasn’t craving just any ol’ prawn dish; I wanted me some prawn rice!

But, before I could even think of making some, I had to find fresh coriander. Seeing as it’s monsoon season here in India, that was going to be a hard task — it sure wasn’t available at the grocery store near my house! But I was on a quest. I mean, I was literally dreaming of prawns, remember? So I picked up my car and drove around to a few of the fancier grocery stores, and finally managed to get my paws on some coriander. Now, I was ready to get cooking!

Prawn rice is served as a main course, with some plain yogurt and onion as accompaniments. You can also substitute the prawn with any firm-fleshed fish like halibut or cod (directions for that are at the end of the recipe).

You’ll need:

1 packet frozen prawns
1 cup finely chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
1 medium sized onion, peeled, cut into fine rounds and halved
1 fresh green chili, finely sliced (optional)
4 tbsp oil
250 gram long-grain rice (you can also use short-grain rice)


In a bowl, mix 1 tbsp of warm water, coriander leaves, green chilies, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala, and 1 tsp salt.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, put in the contents of the bowl and stir on high for about 2-3 minutes, until the fresh green color changes to a darker green. Tip in the prawns and fry them with the spices on medium heat for about 4 mins.

Turn off the heat and fish out the prawns with a fork, transferring into a tightly covered dish; it will continue to cook a bit in its own steam.

Pour 275 ml of warm water into the pan and scrape up the spices stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. Simmer for about half a minute.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the remaining oil and fry the onions until the edges brown. Then add in the rice and stir around for about 30 sec. Pour in 360 ml of water, the contents from the pan and 1 tsp of salt. Stir and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to very low.

Check in about 5-7 mins. Once the rice is almost done, add in the prawns, stir, cover and cook for another few minutes until the rice is cooked through.
(ps: that isn’t the best snap; it’s a little blurred – sorry! I was trying to click the picture covertly; didn’t want to dear husband to catch me at it, he’d think I was losing my marbles! ;-))

If you want to substitute the prawn with fish, you’ll need 340 gm of cod or halibut (or any other firm-flesh fish) steaks or fillets. Make sure they are at least 1-2 cm thick. Cut the fillets into bite-size strips, at least 4-5 cm long and about 2.5 cm wide. Follow the preceding recipe.

Serve with plain yogurt and chopped onion with a dash of lemon.


Sallu's Dabangg performance!

Meaning: Dabang – someone who cannot be suppressed.

The story:

Dabang, set in Lal Gunj, UP, tells the story of two step-brothers Chulbul (Robin Hood) Pandey (Salman Khan) and Makhan Singh (Makki) Pandey (Arbaaz Khan). Unhappy about the treatment meted out to him by his step-father, Prajapati Pandey (Vinod Khanna), Chulbul vows to overturn things once he’s on his feet. Fast forward 21 years, and Chulbul is a corrupt UP cop with a heart of gold, his father has fallen on hard times and Chulbul has no respect for him whatsoever.

Following a bank robbery, Chulbul traces the robbers to their hideout, only to pocket the loot and let the robbers get away. Thus begins his rivalry with youth politician Chhedi Singh (Sonu Sood). In the meantime, there are two love stories to drive the plot forward. Makkhi wants to marry Nirmala (Mahi Gill), the masterji’s daughter, but his father opposes the match as he wants dowry, which her father cannot afford. Chulbul falls in love with Rajo (Sonakshi Sinha), who refuses to marry until her drunkard father is alive.

What follows are the twists and turns of the rivalry between Chulbul and Chhedi, and the simultaneous development of the love stories.

My take:

I loved the movie! Part of it was due to the crowd, which whistled and clapped at Salman’s entry, before all of the songs, and during some of the fight sequences. It just adds to the overall mood and excitement, what say?

Dabangg is a total masala movie. It works because of Salman Khan and Salman Khan and, did I say it already? Salman Khan! And no, I am not a huge Salman fan. It works because of its raw machoness. No wimpy lover boys or feeble attempts at fights. The director, Abhinav Kashyap, has copied a couple of fight stunts from such English movies and Transporter, Matrix and The Hulk, and has also given some of the sequences a humorous touch, by throwing in a little impromptu dance to a caller tune, no less!

The cinematography is excellent, capturing Uttar Pradesh in all its notoriety – dirty old shops, winding lanes. There were flashes of directorial brilliance as well, with attention paid to costumes (Dimple Kapadia’s anklets and toe rings) and mannerisms. The many songs are interspersed effectively in the plot, and each song, from Hun Hun Dabangg to the romantic Tere Mast Mast Do Nain , the drunkard’s anthem Humka Peeni Hain and the hugely popular Munni Badnaam Hui have excellent recall value.

There’s something for everyone in the movie – action, romance, comedy, drama. All in all, fultoo paisa vasool. Go watch it!

Have you seen the movie? What’s your take on it? If you have a review on your blog, feel free to leave a link to it in the comments!

(Images via