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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Mughal Intrigues - Mistress of the Throne by Ruchir Gupta

The Mughal Era is one of the intriguing and fascinating time periods in the Indian history. And it is also one of the least explored when it comes to historical fiction novels. One of the most famous emperors of this era is undoubtedly Shah Jahan. The monument – Taj Mahal, he built in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal is touted as the 7th wonder of the world. We have all read about him and his wife and their love, in text books during our school days. However, there is little mention of their daughter – Jahanara who was anointed the queen of India after her mother’s death. Ruchir Gupta book, Mistress of the Throne explores this fascinating period of the Indian history through the eyes of Jahanara.



Narrated in first person in the voice of Jahanara, the novel dwells on the ups and down during the reign of Shah Jahan, it gives us an account of Mumtaz Mahal’s death and the incidents that followed her death, the tension that brewed between the sons of Shah Jahan and much more. We also get insights into Jahanara’s own life – her emotions, her relationship with her mother, father and siblings, her yearning for love, her vulnerabilities and weaknesses. The book is an epitome of fiction and history entwined beautifully and seamlessly.

The blurb of the book gives an idea to the readers what to expect in the book and I am quoting it here. It says:

1631. The Empress of India Mumtaz Mahal has died. Yet, rather than anoint one of his several other wives to take her place as Empress of India, Mughal King Shah Jahan anoints his seventeen-year-old daughter Jahanara as the next Queen of India.

 Bearing an almost identical resemblance to her mother, Jahanara is the first ever daughter of a sitting Mughal King to be anointed queen. She is reluctant to accept this title, but does so in hopes of averting the storm approaching her family and Mughal India. Her younger siblings harbor extreme personalities from a liberal multiculturalist (who views religion as an agent of evil) to an orthodox Muslim (who views razing non-Muslim buildings as divine will).

Meanwhile, Jahanara struggles to come to terms with her own dark reality: as the daughter of a sitting King, she is forbidden to marry. Thus, while she lives in the shadow of her parents unflinching love story, she is devastated by the harsh reality that she is forbidden to share such a romance with another. 

Mistress of the Throne narrates the powerful story of one of India’s most opulent and turbulent times through the eyes of an unsuspecting character: a Muslim queen. It uses actual historical figures to illuminate the complexity of an era that has often been called India’s Golden Age.

This book is a boon to lovers of historical fiction. It is an immensely satisfying read – one of the kinds that linger in your mind long after you have read it. That the author has done an extensive research for writing the book is easily visible. The narration in the book is impeccable and doesn’t let your concentration falter. The characters are vividly sketched – you can almost imagine everything in your mind as your turn pages after pages of this engaging novel. I had an instant liking for Jahanara – she is sensible, strong and inspiring. One can understand her dilemma when she has to decide between her love and duty; it does take a lot of character to be able to sacrifice one’s own happiness for the greater good of family and the kingdom.

This was also the first time I came to know that daughters of the Mughal king were forbidden to marry. It was a law imposed by Emperor Akbar and was called off during the reign of Aurangzeb. The author also shares this and some other details in a Q&A section at the end of the book – like what inspired him to write this book, why he chose Jahanara as his protagonist and much more.

I was kind of sad when the book ended – I wished it could go on a little more. Looks like my wishes were answered – the good news is that the author is working on a sequel to this novel – The Hidden One. It will continue from where this book ended and will be focused on the life of Aurangzeb’s daughter – Zebunissa. I am already looking forward to it.

As said by Stephen King - 'Books are uniquely portable magic', this book lives up to this saying. As you read it you will be transported to an era gone by.

Mistress of the Throne by Ruchir Gupta is one book that I will highly recommend to all book lovers specially those who like historical fiction. This book is the kind that will have you turning its pages in the middle of the night in the hope that you could read a little more before you sleep. One of my best reads in recent years.

received a review copy from the author in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Love, That Shit by Chandru Bhojwani - A Book Review

I am here again with a book review and this time it is from the non-fiction genre. In this book -Love, That Shit, author Chandru Bhojwani rants about life and relationships in general. It is not your stereo-typical self-help book that promises you to give solution to all your life issues; rather it is one that encourages you to look at life with a new perspective. The blurb at the back of the book talks about how life in general is for most people, and how this book is supposed to help them.

Quoted from the blurb:

Like a rollercoaster, relationships have their nauseating ups, downs, twists and turns... Sure, like a rollercoaster, relationships are also fun and exciting but what happens when the ride isn’t as smooth as you thought it would be? What do you do when you want to get off the ride but disengaging the safety harness is a lot harder than you thought? Or simply, what if you’re finding it difficult to get on a ride in the first place, especially when there isn't a height restriction?

 ...Unfortunately, relationships don’t come with perforated edges and Love, That Shit! (LTS) hopes to help you through the process of getting into, dealing with and even the aftermath of relationships. What sets LTS apart is its contemporary approach, aimed at enlightening while simultaneously, entertaining.

 Challenging norms and common thinking at times, LTS hopes to keep you chuckling, or at least smiling, as you embark on the journey and absorb its message.



Let’s first start with the title and look of book. At first sight, one can easily find the title of the book a bit offending and the cover of the book doesn’t help either. If you are reading this book in a public place, you might get a few questioning stares as well. But as they say ‘don’t judge the book by its cover’, this book lives up to the quote. In less than 150 pages, Bhojwani has tried to dwell on some of the life biggest questions. He talks about relationships in general, marriages, finding the soul mate, break ups and everything else they bring into our life.

The writing style is crisp and witty which makes the book a quick and enjoyable read. The best part is that you don’t have to read the chapters in the book in a sequence. Every chapter has its own message and you can choose to read them randomly. Personally, I could very much relate to some of them and found them enlightening. My favorites are ‘Spring Cleaning for your soul’ and Karmic connection. Chapters like ‘Who’s your Daddy’ and ‘Many faces of MIL’ had me laughing out loud.

I also liked the way each chapter started with a quote. Some of them were outright hilarious and others were quite inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire, the size of your dream, and how you handle disappointment along the way. – Robert Kiyosaki.
  •  You have to experience life, make observations and ask questions. – Mos Def. 
  • Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time. – Maya Angelou.
  • I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house, and she said,’ Get the hell off my property.’ –Joan Rivers.
  •  Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul. – Democritus.
If non-fiction books on relationships and life in general, interests you then you can surely pick this book for your next read.


I received this book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Cupful of Aha by Anandaa


“…Hello,” I said, “Can’t say I’ve seen you around here before.”

She smiled again…and my heart melted.

“No, you haven’t,” she giggled. “For I have come especially to meet you today. I am Death, and it is time.”

Did the last few words give you goose bumps? Yeah, they did that to me too, the first time I read that line.

Let’s imagine this. You are in a coffee shop and suddenly you come face to face with your death. Spooky! Isn’t it? 

But, that is how this book starts. However, contrary to your vision of death in the form of a ‘Yam-Doot’, death meets the protagonist of the story in the form of a beautiful damsel – one who likes here coffee with a smiley on top.



The first thing that catches your attention about this book is the size; it is a mere 54 page novella – just right if you want to carry in your purse around for reading. Then you notice the cover, an alluring cup of steaming coffee which forms a pattern of a beautiful lady over it dotted with shooting stars over it.

The book has a philosophical premise and touches the various facets of our life. All our life we are slogging hard to reach our goals, earn money, etc., but when faced with death all seems meaningless. The book aspires to explore the deepest mysteries of life in a different perspective. It challenges our well set notions and ideas and tries to look at them in a new light. The writing style is witty, engaging and quirky. However, I did feel that the book gets confusing at times. Also, in summarizing such a potential topic in concise book, the author didn't really do full justice to it.

It was thought-provoking in parts and was a quite interesting and easy read. I hope the author will delve deeper into the mysteries of life and will come up with something more elaborate.

A special mention about the author’s bio, which is as unusual as it can get. I take the liberty to quote it here from the book.

The author is possibly the only double PhD (one in Applied Psychology, the other in Comparative Tribal Music) who has spent multiple stints in several rehabilitation centers for problems ranging from drug abuse, mental breakdown, and schizophrenia.

He then spent 8 years roaming the remote regions of the Himalayas - living with goatherds and monks, and often going several months with not a word spoken.

At ease with Prime Minister and commoners like; he has the unique ability to predict key events of your future just by looking at a photograph of your little finer.

PS: None of the above is true. The author is just the average John (or Jani or Janardhan). Does not matter.

The message is important; not the messenger. Hope you enjoy the book. :)

 I received the book from Pooja (BecomeShakespeare.com) in exchange for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Little Italy Ristorante, Chinchwad - A Restaurant Review


For those looking for dining at an Italian vegetarian restaurant, the Little Italy chain of restaurants perfectly fits the bill. It is India's largest chain of authentic Italian fine dining restaurant with over 25 Italian ‘Ristorante & Bar’ formats across 18 cities in India. 

What I didn't know was that it started its journey from the city of Pune in 1989 as 'La Pizzeria'. When I got an invitation from Prathmesh from Praxis Media to sample the menu at the new opened Little Italy restaurant in Chinchwad and do a review; I was more than happy to oblige. So, I tagged my DH along and went to dine at the restaurant as scheduled over the last weekend. Since, the restaurant is not very far away from the place where I live, it took us less then half an hour's drive to reach the place.

The restaurant is located in a relatively quiet area of Chinchwad. On reaching there we were greeted by the restaurant staff who took us to the designated table. 


The first thing that caught my attention in the restaurant was the decor. It is minimalist yet elegant, and the quiet atmosphere instantly makes one comfortable. The ambiance was perfect and the seating were comfortable. 


Soon, we were greeted by the enthusiastic restaurant manager - Ganesh, who shared some details about the menu and dishes. He was also thoughtful enough to suggest some of their signature dishes. We decided to start with some mocktails and starters. For starters we ordered Bruschetta Al Pomodoro - which was basically grilled Italian bread slices topped with garlic, fresh chopped tomatoes, olive oil and oregano. The starter was made to perfection. I enjoyed the perfectly grilled bread with a hint of garlic and the juicy chopped tomato on top.


The starter was accompanied by a set of mocktails. I got myself - Fruit Punch - a fruity drink with pineapples, black grapes, apple, pomegranate, orange and lemon, and DH ordered a Lava Flow - a concoction of strawberry, pineapple and coconut cream. They were nice, DH in particular liked his Lava Flow.



Later, I also ordered a 'Cool Blue', which I quite liked. It has a nice flavor of Blue Curacao and a subtle lemony flavor which was refreshing.


Next dish we ordered was a salad - 'Insalate Mista'. It was basically a light salad comprising of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, oregano, mozzarella cheese, olives seasoned with extra virgin oil and balsamic vinegar. The salad was average. I felt there were too much of lettuce leaves and less of the tomatoes and cucumber. So, after a few spoons I was left with just lettuce leaves on my plate. However, it was seasoned perfectly with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you are overly fond of lettuce, you might like it a lot. But, for me - I will order some other salad next time.


For main course, we ordered a "Wood Burn Pizza - Fantasy". If you are a fan of thin crust pizzas, you will like them instantly. It had spicy tomato sauce with Italian herbs, onions, capsicum, cottage cheese, coriander and mozzarella and was perfectly seasoned. A must try if you plan to dine in Little Italy Restaurant, Chinchwad.


Along with that we also ordered a 'Cannelloni Alla Florentina' which the menu said was a traditional dish from Florence. It comprised of tubes of home-made pasta filled with ricotta cheese, spinach, mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce baked in the oven. It was perfectly made and had a melt in your mouth texture. I was so engrossed in eating that I almost forgot to click a picture of this dish. And when I remembered, it was kind of too late. You can see part of that dish in the plate below. I know it doesn't look appealing here, but it tasted awesome.


The variety of dishes in the restaurant menu was just mind boggling, to the point that it can get confusing. I couldn't believe that one could have so many authentic vegetarian Italian dishes to choose from in a restaurant. If you are visiting this restaurant for the first time, a little help from the staff in placing the order will definitely help. The portion size of all the dishes is generous. In most cases one dishes can easily serve at least 2 people.

Overall, I was happy with the two main course dishes we had ordered. Now, it was time for dessert. I am very much a dessert person. However, by this time we were so full that we settled for only one dessert! The manager - Ganesh suggested us to go for their signature dish - 'Chocolate Bomb' and we ordered that.

A mini molten lava cake with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream - one bite of it and you will be transported to a chocolate-y heaven. The dessert was decadent to say the least. ( I must admit here that I absolutely love chocolate cakes and brownies, so, its no wonder I loved this dessert). If there was only one thing that I would have to order at this restaurant, it would be this Chocolate Bomb. This dish was the show stealer!
Overall, I had a great experience at the Little Italy Restaurant, Chinchwad . The restaurant caters to food lovers looking for fresh, authentic, Italian vegetarian cuisine and it does a very good job at it. Highly recommended to all Italian food enthusiasts in Pune.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Just Kidding... Yours, Destiny by Anirban Das


After a long time I have read a book that I could finish reading in a day. In fact, I was in dire need of such a quick read as the past few books I have read took me a couple of weeks to finish! Just Kidding.. Yours Destiny by Anirban Das came to my rescue at a very appropriate time. In this 190 paged book, the author dwells on the strange ways and behavior of destiny through the story of his protagonist – Kunal Roy.

Meet Kunal Roy – a high flying corporate man, Head of Sales in the real estate company HomeMakers. He has a life every one dreams of – a lavish own flat in Mumbai, an eye-popping salary and a Mercedes Benz to flaunt. Just when Kunal thinks that life is moving smoothly, destiny plays its prank. Homemakers is taken over by a bigger firm and his new boss is hell bent on making his life miserable by throwing in new challenges. He meets Shristi and gradually falls for her.  But, there are problems there are as well. Kunal is a divorce and is 10 years elder to Shristi. Will Shristi’s parent consent to such a match? How will Kunal manage the challenges in the office? How will life unfold for Kunal and how destiny will play a role? These are the things to discover in the novel.

The novel is a very quick read. It will hold your attention and will keep you glued till you have finished it. The writing style is very simple. There are many twists and turns in the story that makes it engaging. The first half of the book had a strong romantic angle. The middle part is focused on the work challenges of Kunal and last part is about the self-discovery of Kunal. The characters are well sketched. One can easily relate to them. The author takes the readers through the life of Kunal – his college days, his first marriage with Sarika, his work life and more. I just wish the author had ended the book in a different way. You have to read to book to know why I am saying so.

I would recommend this book if anyone is looking for a light read. However, if you are looking for a literary master-piece then it’s not the book you should pick.


I received a review copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Khandvi ~ Savoury Chickpea Flour Rolls ~ A Gujarati delicacy



Khandvi is one of those dishes which you will either love or hate. I belong to the former group. This Gujarati delicacy requires a bit of patience and practice to get thin layers which literally melts in the mouth when you eat it. Even if you don't get super thin layers don't worry. Believe me it doesn't really make much difference to the final taste. My maternal grand mother makes a similar dish which we call 'pithod' or 'patindri'. She makes it in a single thick layer and cuts them in diamond shape. It is then topped with tadka and the garnishing.

One has to prepare the batter and cook it until it is just right to spread. If you do it wrong there, the batter won't set at all. I do a simple test to know if the batter is cooked enough. For that I just drop a small spoonful of the batter and spread it. If it sets in one minute then I know that the batter has cooked enough for spreading.

Let's hop over to the recipe now.

Khandvi
Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:
1/3 cup gram flour
2 tsp ginger green chili paste
3 tablespoon oil
1/3 cup yogurt
Salt to taste
A pinch turmeric powder
A pinch of asafetida
1 tsp sugar
1cup water

Tempering:
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp vegetable oil
A few curry leaves

Garnishing:
2 tbsp grated coconut
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander



Process:


1. Shift the gram flour/besan such that there are no lumps in the flour. Mix together the yogurt and water. Grease the back of 2-3 large thali or your kitchen counter top.

2. In a large bowl add the gram flour, turmeric, asafetida, chili ginger paste, salt, and the besan-yogurt mixture. Whisk to form a smooth batter.

3. Heat a large pan and cook the batter on medium heat stirring it continuously. In about 12-15 minutes the mixture will get cooked and thicken.

4. Spread the mixture over the greased thali or your kitchen counter top as thinly as possible while the batter is still hot and leave it to cool.

5. When completely cold, roll the layer towards you to make a long thin roll. Cut the roll into one-inch pieces. Arrange them on a plate.

6. Heat the oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and sesame seeds. When they begin to splutter, pour over the Khandvi.

7. Garnish it with coconut, and chopped coriander. Serve.

Thank you for stopping by! Cheers!

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