Tag Archive > India

Beautiful Thing – Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars

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Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars , Sonia Faleiro, book reviewBeautiful Thing – Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro is a remarkable documentary account of a few years in the life of Leela, a dancer in a Mumbai dance bar, her friends, her clients and her co-workers. It’s a life set on the wrong side of the tracks which reveals the power of friendship, honour and companionship that belies the sordid surroundings. Even more remarkable is the friendship between Leela and the writer which offers Faleiro an opportunity to go where few writers would be able to and at considerable risk to her own health and personal safety.

I’ve long been aware of the shady world of the Mumbai dance bars because I was in Mumbai in 2005 on a business trip at the time of the crackdown which is described in the book. The local papers were full of the news of the closure of the dance bars and I asked a local colleague what it was all about.

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The East Indian Kitchen

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The East Indian Kitchen by  Michael Swamy, book reviewAll recipes have some kind of historical significance to them. How they originated, where they originated and why they are the way they are. In The East Indian Kitchen, Michael Swamy sets out to trace the culture, traditions and culinary practices followed by the East Indians – of Mumbai, who were the original inhabitants of the seven islands that formed Mumbai and who converted to Christianity after the Portuguese arrived in the islands. The book in the end turns into a very personal search for culinary roots and origins written by a chef who studied at the Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London, who has worked as a food stylist for Indian TV channels and whose grandmother is East Indian.

The East Indian Kitchen is the second edition of Swamy’s book Enduring Flavours, which was based on the way the East Indian community had adapted to changing times.

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Happy Odds and Ends

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The Vague Woman's Handbook by Devapriya Roy, book reviewIndia has already shown that it can master the chick lit. Now it’s the turn of the Sophie Kinsella type of novel, the girl after marriage dealing with accounts. In fact Sophie Kinsella’s heroine pops up fairly often in this peppy debut novel, as does Alexander McCall Smith’s middle aged sleuth Isabel Dalhousie, so it’s good if you’ve flipped through books by both authors.

It’s a book about the friendship between a young newly married girl, Mila Chatterjee and an older woman. Mila’s just got married and has moved to Delhi with her husband Abhimanyu who is studying something strange after giving up a full scholarship to a prestigious American university.

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South Indian Spice

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Chettinad Kitchen: Food and Flavours from South India by Alamelu Vairavan, book reviewChettinad food is known for its spicy hot flavours, that can bring tears to the eyes of those unused to encounters with chillis. In the last few decades it has been making its presence felt in five star hotels and offering foodies an alternative to the traditional South Indian vegetarian cuisine. Alamelu Vairavan’s third book makes few concessions for Western readers like offering mild spice variants, even though she herself is based in Wisconsin. In this book she has listed 170 recipes, clustered under different headings to make the book easy to navigate.

Each recipe has a detailed list of ingredients including the traditional sambar – there are nine varieties to choose from – six different rasams, including prawn and chicken, chutneys and tamarind rice, though the recipes in this book are primarily non vegetarian, since that is what Chettinad food is famous for.

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Grappling Life and Loneliness

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A Pack of Lies by Urmilla Deshpande, book reviewIndian fiction has been going in many directions. Urmilla Deshpande’s novel is the story of a heroine who could belong in Jacqueline Susann’s pages, a girl who is thrown from one dysfunctional situation to another. If you analyse the situations they are the expected ones, a neglectful mother, an absent father, an abusive step father, a ‘wicked stepmother’, exploitative boyfriends, an abortion, a full term pregnancy, a brush with drugs, a shrink – everything that privileged children living on the edge could be expected to encounter.

The book opens with Ginny and her mother in Mumbai in the 1980’s – Ginny is hungry short of money and desperate for her mother’s attention, though we don’t quite realise why.

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Indian Takeaway

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Indian Takeaway: A Very British Story by Hardeep Singh Kohli, book reviewI first became aware of Hardeep Singh Kohli though the Channel 4 television series ‘Meet the Magoons’ which was set in a Glaswegian curry house and starred a bunch of great British Asian comic actors. These included his brother Sanjeev Kohli (the writer of the equally fabulous radio 4 comedy ‘Fags, Mags and Bags’), the guy who plays the postman in East Enders and the father from The Kumars at No. 42. I thought the series was hilarious and I loved the weirdly eccentric turban-wearing kilted Kohli. Unfortunately it seems that only I, my husband and another three viewers who were probably Kohli relatives thought it was funny and the show was pulled after just one series. I never have been good at finding humour where others look for it.

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The Doctors in Your Kitchen

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 How the Banana Goes to Heaven: and Other Secrets of Health from the Indian Kitchen by Ratna Rajaiah, book reviewFood writer Ratna Rajaiah has put together a book that adds new insights to the familiar ingredients of Indian cookery. What she does do is take coconuts and chillies, mangoes and jackfruit, ragi and channa dal, ghee and jaggery, mustard seeds and curry leaves and reintroduce them to us by delving into the pages of history.

She goes back to vedic times for the evolution of rice, though in one of its simplest forms, the humble conjee or kanji, and talks about how the word for rice was actually used in Asian countries as a synonym for food.

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A Beautiful Ceremony

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Tonight, This Savage Rite   by  Kamala Das  , Nandy PritishThe cover’s a shock of candy colours, magenta and emerald, canary yellow, large bold font, hitting out at you almost savagely. Tonight and Savage shriek at you in more pink and green and then you read Tonight This Savage Rite and the cover’s mayhem seems to come together in a riot of love.

Welcome to the reissue of the love poems of Pritish Nandy and India’s famous candy coloured poetess Kamala Das who wept eros up and down her stanzas. Kamala Das ended her life veiling her colourful serendipity in black and changing her name – and with it her faith – to Suraiya, but her rants of passion live on.

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Cheap at the Price

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Small Wonder the Authorised Story of the Making of the Nano By Philip Chacko, By Christabelle Noronha, By Sujata Agrawal, book reviewBengal’s relationship with the Nano has been an uneasy one ever since the days of the Singur agitation. The State’s sudden game of political dominoes forced Ratan Tata to order a plant that was almost set up to be removed piece by piece to Gujarat and set back production of the world’s first people’s car by several months. The Nano inspired hate mail, adulation and disbelief and it was obvious from the first that its case history deserved a book. Philip Chacko, Christabelle Noronha and Sujata Agrawal’s account is the Tata authorized version, a neat page turner that presents the facts and provides snippets of interesting trivia.

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The Heart of Darkness

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Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II By Madhusree Mukerjee, book reviewTake an obstinate man determined to prove British racial superiority, put him together with a ‘brown’ state full of rebellious people, throw in a World War and you have a recipe for disaster. Churchill’s Secret War is journalist Madhusree Mukerjee’s expose of the real reasons behind the Bengal famine of 1943 – Winston Churchill’s determination to ensure that the British were well fed and looked after at the expense of the colonies. And his refusal to admit that India should be given its independence.

When he died Churchill was given a hero’s funeral because he had kept British morale high in the face of Hitler’s Blitz. However, where India was concerned his policies had ensured that what had once been India’s richest state was drained and impoverished.

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Quiet Lives

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Saraswati Park By Anjali Joseph, book reviewThere’s something Chekhovian about Saraswati Park, in its collection of small intimate details about life in Mumbai’s suburbs which is very different from the glitz and Page 3 electricity of Mumbai proper. It’s a novel about the everyday lives of small suburb people. Mohan Karekar, who every day goes to the post office to write letters for those who cannot do it for themselves, and his wife Lakshmi, who wakes every morning to the clattering of teacups put beside the bed by her husband.

Mohan, a character straight out of RK Narayan, has aspirations to become a writer one day and buys pirated books from the roadside hawkers, including a treatise on how to write.

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Vale of Illusion

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 Kashmir Blues - Urmilla Deshpande , book reviewEveryone knows a Kashmiri shawl wala or carpet seller – they arrive with the coming of autumn carrying treasures of colour in their autumn leaf brown bundles. And then they disappear with spring for months on end and you occasionally, reading about disturbances in the Valley, you wonder whether they will reappear. At the heart of Urmilla Deshpande’s novel is Samaad, a carpet seller who speaks the Queen’s English because he happened to have been educated in England. He is a man with a mission – he has discovered a mineful of priceless Kashimiri sapphires, the Kashmir Blues of the titles and he wants to use the sapphires to ensure peace for the part of the Valley in which he lives.

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