desi must reads 



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Book REview: 

Girls Of Riyadh 

Sept 8 2013

Book Review:

Secret Daughter

Shipi Somaya Gowda's debut novel, the New York Times and #1 International Bestseller, 'Secret Daughter' is a must-read for every Indian, for every Indian American, for every person of Indian origin and for all who have ever been curious about India. India is a country of contradictions. We hear that over and over. The characters in this book come from that contradiction- from the poor couple in the village moving to Mumbai to find their dream to the Indian doctor who settles in America, marries a white American woman and lives the American dream. And the link in the two worlds. The author, Shilpi, has very intricately blended the stories from the two worlds together. The story is narrated from the perspective of various different characters making the narration even more interesting. Shilpi covers the issues of female infanticide, the poverty, the life in Dharavi slums, infertility, adoption, mixed marriage, mixed family, large extended family and more in gripping detail- spinning the story around it all in a very skillful manner. She tells the story in a way that takes

 the readers through heart wrenching parts and yet somehow often spares them  the trauma, capturing the sad details and yet managing to not make the book morose. It's hard to believe it's her first book.

Talks are already underway to bring the book on the silver screen, according to Shilpi's website. The Canadian Indian director, Deepa Mehta, of 'Midnight's Children' fame has the honor of doing so. 

Again, a definite must read. 

About the author:

According to her website, Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto. Her parents had migrated there from Mumbai. She holds an MBA from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1991, she spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage, which seeded the idea for her first novel,Secret Daughter. A native of Canada, she has lived in New York, North Carolina, and Texas. She currently makes her home in California with her husband and children.  

July 24 2013

Book Review- Oleander Girl

by Sonal Kulshrestha

Oleander Girl, the latest book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni , the famed author of the Palace of Illusions, an international bestseller, is as rich in its content as any other book by Divakaruni. It’s a story of a girl who is seen as a girl from a well respected Kolkata family , alliance with whom is equivalent to nothing short of a union with the rich culture of Kolkata. Until her life leads her down a path where she’s forced to dig through her past- only to unravel secrets that makes her look at herself differently and mars her image in the eyes of those she loves.

Oleander Girl is certainly one of those books you just can’t keep down. It’s gripping and engrossing. But more than that, it brims of the culturally rich aspect of Kolkata. Also, Divakaruni has successfully and very skillfully woven into the story, the heightened mistrust and tensions between Hindus and Muslims in life in Kolkata in the light of Godhra train incident and the backlash experienced by some Indian families in the aftermath of 9/11 in America.


Oleander Girl, published this year, has already made it to Oprah’s Book Club Recommendation and is also on the top-ten national bestsellers list in India. A definite must read. 

About the author-

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has authored famous books like The Mistress of Spices and Arranged Marriage, amongst others. Divakaruni was born in Kolkata and did her graduate studies in the US. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and lives in Houston, Texas.  

July 21 2013

Book Review- Palace of Illusions

by Sonal Kulshrestha

Panchaali's Mahabarat, The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,  published in 2008, went on to become an international best seller. It is the story of Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective - or you could say it's Draupadi's  stroy from birth and before to death and after, told by her!

We have all heard or seen as television series, all the various different stories and events surrounding the Mahabarat, the great war of the good vs the evil, but the fact that the stories are told by Draupadi in the book, with her feelings and emotions, her views and opinions, makes the book a very interesting read. The Palace of Illusions provides an insightful version of a story that is all about men and war from a woman's point of view- and that too a woman who is born when a son is being prayed for, made to marry five brothers, pawned off in a game and humiliated in a court full of wise men.

The author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, has chosen to give her own spun to Draupadi's love life (not sure if she actually found any evidence of that in the scriptures), but the tale never loses you. You stay interested and wanting more right to the very end.

Yes, the book makes a truly gripping read. Its pace is excellent, and the stories are told at appropriate times, in a concise manner. Pack it in your travel bag.

Divakaruni's latest novel,  Oleander Girl, is an Oprah's Book Club recommendation and is also on the top-ten national bestsellers list in India.

About the author-

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has authored other famous books like The Mistress of Spices and Arranged Marriage, amongst others. Divakaruni was born in Kolkata and did her graduate studies in the US. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and lives in Houston, Texas. 

Book Review- Together Tea

by Sonal Kulshrestha

Coming from India, we all know all about bonding over tea. Of course, the word ‘tea’ and ‘together’ go hand in hand, even though not in that order. So it’s the title that intrigued me while shopping at Costco. My love for ‘chai’ time compelled me into buying the book for my in-flight entertainment during the upcoming India trip. I’m glad I picked it.

Marjan Kamali’s Together Tea is about an Iranian family settled in the US after having to flee their country when its’ culture is hijacked and dictated by the fundamentalists. It is about an Iranian family becoming Iranian-American and yet not quite. It is about the determination of parents to let their kids thrive and achieve the best in life. It is about a mother. It is about the woman in her as well. It is about a mother-daughter relationship. It is about arranged marriage. It is about the sense of captivity that women feel when a handful of men feel empowered by holding women captive to their ideologies. It is about a very rich & colorful culture whose inherent value is lost to the world as its primary perception is that of its association to terrorism.

‘Together Tea’ provides a delightful and in-depth insight into a world very alien to most. On the other hand, it dwells into nature of the relationships that are no different across the world- no matter what culture, religion or country you come from. 

Marjan Kamali, the author, was born in Turkey. She holds an MFA in creative Writing from New York University and an MBA from Columbia University. The book , her debut novel , is certainly an excellent read with bold and honest opinions, rich cultural descriptions, very real relationships, intriguing and interesting, good paced and informative- all at once. A must-pack for your summer travels.


 June 23 2013

Book Review: The Secret Wish List

(by Sonal Kulshrestha)

He said, ‘I’m really easy to please’. That should have given her a clue as to what her future would be like with him when her marriage was being arranged by her parents. A clue that she missed, leading to a marital relationship in which she was the perpetual giver and her husband did taketh all the time. The circumstances under which she was ‘married off’ certainly didn’t help matters either.

Read Preeti Shenoy’s, The Secret Wish List - fast paced, engrossing and well narrated story of Diksha, from being sixteen to being married over sixteen years. Her story evolves into interesting when she makes a secret wish list.

‘The Secret Wish List’, published in Dec 2012, is a refreshingly simple tale of how complicated your story can get when you fail to stand up for yourself. My personal take away from the book?  As a mother of a daughter myself, as I read the story of Diksha, I feel it reinforces the importance of forgiving your kids for their mistakes. We can do our best in instilling good values and high principles. But if and when they make a wrong choice, it is just as important to remember the old adage- to err is human, to forgive divine. Life’s value lies in forgiving rather than in punishing, in guiding rather than in judging, in forgetting rather than in shaming. Also, I think the book hits home the importance of having the expectation of being treated right- an important value to pass down to our kids- daughters and sons. 

The author, Preeti Shenoy, a Bangalore based blogger, gained fame when one of her one of her blog posts was picked up by a radio show host in US. She has authored three other books before this- Tea for two and a piece of cake, Life is what you make it (in "Top books of 2011" as per the Nielsen list) and her first book, a compilation of true stories- 34 Bubblegums and Candies, that went on to become a National best-seller.

Yes, the Secret Wish List is a good read and a good travel companion.


 Around India In 80 Trains
(A book by Monisha Rajesh)
(Review by Sonal Kulshrestha)

Did you know that Chandigarh has the distinct status of being India’s first planned city and also it’s cleanest? That post-partition Nehru had commissioned its development to reflect new India?

Did you know that Shimla was built by the British Raj as its official summer capital- a Little England to ‘escape’ India?

Did you know that Koh-i-Noor, the world’s largest diamond, that now sits in the Jewel House at the Tower of London in England, is 186-carat and was taken by the British as result of a “footnote” in the Treaty of Lahore drawn by them after winning the First Anglo-Sikh War in 1846?

Did you know that the well-known Khan Market of Delhi was built by the Ministry of Rehabilitation and given to the immigrants at the time of partition?

Well, I’ll stop the fun-facts right here, before I entirely kill the joy of exploring India with Monisha Rajesh in this classic saga of her epic journey around India in 80 trains. I shall however tell you exactly why every Indian should read this book- whether you read it to discover India, to re-discover India, to experience  India, to explore India, or simply for the sake of nostalgia that it evokes because you have been living away from India for years!

And before even doing that, got to say how very impressive it is that the then 28 year old (in 2011) Monisha, born and raised in England, should undertake a journey around India, covering the 4 extreme ends of the Indian Railways in 80 different trains, travelling in top-notch luxury trains to 2nd and 3rd tiers of passenger trains  and yes, even the Lifeline Express (the world’s first hospital train), the infamous Mumbai’s commuter trains and the toy trains- undaunted by the ‘chaos and the stink that form the basis of daily existence in the country’ and in the face of ‘constant battle against the country’s orchestrated chaos’ (her words not mine) and did I mention chaos? :)


So yes, we would highly recommend every Indian to read this book. And here goes why…

1. Love Monisha’s narrative. She talks about  all the different types and yet the same kind of people that you encounter while travelling anywhere in India- the ready with advice well-wishers, the curious by-standers, the rude conductor, the overzealous neighbor and the ever so sharing co-travelers who are ever so willing to share their ‘puris’ with fellow passengers!

2. Monisha gives a good peek at the history/ background of some of the main places that she visits (especially some of the cities and the temples), even though the book is more about the journey rather than the destinations.

3. Monisha mentions every single thing that’s India, from the legacy left behind by the British to our very own cultivated culture. And she herself being from England, the read becomes really interesting for she’s able to give the readers a good balance of the two perspectives, observing things that’s too much on the face for those living in India to even note.  Like when she describes the Kanwar’s moustache, she says it must have been combed and set around a pair of heated rollers at bedtime. Now, we know that’s not true, but it does make you wonder how do they keep it perfectly curled and pointy? 

4. Monisha describes everything that she sees in a very matter-of-fact manner, no passing judgement, no offering suggestions to change. She describes the various different shapes and shades of teeth people have, the ‘puris’ on the train, bata sandals, coconut smelling hair,  the powdered grey faces, the gold-ringed fingers, daily ablutions on the fields and on the tracks, the ‘heavily pregnant trains’, the heavy accent (‘leven’, ‘pleesgeddown’), the use of the word ‘only’, the haggling, wedding crashers, the cheating vendors, you name it and you’ll find a mention. In fact, I half expected to read about “bohani ka time hai” (the auspicious time when the first sale of the day is made) or even “ghelua” (the consumers’ expectation of getting extra). That’s probably the only two things that didn’t make it in the book.

5. Love Monisha’s sense of humor. Like when she says that had the Koh-i-noor stayed in India, it was more than likely that she would now be sitting on the ring fingers of at least 20 Delhiite Punjabis! (Lol!!! ) Her description of ‘buttocks winking in the sunshine, a salute to the posh passengers munching on their cornflakes and hot milk’ is hilarious (you know what we’re talking about ).


6. Monisha describes all that is good about India and all that is far-from-it. Will leave that for the readers to find out, suffice to say there’s mention of a young man who sends money home to help support the family (much unlike her contemporaries in England, as she herself agrees) and there’s mention of the constant stares, the touching and everything else that falls under the umbrella phrase, ‘eve teasing’ that’s so prevalent in India, much to our shame.

7. Lastly, travelling with an English companion, and getting opportunities to interact with foreign tourists aboard luxury trains, Monisha is able to offer the readers a perspective other than her own as well. On the one hand is Passepartout and on the other Patrick. Both an atheist, but while one display utter frustration in the Indian world of beliefs, the other admires ‘the workmanship that goes into what they believe in’.

Again, the book is a must read! In fact, read it with your kids and share your experiences of train travel with them if your kids are not born and raised in India. But beware that the chapter on the visit to Rajneesh’s Ashram and the description of our famous temple sculptures makes the book pg-13.

So go ahead and get your copy of ‘Around India in 80 Trains’, Monisha Rajesh's debut book. You’re sure to find it engrossing, fascinating, amusing and intriguing. And remember to settle down with a paper and a pencil for you would want to jot down those train journeys that Monisha absolutely tempts you into wanting to take by her descriptions of 102 tunnels over 864 bridges and so on and so forth!!!