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collage of book covers of 6 short books in the amazon originals hush collection of suspense thriller short stories

Amazon Original Short Reads—Hush Collection

I came across a few short stories on Amazon last year and loved them. Amazon has commissioned a series of original short stories by prominent writers. These stories are categorised by genre and are only available as digital books on Amazon or as audiobooks on Audible.  

If you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, then you can read most of these for free. The narrators on Audible are often celebrities, so that’s something you might consider when choosing which format to get.

The stories are short but impactful. They take you on a journey and make you see the world differently. 

This year, since I’ve committed to reading (listening to) the Wheel of Time series, I haven’t been in the frame of mind to read any other significant book. These short stories have been an excellent palette cleanser.

Each collection has at least six stories. I am not sure how many I will read, but I’ll update each collection as I go.

The Hush Collection

Hush is a collection of six stories, ranging from political mysteries to psychological thrillers, in which deception can be a matter of life and death. 

Let her Be by Lisa Unger:  

Will takes us through his emotional rollercoaster of life since his girlfriend left him and his subsequent suicide attempt. But her new life as he sees it on social media might not be as picture-perfect as she portrays it. When a common friend confesses a secret, we get to know who’s behind the perfect Instagram posts.

Show me your crooked teeth 

The nose you were born with 

The birthmark you had removed 

Your childhood scars 

I want to see all your beautiful ugly 

Shed the mask you wear for everyone else and 

Show me 

The Gift by Alison Gaylin

Lyla and Nolan are famous. When their child goes missing, they try every possible lead to find her, including hiring a psychic. But the first visit itself brings back memories for Layla that she doesn’t want to remember. I felt there were a few plot holes, but it was interesting to see the drama unfold.

When you apologize that much, there’s something you aren’t saying.

Treasure by Oyinkan Braithwaite

In the perfect world of Instagram, Treasure is the envy of her followers. Her beauty, glamour, and expensive tastes are much loved. Then a fan falls in love with her image and will do anything to meet her. What happens when they come face-to-face, with each other and with reality?

Because I am living the life they want to live.

Buried by Jeffery Deaver: 

This will make the 90s kids reminisce about good old journalism. When an old fashioned reporter gets killed in the middle of an investigative report, his younger counterpart takes it upon her to find out the mysterious person behind the disappearances of 2 people. There’s not a big reveal of the killer because that doesn’t seem to be the focus of the story…just the camaraderie of colleagues

The blow to the head, the drugs, being trapped underground? Jasper Coyle knew exactly what was happening to him. He read the papers, he watched the news

Slow Burner by Laura Lippman:

Liz reminisces about her married life with her husband Phil after finding a burner phone in his pocket. She had promised to never spy on him again, but the temptation was strong. We read text messages between Phil and the woman he’s trying to woo. When he suggests they meet, things take an unexpected turn.

To teenagers, the gods are like adults, taking themselves much too seriously, demanding respect they have not earned, changing the rules as it suits them while torturing the puny mortals in their care. Gods are hypocrites and bullies.

Snowflakes by Ruth Ware:

It starts off as a Robinson Crusoe meets Doomsday kind of a story. A family lives by themselves on an island, apparently to escape the brutal war that is waging on the mainland. But, instead of focussing on their need for food, their father becomes more worried about building a wall around them. That’s when things start to crack and we are let into the reason for the seclusion.

There was a war, but it was between Father and the rest of the world.

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

collage of 6 book covers from the Amazon original series of short stories in the Forward collection of sci-fi short stories

Amazon Original Short Reads—Forward Collection

I came across a few short stories on Amazon last year and loved them. Amazon has commissioned a series of original short stories by prominent writers. These stories are categorised by genre and are only available as digital books on Amazon or as audiobooks on Audible.  

If you have the subscription for Kindle Unlimited, then you can read most of these for free. The narrators on Audible are often celebrities, so that’s something you might consider when choosing which format to get.

The stories are short but impactful. They take you on a journey and make you see the world differently. 

This year, since I’ve committed to reading (listening to) the Wheel of Time series, I haven’t been in the frame of mind to read any other significant book. These short stories have been an excellent palette cleanser.

Each collection has six stories. I am not sure how many I will read, but I’ll update each collection as I go.

The Forward Collection

Forward is a collection of six stories of the near and far future from out-of-this-world authors. 

Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin:

I loved the concept of this dystopian world, taking into account all that’s messed up in a Capitalist society. It drops some major truth bombs in a few short pages. 

We left because it would’ve cost too much to fix the world. Cheaper to build a new one.

You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles: 

Genetically-altered babies are already being talked about. A lot of scientific research is about what we can do and not enough about IF we should do it. This story takes us inside a premium company that gives you a choice of life you’d want your child to live. But are they revealing all to their high-paying clients? What would you choose?

We are who we are, right? There’s no point in pushing our personalities uphill.

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch: 

The concept of robots taking over the human world has been in circulation for a while now. With all the technological advances in the last decade and the possibilities for more in the next, this story takes us to how the world can change. Riley has dedicated her life to perfecting her idea of an AI being that has managed to gain sentience. Can they trust each other or are humans susceptible to anthropomorphising every species? Can you teach a machine to feel?

Because sometimes life is so rich and complicated and surprising that it takes your breath away.

Ark by Veronica Roth:

How would you live your life if you knew the world was ending in a day or a week? Would it be different if you knew it was ending in 20 years? Samantha has known all her life that the world as people know it is going to be destroyed. The world is unrecognisable and she is part of a team that is helping to preserve samples of as much as possible before doomsday. She can join everyone in the escape ark and live out her life in a spaceship, en route to the next planet, but she has other plans.

There was nothing you could have that you couldn’t one day lose

Randomize by Andy Weir:

This was disappointing, to say the least. It was full of cliches and bad dialogues. A casino manager who’s smart enough to outsmart everyone, but has no clue about a supercomputer that will give the codes to everyone? The cringe cliched life of the Indian couple was too much to handle. The plot was smart but could’ve been made better with some effort.

A system is only as secure as the humans who operate it.

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay:

This was sci-fi with a tinge of horror almost. The story starts off with a man in a dark room who is learning all basic body movements with the help of a doctor over the speakers. He’s remembering memories that are supposedly his with some audio-visual aids. However, things are not as they seem as we find out in the end.

Your frustration and mistrust melt away as you lose yourself in the undeniable pleasure of remembering.

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

caged bird looking out

Overcoming a difficult time: when molehills become mountains

Does it ever feel like the universe has conspired against you just when things are going right? One domino wobbles, and before you know it, the whole pile has fallen. The dominoes don’t need to be significant events. They can be just minor disturbances. But these tiny disturbances piled on top of each other can sometimes seem insurmountable. How do you overcome this? 

Well, first of all, you take a while to sit and cry. It is overwhelming to deal with a full plate of things that need to be fixed or just waited out to pass. Then you roll up your sleeves and get to work. Start small.

Did you know that the minute it takes to make your bed can lift your mood significantly? You might think looking at a messy bed is not a big deal, but that’s one less clutter your mind sees. Next, tackle the dishes.

Some things cause anxiety but are out of your control. It helps to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve done all you can, and now it’s up to the universe to take it further. 

I find myself losing my temper more often when I have a list of unchecked to-do’s. In that state, I am often unable to tick off the top priority tasks. But, starting with the easiest or fastest helps me get my groove back.

What are some ways you tackle a slump in your schedule?

DIY trinket trays with air dry clay embellished with beads

An Ode to Teachers and a Handmade Thank You Gift for Teachers

Teachers no doubt shape the lives of their students in a multitude of ways. With a word that’s thoughtful or sharp, they can make or break a student. A good teacher is a rare gift that not everyone is lucky to experience. They nurture, educate, and inspire beyond their own classrooms. 

I haven’t had any memorable teachers, mostly because I had to change many schools growing up, so I never knew anyone long enough. But there have been plenty of mediocre ones along the way who did their jobs in class and nothing more.

In my son’s very short academic life so far, we’ve seen him experience three different schools. He started in a small Montessori school at 3 ½ years. He enjoyed it thoroughly from Day 1. Unfortunately, we had to shift cities after just 4 months.

Most of the Montessori schools in India are not purely so. They do add in touches of regular school work. The schools we visited showed us notebooks of their 5-year-olds writing the same sentences repeatedly. I did not want writing forced on my then 4-year-old, who didn’t like sitting in one place for long. 

We now had some options for alternative schooling near where we lived, so we decided to opt for that instead. One of the places we visited wowed us with its no-frills approach and its philosophy of letting kids be kids with minimal adult interference. 

When our son started crying after a few days of attending school, we assumed he was having a hard time adjusting to a new place. The school also brushed it off, saying he’ll take time to get used to it. 

Only when the online sessions started after a few months, we realised why he wasn’t interested in the school. At school, the younger kids were left on their own to play and sometimes fought with each other. The online sessions were also just one teacher speaking with the kids on mute. Trying to talk to the teachers about making it more interactive was futile because I was told that something was wrong with my child if he was getting bored in class. I was so disappointed.

I decided to homeschool our son, which was not ideal because I run low on patience most days. We tried it for a few months and made some progress. However, it wasn’t a long-term solution.

Then someone mentioned another school with a similar alternative education philosophy that we’d liked earlier. Since classes were still online, I thought we could give it a try as we’d be able to gauge if they would be able to live up to our expectations. 

There was a world of difference between this session and what we had experienced in his previous school. The classes were interactive, engaging, and fun. Slowly as the lockdown period eased, they had a few in-person meets, which were even more fun for the kids. Our son was finally looking forward to the reopening of school.

This school is more transparent and communicative about what’s happening in class. More importantly, the kids love going to school. As of now, they’re still just playing, but they do have organised lesson plans like pre-writing activities, cooking skills, and learning teamwork. 

The teachers genuinely enjoy their time with the kids and come up with ways of making the day more interesting for them. When we ask him what he did all day, he says play and play all day! What better way for a child to learn than through play? 

I can see our son learning to make his way into the world without having a set of ideas forced upon him. He’ll make mistakes along the way, but his teachers (and we, his parents) will be there to guide him on his journey. 

Handmade Gifts: Thank You Trays

Kid crafting and painting a trinket tray to gift to his teachers on the last day of school

Since our son will be graduating to the next class, we wanted to thank his facilitators for making this last year so meaningful for him. These trays made with air-dry clay are super easy to make and something that will actually get used.

  • We used Fevicryl Mouldit Clay
  • Prepare the clay as per box instructions
  • Roll it flat about a centimetre thick, making sure it’s even all over
  • We went with an uneven look, but you can shape it if you want
  • Let it dry over an upturned bowl or glass
  • It dries in a few hours, but we waited for a day before working on it
  • We primed the surface with gesso
  • You can directly apply paint, but gesso seals the clay, and a white base layer makes your final colours look more vibrant
  • We used just one coat of regular acrylic colours and let it dry for a day
  • Some embellishments like Kundan mirrors can enhance the look of your piece
  • Finally, add a layer of varnish to seal your work. This ensures the longevity of your piece
  • A little hand-written note and some ribbons complete the gift
trinket trays and thank you notes for teachers at the end of school year gifts

Thank you to all teachers who touch the lives of others every day. We don’t always notice teachers’ efforts or impact on our lives, but they do so in many ways, and we are forever grateful.

Note: Some of the links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

Vegan Pesto pasta with mushrooms, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and paprika

Healthy Meal Ideas: Vegan Pesto Pasta

I am not vegan. However, I prefer this vegan version of pesto pasta. It tastes fantastic and is packed with good nutrition.

An important point with pesto is that you shouldn’t cook it. I make only as much as I need for the particular meal and add it to the just-cooked pasta.

Ingredients:

Makes 2 servings

For the Pesto

  • 1 cup basil leaves (stems and flowers removed)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup plain cashews
  • 3 tbsp cold water
  • Salt

For the Pasta

  • Cooked pasta of your choice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for cooking
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 pieces of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4-5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 7 pieces of olives, deseeded and sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp jalapeño or paprika slices (optional, if you like some heat)
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Truffle seasoning (optional)

Method:

  • For the pesto, add everything to the mixer and blend. The cold water prevents the pesto from browning.
  • Cook your pasta according to box instructions and keep aside. I only add salt to the cooking water, no oil. Keep a few spoonfuls of pasta water after draining out the rest. You can add this in the final serving stage if the sauce is too dry.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic on medium to high heat till they turn soft.
  • Add the sun-dried tomatoes as well.
  • Now add the mushrooms and cook for 2 min on high heat, continuing to stir, so it doesn’t burn.
  • Add in the seasoning and the olives and paprika or jalapeño if using. Switch off the heat in 30 seconds.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix in the cooked pasta, the mushrooms, the pesto, and the nutritional yeast.
  • Serve hot.

The Pressure Of Perfection: How to Help Kids Handle Stress and Anxiety

Childhood is supposed to be a carefree time when kids can just be kids. However, in today’s society, children feel more pressure than ever before to be perfect. From academic expectations to social media, kids struggle to cope with the high standards that they feel they need to meet. This pressure often leads to stress and anxiety, which can have severe consequences for both the individual child and society. It’s time for us to start paying attention to the mounting pressure that our kids are under and figure out ways to deal with them.

In the last month, I’ve heard of two school-going kids who have died by suicide. It is enough to send any parent into panic mode. We try to give the best for our kids and want them to excel at every stage to secure their place in the world. But are we giving as much emphasis on their mental health? In our quest to increase their IQ (Intelligence Quotient), are we neglecting their EQ (Emotional Quotient)?

The scary statistics of the increasing number of kids dying by suicide

Suicide rates among young people are on the rise globally. Studies show that depression is one of the leading causes of suicide among young people. Other factors include unmet needs and expectations, focus on success and productivity, lack of coping skills, and a sense of a lack of belonging.

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is an emerging and serious public health issue in India. Nearly two in every five women in the world who kill themselves are Indian, according to a Lancet study (a UK-based medical journal). That means almost 40% of the world’s total number of female suicides take place in India.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 1,53,052 suicides were reported in the country during 2020 showing an increase of 10.0% in comparison to 2019. 

Out of that staggering number, 11,396 victims of suicide were under the age of 18.

‘Family Problems’, ‘Love Affairs’ and ‘Illness’ were the main causes of suicides among children (below 18 years of age). COVID-19 and the resulting school closures, social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders have further aggravated the issue.

However, even pre-pandemic the situation wasn’t ideal. In 2019, according to an NCRB report, at least one student died by suicide every hour in India. Child rights activists point out that many students struggle to find avenues to vent their anxiety, which makes stress management more difficult. 

However scary these numbers are, it becomes even more grave when we realise that these are on the lower side. India does not systematically collect data about causes of death. Just about 20% of all deaths are medically certified, making it likely that the suicide rate in India is highly under-reported. 

It is important to note that this data also does not include information on attempted suicides. Individuals who attempt suicide are the most vulnerable to subsequent suicide attempts.  The data available is not comprehensive, especially in case of individuals under the age of 18.

The deaths of younger children are often classified under accidental instead of suicide as most of them won’t have assigned the reason for killing themselves. Kids under 13 might not even realise the permanency of death, making it even more difficult to figure out their true intentions. Inadequate data or research into these cases makes it difficult for social organisations to plan and take the required steps to prevent it

Emotionally strong adults are made in their childhood

The world has changed rapidly in the last few decades. The world we grew up in is almost unrecognisable now. There are added pressure points in the form of social media, exposure to more adult content in the form of entertainment, and more competition in every sphere of life.

The seeds of emotional strength are planted in childhood. A recent study looked at the relationship between the emotional strength of parents and their children and found that the emotional strength of parents was a good predictor of their children’s emotional strength. Individuals who had supportive relationships with their parents and felt like they belonged in their community were more likely to be emotionally stable as adults. They also found that individuals who had faced adversity during their childhood but had persevered, were also more likely to be well balanced as adults.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep children emotionally healthy in a stressor-filled world.  We want our kids to be strong enough to deal with challenges on their own. To achieve this, a lot of us let them face big problems independently or force them into situations they’re not comfortable with so they learn faster. I’ll give an example of a parent forcing their toddler into the swimming pool so they overcome their fear of water. Did they end up removing the fear, or ensuring the child remains fearful?

Do we spoonfeed and handhold every step of the way then, does that work? There’s a thin line between these two methods, and it differs for each child. Some kids might need more support than others. We as parents need to make the effort to know our kids better and what works for them.

Raising emotionally healthy adults

Children are constantly learning from the adults around them. They learn how to deal with their emotions, feel and behave based on how they see the adults around them react to different situations.

The first step in raising emotionally healthy children is to talk about feelings and emotions openly, without judgement. Children need to know that it’s okay to feel sad or angry and that they’re not alone in these feelings. The second step is to identify what feeling a child might be experiencing at any given time—sadness, anger, fear etc. The last step is to teach them how they can behave appropriately in the situation like talk about their feelings with an adult or friend, take a walk, or do something else that helps calm down.

It is also important that we discuss every feeling that crops up and figure out ways of dealing with them in a healthy way. If someone is sad, instead of finding ways to make them happy, just let them feel their emotion. Support them and be there for them if they need you.

Often, we think our kids, especially teens, can handle their emotions and we being ‘cool’ parents, haven’t put any pressure on them on how to live their lives. But often, pressure sneaks into an impressionable mind from various sources. Peers, society in general, and even some of our reactions and language we use around our kids

I know of people in their 20s succumbing to mild depression because they cannot cope with the pressure of adult life and the expectations they carry on their shoulders. Their parents have tried their best to tell them to ‘do what makes you happy’, but have also shown in their actions that they value success and productivity above all else. Inadvertently, these kids have picked up on that message and know that no matter the words of support and encouragement, they need to produce specific results to prove their worth to their parents and society. We need to sit with our emotions and expectations and make sure we’re not giving out mixed messages. 

Helping our kids manage their mental health

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to raise emotionally healthy children. This means teaching them how to regulate their emotions, set boundaries, and handle difficult situations. It also means teaching them how to be kind and compassionate to others.

Some of the ways we can do that is by

  • Being a good role model by getting in touch with your own emotions and talking about them openly
  • Providing a safe and stable home environment
  • Teaching kids how to regulate their emotions. For younger kids, it is important to first help them identify their emotions—angry, upset, sad, happy, excited. Teach them how to deal with these emotions: Being angry is ok, hitting someone because you’re angry is not. If the child does feel like hitting something, give them a safe space to do so on a soft toy or punching bag.
  • Encouraging kids to express their feelings without fear of punishment or judgement.
  • Acknowledge their emotions. Don’t dismiss their fears as trivial. What might seem like nothing to you, might be a big deal for them.
  • Do not shy away from uncomfortable emotions. Understand what triggered them and together work on the best way to deal with them.
  • Discuss your expectations in an open conversation where the child can tell you if they feel pressured by your expectations or someone else’s

Suicide prevention Helplines in India

Reading Challenge: 2021 (Fiction)

Fiction is my go-to any day of the week. It is so easy to get lost in a world so far away from yours, and yet so near you could imagine being a part of it. You could step into any situation, in any part of the world, in any shape or form you want. A bit of healthy voyeurism and escapism does wonders for the mind and soul!

These, listed below, are the books in the fiction genre that I read this year. There were a few misses as always, but overall, it’s a good list of books. I am also glad that the authors I read this year are from diverse cultural backgrounds—Algerian, Indian, Vietnamese, and Dutch, to list just a few. If you’re interested in diversifying your bookshelf, read my previous post on Around the World in Books.

What the Day Owes the Night by Yasmina Khadra

How relationships grow and change during conflicts is the theme of the book. Set in the backdrop of the Algerian War, Younes grows up in a culturally diverse society where he tries to fit in but never wholly does. When revolution and war come around, he questions his beliefs. It’s a good book that looks at the impact of war on societal threads.

“Life is a train that stops at no stations; you either jump abroad or stand on the platform and watch as it passes.”

Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar 

This is supposedly the story of Meerabai and her Rajput husband, the heir of Mewar. It has everything from love, romance, war, political intrigue, and mystery.  I was glued to the story from start to finish. The ending was ambiguous and could have ended on a better note.

“Life teaches me a hundred things every day, and I forget ninety-nine of them, sometimes all hundred of them.”

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Check out my full review: A Fine Balance

The size of the book can seem intimidating, but it is such a beautiful piece of work that I don’t think a page less would’ve sufficed. The time after India’s Independence and around the Emergency under Indira Gandhi was a tough one for those who couldn’t afford to bribe their way out. We follow four main characters from different walks of life and how their lives are forever changed.

“…our lives are but a sequence of accidents – a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life.”

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Imagine signing up to teach English to a group of conservative women, and they turn in essays filled with their deepest erotic desires. That’s what happens with Nikki. She has to encourage these women to express themselves while making sure the misogynistic community members don’t find out and solve a murder mystery while she’s at it. Interesting and funny at times, it was a good read.

“Fiery-eyed and indignant, they would pen their stories for the whole world to read.”

The Discomfort of the Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld 

A child left to deal with death on their own will find meaning and reason as per their understanding. Jas is growing up on a farm in The Netherlands and is learning about life and death through her own ideas and those of her friends. As the title suggests, there are many things said in the book that might make us uncomfortable, but it is an engrossing journey we are taken on.

“I’ve discovered that there are two ways of losing your belief: some people lose God when they find themselves; some people lose God when they lose themselves.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

After so many years of hearing how ground-breaking it is, I picked up this book. I would be able to comment on it if I had managed to get even halfway through it. Honestly, it was just too confusing for me to keep track of what was happening. What I could understand in the beginning was interesting enough, but I was soon lost and couldn’t decipher anything.

“…time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…”

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones 

When a baby is found dead on the beach, the whole town springs into action, trying to find the culprit. We are given a look behind the scenes and the events that led to the horrific moment. What makes a woman choose one life over the other, and is it too late to change her mind?

“You understand that if you must learn to love a man, he is probably not the man you should be loving.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

We follow a well-placed woman, Esther, as she graduates and starts a new job that she’s supposed to be excited about. But, life and its expectations weigh heavy on her. A lot of us could identify with feelings of the pressure she feels to be perfect and the fear that she’ll always come up short of it.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I couldn’t get past the first chapter! It is a work of surrealist fiction, and if you’re used to a more straightforward writing style like I am, your head will start spinning after a few paragraphs. She talks about a family planning to go to the beach, but something about the weather not being suitable makes them discuss other things. It is so long-winding that I couldn’t find its point. 

“He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.”

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

This book hits close to home, no matter what part of the world you live in, especially if you’re in a developing country. Through the main characters’ journeys from childhood, we see a blossoming land and its people exploited and ravaged by greed over decades. No amount of effort or want is enough to reverse the damage done. Some people move on, but what happens to those who stay?

“There was still so much oil under our land—why abandon it because of a conscience?”

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This is one of those stories that would be better as a movie or even a series. The idea of a bunch of retirees going around solving crimes is not unique, but it hasn’t been explored as much. We peek into these people’s lives before coming to the retirement home and how they’ve formed new friendships and hobbies!

“It’s great to be the fastest runner, but not when you’re running in the wrong direction.”

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard 

Check out the full book review: The Nothing Man

This was an edge-of-the-seat thriller that had me riveted throughout. It was also an uncomfortable thought being a parent—what happens to your surviving kids after they face a tragedy and a life without you? I liked that even though you kind of know the ending mid-way, the twist at the end still surprises you.

“Even if you were already falling, you were technically okay until you hit the ground.”

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Check out my full review: The Mountains Sing

What a beautiful book to listen to! I would highly recommend the Audible version of it. Spanning three generations of women who’ve lived through a country being made, unmade, then trying to rebuild itself. This book encapsulates a large part of Vietnamese history as we follow the lives of these incredible women.

“I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Read the full review here: Transcendent Kingdom

Gifty is an independent woman dealing with her brother’s death and her mom’s depression as well. We go through all the emotions she describes through her growing up years, her brother’s sudden death, her faith, and her relationship with her mother. Sign up for an emotional ride!

“We read the Bible how we want to read it. It doesn’t change, but we do.”

The Henna Artist and The Secret-Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

 See the full review here: The Jaipur Series 

I read both as I had bought both of them going by rave reviews. That was my mistake—these were by Western readers who would love the idea of Indian culture. Story-wise, there’s a plotline, but the cliches and writing let it down completely. 

“The poor weren’t the only ones imprisoned by their caste.”

Vintage Chughtai by Ismat Chughtai 

Check out the detailed review: Ismat Chughtai

The book is a collection of short stories, barely a few pages long, about women’s lives. There are often twists, but mostly they’re just matter-of-fact tales about women in relation to society, family, and themselves—a good one to pick up and flip through any time.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The book started with a lot of promise, and the build-up was great even though repetitive in many places. However, the ending was such a cringey letdown that I shudder thinking about it. One of the rare Do Not Read.

“That was the horror of it. We all secretly hope that tragedy will only ever happen to other people… sooner or later, it happens to you.”

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

See the full review here: The Lincoln Highway

The story starts with two brothers trying to build a new life for themselves. However, their past does not let go so easily. It’s a delightful tale of family, friendship, betrayal, and cunning. The book size is enormous, but the story’s flow keeps it interesting even though it is not fast-paced.

“those who are given something of value without having to earn it are bound to squander it.”

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s about a woman blending in to do a man’s job and exceeding at it. There’s grit and determination, war and political intrigues, and some mysticism is thrown in as well. However, mid-way onwards, I was struggling to get it over with. It didn’t feel as exciting or interesting throughout—or maybe that’s just me!

“Pure emotions are the luxury of children and animals,”

Blue Skinned Gods by S J Sindu

Check out the full review here: Blue-skinned Gods

Kalki has always believed himself to be of divine origin. That’s what his parents told him, and his parents could never be wrong. We journey through this boy’s childhood and coming of age as he discovers more about himself and the world around him. 

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

So many emotions crop up reading this. Women trying to survive in fear, kids having to grow up in confinement, family separations, and the guilt of wanting and getting something better. The immigrants’ journey is painfully described with empathy. 

“What kind of fear is credible? There are so many kinds of fear.”

The One by John Marrs

Check the full review: The One

A bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and a bit of future tech. What if one day we could all find our actual soulmates? Would we jump at the opportunity or take our chances the natural way? While we delve into the world of ethics in the tech world, we meet 6 different couples and get to know their stories—a good quick read that gives you something to think about.

“Maybe when you took it back to basics, that’s what love really was: just being there for someone when the sun rises and sets.”

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

A heartwarming story about how connections are formed with simple acts of kindness: set in Japan, the story revolves around a housekeeper who has been hired to take care of an old professor with memory lapse and how she and her son form a bond with someone who can barely remember them.

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

blue plates with a millet salad set on a table with colourful runner and plants

Easy Healthy Lunch Ideas: Millet with Veggies and Cheese

Quick and easy meals are a saviour, with the Indian summer lingering over our heads. You don’t need to spend hours slaving over a stove to make a delicious and healthy meal. 

In my earlier post, I had made a Barley salad with BBQ Paneer. In this post, I’m working with millets. Lunches like these are light on the stomach but pack a punch in nutritional value are also great to pack for the school or office. They don’t need to be re-heated either.

I don’t enjoy cooking. It doesn’t relax or de-stress me. Those who say it does probably don’t have to cook every day! Try this easy peasy recipe and let me know what you think.

Ingredients

To make 2 servings

  • 1 cup Millet (I used foxtail millet)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 3-4 pieces brinjal (chopped or sliced)
  • ½ cup mixed vegetables of choice (broccoli, peas, carrots, baby corn, etc)
  • ½ mint leaves chopped
  • Handful of chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup feta cheese (make it vegan by using vegan cheese or soft silken tofu)
  • Salt to taste

Method

  • Wash and soak the millets for a few hours in water. Drain the water.
  • Add 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt and bring it to boil. Lower the heat and cook till the grains are soft. Drain excess water if any.
  • In a pan or wok, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Add the brinjal and cook till soft, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.
  • In the same pan, add the remaining oil. Once it’s hot, add the garlic and the rest of the veggies. Don’t overcook. 
  • In a mixing bowl, bring all the cooked ingredients together with the mint, walnuts, and feta cheese.
Foxtail millet salad...healthy and easy lunch ideas
Millets that pack a punch in nutritional value

Millets are nutrition dense and an excellent substitute for your regular wheat and rice grains. They are gluten-free and contain high protein, fibre, and antioxidants. These properties also make them easier to digest. 

There are various varieties of millets offering a range of nutritional benefits. It is also easier to grow even in arid lands.

Millets can be very versatile. You can grind them into flour to make flatbreads, or add cooked millets in your salads to make it into a full meal, make porridges and stews, or just replace it with rice in your regular meals.

Find out more about different varieties of millets here.

Women’s Day: Demanding a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world

When your social media feed is full of adverts and long posts dedicated to the power of women, you know it’s time for Women’s Day. It is yet another year of cringe-worthy ads and tokenism putting women on a pedestal—she can be anything she wants to, she can do anything she sets her mind to, so on and so forth. But what if she wants to be a lazy sloth and not a self-sacrificing mother or a go-getter CEO? Would that be acceptable?

What is women’s day?

On March 8th every year, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. We look at the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women worldwide, past and present. It is also a call to action for accelerating women’s equality globally.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is Break the Bias #BreaktheBias

“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

IWD

Why do we still need to celebrate Women’s Day?

Most women reading this are privileged enough to have had an education. Many are still denied education and many other opportunities solely based on their gender. It is a day for raising awareness about how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go in our quest for gender equity.

What about a day for men if you want equality, you ask? I call that ‘the rest of the year’! Men are still preferred over their women counterparts for leadership roles. Men do not have to think of a million things, such as their safety or clothing choices, before stepping out at any time during the night or day. And no matter how much women succeed in their careers, they are still considered the primary caregivers at home.

Till these issues are addressed, we still need a designated Women’s Day.

How do we promote a gender-equal world?

Companies: Do you hire enough women at all levels? Do you promote them to senior roles? Is your work culture safe for women? Are you biased against women because you think they’ll get married and have kids, so they won’t make work their priority? In an interview for a role, would you ask the same questions to a man? 

At home: In most households, even if both partners are working in an office, a woman bears the majority of household and child-rearing tasks. Look into your own homes: What’s the chore distribution like? If the house help doesn’t show up, who cooks and cleans? Who gets called from school if your child is unwell? Who takes the day off to take care of the child? Make a list of things both partners have done through the day (even the stay-at-home ones), including micro tasks like picking up the towel from the floor. Would you be able to take care of yourself independently without your spouse?

I attended a training session over the course of a few weekends. It was led by a woman. She was sometimes interrupted by her kids or activities related to her children even though the father was home. If a man were teaching the class, he would’ve ensured zero disturbance, and we would’ve called him professional. Why can’t women be offered the same support? Or we just accept that people of all genders cannot cut off from their lives even while at work, and take these minor interruptions in our stride.

As a woman: It took me all of my 20s to realise that I don’t need to add society’s expectations of me to my to-do list. I thought it was my job to do my job then come home and take care of my husband. I used phrases like “stop screaming like a girl”. I am so over that!

It is not my job to be a mother to my husband. He is very capable of taking care of himself if I let him. Ask yourself, how do you celebrate women, including yourself? Do you over criticise yourself and other women as compared to men? Do you have a different set of expectations from men and women? Do you stand up for yourself enough?

Women’s Day books: Some books for and by women

Non-fiction:

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: I identified with her feelings that many women writers have not lived up to their potential because they haven’t been given the space to pursue their work. 

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: There’s no right or wrong way to be a feminist. You can like pink frills and still want equal pay or not be judged for the amount of sex you have or don’t have.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez: This should and will enrage, surprise, and sadden you. But hopefully, it’ll also make you aware of the inequities and biases women face in every walk of life. That, in turn, would hopefully make you point them out, fix them, and stop them when you see them being repeated.

A Life in Words by Ismat Chughtai: This book is a collection of essays from her life—her observations of people in her family and the country going through a tumultuous phase; and her experiences growing up as a girl in a Muslim household. It gives us a glimpse of how life was and how this girl knew she had to rebel against many barriers and customs to make space for herself and her ambitions.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: Open, honest, surprisingly revealing, funny, and just a whole lot of adjectives that can describe this remarkable book. Not only does it give you a peek at life in the White House, but she also discusses racism and sexism, dealing with infertility and going through a rocky phase in her marriage. 

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates: A good insight into how bringing diversity to the table benefits everyone. It has a bit of her biography, her experiences in her work and home life, and experiences of other women around the world. She talks about gender parity and diversity in all spheres, from farming to AI development.

Fiction:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: Having read contemporary books that depict girls and women as self-pitying creatures only interested in bagging a boy, this age-old book was such a fresh breath of air. The dialogues of a woman secure in her independence and self-worth fill you with pride.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I re-read this classic and was blown over by it again. It is a book that gives you something different each time you read it in different stages of your life. The first time I read it, I looked at it as a love story. This time I saw how the strong-willed Elizabeth stood out compared to her sisters and friends. 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo: Women who fail to conform to the cultural norm often become the subjects of intense scrutiny. The pressure to live up to expectations can be brutal. It’s considered a feminist novel mainly because it discusses the patriarchal mindset we live with.

Fantasy-fiction:

Circe by Madeline Miller: The re-telling of mythology from the woman’s perspective makes you rethink many things you’ve been told all your life. Is that woman a dangerous man-eater, or she’s just a woman painted that way by men who couldn’t have her? Circe is an empowered woman protagonist and the story of how she becomes that with the right mix of magic and fantasy.

The Forest of Enchantments and The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: these books look at the Ramayana and Mahabharata from the leading woman’s perspective; Sita and Draupadi, respectively. These books voiced so many of the questions I had while originally reading or listening to the epics…and these books gave me new things to think about. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: I loved how characters usually sidelined or are token characters are very matter-of-factly placed front and centre across the storyline. The story itself is full of twists and turns and is exciting but also an insightful look into the thinking of pious reigns. 

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

collage of non fiction books I read in 2021

Reading Challenge: 2021 (Non-Fiction)

When I read books in my younger days, I was always looking for adventure and escapism. Non-fiction didn’t seem to offer any of these. I was one of those kids who had 7 Habits of Highly Effective People forced onto me in both written and audio formats as a teenager. That was no fun at all. 

In my 20s, I realised that non-fiction doesn’t have to be tedious and drab. Biographies, essays, and informative books based on research are rich with fun and intrigue, sometimes more than fictional books. 

Here are some great ones I enjoyed in 2021

On Cats by ​​Charles Bukowski

Of course, I had to read this title! It’s a collection of essays based on the author’s interactions with and observations of cats. Subtly humorous and insightful, the book is for anyone who’s ever been around cats. You’ll find yourself nodding or chuckling at many of the lines.

 The cat is the beautiful devil.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

This was the first book by Woolf that I have read after procrastinating for many years. The adage of a book comes to you at the right time in your life couldn’t be more true for this one. I identified with her feelings that many women writers have not lived up to their potential because they haven’t been given the space to pursue their work. In these work from home times, my husband had the spare room for his work and my son had his room for his online classes, and I had to find temporary work surfaces on the bed or dining table.

Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.

Chatter by Ethan Kross

What drew me in was the constant chattering in my own head. I am one of those that go to bed on time then spend half the night overthinking every single thing, real or imagined. Reading this has made me more aware of the negative chatter in my head so that I can actively turn it into something positive instead of letting it drag me down.

What participants were thinking about turned out to be a better predictor of their happiness than what they were actually doing.

The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer by Shrabani Basu 

I know people say books are always better than their movies, but I’ll make an exception for this one. This true story revolves around the Edalji family in rural England and how they were the victims of a racist society. George Edalji, a young man, was wrongly imprisoned without much evidence and even after his release, he is looked upon as a criminal by everyone. He enlists and gets the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in clearing his name. This true-crime book is intriguing and well researched; however, it can feel like a very dry read. 

Hunger by Roxane Gay

You can check my full review of this book in my earlier post: Hunger by Roxane Gay

I just wanted to reach out and hug the little girl she was. I saw so much of my struggle with food in her story. It is heart-wrenching to hear about how she felt alone, which made her an easy target for abuse, increasing her loneliness. She describes her life and interactions as a large person navigating the world, and it was an eye-opener. We take so many things for granted without thinking how someone who’s not an average user might feel about it. Chairs with armrests at restaurants, for example, might be great for many, but how would a large person fit into it comfortably? 

What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

This book is a collection of essays on the author’s observation and experiences as an African-American man in the US. Most of it is relevant to events and culture in the US, and if you haven’t lived in that bubble, it’s challenging to follow the references he makes. The emotions behind the words stand out, though, making it a good read.

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

A Life in Words by Ismat Chughtai 

Check out my earlier post with a full review: Ismat Chughtai

Ismat was a contemporary of Manto. This book is a collection of essays from her life—her observations of people in her family and the country going through a tumultuous phase; and her experiences growing up as a girl in a Muslim household. It gives us a glimpse of how life was and how this girl knew she had to rebel against many barriers and customs to make space for herself and her ambitions.

Faith is one thing, the culture of one’s country is quite another. I have an equal share in it, in its earth, sunshine and water. If I splash myself with colour during Holi, or light up diyas during Diwali, will my faith suffer an erosion? Are my beliefs so brittle and judgements so shaky that they will fall to pieces?

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Check out the full review in my earlier post: Greenlights

If you’ve ever heard the man talk in any interview, you know part of what to expect in a book written by him. It is eccentric, just like him, and filled with pure wisdom. He takes you through his childhood and shows you how he became the person he is. Radiating with positive energy, it might be too much for many readers, but if you are looking to be pepped up then this is an excellent read as a biography and a self-care guide. I’m disappointed that the Audible version hasn’t been released in India. Would’ve been great to hear it in his unique voice.

Great leaders are not always in front, they also know who to follow.

Yearbook by Seth Rogen

The book takes you through Seth’s childhood and into his acting years. His childhood seems carefree enough since he was a Jewish boy growing up in a Jewish community with hardly a care in the world. Then, spoiler alert, he discovers marijuana and everything that happens after that happens while he and/or others around him are high. The misadventures he describes might be funny, but I found it frivolous, and I couldn’t help but compare how a person with some more melanin would be received in the same circumstances.

Never quit, but sometimes do quit, ’cause you simply might not be that good at some shit.

The Elephant in the Womb by Kalki Koechlin

This book would’ve been fantastic to have when I was pregnant about 6 years ago. She talks about all the nitty-gritty of pregnancy and life after—beyond the glow of motherhood that’s always portrayed in photos. Take it as a workbook of sorts to navigate this period of utter chaos.

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.