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The 216 ft golden statue of Ramanujacharya against a light blue sky: the statue of equality in Hyderabad, India

Things to do in Hyderabad—Statue of Equality

You know how they say that you take for granted what’s right in front of you? Our trip to the Statue of Equality in Hyderabad was one such trip. We live on the outskirts of Hyderabad city, so the Statue of Equality is just a 15 minute drive away but we just never got around to going there.

Finally, an impromptu trip was what it took to get us there. We were on the other side of town and suddenly decided to drive up to this place in the early evening as it would be the best time to see the place in the daytime and after dark.

The Statue of Equality: What’s it about

The Statue of Equality is located in a large expanse of land with the statue rising above it all. As soon as you enter the vicinity, it gives you a feeling of being cut off from the chaos of the world.

The impressive 216 feet statue is of Shri Ramanujacharya who was a 10th Century Hindu philosopher and social reformer. He believed in the intellectual basis of religion along with devotional worship. It is the second tallest sitting statue in the world.

The 216 ft statue of Ramanujacharya lit up in pink light against the dark night sky: the statue of equality in Hyderabad, India

The golden statue gleams in the sunlight and looks striking against the blue sky. As day turns into evening, the place is lit up. The changing coloured lights on the statue look vivid against the dark night sky. It is worth seeing the place at both times.

The Statue of Equality: What to see

The Statue of Equality complex from the outside looks radiant in the daylight. The golden statue towering above all else is awe-inspiring. The beautiful stone structures with intricate carvings represent the different art forms from a variety of ancient Southern kingdoms.

stone carving of the chariot at Hampi at the entrance of the statue of equality in Hyderabad, India

Once you enter the complex, take a walk down the 108 Temple Way. This circular structure surrounds the main statue and is made of stone with 108 small temples carved into niches within it. The contrasting colours of light and dark stone looks stunning, and the subtle lighting in the evening gives it a classy look.

The musical fountain right at the entrance has a 10 minute show four times a day to the tunes of hymns playing in the background. It is a beautiful performance that you can watch sitting on the stairs leading to the main statue.

The evening Aarti takes place at 6:30 pm when all the temples simultaneously conduct the prayers. You could participate at any of the 108 temples. The place resonates with positive vibrations with the chantings.

If you’d like, you could buy a ticket and write your name on it, then present it to the priest to include in the prayer. Do stay till the end for the prasadam.

the entrance doors at the statue of equality all lit up at night. the white temple structures shine in the night

The main statue is impressive and in the evening, the coloured lights on it look striking against the night sky. The base of the statue has a Vedic digital library and research centre with ancient Indian texts and a gallery.

Don’t miss the smaller Gold Ramanuja statue mid-way up the steps. It is made out of 120 kgs of gold.

As an atheist, I still found it a nice way to spend the evening taking in the calmness of the place without focusing on the religious aspects of it.

The Statue of Equality: Things to keep in mind

  • No phones or cameras are allowed inside the premises
  • Take a refillable water bottle as there are many water filling counters inside
  • Go in the evening around 4 or 5 pm so you get both, the day and night views
  • The complex is accessible to all and wheelchairs are available for the elderly
  • Clean restrooms are available inside the complex
  • If you are unable to walk the 108 steps to the top, take the elevator instead
  • Note that you need to leave your phone and shoes at Gate 1 but you exit at Gate 8. You need to then walk back all the way to collect it. It’s better to leave these in the car if you get a parking spot closer to the entry gate.
  • You can carry your wallet or some money as there’s a small food court and Prasadam counter at the exit
The 216 ft statue of Ramanujacharya lit up in pink light against the dark night sky and surrounding structure in white also lit up: the statue of equality in Hyderabad, India

The Statue of Equality: Phone-free environment 

We are all so attached to our phones that the thought of going a day without it seems like an alien concept. For us, taking pictures of everything we see, everywhere we go has become an ingrained experience. 

When we realised that we’d need to surrender our phones and camera before we entered the Statue of Equality, we were disappointed to say the least. However, once we were inside and spent some time, we realised how relaxed we were since we didn’t have our phones. There were no selfie stops or trying to find the perfect angle for the perfect picture. Everyone there was just enjoying the beauty and tranquillity of the space. 

You can take as many pictures as you want from the outside, but once you’re inside, just enjoy being in the moment.

The Statue of Equality: Plan your trip

  • Entry fees: Rs 200 for adults and Rs 125 for kids aged 6-12 (it can be bought online)
  • Timings: 11 am to 8 pm (last entry)
  • Musical fountain shows are at 1 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm
  • The complex is closed on Wednesdays, but do check the Website for announcements
  • Aarti Coupon: Rs 100
  • Parking: Fasttag has been activated for parking but it did not charge us anything although it says Rs 40 for cars and Rs 20 for 2-wheelers
  • An audio tour headset is available near the phone locker counter
  • Do not try to sneak in your phones or cameras. There’s strict checking, and if you’re found with one, there’s a hefty fine of Rs 5,000/-

Find more things that you can do in Hyderabad besides being stuck in a crowded mall: Things to do in Hyderabad

tall India flag in front of the statue of equality in hyderabad, india fluttering on a bright day with blue skies and some white clouds

A Summer Sojourn in the Hills of North India 

Summers in most Indian cities are scorching hot. We all wish we could escape to the colder climes of the hills, with beautiful views of snow-clad mountains to cool our souls. My parents decided to do just that this past summer. The advantage of being retired with no one to look after is that you can pack up and leave for a full month, and send enticing pictures to the rest of us sweating it out in the plains.

Instead of staying in one place for the whole time, they planned out a circuit of four towns to visit. They stayed for 10 days in each place starting in mid-May and returning home mid-June. They started with the highest point, which was Pangot, and moved down in altitude to Kasar Devi, Someshwar, and finally Corbett.

Man in cap sitting and woman standing next to him on a green hill surrounded by clouds on the mountains

It was a good trip and many might want to replicate their experience. You could add or reduce the number of places and activities per your choice. Here’s an overview of their trip.

First stop: Ghuggu Kham, Pangot

Elevation: 6,510 feet / 1,980 metres

It was still the middle of summer when they went from Delhi to Pantnagar, and then drove up to Pangot. Needless to say, it was not a comfortable ride. Apart from the heat, the twists and turns of mountain roads can be nauseating. 

However, with the increase in altitude, the weather became more pleasant and the scenic drive through the forested area of the Naina Peak Range offered gorgeous views of the mountains. The breeze became cooler as well.

Their stay was in a small village. The homestay was very home-like. The food and the friendliness of the people were something they wrote back about every day. 

Since many weekenders travel to the mountains, they had good company throughout their stay. The host’s parents were visiting as well and were great company for them. The hosts even arranged for a campfire in the cool evenings for a bit of socialising in the pleasant weather.

Just sitting at the resort, it’s easy to spot plenty of birds, butterflies, and a plethora of flora. The homestay also offers unobstructed views of the mountains all around. It rained heavily for a few days that they were there and the temperatures dropped to about 12 deg Celcius in the evenings. A nice respite from the heat they left behind.

Of course, if you are a foodie, then there’s nothing like being served hot parathas as you enjoy the stunning views while you eat. The freshness of the food here adds a more wholesome taste to the simplest of foods.

My parents are over 60 years of age and in reasonably good health. However, they don’t trek or walk excessively in their daily routine. This is why I was surprised at the number of treks they did during their stay here.

One of the places they walked to was the Brahmasthali Temple which is over 8,500 feet above sea level. It is a moderate 5 km trek and the views are fantastic on the way and even better from the top. The temple itself is an old roofless structure with some stone idols. The air is usually smoggy this time of the year so you can just about make out the outlines of the majestic mountains. On a clear day, you’d get a wide view of the Himalayas.

steppes farming on the hills of north india

Another smaller trek they went on was to a waterfall nearby where they could relax and dip their feet in the cool waters.

Pangot is a birding paradise with over 300 species of birds in and around the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve. Some of the Himalayan birds they saw on one of their nature walks were the Khalij pheasant, Black Francolin, Verditer flycatcher, Long-tailed minivet, and Himalayan Bulbul, to name a few.

These treks were well organised and staff prepared fresh lunch on the way.

This tiny village doesn’t have provision stores, so the week’s groceries need to be shopped for from the nearest town. If you have any special dietary requests, you need to let them know beforehand.

Other treks you could do from here are the Kilbury trek, Cheena/Naina Peak trek, and the Sunset Point trek. The stunning views of the surrounding mountains of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghunti are sure to make the effort worthwhile.

Second Stop: Kasar Devi

Elevation: 6,306 feet / 1,922 metres

The next stop was Kasar Devi, which is about a 4-hour journey by car. The stay here was more of a resort than a home. However, the staff were accommodating enough to make them feel welcome and prepared simple home-cooked food for them instead of the regular restaurant fare, which would’ve been overwhelming for the stomach to handle for ten days.

full moon in the mountains with a silhouette of trees and mountains in foreground

The resort is nestled amongst the mountains and offers brilliant views of the sunrise and sunset. On clear days, one can view the Himalayan range from here.

Kasar Devi town is named after a temple by the same name situated here. The temple is a 2nd-century Hindu shrine which sits high at an altitude of 2,116 metres above sea level. 

Swami Vivekananda visited this temple in the 1890s. Just beyond the temple is a hill known as Hippie Hill or Crank’s Ridge as the area has attracted those interested in art, spiritualism and poetry. A band of hippies populated this ridge during the 1960s. Singer Bob Dylan and actress Uma Thurman have also stayed here.

Another attraction here is the Katarmal Sun temple in nearby Kosi. This ancient temple is almost 900 years old and was built by the Katyuri kings of the Kumaon region. The main shrine is surrounded by a group of temples that were built in different years in that era. Many of the more prominent idols from here are in the National Museum in New Delhi. The views of the valley from here are breathtaking.

If you have time on your hands, you should also visit the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary just 30 km away.

The town of Almora is just 9 km away. They went there for a day trip to the mall and for a movie, and also shopped for alcohol and fruits as they didn’t find much of either in Kasar Devi.

Third Stop: Someshwar

Elevation: 4,573 feet / 1,394 metres

This leg of the journey was just a three hour car ride to Someshwar. It was quite warm here in June, but the open spaces provide some good cool breeze under the shade of a tree. The town of Someshwar is situated on the banks of the rivers Kosi and Sai and is surrounded by  the Jayanti and Airi peaks.

The resort here was next to a babbling brook. Dipping your feet in the cool waters while surrounded by greenery is a soothing way to spend a summer day.

Kausani town is one of the places to explore here. Go out for a movie or some shopping around town. It is as crowded as any city elsewhere.

Another place to visit is the Anasakti Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for two weeks in 1929. Also known as Gandhi Ashram, he practised the Anasakti Yoga here. A stroll through the quiet compound is a relaxing way to spend the day.

Fourth Stop: Corbett

Elevation: 1,300 to 4,000 feet / 400 to 1,220 metres

The penultimate leg of the journey was just over 4 hours, and it was back to the heat and dust of the plains. They added this 1-day stop just to get a break on the road journey instead of going in one full stretch to Pantnagar, as my mom suffers from travel sickness. They could get in a jungle safari where they saw plenty of deer and bison, but no tigers or elephants.

The hotel they stayed in was located in a village between farms with a variety of birds, especially kingfishers, flitting around.

The famed hospitality of the mountain folks is well deserved. The parents of the host at the Ghuggu Kham homestay invited my parents to their home in Ramnagar (about an hour away) and even picked them up and dropped them off from their hotel. They spent a nice evening at their farm with mango groves all around.

From Corbett, the Pantnagar airport is about 2 hours away. When they reached there, they were in for a surprise. It had started raining and since the airport only has smaller aircrafts, it was unsafe to fly out. Their flight got cancelled and they could only get another one two days later. They booked a hotel room near the airport for the stay. Here too, they explored the town, which is like most hill towns but it was better than sitting inside the hotel room. It also gave them some time to recover from their road travels.

They reached back home to Hyderabad just in time for the weather to turn pleasant and the rains to pour down in full flow.

Getting in

The nearest airport is Pantnagar, which is a small town airport. The rest of their journeys were by taxis hired on the spot. Taxis are expensive here. Pantnagar to Ghuggu Kham (about 95 km) was Rs 3,000 in a non-AC cab. Cab fares are not standard and need to be negotiated. For day trips and sightseeing, it would cost them roughly the same amount even though the distance would have been under 10 km for the day.

The roads are not great around here. Apart from the usual mountain roads twists and turns, the roads are often bumpy and very narrow in many places leading to traffic chaos. 

Where to stay

Their first homestay at Ghuggu Kham was with HimWanderer (Harshit Negi). They loved the place, ambience, and hospitality of this place.

mountain dog sitting on the road

The other two resorts were Moksha Retreat in Kasar Devi and Moksha by the Riverside in Someshwar. Both places were charming, with great views.

In Corbett, they stayed at Kaira the Corbett Village in Chhoi village near Ramnagar. 

All their stays were typically INR 3,000 per night (for a couple) inclusive of breakfast and dinner. 

Their stay was organised by Soulful Homestay.

What to Eat

A lot of the food served in this region are leaves foraged from the forests around. Stinging nettle is a popular nutrient-rich vegetable that is served here. It is a hardy plant that needs to be prepared in a way to take out its sting.

Local markets sell most vegetables and fruits you’d get in the plains. Keep a look out for local apricot, golden raspberry and local plum trees on your treks. However, do confirm with a local before consuming anything right from the trees or shrubs.

Many restaurants in towns like Kausani and Almora have good North-Indian food varieties. However, tandoor items are usually only available during peak tourist seasons.

A Guide To Using Social Media Safely: A Parent’s Primer

Social media has taken over the world in every aspect of our lives. From businesses and social communities to our personal lives, it’s everywhere. Everyone wants to be a social influencer or get their 15 minutes of fame (or 7 seconds since our attention span doesn’t last long).

It is now extremely convenient to share pictures of our loved ones with friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. But what happens when you don’t have your children’s consent? Do you still have the right to share their pictures with the world? 

This issue has many people divided as to the right approach when it comes to our kids’ privacy and security in the online world. While it may just be an innocuous picture for us, we have no way of knowing how that image is being used or manipulated. Or even if our kids are comfortable with it. 

Children and social media: Why is it a big deal?

We as adults choose what we want to post for the world to see. But, how about our kids? If they fully understood the concept of social media, would they approve of us posting their pictures and information for all the world to see?

With so many hacks and ethical gaps exposing the big media giants, it is now a matter of safety to be careful with what we post. Since whatever is posted on the Internet stays on the Internet forever, we don’t even know how it could affect our kids by the time they grow up.

Some have pointed out that revealing their milestone dates or other information for all to see could be used in the future to gain access to their online accounts. Of course, we all know the dangers of divulging location details. It is fairly easy to track and stalk someone just on the basis of their social media posts. 

A recent news article reported that a number of people downloaded a video of a 3-year-old girl that her mom posted on her account, most likely for nefarious purposes. That is a dangerous trend and her mom’s posts will likely follow her into her adulthood for no fault of hers.

Once your child starts to use social media, that opens a whole new can of worms. To be inundated with images of people looking, behaving, and living a certain way is known to lead to insecurities about their own bodies and social situation. Many a time, kids are not aware of the risks of talking to strangers online and can be easily manipulated into divulging confidential information, performing dangerous actions, or even sharing sexual content.

Social media sites are designed to be addictive. The infinite scroll, short peppy videos, suggested posts, and the quest for ‘Likes’ gives your brain a dopamine high. You could spend hours looking at pictures and videos without realising and missing out on your real life.

Personal messaging services could also become potentially dangerous with people forwarding screenshots and personal information to other groups. Where do you draw the line? Is it even possible to be completely off of social media in this current age?

Social Media as a tool for learning and development

Child sitting on a chair in front of a laptop attending online classes
Online class in progress

In the last two years, children have spent more time online than in the classroom. Online learning and communication have been a boon during the lockdown period. However, we have also seen that kids try to explore the Internet on their own, probably for the first time while they’re using a parent’s laptop for their classes. The wide-open world is exciting and things can easily get out of hand.

We as parents also reap the benefits of social media, too. It is a great way to connect, de-stress, and have fun. Online creators often talk about serious issues from mental health to the climate crisis, making their audiences aware of issues that might not get covered by mainstream news media. It is a great way to get your message across a wide reach of people and connect with like-minded people. 

For kids, keeping in touch with friends and relatives, showcasing their own talents and achievements, and learning from others as well can bring them great joy and encourage them to try new things.

For parents, the concept of children using social media is a tricky one. On the one hand, they’re aware of the benefits that come along with it. But on the other hand, they know their children are vulnerable to online predators and cyberbullying. It’s important to teach kids how to be smart about what they post online. For many of us, that begins with evaluating our own social media presence. 

How to keep your children safe on social media

father and son looking at a laptop screen while lying in bed on their stomachs
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

With the increase of children on social media, parents must make sure their children are safe. Children can be easily influenced by what they see online and may act upon these images. 

The use of social media by children is an ongoing debate. We often hear about the negative effects on mental health, like depression and cyberbullying. But what can be done to help protect our youth? It is important for parents and teachers to have a better understanding of how social media works in order to help kids navigate through it in a safe way.

Here’s what you need to know about how to introduce your kids to social media in a safe manner so you can both reap its benefits without exposing them to unnecessary dangers.

Start teaching them early. Even if screen time is banned or restricted in your home, kids will gain awareness from their friend circles. It is better to talk about the benefits and harmful effects and gradually build up to independent online browsing.

Make kids aware that their online activity should and will be monitored by you, at least till they are mature enough to understand how to keep themselves protected online. Google’s Family Link app is a great tool to monitor your child’s device.

As for your own social media accounts, make use of the safety and privacy settings to restrict the number of people who can see or share your posts. Remember, not every moment has to be shared with the world. Forcing kids to sit and smile for a picture that looks good on Instagram might just ruin the happy moment for the child in the present.

Google’s initiative, Be Internet Awesome, teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can confidently explore the online world. It has guidebooks for teachers and parents on how to educate themselves and their kids on Internet safety. It also has a few interactive games for kids that drive home the point. 

The quest for the perfect photo or to project a certain image to the world has landed plenty of people in trouble. If you would like to share your own tips for keeping yourself and your kids safe online, please leave us a comment below!

Book cover of The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra on an iPad screen. It is set on a floral beaded mat with a candle and a glass bottle with a plant stem with leaves

Book Review: The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra is one of those soft mystery books that take you on a journey while investigating a crime. It is the first instalment of the Kaveri and Ramu mysteries set in pre-Independence India. The reader gets an inkling of the socio-political situation around the time, providing an interesting background for the story to evolve in.

Harini Nagendra

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University. She writes on issues of nature and sustainability and has published works of non-fiction on the topic of sustainability in urban areas. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her first work of fiction.

The Bangalore Detectives Club: Sleuthing in a Sari

Our newly-wed heroine Kaveri is new to the big city. However, her curiosity and love for learning make her stand apart from most women around her. At a dinner party she attends with her husband Ramu, she witnesses an altercation that has led to a murder. When a poor, vulnerable woman becomes a suspect, Kaveri puts her inquisitiveness to good use to get her name cleared. But then, another innocent woman is imprisoned because of her low standing in the social hierarchy. 

Another woman discarded by society for failing to live up to its standards of ‘good womanhood’.

Kaveri becomes impatient with the slow progress of the official investigation and decides to take matters into her own hands. Her husband, Ramu, and Inspector Ismail support her as she talks to women who would only confide in another woman. 

Slowly, Kaveri gains confidence and establishes a circle of women friends that defies the set societal norms based on caste, class and gender.

The soft suspense of The Bangalore Detectives Club was a good change from the dark reality of crime fiction. It fluctuated between a good mystery and predictability. There weren’t a lot of twists and turns. It doesn’t take much to guess the culprit, although the narrative is good enough to keep you engaged.

I am conflicted about the ending of the book. The issue of mental illness could have been handled with more sensitivity, even if we consider the general practice of the era it is written in.

Since the story starts off hinting at a completely different crime, I’m guessing that the next installment of the series will deal with that. Otherwise the first few pages seemed pointless.

Pre-Independence India

Throughout the book, there are hints at the political situation and the sentiments of native residents during the British Raj. Although the author chooses not to delve into the details of life under the British, her contempt is evident through her characters. Of course, not everything is painted with a negative brush stroke. Everyone White is not evil. 

Kaveri notices the dichotomy between the Englishman Robert’s behaviour with his colleagues as compared to his behaviour with his house staff whom he orders around as they do not deserve respect. However, I find this behaviour to be true in many Indian households even today.

The lives of women in The Bangalore Detectives Club

Women’s dreams were only as big as their husbands’ egos would permit them to be.

The Bangalore Detectives Club talks about the many social practices and taboos that were prevalent at the time. For example, Kaveri is married when she’s barely out of her teenage years and that too is late for that era as most of her friends have been married much before. Fortunately for her, her husband Ramu proves to be a progressive man who adores his wife and she can continue to study for her exams.

Ironically, the men in her life, Ramu and her father encourage her quest for knowledge and education; while the women in her life, her mother and mother-in-law, try to bind her to homely duties and see an educated, free-thinking woman as a burden.

On the other hand, the Englishwoman who seems to be more educated and have more freedom than Indian women languished at home only attending frivolous parties and minding her children.

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra is the perfect holiday read. If you’re into hardcore crime and thriller books, then you might want to give this book a miss. However, if you like some social drama and background to go along with a bit of intrigue, then I would recommend you add it to your reading list.

Verdict: Read

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. 

White cat and a Kindle on the lap of a person wearing red sweatpants and a black and white striped sweatshirt. The Kindle shows the cover for the crime novel titled Lightseekers by Femi Kayode set in Nigeria

Book Review: Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

“I’ve seen how easy it is for people to be manipulated, Emeka,’ I say sadly. ‘All it takes is careful observation of trends and behavioural patterns and it can be pretty easy to make people do what you want them to do. Especially in a group.”

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode is not just your regular crime fiction but is based on actual events. Femi familiarises readers with the town, its people, and their history while trying to figure out what went wrong. I’ve been reading books from around the world for the genre. This year, I’m becoming more familiar with other countries and their cultures. This book hit all the right notes, and I recommend you add this to your reading list.

The Book: Lightseekers

Lightseekers starts when three young students are brutally and publically murdered in a remote Nigerian university town of Port Harcourt. In this digital age, the killings and their killers are broadcasted on social media, further traumatising their parents. It is obvious who murdered them, but no one knows why. One of the students’ fathers hires an investigative psychologist to make sense of his son’s murder. We follow Dr Philip Taiwo as he investigates the case.

Lightseekers was inspired by the necklace killing of four undergraduates in a university town in Nigeria and is Femi Kayode’s debut novel and the first in the series of novels about the investigations of Philip Taiwo. The book won the UEA/Brown Little Crime Fiction Award in 2019.

The Author: Femi Kayode

Femi Kayode is from Lagos, Nigeria, where he studied Clinical Psychology at the University of Ibadan and has worked in advertising. 

In an interview with The Bookseller, he says, “I come from a school of thought that believes crimes don’t exist in isolation. And I’ve gotten a bit frustrated by the Western model of crime fiction, where it’s so focused on the serial killer and doesn’t address the society that gave rise to the serial killer. We’re so focused on finding the killer that we don’t wonder why it’s not safe for a single woman to walk in the dark. What is the society that is not allowing young women to walk on the streets on their own? We’re not investigating that because we’re so focused on finding the killer, and when we do, we move on to the next ‘Who did it?’ But I think when we start finding out ‘Why did it?’, we start to look at certain sociological, systemic issues around our community, and what we can do to make a change.” 

The Plot Unfolds

‘It scares me,’ Omereji says sadly. ‘And it’s true what you say. But what scares me most is seeing how easily people can be manipulated.’

Dr Philip Taiwo has moved back to Nigeria after living in the US and is now looked upon as an outsider in his own homeland. He is an investigative psychologist, an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, teaching at a university in Lagos when an influential man asks for his service as he is desperate for some answers to his son’s murder. 

Philip is persuaded by his father to go to the town where the killings happened. At first, the crime seems like a case of mob justice getting out of control as the students had been accused of stealing. But as he digs deeper, he realises something doesn’t add up. 

His driver and travel guide, Chika, who the father employs, is hiding something that seems more than his job description. The local police, the townspeople, the religious leaders, and the university are all trying to hush up the matter.

Philip seems to be in the deep end when he uncovers more details and realises that continuing with the case would mean putting his life in danger.

The Social Commentary

The human stories about a crime are as important as the crime scene itself.

When Femi talk about college cults, I assumed he meant fraternities that are popular in the US, which are mostly harmless groups based on shared interests. However, the college cults in Nigeria have evolved into violent student groups and have to operate in secrecy. They are akin to gangs and often politically or religiously aligned.

Femi also mentions the outdated law that criminalises homosexuality and how it can be easily misused.

Femi also brings to light some of the region’s troubled history, such as the terrors of the Biafran civil war and the discovery of oil. Fights for control of lands led to the devastating destruction of the land and horrifying violence. 

The author also mentions the enormous wealth gap in the country. Where some can hire people to wait in lines for them, there are towns and villages without basic infrastructure and electricity. These issues have led to widespread corruption at every level, and the exchange of bribes is a given wherever you go.

The backstory of the criminal is interspersed with the storyline. Raised in a problematic household, he is involved in drugs, religious fanaticism, and homosexuality. However, I felt that it was a weak way to explain away the motive.

Finally, the aspect of the crime that hit close to home was how someone could manipulate a whole population through social media. We live in a dystopian age where a single line manipulating facts broadcast worldwide can cause widespread discord and division. With social media companies refusing to act on it, this problem is set to get much worse.

Verdict: Must Read

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. 

Brightly coloured mirror work art called Lippan Art is a traditional folk art from India. this decorative piece in primary colours and geometric pattern is surrounded by house plants

Indian Traditional Art Forms—Lippan Art for Beginners

Indian folk art has so many treasures to offer. Each region of the country has unique art forms that are distinct and elegant. From the papiêr maché trinket boxes of Kashmir and Madhubani paintings of Bihar to the Kerala murals and Tanjore paintings of South India, the themes and techniques vary significantly. Art is one of the things that unites the country. 

One such form of traditional Indian art is Lippan art. Lippan art comes from the deserts of Kutch in Gujarat. They can be as colourful or subtle as you want them to be, embellished with tiny mirrors that sparkle and twinkle in the sun or moonlight.

Lippan Kaam: Traditional Mud and Mirror work

Traditionally, this art form was made on the exterior walls of huts in the desert region of Kutch. The mud and camel dung would keep the house cool in the scorching summer heat, and the mirrors would reflect the sunlight away from the house.

These days, this art form is more commonly used for decorative purposes. Lippan art can be made on interior walls as murals or on smaller wooden boards as wall hangings.

Lippan Art for Beginners

It took me a long time to start this project because I thought it would be messy and cumbersome. However, I was surprised at how easy it was. It took only a few tries to get the hang of handling the moulding clay, and then it was smooth sailing.

Many artists recommend using clay that you make with marble powder. However, as a beginner, I found that the readymade clay is much easier to manage, not to mention less messy. It is basically like PlayDoh, but more permanent.

Mirror work and clay decorative piece in black and gold rests with a bronzed Buddha figurine and a small planter in the shape of a white cat with pothos plant growing
Shine on!

Mirror Work Art DIY Kit

If you plan to make a piece, the Lippan art material list is mentioned below. Smaller packs of each item could even be made into a Lippan Art Kit for gifting kids or crafty adults.

Also, instead of buying an MDF board to work on, you could use discarded items from around the house. Thick cardboard sheets or trays work well; I have used shelves from an old cabinet that had started to disintegrate and had to be discarded; I’ve also made small trays from the moulding clay and then embellished it.

You’ll need:

How to Make Lippan Art at Home

Easy step-by-step process for making Lippan or mirror work art
  • Clean and prime your surface with gesso. Let it dry completely for a few hours.
  • Make a pattern using a pencil. You could design a freehand drawing or a geometric pattern.
  • Ensure the patterns you make are big enough to accommodate the mirrors.
  • Colour the pattern as you like.
  • Keep a tray with cornstarch ready on the side before you start with the clay.
  • Combine the Mould It clay as per instructions on the box. 
  • Divide the lump into smaller pieces and gently roll it into long thin strips on the tray sprinkled with cornstarch.
  • Apply glue on the board where you want these clay strips to go, and place the clay onto it.
  • You can even try moulding the clay into different shapes and sticking it on the board. The mirrors can be placed on top of these shapes. Let your creative mind take over.
  • You’ll need to work a little faster as the clay will start drying within 15 to 20 minutes, causing cracks to appear on them. Mix just half the pack if you don’t like to be hurried.
  • Once your design is all glued in, let it dry for a few hours. 
  • Paint the clay strips with acrylic paints. I like to keep the strips white or black, so they stand out in the design.
  • Let the paint dry for a day.
  • Coat your work with a layer of varnish and let it dry for a few hours.
  • You might think I’ve forgotten about the mirrors at this point, but no. I prefer to glue them on after the paint and varnish, so I don’t need to clean the residue off each tiny mirror. I did that for my first piece, and it took me a good hour to clean the mirrors.
  • Glue on the mirrors on the design. You could get mirrors in different shapes to enhance your piece.
  • Place the hangers at the back of your piece if you’re hanging it on a wall. The no-drill hangers are great for smaller items, especially if you have concrete walls that require a whole process of drilling a small nail into them.

Things to make with moulding clay

Moulding clay is such a great crafting tool. It’s versatile and easy to use. You can make a variety of things for yourself or gifting.

  • Trays: We made some trinket trays as Thank you gifts for my son’s teachers
  • Sculpture: My son made a sculpture of himself to gift to his dad to keep on his office desk.
  • Jewellery: Using some basic jewellery-making accessories, you could make stunning pieces to wear and gift.
  • Wall hangings: Small wall hangings with a rope attached to the clay can make a wonderful gift or a charm for your main door.
  • Decorate household items: Use the clay as mentioned above to decorate vases and boxes around the house.
  • Keychains: Bag or phone charms and keychains are easy to personalise with clay and paint.

So, what are you making today?

Shimmering in the Sun: Lippan art ready for display

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. 

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite with the colour image of the book The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto on a background of blue and yellow mirror work folk art from India

Book Review: The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto

La Hora Azul or The Blue Hour is a novel by Peruvian author Alonso Cueto and is translated into English by Frank Wynne. The book looks back on Peru’s history, exploring the aftermath of the Peruvian Civil War.

Alonso Cueto Caballero: The Author

Alonso Cueto Caballero is from Lima, Peru, with a writing career spanning nearly four decades. He is an author, university professor and newspaper columnist. His stories are set in crucial periods of Peruvian history, discussing the war and the modern Peru that has emerged from it.  

The Blue Hour Book Review

The Blue Hour begins with Adrian, a lawyer well-placed in Lima’s high society with a picture-perfect wife and two daughters. The book progresses into a well-crafted psychological drama of a son coming to terms with the painful ghosts of his father’s past. The book details the horrors and crimes of war, poverty, and how people have to live with it decades after it is supposedly over.

After his mother’s death, Adrian learns some hard truths about his father, who he barely knew and had died years before. Adrian discovers that his father was linked to atrocities committed against the Shining Path guerrillas and that he had also kidnapped and kept a local girl, Miriam, whose family now seeks retribution.

He gets a letter blackmailing him for money in return for not exposing his father’s deeds during the war. Adrian sets out to shut down the blackmail but gets more entangled in history than he expected, impacting his work and family life. He becomes obsessed with Miriam, who he believes has been wronged and might be the mother of his stepbrother or stepsister. The series of events that follow devastate his entire view of the past, his parents, and his country.

The character of Adrian is sketched out in detail, as he is the narrator. I wonder if the other characters are not so detailed or nuanced because of his inability to understand and observe, or is it a shortcoming of the author himself.

Alonso Cueto won the Herralde Prize in 2005 for The Blue Hour (La Hora Azul). The book has plenty of themes to keep you engrossed: family secrets; an obsessive love affair; the brutality, misery and guilt of war; and an anti-hero searching for answers. 

Translated books are a treasure trove of insights into different parts of the world. I would highly recommend adding this to your reading list.

Verdict: Read

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. 

bowl of pasta with Butternut squash fettuccine with sambal oelek and bacon bits sprinkled with grated cheese

Make it Vegan or Meaty: Butternut Squash Fettuccine Recipe

I love creamy pasta. What I don’t love is all the cream, milk, and cheese that make it so creamy. This butternut squash pasta recipe is the best of both worlds. It’s smooth and creamy without the milk products. As a bonus, you can make this as a vegan dish or sprinkle some crispy, crumbly bacon bits to satisfy your meat cravings.

Butternut squash is from the pumpkin family and is versatile enough to be used in various dishes—from soups to a roasted side dish and this pasta sauce. They are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A. It is not commonly available in India, but once in a while you do find it.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Recipe for Butternut Squash Fettuccine 

Ingredients:

Makes 3 servings

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 large pod garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Fettuccine for 3
  • 5-6 bacon strips (optional)
  • 2 tbsp Sambal Oelek
  • ½ cup grated parmesan (or vegan) cheese 
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • Sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
  • Salt

Method:

  • Peel, de-seed, and chop the butternut squash into small chunks. 
  • Separate the seeds and soak them in water to clean. These can be roasted on medium heat to add to the pasta or eaten as a snack.
  • You can either boil or bake the squash. 
  • If boiling, just cook them with a cup of water till soft.
  • If roasting, coat the pieces with 1 tablespoon of oil and about a teaspoon of salt. Lay the pieces flat on a baking tray and bake at 200deg C for about 30 minutes. Halfway through, stir the pieces and add the peeled garlic.
  • Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine as per instructions. Keep aside the pasta water.
  • On another pan, cook the bacon strips till crisp. Keep aside on a paper towel. 
  • Once the squash has cooled down a bit, give it a whirl in the blender with half a cup of the pasta water.
  • Heat up a pan and add a tablespoon of oil.
  • Next, add the squash and the sambal oelek.
  • Add more of the pasta water to make a creamy consistency.
  • Stir in the pasta and coat it well.
  • Add the rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes if using.
  • To serve, spoon the pasta into the bowls. Top with grated cheese and crumbled bacon strips. 
  • You can even add the roasted pumpkin seeds for some crunch.
  • Enjoy it hot!

Bowl of pasta. Butternut squash fettuccine with sambal oelek and bacon bits and grated cheese
Butternut squash fettuccine with sambal oelek and bacon bits

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. 

Art installation of several circular pieces of carved wood and paintings set against a dark blue wall

The Power of Affirmations: How to Manifest the Life You Want

Positive Affirmations, Law of Attraction, and Manifesting your Reality are terms that are thrown around casually in most conversations and interviews these days. At first glance, it seems like wishful thinking or something happening in your life just because you really wanted it to.

However, each of us has at least one thing we really want, but it doesn’t always manifest in our lives. What makes the power of manifestation work for some and not others?

I first heard about affirmations and the Law of Attraction on the Oprah show about 20 years ago. I’ve been curious about it since then. Going by some experiences of others, it felt like it worked faster for others and not at all for some.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make it work for me. Here are some of my learnings.

What are Affirmations?

An affirmation is simply reinforcing something positive repeatedly. The belief is that this creates a positive outlook in our lives. We then send these positive vibes out into the universe, almost willing them into reality. 

Affirmations become more than wishful thinking when we consciously remember and visualise our goals throughout the day.

How to use Affirmations to Manifest what you want

Half knowledge is a dangerous thing, they say. It backfired when I tried to use this power of manifestation with half-baked information! 

As a teen, I was always sure of what I didn’t want and focussed my energies on that. As a result, whatever I said a vehement no to happened for sure. For example, I was sure I didn’t want to live in a particular city—guess where I ended up living! I was sure I never wanted an annoying pomeranian dog—guess what breed our fur baby is! I have many such examples.

Focussing on something so intently is a sure-fire way of manifesting it in your life. It’s almost as if the Universe just heard the keywords in my affirmations and didn’t hear the ‘don’t want’ part. I guess they’re called Positive Affirmations for a reason.

Once I understood the assignment better, I could use its power a little more and manifest things in my life that I am genuinely grateful for. 

It also helps if you self-introspect and figure out what’s holding you back from your goals. In my case, I had some guilt about moving ahead while people I loved were not able to move with me. Once I accepted that everyone moves at a different pace and that I should move ahead with no guilt, I found that new opportunities opened up for me.

I often lack the patience and focus that this visualisation needs, which is why I haven’t used its full potential. I find that often, my affirmations get me to a particular starting point of a certain milestone and no further. I’ve tried focussing on the goal a little more, but I eventually give up when I don’t see the results immediately. Maybe the timing isn’t right for it to happen, or I am not focussed enough, or a fear embedded in my subconscious is holding me back. I am yet to figure it out.

Create your own Positive Affirmations

There are plenty of readily available positive affirmations available on the Internet for every kind of goal. But sometimes, you need something more specific and personal, so you build your own. The key to a good affirmation is the four points listed below.

  • Keep it in the present: Frame your affirmation as if it has already happened
  • Keep it positive: Focus on what you want rather than don’t want
  • Keep it short: It makes it easier to repeat it several times a day
  • Keep it precise: Ask for specifics, and don’t be vague

Books on Manifesting the reality you seek

The bookstore’s self-help section is filled with books on how to manifest the life you want, the power of manifestation, and positive affirmations to get the life you want. It can be pretty overwhelming.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

The book that started it all, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, was of no practical help to me. It gave stories of people who seemed to have cracked the code and built the reality they wanted. It built up a lot of expectations within me, but it wasn’t substantial enough for the reader to start practising it themselves.

E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout

Someone suggested E-Squared by Pam Grout. I found this book was most practical in taking you step by step through learning to use affirmations and visualisation techniques. The author guides you through nine energy principles experiments that increase in difficulty. Starting with simple intentions, you progress to more specific and bigger life goals. With plenty of anecdotes, it tells you to take your time to practice each step to build up your confidence.

Experience Your Good Now! Learning to Use Affirmations by Louise Hay

Louise Hay is considered the gold standard in emotional healing and progress. Her book Experience Your Good Now! Learning to Use Affirmations is a good one for those looking to change their outlook in life. It helps you take responsibility for your life’s direction. She discusses specific topics and concerns with exercises that show you how to make beneficial changes to virtually every area of your life.

Giving Thanks by Iyanla Vanzant

Gratitude is a big part of the process of positive manifestation. Giving Thanks by Iyanla Vanzant is an excellent book to understand how you can practice it in your everyday life. The expression of gratitude has profound and immediate effects on our well-being. I feel that I appreciate my life more, even the parts of it we often take for granted. It has definitely increased my happiness quotient to take stock of things I am thankful for. Make this Audible version a part of your bedtime routine.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Being vulnerable and facing obstacles, asking for and receiving gifts is not as easy as they sound. Brené Brown is one of the most relatable authors and researchers on the subject I’ve found. Her podcasts, TED Talks, and books are a great place to understand vulnerability as a strength. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is an excellent book if you prefer to read.

Also, check out my earlier post on practicing gratitude and how you can inculcate a habit of being thankful every day.

Simple manifestation exercises for beginners

If you are new to the concept of manifesting your reality, here are a few simple things to get you started.

  • Vision Board: Make a vision board with images of things you want in your life. Send it positive vibes every time you glance at it.
  • Just a little blessing: Start with asking the Universe for something small—like a flower or seeing some butterflies. Focus on the reality you want; imagine how it will look and feel. Use it casually every day to hone your manifesting skills.
  • Write it out: Describe in detail the end result of what you want, including how you’ll feel when it happens. Imagine this scenario playing out as you meditate on your affirmations.

Use the medium that feels most natural to you. Some might be comfortable singing or dancing out the feeling, while others might just use their inner voices to meditate and visualise. There is no right or wrong way. Try out different methods to see what works best for you.

Examples of daily positive affirmations

Here are some examples of daily positive affirmations you can use during your day. Repeating them gives you not only a moment of calm but also re-energises you and your thoughts.

  • I am happy, healthy, and fulfilled
  • The Universe grants me an abundance of wealth
  • I live a life full of love and acceptance
  • I am efficient and excellent in all that I do
  • I make healthy choices every day
  • The Universe allows me to grow and succeed every day
  • I attract a supportive and loving circle of friends

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.

view of 3 kids from the back sitting on a beanbag watching a TV screen with a movie playing

Screentime Dilemma: Awesome TV Shows for Kids Approved by Parents

In most restaurants, you will find almost every kid with a screen in front of them (or a nanny running after them). My son used to be that kid with a screen when he was a baby. His dad and I needed to have a good meal in peace once in a while, so we let him have his distraction. 

We slowly weaned him off the screen at all meal times by the time he was two. He still got some 15 to 30 minutes of screentime on most days. We figured early on that zero screentime was not an achievable goal for us. Instead, we focused on curating the content he consumes. 

We tried the sugar-loaded content of Blippi and others or the violent Masha and the Bear, but these didn’t work for us. These shows work precisely like sugar, as in they’re addictive without providing anything of value. Even ‘safe’ shows like Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol might be fun to watch once in a while, but there are much better shows to watch instead.

There are plenty of fun shows that are also sneakily educational. These would rate higher in my curated list. Our son also loves these shows and will sometimes surprise us with information and vocabulary he’s learned from them.

Growing up, I remember watching shows like Tom & Jerry but only after becoming a parent did I realise how it normalised violence and is not really appropriate for kids to watch. I would love to show him shows like the original Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Flintstones, but they’re not available in India.

We’ve tried to expand his viewing content as much as possible, but sometimes he’ll also watch shows that are not on my list, but it has things he loves—emergency vehicles or robots. We let him watch a few episodes once in a while. It is fascinating to see their interests evolve over time. The day our son told us he was too old for Baby TV (he was 3), I had to take a moment to come to terms with it!

Listed below are some of the shows we have loved to watch over the years. They’re not always readily available on streaming sites in India, but if you search a little, you should be able to find some good episodes.

5 Best TV shows for Toddlers

  1. Pokoyo (YouTube): This uncluttered animation is simple and fun as a curious child learns new things with the help of his friends. The narration by Stephen Fry is a bonus.
  2. Super Simple Songs (YouTube): Some of these songs we remember even now, such as the clean-up song. Kids can sing and dance along too. The songs don’t have unnecessary beats or flashy videos, unlike some other videos for kids that aim to hook the kids onto their content.
  3. Baby TV (on cable): Since the channel is on all day, there are small segments played throughout the day. They’re educational and talk about various aspects of growing up. There are multiple characters that kids will love, and it is a great introduction to learning for babies.
  4. Doc McStuffings (Hotstar Disney+): A little girl who is a doctor for broken toys or just not feeling great is a great concept. The show talks about dealing with feelings and making healthy choices in our daily lives. 
  5. Word Party (Netflix): This is a fun show for kids. Baby animals learn new words, sing songs, make animal sounds, and have a party, as the title says.

The best educational TV shows for kids aged 4 to 7

  1. Stinky & Dirty (Amazon Prime): A dumpster and a backhoe love to think up creative solutions for everyday problems they have in their town. It encourages thinking creatively and shows that there can be multiple solutions to every problem.
  2. Wild Kratts (YouTube): We love this show. It transitions from the Kratt brothers in reality to the animated series where the team learns about the animal kingdom while making sure the bad guys don’t get away with their evil schemes to harm the planet.
  3. Dinosaur Train (Amazon Prime): This is a fun way to learn more about dinosaurs for kids interested in them. The show has plenty of interesting facts about dinosaurs as a family of Pteranodons travel in different time periods.
  4. World World (YouTube): The show is super creative in how each character is drawn with its word spelt out. This is more educational than fun, but I would put on an episode between some other shows once in a while.
  5. Super Why (YouTube): This is mainly for early readers. The characters take you inside books to solve a case and encourage kids to read along.
  6. The Magic Schoolbus (Netflix): This show combines magic, humour, adventure, and learning all into a flying school bus. It covers a wide range of topics for kids to learn about.

YouTube channels for kids aged 6 and above

  1. Mark Rober (YouTube): An ex-NASA engineer, Mark explains scientific concepts and comes up with over-the-top experiments that kids will love watching. Things get blown up, shot at, or just crazy large designs provide the entertainment value, while the explanations interest kids in science.
  2. Cosmic Kids (YouTube): Jamie takes kids on Yoga adventures where each episode is based on a different theme—from Disney movies to beloved books. This was our go-to channel to keep our son active during the 2020 lockdown.
  3. Khan Academy Kids (YouTube): We’ve subscribed to their app, and the channel is fantastic as well, with content for kids of all ages. They have circle time stories, songs, and discussions on various topics.
  4. TinkerLab (YouTube): Science and art combine to show simple experiments kids can try at home. It encourages them to explore things around them and figure out the different ways in which they work. 
  5. Smart Learning for All (YouTube): These short videos remind me of the Tell Me Why books I had growing up. These videos use silly-sounding titles to educate (What if our Hands were 100 Feet Long?).

Adventure shows for kids

  1. The Deep (Netflix): The show follows the Nekton family, who are underwater explorers looking for a particular treasure. It has adventure without violence and also talks about family values. We also loved watching it with our son.
  2. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (Netflix): I remember playing the game when it came out. The series is an excellent way to hone your geography skills as Carmen jets off to locations worldwide trying to thwart the plans of the evil VILE Academy.
  3. Mira the Royal Detective (Hotstar Disney+): Granted that the show is full of stereotypes and cliches, but it is good fun, plus its main character is a dark-skinned girl. It’s on my list for a more diverse playlist. The catchphrase ‘soggy samosas’ was quite popular with our son.
  4. Miles from Tomorrowland (Hotstar Disney+): This is similar to The Deep, except it is set in space. We go on the adventures of the Callisto family as they navigate the universe.

This is not a comprehensive list. We’ve watched plenty of shows involving cars, emergency vehicles, transformers, and robots. Our son has watched most episodes of Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, and PJ Masks. As we do with sugar, these shows are ok to watch sometimes, but the main diet should be more substantial.

We also try and watch nature documentaries together as a family. Documentaries might get boring for kids to watch on their own, so we watch them together and ooh and aah over all the details to keep the interest alive. It’s good to have a good dose of reality amidst all the animation and fantasy.

What are some of the shows you loved as kids, and what shows do your kids enjoy now?