Beautiful Thing – Sonia Faleiro

In ankhon Ki masti ke mastane hazaaron hain” – Umrao Jaan

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Sonia Faleiro’s “Beautiful Thing” is the poignant and evocative story of ‘Leela’ a bar dancer who sells her soul and body in one of the many dance bars across Mumbai. The book is a nonfictional account of the bar dancers of Mumbai who most of us avoid if they crossed our paths. However as you find yourself with the author in the glitzy bars, brothels and hell holes that these women live in you realize how circumstances can rob you of every plausible chance of being an acceptable part of the same society that creates those conditions for you.

 

The author had written the book with a lot of sensitivity, without trying to dumb down the conditions in which Leela survives. Pimped out by her father, exploited by society and everyone she meets, Leela finally finds her way to the shady world of the dingy night clubs that littered the dangerous streets of Mumbai and becomes a ‘Dhandewaali’ (a term used for a sex worker). She spends her evenings drunk and high dancing away in a bar owned by Shetty who she is having a passionate affair with and hopes will leave his wife and sons to be with her someday.

 

Her job as a dancer is to entice desperate young, old, horny and lost men to stay for the night. Moving her hips on the sounds of some ‘Dhanchik’ Bollywood number, she teases them with her eyes and does every ploy in the books to get a man to spend money on her. They all stay, but they only till the bar is open. Once the bar is closed, you find Leela in the dark make up room wiping away the frivolities of the night, walking home alone. Some exploit her for her looks, some for her body and some for her love. While all the men she meets are ready to bed, her no one wants to marry her and look after her, and she knows it. But she fights, and how she fights, carrying her heart on her sleeve and her bravado under her makeup, Leela grabs life by its balls and ensures that she is not the only one who is getting the raw end of the deal.

 

The author also introduces other characters in the story, Leela’s self-obsessed friend Priya, her mother Apsara and Masti the eunuch, who Leela considers as her real mother. Reading about the plight of the Eunuchs, once most respected and now marginalized and traumatized by society was extremely painful. I found myself wincing a few times as I read with horror about what the process of becoming a Eunuchs involves.

 

I searched my soul many times as I flicked through the book page by page. It made me question my outlook towards these women who were doing the same thing as we did, that was work hard to look after their families every single day. And are shamed, ridiculed and considered beneath us. When we look at it at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you are dancing in a bar or working in a shiny corporate office, we all want to fill our bellies and be loved and wanted by those who are in our lives. A fabulous read.

 

ChaI and nashta with The Travelling Belly

Chai and nashta (breakfast) with “The Travelling Belly,” written by Kalyan Karmakar of finely chopped blog. His was the first blog that I religiously followed for many years because I connected to his writing style and single-minded passion for food. So the book was much anticipated.

 

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The book starts with the author telling us “What the book is not” and I thought that was really good because it set the tone of what I could expect from the book. You won’t find any recipes in this book. It is a book on where to find good food in India and the author’s stories that are associated with traveling to find food in the cities of India.

 

I salivated throughout the book reading about the ‘idlis’ he ate in Bangalore,‘Dal Baati’ he ate in Jaipur and the symphony of the decadent ‘Prawns Bafat’ he and his wife ate in Goa. The two chapter that I loved the most were of my favorite cities Delhi and  Mumbai. His food escapades in Delhi got to me so badly that a few weeks ago when I visited Delhi, I ended up visiting almost all the places he had recommended. And I was glad that I took his word as the food was definitely to die for. It also helped that I could show off in front of my family who lived in Delhi that I knew the city better than they did.

 

The other city was Mumbai as I had spent many of my teenage and dating years lingering in the same places that author visited when dating his wife. Especially the quaint little “Cafe Churchill” where the husband and I shared many a chilled glasses of Lemon Iced tea and the most decadent Cheesecakes I have ever eaten while fluttering my eyelashes at the only man who knew the way through my heart was through my stomach.

 

The book brought back many beautiful memories, and funnily all those memories were about food. Kalyan’s belly knows good food and the man is willing to travel to find it. I will definitely be carrying this book when I visit Kolkata and Rajasthan on my next trip to the motherland.

 

The Raj on the Move – Rajika Bhandari

 

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I have always been in love with books written on British/Indian history. They make a fascinating read of the life and times of the strangers who came to our country and made it their own and left a huge mark on who we are today. One of the most amazing legacies of that time is the Indian railways and the architecture surrounding the routes, like the train stations and Circuit houses which are full of amazing stories. So when I found a book that covered these topics I knew I had to read it. “The Raj on the Move” by Rajika Bhandari is a surprisingly well researched account of the “Dak Bungalows/Circuit Houses” from the Pre-Independence era. Built by the British in the 1840’s as an endeavor to have a centralized resting place for the weary British civil servants & their families traveling the length and breadth of the vast country to do their jobs. These Dak Bungalows had a lot of tales surrounding them, and Rajika retraces the steps of these travelers and their families by reviving old memories with the stories of a distant past. She covers the beautiful architecture unique to these houses, conducive to the location & the climate. Talks about the resident ghosts of the “Damoh Circuit Home” and also mentions the legend of the mad Khansama (cook) “Bernard the Terrible” who served cold food and leathery chapattis to “Babu Jagjivan Ram” as a punishment for being late. She also discusses the famed Anglo-Indian cooking style of Dak Bungalows which included the legendary ‘Country Captain Chicken, Chicken Cutlets and Railway Mutton Curry, which are still quite popular in coffee houses and restaurants in some parts of the country. The memoirs left behind by the Memsahibs and Burra Sahibs; the entries in the visitors log books and the stories associated with these forgotten places have been woven together into this lucidly written book. It is an absolute must for Raj history buffs like me who want to learn more about the lives and travels of the sahibs.

Delhi unknown Tales of a City – R V Smith

Dilli ke na the kuche Auraq-e-mussavir the. Jo shakl nazar aayi Tasveer nazar aayi.

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(It wasn’t the lanes and streets of Delhi: It was the pages of an album. Each and every face that one saw was a painting)- Mir Taqi Mir. “Delhi unknown Tales of a City” by R V Smith is a collection of some lovely anecdotes on Delhi. For a lover of this old city, this book is a fabulous discovery because of all the amazing stories that the author has incorporated into it. There is so much to discover about the city that the book makes you feel like you are walking into all its dark labyrinths and folds one chapter at a time. I loved reading about the history behind the weird street names, the stories behind the forgotten old buildings which were once as majestic as the city itself and the people who called Delhi their own. A city that was loved by Ghalib and by Mir, a city that the Mughals filled with gardens and architecture, a city that the British tried to tame, Delhi has seen it all and Mr. Smith, who clearly knows the city, more intimately then some has tried to capture it all.

A wonderfully informative read that I am glad I added to my fast growing collection of books on Delhi.