Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Apple Pie and Amsterdam

 So today is the first day of the A to Z challenge and I'm quite excited about this new journey especially since I've noticed that the moment I take on a challenge of sorts, something comes up which makes the commitment truly challenging. To begin with today, I am having an important dinner party at home - important because of both the occasion and the guests. Apart from organising the party, the challenging part is to actually cook because cooking is something I've relegated to just a few random forays into the kitchen, when I'm particularly hungry.  Perhaps it is no surprise then that with so much food for thought mulling in my head, the first thing that comes to mind when I  see A is APPLE PIE.

Detail of a section of apple pie
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems rather strange to think of Apple Pie at this time of year because the market is full of summer fruit, but perhaps it is the apples peeping shyly from behind  piles of mango, orange, fig and grape that remind me of Apple Pie and Amsterdam on  that glorious October day when Rinske took me around her beautiful city. We started out early in the morning,  from the Cycle Stand near Centraal Station, walked down the Dam Square, sauntered through the leafy lanes of the Jordaan, pottered around the shops in the Nine Streets and ended up with an apple pie at one of the coffee shops close by.

Even though Apple Pie is an American cultural icon, there's really nothing like the Dutch apple pie - it's thick slightly burnt crust, chunks of tart apple dusted with cinnamon and eaten with a generous helping of whipped cream.  I love the Dutch apple pie so much that my friend Jaco gave me  his mother's original recipe  which I make unfailingly every December when green apples appear in our markets.

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities,  a picturesque city with cobbled streets and narrow buildings. I love the flower market by the Singel and the chocolates at Puccini and even though I've visited  this city many times, I never tire of  its various museums, sailing down its canals, munching on  mayo coated Pommes Frites while walking down the streets dodging the cyclists and trams.

Alas, I cannot ramble on for I hear the pressure cooker whistling- the potatoes are done and waiting so I can just dream of Apple Pie and Amsterdam..........

There are over a 1000 bloggers from all over the world  participating in this challenge. Do pop in and see what the others are writing. It's amazing  and fascinating to discover how people's minds work and how the same prompt can inspire different thoughts. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Romance in the time of the Mahabharat.

Mythology it seems is the flavour of the season or at least I seem to be drawn to books inspired by mythology these days. I remember a time when I was drawn to detective stories and then the usual romance of Mills & Boon read between heavy classics by Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens and all the other standard reading that were kind of compulsory at school.
The advantage of reading mythology is that there is no surprise : with the story, the characters and the ending familiar, one would feel that there is really no point in yet another interpretation of the same story. But no, each author's experiences shape his/her understanding of the epic and interpretation of the story

Sweety Shinde describes herself as "an author who is an avid book lover, who is skilled at pencil sketches and loves to daydream and swim. She is insane about soulful music, is a yoga enthusiast, is a student of Spanish and is curious about  the mystic and mystique".

Medical doctors have always been raconteurs - perhaps it is something to do with their constant interaction with humanity, listening to a patient's complaint with attention to detail so as to come to a diagnosis. Interpretation of symptoms is key to diagnosis and the Mahabharat has always been open to interpretation. Sweety Shinde's account of the Mahabharat is  unique in that it is a modern day rendition of an ancient classic.

Everyone knows the story of the Mahabharat - the five Pandav brothers who were engaged in battle with their hundred cousins. Apart from the fact that the cousins warred over kingdoms, the cousins also warred over Draupadi, the only Indian woman with documented evidence of practicing polyandry.

The story begins with Draupadi's Swayamvar . All the kings of the land were invited to this contest yet Arjun the master warrior wins it albeit disguised as a poor Brahmin. On their journey home, Arjun and Draupadi fall in love and in his heart he pledges  her that she would be his first and last wife. However, Kunti decreed that it was unseemly that a younger brother get married before his elder brother and decrees that Arjun had won the contest for his brother and before the argument turned ugly, declared defiantly " This Panchal Princess shall be bride to all five of you".

Draupadi really had no choice but to comply because the only other course of action would be to go back home, a rejected bride as Kunti didn't want her to be the bone of contention between her sons. Yet at this stage, why didn't Arjun fight for his right? Why was he not assertive enough? Quite simply because the credo of duty was so deeply ingrained in him that he had no option but to sacrifice his prize and share her with his brothers.

Shinde's narrative is largely conversational - the three narrators being Arjun, Krishna and Draupadi. The language is contemporary and for actually portrays them as human beings with real feelings. Despite his allegiance to dharma, Arjun finds it difficult to deal with the  frustration of being deprived of his wife's company for two years. This compels him to leave Indraprastha and like many a man in this situation, Arjun co-habits with two other women. Draupadi too finds it difficult to remain indifferent to Arjun and the feelings of jealousy that his other wives particularly Subhadra inspire. So Sweety's characters actually display human emotions of jealousy, greed, desire which one normally doesn't associate with mythological characters whose human attributes transcend the narrative.

It seems kind of strange to read the story of the Mahabharat as a novel because indeed that's what Sweety Shinde has done. Krishna, Arjun and Draupadi are three friends whose lives are intertwined. Each one of them speaks in a different voice - Draupadi as the passionate woman whose emotions waver between passion and calm, Krishna the master strategist and advisor while Arjun, the Prince who actually won Draupadi's hand the ultimate upholder of duty. The humanisation of these characters makes this interpretation of the Mahabharat easy to understand, but it takes a while to recognise which of the characters is speaking.

Sweety Shinde aims to tell the story from Arjun's viewpoint and essentially this is the story of Draupadi and Arjun who she considers as her "husband" despite the fact that she had to be wives to his brothers as well. The strong undertones of passion threading the story are deftly balanced by the intrinsic philosophy of the epic that are peppered throughout the book. For instance a reluctant Arjuna is advised by Krishna  " the best part of a strategy, Parth is to know your opponent's weakness" thus convincing him of a strategy for attacking Jarasandha's kingdom, the first step towards making Indraprastha an Empire.

Sweety Shinde's story of the warring cousins, traces their fortunes, their triumphs and travails in contemporary language, deconstructs the complex epic that often leaves the reader in a jumble of names and events. This simple version will indeed appeal to all who like to hear a good story well told.

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