the wonderful world of veena.

27 January 2011

book update: Sarah's Key

I just finished reading "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay. But before I tell you about the book itself, a bit of background:

I picked this book up in either the Chicago or Frankfurt airport on my way back to Bangalore about a year and a half ago. I normally don't buy anything from the airport bookstores, as I usually have at least two books already in my rucksack, but I like to browse through them to pass the time and to jot down the names of potential future reads. But there was something about this book that made me pick it up. I was originally drawn by the cover - it's very simple, but there's something a bit sad about it that made me want to pick it up. I read the synopsis on the back - very brief, not giving too much away - and was intrigued. It mentioned slightly parallel stories, which I tend to be a sucker for, so I figured what the hey, and I purchased it.

As books usually do, this one sat on my desk and now a shelf for a good year and a half. I would pick it up occasionally when deciding which book to read next, but there was always something a bit shinier that would catch my attention. So back to the shelf it would go, to gather a bit of dust and wait for me to come around to it again.

And then my friend Brad mentioned on his blog that he had read - and enjoyed - this book. So I decided to put it at the top of my 'To Read Next' pile and rushed through the end of "A Girl Named Zippy" to get to this one.

In a few words, I was entranced. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry ("Tuesdays with Morrie" comes to mind), and this one had me sitting on a BMTC bus Tuesday morning ready to bawl my eyes out in front of a bunch of impatient Bangaloreans. I'll have to agree with Brad that the ending was a bit predictable and tied up with too pretty a bow, considering how sad and heart-wrenching the first half of the book is, but overall it was fantastic. I loved how the story interwove between Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl whose family is rounded up by the French police in 1942 and sent to camps, and Julia, an American journalist living in Paris researching the roundup.

I also learned a lot about the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup in July 1942 and the role that the French police played in rounding up and deporting Paris' Jewish population. As someone who has taken numerous courses on World War II and the Holocaust, this was something new for me, and I always love being able to learn something new from a book without feeling as though I'm reading a textbook.

Overall it was beautifully written, and the stories were interwoven wonderfully. But it's heartbreaking, so make sure you have some Kleenex ready if you decide to read it. So yeah, this one definitely goes on the list of recommendations. Especially for you, Ellie and Anna. You'll love it.

next up: "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. I somehow missed reading it in school, so I am excited about getting to it now. But I think after this one I'm definitely going to need something a bit lighter before tackling "Midnight's Children" and "The Brothers Karamazov". Any suggestions?

19 January 2011

30 days to the World Cup!

No, not THAT World Cup. That one - as anyone over the age of 5 and not living under a rock knows - happened last year. I'm talking about the ICC [International Cricket Council, for those interested] World Cup.

Now people might be wondering why I'm so excited about this world cup, because cricket is most certainly not one of the more popular sports in the world, particularly outside the Commonwealth countries. I'll tell you why:

1. Being the sports fanatic that I am, and having lived in India for the better part of 5 years, I've acclimated. I've followed cricket throughout my life, sitting with my father for hours and talking about the game. My brother and I had a child size cricket set growing up and tried to teach the neighborhood kids how to play. But other sports always overshadowed it. And then I moved to India. Any time of day, if you turn on a sports channel, a cricket match from any of the last 30 years will be showing. You can catch football matches late at night, an occasional NBA game, and the 4 major tennis tournaments. But otherwise it is a constant barrage of cricket. So I've picked up obsessing over the Indian national team and Bangalore's local Royal Challengers team [yes, our team is named after alcohol. they don't call us the "pub city" without good reason] where I used to - and still do - the Braves and the Razorbacks.

2. This year's World Cup is being hosted by the subcontinent; that is, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Which means that there are matches in Bangalore. Which means that I can - and obviously will - attend at least 4 matches.

3. India is currently ranked 2nd [out of 13] in the world in the one-day format, which means that we actually have a good chance of winning, barring a self-combustion by the players. Or really just the possibility of someone other than the dreaded Australians [on par with Duke basketball, the Lakers, the Yankees, etc] winning.

4. The possibility of meeting MS Dhoni, AB de Villiers, or Daniel Vettori. I've been obsessed with Dhoni for close to 7 years now, and with de Villiers and Vettori for the past 4, and the fact that all 3 will be in and out of Bangalore at some point makes my heart flutter a bit.

So there you have it. Official matches begin on the 19th of February, with the first match held in Bangalore on the 2nd of March. If you have fancy satellite televisions, look for me in the crowd.


17 January 2011

soul refreshing.

Oh Gokarna, how I love thee.

This past weekend was exactly what I needed: three days without Internet, television, or a phone. Three days of nothing but swimming in the sea, reading on the beach, and playing rummy while snacking on pakodas and sipping on some Old Monk. Three days of escape.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a city girl. I grew up in a small town, and there is a lot to be said for it, but if you give me the choice I will pick living in a city any day of the week. I love the bustle and the crowd and the options for a random Saturday afternoon when you just feel like getting out of the house and doing something.

But having said that, I relish my quiet time as well. If I can get out of the city for a few days every so often, just to refresh my body and my mind, I am set.

And that is exactly what this past weekend was. A chance to escape the craziness of the city and relax after having spent the better part of the last two months doing not much other than grad school applications and studying for the GRE.

And Gokarna did not disappoint. No, we didn't get to say where we originally wanted. And yes, there were a lot more locals on the beach on Friday and Saturday who were a bit rowdy. But overall it was great. We spent a lot of time doing nothing, and the rest of the time figuring out how to spend these last six months before I head back to the US.

Just what the doctor ordered, really.

book updates [especially for Ellie and Anna, if they're reading]:
I just finished reading 'The Girls' [Lori Lansens], a book Ellie grabbed off the shelf at Goobe's last year, shoved on top of my already-too-big pile, and insisted I would enjoy. I finally got around to it, and as always, she was right -- I really liked it. It's the story of craniopagus twins [that means joined at the head, for any of you out there looking for good SAT and GRE words] growing up in small town Canada, and how they live life to the fullest. It's told mostly from the perspective of the stronger twin, with intermittent chapters written by the weaker, which I really enjoyed. If any of you enjoy a good narrative, find this book and read it.

currently reading: 'A Girl Named Zippy' [Haven Kimmel]. It is a memoir that thus far reminds me a bit of David Sedaris, if maybe slightly less dysfunctional -- it is made up of funny/odd/humorous anecdotes involving the author's childhood. It's a fast read - I began it this morning and am already one-third of the way through.

recently read:
'The Wishmaker' [Ali Sethi] -- I liked it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I weren't bogged down with stuff for grad school at the time.
'Wicked' [Gregory Maguire] -- very different from what I expected. Not necessarily better or worse, but different. And I couldn't stop myself from singing the songs whenever there was a sentence I recognized as being in the musical.
'Jesus Land' [Julia Scheeres] -- quite a gripping story [again a memoir] about a white girl growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family in rural Indiana alongside an adopted black brother who was the same age. It's over 400 pages, and I finished it in about 3.5 days.

12 January 2011

stick a fork in me, I'm done.

...with grad school applications and the GRE, that is!

Took my exam this morning. It was a slightly bizarre experience.

Shonali dropped me at the testing center about 20 minutes before I was supposed to report, and there were already about 10 people waiting. One girl was going through her Princeton Review book trying to get in some last-minute cramming, asking her dad to look up words she didn't know on his Blackberry. Quite funny. And at 8.50, 10 minutes before the exam was scheduled to begin, there were still people calling the test center to get directions.

[we solved that problem last night itself. I had the address for the place, and we all knew it was somewhere near Shonali's house, but we weren't sure exactly, so at 11.30 last night, Prakash, Shonu and I climbed into the Gypsy and went in search of the test center. luckily, Jayanagar is well laid out, so we were able to find the place quite easily. and only a 10 minute walk from Shon's house! so luckily I wasn't one of the ones desperately calling for directions 5 minutes before the exam started]

I had to put all of my stuff into a little locker, which was also a bit strange. I never really carry that much with me to standardized exams, just a few pencils and my ID, but I had to leave my bag - along with my watch, which you all know throws me off a bit - in the locker they assigned me and could only carry my passport inside the test room with me. It's been 11 years since I last took a standardized exams, so I don't know if this is standard practice at all GRE test centers, or if it is unique to India alone. Regardless, I am glad to be finished with it.

Then, before going into the test room, they patted me down to make sure I didn't have anything in my pockets, took my picture, and patted me down again, just in case I had somehow snuck something into my pockets in the 2 minutes in between the first and second pat-downs.

Then I finally got to sit down and take the exam. Overall it went well, except for the moment when one of the monitors came in and told me I couldn't keep my sweater on the back of my chair - I either had to wear it or get up and leave it in my locker outside. So, I put the sweater back on and sweated through the last half hour or so of the test. Once I finished, I went back to Shonali's house and crashed.

And now I'm done! I'm satisfied with my score. Not ecstatic, but not disappointed either. Really just glad to have it over and done with.

I also mailed my final reference letter this afternoon, which means that I am officially finished will all of my grad school application requirements. The only thing to do now is sit back and wait until mid-April, when I will find out whether or not I'll be packing up my stuff and moving back State-side for two years.

So first on the list of things to do now that I have my life back? Why, go to the beach, of course! Prakash and I are taking off to Gokarna for the weekend, and I am desperate to get out of town and spend some quiet time swimming and reading on the beach. So I will see you all once I am rested, relaxed and nice and tan :)


09 January 2011

my little peanut.

Seeing as how I have appointed myself honorary Godmother [that whole being Hindu thing got in the way of being able to be it for real] for baby Nilah, I wanted to share a picture of me with her after her Christening.

She's just about the cutest thing ever, and I could babble on about her for days. She's finally beginning to recognize faces, and it's so fun when she recognizes me and her face breaks out into an ear-splitting grin. Makes everything else in the world seem so trivial.

When we were driving to Chamarajpet the other day, I had her on my lap, and she was staring so contentedly out the window that for a moment it made me wonder what it is that she sees. I wanted to be able to see through her eyes for a minute, just to know. Ws it colors, or shapes, or just a blur whizzing by? Whatever it was, she was enraptured. Babies really are fascinating creatures.

That's all I've got for the time being. Exam is in approximately 60 hours! Keep those fingers crossed!


03 January 2011

the year that was.

And what a year it was. It began with the awesome news that Boss was going to have a baby! After harassing her to have a baby pretty much from the time she and Kishore got married, I was thrilled when she told me she was expecting. It was the first time I had spent so much of someone's pregnancy with them, and it was pretty cool.

The first half of the year was a whirlwind of birthdays, parties, visitors from abroad, a few trips to the beach, Rob came to visit, a few Sports Days and field trips, two school groups, a few weddings, a friends trip to Coorg. July was when Prakash and I began dating -- 6 months and still going strong, if you can believe it.

Then came Veena's European Adventure:
I spent the first two weeks of August in Istanbul for the World Youth Congress, where I got to catch up with old friends and make some new ones along the way. Istanbul was awesome - albeit extremely hot - and we had a great time exploring bits and pieces of the city. Ellie came to visit, and then I finally got to see her family's trullo in Italy, where I spent 3 gorgeous days sipping red wine (and some Old Monk!) and napping under the fig tree in the yard. Following that Dorothy and I met up in Brussels and did some exploring in Belgium and the Netherlands (with Koudi for company). It was crazy to go from walking around in shorts (and sweating) in Turkey to bundling up in 3 layers and scarves and shoes in northern Holland, all in the span of two weeks! Both countries were a blast to explore, and I will definitely return one day when I have time and money.

From there I got to spend 10 awesome days in London and Bristol, catching up with lots of friends, navigating the Tube, exploring Oxford Street and Camden Market, playing with Maia and Iona, discovering Nando's, running around Henley's with Alex, visiting the Tate, and having ice cream at Harrod's.

I spent a few days in New York City with some friends (where I spent one night in Lenny Kravitz' old apartment!) before then heading down to Memphis. And the next month brought two high school reunions, a road trip through Nashville and Atlanta, a trip to Houston to visit the brother, and lots of lunch and dinner dates to fill up on all the wonders of Memphis eateries (mmm, Central BBQ and Kwik Chek).

Back in Bangalore, Boss had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, everyone had finally shifted to Chamarajpet, lots of interns had come and gone, a school group had come and gone, and many other things had happened in between. From the time I've been back it's again been a whirlwind: birthdays, parties, visitors from abroad (including having all the little ones here at once), a trip to Goa, a few weddings, and of course Christmas and New Year.

Already 2011 is shaping up to be another wonderfully crazy year. I'm taking the GRE next week (eeks!) and then heading to the beach for 3 days to chill out. There is at least one big school group coming before I finish working in June. I find out beginning of April if I'll be starting at the Clinton School in August. And - as always - a million little things in between. Missing approximately 5 weddings between April and June in the States, but I'm sure there will be at least one or two (not mine, for anyone wondering) happening on this side of the world for me to get to attend.

Here's hoping this year is even better than the last.