REVIEW The Music Room: Namita Devidayal


This book has garnered a lot of praise, with Pandit Ravi Shankar calling it “A must for every musician and music lover!” It was a very soothing read, and gives a fascinating insight into Indian classical music.

When she was ten, Namita’s mother took her to Dhondutai, a respected singing teacher of the Jaipur Gharana, and the only remaining student of its illustrious founder Alladiya Khan. Dhondutai sees in her traces of the tempestuous Kesarbai Kelkar, the most famous student of the gharana. But will Namita have the dedication to give herself completely up to her music, or will there be too many things in the way?

The Music Room takes you into the world of ragas and alaps, and is a wonderful journey into the swirling depths of Indian classical music. I love listening to classical music, though I can’t distinguish one raga from another, and I really enjoyed reading this book. It looks at how great musicians are made, and how they dedicate themselves to their art, sometimes giving up their families and their personal lives for its sake. Namita speaks lovingly of her guru, Dhondutai, and how she inculcated in her a passion for music. The book talks a lot about the guru-shishya parampara that is the cornerstone of Indian classical music and how Indian music can never be learned from books and sheets, unlike Western music, but only through the teacher who imparts the many nuances of the musical legacy.

Indian music is rooted in a fundamentally different assumption- that there is a continuous, unseen, and constantly changing reality which is the backdrop for all human action and perception. It is what shapes our karma or destiny, and helps explain why seemingly inexplicable things happen to us. The notes in Indian music are thus not categorical, separate, self-contained entities, but are connected through a subtle elusive continuum of notes that can barely be identified by the human ear. They are, in the metaphysical sense, part of that reality which lies beyond perception. These in-between notes are called srutis, and they are the essence of Indian music.

In a very literal sense, these srutis are the half notes and quarter notes that fill the interval between two notes. But that would be a grossly incomplete description. There is much more to the sruti, for it can entirely change the reality of the notes. For instance, how you reach a particular note is as important as the note itself. It may be arrived from below, or above, after caressing that hidden note that hovers next to it, and it will evoke a completely different sensation than if the musician were to meet the note directly.

I would recommend this book to every music lover, whether or not you have any knowledge of Indian music.

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REVIEW Three Men in a Boat: Jerome K. Jerome


First, a big apology to the readers of this blog. I've been off for longer than necessary. First it was mid-terms and then a poor Internet connection, and I really haven't been able to blog much. But that doesn't mean I haven't read anything! So, on to the review. I can’t believe I went so long without reading Three Men in a Boat. It is a marvelous book, a great piece of witty writing.

Jim, George and Harris decide to go on a boating trip to regain their health. They decide to take their dog along, and after much “meticulous” planning, set out. Three Men in a Boat follows their eventful couple of weeks, from which the trio returns, suitable rested and relaxed.

The narrator, like his friends is a very indolent man, which results in a variety of hilarious situations. Jerome’s flair for the comic is impeccable, and he packs page after page with hilarious incidents. There are many anecdotes which the characters recount at various instances, and my favorite ones are the German composer’s song at a dinner the narrator attended, and the entire chapter devoted to their previous boating escapades. The book does have its serious moments, especially when the narrator ruminates over the natural beauty or the historical significance of the place they are passing. This book is like a humorous travelogue, as Jerome takes you on a journey down the Thames, past the English countryside. I read this book as I was trying to get through Atonement, and I found it a short, breezy and awesome read. There are a lot of hilarious passages, and I found it difficult to pick a few, so I settled for this one right at the beginning, which set the tone and gave me an idea of what to expect.

I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee.

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REVIEW Conflicts with Interest: Michael Ruddy


I'm so sorry for the lack of posts this past week, my midterm exams are coming up, which, coupled with an erratic Internet connection, have served to keep me away from books and the blog. I will not be posting for the rest of this week and the next. This review, in itself, is long overdue, considering I read Conflicts with Interest a while back.

From the publisher: Sometimes life can be a poker game with a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Sometimes it's nothing but incessant bad luck. T.R. Morgan is playing such a game with his most feared situation as a builder: Defect Litigation. He finds himself caught in a nasty lawsuit against Steve Sanderson, a ruthless Bay Area lawyer. The problem- it seems, is when will T.R. lose his company and home over this lawsuit and how many times over? Or will his own gambling habit be his downfall? And is his new girlfriend, Catherine, actually who she seems?

Initially, I wasn't too interested in the story. There was too much convoluted legalese which made me feel a little bored, considering that it is more about U.S. law than Indian law. But you get to see a pretty accurate picture of how construction defect litigation proceeds and the unethical deals that abound, and how it affects a honest builder. The characters were a little one-dimensional, and I did not particularly care for Ryan, T.R's son, who I thought was a little petulant and clueless. This is a pretty interesting read, and I think it is quite relevant to people related to the construction industry, because, as I read in a blog, there are a few similarities with real-life characters.

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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REVIEW Club Dead: Charlaine Harris


Honestly, I did not like this book as much as the previous ones. I didn’t hate it, but it left me feeling pretty meh at the end.

When Sookie’s vampire boyfriend Bill, who was working on a secret computer program, goes missing, Sookie travels to Jackson to locate his whereabouts. But detective work starts taking second place to romance, as Sookie feels strongly attracted to Alcide Herveaux, a werewolf assigned to help her. Also, Eric keeps turning up when least expected, and Sookie has a love-hate relationship with him. But when the bodies start piling up, Sookie must find who’s responsible.

I don’t know if it was the story or my mood, but Club Dead wasn’t as fast a read as the other two. The mystery was in short supply, and felt like more of an afterthought than the main story. Sookie is in a love triangle (or is it square? or maybe pentagon) and her conflicting feelings make up most of the book. I didn’t find much of a plot, and the ending was contrived. This series is meant to be a light read between books, but it bored me after a while. A book I’d much rather forget, but I won’t give up on the series just yet.

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Blogsplash: Thaw

At times, people come up with innovative ways of using the blogosphere to promote reading, and Thaw, a novel by Fiona Robyn, does just that. I appreciated the concept and I'm participating in the Blogsplash for her novel.
Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.
Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.
These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.
The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.
I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.
So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?
Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.
Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.
I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.
Continue reading tomorrow here...

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