Neil MacGregor’s ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’

Germany is home. It has been home for quite a while. It seeped into the consciousness while i was busy fighting  inner inadequacies that cropped up as an expat. I am still struggling with those inadequecies, but am also much more organized and efficient in doing so.

Three weeks ago, at a usual round of the bookstore, i couldn’t resist Neil MacGregor’s ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’. The book helps you make sense of this country through its Art, monuments, architecture historical figures and events in such a way that the country starts making sense in a whole new light.

The humility, the attention to detail, mastering a subject in real sense simply get embossed in the book as the writer (who has been the director of the National Gallery London and of the British Museum) employs German precision in dissecting the country’s own past. How often does a history book compel you to  pull an all-nighter to finish the last 250 pages?

Of course it covers Beer and sausages and football and Hitler and Martin Luther  and Bismarck and Marx and Gutenberg’s printing press and Grimm Brothers. But the book goes beyond the obvious.

Understanding experiences of Goethe, Albrecht Dürer, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, Bauhaus culture, Meissen Porcelain and circumstances that pushed them into the creation are awe-inspiring. The sincere earnestness of the Germans at work in the post WW II economy gives a different kind of inspiration.

I feel inclined to read up more about some of these artists and cities and write more in-depth about it here.

The book beautifully talks about how Käthe Kollwitz’s art isn’t sentimental, it has real depth. That resonates on so many levels with the superfluous overtly sentimental outside (especially virtual) world right now.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


A couple of years back, i landed up on a stand up routine by an extremely handsome African comedian. I did what we addicted to binge videos folks do. I watched almost every recorded performance of his. I gushed about him to my friend Wangui who was familiar with his work in African stand up circuit.

Cut to few months later, he was taking over the Daily Show from Jon Stewart. While i am at it, i must confess to a obvoius problem of access-late-night-chat-show watching. Meanwhile Trevor started his stint. It felt a bit underwhelming. In the time of American political situation providing abundance of comedy content, i have had enough of late night talk shows. Now i have limited it all to only Colbert, and Meyers and Fallon and may be sometimes Trevor.

Cut to last month, i find his memoir/stories from a South African childhood very aptly titled: Born a Crime.

I started it with high expectations and these days it happens quite seldom, it mesmerized me with the subtlety, nuances and lack of attempt at sense of humour. This man is a natural. I was in tears by the time the book ended.
What i identified with the most was how his story ended up with his mom as the protagonist. Her struggles, positivity, his choice of odd paths, African sociopolitical milieu, it all reaches the reader’s mind through the filter that Noah is widely successful and none of it makes sense now, yet it all falls into place.

This is my third book this year that isn’t on my reading list. I’m getting odd track in the best possible way.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize – How does it feel?

Of course words are important than tunes in Dylan-verse. But his live concert was underwhelming where no one could neither follow tunes nor words.

bobDoes it matter that Dylan wins a Nobel prize for literature? Well, it surely does. The question is how much? The prize hasn’t been non-controversial. There is always something to complain about. So at least they are consistent with that. The Swedes have been obsessed with Dylan for a while.

Personally, i have gone through a lot of ups and downs as a Dylan fan.


I was introduced to his songs without music first. “How was that?” you ask. Well, newspapers were generous in using his lyrics as headlines for random features. Travel articles quoting or generously using ‘Like a Rolling stone’ and ‘Blowing in the wind’ are endless, just look it up.

Ironically, his lyrics seem to be a lot more useful to journalists than any other community. Since past few decades shoving a microphone into someone’s face after an incident or event, asking ‘How does it feel?’ has been everyone’s favourite question. Even after wars, demonstrations, crisis, natural calamities or performances the question remains, ‘How does it feel?’

I learnt it the hard way not to get too attached to Bob Dylan’s tunes. His music has been all about lyrics they say. After a lot of hoopla and heartburn, we made it to a Bob Dylan concert in Germany. The hall was full of people in their 50s and 60s. We were the only ones in late 20s at the time. Thankfully, there was a Mark Knopfler opening the show and he saved it by calling Elvis. There was no chance we understood anything that Dylan croaked on the stage.

We were there for the words. so was everyone else. Whoever has been to a Dylan concert in recent years might tell you how it is difficult to sit through even fifteen minutes of that. Especially because he refuses to stick to his own compositions. The lyrics in his own voice are beyond comprehension now. He insists on singing songs in different, random tunes, teasing the listener, as if challenging the listener. Of course words are important than tunes in Dylan-verse. But his live concert was underwhelming where no one could neither follow tunes nor words.

People still pay to see him croak his way through endless tours. He is a maestro refusing to give up gracefully. Now that he even has a Nobel prize, hopefully he will retire. I secretly think the Nobel committee also sat through his recent concert and decided to present him this award so he would stop singing and does what he does the best, write songs or just enjoy the beauty he has already created.

The night his Nobel was announced, he was playing in Vegas. Interesting how pop culture seems to have longed for the approval from the high brows or may be the intellectuals have had this hidden need to be popular all along.

My love affair with Panzanella Salad

So i pestered my friend Chitra at to publish a recipe i am in love with for a while. And the kind and talented woman that she is, she obliged by posting it on her site.

Click here to check out my love affair with the Panzanella Salad.

A Lucky Chops jazz obsession, too much cycling, nostalgic poetry and a reading mood inspired by autumn may result into more posts here. Stay tuned.

oh yeah, that’s Chitra and I hogging on some delicious Nachos and burgers in the back of a van in Ahmedabad, India.


Of ageism and youthful writing

Last evening, I had an interesting chat with my student. Alex and I are the same age and ours is mainly a conversational one on one class. He is highly intelligent and very sharp with his language skills. Since his language is based on a solid base of Greek and German, for him English is turning out to be a fun thing to play with. We met after a few week’s gap and turns out he had read a forgettable thriller where he kept turning pages to find out what happens and the build up was not worth it in the end. It was so disappointing and insignificant that within a few weeks, he had already forgotten the name of the book and the author. He was sad about how a lot of new literature turned out that way.

img_1603I told him I was reading Bill Bryson’s recent book ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’, and how he observes life and cities and things around him during his travels. There are chances that many of his readers will never go to the places he has been to. And even if they do, will hardly get to see things that he sees – the man has some peculiar interests – but every chapter of his has a build up and pay off of its own. He heads to Davon, he heads to Cornwall, he heads to Yorkshire and you wonder what inconsequential yet memorable experience will he have now, and how it will make you wonder about the world. There is thrill without suspense. Of course the genre is entirely different, but a writer can keep you gripped without any suspense in his story.

Alex mostly reads German books and he told me he was not familiar with Bill Bryson. That was invitation enough to tell him more and I embarked on ‘how Bryson usually travels alone and writes about his experiences’ rant. But then thinking of ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Brief History’ and ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ and ‘Home’ and many of his non-travel books, I took that back and said, he writes about everything. There was no way to categorize him. One thing  he is not, he is not forgettable.

And then I said something strange. I said he is already 60-65 and he is old now and he is still traveling. Alex exclaimed, ’60-65 is not old!’ and I immediately took a back flip. I am an agreeable type after all. Of course, my bad. 60-65 is not old. And why was I being ‘ageist’ with one of my favourite writers of all people. The conversation took a different turn in my head.

Why did I say he was old? I started reading Bryson more than a decade ago. I have aged in my mind and since I consider him a wise old man, he has aged further more. Could that be it? But people in that age bracket are retired. Calling him old isn’t too out there. It touched me more, because I have started feeling old of late. I have more experiences to relate to. My sentences start with ‘a decade back’, ‘when i was this age, I never did this’ or ‘in my experience’ and I turn into a woman with advises i would have dreaded a decade earlier.

Bryson himself pokes fun at his age in this book, he forgets roads, he is more accident prone, he is not allowed a certain things by his family, but that’s just good old British teddy bear image he has. His writing is as youthful as ever. And that made me feel more euphoric than ever. I can also reverse my dreadful old woman feeling and shred it through words. You can be any age when you write. And So here, I re-open one medium of writing that I have loved (this blog), that i had closed down for no good reason. I feel more open to take risks, like a young woman again. I could thank Alex and Bill Bryson. Age is just a number. Writing and traveling are forever.



Incoherent monologue

Swinging between optimism and utter pessimism, you wonder if everything is ever going to be okay? And forget to enjoy the fact that everything is okay right now and that’s something to cherish.

You watch, read, think about, listen to things that mostly don’t matter to you or concern you. Isn’t 90 per cent of our time occupied by irrelevant, unnecessary things?

Finding coherence in thoughts you intentionally feel satisfied in being misunderstood. That would be perfect. But you know what will be horrible? Being ignored. Even those doing the ignoring want to be noticed for the fact that they are ignoring.

The world moves about in circles, goals, to-do lists, discipline, targets, status reports, even creativity doesn’t yield if you don’t work on a time table. The only thing about the creative-types is, their time table emerges out of the chaos, it is not pre-determined.

No one tells you that achieving exactly what you set out to get can be anti-climactic, and when you feign satisfaction, the act of fooling yourself makes the self hatred bearable.

The inner monologue is a dangerous beast. Especially when you are supposed to limit your output to simple language that your target audience can understand. When the only person you wish to reach lives inside your own head, keep an open mind, people love strong opinion, but just be the right amount of opinionated.

The unparalleled Alan Rickman

How do you write a tribute to someone you are not yet ready to let go of and didn’t even know you felt so strongly about them. And yet, somehow, actors and performers make you feel like you knew them, after all you have spent time with them, thought about them, sometimes more than even real people who exist around you.


In case of Alan Rickman, Professor Snape has kept a generation on the edge. Snape may have been boxed into anti-hero list, Alan Rickman played Snape to such a perfection, that I feel somehow that also affected the way Rowling wrote Snape right from the third book on.

Remember ‘turn to page 394’?

There would hardly be any reader of Potter-verse who doesn’t conjure up the image of Alan Rickman while reading the books, or even think of Severus Snape without him in mind.

There are no literary parallels to the type of character Snape is, just the same way, you can’t categorize Alan Rickman the actor. He could fit into a silent brooding Jane Austen hero mould as simply as he could be the first Die Hard villain.

i am more disillusioned than ever with the world, the industry i work for, the way people and politics function these days, and yet, even while feeling sad, Snape and Rickman make me feel hopeful, not everything that’s grey is black.

Rickman immortalized Snape in such a way that his own passing has suddenly reminded the world how much we love him, and will continue to do so. Always!


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