Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook

I am an occasional silent reader at Sharell Cook’s blog, and when I found out that she had written a book, it came onto my wish list. A few weeks ago, I managed to lay my hands on the book.

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How far would you go to change your life?

Sharell Cook is 30 years old and living a privileged life in Melbourne’s wealthy suburbs. She has it all: the childhood-sweetheart husband, the high-powered job and plenty of cash to splash.

And it’s not destined to last. Sharell finds herself in a broken marriage, and everything she had taken for granted seems to have changed. Impulsively, she decides to take a break and go to India to do some volunteer work for a few months. Living in Calcutta, a life which was totally different from the time she traveled in India with her ex-husband as a tourist, Sharell grapples with life in India, the frustrations and joys, the unexpected and the normal. She also meets her future husband in India. Reading her book, you start to believe in destiny taking you where you belong.

The book is her memoir of her time in India, the way it changed her, and the way she now leads the urban life of a white Indian housewife. Her journey from what she was, to what she becomes, as she lives in a different culture, which she accepts so open-heartedly. Her transformation, as she calls it. Some of things which even, us, Indians would balk at, she calmly accepts and lives with them. It was fresh take, devoid of the stereotypes one would expect, and without any undue glorification of India either. She writes it as it is, and that in itself is very refreshing.

I loved reading her experiences in India, as she travels through India, lives in various parts, lives a life which is different at the same time, similar to locals. Washing clothes by hand, living through water shortages, temperamental landlords, nosy neighbours, part and parcel of middle class living in India, and accepting it all in a very matter of fact way. I absolutely love her attitude.

What really stands out is the risks she takes, probably because all that she considered familiar had changed after the breakdown of her marriage. The risks she takes in coming back to India, living with the man she would later marry, and her willingness to make the most of her situation, to accept what life has in store for her. It’s not something what most of us would find easy to do. And her attitude towards the changes in her life. Her open-hearted acceptance of the confusion that India can be, and her willingness to be a part of it all.

She literally taker us on her journey, through India, with the wonderful companionship she shares with her husband, and their adventures of various kinds. Living in different parts of India, until they reach the place they end up settling down in – Mumbai. Her husband’s family comes across as such wonderful people, accepting her a part of their family, and doing what it took to get her comfortable. The wonderful bond that she shares with them comes out loud and clear in the book.

If I had to describe the book in a few words, it would – honest and captivating. She keeps the pages turning, you want to know more, and you actually feel sad when it ends. A book I would definitely recommend.

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

I’ve come to really enjoy travelogues. Of all sorts. This was another Goodreads recommendation, based on the books I have read and rated. The description had me hooked.

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‘One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains and flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. It has been worshipped as a god, used as a tool of imperial expansion, and today is the cement of Pakistan’s fractious union. Alice Albinia follows the river upstream, through two thousand miles of geography and back to a time five thousand years ago when a string of sophisticated cities grew on its banks. “This turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative” (The Guardian) leads us from the ruins of elaborate metropolises, to the bitter divisions of today. Like Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Empires of the Indus is an engrossing personal journey and a deeply moving portrait of a river and its people.’ says the blurb, and I just had to get hold of it.

Albinia, a British journalist, fascinated by the River Indus, and the civilizations and religions that it spawned around it, travels up the river, from its delta in Sindh, to the place of its origin in Tibet. As she travels through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet, she also narrates history, and links it up to the present world and culture. The Sheedis in Pakistan, who could trace back their ancestors to Africa and to the first African disciple of Prophet Mohammed, the life, and hierarchy of Pakistani society after the Partition, the Aryans and India as it had been. The way of life in India a few centuries ago, when religions co-existed, peacefully. Fascinating tidbits and facts – both historical and contemporary ones. There is a lot more of Pakistan than India, in the book, but that is of course a given, since Indus is almost completely in Pakistan now, but she still manages to link the common history of the region with the mighty river flowing through it, really well. A wonderful mixture of history and culture with Indus as the ever-present protagonist. The river which is mighty, deep, mysterious, divine and a lifeline to those who live by it. For centuries, Indus was more than just a river. At one point in history, conquering the Indus was equivalent to conquering India. The books spans from the Vedic times to today’s world, touching upon Kargil, the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas amongst other important recent developments that impacted the subcontinent.

The author’s meticulous research is evident in the book. And her evident interest in her subject. Conversant in Urdu and Hindi, she is able to converse with the locals, and live like them, fasting during Ramzan, living in their houses during her travel, almost becoming one of them. The author’s enthusiasm, and zeal left me amazed. The journey that she undertook, couldn’t have been easy by any standards, through one of the world’s most volatile regions, potentially one of the most unsafe regions for a woman to travel alone, is one of the bravest things to do. A lot of travelogues have the authors being enraptured by the subject, in this case, she is utterly fascinated and yet objective, fascinated enough to have researched her subject thoroughly, and objective enough to analyze it all, so very well. I just did not want it to end. I wished she could go on and on, I wished I had learnt history reading books like these.

A totally recommended read for anyone who loves travelogues and history – such a marvelous combination, handled in such a wonderful manner! Another Goodreads recommendation, that I absolutely loved.

Wrong Means Right End by Varsha Dixit

Blogadda came up with this review just at the time that I was yearning for a book of this sort. After loads of heavy reading, this was fit the bill perfectly.

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Sneha is a hard-working single mom, living in Mumbai with her little son, Advey. Her best friend forever, Nandini, newly married and deliriously happy, is busy trying to arrange blind dates for Sneha. Sneha ends up the guinea pig for Nandini’s experiments in getting her hitched, at almost party that she throws.

Nandini is married to Aditya Sarin, an industrialist, and is currently working in his organisation to find out what works for her. Sneha is busy juggling her career and her son, supported by her help, Amla. Their friendship goes way back, and they have been together through all sorts of trouble. Both of them are very protective towards the other. Now, all that Nandini wants is for her friend to have the same sort of bliss that she shares with Aditya. Sneha’s ordered life goes up in the air when she comes across Nikhil, with whom she shares some unpleasant history. And he doesn’t come alone, he comes with Aditya’s ex-fiancee Gayatri, who, apparently, is still hung up on Aditya.

Before she knows it, Sneha is in the middle of all sorts of chaos. Nandini and Aditya’s marriage seems to be unraveling, Hers and Nandini’s friendship seems to be history, and the only person who can help her is Nikhil. Nikhil who can’t stand her, Nikhil, who, she will do anything to avoid. They need to forget their history and egos, if Nandini and Aditya’s marriage has to be saved. Of course it doesn’t help that Sneha ends up in places where she has no business being, only to add to the complications.

A light and fun read. Perfect if you want to leave your brains behind and read. A Mills and Boon sort of romance, with a few additional twists thrown in. And all that goes with tales of this sort, two people with incredible chemistry, but seem to rub each other the wrong way. Sneha and Nandini’s friendship was something I really enjoyed reading about. That added some freshness to the tale. The twists and turns were, well, predictable, but the book is quick-paced, so you don’t really get bored. The background tale of the antagonism between Sneha and Nikhil was rather tame as well, and in some ways a little disappointing. The descriptions were very stereotyped. I mean, can someone tell me what exactly hooded eyes are? Of course, all the men were gorgeous and super rich. The amount the characters curse, was, a bit of a put off, for me, but then, that’s just probably me.

The one place it was surprisingly not stereotyped was Sneha, with her independence, and her need for speed, was a welcome change from the usual stereotypes. So was Nandini’s expectations from her marriage. It gave the book, the much-needed depth. In fact, I wish the book had explored more of these, it would have been a little more interesting, in my opinion. As such the book has more of the chemistry between Sneha and Nikhil than anything else. Although, It might work well for a younger/different audience, I suppose.

A light, quick read, perfect for a light afternoon read or a holiday read, when all you want is something nice and light.

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