Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fort Kochi, Kerala - Place Review

Saturday coming up and the mood to explore a bit of nature, a bit of history was in. The places on to list to visit was Fort Kochi and Mattancherry in Cochin District of Kerala.

The route plan is Cherthala in Alapphuzha District to Fort Kochi and then to Mattancherry, both in Cochin district and the plan is to travel by bus alone – no cabs or ricks, only KSRTC or private buses. Cherthala to Fort Kochi is about 38 kms by road. The travel began with a bus ride from Cherthala KSTRC bus stand and the destination was Thokumpadi bus stop in Cochin, as there is no direct bus available to Fort Kochi from Cherthala and the fare is INR 20/-. From Thokumpadi buses to Fort Kochi are frequently available.  A bus ride from Thokumpadi to Fort Kochi will cost around INR 6/-.

Preceding the fort kochi bus stop is the Santa Cruz Basilica stop also known as Basilica palli stop. This is the first place you want to get down in fort kochi for a dash of history before going to the beach, especially if you are a beach baby.  Santa Cruz Basilica is a must watch in Fort Kochi, if you are interested in history and art. It is that part of history which unifies the ages with the art.   It is one of the oldest churches in the country and was built by the Portuguese when they started arriving in India. The story goes that the king of Cochin in the 15th century gave permission to the Portuguese, who had arrived as merchants, to build a fort – Fort Kochi, which is now the name of the area, and later on to build a church. The church is symbolic of the religious tolerance of ancient India as a Hindu king had permitted Christian missionaries to build a place of devotion of a religion akin to them and had allowed practice of the religion by believers too.

Centuries later the church was upgraded to a Basilica and is now one of the few basilicas in the country.  The magnificence of the interiors of the basilica is worth a watch. The interiors are mainly Gothic styled paintings. The colours are something that will not leave your mind easily. The combinations of whites and blues leave you spell bound and the windows are the tainted glass styled, again the colour combinations are just awesome.  The high ceilings may sprain your neck but they are definitely worth admiration, for some minutes atleast. The cravings on the wood as well as the walls will again leave you spell bound and the whole feel of the place is that you are witnessing a part of history, you are INSIDE history.

A half a kilometre walk towards the north of the basilica will take you to St. Francis  CSI Church, locally known as the CSI church. This is another piece of history for the history enthusiasts as it is the oldest European church in India.  History has it that the church was part of the fort built by the Portuguese and was originally a wooden structure but later on with the permission of the King of Cochin, it was reconstructed into a mortar one but even today most of the inside the church is wooden. It is apparently the only Portuguese structure, which did not undergo demolition by the Dutch or the British who succeeded the Portuguese in ruling Cochin.

A major attraction of the church is Vasco Da Gama’s grave. Though the information tablet at the church informs us that his mortal remains are now in Lisbon, Gama was originally buried in St. Francis Church in the 15th century and 14 years later his remains were transported to Lisbon.  Another attraction is that the gravestones of many of the Portuguese (the Catholics) as well as the Dutch (the protestants) remain in the walls of the church on opposite walls facing each other.
St. Francis Church is a protected monument under the Archaeological survey of India  (ASI) and while we were there, audit by the ASI was going on. There is also the Dutch cemetery opposite the church if you want to visit; I could not as time was running out. The shops in the lane outside the church towards the west takes you to Vasco junction near the Fort Kochi beach and there are interesting stuff to shop out there if you can bargain or pay like hell.

Now the final attraction in Fort Kochi  - the Fort Kochi Beach. Here you do get to see something that you cannot see at the Marina Beach in Chennai or the Juhu Beach in Mumbai. Something that is typical of Kerala – The Chinese Fishing Nets. They line the coast and one would just stand gaping at the huge, ancient but effective model of fishing.  History says that much before the Portuguese arrived at Calicut in the form of Vasco Da Gama and his entourage there were Chinese fishermen settlements in the costal regions of Kerala especially Cochin, Alapphuzha etc. and those fishermen used these huge nets for fishing. These nets are lowered during night into water and pulled back the next morning. The fresh catch is sold freshly at the beach itself in the fish shops that line the beach. One gets to see the smallest to the largest fish species here. I saw one shark big enough to gobble me up in one of the shops. Compared to other beaches in the country, the beach is considerably clean except for some water hyacinth weathered over the beach, thrown in by the sea. The walk way and benches are a good addition and there is a nice, posh feel about the beach.
It was good to be at Fort Kochi. A dash of nature and history together. My ideal. Would love to visit again. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Backup Plan (English) - Movie Review

The backup plan directed by Alan Poul, starring Jennifer Lopez, Alex o' Loughlin in the lead roles has one of the most vibrant introductions I have seen in recent times, which psychologically puts the viewer into a light, playful mood which is what the movie's tag line suggests too - Fall in Love. Get Married. Have a baby. Not necessarily in that order.  

The movie starts off with Lopez getting an insemination as she wants to have a baby and fears that the Mr. Right may never appear, so she opts for the option which does not require the Mr. at all. And lo & behold the day she gets inseminated Alex appears and the rest of the film deals with the obvious of the leads falling in love and the rest but with a little 'baby' twist in the storyline because the insemination works for Lopez. Though the first time chance of success is rare, the rarest of the rare happens to our leading lady and the rest of the movie is spent in the acceptance of the  baby and the love and the heredity problem of commitment phobia in one of the leads just adds to the woes.

The Backup Plan is definitely a mush movie to the core and does a good job in the genre. It does not boast of any surprises in the story line but is definitely a well presented, well performed movie. The anxieties of a single mother, the helplessness of a lover, the realization of simple true facts make the movie predicable yet adorable. 

A must watch for any mush sucker and Alex looks cute.

iVerdict: Good. 
Rating: 2.5/5 

The Lake of Dreams - Book Review

A bundle of old letters tucked away. A rumbling family house by the lakeside. Cathedral glass windows with a distant and possibly family connection. And a protagonist running away from unpleasant, teary and mysterious memories.

I love mysteries and this one seemed to just have that. The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards, who also wrote the bestseller The Memory Keeper’s daughter, is filled with a lot of twisting mysteries. This is my first Kim book and she is definitely an effortless, free flow writer. The book takes the reader through the journey of Lucy Jarrett – who after trotting the world, secreting running away from a guilt filled incidental death at home, returns to the place that she is running way from – the house by the lake. There is where all the other attachments in her life come alive – the relationship with her brother, her ex-flame’s reappearance, her mother’s love interest, long distance relationship with her boyfriend and missing link in the family which leads to a Nancy Drew styled search and uncovering.

The book is interesting and pregnant with worthy details to a certain extent but does get lengthy towards the end. Why is the book still on is a question that did come to my mind towards the climax of the book. The pace consistency is missing and lags in certain parts of the book.  Interesting twists if you can handle a bit of lag.

iVerdict: Good. Can be read.
Rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cuckold - Book Review

This book has above anything else added a word to my vocabulary – Cuckold, I had no cue what that meant till I googled it after a few pages into the book. A 16th century rajput prince with a 21st century thought process – that is Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar for you.

Cuckold takes the reader through the systems, traditions, conventions, politics, mind games and social behaviourals via the narrative of the heir apparent of the kingdom of Mewar in 16th Century Hindustan – the Maharaj Kumar. It subtly conveys messages though out the narrative that appearances can be deceptive about the intelligence that lies beneath, that the forces of change – social or political can exist anywhere, even within the system and that still waters mostly run really deep.  

The beauty in the narration is that it is the story of a kingdom wrapped in the personal story of the king-in-waiting. The protagonist the Maharaj Kumar - he has his blemishes, he has his righteousness, he is not perfect and he is human. The reader keeps falling into trances of liking, sympathising, disliking, empathising, distrusting, hating and even loving him. It is a roller coaster ride for the characters as well as the reader and the fact that the characters, though familiar to most of the Indians, remain just characters till the end of the narrative give the story a fresh feel. The reader in no way is prejudiced by what they already know of the characters. 

Cuckold though a 600+ page narrative is paced well, the flow is excellent and the interwoven web of more than 30 characters is just correct, intriguing but not confusing.  Love history, you will love this one.

iVerdict: Excellent. Recommended.
Rating: 3.5/5

Chanakya's Chant - Book Review

Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi is his second book and my first by Ashwin. Honestly I had not heard of the book and just picked it up randomly at Crossword just for the love of history in stories. And am I happy that I did.

The book is at the core about the politics of power. Acquiring it, implementing it and retaining it. It is like reading two stories simultaneously and is written so tactically well that the element of curiosity is kept alive while not confusing the reader with too many boomerang switches between two stories separated by 2300 years. It beautifully and effortlessly conveys the bare fact that human beings at the core have not evolved nor changed, only our systems, technologies and comforts have evolved and changed. At the core we remain as we were ages ago - insecure, vulnerable and manipulative. 

The story takes the reader through the raw kingmaker abilities of the central characters Vishnugupta alias Chanakya and Pandit Gangasagar Mishra. Though living their  lives centuries apart they are conjoined by a secret ancient mantra - a power mantra. It is the tale of the sheer intellectual brilliance why which they plan, manipulate and maneuver their proteges Chandragupta Maurya and Chandini Gupta to the pinnacle of power and become the power behind the power. 

Chanakya's Chant is a book you would just not put down and would want to rush to its final pages but you will dare not skip any page in between. It is racy, saucy and leaves you vulnerable. Its a guarantee that after you read the book you just cannot look at people the way you looked at them before you started the book least there is a greater Chanakya in you before hand.

The only complaint to the publishers is that it is such a beautiful piece to have in your collection, that the cover and pages quality could have be better. 

iVerdict: Outstanding. Recommended. 
Rating: 4/5