Welcome to the myriad of moments that whisper into my Life!
The first question that anyone has to answer while planning a vacation is the number of days one has to set aside for a destination. How many days are not too few or too many? Will I be able to cover every tourist spot? Will I have enough time for shopping? We read guidebooks and internet articles like “Itinerary for 2 days in London” to find an answer.
Let me share how I went about this aspect of my planning.
First I froze the time of my entry into and exit from London. We were landing at a very odd time – 1 PM GMT. I was sure we would not be able to start sightseeing on that day itself. So I kept it as a rest day and catching-up-with-friend day (we were staying with friends of MH). We were to fly to Inverness from London via an early morning flight, so that had to be a separate day. Now it remained to decide the number of days in between when I was free to go sightseeing.
Everyone knows what are the must-see sights, but I still googled and made a list. I independently noted the places I did not want to miss.
Then I googled “free sights in London” and “free things to do in London”. It threw up hundreds of articles! Now I was excited😉 There are over 100 free things to do and see; so I was like a child in a candy store. With my list done, I needed to figure out how to fit them best. Now the articles giving perfect itineraries for 2 days/3 days/4 days came handy and I decided on 3 days for London.
Of course, things went wrong and my plan went haywire but there’s a lesson in my story for you.
We lost half a day trying to activate my EE sim card. I was shocked to learn that some shops in London open late and shut down fast! I am talking of 10 AM – 5 PM!!! And God forbid you arrive on a holiday, which we did – some of the shops opened at 12!!!! I don’t know whether Kolkata has become London or not, but London is definitely a sister of Kolkata in this regard at least.
Tip #1 If you have work in shops or want to go shopping, google the store name and find out the opening hours; or be prepared to waste tons of time like us.
Transportation in London is a cakewalk. Not only you have the Tube, but also Dockland Rail, London Overground, National Rail and buses! With so many options for public transport, one need never take a cab. We landed at Heathrow Airport, recharged our Visitor Oyster Cards and hopped into the Tube with our luggage. Two train-change later, we were sipping tea at our friends’ place. The website for Transport for London or TFL has a journey planner section which is very handy in figuring out which line to take and where to change. There are maps available in all stations and direction markers present everywhere; so you have to be genius to get lost.
Tip #2 Get a Visitor Oyster Card, keep on topping up with 5 or 10 pounds and travel the length and breadth of the city.
mmeThere are tons of bus tour options in London, but we did not take any. On the first day, we landed up at Hyde Park (because it’s central and on Sunday one can enjoy the Speaker’s Corner), opened Google Maps and started walking. We walked through the Park into the Kensington Gardens, posed infront of Kensington Palace, looked at the Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College, spent time at the Natural History Museum, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, observed how underwhelming Buckingham Palace was, walked down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square and felt indignant at the pillars commemorating 5 million “volunteers’ from the Indian Sub-continent who fought for Britain in the two world wars, jostled with the crowd at Covent Garden and Leicester Square, caught a glimpse of Westminster and the Big Ben and called it a day.
Tip #3 If you want to wheeze past all the sights, then take a Hop on-Hop off bus tour. But in this age of internet and Google Maps, you will be able to enjoy any place best on foot.
While we were walking, we admired the beautiful architecture of normal buildings, spotted people riding rented bikes, exclaimed at the super-high parking fees, stopped to admire street performers, checked out Harrods (and felt happy to see an Indian brand Amrapali), read the menus of all the restaurants on their windows and compared prices and greatly enjoyed discovering London. We did not care about how much time it took cos we decided to take things as they came. Yes, it went against my grain to not zip from one sight to another ticking off boxes, but I discovered something new about me – that I can enjoy a vacation as it should be enjoyed.
On our second day, we went to Greenwich, which was of course my choice. I could not be in London and not see the Prime Meridian and take a cruise down Thames! This was the only ticketed place we went in whole of London! One can spend an entire day here, walking on the grounds, listening to the audio guide and enjoying the view from the top. Then there is the Greenwich Market, famous for mouth-watering food. I found Greenwich so pretty that if I ever have to live in London, I decided that it would be at Greenwich😉
We bought tickets at the Greenwich Pier and cruised down Thames to reach Westminster, passing under the Tower Bridge. Beautiful buildings lay on both sides and you will be more interested in them than the Shard. Well, I was. Give me buildings with heritage facade any day over tall, glass monuments. If you are interested, you can climb to the top of the Shard (at a fee, of course) and see a nice view of the city.
The third day brought rains and dampened our travelling spirits. I had set aside the Tate Modern, Baker Street Museum, Hamsptead Heath and the Borough Market for this day but had to make do with only the British Museum. One has to visit the British Museum to believe how large and varied it is! It is the perfect place to satiate your history loving, exploratory soul.
We missed out tons of places this time. We deliberately missed some places like the London Eye (found it too pricey for a merry-go-round!) and Tower of London (my patriotic heart forbade me to look at the Kohinoor). I could not make a day trip to Oxford and Statford-upon-Avon as planned due to paucity of time. But we caught up with both our friends over fabulous dinners at their places. We spent our days more leisurely than usual and on hindsight, that set the tone and pace of the rest of our vacation. I was happy that there were places left for which I would love to make a second trip to London, whenever that happens.
Tip #4 If you want to cover the mains sights of London by public transportation and foot, keep 3 days so as to not tire yourselves out. All the good museums in London are free, so you can cover a lot without spending much. Add more days to your itinerary if you want to visit the Stonehenge and Bath or Oxford and Cotswold or other nearby places.
Tip #5 I did not shop for anything in London! But you are, of course free to. The main shopping places are in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, all centrally located. Just get down at one of these tube stations and explore. Keep few of your pounds for checking out the Borough Market, Camden Market and Greenwich Market.
Tip #6 London is a gastronomer’s delight. From Middle-eastern to Peruvian, you will get all sorts of cuisine at all sorts of budget here. Menus are pasted on the restaurant window, so it’s easy to choose a place. Be prepared to shell minimum 10-15 pounds for one meal per person at a reasonable place. Or else, there’s Burger King
Tip #7 I really wanted to do a Harry Potter and a Downton Abbey tour while I was in London. But MH is not a HP or a DA fan and it didn’t feel right to drag him to the Warner Bros Studio or the Highclere Castle. In the process, I learnt a new side of me – that I was willing to adjust my travel goals for my spouse! To be fair to him, he did accompany me in my Harry Potter quest in Edinburgh. But you can totally plan your trips around your favourite Jane Austen novel or the Harry Potter series or TV drama like Downton Abbey (or Outlander in Scotland).
Tip #8 Enjoy at a slow pace. I can’t believe I am saying this but you will love the walks down crowded London streets and long journeys in the tube more than rushing to different sights, standing in queues and buying over-priced tickets just to show on Facebook that you were there.
After all, the memories of a trip last long after you have forgotten the password to your Facebook profile.
I have always been the kind of person who loves planning more than the travel. That’s why, at any given time, I have folders for at least two different destinations filling in with snippets. I plan almost every second of a day, filling them up with sights to see and things to do and hate it when they threaten to derail!
That’s why it hurt a lot when last year my detailed plan of a trip to Netherlands, Belgium and Germany fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. Flower Show, King’s Day in Netherlands, following the trail of Tintin in Belgium, hike in the Black Forest region of Germany, Berlin Wall – they sat perfectly researched on my laptop as I saw scores of my friends uploading pictures of exactly those places on Facebook with jealousy and regret filling my otherwise-gentle heart!
So this year I refused to plan too early. And to ensure that the trip does not get jinxed, I asked MH (aka My Husband) to pick a place of his choice.
Pushed to a corner by a determined me to make the trip happen this year, MH picked London. I told him I was ready to go to London if he would go to the other places I was going to include in the vacation.
Which prudent man will say no to a tailor-made itinerary with all research done by some one else?
MH also gave me the window when he could take leave – the two weeks starting from 31 May. If we missed this, the next opening was in August. No, MH is not any CEO or the President, in case you are wondering. But he has a full calendar of meetings, deadlines and projects like every other corporate slave.
All this happened in the last week of April, with only a month to go. Quickly, like all smart travelers, we applied for visa.
Here’s a fact I want to share. I wanted to visit the whole of UK and Ireland and found out that Indians can travel to Ireland on a UK tourist visa as per the BIVS Scheme. I completely missed the point that the reverse was also true! One should apply for visa of that country where one plans to enter first. Since we planned to visit London first, we applied for the UK Visa, whose charges are approx Rs. 8000!! If we entered Ireland first, an Irish Visa would have cost us only Rs. 4000!! So, if you want to save some grand in Visa fees, you know what you have to do.
Then we got down to applying for the visa. The application is online and it’s very easy, so no agent is required. But they ask for tons of information, collating which took 3 days! We finally submitted the application on 3 May and to our horror, got a slot at the VSF Global office on 11 May!
Another thing to keep in mind is one does not need air tickets to apply for UK visa. They ask for the itinerary but it’s not compulsory. However, showing them that you have a solid plan helps in getting a favourable decision.
In the one week between deciding on the place and visa application, I had fixed up an itinerary with the help of numerous travel blogs, travel agency portals and the like. I will give details a little later in the post.
The document submission and bio-metric recording at the VSF office in New Delhi went very smoothly. 10-15 working days from the submission of documents was the time to be taken for a decision, which made our timelines very tight. We didn’t know whether or not to buy tickets because cancellation/amendment charges were quite high.
Amidst all this worry, we received inside intel that UK Embassy had a huge backlog of applications and they were taking a lot of time to decide! My dreams of a vacation were again on the verge of being resoundingly shattered.
I was determined not to be heartbroken this time. So I stopped looking at pictures of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see. I stopped thinking I had a trip to look forward to. With each passing day, my heart sank bit by bit.
Imagine my joy when I received an email from the Embassy on 19 May saying decision was made! We got the visa! They gave it within 5 working days! I must give credit to MH’s previous UK Visa which may have had some bearing on such a fast decision. I would advise everybody to plan a bit in advance and you will be spared the nail-biting suspense we went through.
Now came the first big spend of the trip – air tickets.
As per our itinerary, we were going from Delhi to London and returning from Dublin to Delhi. I read on more than one blog that one should search for airfares on incognito mode which is normally used for private browsing. This would make it hard for the airlines who track cookies of your search to increase the prices when you constantly search for a particular leg.
So I researched for airfare on Skyscanner on the dates and found very good prices on Etihad Airways. Air India had a direct flight from Delhi to London but had nothing from Dublin, so we settled for a journey with a short layover at Abu Dhabi.
I must also mention a surprising fact. We booked our tickets practically one week before our journey, but didn’t have to pay astronomical prices. We only paid approximately Rs. 82000 for return airfare for two people! In fact a day or two earlier, the fare went as low as Rs. 74000 but I am sure the airline somehow knew that I had gotten a visa and jacked it up the day I booked the tickets. The fact that we were going during shoulder season (July-August is season in UK) might have also helped the prices since the same journey was costing us Rs. 1.2 lakhs in August.
So, I had the visa, got the tickets, applied for and got leaves and I was ready to travel. But I was unprepared! My research was incomplete! I hurriedly replaced some of my Booking dot com reservations with free cancellations with Airbnb bookings but couldn’t do any more! I had to take care of a huge workload in office and ten thousand things at home before I could embark on a 15 day vacation, which left me with very little time to research.
So that was how I boarded the aircraft on 28 May – unprepared about the next 15 days! It was a first for me and thankfully, the excitement of the trip overshadowed the nervousness I felt at my lack of research at that moment.
There is one very important aspect of foreign travel I want to write about here – foreign currency. These days, all banks offer Travel Cards pre-loaded with foreign currency which can be used at the ATM and merchant establishments. We had so little time in our hands that we grabbed the first one we saw, but please do a good research on this. These cards will come with a PIN, which one needs to use only at the ATM while withdrawing cash. When you swipe it at any merchant establishment, the amount will get deducted without entering any PIN! So if you lose your card, you lose all the money! We took a card from Axis Bank but the whole purpose of it was lost on the first day of our London stay! First it didn’t work on the ticket vending machines at the tube station. Then it didn’t work at the EE store where we bought sim cards but 120 pounds got deducted from the card! Frantic phone calls to their customer care proved very little help since they stated categorically that we had to wait for 5 working days for the money to be credited! If it didn’t happen, then we had to take a print of the charge dispute form, sign and submit a scanned copy via email!!! Not the best situation to be while on a trip abroad! The money was credited but after we left UK, so we couldn’t use it! What a mess! So, please be careful about this aspect.
About sim card – we each took an EE pay-as-you-go sim card with data, because we needed to consult Google Maps and research places on the go. My experience hadn’t been good so I would not recommend it. I am told there are other better, cheaper options, so please research about them. I didn’t plan about these two most important aspects of any foreign travel and suffered in both cases. Or to be less harsh on myself, I gathered important experiences to share on my blog.
Now to my itinerary. I was more keen on Scotland and Ireland so I slashed our time in England.
London – 4 nights
Inverness – 1 night
Isle of Skye – 1 night
Glencoe – 1 night
Edinburgh – 3 nights
Dublin – 4 nights
I will write separate posts to describe what we did at each place.
See you at London next
“It is my pleasure to announce that our annual firm retreat shall be held at Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa on 27-29 November 2015”, read the email from Ray, the managing partner of Lex Argus.
The entire associate wing broke into an animated chatter. Amongst them, most excited were third-year associates Vidyut, Shamil, Sayani and Trina who had received another email from Anand, the youngest partner of the firm, informing that they would assist him in the organization of the retreat.
Ishana walked in Anand’s cabin just after he finished his con-call. “Why did you get Sayani for this admin work? She is in the middle of the Samsung deal with me and I can’t spare her.”
“I am sure she can handle both,” replied Anand coolly.
Ishana came and sat on the edge of Anand’s table, her skirt riding up to reveal her smooth, toned thighs.
“She is due for promotion this year. I need to show to my partner that she deserves to be a senior associate. If you take up her time with…” Anand’s hand stroked her knees and moved inside her skirt. “You are incorrigible”, exclaimed Ishana and stood up. Anand laughed and leaned back on his chair.
“I am going bikini shopping this weekend. Want to join?” she flashed her seductive smile.
“I will, only if you promise to show me every time you try one,” came his reply.
Anand loved relationships which came with no-strings attached and so wore his commitment-phobia on his sleeves. With his gorgeous looks, marathon-trained body and job profile, he was never short of female company, both inside and outside his bedroom. His latest was Ishana, who was a principal associate on track to be a partner in Lex Argus. Moreover, she was blessed with the looks and body of a super model and was secretly desired by the entire male population of the firm. It took Anand months’ of hard work and the best of his charms to get her into his bed eight months ago; and it was Ishana’s skills in bed which had kept Anand interested all this while.
Finally, the day arrived when everybody boarded the early morning flight from Mumbai to Goa.
Park Hyatt was the most beautiful and romantic hotel on earth, thought Sayani as she waited with others at the lobby for the check-in process. A little farther Anand and Ishana stood, hand in hand. Suddenly Anand’s mouth quickly found Ishana’s neck. Sayani’s heart fluttered, unbidden. She had always been careful to keep her adulation for Anand in check but had slipped up a few times recently. How could she keep her mask of indifference on when he consistently asked her to stay back for more work after others had left, ordered takeaway and invited her to his cabin for dinner and hugged her in the dark elevator of the office during a power outage after hearing she had claustrophobia?
“Nothing can come between Ishana and me, especially now,” thought Sayani determinedly.
Ishana was not only Sayani’s immediate boss in the team but also a supportive and caring mentor. She could not afford to ruin her equation with Ishana and more importantly, her promotion over her feelings for Anand.
The retreat began in the afternoon with a welcome speech by Ray and a presentation by Anand showcasing the firm’s tremendous progress. Drinks flowed freely followed by sumptuous food. During the draw of lots to divide the lawyers into teams, Sayani’s heart did an involuntary somersault when she ended up in the same team as Anand.
“Hey where is your drink?” Sayani found Vidyut by her side. “Get something expensive; after all it’s free.”
Sayani knew Vidyut had a crush on her since the time they met during internship at the firm. She had friend-zoned the extremely shy Vidyut right in the beginning and he had not been able to ask her out till then.
Soon evening set in and the place came alive with music. Sayani found herself dancing close to Anand and tried to move away. But Anand’s hand found her waist and pulled her closer while he said something. Sayani leaned forward to catch his words. He repeated, “You are looking beautiful, Sayani,” and grazed her ear with his lips.
Sayani was shocked at the reaction her body gave to that touch. Her lower abdomen did a flip and she felt light-headed. That night, her dreams were filled with Anand.
Next day the team competitions began in the morning. Anand knew he made the right effect on Sayani last night and he just needed to build on it. Her indifference towards him, no-nonsense attitude and loyalty towards Ishana made Sayani an alluring chase for Anand. “Let me see for how long she holds up,” Anand thought.
Throughout the day, Anand worked his moves on Sayani, touching her innocuously during team meetings, hugging her for tad too long after a win and flashing his smile at her.
Ishana could not help but notice them. Since when had they become so comfortable with each other, wondered Ishana. Her feminine instinct was sending warning signals, despite her faith in both Anand and Sayani.
“Baby I won. You lost. Tonight it will be your turn.” Anand whispered in her ear. Ishana blushed, putting aside her suspicion. Whenever they were pitted against each other, they would make it a game – whoever lost had to give the other a victory blowjob.
That evening, everyone was mandated to wear ethnic outfit and compete for the prize for the best-dressed male and female. Sayani, in an attempt to jazz up her demure cream tussar saree, draped it in a casual Bengali style over a red blouse and accessorized with a big, red bindi, faux gold jhumkas and arm full of bangles. Many male associates, including Vidyut gave her appreciative glances making Sayani looking forward to Anand’s reaction.
Ishana came in a backless orange blouse and a black shiffon saree tied dangerously low, along with Anand, looking extremely dapper in a cream silk kurta and red dhoti and standing out in the crowd of sherwani and bandhgala clad men. Women broke into giggling whispers, men threw jealous looks at him but Anand found Sayani’s eyes and nodded slightly, the hint of a smile playing on his lips. Sayani was insanely happy to note that their attire matched perfectly.
That evening, Sayani got high on both drinks and male attention, all the while waiting for a compliment from Anand. But he was pointedly ignoring her! Anger and jealousy gnawed at her, making her uncharacteristically sullen.
Anand was adjudged the best-dressed male, as expected. Sayani’s heart filled with hope. At that moment, the trophy for the best-dressed female was the most coveted prize to her.
“The best-dressed female is the very beautiful Ishana Seth,” boomed the partner’s voice. Tears threatened to cloud Sayani’s vision as she started applauding vigorously. Unfair as always, she thought.
She wanted to cry her heart out in the privacy of her room. As she started walking away from the lawn, her stilettoes caught the gap in the cobbled pathway. Vidyut caught her just as she stumbled. “You have drank a lot. Let me help you to your room,” he offered.
Before they could reach her room, Sayani puked right on the pathway, while Vidyut held up her hair.
Inside her room, Sayani drank the water offered by Vidyut. She was mortified to have made a fool of herself. “Are you okay?” asked Vidyut gently.
“I made such an ass of myself.”
He removed a strand of hair falling on her face and kissed her, as if to show he did not care she had puked just minutes before. The suddenness of his action took Sayani by surprise. Before her head could warn, her body took control and she kissed him back. Vidyut’s tongue probed into her mouth, while his hands held her firmly at her waist. Sayani’s hand curled around his neck and that was all the encouragement he needed. He undid the knot of strings which held her blouse together, pushed his hand past the padded front and squeezed one of her breasts.
The sensation jolted Sayani and she broke off. Breathing hard, she whispered, “Please, I can’t do this. I am not thinking straight.”
Vidyut turned his back towards her, trying to take his mind off his bulging erection. He mumbled an apology and left, seething at being rejected.
Next morning, when Sayani reached the 24-hour cafeteria for breakfast, she found everyone’s heads turning towards her. Ishana asked her as she sat down, “Are you and Vidyut finally getting together?”
A shocked Sayani couldn’t reply her. Later Vidyut explained that a few of their colleagues had seen him leaving her room. “I don’t believe you. I am sure this is your way of getting back at me for last night,” Sayani hurled her words at Vidyut and stomped off, leaving behind an enraged Vidyut.
That evening was the last before they all headed back to Mumbai. Ishana donned her off-shoulder maxi dress with a thigh-high slit. She was planning to ask Anand about moving in together and she needed to knock him off first.
“Hey gorgeous.” Sayani stopped in her tracks and spun around to see Anand standing in semi-darkness, just outside her room.
“Hi. What are you doing here?” she asked in a quivering voice.
Anand’s gaze went all over her body, ensconced in a black short body-con dress, hugging her curves and flat abs.
“Don’t drink too much tonight.”
Sayani blushed. “There is nothing between Vidyut…”
He cut her off. “I know. Meet me at midnight at the beach, at the farthest end towards the right.”
The evening was magical! Sayani danced with gay abandon, revealed to her colleagues that she had spurned Vidyut’s advances the previous night and laughed at Vidyut’s red face along with them when they all teased him mercilessly.
Around midnight, Sayani made her way to the beach in front of the resort. The sound of the waves became louder as she spotted a male figure. She smelt the manly fragrance mixed with the smoky smell of Laphroaig as Anand embraced her tightly. The beautiful full moon flooded the beach, giving them the visibility they wanted. Sayani’s bottled-up feelings for Anand overpowered her as she prepared to surrender herself to the man of her dreams.
“You are stupid, you know that? Who wears a body-con dress? It is fucking so tight!” Anand gave up trying to put his hand inside and yanked at the zipper. Sayani’s red lacy bra was flung aside as her dress gathered at her waist. Anand’s mouth found hers, as his hand began to squeeze her right breast softly, in a circular motion. Sayani’s body was on fire. Anand’s fingers woke each and every of her senses. Both her breasts were now perked, aching for more of his touch. Anand took one of her nipples in his mouth and sucked slowly, listening to her moans growing louder.
“Say whatever is on your mind aloud,” urged Anand.
“I love this. Do this to the other one.” Sayani murmured.
Anand pulled her dress down all the way and helped her lie on the sand. In a swift motion, he removed her matching red panty.
Sayani thanked her foresight to go for her Brazilian wax at the last moment before her trip. That painful 20 minutes felt worthwhile at that moment.
Anand caressed her clitoris and slowly inserted one finger inside her tight vagina, sending shivers through Sayani’s body. He began to plant small kisses, starting from the top of her head to her mouth and then her cleavage, going down to her navel. Sayani was at the throes of uncontrollable passion. Quickly, Anand pulled his jeans down and entered her. Intense pleasure overtook the sensation of pain as Anand continued to thrust in rhythmic motion inside her. He rode her first slowly, increasing the speed and reaching to a frenzy all the while cradling her in a tight embrace. Sayani shuddered and came a little before Anand’s semen covered her thigh. She realized Anand had pulled out at the last moment.
Next morning it was time for the vote of thanks by Ray before the retreat ended. He put on the projector to show a video collage made up from the various moments of the last two days. After two minutes, the screen changed to a moonlit beach.
Sayani suddenly had a sick feeling in her stomach. Before her shocked eyes, the large projector screen was filled with her and Anand. Everyone watched open-mouthed as they began kissing. When Anand yanked the zipper and pulled down her dress, Ray regained his senses and shut down the screen. But the volume remained on. The room was filled with the sounds of their passion.
Amidst the stunned silence, someone’s voice carried, “First Vidyut and then Anand…” Sayani was jolted out of her stupor and ran out of the hall. Later, she took the bus back to Mumbai. She resigned the next day over email and did not even go back to the office to collect her things.
Six Months Later
“You have been promoted as a senior associate. Congratulations!” Ishana smiled at Vidyut. “You are the first promotion under my partnership.”
“Thank you,” Vidyut smiled broadly.
After a few moments, he added softly, “She has joined his practice”. Ishana raised her eyebrow in surprise. “You mean Sayani joined Anand’s private practice?”
“Yes. And she has moved in with him.”
A pain shot through Ishana’s heart.
She looked at Vidyut’s handsome face.
“Why did you do it, Vidyut? For revenge?”
He flinched. She knew she had guessed it right all along, that it was Vidyut who had filmed them and added the footage to the collage.
“Partly. But mostly for love,” he said in a quiet voice and turned to leave. He hesitated at the door and turned back. “There’s a new Japanese restaurant in Phoenix Mills. Can I take you there to celebrate my promotion?”
Vidyut’s steady gaze held Ishana’s shocked eyes unwaveringly. He did not want to fail again for lack of trying on time.
“Sure,” Ishana replied with a smile. “Let’s go tomorrow”.
There is no denying I have become a compulsive book buyer (and before-I-go-to-sleep reader) after I have come to possess my Kindle. Every now and then, I check out the monthly deals on Amazon and buy books one after the other which are on discount! As a result, I have a growing pile of unread books.
Following are the ones I read recently.
1. The Lie of You by Jane Lythell
I never ever buy a book unless I have read 10,000 reviews on it! However, this was an exception. In one of my sprees of buying books off the Amazon Kindle Store, I bought this one after reading only the short summary and reader reviews. Described as a psychological thriller which is my favourite sub-genre, it did not thrill me as much as I would have liked. Written from the POV of the two main characters, it is a story of how two women compete against each other both in their professional and personal lives. The predictable twist came way early in the story and the ending seemed like a flat Cola with no fizz. I am not a great impulsive buyer of books, it seems.
2. The Bestseller She Wrote by Ravi Subramanian
This was my third book by the author and I picked it up solely because I was curious to know how the best thriller writer of India (and a male author) has treated the romantic genre. Much to my surprise, rather than a plain vanilla romantic tale, it turned out to be a romantic thriller. The story explores the facets of adultery set in the backdrop of the banking industry (which he is a master of) and the publishing world (which was hugely insightful). It has a well-crafted plot line with interesting characters and peppered with maturely-written erotica – something which is hardly found in mainstream romance novels of India. The ending has a classic Ravi Subramanian twist, however this time I could predict it. But that only means I have become an expert thriller-reader😉. Perfect for the long flight or gloomy winter evening or boring lecture in class – this fast-paced story will grab your attention and hold it till the end.
3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
I had set my eyes on this one for a long time but was on the fence about whether I wanted to read about my favourite character (Salander) by an author other than Steig Larsson. I cleared my mind of the bias before giving in to my temptation and therefore, was not disappointed. This is very important – you cannot read this book while comparing it to the Millennium Trilogy. Characters and setting are the same but the story is wholly different, very modern (concerning artificial intelligence et all) and has a surprising antagonist from Salander’s past. My only complaint is that the plot has too many elements crisscrossing their path which distracted from the central story line. But if you are a fan of the Swedish setting and the two protagonists, don’t give up on this book without reading just because it’s by a different author.
4. The Geneva Option by Adam Lebor
It is the prequel to The Washington Stratagem (TWS), which I read first. Bits and pieces of this book appears in TWS which intrigued me enough to read it. Unfortunately for me, it couldn’t thrill me enough because I have read the sequel first and knew what was coming; so if you want to pick up this author remember to read this first and then TWS. But in isolation, it is a good plot with twists and turns of the Delhi-Manali road – a perfect time pass read. There are not many stories set in the backdrop of UN and so this offers a great glimpse into the working, structure, politics and dangers lurking in the organisation.
5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
What a book! After eyeing this bestseller for sometime, I picked it up recently at a discount. Critics use one word frequently to describe a book – unputdownable. I think this term is apt for The Girl on the Train. Apart from a singular plot which holds your attention, very different and unique three women characters and a superb ending, this book is a great lesson in writing thrillers. It teaches you how to juggle different point of views and shifting time scale beautifully, gives you a lesson on how to create flawed characters which hook the readers and unravel layers of a psychological thriller bit by bit and how to write a full novel in short, crisp sentences. Go read it immediately!
6. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
I must confess I still haven’t finished A God in Every Stone by this author. Somehow I lost interest in between, despite the promising story. I will try to finish it and put up the review. However I enjoyed Burnt Shadows immensely. This story carries the reader from Japan to Delhi to Istanbul, before landing up in Lahore and then New York and finally ending in Afghanistan and Canada and takes place between 1945 and 2001. It traverses through bombing in Nagasaki, partition riots in Delhi, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 9/11 attack and weaves them beautifully in the lives of the characters. Kamila Shamsie paints pictures with her words in this poignant tale; it is a must-read if you are a sucker like me for good human stories.
7. Tim by Colleeen McCullough
Before you beat me for reading this masterpiece so late, let me hurriedly confess that for a long time, I did not want to ruin my fangirl awe for Colleen McCullogh’s The Thorn Birds by reading another of her works. What if I didn’t like it? I shouldn’t have worried – she is Colleen McCullough after all! Her stories gives a brilliant insight into the Australian way of life and Tim is no different. Portraying both the working class and the wealthy, this tale describes the unfolding of a relationship between a middle-aged, plain looking but wealthy Mary Horton and extremely handsome but mentally challenged, young Tim Melville breaking free of the social taboo . This story was my constant companion in my recent trip to Corbett National Park and I couldn’t have asked for better.
8. Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
Yes, I read thrillers from around the world, especially those by the master storyteller Keigo Higashino whose Devotion of Suspect X remains to this day one of my most favourite stories. Dealing with an old-world Japan starting from 1974, this story begins with a murder and solves it only at the end, after a whopping 500-odd pages! In between lie the stories of two unlikely characters – the victim’s son and the prime suspect’s daughter. Peppered with a portrayal of Japan’s changing social, cultural, technological and economic scenario, this story is a classic Keigo Higashino where readers already know where it is going but trying to figure out why and how it is going where it is going! Didn’t get what I meant? Go read this book to find out.
9. Defiant Dreams – Tales of Everyday Divas
And finally, I read the book which is made up winning entries from a nation-wide contest by the e-zine Incredible Women of India and Readomania, including one of mine! This calls for a detailed review on my blog.
Do let me know your opinion if you have read any of the books I am writing about.
Ten Years Later
Even today, he caused my heart to stop for a second!
10 years is a long time to remember how a lop-sided grin instantly changed an otherwise serious face, how laughing eyes conveyed a lot more than words and how the first two shirt buttons carelessly kept unfastened revealing a hint of chest hair had an unnerving effect on me.
But 10 years is not too long to forget the many sleepless nights I had cried myself to sleep, the many hours I had stared at the phone screen hoping to see it lighted by his name once more and the times I had spent asking numerous agonizing questions to myself, without any answers.
As these thoughts raced in my mind, I kept a cool exterior and smiled warmly at the person standing before me.
“Prithwi, how are you? It’s good to meet after so many years – how many had it been – ten?”
“Oh yeah, ten long years! My goodness, Sree, you still look like… you still look the same!”
My belly did a break dance without any warning.
“So, what brings you to Dubai?” he asked, flopping down on the sofa near me.
Did I hear a hint of amusement in his voice? Ah! Still the arrogant pig, he is.
“Well in the last 10 years I have evolved from a college girl to the Vice-President of a MNC. I have to travel to our various offices in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and London. I spend 12 days every month outside India. So to answer you, work brings me to Dubai.”
“Ouch, you still have that sting! Only you can be so smilingly sweet and venomously sarcastic!” Prithwi said with his eyes laughing.
I couldn’t help but join him in laughing. “You still understand it? My subtle sarcasm is lost on people nowadays. May be tonight I will have the perfect recipient to practice it on.”
Tonight!!! Where did that come from? Stupid girl, get a grip! My head raised a admonishing finger at my heart.
“Sir, your Tom Collins. Madame, your Cosmopolitan.” The god-sent server saved me before my cheeks became too red.
“So Prithwi, how have you been? Tell me what has happened to you in the past 10 years.”
“Oh! C’mon, you know already, don’t you? I have let the world know all that I could share about my life via Facebook. Don’t tell me you have not seen!”
“Prithwi, do you really think I would have followed your life story on Facebook when I hardly log into it myself?”
“Hey, that’s not true. You uploaded your Swiss trip photos some time ago. You and you hubby holding hands in front of the Alps has been your cover photo ever since!”
For the first time in the evening since I had bumped into Prithwi at the hotel bar, I began to relax and enjoy my time. It was good to know, after all these years, that Prithwi followed my life through Facebook.
“Hey, I know the meaning of that hint of smile playing on your lips. Don’t you think that I stalk you on Facebook! That album of yours received so many “Ooohs”, “Wows” and “What a cute couple” comments that it remained on the top of my feed for a week!”
I stared at the man. How is it that my thoughts are still so exposed to him? I thought I have grown up, learnt from my mistakes and evolved into a mature woman, but here he was treating me like a little girl, as always!
“I never meant that you stalk me. I upload a few pictures off and on but really do not get the time to go through my news feed. The last I know of you is you getting married. You can tell me what happened since then, just so that we can converse for the rest of the evening.” I replied keeping my secret smile at bay.
“Evening? I thought you… Never mind,” Prithwi looked at me without a flicker of his eyeslids. I knew that gaze very well, remembering the first time he held me with his stare like that. It seemed like yesterday!
I arched an eyebrow. I had to pretend I did not understand. After a while, he dropped his gaze.
“Since we are beginning from where we left off, why don’t you first tell me why you did not come to my wedding?” he asked.
Of course! I was dying to attend his wedding!
“For that matter, Prithwi, forget attending, you never even congratulated me when I sent you my Save the Date mail.”
“I get over hundred emails every day, must’ve missed yours.”
“You are still such a… “
“Such an accusation for not replying to your mail? You are still so sensitive!”
I finished my second drink – a large Grey Goose with a little cranberry juice and ordered a repeat. I knew I was going too far – both with my drinks and my words. But I was in a mood to be daring.
My legs began to die from sitting in one position for too long. I opened my stilettoes and curled my legs under me on the lounge sofa. I noticed Prithwi’s eyes travel towards the slightly raised hem of my dress. He stretched both his arms on the arm rest, one of which came dangerously close to my bare shoulder. I stole a glance at the exposed flesh of his chest. I pushed aside the memories which had begun to surface from the innermost hidden chambers of my mind.
“I may not have followed your personal life, but I do know that your business has been a roaring success. And let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.” I extended my palm.
“Sree, you are five years late. I have sold off my shares and moved on.”
“Well, yes I was going to ask you the reason behind such a decision. I thought it was a foolish thing to do,” I couldn’t stop myself from saying.
“Wow! Sree, you still speak your mind without a filter! Glad to see someone being honest and unpretentious.”
I kept looking at him, waiting for his answer. He finished his drink in a gulp and ordered a repeat for the third time. “So tell me about your husband. How did you guys meet?”
He had again steered the topic of conversation towards me. So secretive still, I thought. “It feels strange to be asked this question five years after I married. But in the spirit of catching up, let me fill you in. It was an arranged marriage,” I replied.
“What?! You went for arranged marriage? Who does that today?”
I lost my cool.
“What is the problem with an arranged marriage? It was a traditional method but nevertheless, I found a great guy whom I fell in love with. I am not like you, who found a girl to date and marry, all within a year of….”
I immediately regretted my words. This was completely unnecessary. After all these years, I couldn’t blame him especially since he never misled me. He was very clear right from the beginning. If I wasn’t ready for a fling with him, then I cannot blame him for moving on and settling down with the next girl he met.
I excused myself to visit the washroom before my eyes betrayed and exposed the tears about to fall. I was upset to realize that I still remained a stupid, naïve girl when it came to him. I was mortified to realise that he still had that much power over me.
After carefully reapplying my slightly smudged kajal, I returned to where he sat, despite the strong urge to flee from the scene.
“Can we order something to eat? I am quite hungry,” I said in a casual voice, determined to salvage the situation.
“I regret the way things turned out between us.”
I was stunned. Where did that come from?
“I never meant to hurt you. I behaved like a jerk by suggesting a fling instead of a meaningful relationship. When I met you, I wasn’t ready to commit but I was attracted to you enough to suggest a casual physical relationship. That was crass of me. I am truly sorry.”
I was finding it difficult to breathe! After all these years, he was apologizing!
“Thanks for your apology, but I think it was not your fault. I was quite young and naïve and so it was my mistake to misjudge your intention. You were very forthcoming about what you wanted and did not lead me on.” I said with a smile.
“I know it doesn’t make any difference now but I think I made a mistake then. I regret it even today.”
I caught my breathe! What is he saying?
“You know Sree, I was afraid to admit my feelings then; that’s why I hid behind my cool dude exterior and talked about casual sex and fling and what not. If only I had owned up to the unexplained feelings I had for you, things would have been different.”
Oh my goodness! He was confessing to have been in love with me! After 10 years of leaving me in a heap of emotionally distressed state without a care as to my feelings, he was now saying things could have been different between us! Despite my extreme self-control, I was feeling insanely happy.
In a flash I felt like the 22 year old hopelessly romantic girl who had fallen for a suave, smart and handsome 27 year old just by hearing him speak at a seminar. The search for his email ID, emailing him from the cyber café, the first meeting followed by the numerous meetings (or dates, if they may be called so), the taxi rides with his hands casually resting around me, the invite up to his apartment leading to his first move – they all seemed to have happened just yesterday! Sitting in the dimly lit, romantic lounge with soft music playing in the background, I forgot the intervening 10 years.
The atmosphere between us changed, as if both of us wanted to pick up from where we left. While our conversations began to flow much more easily, the air became charged with sexual tension. Our body language started screaming signals to each other. More drinks followed with plates of delicious food. Five pegs down, I began to go from my happy-drunk zone to my slurred-speech-drunk zone.
“Let me take you to your room, you can’t even walk straight,” he offered.
I was only too happy to lean on him, while he held my waist and walked me towards the elevator.
A huge crowd entered the same elevator as us, which caused us to move too close to each other. His hands travelled from my waist to my hips. After what seemed like ages, we stepped out of it.
“Here is my key. I think it is room 1204 at the other end,” I handed over him the key card.
We reached the room and he opened it for me.
“Thanks Prithwi for escorting me up. It was so good to meet you. Keep in touch,” I extended my hand.
He hugged me instead. “I am happy to have met you too.” I could feel the pressure of his chest on my breasts and his hands touching my bottom lightly. After a tad too long, he disengaged himself and gazed into my eyes with a smouldering intense look. Wordlessly, he leaned forward.
“Goodnight Prithwi,” I said and turned to enter my room. “I really love my husband, even when I am drunk. You see, I am still as romantic as I was, 10 years ago,” I offered as an explanation before closing the door on him.
It felt so good to finally get even.
The idea of this story came to me while watching the Titan Raga advertisement where Nimrat Kaur meets her ex-boyfriend. I wondered, what else can happen when one meets an ex-flame. However, I didn’t pen it down till last night when the story came to me, inspired by a conversation about love and longing in the changing times.
After being a hard-core fan of the physical book for a long time, I recently shifted my loyalty to Kindle. After hearing me crib for the upteenth time about how I don’t get time to read nowadays and seeing me struggle to fit in fat books in my hand luggage during my numerous work tours, MH gifted me a Kindle Paperwhite.
Now my book case is no more overflowing with books, I can buy more for less since kindle versions are a lot cheaper than the physical books and I can carry my reading material anywhere to read – long drives, long queues, long waiting time at the airport, long (or short) flights. I have even started to read a few pages every night before shutting my eyes. Kindle has done wonders to my reading habit.
Emboldened by my performance, I decided to start a “What I read” series where I will occasionally list out my reading list and my two cents about them.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
The best spy thriller I have read in recent times, I first saw this book in January in the hands of a co-traveller to the Jaipur Literary Festival. I borrowed and could manage to read the first chapter. After a long time, I found a book whose first chapter had me really hooked. The physical book was too pricey, so I held back my temptation. The moment I got my Kindle, this was my first buy. A murder mystery gets linked to an international thriller of huge magnitude in this extremely fat book. Even though the entire story was from the first person point of view of the protagonist, the author, quite unconventionally, reveals the backstory of the antagonist through the same POV – which I choose not to criticise too much since the story was so good. If you are a fan of thrillers, read this one for an extremely enjoyable read.
Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan
I needed a feel-good love story and turned to my favourite woman author of the present times. I have read all her previous books and have always enjoyed her style of writing. This one was signature Anuja – a love story set in the 80s and woven around a serious issue. I read it in bits and pieces during a particularly busy work-phase and found out that it helped me cope with stress. Getting lost in a make-believe world is always my favourite kind of pastime and if that world has handsome, sexy and romantic men then who cares about piling deadlines?
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I may be quite late in my reading, but I strongly believe in the adage – better late than never. This book and the movie based on this book have made headlines, so I was quite curious about this love story between two terminally ill teenagers. Emotional, heart-tugging and warm, this story is deftly written for all kinds of audience – young and old alike. I intend to explore more of John Green’s books.
Bankerupt by Ravi Subramanian
Even though he has been around in the Indian writing in English scenario for quite sometime winning awards and fans through his thrillers, If God is a Gamer was his first book that I read and loved. Getting the Kindle meant I could read all my favourite authors to my heart’s content. So I went ahead and bought this book which gave me company in those boring flights. Another cleverly-plotted tale sprinkled with money-laundering, corporate scams and the fiercely competitive world of the American academia, this one is an intelligent thriller which I enjoyed immensely. I am hoping more of his books become available on Kindle soon.
Brutal by Uday Satpathy
Rashmi Bansal, whose blog Youth Curry has me as a regular reader, launched an initiative called Bloody Good Book where readers would vote upon and decide on which book to publish. Brutal was the first one to be published by them along with Westland. Naturally I was intrigued. Uday Satpathy has written a good story with the usual components of a thriller – gruesome murders right at the beginning, two protagonists with demons of their own, a larger-than-life antagonist, a catastrophe waiting to happen, a weapon of mass destruction and a good climax. I noticed a few irregularities e.g. a person wearing sunglasses in the evening, but it was an overall engaging read. I will wait for more from Uday.
Avenger by Frederick Forsyth
I cannot add anything new to what has already been said about this God of thrillers. This was a classic Forsyth, with a haunting story of the Tunnel Rats, horrendous crime and his trademark description of the meticulous planning of the Avenger, chosen and tasked with snatching a warlord from his fortress and bringing him to justice. The ending is another beautiful twist. I plan to finish reading all of Forsyth’s books, now that I have my Kindle.
The Washington Stratagem by Adam LeBor
I picked it up during one of Kindle’s monthly sales after reading only the summary. I found out it is the second in a series, featuring Yael Azoulay, an UN staffer of American-Israel descent and involves mysteries and intrigues from the corridors of the UN. Even though the author goes back and forth in his narration and introduces sudden flashbacks which I do not prefer, I quite enjoyed this political thriller involving UN and its nexus with large corporations, war-torn countries and political intrigue. I already have The Budapest Protocol, the first book by this author in queue.
Yes I have read all of them in my Kindle and in little over a month. And yes, you noticed right – a lot of them are crime thrillers. For a few months, I have been on an obsessive diet of crime stories and thrillers. I will bring short reviews of them soon.
I discovered the #100bookpact on the social media and decided to merge the two. I am going to include only the books I have read this point forward to keep track of my reading habit.
Whenever I go without too many days without writing, God sends me a signal. Last time when I was grappling with too many events in my life and too less words on my computer screen, I won second prize in the Rupa contest and got published in ‘An Atlas of Love‘.
This time, after going for months without writing much, ‘Stree’ happened. Readomania and Incredible Women of India organised a short story contest and invited inspiring stories of women. I immediately knew which story I was going to write. When I shifted to Gurgaon as a newlywed with zero skills in cooking, I had engaged a Bengali woman to cook dinner for us. She once told me the incredible story of her life, which left a lasting imprint on my mind.
As usual, office and work-related travels took up most of my time. Rhiti Bose, a fellow contributor to my earlier book, An Atlas of Love and founder of Incredible Women of India encouraged me to participate. At the end, all it took was one weekend to finally get down to writing it. A few edits later, I sent it off and felt content to have written a short story – my favourite genre, after a long time.
Two days ago, they published the results [link here]. My story was among the top 25 among 90 entries, which will be published in an anthology.
I feel truly blessed and inspired.
Writing makes me happy. But recognition makes me happier. Thank you judges for restoring my faith in my written words.