Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Home-searching with HDFC RED


Once upon a time, looking for a house meant phone calls followed by visits to family friends and long-forgotten relatives in the new city. Could they please ask around their neighborhood if anyone was looking for an educated, decent family with a steady-income to buy their property in Delhi, for instance? If yes, what luck! If no, it meant riding pillion on a scooter with broker after broker, each of whom was ‘your most trusted option’ and ‘like a brother in a big, disorganized city’. After scores of lists of areas and specifications and requirements such frustration and exhaustion would set in as would make you want to live in a cave! 

Now, if you are a parent who thinks the best for your child, the process of house-hunting acquires two more aspects. One, the child as a physical presence while you hop from one prospective abode to the other. And two, specific features and facilities the house needs to have for the child’s safe and happy stay and which need to be ensured. So, you don’t just want the experience to be less physically involving and more time efficient, you also want the end-result to match your parental idea of a home. 

As a parent, there is much that I want to ensure my new home to have. Room and ample space that the kid can call his own, lots of windows for good ventilation and daylight, undisturbed power and water supply, some greens to expend that extra energy, proximity to schools and hospitals, overall safety and security … the list goes on. Children have schools to go to, birthday parties to attend, camps to learn extra-curricular activities in and television to watch, why not! And so as a parent I also want a process of house-hunting which doesn’t hamper my child’s routine and well-being.

If you too wish for a stress-free one-stop shop where you can just look for a property, with informed guidance, efficiency and meticulous organization, check out HDFC RED!  

HDFC RED is a home discovery and buying portal and app for home seekers to access all information relevant to every step of the home buying process. Users are given the tools to enable a convenient and hassle-free home search experience, from a database of over 24,000 types of properties across 23 cities! So if you are looking for row houses in Punebuilders in Bangalore, apartments for sale in Hyderabad,or even land for sale in Chennai, this is where you need to be.

The HDFC RED Mobile App, available for both iOS and Android phones, gives you the freedom to browse on the go their comprehensive and unbiased database! 


The ‘Priority Search’ feature is designed to help users prioritize their preferences. Which means, for parents like myself who make lists the length of epics, it logically organizes things for us. How? 
One can view properties in an order indicating the extent of relevance, with results even personalized to each user. So, each property has a relevance score and feedback mechanism, which is tailored according to the priorities identified by the home seeker! 

It’s interactive and simple to use, with property images, lists of amenities in and around the house (like schools, train stations, hospitals) and even floor plans and approximate EMIs duly mentioned. Using HDFC RED also makes sense for it gives each property a ‘Relevance Score’ based on our priorities, shows you special deals available in your city and even comes with a home loan calculator

All this simply an app download away. No more settling for the second-best, because you ran out of patience or time. No more drowning in incorrect information or being swamped by too much of it. And no more riding pillion. Let HDFC RED become your ‘brother in a big city’! 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Yama’s Lieutenant in Anuja Chandramouli’s world



Anuja Chandramouli’s latest book, ‘Yama’s Lieutenant’ begins on a note of sibling love. Agni and Varuna are burying their pet goldfish over thoughts of separation and death. ‘I will never leave you!’ promises Agni, at the end of an innocently poignant scene, making Varuna happy. Little do the twins know (or the readers realize) how swiftly their promises will be thrown into a world beyond their imaginations, with mysterious events and creatures who will change their lives, and even deaths, forever. 

Agni Prakash, languishing in depression after Varuna’s death, is summoned to be Yama’s lieutenant. What he thought was a strange dream becomes a stranger job – that of sending the inhabitants of the thousand hells, who have escaped to ruin the three worlds, back to the torture chambers. While fulfilling a mandate he little loves, he chances upon a manuscript his sister wrote before she died. It’s the story of the celestial twins Yama and Yami, re-told! Connections and coincidences start appearing, as we read about Agni’s deadly journey and also the chapters from Varuna’s manuscript. They form two distinct plot-lines in the book, ‘taunting with veiled hints of the things they concealed’. That is until Agni figures out how they both trail towards the epicenter of an action-packed climax.

Fantasy, yes. And also reality. There is much of both in ‘Yama’s Lieutenant’. Which one wins our hearts?

The real and the fantastical primarily merge at the level of the story, where mere mortals are given magical powers and powerful roles to play. They don’t just coexist but are interlinked tight! Suspend all disbelief. The world in 'Yama’s Lieutenant' is not for those ‘corrupted with the taint of science and logic’. It is about ‘magic which will reflect the heart and soul of the wielder’ and which will always ‘extract a price’. Out of mythology and arcane lore come creatures which exist beyond rational realms, like fiendish Narakamayas and Hatakas, necromancers like Naganara, guardian angels and benevolent goddesses, all making the real human world of Agnis and Varunas their own. How? By spreading evil, or contrariwise giving destitute orphans like Minothi ‘powers’ for good. 

Much creativity has gone into making the many fantastical scenes in the book come alive. The names of places are naughtily close to real places but their descriptions so magnificent that they are not just a pleasure for readers who appreciate good language but also successful in making the readers become a part of them. From the beautiful to the macabre, from descriptions of hell to idyllic palaces and icy caves, fantasy in the book is a visual treat which draws you in! Epical, really!

It is because of this power of fantasy that all coming-back-to-reality scenes in the book - of big cities, riots, murders and suicides - feel like a sudden leap. While some readers may see that jump as a not-so-seamless merging of fantasy and reality, others would commend the author for making us get lost in a highly invented world as if it were the only reality we knew. While Anuja has also made her book pregnant with the realism of (and subtle social commentary about) lower-caste reservation riots, honour killings, mob frenzy, superstitions, labels like dark-slut-witch and even the evil of child-trafficking, we cannot help but see ‘Himsa and Adharma (which) have taken control of the world’ not as concepts from the human world but as ugly monsters from mythology that now walk the earth. 

Of course, there’s Agni to deliver us from such evil! But then, is he the hero of this story? Alone? 

At the beginning of the book Agni is a lanky, long-haired depressive who had ‘trouble articulating exactly what it was that he had been chosen to do’. Except, he knew that time was always short, and ‘he was no longer flirting with death so much as consummating his union with it,’ as he went about the world making people pay the price for their actions. By the time he begins battling the dark army the intoxication of magic starts making him feel ‘like a god on earth and more’, who not just captures but destroys! 

However, while Agni may have been gifted Yama’s danda and the title of this book, the powerful women in the book outshine his valor, for this reader, and lend the book a unique touch. Most women who play a part in the story rise from states of oppression and suppressed desires. Sanjana, Surya’s consort no less, frees herself from the bondage of being used and abused. She turns into a horse so she could roam the three worlds, wild! There’s Minothi, born to a mother who ran for days to save her child ‘nobody ever knew how’, who then becomes a pivotal magic wielder in the book, ‘a typhoon of unstoppable destruction’ but who could even ‘nurse a dying tree back to life’. Yami, Surya’s daughter and Yama’s twin, knows that ‘marriage and its attendant horrors are not for me’, neither is having sex with a stranger ‘just because Father promised me to him!’ There are Nitara and Dharami and there’s also Varuna who ends up doing the unthinkable taking all of us by sudden …

The mention of Varu reminds me of another important observation. 

Anuja Chandramouli’s previous books have been what I have called ‘mythology from below’, using delightful wit and satire as a subversive tool to make a social comment by pulling down the gods to the level of humans. ‘Yama’s Lieutenant’ makes you miss that irreverent wit. Yes, Varu’s voice in her manuscript reminds you of classic Anuja-isms (from her previous books) but that’s about all in this department. However, two important aspects from the previous novels do make prominent appearance in this newly-tried genre by this author. 

One, humanizing gods till we cannot tell their fates and plights apart from mortals, and which then also helps twine the two plot-lines together. If foolish humans believe in happy endings, gods ‘are cursed with the knowledge that “forever” is a long time and heaven is not all that it is cracked up to be!’. Both mortals and immortals are shown sharing dreams, dislikes, disastrous habits and set destinies. No wonder then that the sibling relationship of Agni and Varuna mirrors that of Yama and Yami. After all, ‘gods and men alike are always in a state of conflict, either with themselves or with those around them because it is in their very composition.

Secondly, profound ideas discussed or debated in dialogues appearing at important junctures in the book. Anuja’s ‘Shakti; The Divine Feminine had enthralling dialogues on contentious ideas. ‘Yama’s Lieutenant’ may be a poorer cousin in this regard, but it comes with its own share of thought-provoking conversations tucked within. You read you question - Is the author saying a certain divine-deadly ‘madness’ is behind the violence on earth, and not people’s own deeds? That men are but ‘playthings of fate’ or puppets to a sorcerer’s will? Then what about free will, if it is the soul which ‘propelled the individual to the allocated destination’? And if that is indeed true, why does Anuja, in a rather self-contradictory way, blame man for rising to the ‘top of the food chain with a savagery’ in a different part of the book? When Agni bemoans the deaths he inflicts are you looking at a perpetrator of violence or a victim himself? ‘The only thing worse than unanswered questions were the unpalatable, soul-crushing answers.’ So answers we get none, even as we dwell upon the many questions.

What didn’t work? A glossary of mythical names would have helped, at least in keeping the initial chapters less confusing. I found a discrepancy between the barricaded world that Sivagami Math was and the language, slick expressions and even city-knowledge that the women seemed to acquire there, somehow. As an off-shoot of that, how Agni and Minothi go sassy in deadly situations breaks suspense, and thoughts like those of having a bath or losing weight in the necromancer’s cave seem misplaced. Most importantly, while the reader has been privy to Varu’s manuscript throughout, at some points near the climax Agni just admits to having read some important-to-the-plot instructions in her book, when the reader never did. Also, the all but final war that Agni fights, and which the book was preparing us for, seems to be won all too easily.   

When Agni is given the role of Yama’s Lieutenant and told about how mankind will be wiped out at the hands of evil forces, he ‘shook his head in disbelief. He could not help thinking that if he had read such a thing in the pages of a novel, he would have thought it ludicrous.’ The strength of this book is that it is not ludicrous! By marrying reality to fantasy it holds up a mirror to how we live and hate. It provokes us to question free will, ideas of justice, significance of death and the role of violence. It even leaves a lingering message - are we so far gone in our destructiveness that only magic of the most powerful kind can save us now? By the time you finish reading the book, you ask, as Agni does – ‘creatures from the world of fables and mythology! Can it really be possible that they walk among the living now?’ You might catch yourself saying 'It's possible!'

Yama’s Lieutenant’ by Anuja Chandramouli is a Random House India publication, 2016

[Review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Ordinary. Extraordinary!


Every morning our alarms go off with military precision waking us up to another day which usually promises to be as full of event schedules, office rosters, to-do lists under fridge magnets and a stainless steel routine as the day before. Or the day after. Every morning, like Del Amitri said, ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before.’ An impermeable membrane of sameness envelops our daily lives. 

Ordinarily, from this predictability we draw comfort of the known and warmth of permanence. A pattern is manageable. The known is a blessing. The next step ready. The train of schedule running smoothly from Platform A; never derailing on to Plan B. It is what lends our life a solidity, like the big teak dining table standing on its four strong legs. Dependable. Or the three kinds of latches on our home doors. Secured. 

But someday, say once a month, you digress from planning the day’s menus and meetings over your morning cup of tea to thinking … thinking how growing up feels good. But how come settling down seems so unsettling, at times? How come what we aspired for, worked towards and built on our own terms suddenly seems like a record of monotony, turning and turning and turning? Where is the sound, the music, the beat, the spontaneous dance? 

Where is the … the … extraordinary!?

And the thought leaves in its wake a shot of yearning. The tea turns tasteless. The biscuit unappealing. The ritual of consuming them boring. Just like the day that looms ahead. Same-to-same-to-same. 

That yearning? For something different. For a ripple of excitement. For a breath of change. For a charge on every atom. For stimuli which enliven. For awe that lasts even if for a blink. Like a cross stitch that suddenly interferes with the beautifully sewn pattern of the peaceful running stitch, to only add to it the uniqueness of a positive disruption. A moment to remember. Or something said. Or done. Or felt. Or not done. Some … interruption!

E.x.t.r.a.o.r.d.i.n.a.r.y. 

Funny how when the ‘extra’ is married to ‘ordinary’ it makes it not extra, or more, ordinary but actually beyond ordinary. Which means the starting point is the ordinary. So someone would have you believe that within the folds of the ordinary hides the special extra. Now surely we can’t go hunting for the extraordinary in the ordinary, right? I mean it isn’t like picking up the brown rug and finding gold doubloons under them. Or using the broom under the bed to get the magic wand out. 

What does it take, then, to find the extraordinary beyond but from within the everyday? 



Gaston Bachelard, a little known French philosopher of the twentieth century, wrote ‘The Poetics of Space’, which is full of passages which celebrate housework. Yes, housework! See what he says: 

The daydreams that accompany household activities … keep vigilant watch over the house, they link its immediate past to its immediate future, they are what maintains it in the security of being.’ And this happens during the most mundane acts and most mechanical actions, like dusting the table, because our consciousness is woken up. We want to set the objects right! We want to shine them, lend them beauty, or what he calls ‘a human dignity’ for the role they play in preserving a comfortable continuum. In the regular act of polishing the china, then, ‘we can sense how a human being can devote himself to things and make them his own by perfecting their beauty. A little more beautiful and we have something quite different.’ Thus, even plain housework becomes a creative activity, not just for the thought-processes it gives birth to but also for the objects being re-imagined anew, with intimacy and with love. 

Consciousness! 

It takes being a truly and fully conscious person to see the extraordinary. Marry that to a thirst for observing and perceiving and with an openness to pick and experience the “different” stimuli in the humdrum, and the impermeable membrane of sameness becomes porous. You almost feel more … awake!

Usually, my milk man with his thin moustache and even thinner frame exudes impatience. After all, he’s a milk man in the morning, an electrician during the day and if we are to believe his reasons for absenteeism, a hassled husband the rest of the time. And so his feet are always moving even when he’s still. So I always keep the change ready. Recently, when my son walked to the door I noticed that all his hurry vanished. He shook his hands like an old friend and asked him about the plans for the day. That connection-over-little-in-common was brewing over time, right under my nose and next to my busy hands. I hadn’t noticed it before! And when I did there was something delightfully warming about the unhurried conversation happening at the slightly ajar door. 

Just like a mere sprinkle of vodka is all it takes to make the water melon more divine. 

Like opening a suitcase of old clothes and feeling the rush of warm memories from a decade back, the sensation akin to travelling. Feeling charged on reading a message from a stranger - ‘you looked into my soul when you wrote this’. Sitting idle on a sidewalk in a busy market just watching the world’s side-profiles go by. The moving, the still, the profundity of it all! Or taking the SLR for a walk in the park, to catch the squirrels playing peep-o, or the good-looking father with his child. Come on, the weather demanded it! Or simply going for a coffee date with your book, drinking it ever so slowly, because 30 minutes away from schedule, in your own company, on your own sofa, is precious time gained. 

Wonderful whorls swirl around our lives waiting to be found (indeed, like magic wands under beds!) And readiness to see them is all it takes to actually see them. When these conscious epiphanies of thoughts or surprising spectacles for the eyes unfold, they are like the gentle wind which suddenly turned excited, making the grass shiver and the sleeping fire flies rise up in the air to fill up the skies. Their torches aglow.   

Kafka said this to a friend – 

Life is as infinitely great and profound as the immensity of the stars above us. One can only look at it through the narrow keyhole of one’s personal existence. But through it one perceives more than one can see. So above all one must keep the keyhole clean.

An extraordinary thought!  

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