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broodings from the burrow

March 22, 2011

into the stacks: the case of the missing servant
posted by soe 12:51 am

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

From the jacket: “Meet Vish Puri, India’s most private investigator. Portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swath through modern India’s swindlers, cheats, and murderers. In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centers and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri’s main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri’s resources to investigate. How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only has Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking potshots at him and his prize chili plants? And why is his widowed ‘Mummy-ji’ attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows mummies are not detectives?”

My take: A couple of bloggers whose taste runs similar to mine had favorably reviewed this detective novel, so when I saw it at Christmas, I reminded myself to request it from the library. However, after the first few chapters, I was a little afraid I was going to loathe the main character, Vish “Chubby” Puri, who is old-fashioned, opinionated, and more than a little obnoxious. He dislikes being compared to Sherlock Holmes, because Holmes is both a foreigner and a fictional character. Compare him to Chanakya, instead, please. He dislikes the “modernization” of India, which contributes to a seething unrest amongst the lower classes and which so often separates adult children from loving parents who can keep them out of trouble. (Of course, he’d prefer his own Mummy stay at home with the aunties and leave his business alone.)

But after a while, the good parts of his character drew me in. Chubby is dedicated and tries to do right by people, regardless of their class. He has a keen eye and quick intellect and values others with the same traits. Much of his current business is focused on looking into the backgrounds of those entering into arranged marriages, since now that so many people live in the cities, it’s harder for local matchmakers and aunties to make sure the unions they’re advocating are right.

Interspersed between these cases, though, Chubby does try to do some other sleuthing. For instance, he’s on the lookout for the person who shot at him as he was gardening up on his roof. He’s not having a lot of luck with leads, though, and he’s going to be really grumpy if he finds out that his Mummy has disobeyed his direct order to stop looking into the incident.

But what is occupying most of his time is the case of a lawyer noted for taking on the corrupt system who approaches him, saying he’s been wrongly accused of causing one of his maids to disappear in the night. But when officials up the charges to murder and imprison his client, Chubby must hurriedly move his ring of undercover agents into place in order to find out what really happened to a girl known to everyone only as Mary.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good mystery or who is interested in other cultures. There is a solid glossary at the end of the book that helpfully defines Indian terms, although I found it to be a little distracting to have to keep flipping back and forth during some of the exposition.

Pages: 310

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March 21, 2011

the change of seasons
posted by soe 1:58 am

How did you mark the end of winter?

I took down our Christmas cards.

To celebrate the arrival of spring, I caught you a few pictures of flowering spring trees and bushes in the nation’s capital:

Magnolias on the First Day of Spring

Magnolia Blooms

Trees A-Bloom

Flowering Bush

And then I spent the afternoon in the garden, which I neglected to put to bed last fall. When I arrived, it looked like this, which is pretty much how I left it, but covered with leaves:

1st Garden Visit 2011

First Day of Spring in the Garden

(Incidentally, if you click on that last shot and go to my Flickr page, I’ve put in notes on the picture showing what plants came back/survived the winter. We were pleasantly surprised.)

A few hours later, Rudi and I had much tidier beds and had planted shelling peas, lettuce, spinach, chard, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and onions, but I forgot to take a picture to show you the difference. Next week…

Category: dc life,garden. There is/are 2 Comments.

March 17, 2011

friends with babies, irish tune, and dst
posted by soe 5:53 pm

Today is my sixth blogiversary, St. Patrick’s Day, and a gorgeously warm and sunny day all rolled into one. Let’s celebrate by looking back at three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Karen sends me a photo of her and Livia out for a walk, which makes them feel less far away. Susan brings Holden downtown so we can hang out and have lunch, which brings a sunny spot to the middle of my workday.

2. A bagpiper plays music in the park near my office. The lilting tune wafts through my open window on the spring breeze.

3. Daylight savings time means it’s still light out when I leave the office. It’s a welcome change.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

Category: three beautiful things. There is/are 3 Comments.

March 10, 2011

ninety, nice to meet you, and t’is the season
posted by soe 11:03 pm

It’s been one of those weeks…

I contemplated offering you a list with items like “A car so uninteresting that when vandals break in, they don’t even bother to take the spare change.”


Except for those really crappy things that seem to be arriving daily this week, a lot of lovely things actually occurred. It would be a shame to give short shrift to those just because some others made faces at me.

So I give you instead, three really beautiful things from my past week:

1. 90 and going strongGramma turned 90 on Monday, but we all agree that the math must be a little funky because 90 is ancient and Gramma is not. I mean, she’s old, but she’s not old. We celebrated with a family party on Sunday that brought nearly 20 of her loved ones together for a buffet dinner that Mum spent a full week cooking up from scratch. Mum also created these great poster collages with photos from nine decades of Gramma’s life that everyone just poured over, and Dad compiled a soundtrack that he burned to cd as a memento for all the guests.

2. Saturday afternoon, I drove out to Rhode Island to have a long overdue lunch with Karen and to meet the newest member of her household. Livia is two months old this week, and I was delighted to finally get to make her darling acquaintance. I also got to spend some time with my favorite toddler, Marshall, who was all flirty and adorable.

3. Samoas can get you through any number of crises, and some days it’s imperative to eat one before breakfast. I’m glad it’s Girl Scout cookie season and that we are acquainted with parents of Brownies.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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March 8, 2011

ten on tuesday: favorite smells
posted by soe 11:32 pm

Today’s Ten on Tuesday topic appealed to me not just because I’m just home from a long drive that followed a depressing vet diagnosis and a stomach ailment (just so you don’t feel too bad for me, the visit also included a birthday party, a baby, and a best friend) and could use a quick list-as-post fodder, but also because smell is such a powerful emotion-producer.

Here are ten of my favorite scents:

  1. Vanilla — It’s the smell of all great baked items and the most basic and beautiful base for ice cream.
  2. The ocean — Salt, sunscreen (or anything coconutty that reminds me of it), drying seaweed… Anyone who tells you they love the smell of the shore except for low tide doesn’t really love the smell of the shore. It’s all or nothing, baby.
  3. Pizza — If the scents of tomatoes, yeast, and cheese don’t waft past you as you open the door of a pizzeria, back out the door and run like the wind, because it will not satisfy that longing deep inside you.
  4. Freshly washed hair — Particularly if it’s baby shampoo, but just about any will do.
  5. Laundry dried outside — The dryer makes for the coziest towels, but otherwise nothing beats laundry just pulled in from the line.
  6. Play-doh — I’m not proud. I have several containers I keep around as aromatherapy on bad days.
  7. Crayola crayons — Did you know my generation is the first one to have equally vivid positive memories of manufactured items as of natural ones?
  8. Sun-kissed berries — Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries: It really doesn’t matter which.
  9. Fresh flowers — Roses (ones that actually smell rosy, as opposed to some of the more long-lasting recent strains they’ve developed), lilacs, clover, violets, hyacinths, and lavender are all simply lovely.
  10. The weather changing — You can smell snow coming in the winter. There’s an electric smell just before a summer thunderstorm. Leaves mouldering under your feet mean fall has arrived. And deep, wet, earthworm-turned earth says spring is right around the corner.

What smells make you dance with joy?

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March 5, 2011

blooming, concert, and happy hour
posted by soe 12:17 am

It’s Thursday once more [actually, now it’s Friday; I meant to finish this post last night on the drive north, but didn’t get the chance. Oops!], which means it’s time for three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Daffodils were sighted on the walk home last night and crocuses this afternoon.

2. Rudi and I got to see the Low Anthem, an energetic and instrumentally gifted quartet who sound like the offspring of Arcade Fire and Union Station, last Thursday night at the old Sixth and I Synagogue. The venue was lovely, a random woman gave us her spare ticket while we were waiting in line to buy ours, and the concert was fantastic. You can listen to a stream of the show from NPR here. And if you are able to catch them when they perform near you, make sure you do.

3. Friday afternoon, Susan texted me to invite me over to her place for happy hour, offering me water and wheat thins and a wee little guy instead of beer and peanuts and crowds. Was there even a choice? I spent several hours hanging out with her and Holden and Phillip (after he arrived home from work). It was the best happy hour I’ve had in ages.

How about you? What was beautiful in your world this week?

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