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    Dated : Saturday, January 07, 2017

Laburnum For My Head

By Temsula Ao

Reviewed by Kamaldeep Kaur

Laburnam the Naxalite movement has occupied a lot of mind space and news space in recent times. More often than not the Naxals are hordes of faceless, nameless, ghostly figures that ‘infest’ (sic) an area and have the power to unleash unimaginable terror with their intelligent strategy and meticulous planning.

A majority of the stories under review attempt to give a name, a face and a human quality to the Naxals. The complexity of politics, the youth, infatuated with idealism, the urban-rural divide, and most importantly, the people caught in the crossfire of violence are all portrayed vividly in the stories. But it is the disillusionment with the movement and the gross failure of the Naxals to fulfil their flawed, albeit utopian goals that takes centre stage.

The Letter is an evocative story about a villager (disguised as a Naxal) who tries to browbeat the poor villagers in order to extract some money for his son’s board exam fee (as earlier in the story, the Naxals had robbed him of it). The desperation of the father is captured poignantly as he uses the means of the Naxals out of sheer necessity. The Naxals or ‘underground government’ are no better than the oppressive ‘occupation’ forces that are stationed to ostensibly maintain peace.

One story that arrests the reader’s attention is Laburnum for my Head. It is about a widow’s fascination for the Laburnum tree (‘Amaltas’ in Hindi) to the extent that she wants it to be planted on her grave instead of having the customary tombstone of marble or granite. Lentina, the protagonist, is enchanted with this tree because she associates it with femininity and humility, unlike the garish gulmohars with their bright orange flowers. She goes to great lengths to fulfil her wish, antagonising her children and her kith and kin in the process. It is beautiful story, narrated with a great deal of tenderness and compassion.

The last story, Flight, is somewhat reminiscent of the creative writing tasks given in one’s school days. Written in the first person, it tracks the journeys of a caterpillar and its captor, a boy who is terminally ill. One is metamorphosing towards becoming a beautiful butterfly; the other is moving inexorably towards death. It is a moving metaphor of flight that could have been more nuanced and reflective.

Ao is critical of both the state and its opponents who have given up their ideals, the “mongrels in the jungle”. “Sonny” brings out the conflict and differences within the movement, exposing the selfish motives of many who support it. As in other conflict-ridden zones, women suffer the most but are strong, often without even being aware of their strength. Imdongla is a prime example, an “illiterate village woman” who is able to “unsettle [the captain’s] military confidence”. Her walking away with his matchbox seems a cheeky way to “freshly perturb” the already disturbed captain.

In fact, all the women are innately strong and wise — from the whimsical Lentina who gets her way in “Laburnum for My Head”, to the mother, daughter, granddaughter trio of Lipoktula, Medemla and Martha in “Three Women”, to the mother who assures her daughter, the protagonist in “Sonny” who has lost her lover to his precious cause of fighting for the motherland, “‘Whatever you do, I will always understand’”. In an ironic twist, when the great hunter Imchanok is haunted by the spirit of his kill, only his wife Tangchetla is able to comfort and help him exorcise his fear.

In the fourth story, “The Letter”. Ao’s humanity is evident in this powerful tale that blurs the boundaries between a dead insurgent and an otherwise innocent villager responsible for his death. Both men are, at the core, struggling with the same issue — making ends meet. The shades of grey are most vivid in this story.

There is a sense of loss and melancholy that runs through the stories. Even the fantastical “The Boy Who Sold an Airfield” does not emerge unscathed. Lentina, too, does not want to lose the laburnum blossoms even after she is no more.

Ao falters with “Flight”. While one can appreciate the feelgood character of the last story in the collection, it does not fit in with the originality and freshness of the rest of the stories. But this is only a minor irritant in a book that is easy to finish in an hour but which settles itself in a reader’s consciousness for a much longer period of time.

Publisher: Penguin Random House India; 7th Floor, Infinity Tower-C; DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon

Availability: Western Book Depot; Amazon; Flipkart



Cook Time

Mridula Baljekar

Award-winning cookery writer, Mridula Baljekar is the best-selling author of 27 Indian cookery books and the proud winner of two international cookbook awards. Her book, The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook, was awarded the Best in the World by the prestigious Gourmand International Cookbook Awards in 2013. Mridula was also the winner of the “The Best Asian Cookbook in the World” for her book Great Indian Feasts in 2005, by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Mridula presented 52 shows for Carlton Food Network, her own series ‘Mridula’s Indian Kitchen‘ and 13 episodes of the highly acclaimed ‘Spice Trail‘.She owned a contemporary Indian restaurant in Windsor, Berkshire, England, winning several prestigious awards, including the winner at the Best in Britain Awards from 2002-2006.


Silky Chicken Kebabs (Resmi Kabab)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes, plus chilling

Cooking time: 8-10 minutes

Serves:  18

Each serving contains:

Kcals: 50; g fat: 2.5; g saturated fat: 0.6


55g minced chicken

1 egg

450g minced chicken

2 teaspoons Garlic Puree

2 teaspoons Ginger Puree

1-3 green chillies, seeded and chopped

15g fresh coriander leaves and stalks

2 teaspoons Ground Roasted Coriander

1 teaspoon Garam Masala

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Basting souce

1 tablespoon low-fat plain yogurt

½ teaspoon paprika

1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

½ teaspoon dried mint


· Blend the cashews and egg in a food processor for a few second

· Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and chill for 30 minutes

· Preheat the grill to high for 10 minutes. Line a grill pan with aluminium foil and brush it lightly with oil

· Have a bowl of water to wet your fingers before you start shaping the kebabs. This will stop the mixure sticking to your fingers. Wet your fingers and divide the mixure in half, then make 9 portions out of each half

· Shape each portion into a sausage shape, about 7.5cm long and place in the prepared grill pan. Dip your fingers in the water occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to them.

· Grill the kebabs 7.5cm below the heat source for 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook for a further 3 minutes

· Meanwhile, make the basting saurce. Blend the yogurt with 1 tablespoon water until smooth, then mix in all the remaining ingredients and brush generously over the kebabs

· Cook the kebabs for 1 minute, then turn them over, brush with the remaining basting caurce and cook for a further 1 minute. Serve hot or cold.


Arunachal Fish Curry (Pa Chao)

Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes, plus standing

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves:  4

Each serving contains:

Kcals: 315; g fat: 20; g saturated fat: 6


4 salmon steaks, halved

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼-½ teaspoon chilli powder

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

175g canned chopped tomatoes with their juice or fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped

15g fresh coriander leaves

and stalks

1-2 green chillies, seeded

& chopped

1 large garlic clove,

coarsely chopped

2.5cm cube or fresh root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

30g cesiccated coconut


· Lay the pieces of fish on a large plate and sprinkle with half the salt, the lemon juice, chilli powder and turmeric. Rub gently

with your fingertips and set aside for

15-20 minutes

· Puree the remaining ingredients, except the coconut, in a blender. Grind the coconut in a spice or coffee mill until smooth.

· Put the pureed ingredients in a non-stick saucepan, about 30cm in diameter, and add the coconut abd remain salt. Heat over low heat, strring until heated through

· Add the fish to the pan in a single layer on the cauce. Cover and cook for 7-8 minutes. Shake the pan from side to side two or three times and spoon some of the hot sauce over the fish

· Remove from the heat and serve with boiled basmati rice and Cabbage with Ginger


Amla Juice


Amla / gooseberry about 8-10 (1 cup of amla pieces)

Sugar 1 cup

Salt to taste

Cardamom powder (optional) 1 pinch for a one glass of amla juice.


· Wash and dry the amla / gooseberries. Keep them in a bowl. Add about one and half a cup of water to the pressure cooker. Place the bowl inside the pressure cooker.  Cover the pressure cooker with its lid. Switch on the stove.

· When the steam starts to come out, put the weight.

· Wait for one whistle. Then, switch off the stove.

· When there is no pressure in the cooker, remove the bowl from it. Keep aside to cool.

· Gently touch a gooseberry. If you can handle the heat in it, press the gooseberry between your fingers. It breaks into pieces. Remove the seed.

· Repeat this procedure for the other berries.

· Grind sugar into a fine powder.

· Grind gooseberry pieces into a fine paste. If you cannot grind them, add little sugar powder or add little salt and grind.

· Mix the gooseberry paste, sugar powder and a pinch of salt.

· Transfer the gooseberry juice concentrate to a freezer-safe box. Store the box in the freezer.

· Whenever you need juice, add 2-3 spoons of juice concentrate, or according to your taste, to a glass and add water.

· Add cardamom powder for flavor. Stir well. Amla juice / gooseberry juice is ready.


Avocado Mask

Beauty Tips

The avocado banana hair mask is renowned as a natural hair conditioner, but avocado is great for the skin as well. It is just not a coincidence than avocados form an essential ingredient in various popular natural beauty treatments. Avocados are rich in antioxidants and healthy fatty acids that rejuvenate the skin from inside. The antioxidant carotenoids alpha carotene, beta carotene, beta cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein prevent skin aging and improve the skin’s thickness and density. It is packed with vitamin E that protects the skin from the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Egg whites, on the other hand, are a cheap source of high-quality protein that is beneficial for skin health. The combination of avocado and egg whites make an amazing face mask for clear skin. Avocado Mask is very effective for dry skin types and skin tan. Recent experiments proved that this amazing fruit contains many healthful fats and vitamins and can cure cancer.


1/4 cup avocado extract mixed with water.

1 egg white

1 tablespoon of honey

Mix all the ingredients as a mixture and apply it to your face. Let the pack dry for 15 minutes, and later you can wash it with cold water.


Set Eating Habits

· Breakfast should be heavy (not excessively, but filling sort); Lunch should be little above bare minimum and Dinner should be really light. Plan your meals accordingly. One tip, would, assess what your baby or child needs for its growth and keep a steady dose of the same in your meals throughout the week.

· Serve food which lacks fancy taste, but is better for health, again and again, even if your child refuses it several times.

· Avoid food quantity fights. If the child is healthy, then it indicates that he or she knows, though instinctively, how to eat and reject. So, going overboard might cause health issues.

· Ensure that at least once a day, all of you (parents and children) sit together at the table to have a meal, no matter how hard your work is hitting you. This will not make the children feel that they are being neglected.

· Set up a Thank You round during dinner, something like most people in Europe do. During  that, teach your children to be grateful for being able to lead a secured and healthy life and also praying for the well-being of those who helped them that day.

· Whenever, you dine out or eat outside, give your child a chance to order for himself and the family. That is how your child will learn to know the good and bad, and also how to take care of the family.

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In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
— Robert Frost
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