Book: The Tree with a Thousand Apples

Author: Sanchit Gupta

Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Published by: Niyogi Books

Number of pages: 279

My Rating: 4/5

I’m sure that numerous reviews have been written on this book. Still I would like to share my take on it. The views shared in this post are mine alone and I’m sure that there will be many differing views on it.

The story is about 3 childhood friends, Deewan, Safeena and Bilal and is told in a series of flash backs. The story is based mainly in Mumbai and Kashmir and is set in the late eighties and nineties when terrorism in Kashmir was at its peak.

For me certainly and perhaps for the rest of us residing in other parts of India, the problems going on in Kashmir seemed to be a remote issue. This book deals with the problems faced by the people of Kashmir in depth and shows how mitigating circumstances can turn ordinary people into both villains and heroes. How the army and the army personnel acted as both saviours and oppressors in Kashmir is also portrayed here.

The title of the book, the tree with a thousand apples, grows in Deewan’s backyard and is shown to be a symbolic gesture. I learned the names of many Kashmiri dishes like firun, kahwa and rogan josh from this book.

The story begins in January 2012 with Safeena and Bilal having a rendezvous in Lohagad, Maharashtra. This rendezvous is not for old time’s sake, but for carrying out a daring rescue operation with the aid of Molotov cocktails, which is successfully executed like a Bollywood action sequence! The object of their rescue turns out to be none other than Deewan.

Thereafter the story is told in a series of flashbacks starting from November 1989 when Deewan is 11 years old. Safeena is revealed to be his neighbour and Bilal is their common friend. Several incidents are narrated depicting the camaraderie between the three children.

Bilal, a Muslim, hero-worships Deewan, a Pandit, as Deewan stands up for Bilal and even gets beaten up for him by Anwar, a bully, who goes on to play a major role in the story. Safeena, also a Muslim, is described as a beauty with fair, glowing skin and green eyes.

Deewan’s brother Ravi is in the Army. On a visit with Ravi to the army headquarters in Srinagar, Deewan is introduced to Ravi’s CO, Major Choudhary, described as having an abnormally large Adam’s apple. Major Choudhary also goes on to play a major role in the story.

Things come to a head on the night of Bilal’s 11th birthday. While Bilal is waiting for Safeena to come to bake him a chocolate cake and for Deewan to come to wish him, Ravi is killed in an attack on the army barracks. That same night an angry mob attacks Deewan’s house but Deewan and his family are spared as they have been given shelter by Safeena’s family.

That same night, Safeena’s family is paid a visit by two men who seem to be militants. They suspect that Malik Chacha, Safeena’s father is harbouring the Bhats, i.e. Deewan’s family. They are interrupted by Major Choudhary and two of his soldiers, who are also looking for the Bhats, in order to inform them about Ravi’s death. There is a shootout between the soldiers and the militants in which the militants, two soldiers and Safeena’s mother Saira are killed. This shootout is also in the style of a Bollywood action sequence. In the aftermath, the Bhats hire a taxi and depart from Srinagar for good.

The story moves forward to September 1995 where Safeena is trying on a pair of jeans owned by Bilal’s sister. There is a routine check conducted by the army which turns out to be disastrous as it leads to the death of Bilal’s sister Rehana and takes Bilal to Anwar and the path of terrorism.

When Bilal is on this path, he is responsible for the death of Malik Chacha, Safeena’s father. For his crime, he is imprisoned in Papa-II, a dreaded prison in Srinagar. He undergoes various types of interrogations at the hands of the army. Safeena on the other hand, is helping Bilal’s mother who is seriously ill in trying to find out what happened to Rehana. Bilal is shown to be out of prison and comes to Safeena and confesses to her about his role in her father’s death.

The story takes another leap forward to April 2010 where Tariq, Safeena’s brother, while working as a porter is unnecessarily gunned down by the army soldiers on the command of Choudhary, who is now a Major General. Deewan is now living in Mumbai and is working as a journalist who also writes poetry. It is narrated that he lost his left hand and his mother, the night that they fled from Srinagar. He receives an email from Bilal seeking his help as Safeena is missing.

This leads to Deewan rushing to Srinagar. He arranges a meeting with General Choudhary where he finds Safeena herself working in the General’s home. He rescues her from there late at night, as she was being exploited by the General. He brings her back to Mumbai and settles her in his own home.

Safeena leaves Deewan’s home as her presence is not accepted by Deewan’s grandmother Babhi. She meets a man called Ayub in the mosque and moves into his home. It is then Safeena also starts walking on the same path as Bilal, i.e. the path of terrorism.

I would not like to give away the finale of the book, though I have already given away so much! But I can state that ultimately it’s a story of friendship, love and sacrifice. Deewan is ready to sacrifice his life for Safeena and Bilal in turn for Deewan.

All in all, The Tree with a Thousand Apples is worth a read!


Hotels are out and boutique homestays are in!

In today’s competitive times, tourists are always looking for different travelling options and homestays have created their own niche market in the hospitality industry.

Located in the centre of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, lies Utelia House No. 9, a unique homestay!

This homestay operates with the bywords: luxury and elegance along with comfort.

Utelia House No. 9 is very conveniently situated in the heart of the city of Ahmedabad. Just outside the homestay, lie the city’s best restaurants and eating joints. Moreover, a bustling shopping area is within walking distance.

But as soon as you enter the lane where this homestay is located, silence reigns! Located at the very end of a lane, as soon as you enter the premises, it appears that you have been transported to an entirely different place!

As soon as you step into Utelia House No. 9, you get the impression of being in the middle of a garden. The hustle and bustle of the outside world disappears and you start to experience tranquillity and peace. It will actually take you a while to recollect that you are not on a spiritual retreat in the wilderness but in a homestay that is only minutes away from eateries and shopping places in the city!

There are four rooms available for occupancy in this boutique homestay, all of which have been designed with functional elegance in mind. Instead of the monotony of hotel rooms, here, the décor of each room has a distinct character.

All four rooms are better off being described as suites. Each room has its private sitting area and ensuite bathroom. The sitting areas are supplied with tea and coffee making facilities and a mini-bar containing water and aerated drinks. The bathrooms are equipped with state of the art fittings and fixtures.  Moreover, all the rooms which are on the ground level, have French windows that open out to a little patch of greenery outside, giving the impression of a private garden with its own water body! Hygiene and cleanliness are maintained at an extremely high standard.

Breakfast is provided as part of the homestay experience. Other meals like dinner, high tea and snacks are available on prior request. The homestay also provides facilities like Wifi and free parking on the premises.

But the question arises, one who is the heart and soul of this unique homestay? The proprietor of this homestay is an extremely gracious and well-groomed lady, Vidhatri Vaghela.

Vidhatri is truly the driving force behind Utelia House No. 9. Though she is supported by her family, she strives on a daily basis to maintain the high standards, set by herself, of her jewel of a place. She has personally selected every piece of furniture and décor with respect to the entire premises, and has tried her best to ensure that every item in the house is distinct.

Vidhatri happens to be a wonderful chef who specialises in re-creating the old, traditional recipes of her ancestors. Her non-vegetarian dishes are succulent and have a mouth-watering flavour and aroma!

Vidhatri has also tried to veer away from the path of conventional desserts and specialises in the preparation of desserts like that are not usually found in bakeries in India. She tries to bring back the royal recipes by preparing bread puddings, caramel custards and a dish called “dil jani”. Vidhatri has recently branched into catering and fine dining and prepares meals on requests. The courtyard of the homestay makes a lovely ambience for one of Vidhatri’s divine meals.

Vidhatri has put her heart and soul in the homestay and is personally involved in ensuring that every guest has a pleasant stay. Truly, Utelia House No. 9 is a jewel of a place that is worth visiting, whether to stay or for a fine dining experience.

Utelia House No. 9 is listed on the Air Bnb official website. It can be reached via email on and is on Facebook as The Boutique Homestay-Utelia House No. 9 and on Instagram as boutiquehomestay_uteliahouse.


r_gjmogbI will state this at the risk of becoming extremely unpopular: I hate Valentine’s Day! But before you all raise your eyebrows at me and start to judge me, let me explain why.

What is the 14th of February? It’s just a day in the calendar. The 14th of February means that we are halfway through the month of February, it being a 28-day (or 29) month. Since when has the 14th of February acquired this cult status of being the day to celebrate love?

I can still feel myself being judged by anyone who is reading my post. There are now speculations going on about the state of my marriage. Let me assure everyone that my marriage is perfectly normal and by normal, I mean that just like any other marriage, it has its ups and downs.

Any sane person who has been married for a few years knows that it is impossible to sustain a heightened state of romance in a marriage. At the end of the day marriage is about compromise, adjustment, mutual respect and an understanding of each other’s likes, dislikes and requirements. If we have to add children into the bargain, then marriage is about raising the children together and yes, arguing over them from time to time.

May I ask, where does Valentine’s Day come into the picture? I have friends who want us to go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. If it falls in the middle of the week, like it does this year, how does one plan an elaborate dinner in the midst of our busy lives and schedules?

How did the concept of Valentine’s Day come about? Who is Cupid? To get satisfactory answers to my queries, I did what any person does these days, i.e. I searched online!

My research told me that the 14th of February is a Christian feast day honouring one or two early Christian saints called Valentinus. There are stories that say that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing wedding ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. There is another story that says that Saint Valentine restored the sight of the blind daughter of his judge and before his execution wrote her a letter saying, “Your Valentine” as a farewell.

The 14th of February first became associated with romantic love in the 14th century in Europe. In 18th century England, it became an occasion when lovers expressed their love for each other by sending each other flowers, confectionary and cards that became known as Valentines.

Who was Cupid? In Greek mythology, he was known as Eros and in Roman mythology, he was known as Cupid. He was considered to be the god of love and it was said that his arrows would pierce the hearts of his victims, causing them to fall deeply in love. How did Cupid become one of the symbols of Valentine’s Day is a question that my research could not answer!

When I was a child, I was aware of the existence of Valentine’s Day as a day where people in love exchanged cards, flowers and chocolates. As a teen it was something to giggle, blush and tease friends about.

But since the last several years, I have observed that this day and the build-up to it is acquiring proportions that border on the ridiculous! You cannot escape it: about 2 or 3 weeks prior to the 14th of February, you can see pictures and promotions based on this theme! Be it social media like Facebook and Instagram or the print media like newspapers and magazines and even the mass media like radio and television channels, everyone is talking about and promoting Valentine’s Day.

I have seen and received messages about promotions in various restaurants, cafes and even beauty salons in the city. Are there actually women who go to the salon to get groomed for Valentine’s Day? Judging from the number of promotional schemes in existence, I’m guessing that there must be.

Doesn’t this put partners in a marriage or a relationship under tremendous pressure to perform? If everyone asks each other about their Valentine Day plans and you say that you have none, do people start questioning the solidity of your marriage or relationship? Are people pressured into going for that Valentine Day makeover or into buying flowers or gifts or into booking a table in a café or restaurant?

I am ending my post by asking whether people need a Valentine’s Day to profess their love for each other. Can’t love be shown by actions and that too, not on a particular day but on a daily basis?

I hope that I have not angered or upset people with this post. I have merely expressed my views and I’m sure that many people have differing opinions or views. I am glad if people get a chance to make money on this day but at the same time, I am saddened by the fact that Valentine’s Day has become nothing but a crass commercial money-making business.



“Chic” is a French word that means elegance and class.

Beauty, style, grace, elegance and class are just a few of the attributes that come to mind when one is viewing the creations of Chique Jewels.

Who is the creative genius behind this trendy and upcoming brand of jewellery?  It is none other than the gorgeous Rina Punater!

This lovely lady grew up in Mumbai and moved to Antwerp post marriage. Rina was always interested in jewellery and in fact dabbled in selling gold and diamond jewellery for a while. But the arrival of her daughters, and the joys and duties of motherhood prevented her from pursuing her passion temporarily.

However, once her daughters had passed the stage of being toddlers and no longer needed her fulltime care and attention, Rina once again found herself turning to one of her early loves, i.e. jewellery!

Interestingly, it was Rina’s brother who urged her to turn her dream into reality. This led to the birth of her brand Chique Jewels. Since its inception in May 2017, Chique Jewels, as a brand, has grown in leaps and strides.

What was Rina’s goal behind starting her own line of jewellery? In her own words, “I wanted to create classy, chic, elegant, affordable fashion jewellery that is at the same time easy to wear.”

Since Rina was so clear and focused on her goals, she never had a reason to look back. She is focused on making every product of Chique Jewels, be it earrings, necklaces, bracelets or broches, unique and stamped with her distinctive brand of elegance.

Rina beautifully balances her home and work responsibilities by working from home! This hardworking lady puts in several hours a day into her designs and the creation of her products. She also tries to put in some work over the weekend.

We all know that “charity begins from home,” but in Rina’s case, “help begins from home”. She gets her greatest support from her family. Her husband Romil Kothari, not only extends his full support but also gives his input on all of Rina’s designs. His guidance is extremely valuable to Rina as he himself is in the diamond business.

Rina’s daughters Ayesha and Tanisha are her biggest fans and motivators. While both of them help her with the packaging, sorting and inventory of her products, Ayesha assists Rina a lot by taking pictures of her various creations. In fact, Ayesha frequently reminds her mother to take the “pic of the day!” i.e. to post a picture of a Chique Jewels design on Instagram and Facebook. Ayesha also gives her approval and input on Rina’s jewellery designs.

Rina manages to skilfully use social media tools like Facebook and Instagram to market and sell her creations. She also sells her designs at private exhibitions. She had an exhibition in Mumbai in January that was extremely successful. She is planning another exhibition in Mumbai this April and is mulling over exhibiting her designs in Ahmedabad and in other Indian cities as well.

Though at the moment, Rina is content working from home, she envisions herself expanding her brand in the future. She has set herself some goals for the coming years, which include opening her own store.

Rina is extremely anxious that every product of hers be associated with class and style and she strives hard to ensure the same. She diligently maintains the quality of her brand, from the design to the finished product. At the same time, she tries her best to ensure that her pieces remain affordable. Rina feels that she has learned a lot from her own experiences. However, she genuinely welcomes the feedback given by her clients.

Who can be seen sporting a Chique Jewels design? Rina says that she does not envision any age group when she is visualising a design. Her jewellery is aimed at any woman who is modern, classy and trendy, whether she is 7 years young or 70 years old!

So for all you wonderful women out there, do treat yourself to a Chique Jewels product. Trust me, you are worth it!

Rina Punater can be reached via email on She is on Facebook and Instagram as rina_punater.


mac-lipstick-ruby-woo-russian-red-lady-dangerTHE POWER OF RED!

I now officially dare to say: I love red lipsticks!

For so long, women of my generation were afraid to wear red lipsticks as they were afraid of being thought “bold”! In my formative years, I too prescribed to this belief and chose only neutral and light shades to adorn my lips.

However, I was always a fan of the colour red and secretly admired it from afar. I always sighed over pictures of red lipsticks in magazines and longingly gazed at red lipstick samples whenever I was buying makeup in shops.

Red lipsticks seemed impossibly glamorous to me, something worn by models, celebrities and movie stars.

Another common belief circulating in our society is that red lipsticks do not “suit” Indian skin. I heard this belief so many times that I never ventured into the arena of red lipsticks.

In my previous workplace, I encountered a female colleague who always sported red lipstick. No matter what the situation or occasion, she was never seen without her bright shade of red! She, being a person who I really looked up to, managed to draw my mind into that forbidden territory again, i.e. red lipsticks!

I have always tried to live my life on my own terms and tried not to ascribe to common beliefs. So gradually I decided to shake off this last inhibition I had and ventured to a cosmetics shop to gaze at the variety of red lipsticks for sale.

I was bowled over by the different shades of red available. For a moment, I was tempted to purchase all of them. Then, restraining myself I purchased a few of the shades that I had liked the most.

When I started using red lipsticks, it was like I was a woman transformed! I never imagined that a single accessory could change the way I perceived myself and the way that others perceived me.

Did I get several comments over my usage of red lipstick? Yes, I definitely did and I continue to do so. These comments range from, “I don’t know how you have the courage to wear red lipstick” to “But red lipsticks suit you.”

I am not of the view that a woman needs a tool to look beautiful. But yes, whenever I wear a red lipstick, I feel gorgeous, confident and in control.

So I am a woman who loves her red lipsticks and the power that they give her. I will be unapologetic in saying that I will continue to sport red lipstick till the day that I die!

Book Review – The Uncommon Detectives and Mutiny at Primrose High.


There is a reader in all of us. Be it reading books, novels, newspapers or magazines. Children to Elders all of us love reading books ! But how many of us can actually write a book ? I am sure 70% of us can at least write a page long essay coz we are all adults with good English. But how many of us can write a book? Or how many kids can write a book at the age of 12? How many moms encourage their child to write a book at that age ?

Let me tell you about the first book I am reviewing. The book is called – “The Uncommon Detectives.” Already sounds exciting coz of it’s thriller title right? Firstly, I want to talk about the author here.  Mahijit Bhatt is a 12-year old boy who is the author of this book. Yes, 12 ! What…

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