Friday, June 14, 2019

A case against the cover-up

Related image

I wore short-top over a pair of fitting jeans this morning. Felt quite pleased. Yet, I went to the family reconfirm this. "Does the butt show?" "Does it look odd?" "Should I change?" They just answered my last question and said, "Okay, change." And change, I did, into a nice long shirt that amply covered up.

But (no pun intended) that got me thinking. Why would I want to hide it? Big butt, flat butt, whatever-butt, don't men tuck their shirts in? I have seen men carry their large bellies with pride as if it were a Football Trophy! Then why do only women have to wear 'long tops' or loose-fitting kurtas to cover up? Women have large tummies and butts either because of the zillion bodily changes or they don't exercise (for whatever reason) or because they have a desk-job that makes them sit for hours at a stretch, the reasons could be plenty. As long as there are no health reasons, why should a woman worry about those hips if she doesn't feel bad about them?

Not even thin girls are not spared the shame. "Don't wear those chiffons", they are gently reminded. I'd say, "Well, those who see me can guess that I am thin, they don't have to do a pradakshinam around me to figure that out. Do they?"

Then there are the girls and women perpetually struggling to cover up not just what's inside their hearts but outside as well. I didn't invite the twins, they were born with me and grew up with me. There is nothing I can do about them. And I am not ashamed of them. But you say, "I don't care. Cover Up." There is already a kurta, and one goes and layers it with a stole or dupatta, as if the top by itself weren't enough. It's okay for a woman to carry pots of water double her weight at wee hours in the morning but it's so wrong not to cover up her nightie with a dupatta or a towel!  Don't you see the irony? The towel is screaming for attention by it being so grossly incongruous and you are telling people, "don't just look THERE".

Mind you, I am not overlooking: 1. Appropriateness  2. Enhancing your looks for your own pleasure  3. Comfort. 4. Health and hygiene. I have no grouse against these aspects.

  • If there is a logical dress-code at workplaces, stick by it (and wait for the weekend).
  • If YOU think something enhances your look, makes you feel better, wear it. A little overcoat or an oversized T-shirt. Not because it is an "accepted norm" (Old style or new style, it is MY style).
  • If wearing something makes you feel uncomfortable, don't wear it. And if wearing something makes you feel comfortable, JUST GO FOR IT. (Skinny thighs or fat thighs, they are MY thighs!)
  • If an outfit helps you express your mood and your personality, flaunt it. (Nerdy sometimes, diva sometimes. Myself all the time.)
Don't let anyone say, the outfit makes you look too fat/too thin/too short/too tall. Whose aesthetics are you trying to please? Tell them, "Excuse me, I'm not an art gallery to please your aesthetics, thank you." What is wrong in being tall or short? That's the way I am born. I always wear sarees with large borders though I have been told time and again that they make me look shorter. But I love those large borders. There is no hope for me to grow any taller. So those large borders that I love so much, are they out of my league at all? Like, forever? And I very rarely wear high-heels. Because I know, the person who advises me to is never going to massage my feet and back at the end of the day.

I know I'm rambling. But people, don't be harsh on yourself. We, as humans rarely feel good about ourselves. We are somehow conditioned to think that way. Amidst all that is beyond our control, our thoughts about our looks are the only things we can control. Let's wear what makes us happy. Let's wear what makes us feel good about ourselves. Shed those kilos if YOU want to (or if the doctor has told you to). Hide the paunch if it makes YOU uncomfortable. Fushcia pinks, greys or beiges - let YOUR moods decide the colour.

Related image


Sunday, June 09, 2019

A Suitable Boy: Just Perfect for Me

Picked up this giant of a book on a whim without pausing to think how I’d finish reading it. After a six-month struggle, I finally managed to finish it and I’m glad. (Much to the chagrin of my family, lugged it to every trip I took this year.)
On the face of it, The Suitable Boy is a story about a girl looking for a… well, suitable boy. Lata belongs to a simple but well-read family of refined tastes. The family consists of a doting but overbearing mother, a sweet sister and two brothers who are like chalk and cheese.

Set in the year 1951-1952, the book is much, much more than Lata’s quest. There are many absorbing subplots involving the girl, Lata’s extended family, including her siblings, their in-laws and their families. There are stories of politics, of music, of business and of relationships. Apart from music, I found the political references very interesting because I’ve never paid much attention to the political history of India. Seth has explored every possible kind of relationship with great understanding and gentleness, be it friends, lovers, elderly couples, young couples or colleagues.

Lata’s mother is a carbon copy of a lady I knew—an overly sentimental type who loved sending and receiving long letters and greeting cards. Someone who could hurt or be pleased with the smallest of things.
Meenakshi’s (Lata’s sister-in-law) quirky family made me happy and kept me eagerly looking forward to chapters about them.
I personally loved the plot involving Maan Kapoor (Lata’s brother-in-law’s brother). My heart went out to him and his family. Having been accustomed to romantic twists of plot, I kept hoping for favourable twists in Maan’s life. I cared much for his father, Mahesh Kapoor too. (I imagined Adil Hussain playing this role in a film/web series.)

Having lived with and invested so much in the characters, and being a die-hard romantic, I must say I'm a tad disappointed with the ending but then, every writer owns his story and has a right to end it to match the philosophy of that story.

Vikram Seth being what he is, throws the most unexpected turns at you. “Sensitive people are usually insensitive” goes a telling line in the book. More than the plot and storyline, Seth’s language and style had me floored. Like I have said in an earlier post, he has a gift of infusing poetry into his prose. And at the same time, he can convey the strongest of emotions in the simplest of ways.
Two old (and elderly) friends talking to each other:
“So, you’ll come for lunch tomorrow?”
“Yes, yes. What’s the occasion?”
“No occasion. Just do me the favour of sitting silently through the meal and hearing me complain about how much better things were in the old days.”
“All right.”

Seth knows exactly what words to use at any given time. For learners like me, his style is infused with numerous examples of 'show, don’t tell'.
Sample this: The rock-like delicacies were lurking in the other room. I will say no further.
And what caught me by surprise is his amazing sense of humour. He has used humour and wit so generously in this book that I could go on citing examples. If you are planning to read the book, look out for the incident at the bus-stop involving two wailing ladies. And then there’s the incident of a villainous but distraught Prof Mishra. He is feigning a conversation with a doctor on the phone but is actually getting the election results. Mishra asks the person on the phone, “So where can I meet you?” The person on the other end of the phone simply says, “In the casualty ward.” Oh, and of course there are the 'Kakoli-couplets' strewn amply to lighten the mood.

Seth draws up detailed character portraits of almost every character, significant or otherwise. Sometimes, he hands out every micro-thought of a character, making you awe at his insight into people’s psyche. Mr Seth appears to be one dangerous man to meet!

Another thing to look out for is the vivid, descriptive passages – ever so colourful and never boring, be it the Pul Mela or the shoe-factory episode. He writes as if he’s been there. Who knows? He might have even been there. (I've read several anecdotes about the research he does for his stories).
This book has been panned for rambling on with just a few pages of the main plot. I choose to look at it this way. It would be extremely limiting to look at the title just from the angle of Lata’s matrimonial dilemma. We have a young India looking for a suitable boy as a leader. We have the Chatterji family looking for a suitable boy to take on the reins. We have the University looking for a suitable boy to head its English Department and so on. I haven’t yet read any analysis of this book but I am sure all that research and thinking that Vikram Seth has put in is not in vain. Every anecdote has meaning and purpose and it is for us to find them.

If you have been wanting to read this book, I’d say, just take a deep breath and dive in. You are sure to find a lot of gems out there. Just have a lot of patience. I nodded in agreement when the character of Amit Chatterji says:
“But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they're bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they're good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends.”

PS: I read somewhere that Mira Nair will be making a web series of this book. I'm excited.
A line from the book

Monday, October 15, 2018

'96: Heart-wrenching and Heartwarming All At Once - My Feelings

Certain books and films make you feel very strongly for several days at a stretch. While you mull over them, a lot of thoughts keep popping up. You can't rest until you have sorted all those thoughts neatly and put them down. I have never written any review two parts, But there is a lot to say, about '96. Putting them all together would not only make it a bunch of disjointed thoughts but also a long boring read. So, I have split my observations about the film into two parts. 'Facts' and 'Feelings'. 'Facts' is about the technical aspects, who did what, how I liked it and so on. 'Feelings' is about well, just my feelings. Here are my 'Feelings'. 
*Spoliers galore*


                                    Related image

Ram, a travel photographer believes that the only place where one can freeze time is in a photograph. That's how he lives too. In an island of memories. But he is no Devdas. He just goes about doing the thing he loves to do. Freezing moments. He is happy to visit his hometown but does not want to stop by. He might have to make small talk with people there, you see. His eyes sparkle when he spots his school. He impulsively stops by and doesn't even mind catching up with the school watchman  (played by a darling Janakaraj). In the beginning, Ram is all sprightly, exploring every corner of the school with excitement. I squealed in delight when he brushes off the chalk-dust from the frame of a blackboard with a finger. Oh? So it wasn't just me who loved to do that! Watch the way he drags the desk closer to him when he sits on the first bench in the classroom. But he becomes broody and nostalgic by the end of the visit and this culminates in a longing for a reunion. Old friends meet. Old flames get reignited, not with the intensity of a fire but with the gentleness of moonlight. Quite naturally now, the friends get worried. It is the same gang that prodded the shy Ram in school (quite naturally for that time).

Ram and Janu take off from the word 'go' as if the past 22 years were just a fluid dream. As awkward as they were in Class 10, yet, as much in love, or even more, perhaps. The heart has this capacity to nurture some memories with each pump. The memories then grow and grow to become larger than the actual events. Memories are like an arm that grows with you. Mind you, this is different from what sceptics brush off as 'illusion'.  Forget lovers. Take childhood friends, for instance. There might not be a thing common between the two of them anymore but they are still friends. That's because they are still the same people after all. Like I have always believed, where ever life takes you, the core of the person will never change. It is only the circumstances that make you react differently.

Image result for 96 movie

So Ram has now grown to be a bearded hulk, but he is still shy or shall I say 'faint-hearted'? (Miss the movie, you miss the pun.). He generally speaks very little but becomes a motormouth when he is excited about something. It is Ram, the more sentimental of the two, who lightens the atmosphere every time there is a tricky moment. There is still a world of innocence in his thoughts and actions, with or without the beard. And Vijay Sethupathi shows it so beautifully.

Janu is still the bolder and the more outspoken one of the two. Makes Ramu (and even me) jump out of the seat when she offers her plate to him. She sometimes pretends to have moved on. She tries to put on a 'chilled out' facade. She asks Ram blatantly personal questions which Ram finds too personal even for a lover to ask. She bawls like a baby when she knows the truth about the things he did. But soon collects herself. When he asks her if she is happy, she says life is peaceful. Now does that answer the question? We don't know.

In fits and starts, Ram and Janu speak about the lost moments. Dream up the what-ifs. Someone said they don't ask each other much about their present. I say, they won't. They don't want to know. "Here I am, unwilling to fill the space that has a beautiful memory. Why would I want to know about your daily routine with your child and husband?" No thanks, too painful.

 As the evening progresses, they get completely comfortable with each other. He loosens up. You know it from his voice. You feel the love in every little action - every flick of the eye, every little smile, every question and every answer. She breaks her twenty-year-old resolve and sings Yamunai Aatriley (a non-S Janaki song). This simple little action perhaps shows a huge change within. "Maatrangal Vidai, Maatrangeley Vinaa." (That's, by the way, one of the most impressive opening lines I've seen in a film recently. Listen to the poem recited by Nasser, it's beautiful).

Janu worries about Ram's loneliness. Her repeated talk of his marriage seemed a little annoying and made me wonder if she is trying to fix her own guilt. But I soon understood that it was out of genuine concern. When you can't take away your only possession, you want to at least place it in safe hands. Like Ram's student says, he needs to be taken good care of. But how the hell is she supposed to do it? That angst is so well brought out in the final airport scene. And the way she holds his face at that that her closure? Oh the pain!

There is constant movement throughout the film (they are in a car, on a train, they walk) hinting at momentum, but when it is time to fly, his condition remains status quo, in spite of holding a valid ticket. There is a pain of losing yet there is a comfort of gaining something they never had. Janu's life might or might not be the same again. But for Ram, things are not going to change much. Only, he now has another piece of memory to stow away in the safety of his moulded-plastic suitcase with a secret number lock.

You can read Facts here.

(Pic courtesy: The Indian Express;

'96: Heart-wrenching and Heartwarming All At Once - Facts

Certain books and films make you feel very strongly for several days at a stretch. While you mull over them, a lot of thoughts keep popping up. You can't rest until you have sorted all those thoughts neatly and put them down. I have never written any review in two parts, But there is a lot to say, about '96. Putting them all together would not only make it a bunch of disjointed thoughts but also a long boring read. So, I have split my observations about the film into two parts. 'Facts' and 'Feelings'. 'Facts' is about the technical aspects, who did what and how I liked it and so on. 'Feelings' is about well, just my feelings. Here's 'Facts'. 

Image result for 96 movie
Subtlety is the catchphrase of this beautiful little film. A gentle nostalgic trip without an ounce of melodrama. The emotions are gently rolled towards you for you to catch.

There is an aura of not just peace and calm but there is a sense of cleanness about the film. Like watching a gurgling stream with every pebble clearly visible.

The director, Prem Kumar has captured the essence of the 90s with a lot of fondness and care. The music. I can't imagine the 90s without Ilaiyaraja's presence. He has been an integral part of our growing up years. The director has used a lovely collection of songs through the film, all with due and honest credit right at the beginning. Life was in a cusp of change in the 90s - inching towards progress but not at all edgy. The 90s was perhaps the most difficult time to fall in love. You are brave but not brash. The possibility of losing people due to a lack of communication (physical or postal) was so much more higher. Gone meant gone forever unless for divine intervention, for many. I'm not sure if today's children can relate to something like this when being out of touch is mostly by choice rather than compulsion.

Even the present day scenes in the film are removed from the harshness that we see in today's times. The delightful Whatsapp group chat is probably the only thing 'current' in the film. The entire theatre was in splits in the scene (did you notice that there is always a white collared 'Peter' and a homesick NRI in every whatsapp group?). There is no overuse of technology anywhere in the film - just like how the teacher-Ram tells his students to keep things natural. If I noted right, I don't think many electronic instruments have been used in the music too. At least, not obviously. Didn't I speak of subtlety earlier?

Speaking of the music, Govind Vasantha is an excellent choice as a composer for this film. He creates a wonderful mood around the scenes. Be it a solo violin or a veena with the sounds of the night during a walk on the deserted GN Chetty Road flyover in the dead of the night or the piano pieces for Ram that let us peek into his thoughts. The songs fit so seamlessly into the flow that you don't realise when a song begins and when it ends. I want to watch the film again to see if the songs are even used fully. 'Musical' is one of the most misused terms in Tamil films. I have repeatedly said that a film with many songs does not make it a musical. So that way, I'd say '96 could be a musical but the makers don't mention it anywhere. (Just like the makers don't make much noise about anything at all - even the promo was a silent heart-stealer). While listening to the audio I realise that many of the songs are fluid and non-formulaic. A few actually run for just a just minute or two. I'd love to listen to the album on a long drive.

The song lyrics are beautiful - sometimes poetic, sometimes conversational. With heart-warming lines like "Iru kaalin naduvil urangum poonai pol, podhum indha vaazhkai". Such fuzzy simplicity is what the film is all about.

The clever use of the same voice for the dubbing and the songs makes viewing so much more easier. Chinmayee's dulcet voice as always matches Trisha's calm persona so well. And I am so glad for Trisha that she got to do this film. One of her best roles ever (and I thought VTV was her best). So effortlessly mature, so comfortable in that maturity. Totally deglamourised yet strikingly beautiful. She wears just one outfit almost throughout the film, unbelievable. Isn't it a little sad that Trisha being much more senior to Vijay Sethupathy in the field finally gets her chance to perform? But he, within such a short span of time has established himself as a class actor. And rightfully so.
What do I say about him in '96? There is an air of honesty about his style of acting. The one slouchy walk out of the room after Janu rejects a bar of soap is enough to speak of prowess.

Loved each of the supporting cast, the child actors and their grown-up avatars. Devadarshini was a such a charm. It felt so good to see Janakraraj and Kavitalaya Krishnan. And I am glad there are no other extra characters than what is needed. My morbid fears of a Singapore angle were gently put to rest.

There is a sense of timelessness between the reunion party and the airport scene. Not just the emotional but at the physical level. 'How long does the night last really?' is a question I had in mind. And then the slightly off-putting and inexplicable kumkum that kept coming popping back. But I shall leave these to the nitpickers.

I saw some of the audience get impatient during the later part of the second half. They perhaps expected Ram and Janu to do something more exciting than just talk and talk. But all our protagonists seemed to need, were eyes and words. They are the 90s kids after all! And that is another thing that I liked about this movie. They actually show what the couple is talking about. Something we rarely get to see/hear in films - the lovers' talk is always muted by a montage song. (And heaven forbid, I've heard that actors mouth things as mundane as the alphabet during the shoot!)  Love stories these days is all about action. No words. So, the expectation of the audience kept rising at every moment and therefore the restlessness maybe?
But the director Prem Kumar is in no hurry. He patiently takes us through the night with the same detail as he takes us through the attendance roll-call in alphabetical order.


Find My Feelings here.

(Picture courtesy:

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Where book reccos go, I take it from anyone, most of the time. I feel, if someone has been impressed by a book, there must be something about it. Even if I don't end up liking the book, I look at it as an opportunity to get to know the person who recommended it, better. That's how I came across this book. It was suggested by a very young colleague. I grabbed it when I got the chance. A writer I had never read before - Benjamin Alire Sáenz. A genre I had not explored before, Young Adult Fiction. I am not telling you another new aspect because that might be a spoiler.
The story is about a sweet story a young boy, who seeks to unravel various secrets--secrets about his family, about his friend, about his own self as well.
Aristotle is a boy of 15, biding his time being angry with everything and everyone around him. He is angry with his parents for being secretive, at his well-meaning friends for being intrusive, at himself for being a loner. For a young boy, he has the difficult task of walking a fine balance between temper and politeness. He then meets a boy interestingly named Dante, who goes on to become his first and only friend and more. Of course, he spends a good amount of time being angry with Dante too for being so nice, happy and himself. How Ari comes to terms with his family, his loved ones, his own feelings and himself, form the rest of the story. 

We are presented with a set of six beautiful characters. Ari, Dante and their wonderful parents. Each dealing with their own personal issues, yet full of love and warmth. 

Written in simple yet beautiful language, the book explores complex emotions and various aspects of adolescence with gentleness and finesse. It took me back to my own very difficult teenage years. I now know I wasn't alone, because that's a stage when we hardly have heart-to-heart conversations with anyone, I wouldn't have known better. I have made some mental notes for me to refer to when it's my chance as a parent. But then like Ari does, it is up to each person to discover himself as life goes. The only thing we can do is, like Ari's parents do is this. Sort out or at least come to terms with our own battles, first creating enough mental space to take a patient look at a blossoming teenager's needs with all the love and care we are capable of.

The storyline might appear one-dimensional to some, even a tad too Utopian but then, I loved it just for that reason. I'd definitely recommend this book to those who never tire exploring various facets of human nature and behaviour. I'm such a person. 
The book is sprinkled throughout with many thought-provoking and smile-inducing lines. Here are some:

"Words were different when they lived inside of you."***
"Poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn't get - and never would get."***
"The problem with trying hard not to think about something was that you thought about it even more."***
"...we're thinking about things that we don't know we're thinking about and those things, well, they sneak out of us in our dreams."

Friday, February 02, 2018

In a Forest, a Deer - Ambai

In a Forest, a Deer is a collection of short stories written by famed writer Ambai, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom. I had been intrigued by the writer with this beautiful nom de plume for a long time. And this book came to me as a Christmas gift from a dear friend.
The book is a collection of eighteen interesting stories. I dived into the stories headlong, deliberately without reading any of the introductory notes. With new authors, I usually like to do the ‘discoveries’ myself. And what a revelation it was! Free of all feminist tropes, these stories are fresh, contemporary and very relevant. These are not stories of wonder-women but regular, everyday women who sparkle in their quiet, mundane existences.

Ambai uses a wide variety of themes and styles. One and Another explores unusual relationships. Vaaganam is a humorous take on the strong desire to own a vehicle, which in turn translates into freedom. Wrestling and Journey 3 have poignant thoughts wrapped in an organza of humour. A Rat, a Sparrow is a fantastic story about a ‘Madrasi’ trying to settle down in Bombay. Ambai walks us through communal tension in Direction and A Movement, a folder, some tears. A Movement… was a very difficult read, despite creative styles and techniques like flashback, an email and even an email attachment. My personal favourite is Parasakthi and Others in a Plastic Box, about the gossamer bonds that weave a mother and her two daughters together. It moved me to tears. Here again, she uses the medium of letters to tell us the story. Forest is perhaps the best example of the brilliant literary spark of this writer. It flits gracefully between mythology and contemporary.  Though all stories have a broad theme, each story delicately spreads out bunches of different thoughts, ideas and sub-themes, just like beautifully set pleats that enhance the grace of a saree.  Ambai’s storytelling has an almost lyrical quality to it, with generous use of images and metaphors.

Ambai’s women are quirky, strong, independent and free, in their own capacities—physically, mentally or at least spiritually. There’s a tiny little story within a story in Direction, called For Lakshmi too, an Adishesha. Read that and you will understand the strength of Ambai’s unbridled imagination. Goddess Lakshmi is tired of sitting at Vishnu’s feet all the time. She is miffed about all the unfairness around her and feels she deserves her own Adishesha too!  I have never read anything quite like it. Another thing I will not forget about the characters is their very Tamil names, not of Goddesses but of nature and human virtues. There is Kumudha, Shenbagam, Thangam, Dhanam, Thirumagal, Chendhiru, Senthamarai and many more. The men have more regular names. 

Every time I read a translation, I stop for a bit to think about the translator. I will say it now and will say it again, translation is one of the most difficult forms of all writing. Lakshmi Holmstrom has done a wonderful job of it in this collection. I don’t know if it was about the translation or if it was because I happen to know Tamil, but I found myself re-translating the lines back into Tamil in my head as I read the first couple of stories. It all settled down beautifully after the third/fourth story and they read like stories originally written in English. A pond filled with lotuses. Each lotus as wide as mother’s lap. Each lotus made up of a thousand, thousand petals is a gem of an expression. I am now curious to find out what it was in Tamil and if it was as beautiful. There’s another place where she says, “as white as white can be” which I am sure was “vella-veleyr” , an adjective peculiar to Tamilnadu. Having grown up listening to such local peculiarities, I never imagined it could be expressed in English so well. What I also like is a neat little glossary at the end of the book and sometimes at the end of a story. The editors have thankfully not messed up the pages with a mosaic of symbols and legends. I am curious to find out why the translator has chosen to use the Hindi word choli to describe a blouse that is worn with a saree. Also, why did she choose to spell the musical instrument Veena or Veenai, as Vinai and Vina in some places? Doesn’t Vinai, with the short i sound connote an evil deed? The names of some actors are also incorrect like M T Rama Rao for N T Rama Rao (they got it right in the second instance) and K P Sundarambal for K B Sundarambal. I shouldn’t nit-pick.

I believe that those who’ve been fortunate enough to travel much (by circumstance or choice) stand to gain a wide knowledge of languages, customs, religious practices, quirks of different communities and also become open to appreciate different styles of cuisines and music. Then there are those who learn and develop all of these without stepping out of their zipcode. These are people who read extensively. And if a writer has one or both these opportunities, the writing becomes truly rich. Even while I was reading the stories, Ambai seemed to be doubly blessed thus.  Only when I read her biography after completing the book did I learn that my guess was right. She has travelled much and is a voracious reader. Somehow, luckily for me, many books I have been reading these days have copious references to music. So does this book. The references range from Raavana’s Kambodhi, Tiruppavai, Andal Paasuram, Bhimsen Joshi to Gangubai Hangal. Oh and she loves talking in detail about food. Be it paruppu thogayal or a Maharashtrian millet roti. The kitchens are not the domains of only women. A character’s father could make a hundred varieties of chutneys. Ambai’s protagonists believe in God but are not god-fearing. They are highly spiritual but not very religious. The ring-side views and the first-person accounts do give a pleasurable intimacy but somewhere at the half-way mark, the mind craves to see a wider canvas. As if the writer/editor has read your mind, things begin to get interesting soon.

In a Forest, a Deer is overall, a wonderful compilation of enjoyable and thought-provoking stories. A must-read if you are looking at exploring a new ethos, a new voice that is strong and vibrant but not shrill. Will I be right in saying she is India’s (or at least Tamilnadu’s) answer to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? While I do my research, I will leave you with some quotes from the book.

Brahmacharya, samsara, vanaprastha and sanyasa—must these all happen at separate times and stages?... Why could they not all be mingled together?

Everything comes down to sruti, getting the pitch right, doesn’t it? We speak of sur, being in tune. Who then is an asur? Not someone with crooked teeth and ten heads, but one who is ignorant of sur. A-sur. Because such a thing as sur isn’t resonating within them, they run away with themselves without subjecting their impulses or their strength or their direction to any discipline. They are not reined in by their sur.
There was another friend who insisted on telling jokes after having downed three pegs of rum. ‘I’m going to act like a Madrasi’, he proclaimed loudly….He laughed at his own performance. Nobody else laughed with him. Vijay went up to him and whispered something. He looked at her and said, grinning away, ‘It was only in fun. I like the temples in Tamil Nadu very much. Then dosa, vada, idli,’ he drawled stressing the ‘d’. “Saniyane,’ she said…Only Amulyo understood what she said.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. What an experience it has been! My first Murakami and I’ve never read anything quite like it. The storyline twines itself around a 15-year old boy, an adorable old man and his equally adorable companion and an enigmatic lady. All of them are in the process of letting go of something and gaining something else in the process. Now, would I classify the book as fantasy, philosophy or something else? I would not get there. There’s no point trying to jam something as fluid as this within the confined spaces of genre. This book, like I said at the beginning, is an experience. I do not venture out to 'review' this book because that would be doing it injustice. I will only share what it did to me. The beginning was like sitting on a flight, venturing on a holiday to a foreign country for the first time. There are mixed feelings of fear and excitement. As I go deeper into the book, I get into a dreamlike state—a feeling of being led by the hand while sleepwalking. I feel the dream makes sense only to me. It might sound vague and meaningless if I relate it to someone. I see beautiful things, feel beautiful thoughts about belonging, memories, metaphors, books and music. I chuckle at the sweet, innocent moments (Nakata’s“Liter ady” and his understanding of idioms). I cringe at the violence and underage sex but thankfully, it is just a dream and I know these events will end soon. Once again there are gentle emotions that envelope me with warmth. At a point, I know the dream is ending, I don’t want it to. It gets exciting. I don’t exaggerate when I say I feel my hands trembling at the turn of each page. I read some parts twice. I don’t want to miss anything. I hear myself saying aloud, “Oh no…” “Kafka, just go.” “Hoshino, please do something.” “Oh damn, it’s him!” And then, it was all over and I wake up with a sigh, unable to think of anything else for the next few hours. I then thought of the author himself. How fatigued, yet exhilarated he must have felt to give shape to all those thoughts and ideas. I must have been something like childbirth itself. Perhaps all authors go through their own struggles, but I felt it for the first time. It takes a lot of strength, courage and brilliance to be able to put abstract thoughts in words.

Interpreting a beautiful dream is as important as the dream itself. So, I think a large part of the credit must go to the translator for putting words into a wonderful order, without disturbing the original pattern. Just like it happens in the book, someday, I’d like to discuss this book with someone—the hidden meanings, the references, the parts that I didn’t quite grasp, parts that made me feel I’m “…not very bright, dumb”. And mull over “the accident” and “the murder”. Thinking about it, how nice it would be to come across people, including strangers willing to discuss films, music, books and even philosophy with us. Now, that would be a dream-come-true for me.

A few passages from the book that I loved:
About first impressions: “…a shadowy smile playing on her lips whose sense of completeness is indescribable. It reminds me of a small, sunny spot, the special patch of sunlight you find only in some remote, secluded place.”

About books: “When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages - a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers.”

About parental pressure: “When they're treated like that, children start to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kids' hearts are malleable, but once they gel it's hard to get them back the way they were.”

About anger: “Are anger and fear just two aspects of the same spirit?”

About the unsaid: “Putting (the answer) in words will destroy any meaning.”

About memories: “If you remember me, then I don’t care if everybody forgets.”

“Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads - at least that's where I imagine it - there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library.”

The book is full of such gems and I couldn't make note of all of them. But I don’t worry because I know I am going to revisit it one day.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Enigmas and Dogmas

As teenagers, all of us dream of becoming something.

Since the age of 13 or so, I have been in the pursuit of becoming this enigma... the mystery woman that the boys die to get close to, someone who everybody is eager to know about. The woman doesn't talk much, smiles just a little, has eyes that can draw you deep into their dark depths. The woman who will attract you but will never let you come close to her. She will leave your wondering. And she comes with a special brand of beauty and grace.

Today, at 4 decades of existence, I do have Enigma but only on my retro playlist - (even that once famous band of the 90s has now faded into oblivion). The mystery happens when I wonder how I ended up wearing the old pair of jeans when I was actually planning to wear a chiffon salwar kameez, with a chiffon dupatta, chiffon scarf, and chiffon bangles. (Ah! Manish Malhotra and Yash Chopra didn't think of chiffon bangles #LostOpportunity)
Leave alone an enigma, I couldn't even manage to become a lady, that I had dreamt of becoming.

Oh! I did get an anonymous love-note slipped into my desk when I was Class VIII. It said "I love Priya." I should have blushed. Should have acted coy. But what did I do? I let out a loud guffaw and bellowed "Hey who's that?", frightening enough for the anonymous lover to shrink further into anonymity. Well, he wanted an intimate date and all I did was INTIMIDATE. #LostOpportunity

The problem with me is that I can't leave anything to suspense. Anything I feel, I have to express it. Be it love, anger or disappointment. If there is an itch, it has to be scratched, so to speak. (I can't ever imagine Aishwarya Rai scratching.)

The other problem is my compulsive need to talk. If people have been out of touch, I don't wait for them to text first. I do. And then I talk and talk and talk (them actually listening is usually not a prerequisite.) So what's left for them to wonder about? As if that were not enough my gutter mouth can make the husband blush even after so many years.

Oh and those meaningful smiles. I tried. I practiced. Two hours in front of the mirror every day (there were times when I actually had 2 hours of my own for such creative pursuits). Nope. I only ended up with pursed lips and flared nostrils. Well, at least that checks off 'deep-dark' in the list.

For the love of god have I've tried to peck like a hen when I eat with men but what do I do when I have an appetite larger than theirs? So people around me do wonder. Wonder how I did it.

I've been trying to write poetry with a feather-tipped pen but the family tells me to try Stand-up Comedy. Lo karlo baat! I've been trying to grow long, luscious tresses but the girl at the parlour, every time she sees me, she chops off the 3/4th of an inch that took 6 months to grow. She shakes her head and tch-tches "too dry ma'm" (And I'm hoping there are no other hidden references there). Talking about references, I've been subjected to the range - from the extremely rude "Tom Boy" to the more gentle, "gruff voice, good for western music". Well, I've learnt to take all of that with a pinch of chat masala and a peg of whiskey. See, even that's not a lady's drink.

Forget me. Even my lady-parts are not ladylike anymore.
Hey! But I AM sensitive, extremely touchy and hopelessly romantic. Yes, I can't blush but that's okay, I suppose.

So what do I do now? At this ripe age, all I can do is....give up? No! Never! I will try and try and try. Only time will tell if I will end up like Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur or the famous Cuban lady with the Cigar.


Pic Courtesy:
Lorrie Cramer via Flickr