Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson


I found Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson in the book fair and promptly grabbed it. The book was on my list of books (and author) to explore though I am well past the age the book is intended for. What can I say my inner child/teen continues to live on. I have a few other books by her too but this was the one that beckoned me. You know how it is. Some books you have had for ages but they sit on shelves for eons before they get read and a new book catches your eye and gets instantly picked up (I can almost hear all the old books grumble at the newcomer who made it with the least sweat. Unfair life is even books know that!). I can never understand how the timing works. I guess our subconscious knows what it wants at a certain point in life and goes for it.

Violet is naive (annoyingly so!) for a 13 year old. The book was published in 2003 and that’s got something to do with it, I think. It was the time when cellphones weren’t ubiquitous yet and people still wrote letters to authors instead of stalking them or talking about/to them online. Violet adores reclusive author Casper Dream, the author of the beautifully illustrated fairy books and writes to him regularly. She loves the fictitious universe created by him. She draws inspiration from his books and sews fairy dolls.  As you can see she isn’t your boisterous teen but quiet and artistic. Midnight offers interesting insights into the mind of a writer and on creating imaginary worlds which appealed to me greatly.

Violet has two ‘friends’ but she can’t identify with them. Whereas her brother Will is good looking and the entire school thinks he is cool. She looks up to him and adores him in spite of his snide comments and rudeness. Violet and Will are only a few years apart. It is apparent he cares for Violet but he never let’s a chance to take the Mickey out of her go.

Their father doesn’t like Will’s choices, and he in turn is constantly at loggerheads with him. We see Will after he knows a distrubing secret so there could be something to Will’s recklessness. Will is an intriguing character but I was always wary of him. Their mother is a docile woman and allows her husband to run roughshod over her. He’s taken for granted that his wife will do her job, regardless of how he treats her.

Violet’s life changes when the new girl in the school, Jasmine, who cares two hoots about fitting in, takes a shine to her. She cannot believe her luck. She adores everything about Jasmine – her spirit, her house and her family. Best friends fall in love with each other. It is an intense little place and I know that space well. Violet is an oddball whereas Jasmine is a popular kid. Is Jasmine truly her friend or something else is going on?

As I read I felt uneasy about certain things and I can hazard a guess as to how my teenage self would have reacted. The writing is good and the author is magnificent at building an atmosphere. Though at the heart of the story is Violet, a girl obsessed with fairies and fairy stories and the author who writes them, it’s not for younger readers. People expecting fantasy would be disappointed. This is as real as it gets for the intended age group!  I thought it was clever how subtly the  author showed bitter realities of the world which won’t affect younger readers but older readers will see it for what it is.

I like the quirky illustrations by Nick Sharratt which match the dark tone of the book.

Continue reading Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson


To forgive or forget that is the question

Forgiveness like betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. And you have many options at your disposal but you have to figure out how to go about it.  They are peddling instant gratification, and we are drawn to it like honey to bee, which in the long run turns out to be fatal like white sugar. And, no it won’t stop me from biting into a macaroon or eating a gulab jamun (or two) once in a while but it’s a good comparison, isn’t it? Technology for all its advantages is making our lives more complicated and giving birth to mindless drama pregnant with chaos.

One can forgive and forget, the best thing to do really. Grudges are a colossal waste of time and energy. Also, they tamper with future connections without you being aware of it because that’s the vibe you are sending out into the world. I know because I used to be a champion grudge holder and the queen of sulking. (Yes, I used to be that stupid.) The other person doesn’t have a clue or has forgotten or moved on and there you are waiting for an apology to make things right. People aren’t mind readers true but there are always signs and silence screams louder than words, or so I thought. Some people are plain stupid or they are too busy to notice or they actually don’t care. Take your pick of the reason least harmful to your ego!

One cannot forgive but still forget (a rare breed but they do exist). And as I grow older this is becoming easy for me on account of being more forgetful. You heal yourself, put a stop to the nonsense and get an apology from the person in your head by playing out different scenarios and you are done. Simple, eh? What if the person shows up again and again interfering in the healing process? Not to worry, use their stupidity obstinacy to your advantage. The more they show up, the less it bothers you. No jolts, just the reassurance that one fine day it won’t matter. In a fit of rage you might feel the need to delete or block. I won’t tell you it’s a childish thing to do because it has its benefits but it’s a waste of limited energy reserves. Along with numerous social media accounts, people now have multiple numbers and change phones like they change shoes so you can’t actually keep up (if you are like me).

One can neither forgive nor forget. Time will do your work for you so no point in losing sleep over it. (Didn’t anyone tell you that patience is a virtue? Me neither!) So many ways to deal with forgiveness. What if you are the one seeking forgiveness? Do the same rules still apply? Or do you become a hypocrite? Continue reading To forgive or forget that is the question

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman


I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

Continue reading The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

Intelligent design and evolution

How do you explain to a ten year old that there is no God when asked how did the first human originate without telling them about evolution because she does not know what the word means?

I told her it happened by itself. There is no intelligent design and no sentient God, and so he didn’t create the first human. We evolved from other primates (okay I used the word monkeys). Of course she didn’t understand. If adults have a problem understanding evolution and say that it was intelligent design, how can a little child understand the concept.

She asked me if there is no god why are there so many temples and why do so many people worship them? I said people do it to to placate themselves if they have done something wrong. It is something that gives them hope or rather sells them hope and grants them peace of mind  letting them believe that everything will work out in the end. What I didn’t say – it is also a way of absolving responsibility and laying it at the feet of God since he controls the universe (even a leaf won’t budge without his permission). The world was not created by God but rather man created another man (typical) and designated him as the creator. Of course the Hindu pantheneon has 330 million gods and godesses (no I don’t know their names).

I had never been the one to follow rituals just for the sake of following it. I have always asked why how what where to the annoyance of my parents and relatives. I refuse to follow rituals just for the sake of following it to appease someone beyond my reach, who may or may not exist.

I hadn’t always been an atheist; I believed in a God which I had never seen or heard (thanks to my upbringing), who would come to my rescue when the need arose. But now I believe in the power of the universe. I believe that mother nature is superior to all.

Religion failed me in the darkest parts of my life. The parts of my life when I needed hope to stay afloat and I couldn’t find solace in religion. I found strength in myself and it was the people who loved me that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wanting to be saved

A Coldplay kind of day today, and when Death and All His Friends come to your rescue, you listen. It was not all​ Yellow not by a long stretch but​ blue and no one will bleed for you or die trying except perhaps your family (their job description since the day you were born) and a few close friends (if you are lucky).  So what are you cribbing about, you ungrateful wretch. Get over yourself. Live, thrive, survive (whatever suits you). No one can Fix You except you.

No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge

It’s like I ​heard the song for the first time. For a long time the song was misnamed in my playlist as Lovers in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how a song will be whatever you want it to be in that moment – romantic, cathartic, healing, inspiring and so much more.

Sometimes a song saves you. The memories associated with it, the lyrics or the music itself (words become superfluous and it is the rhythm which carries you through).

​Watching This is Us brought Mandy Moore back into my life. For me Mandy Moores’s Cry is not about the lyrics but about nostalgia for me. It is about a bygone era when me and my friends used to read Nicholas Sparks (oh the horror). Now if I see A Walk to Remember (a fate comparable to being inside an MRI machine) I will definitely sob but it will be due to laughing hard and snorting at the dialogues. Thank god we grew up. Idealism has no place in the life of old people. (No, don’t tell me 30 is the new 20!) Youth and idealism go together just fine, complementing each other in envisioning a better future full of realized dreams, lost opportunities nowhere on the horizon and the harsh truth yet to dawn. The blinders come off eventually, either voluntarily or forcefully.

Sometimes humour saves you. Satire, sarcasm, nonsense, black – all shades of humour. Your sense of humour is the most important thing about you, so keep it close and try your best not to lose it in the chaos that is everyday life, unless you live on one of many moons of Jupiter. It might desert you and vanish from time to time but prepare a grand welcome when it reappears. Continue reading Wanting to be saved

A Christmas miracle

Christmas holds a warm place in my heart because of the tradition from the school days. I went to a Christian school (people’s words not mine) and every year students take part in the Christmas play which is basically staging the nativity scene. It was followed a long Christmas vacation. One time I essayed the role of a sheep and boy wasn’t I happy to be an animal on stage. Happiness didn’t cost much then. Those were good times.

One never has to go too far to look for a miracle. A stranger helped me to meet Ruskin Bond which was my very own Christmas miracle. I could never have imagined meeting him in my wildest dreams that too here in my hometown.  It was  a few days before Christmas and just like any other cold winter day. Somehow even old crusty me can’t call what happened a coincidence.

When I found out Mr Bond would be gracing a literary festival in the city I asked my sister to ask her friend who studied in the institution which was organizing it to inquire about the system of entry of non-school students. Her friend told her to tell me to gatecrash the event because it isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you it was a big deal. Clearly her friend doesn’t read many books. The guard at the door wasn’t budging if you weren’t in a uniform or didn’t have a pass. I asked on the festival’s online page and wrote an email asking if there’s a way for people like us to meet and greet Ruskin Bond but there was no response so I just decided to land at the venue which was quite unlike me. It was at the other end of the city but I was told to give it a try in spite of my illness and I did just that.

Why would a stranger, who has never seen you before in her life, cared if you meet (or didn’t meet) the one and only Ruskin Bond. And what are the odds that the stranger was dressed like you and lived in the same locality as you. And someone who wore the adjective bookish like a badge of honour. It was like at first sight. She was wearing a kurti in the same shade of green I was, it was the same length as mine and we had the same hair style even. Had I been plump like I’m now and not leaner like I was then, we really would have looked like two peas in a pod. (I just wanted to use the phrase.) Not believable? But then truth is stranger than fiction. The similarities end here. Unlike garrulous me she prefers silence.

She helped me realize my lifelong dream of seeing Ruskin Bond in flesh and blood with my very own eyes. I could meet and greet Ruskin bond because of her. Had I reached a minute before or a minute later, our paths wouldn’t have crossed. Should I call it destiny, fate, coincidence, serendipity or just my luck? I could have been a serial bomber for all she knew, wanting to go inside the venue to blow it up into smithereens but didn’t have a pass (obviously). Perhaps she could see in me the same thing which had brought her there, a love for the written word and the worlds created by Mr Bond and a fervent desire to hear the man whose words were synonymous with our childhood. Any interaction was the cherry on top of a richly iced cake. Mr. Ruskin Bond exudes warmth and generosity. He actually had twinkling eyes that we read about in books. Larger than life yet down to earth. Yes I’m gushing.

This holiday season spread good cheer, it is infectious. And when you feel too lonely, remember solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin.

To catch a bus

One fine Sunday against my better judgement I decided to step out of the house and take the bus as usual. I thought it’s Sunday and the bus would be relatively empty but it was jam packed like weekdays. (I’m talking butt to butt cramming. You don’t want to experience the horror.) The entire city decided to grow a conscience and use the public transport on the same day. Please increase the number of buses, BMC (= Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation).

The light shrug I was wearing went into my bag as soon I got out of the house and started walking. I should have done the same with the woollen stole when I still had my hands free. Because it was hot and sweaty inside the crowded bus and being unable to peel off layers is the stuff of nightmares. You are dressed for the winter outside but it’s summer on the inside.

The swiveling over road humps, bumping into the mass of humanity was almost painful. I like fun rides but they belong in an amusement park. This is icky not thrilling. It was filled beyond capacity and the conductor was still taking on more  passengers. Am I the only one who thinks he’s bonkers? The conductor was hanging outside the bus. Literally. I’m not kidding. These were dire circumstances.

The ladies seats were occupied by lovely gents and today I wasn’t able to get the conductor to give the ladies their seats. I asked once and he ignored me. Sometimes I am too tired to argue. These men should be seat shamed for taking ladies seats and  they sit there almost flaunting it, daring people to call them out on it. What can we do? it’s a pity there’s no provision to make citizen’s arrest in India. Continue reading To catch a bus

Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

A total of five people in the hall and it is only a couple of minutes till the film starts. Two more people came and seated themselves.That’s right. I’m going to keep a running tally until the movie starts.

I was sniffling throughout the day but somehow managed to dress myself and get out of the house without any medicines. Common cold has no cure. Damn viruses, the bridge between the living and the nonliving!

We changed three autos and then walked to the cinema hall, booked tickets even though only one counter was functional and reached our seats before time. That is no small achievement for me, especially when my mother tags along with me, who’s infamous for her lateness due to winding up last minutes chores.

Prof. Siras is a shy man, who dedicated his life to teaching a language. He was  thrown out of the university because of his sexual orientation. A man who has served the university all his life is treated with so much disrespect and disdain when only three months remained for his retirement is heartbreaking. He was not  given a chance to explain himself and a chargesheet was filed against him without an enquiry. Why should a section of people not be allowed to live their lives and be discriminated against be ostracised or live in fear of being outed because of their sexual preference as long it is consensual, is beyond my understanding.

Rajkumar Rao plays Deepu, a journalist in the film. He lights up the screen when he’s around and, no he does not always do weepy films as a friend pointed out the other day. The movie shows how journalistic stories should be done. With sensitivity. It is not only about the scoop. These are real people whose stories are being told so you might as well have some compassion or choose another profession. News sensationalism is subtly noted. In a scene Arnab Goswami’s show is running in the background and Siras was asked to sit in front of the camera but the debate rages on without his inputs. He is bewildered by the media circus. A shy, quiet man who loved language and found poetry in the messiness of everyday life thrust into the limelight for all the wrong resons is a sad thing.

Poetry is not in the words but in the silences, the pauses between the words.

Prof. Siras, who writes poetry, says this in response  to Deepu when he says he doesn’t understand poetry.

We have swelled up to nearly a dozen people which is cause for cheer. I suspect a few are here because it is rated ‘A’ though I cannot understand the reason. People have access to everything now thanks to internet. They had given the A certificate to Angry Indian Goddesses as well which was even more bizzare. We are a cosy bunch of people sitting if not near not far also, in the same area. I guess it was because nobody wanted to be too alone. Or so I think.

The film is a commentary on our hypocritical society which allows men to visit prostitutes when they are married but a consensual act between two adults is termed immoral because it is homosexual in nature.

The loneliness of the professor is haunting. Manoj Bajpayee has become Siras. Aligarh surprised me with its tenderness. The long takes made the scenes real; as if you are not watching someone act but seeing a real person which is brilliant because it is based on a true story. It unnerves you. Team Aligarh should take a bow for this wonderful film. Hansal Mehta’s film is real but never melodramatic. It is a film  where the quiet scenes are the most devastating.

Spoiler alert!

While returning home my mother asked why did he kill himself after fighting for his rights? We don’t know if he killed himself or was killed. There was poison in his system but the police refused to conduct an enquiry. His life would never be what he wanted it to be. A life with no respect or dignity. He had thought of going to America to start a new life but later on must have realized the futility of that dream.

Still Alice

“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.” – Oliver Sacks

What does a disease do to you? It changes your body and attacks your energy reserves. It changes your psychological makeup, changing forever who you are (or who you were meant to become). The landscape is forever altered. It is foolhardy to think that it’s possible to go back to being the person you once were. And with time you realize, like with everything in life, you have to do the best with what you have got (left).

During my student days I was interested in the chapter on neurodegenerative disorders and was particularly curious about Alzheimer’s (I wonder if it was because of Bhansali’s Black) because of what it does to a person. I had often prided myself on having a great memory, remembering stuff that mattered (of course I am not talking about textbooks) easily. But sadly that has not been the case for a while now.

I had wanted to read Lisa Genova’s Still Alice for a while and I found a lovely hardcover in the book fair last year and immediately pounced on it. I read the author interview at the end of the book and found that I would not be able to handle such a topic then. It took me a while to plunge in. I couldn’t bring myself to read it sooner fearing what I would find and, more importantly, how the dots would connect. 

Losing your mind is a big deal. Memories are integral to how we remember the past, and connect it with the present. It is through the prism of memories we see ourselves and others. Armed with memories we navigate the choppy waters of future certain of at least where we come from, if not who we are. What if the sense of self you have built over years is taken from you?

Still Alice deals with the struggles of Alice Howland, a brilliant linguistic professor. when her life is torn apart by early onset Alzheimer’s and how she and her family learn to cope with the ravages of the illness – with a person left with a mind, not as sharp as she used to be but deep down still remains the same person. How caregivers deal with the altered circumstances, the ugly reality, the frustration and helplessness at not being able to find a way out from the messy tangles is hard to read about. The ravages of the disease diminishing a person slowly and seeing a much loved person vanish before their very own eyes almost becoming a stranger is heartbreaking.

Will people still see Alice or see through her?

When will I no longer be me? Is the part of my brain that is responsible for my unique ‘me-ness’ vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer’s?

Still Alice is compulsively readable and I love the author for putting a compelling narrative of Alzheimer’s on the map but some characters weren’t fully realized and were shown only as good or bad whereas people are complex. Her family was supportive almost to the point of being angelic when in reality it might be far from the truth. Illness takes a huge toll on the caregiver and the family’s happiness frays around the edges. Reality is a bitter pill that unfortunately cannot be swallowed in one go.

The book was engrossing and I felt for Alice but I wanted more depth (because I hadn’t seen the film then) and also, how the medical industry (my experience tells me it’s the correct word to use) views the disease, to get the complete picture.

I recently saw the movie nearly a year later. I don’t remember how the book ended but the ending of the movie seemed to be less hopeful than the book.

The movie ended with the following lines said beautifully by Lydia, Alice’s daughter, played with an intensity that only Kristen Stewart could have brought to the part. Along with Julianne Moore who plays Alice, she is the beating heart of the movie and makes it what it is.

“Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.” – Angels of America.



Of epistles and epistolary connections

Writing letters was quite common during my grandparents time when telephones weren’t ubiquitous and very few households had it. They wrote letters to each other to apprise each other of the happenings in their lives. They speak very fondly of those days, of waiting for a letter. They didn’t see each other for months and it was letters that connected them to each other, bridging the distance effortlessly. Look at us with our smartphones, connected on multiple platforms but still there’s something missing. In saying too much too often we are perhaps missing the point.

We are surrounded by words, we use words to connect with others on social media and on the phone. How many people write letters (=epistles) or for that matter long emails in the age of WhatsApps, which is the opposite of instant and needs some time to be responded to. Letters are the epitome of personal. There’s something about the act of writing letters that makes me feel like I’m not a part of this dog-eat-dog world or that I belong to a different time than the one I am living in (my sister says it’s a way of keeping illusions intact and delaying it being shattered by the real world).

Somehow a letter seems less intrusive but more revealing (if you know what I mean you have penpals) than a conversation when you only know the person online. It gives us the liberty to shape and build a narrative we want to present (quite like the image we create on social media) while being true to the self. Online or offline we are always telling our life stories. Also, there is the romance of it, how a letter feels in your hand. It is far more real than an email could ever be. Internet offers us many chances of finding like-minded people and connecting with them but texts can never be as personal as a letter.

The people I write to and who write to me, we have formed a unique bond that surprisingly goes beyond words. Even if communication happens via other channels the letters remain special.

Seeing the handwriting of someone you have never met is very personal but nobody thinks about it because of the way things have always been. Handwriting is a practical tool to write answers and get marks.

Writing to someone you have never met in real life teaches you to have faith beyond  what you see. Pen pals or email pals allow us to escape the tedium of reality without completely endangering ourselves. We think the person on the other side of the table can’t really hurt us. Apparently this is both naïve and idiotic. It can be foolhardy and dangerous if the person on the other side isn’t honest about who he or she is. And finding out later is nothing short of betrayal. Count yourself lucky if it doesn’t result in heartbreak.

Do people write letters in this day and age? They are dying tribe but they do exist. A lot of trust, patience and faith in the universe is required to sustain this habit. In life we get hurt. Our trust is destroyed by people who call themselves our friends (or acquaintances). So how do we sustain such a connection with so many unknowable variables? Is it by believing in the persona created by words but nothing to corroborate the fact in real life? Or something else? It works because we want to make it work and believe what the person on the other side says is true. Other than that, getting letters in the post is a feeling which cannot be described in words.

Did you have a pen pal? What has been your experience like?