Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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First off how good is the minimalist cover of Olive Kitteridge? I really thought I got lucky with this edition not just because I love lighthouses.

I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing. I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for exceptional storytelling.

Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.

Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. Of learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. Of being sick with longing and in need of solace. Unless one has experienced it, understanding Henry and Olive’s powerful connections outside their marriage won’t make sense. Of the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age.

Of tender unexpected love that has no name but just gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate and can never exist in the real world. Of deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.

Of truth and saying how you feel and being abrasive but straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. Of the words uttered carelessly and the damage they cause.

Of the meek and submissive becoming villainous when it is they who wield the power. It makes you wonder how people change or if you knew them in the first place.

Of small things, things of no consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.

Of compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. Of being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you that’s all that matters.

Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.

Continue reading “Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout”

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Miss me? Not really.

Miss me? Not really is the short answer. For the long answer read below.

I do but I don’t want to deal with all the things that follow in your wake. It’s a chore and like blizzards always intense. Why is it never sunny? It was a deadly winter and I need to survive.

Why so many lies or omissions of truth, in your words? Why promises that you won’t keep and had never intended to keep in the first place, made only for the sake of making yourself look good?

I catch myself thinking you would like Inspector Montalbano or tell you that I found peace in volunteering. I wanted to tell you my grandpa was dying. I wanted to ask you what the right thing to do was. But I could never get past how formal and cold we had become. And you had never shown any interest before in spite of knowing the circumstances. So I absolve myself from all guilt.

Was this only entertainment for you? What was it – the thrill of the chase? How cliched and, you know how I hate cliches. All of us become the things we hate.

It doesn’t matter now because I have seen through you. Perhaps there is a price you pay for being naive stupid. Believing you was my Achilles heel. The amazing thing is the disbelief because I am not usually the kind of person who gets caught up in this kind of drama. You proved me wrong yet again and my only consolation is for everything in life there is a first time (and hopefully a last time).

Why is there never a straight answer but only roundabout clues? It’s a maze I am tired of navigating and red herrings I am tired of dodging. You probably think people have a lot of time on their hands to brood over things. Let me correct you. They don’t. Survial takes precedence. Wading through your mess without complaining, I laugh to myself thinking about it now. Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t even like getting my feet wet and here I am drowning. I don’t even know how I got here. Oh wait you knew I disliked it yet continued to pour water saying it will quench my thirst.

What’s the use of saying pretty please, listen to me? What will I do with it, you selfish pig? Once someone tells you truth, instead of acknowledging it, you wave it aside and walk away only to come back to stomp on their hearts. I wish you would vanish into the unknown never to be seen. Wait, that’s not completely true. In the day of social media I check if you are alive by stalking you online like normal people. Not like you, making your presence known whenever you happen to drop by.

Continue reading “Miss me? Not really.”

Beginning by Mitra Samal

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Note – The book Beginning written by poet Mitra Samal is published by Authors Press. She is a bookish acquaintance and gave me her book in return for a review. I was initially reluctant because I was busy and and poetry isn’t something which can be rushed. She agreed to wait and I thank her for patience.

There are 50 poems in the book and I read them over the course of a month. Beginning is accessible poetry for the common reader where people like me can appreciate poems without feeling the need to whip out a dictionary. Her simplicity is her strength. It is written in free verse. The poet said it was better than forcing it to rhyme and I agree.

Fairy Tales started well about the girl wanting to be the hero and her own saviour then became about a working woman being better than a homemaker, a bias which I never truly understood. Because work is work and both contribute to the GDP. What a woman chooses to do should be of equal importance. Unfortunately we are far from a society like that.

Still got a Chance reminded me of Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom which had the insider’s point of view as opposed to the outsider looking in here.

Her poem Scars covers the entire gamut and this line really resonated with me – Scars that stay whether or not you want them.

Trust me Father is about an offspring telling a parent to let her fight her own battles. Letting go as an Indian parent (most just want to swoop in and take care of the problems for their children) is hard even when the children are adults. In this regard, like in many others, animals are far better than humans.

Will things be back to normal again? asks a line in Will the Rains Feel the Same. The normal is always changing but it remains our single minded pursuit to go back to what doesn’t exist and only remains in our memories. We know in our hearts it will never be the same again but that has never stopped us from yearning for it. Continue reading “Beginning by Mitra Samal”

Possession

If any book was made for a reread it’s Possession by Antonia Susan Byatt. The language lends itself to a slower reading with multiple pauses, not the way I read it. Initially I required pauses but as the book progressed I became breathless with anticipation. The story shifts from the past to the present and unlikely but delicious connections are forged. A literary mystery with a difference. I’m way under qualified to talk about Possession. Consider this a book appreciation post, if you may.

It was a slow start with too many characters and their back stories, with some passages dragging in between but the plot and the writing more than made up for it. I raced to the end, and this after having seen the film should tell you what kind of a book it is.

This book made me work hard, like the few classics I have read do but none had actual poetry in them. The poems took me back to school (the way we were required to study it but we didn’t have long epic poems). The poems were interwoven so delicately that I actually read all of them though not in order and, of course, I couldn’t understand everything. Out of all the poems Swammerdam stood out for me.

What surprised me was the amount of natural science present in this book about the Victorian romance of two poets. And it is clever because the year 1859 was an important year for biology. It was the year Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. I could appreciate the book better because I knew some of the things being talked about. Who would have thought my biology background would lead to a greater appreciation of this splendid book. Continue reading “Possession”

Of action and reaction

Life teaches you the most amazing of lessons in the simplest of ways. I met a friend’s friend and was astonished by his generosity and uber coolness. A combination of easy charm and good parenting (or is it all a facade)? Some people are born cool I suppose. So unassuming and therein lies their charm. Falling in love with such a person would be easy but I suspect there is more to it than what meets the eye. Because I have a friend that is pretty chill too. But you can’t go in unless he chooses to let you in.

Newton’s third law – of action and reaction. A few bad experiences have made me a cynic, a bitter individual unable to open my heart completely to life, be it people or situations. I judge people harshly, question their motives and then again go back to being myself. But I see that changing. I realize I can’t carry on living like this, like life is a burden. Life is a gift. Every day has the potential to be a good day unsullied by the burdens of the past. Once the lessons are learnt it is time to let it go. It is time to stop mourning and forgive others for past mistakes. Because there is nothing to be done about something which happened in the past and me dwelling on it is only poisoning the present. Yes, I will never be cool enough not to care even if I act like I don’t give a damn. It’s just that with age I have learnt to act better, and I have actually learnt to let most things go. I need breathing room not in the least because I’m claustrophobic.

No Deadline for Love

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No Deadline for Love by Manasi Vaidya is funny. It provided me with laughs galore on a cold winter day when nothing seemed to go right. I loved the hot tempered Megha. I like real protagonists with frizzy hair, who are not in a hurry to straighten it, and issues with controlling their temper. As real as they come. I would have rated it higher if advertising jargon didn’t have me glossing over some lines.

I found my copy in the bookfair and it appears to have been autographed! I wouldn’t be caught dead with a book whose cover is bright pink but with No Deadline for Love I got more than my money’s worth. I do hope that she writes more books. I don’t know if laughter is the best medicine but it sure is the greatest distraction. Nothing like sarcasm to keep the pain at bay.

Now coming to the point, turns out in the Indian context there is a deadline. Not necessarily for love (because in their book only arranged marriages exist!) but definitely for marriage. People take your pictures when you’re eating in a canteen. Neighbours ask you when is the feast. In my opinion, it is quite presumptous of them to think that they are going to be invited. It might just be a court wedding and a small reception. If you don’t get hitched before 30 you turn into a pumpkin! Of course the last part people don’t add but that is what I am hearing. Apparently, the glow of the skin fades – said to me by a cab driver when he found out my age. He even insulted my parents for keeping me unmarried. You know what’s funny – he couldn’t figure out my age and had to ask me and then the spiel was neverending till I reached home. Well I was in a good mood so I humoured him and wrote him off as a village idiot. But turns out he was an idiot with principles. He returned my phone which I had left in the cab in a hurry to get away from him.

Continue reading “No Deadline for Love”

A Suitable Boy

I found Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy at the back of my cupboard after searching for it in all the usual places. It was a trial getting it out but I did get it out without damaging anything. Aired and dusted I’m ready for his words to shine a warmth this dreary winter.
I bought the book, rather my father found this lovely copy for me in a bookshop in Bombay nearly a decade ago when a friend rated it highly on Goodreads and it moved up on my TBR (thank you Goodreads). This is my second attempt at completing the book but third attempt finishing the book. The fault is mine alone. I was in a phase where reading was tough. I already know what will happen having read the relationship parts staying up one wintry night to find the answer to the million dollar question – who will Lata marry? I know it is abominable and I usually don’t spoil books like that. I was unwell then and couldn’t sit much so reading it in its entirety (the longest novel ever!) was out of question. Ergo, I found a way to get to the end without breaking my back and straining my wrists (bit of an inside joke, read the book to know what it means).
This time around I have decided I won’t be taking a risk. I will be reading it on the table, sitting on the chair near the window with sun on my face, if I’m lucky. Winter will be infused with the warmth of his words. If you have seen the book you will know what I mean and mine is a first edition, a hardbound copy with golden pages which is older than me.