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 a compelling narrative.

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.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. It is learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. It is about the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age. It is about finding companionship when you least expect it. It is about tender unexpected love that has no name but which gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate. It is a deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.

It is about the truth and being straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. It is about the meek and submissive becoming vile when it is they who wield the power.

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

It is about compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. It is 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”

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.”

Of (fr)enemies and friends

 Does anyone need friends? I never thought I would be standing here on our beautiful blue Planet (soon to be rendered uninhabitable) asking this question. If someone asked me this some years back, I would have looked at them as if they had sprouted two horns. Once upon a time I would have done anything for my friends. What changed? What if I say I don’t need any friends? Not because friendship as a relationship is dead. Maybe my standards are too high (I was  afraid that I have set them too low for the fear of disappointing myself) or I’m too idealistic (no surprise there). But really, is it just a plain give and take a la barter system?
Recently while talking to a friend, she said friendship is an emotional investment we make and why should we continue to make that investment when there is no return? That stopped me in my tracks (not literally because I was sitting on the bed). I was stunned into silence (that is no mean feat). Does everything have to have a tangible return? How did everything get equated in terms of returns? Barter system. Give and take. Take and give. I heard myself replying that it’s okay if there’s no return as long as there’s nothing negative, and that’s where I draw the line. Yeah, right. Being burnt to cinders, I mean. Another friend while answering a poll question, when asked what do you need friends for, ticked the option using them. She was honest enough to admit that it came automatically to her. I had no comeback for that. Being friends with people for the sake of using them is despicable. But then what do I know about the world.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light- Helen Keller

What if it’s a frenemy? You will probably end up in a hospital with a memory loss in that case!

There are categories – acquaintances, friends, enemies and frenemies. I have never understood the need for the last category. I’d love to have enemies (not in a sadistic way but in a way that says we are equal in our hate and dislike) but it’s frenemies I can’t stand. Yes I know who you are, you are fooling no one. You want to act like you are my friend then start taking acting classes! You criticize and hate a person but keep a person close only so you know what they are up to, so you can sabotage or disparage them behind their backs, yet acting like you have their best interests at heart. That is pretty low, like viruses who use their hosts for replicating and in return, destroy them. Win-Win. Give me an honest rascal any day, who has the guts to say what he/she feels to my face, rather than a “friend” who wouldn’t think twice before doing an “Et tu, Brute”, and is just waiting for the perfect time to strike.

I don’t need friends. I want friends, always have, to share my uninteresting life with (happy now). I have no place for frenemies in my life and neither the time or inclination to indulge in acting. Enemies, of course, are always welcome. A worthy adversary is worth one’s weight in gold. Or so I am told.

Two Pronouns and a Verb

Kiran Khalap’s Two Pronouns and a Verb is essentially the story of three friends and how they shape each other’s lives.

Who am I? Two pronouns and a verb, make up the most important question in our lives and this book doesn’t attempt to answer that for you. It’s a novel not a soul consciousness app that will help you achieve the zero state or whatever state is the most exalted! But yes, it attempts to do so for the two male protagonists : Arjun, a quiet and sensitive child with a finger on the pulse of the universe and Dhruv, a physically assertive child ready to fight at the slightest provocation. They grow up, both together and apart, and realize that true reality only shows its face when you question your illusions and see beyond them. The female protagonist, Eva is a happy-go-lucky German who came to India as a teenager with her mother (who was looking for salvation). She quickly adapts to the culture and becomes a part of the group.
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Some thing  fundamentally changes when Eva chooses one over the other while giving both the idea that she loves them. And maybe she did love both of them but two loves are never equal. Maybe I am too bourgeois in my thinking but you cannot claim to romantically love two people and be faithful to them at the same time. It causes a rift between Arjun and Dhruv, and this event changes the course of the story.

It went off to a promising start and I really wanted to love this book, which I did, but in places. It wasn’t a constant love, the prose was the opposite of flowing and loaded with adjectives and adverbs. And also the question the book opens with, and the answer we are supplied at the end-it was predictable, which was a letdown.

In some lines the dream like (magical realism?) narration worked but in entire paragraphs, it was jarring. Some lines made me take a look at my life or question  previously held beliefs and hence it was a slow read. Also, the prose hung heavy on me. While Arjun was introspecting so was I. When Dhruv burst into angry flames, I questioned why some things anger me so. Eva was without any expectations from life, unsullied by even violence, which astonished me. I was really disappointed that she didn’t grow much as a character. She doesn’t realize any greater truth. Maybe some people are that constant and unwavering and, hence are more stable.

I liked how the chapters were named, revealing a little of what is to follow, beckoning the reader into the story.

My favourite character was Arjun. I loved the way he viewed the world, as a vast interconnecting web and the bond he shared with all living beings.

In the book, Marathi words were not italicized. Some things cannot be translated, I agree, but for people who don’t know Marathi, a glossary at the back or their meaning in English beside the Marathi words would have been helpful.

As a person who loves the art of photography, I loved the bits about Arjun learning photography. He excelled in it due to his ability to connect seemingly unconnected things and his childlike way of looking at the world. Seen through his eyes, inanimate things reveal a pattern and animate beings speak to him because he understands the frequency at which they function.

Two Pronouns and a Verb, along with a few other books,  will always be special for me because I bought them while I was in the midst of the book publishing course – with all the ideas zooming in my head about how a good blurb and cover can make or break a book. I picked up this book because the title was intriguing (for a novel), the blurb was interesting (even if it didn’t do justice to the story inside) and the simple cover added to the charm.

If you want something easy and light don’t pick this up. The story has bits of Ayurvedic philosophy, the Naxalite movement, atonement through renunciation, downtrodden tribals and their way of life, and people (should we call them equalizers?) fighting for their rights and a friendship that endures.

Some quotes from the book that I managed to copy and lost many others that stood out.

I mistook toughness for resilience. 
 
Photography can slow down, speed up, reduce, enlarge any moment…
 
Life evolves as a spiral.
 
I am using this retelling to relive the rage built up inside me. The pain gets more bearable as the words suck the poison out of my memory, leaving empty pods scattered in my mind.
 
Every reaction creates karma and every suppression of reaction, creates disease.
 
We are always as close to the truth as we want.

I am Alive

People forget and forget so easily. Faces. Names. Feelings. Memories. Everything. Where did it all go? You wonder if it ever really happened in the first place. Where are the keepsakes and the letters? Why don’t people think in what might have beens? Why don’t they hold on till their last breath? Why wasn’t there a last phone call? Why let it go all so easily as if it didn’t matter in the first place at all?  Is getting over things so damn easy?

The face in the picture fades. The once loved name ceases to matter. The name which you once worshipped becomes just another word that you know but will never use. The song brings back memories of the days gone by and nostalgia is now tinged with sadness.

Feelings are the worse part,they say. But if you can’t remember that heady feeling, the crest like highs and the bottomless lows, then yours is a heart or a machine, I ask?

Fond memories, warped memories, twisted memories and downright bad memories are all better than having no recollection whatsoever.

What’s the use if everything is so ephemeral, the rational mind harps? You think you have a second chance at everything but you never do. Life is harsh dear girl, get used to it. Shut up, I say.  I will listen to you when the time is right (read after I’m dead).

I know everyone is waiting with  bated breath for your dreams to shatter, they can enjoy the noise and think, yes we are better off with the practical approach to life. All the pain will be worth it. Now she, the naive whimsical idealistic dreamer will know real pain. Oh victory at last !

O capricious fate you will never win. Not over me. The last laugh may not be mine but it certainly won’t be yours, get it? I live, love , get hurt and go through a gamut of emotions but that doesn’t stop me from delving back in with full force, with all my optimism and enthusiasm. With all I have.  Jaded? Me? Never for long. Nothing lasts forever. My yo-yo like nature allows me to spring back from both walk-on-the-cloud-nine happiness and drown-yourself-in-the-drug-of-your-choice sadness. It can happen in an instant and can even take years but happen it will. I am the same old soul, nothing tarnishes me forever.

Who will know the value of dreams if they aren’t shattered? Like the rose tinted glasses I keep handy, it’s okay if they are lost. I will find myself a new one or may be go off without it and see what the fuss is all about.

Bon voyage.