The characters in Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth

I found Here on Earth in a book fair I shouldn’t have gone to but went and, if gone,  I shouldn’t have bought anything which was not on my to-read list, but I did (or so I thought). I saw the cover and it instantly jumped out at me. I looked inside to convince myself to buy it, and off went my resolution. Finding it was accident, serendipity or chance, I don’t know. Neither did I know that I would read it over that weekend abandoning another great nonfiction book I was reading. The name seemed familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it till I came home. It was on my Goodreads to-read list. To think I had added it three years back and it has landed on my shelf only now, without me ever searching for it makes me want to attribute it to fate but I doubt Fate bothers itself with such puny things. Happenstance more like.

I never thought I would like magical realism, and lyrical prose usually annoys me but this was different. In a way it reminded me of The Last Song of Dusk, a book I had liked  but I wasn’t too keen on reading something like that in the near future. But a fair warning, this is not a romance. It is a cautionary tale of doomed love and obsession.

When we are young we believe in so many unrealistic things, like living in a fairytalish world, where everyone gets what they deserve, and every thing works out in the end. Alas, reality isn’t so simple or straightforward. It doesn’t matter if something is fated or not. It’s how we deal with what has happened and what we ultimately do.Here on Earth makes it amply clear.

There was a line in the book, which I cannot find now (I didn’t stop to copy lines until I was near the finish line), about lions and lambs being warm blooded, which chilled me to the bone. They are not as different as the world makes them out to be. Predator and prey are their ecological roles but they belong to the same class (Mammalia). How could I, a student of biology, not have considered this fact before.

Alice Hoffman’s descriptions are otherworldly but felt so real that you want to believe every single word, and hope it doesn’t break your heart but it does. A thing which isn’t real can feel realer than the everyday reality (that we mostly choose not to dwell on). That is the power of fiction written from a honest place; I am surprised every time it shakes me up and makes me see things anew. Continue reading “The characters in Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth”

Women and Men in My Life by Khushwant Singh or telltales on the rich and (not so) famous

Khushwant Singh may his soul rest in peace. In the time which has elapsed his soul must have found a body. We will know when the writer in the person starts to erupt out of its being.

Khushwant Singh’s memoir Women and Men in My Life is divided into two parts, women he knew or wanted to know (I have a good reason for saying that) in the first part and men he knew in the second part. Twelve women and eight men, in fact.These are sort of character sketches not critical portraits but nevertheless sharp, witty and provocative reading material. If you like to gossip behind people’s backs that is.

He loved women with beauty and personality and was bowled over by women who had both. He was drawn to different women, like moth to flame to seek out their stories. He wanted to be captivated and captivate them, spend time with them to understand where they came from, how it shaped their personality and made them who they are.  Women he wrote about varied from Amrita Shergill (the only name I was familiar with) to the beggar maid who he didn’t know, to people who formed a part of his social circle.

The men he wrote about, in far less detail I might add, included Chetan Anand and Inder Sain Johar among others.

Khushwant Singh appeared to be an incorrigible gossip, taking great pleasure in exposing others and loved a scandal. What I liked  about him ,was that he was a great sport when the joke was on him and thought nothing of saying what he felt, even if it was downright offensive. He lived life on his own terms and was completely unapologetic about his choices. But how his wife and family put up with it, is what I would like to know.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that it is about real people he’s met during his lifetime.  Too saucy for it to be believable and sarcastic to the point of being caustic.

While reading this book the omnipresent question in my head manifested even more strongly- how much liberty can a writer take? And how many friends walked out of his life in a huff or threatened to kill him, after the book got released?I can never do what he did, writing an expose on people he knew personally and some he called friends.

I read the book in between hospital visits so I can’t be a fair judge of the writing but addictive it definitely was. When I was in the hospital. It promptly lost its charm when I came home. Only to be picked up again when I needed to be distracted.

This is a book from my grandpa’s library but thank goodness he hasn’t read it. He got it as a gift with a magazine subscription. I recently found out that nine sketches were missing from the book when I saw a much fatter book sitting on a shelf in a book store. Honestly you can never trust the freebies that come with a subscription.

Nonfiction which reads like fiction, blurring boundaries. A book which can teach you how to draw different characters while keeping you entertained, with many cringe worthy and is he for real moments, is how I will remember the book.