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.

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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.

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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.

The perks of getting older

That urge to revisit. To take things slow. To see a film again. To read a much loved book again and not rush the process. It appears contradictory because as we grow older we realize we have less time. But really knowing something changes things, doesn’t it? I know I will never be able to read all the books I want, watch all the movies and series I want. Time is more limited than I had thought and flies far more quickly, especially when you are not paying attention. I realize being aware of your mortality is a good thing.

It is the strangest thing. On some days going through a day is hard with time barely passing, and getting to the next day is a struggle. Yet we struggle with time. If that is not a paradox I don’t know what is. If nothing life has a sense of humour. Irony is what makes the world go around.

 

Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo

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Having grown up in 1990s India, train journeys are familiar territory for me and they hold a special place in my heart. I connect them with carefree and simpler times when happiness was eating the fluffy son papdi that hawkers sell and getting a seat by the window, looking out at the ever changing terrain till I fell asleep. Trains are still the most affordable mode of transport for most middle class Indians but I suspect more than that it is the comfort of the familiar. The author of Rail Romance, Krupa Sagar Sahoo, is a Sahitya Akademi awardee and is a well known Odia writer. When I was offered a chance to review the book, I was excited to read the book (full discolusure – I am an Odia).

The first thing I noticed about the book was its cover (I always judge books by their covers!). I loved the vibrant cover designed by Tina Patankar which was so detailed that I was transported to the railway station. Incidentally this is probably the first book with a red cover that I own which isn’t gag worthy or too cutesy for its own good.

The stories set on the Coromandel Express appear in the first part of the book. Here Nakua, the fly travels on the Coromandel Express to see more of the world. In this section there are 7 interconnected stories. It was entertaining to watch Nakua’s thought process as he tried to make sense of why humans do what they do. His journey offered new insights into the 1999 super cyclone. As he saw different places, along with his worldview, mine appears to be shifted as well. I remember the gale force winds and the days being as dark as the night. There was no electricity for days. Of course, in Odisha we are no stranger to cyclones. When Cyclone Raya made its transit recently, the memories came rushing back.

The second part contains 10 independent short stories. Deftly woven into his stories are the conditions prevalent in the society. There are insights to be gleaned by reading between the lines. I am a product of this society and I may not agree with how it functions but the milieu was certainly familiar to me, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable. It is his narration with a sense of humour that kept me turning the pages. Some of the stories had me thinking long after I finished them. The Daughter, The Gypsy Girl, The Hidden Stream, Party on a Pay Day and The Curse of the Cobra were the ones that stood out.

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Book review – Emotion and Relationships by Sadhguru

Disclaimer – Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book(s) in return for a honest review.

Relationships and Emotion written by Sadhguru, are two books in one volume. It is a good combination because you can’t have relationships without emotion and vice versa. These books are for people who want to live their life free from the tyranny of emotions which make and break our relationships.

I didn’t know much about Sadhguru​ or his philosophy before these books came my way.  These books questioned and shattered some illusions I had all my life​. I wasn’t willing to part with them because there is comfort in the familiar but they don’t work for me so it’s time to let them go.

Relationships – Bond or Bondage

We are all a little less rational (or not at all) when it comes to our emotions and how we conduct our relationships. Life amounts to nothing without the connections we have forged and yet we struggle with them. In the introduction he talks about how easily bond can become bondage. So with that thought I delved into the book and got some surprising insights. The book is mostly in question and answer format which makes it relatable to the masses since most of us are looking for answers to the same questions.

In the first chapter, Within Four Walls, Sadhguru talks about love, the nature of romantic relationships, marriage, reproduction and parenting. He also talks about the nature of bondage in each scenario and the level of detachment needed to live in this world with joy. 

The reason why you go into love is because it is supposed to bring you blissfulness. Love is not the goal; blissfulness is the goal.

Sadhguru denounces the idea of perfection in any sphere of life related to the material world.

You life will become wasteful and fanciful if you seek such things.

The second chapter named Friend or Foe is a misnomer because he talks not only about what friendship means and who is a true friend, but also about who’s a leader and what is leadership. Through a story he aptly shows that friendship cannot be sustained if it’s superficial and built only on commonality. Haven’t we all experienced it – losing ‘friends’ as soon as we changed schools, colleges, workplaces, cities and realized that there’s connecting us together?

In Cosmic Connect, the cyclical nature of life is discussed when a question is asked why the same emotion, situation, pattern keeps on repeating in our lives. He explains the cyclical nature of life and how we go about it depends on what we want from life. 

Cyclical movement is the basis of everything that you call physical in the universe. 

In the last chapter Beyond Life and Death​ he asks us why we crave relationships. I appreciate Sadhguru saying that some people won’t be able to function to their optimum if they are not bound by a relationship. He also states that different people have different needs and marriage or an intimate relationship might not work for everyone.

I understood the nature of time and space because of the way we relate to our bodies, and how it relates to life and death but didn’t understand the difference between intelligence and intellect the way Sadhguru explained it.

He talks about energy based bonds which transcend life, like the one between master and disciple.

All other relationships come together for convenience. Once it is over, it just breaks apart.

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October is not a love story.

There are few movies where I immediately want to go back to the world it portrayed and my first thought after watching Shoojit Sircar’s October was just that – I have to watch it again. This is not a movie review but a discussion. Spoilers ahead.

For some reason October reminded me of The Big Sick (another movie I wanted to see again as soon it finished) even though the leads Dan and Shiuli aren’t romantically inclined like the real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon in the former. Perhaps because like The Big Sick, October dealt with something catastrophic happening out of the blue with humour.

I am foolish. I am naive. I am easily irritated. I am moody. I get affected by things which most people shrug off without a care. I am frequently annoying and have been known to speak out of turn when I should have kept my head down and stare at my feet. I hold on and be direct in the wrong-est of situations, and do things because I want to without thinking of returns in the hope of things working out even when there’s no chance of it. In short your typical Aries. (No better time than Aries season to embrace who I am.) So I could relate to Dan’s character in the film October more than I’d like to admit.

I don’t believe October is about a romantic relationship of any kind. Affection, connection and love are different things. But people have always seen what they wish to see. Although Dan and Shiuli work in the same hotel they had barely interacted with each other outside of work when she was conscious. Most of their interactions are after the accident. Shiuli cannot reciprocate Dan’s affection or repay what he has done for her but he continues tirelessly without hoping for much, a little (flash of) recognition maybe, and, of course, her recovery.

Dan finds a cause which changes the direction of his life. He insinuates himself into something which actually isn’t any of his business. And through this obstinacy and refusal to even admit a negative outcome or become jaded he actually gives hope to a family in a trying time, in a situation devoid of much hope.

Why did he fight for her? The world asks him why does he care so much. Can’t he get a grip on himself? Why is he so affected? To which he says how can you be so unaffected! They see him throwing his life away for a girl he barely knew because of something she said before the accident. They were colleagues not friends. It is perhaps feeling for someone who met a grisly end for no fault of her own and caring because they got the rough end of the deal which could have easily happened to him. Though I am the last person on the planet to admit this, I have seen enough of life to acquiesce that some occurrences in life cannot be explained in rational terms.

Setting the movie in a hospital is bound to connect with people. There is no one in the world untouched by sickness or hasn’t been a patient or a caregiver and dealt with such things in a family member or a relative. And though they are not happy places for me, I have made my peace with them. Knowing about medicines, chit chatting with the staff while waiting for the doctors felt like familiar territory.

Gitanjali Rao is outstanding as the mother of Shiuli trying to hold it together when faced with mounting hospital bills and imminent death of her eldest child. Her children, Shiuli’s siblings, go to tuitions and study in the hospital and she continues to take classes at IIT Delhi, sticking to their routines for the sake of sanity. I have loved her stunning short films as an animator and now adore her as an actor.

Banita Sandhu as Shiuli is especially amazing in the slow recovery and progress scenes.

The cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhyay is amazing; the quiet moments never drag but allow you to appreciate what is unfolding with an intensity that is immersive. The changing of seasons while circumstances in life’s barely keep pace with it is captured well. It took me back to a time in my life when I couldn’t do much except note the passage of seasons. This is what good cinema does, you experience the film and connect it with the story of your life.

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