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”

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Book review – I am Albert Ellis by Meenal Kelkar

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Dr. Albert Ellis needs no introduction. He is one of the greatest psychologists, the pioneer of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which is said to be the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have not studied psychology in any capacity but it has always fascinated me. So when the opportunity to review Dr. Anjali Joshi’s I am Albert Ellis (translated into English by Meenal Kelkar) came my way nobody was happier than me. It was a revelation. For people who are debating whether or not to go for therapy, read Albert Ellis and you will find the answer.

In the beginning we are introduced to Albert as a child and his family. With an absentee father and neglectful mother, he looks after his younger brother and sister and becomes self-reliant very early in life.

We all live together in one house but separately.

Isn’t that the reality for most of us? Ensconced firmly in our (technological) bubbles we come to the surface only when we are in dire need of real time and face-to-face social contact.

We see how in college Albert becomes self confident, forms opinions and sticks to them, even getting expelled as a result of standing for what he believed in.

The book talks about him studying in the public libraries of New York and forming his views on sexology by reading numerous books and papers. We see the trials and tribulations of getting his work published and being rejected by publishers. Because he uses words which most people shy away from it makes his publishers uncomfortable.

He starts seeing clients and his success as a marriage counsellor leads to the formation of Love and Marriage Problems Institute (LAMP). To make it official, he decides to register his organization and get a degree in psychology. He decides to train in psychoanalysis and the course of history is forever altered. Psychoanalysis as it was then didn’t appeal to his scientific mind. The philosophy of Epictetus resonated with him and thus was born Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a new approach to psychotherapy. The theory of REBT states that our behavior and emotions originate from our beliefs towards the events, not the events themselves.

Continue reading “Book review – I am Albert Ellis by Meenal Kelkar”

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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Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

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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?

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Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil

Time flies. Staying at home for extended periods of time when I was unwell I could feel the passage of seasons, days going by excruciatingly slow, each day with its own set of struggles and now I cannot believe such a large chunk of time has passed. The descent of time?

Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett is a collection of short stories I wanted to reread as soon as I finished the book, and it has taken me nearly two years to do it. I bought The Voyage of Narwhal immediately after finishing it, and recently The Air We Breathe has come into my possession but I still haven’t read them. What am I scared of  – her not meeting my exceeded expectations or idiotically trying to collect all her other books (very hard to find in India) while not reading the ones I do have. Life is too short to wait for a complete collection. You read along and hope for the best.

In The English Pupil, Carolus Linnaeus is nostalgic for the past and remembers his apostles (read pupils), who went about the world carrying forward his legacy, sending him specimens and discovering new species. All of his apostles are dead now, and he’s inching closer towards his own.

Linnaeus and his wife remind me of an old couple, who are in the autumn of their lives and are not at peace with it or with each other. (What is the point of companionship then?) His wife doesn’t care about his work or his legacy. His work fulfilled him but didn’t make him rich. The family’s demands weren’t being met and to her that was what mattered the most. She was the pragmatic sort. A dreamer has to be paired with a realist. It is a question of survival, you see. Continue reading “Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil”

Going back to Chokher Bali

Sometimes when we wait for something for a long time and then we get it, we are often underwhelmed by the actual thing.  Has it ever happened to you? Is it the great expectations built up over time to mythical proportions that did me in or something else? I don’t quite understand. It seems the older I get there are more questions and there are no definite answers. And to think as a child I had thought it would be the opposite. As an adult I would have the solutions to all the problems in the world and have a rollicking good time with no one telling me what to eat and to come home before it gets dark.

I finally had a chance to see Chokher Bali and it was a let down. I had loved the book and after searching for a version with Hindi subtitles (in vain) this dubbed version fell into my lap years later when I wasn’t even looking for it. I wanted to see the adaptation by Rituparno Ghosh having loved many of his movies, especially Raincoat which left an indelible mark on me. But I may be biased because I absolutely adore O Henry’s The Gift of Magi which it is adapted from.

Eons back I wrote a blubbering post about being stunned by Chokher Bali where I said nothing of any real value. I was amazed by the level of manipulation  in the book when I had read it 6-7 years ago. A lifetime ago really.  Aishwarya Rai was good in Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat (so was Ajay Devgn). So I was even more astonished by her dismal performance here. She doesn’t do justice to the part of Binodini. But the rest of the cast were good in their roles. I am now on the look out for Anurag Basu’s version which has Radhika Apte as Binodini. I have a feeling I am going to like it.

In between I have found a copy of the book. The cover is intriguingly underplayed and is in shades of grey. This one is Radha Chakraborty’s translation, different from the one I had read before. I am familiar with her having read her translation of Shesher Kobita, published as Farewell Song.

Here’s to rereading and rediscovering Chokher Bali anew.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

The movie Lipstick Under My Burkha is a brutal attack on patriarchy. No wonder the CBFC had a problem with it. But thanks to the controversy it generated a huge buzz and many people are in theatres to see it (besides perverts that is), who would have otherwise missed it. It is doing good business even in small towns (How do I know? I live in one). The movie is exceptional because of the way it shows women as they are. Messy, emotional, pliable, virtuous, out of control, not always keeping it together, and certainly not perfect but beautiful, flawed creatures.

Four women in different stages of life. It is set in Bhopal though it could be any small town in India. Ratna Pathak Shah is outstanding as ‘Buaji’, an identity slapped on her for so long that she has forgotten what her name is. She rediscovers romance and wants to live and love a little but at her age it’s a taboo. A college student played by Plabita Borthakur, Rehana, longs to leave her burkha behind and dance with abandon. A beautician played by Aahana Kumra, Leela, wants to live life on her own terms unafraid of societal diktats. A tormented housewife, Shirin, played by Konkona Sen Sharma, is saddled with an abusive husband with no way out.

We see the different ways women are subjugated. It was depressing to see how they go about their lives trying to fulfill their desires in secret. The only way to live out their dreams and fantasies is when they are hidden from the world, their families, neighbours, everyone. If it is an inhospitable environment for their dreams imagine the world they are living in. They go to immense lengths to conceal their true selves just to live in this world without being ostracized.

It is always women who lead lives of quiet desperation. Mostly. There wouldn’t be a woman in the country who wouldn’t identify with at least one of the characters.

It’s that rare film where every actor is perfectly cast. Vikrant Massey (Leela’s love interest) and Sushant Singh (Shirin’s husband) are fantastic in their roles, especially the latter which could have easily been a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. I’m yet to see A Death in the Gunj but Vikrant Massey is superb here as the on-again-off-again boyfriend. Continue reading “Lipstick Under My Burkha”