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.

Continue reading “Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo”

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Intelligent design and evolution

How do you explain to a ten year old that there is no God when asked how did the first human originate without telling them about evolution because she does not know what the word means?

I told her it happened by itself. There is no intelligent design and no sentient God, and so he didn’t create the first human. We evolved from other primates (okay I used the word monkeys). Of course she didn’t understand. If adults have a problem understanding evolution and say that it was intelligent design, how can a little child understand the concept.

She asked me if there is no god why are there so many temples and why do so many people worship them? I said people do it to to placate themselves if they have done something wrong. It is something that gives them hope or rather sells them hope and grants them peace of mind  letting them believe that everything will work out in the end. What I didn’t say – it is also a way of absolving responsibility and laying it at the feet of God since he controls the universe (even a leaf won’t budge without his permission). The world was not created by God but rather man created another man (typical) and designated him as the creator. Of course the Hindu pantheneon has 330 million gods and godesses (no I don’t know their names).

I had never been the one to follow rituals just for the sake of following it. I have always asked why how what where to the annoyance of my parents and relatives. I refuse to follow rituals just for the sake of following it to appease someone beyond my reach, who may or may not exist.

I hadn’t always been an atheist; I believed in a God which I had never seen or heard (thanks to my upbringing), who would come to my rescue when the need arose. But now I believe in the power of the universe. I believe that mother nature is superior to all.

Religion failed me in the darkest parts of my life. The parts of my life when I needed hope to stay afloat and I couldn’t find solace in religion. I found strength in myself and it was the people who loved me that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wanting to be saved

A Coldplay kind of day today, and when Death and All His Friends come to your rescue, you listen. It was not all​ Yellow not by a long stretch but​ blue and no one will bleed for you or die trying except perhaps your family (their job description since the day you were born) and a few close friends (if you are lucky).  So what are you cribbing about, you ungrateful wretch. Get over yourself. Live, thrive, survive (whatever suits you). No one can Fix You except you.

No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge

It’s like I ​heard the song for the first time. For a long time the song was misnamed in my playlist as Lovers in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how a song will be whatever you want it to be in that moment – romantic, cathartic, healing, inspiring and so much more.

Sometimes a song saves you. The memories associated with it, the lyrics or the music itself (words become superfluous and it is the rhythm which carries you through).

​Watching This is Us brought Mandy Moore back into my life. For me Mandy Moores’s Cry is not about the lyrics but about nostalgia for me. It is about a bygone era when me and my friends used to read Nicholas Sparks (oh the horror). Now if I see A Walk to Remember (a fate comparable to being inside an MRI machine) I will definitely sob but it will be due to laughing hard and snorting at the dialogues. Thank god we grew up. Idealism has no place in the life of old people. (No, don’t tell me 30 is the new 20!) Youth and idealism go together just fine, complementing each other in envisioning a better future full of realized dreams, lost opportunities nowhere on the horizon and the harsh truth yet to dawn. The blinders come off eventually, either voluntarily or forcefully.

Sometimes humour saves you. Satire, sarcasm, nonsense, black – all shades of humour. Your sense of humour is the most important thing about you, so keep it close and try your best not to lose it in the chaos that is everyday life, unless you live on one of many moons of Jupiter. It might desert you and vanish from time to time but prepare a grand welcome when it reappears. Continue reading “Wanting to be saved”

What’s the plan?

What do you to say to someone, who is a new acquaintance and has no idea where you come from, and thinks that she sees you as you are (how is a conversation or two enough to know a person that I will never know but yes there are exceptions), sees so much potential in you that you wonder if you know yourself at all (lasts for one shaky moment and then it passes as quickly as it had come), and wonders out loud (while you are standing right there) about what are you doing with your life. What’s the plan now? I am sick of this question and I suppose people are sick of waiting for me to figure things out.

It is in everyone’s best interest to shrug it off and run as fast from the conversation and the person in question. I will run as fast as my hypermobile joints will carry me and as long as I don’t end up in a hospital, it should be fine. On a completely unrelated note, it’s true the sure thing boat does not take you anywhere and even if you can’t run your own life, you can at least run away from it, and wallow in self pity. Till life smacks you back into place and drills some sense into your stubborn skull, beyond which there is hopefully a receptive and working brain.

An acquaintance was shocked  when I said that I had decided not to work in the field I was interested in at the moment and she took it to mean forever. Why are people so quick to jump to conclusions and worse, they think they have all the facts? It is difficult to explain the present as it is, forget about the past. It has taken years (basically all my life) to become the person I am today.

How do you explain the many false starts and disappointments? How being ill played spoilsport and took away even the will to live? They cannot be so casually dismissed and taken so lightly as people do. Words fail to communicate where and when they are needed the most.

Keeping mum is the only thing to do here since explanations will always fall short. Trust me, I have tried explaining and it serves no purpose other than making me look like a babbling idiot, frothing slightly at the mouth with a glint in my eyes (She is gone bonkers is what they believe and I do nothing to convince them otherwise). Total radio silence is sometimes the best thing.

But if you can bask in the glory of nothingness and be at peace with where you are in life, and proclaim it gleefully to the world then there is nothing better than that. Sit back and enjoy the puzzled looks on their faces as they try to reconcile what they see with what they know about your situation, and how you should feel.

Thoughts on The Heat and Dust Project- How (not) to tell a book what you feel about it

 

 The Heat and Dust Project is a travel memoir and not just a travelogue as the title says. It is about the two people who are married to each other and how their relationship changes when they are travelling through India, to discover it and themselves in the process. It is about the feel of the place and the people they meet there, more than the place itself. They, along with the places they visit, are the main characters in their own book.

They have dared to show things as they are, and shown themselves in less than flattering light many a time. Their relationship is there for everyone to see and that can’t have been easy. Two writers in the house and both fiercely opinionated and stubborn. It must be have one hell of a writing and editing process. I, for one, would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see how it came to be the book it is.

Reading the book  shortly before an impending trip, it fell into my lap at just the right time. I bought the book a few months back and hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Then one fine day it struck me that it would make a great gift for a friend of mine who has the wanderlust and frequently travels with her better half. I read the authors’ interviews to know more about them and their project and I thought I will read  just the author’s note to get a feel of the book. Then to get a better idea I read the introduction and before I knew it I was reading the book.

The strange thing is, whenever I read nonfiction (which is not very often) I only want to read more nonfiction. Initially it was a slow read, I was savouring every moment and nonfiction is more powerful in the way one experiences it, probably because one feels that it is something which has actually happened, real and tangible. The writing is conversational but still literary. A good balance I thought.

Anxiety is a strange but not uncommon response to beauty. It is mostly exhibited by people with a talent for stress.

Devapriya or D as she calls herself says this when they were going gaga over the beauty in Jaisalmer and thought they might not be able to do justice to its breathtaking gorgeousity (yes that is a word). At times like these I wished the book had some photographs.

I finally found someone, to whom dusk matters and affects, in equal measure. Finally a person who has a relationship with the setting sun, a person who has revelations at dusk. And just like me, dusk is a harbinger of hope for her. How a moment captured during twilight becomes perfectly stored in one’s memory has always been a mystery to me. A marker which nature gives us every single day, to take stock of the day, to pause and reflect.

Continue reading “Thoughts on The Heat and Dust Project- How (not) to tell a book what you feel about it”

(Not) In Judgement

A judgmental person is shown the mirror.


Judging people sitting from a high throne
Who are you?
Have you never made a mistake?
If not how are you human?
Which planet have you come from?
Go back! 
There is no place
 for people like you here.
Sitting in judgment on friends
for what they choose to share.
They consider you an insider,
the story of their lives is precious.
Is it to be listened to with full concentration
or with half a mind sitting in judgment?
They talk of experiences you will never have.
Of the people you will never meet.
Of the places you will never go.
They give you a window into a new world.
Sharing their highs and lows,
moments of ecstasy,
pain and confusion.
For what?
Not to be judged, surely.
So that you may live,
more than one life.
Sitting in judgment on family.
For the things they do.
For the things they do not do.
For the people they are (or appear to be).
For the people they are not.
What will please you, pray tell?
If the world is run to your diktats and fancies,
my way or the highway style?
Sitting in judgment on strangers.
People you come across in everyday life.
The fleeting connections
which touch us or pass us by.
Subjecting them to your petty judgment
without even knowing them.
Do you know yourself?
Set aside all judgment.
Look at yourself.
How you really are.
Not what you want to be.
Not what you appear to be.
Just as you are.
It would make a world of difference
to you.