Category Archives: real world

My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

 

Late at night reading the stories from Madhulika Liddle’s My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories I knew why I waited so long before reading the book. The devious machinations the characters devise to get their sanity back is the stuff nightmares are made of. The twist in the tale endings leave you feeling bleak and second guess everything in life. I read this fine collection of short stories at the wrong time when I was wallowing in negativity. It resulted in a black mood I couldn’t shake off very easily. The hangover of hopelessness, thinking of duplicitous people and the likelihood of being taken for a ride being were swimming in my head.

Reading these stories made me feel like the writer really enjoyed writing it. The writing is effortless and the dialogue is crackling (you can almost hear it). It was a compulsive read for me but the stories will remain with me for a long time to come.

Some stories are deliciously macabre and reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Landlady which had us flabbergasted in school.  It also reminds me of  Daphne du Maurier’s The Rendevous and Other Stories.

We follow the trail in fiction and believe what we are told. What if there’s an unreliable narrator? Sum Total delves into the mind of a troubled young woman. Forced to be good by her mother, she is under immense pressure. Her way of dealing with people who annoy her is to get rid of them. Turns out you don’t need blood and gore to write a chilling story.

Why do we make snap judgments about people? And more importantly, how accurate are they? We assume the friendly, gregarious ones are nice whereas surly, cantankerous people, who keep to themselves are not so nice, if not bad. In A Tale of a Summer Vacation, the fate of two sisters hangs in balance on their ability to decipher the world around them, and the people in it. The story is set in a village in Goa, which is wonderfully evoked.

Another such atmospheric tale is The Howling Waves of  Tranquebar. I could almost sense the changes in the weather. Two friends meet in Pondicherry while doing their own thing. Something happens in Tranquebar, which at first glance isn’t extraordinary, but not quite normal either. The truth when it comes out is something sinister. Also, it is close to being a story within a story, in a sense. The main narrative falls by and another narrative takes over. Towards the end both unite revealing the unimaginable twist. Continue reading My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

Youth is not wasted on the Young

When I was young
I believed in happy endings.
When I was young
I believed in the goodness of  people.
When I was young
I was idealistic enough to make the world a better place.
When I was young
I believed that love conquers all.
When I was young
I believed that a fantastic tomorrow awaited me.
When I was young
I believed that ideas could change the world.
When I was young
I believed  that everything happened for a reason.
When I was young
I believed that the universe gave you what you deserved.
(Now I know that the universe thrives on chaos and works according to its own structure with no one at the helm to control it.)
When I was young
I believed in a higher power.
(Now nature has taken this place and rightly so.)
When I was young
I chased happiness even if those moments were fleeting. 
When I was young
The rose tinted glasses were my constant companion.
When I was young
I saw the universe in black and white but there are were colours aplenty in my life.
When I was young 
I believed in impossible things  because I didn’t know that they were not possible.
When I was young
The possibilities were endless like the vast expanse of the blue sky.
When I was young
I just lived my life going with the flow.
(I was free from the analyses or a cynical view of the world.)

 

Thoughts on 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 Thoughts on the characters in Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth

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), 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 sickness and 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.

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.