Christmas holds a warm place in my heart because of the tradition from the school days. I went to a Christian school (people’s words not mine) and every year students take part in the Christmas play which is basically staging the nativity scene. It was followed a long Christmas vacation. One time I essayed the role of a sheep and boy wasn’t I happy to be an animal on stage. Happiness didn’t cost much then. Those were good times.
One never has to go too far to look for a miracle. A stranger helped me to meet Ruskin Bond which was my very own Christmas miracle. I could never have imagined meeting him in my wildest dreams that too here in my hometown. It was a few days before Christmas and just like any other cold winter day. Somehow even old crusty me can’t call what happened a coincidence.
When I found out Mr Bond would be gracing a literary festival in the city I asked my sister to ask her friend who studied in the institution which was organizing it to inquire about the system of entry of non-school students. Her friend told her to tell me to gatecrash the event because it isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you it was a big deal. Clearly her friend doesn’t read many books. The guard at the door wasn’t budging if you weren’t in a uniform or didn’t have a pass. I asked on the festival’s online page and wrote an email asking if there’s a way for people like us to meet and greet Ruskin Bond but there was no response so I just decided to land at the venue which was quite unlike me. It was at the other end of the city but I was told to give it a try in spite of my illness and I did just that.
Why would a stranger, who has never seen you before in her life, cared if you meet (or didn’t meet) the one and only Ruskin Bond. And what are the odds that the stranger was dressed like you and lived in the same locality as you. And someone who wore the adjective bookish like a badge of honour. It was like at first sight. She was wearing a kurti in the same shade of green I was, it was the same length as mine and we had the same hair style even. Had I been plump like I’m now and not leaner like I was then, we really would have looked like two peas in a pod. (I just wanted to use the phrase.) Not believable? But then truth is stranger than fiction. The similarities end here. Unlike garrulous me she prefers silence.
She helped me realize my lifelong dream of seeing Ruskin Bond in flesh and blood with my very own eyes. I could meet and greet Ruskin bond because of her. Had I reached a minute before or a minute later, our paths wouldn’t have crossed. Should I call it destiny, fate, coincidence, serendipity or just my luck? I could have been a serial bomber for all she knew, wanting to go inside the venue to blow it up into smithereens but didn’t have a pass (obviously). Perhaps she could see in me the same thing which had brought her there, a love for the written word and the worlds created by Mr Bond and a fervent desire to hear the man whose words were synonymous with our childhood. Any interaction was the cherry on top of a richly iced cake. Mr. Ruskin Bond exudes warmth and generosity. He actually had twinkling eyes that we read about in books. Larger than life yet down to earth. Yes I’m gushing.
This holiday season spread good cheer, it is infectious. And when you feel too lonely, remember solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin.
Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is. – Saul Bellow
There are no words to express the way you feel when you hold the hand of an eleven year old, let her take charge and be your guide. For a few moments I felt like the schoolgirl I had once been, carefree, innocent and oblivious to what the world looked like to grownups. I thought I had left that self far behind but it was hiding in the open underneath the veneer of adulthood. I desperately hope (in spite of knowing that it will) growing up doesn’t rob her of her curiosity.
This child was knowledgeable about the technicalities of photography and that impressed me, I am still an amateur photographer years after professing interest in photography as a hobby. There lies the difference. It is more than a hobby for her. She is passionate about it.
I took to her immediately. Our vibes matched. It would appear strange when I say that because I am a world weary adult (even though I cringe while saying it) and she’s a bright kid. My inner child connected with her and perhaps in her I could see a glimpse of the happy-go-lucky child I used to be.
I have always connected well with children. At the same time, I have been told by my older friends that I am far too mature for my age. I am an old soul with a young heart. And only with a Gemini it won’t be a conundrum.
She was cheerful, restless and bubbling with enthusiasm like children are. It was something I could not have asked for but got in spades interacting with her that day. I was not supposed to meet her but she had come with my friend and how funny it was her that made my day.
The same night I found a book I had been looking for ages, Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle. I don’t have to tell you that the illustrations are beautiful because it’s a book by Oliver Jeffers. It talks about a girl shutting herself away from the world because something bad happened to her. To live and to just exist are two different things. She allowed grief to overwhelm her and forgot to live until a little girl shows her what she was missing, just by being herself, full of life and not being afraid of the future (the great unknown for most of us unless you are a seer). I was that little girl but I don’t want to be that adult. Finding the way to yourself, and discovering who you are, isn’t that the purpose of life?
Life mirrors art. Art mirrors life. And we continue to live on trying to find meaning in the things we do.
Yesterday I read an insightful interview about Oliver Jeffers’ new book Here We Are which comes out today. The cover looks stunning and I cannot wait to read it.
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
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is an epistolary novel co-authored by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Their earlier collaborations include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List, which caters to teens, just like this one. The cover was appealing but a bit too cutesy for its own good. Heart shaped snowflakes really? But don’t let it deceive you. It is not just a Christmas romance though it is set during Christmas in Manhattan, when there is snow in the air and good cheer.
It is alternatively narrated by Lily (written by Rachel Cohn) and Dash (written by David Levithan). Dash and Lily write dares and thoughts in a red Moleskine notebook which Dash finds next to Lily’s favourite author (which also happens to be his) while perusing through the books in Strand Book Store (yes the one and only). The idea was devised by Langston (named after Langston Hughes), Lily’s older brother so that she finds someone to share her Christmas excitement with (she loves Christmas like only children can and she is not a child so that does make it a little odd) as he will be busy with his boyfriend and their parents will be out of town.
Lily is a shy teenager, good at football and overprotected by her family. She does not fit in and has no friends at school though her lovable extended family more than make up for it. Her cousin Mark and Great Aunt Ida make for great secondary characters and play a significant role in safeguarding the notebook.
Lily’s notebook is picked up by Dash who hates the idea of Christmas. He is an introvert and comfortable in his own company. A child of divorce, he’s used to taking care of himself and guards his solitude fiercely. Dash’s best friend Boomer, is overexcited and overeager (for his age) not unlike a toddler on a sugar rush providing us with many funny moments. I thought theirs would be an unlikely friendship but they complement each other well. Yin and Yang.
Through impossible dares Dash and Lily accept, designed to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they see new sides to themselves. They grow together and confide their innermost longings to each other in a notebook. Sharing a common ground with an anonymous if not nameless but faceless stranger can be a powerful connection. Would it have been better (read more acceptable) if they had done it face to face or had it been a conversation on the phone? It isn’t the mode of communication that matters but the connection. Or is it just plain idiocy trusting someone’s words, someone whom you have never seen or met, in this age of dishonesty? It’s Kali Yuga after all.
Here the the barriers in real everyday life appear to dissolve and the playing field is vast. I mean anyone could have picked up that notebook. It goes on to show how we box ourselves and allow others to pigeonhole us, put labels, when we can go beyond it and be so much more alive.
Lily and Dash are book nerds hence the usage of words isn’t what would constitute normal teenage banter. Nevertheless the writing is contemporary although you might feel out of your element (read bored) if you don’t share their love for words. Take a look at these lines:
“I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.”
“I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable.”
“We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?
Continue reading Thoughts on Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares