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”

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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 excruciating slowly, 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 Ship Fever, 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 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, 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.

A man who is known as the Father of Taxonomy, and spanned such a legacy now has trouble remembering his own name. He finds it hard to deal with the fact that he needs assistance to do the most basic of things. Life is nothing if not ironic. I would say it is greatly satisfying to look back on a life well lived. He had an illustrious career – his binomial nomenclature is the accepted standard for naming living beings worldwide. The thing is, he doesn’t dwell on what he has achieved but what is lost, the difference between what he was and what he is now.

Andrea Barrett pieces together the story in a manner where fact is melded with fiction so convincingly that one believes it has a kernel of truth in it. I know what she is talking about on account of my life science background. I know the scientists and the work they have done but unfamiliar with their personal lives. And this is where Barrett steps in with her historical fiction narrative.

The writing is beautiful and melancholic but (for me) ultimately uplifting. He has his memories which are fading away fast but if he hadn’t lived life there would be nothing to remember in the first place. He knew what it was to be young and full of ambition. Some people live their lives without finding their purpose, searching for meaning but never finding it. Some people grow old without knowing what it is to be young. If we are not careful, this is the end that will await most of us.

The story is crammed with information for a life science student. I was delighted to see Potamogeton mentioned. After so many years of making fun of the name I find out it means something beautiful.

If you appreciate science, especially the living world, I suggest you give the short stories of Andrea Barrett a go. Start with Ship Fever, which won the National Book Award for fiction and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Book review – A State of Freedom

The first thing that struck me about A State of  Freedom is it’s cover. The book jacket has a large bear on the cover, which is unusual and arresting but surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. When I began reading A State of Freedom, it reminded me of Lahiri’s oeuvre because of the way it started and the themes it deals with. But I soon realized Neel Mukherjee’s book is quite different.

The book is edgy and each section ends with a cliff-hanger. You want to gallop ahead and connect the dots, and at the same time, you want to take your time to savour the way it’s written.

A State of Freedom has a large canvas and deals with many issues in only 275 pages. The book is divided into 5 sections and the events that unfold are in different geographical locations. The way the stories of these characters are narrated gives them depth, and makes them appear real.

In the first section a man wants to familiarize his increasingly Americanized son with his roots. So they visit Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj Mahal. Originally from Calcutta, he has been living abroad for two decades, and now feels like “a tourist in his own country”. He wants his son to see India, and understand the culture he was born into. But they are like aliens from another planet.

I felt disoriented as the first section ended and wanted to stop but I urge you to read on (and not be put off by big words).

The second section flows more easily. A Bengali couple, the Sens, live in Mumbai and their son, a young writer, lives in London. He returns to India periodically to visit them. He is working on a cookbook which will contain authentic recipes from India as cooked in Indian households. The cooking at their home is done by Renu, who works as a cook in many households in Mumbai. Their son is curious about Renu because of her surly manner and tries to draw her into conversations but she doesn’t respond.

Treating the domestic help as a lesser human being is perhaps a relic of the Zamindari system. The son now straddles both worlds, old and new, and finds it  increasingly difficult to deal with the way things continue to be done in India.

The love of food intersperses this section. If you pay attention, many a recipe can be mined out from these pages. While exploring India for recipes, he also visits Renu’s home at her insistence. It is here he witnesses the divide between the classes.

Another woman, Milly, comes to clean the Sens’ house. She reappears as a major character in another section of the book.

The third section is the longest, and is the soul of the book. Motherless twins brought up by a father, who dies in a forest fire. One brother leaves home to find work. This section follows the other brother, Lakshman, as he attempts to eke out a living. He finds a bear cub and keeps it to save it from being killed. He names it Raju. With his brother gone, the responsibility of feeding his wife and children along with his own family now falls squarely on his shoulders.

The way the bear cub is handled, in an attempt to tame it, is barbaric. This, in a country where cows are ‘worshipped’. It makes you question who is really savage, man or beast?

They are animals their pain doesn’t last. All these animals that live in the wild, in the forest, on the streets, you have never known them to need a doctor, have you? They heal quickly, they are strong. It’s we, humans, who are weak.

With hunger gnawing their insides, their lives are foremost about survival. They are largely unaware of the world outside of their existence. They have no time to understand the rights of animals. Lakshman has trouble believing bear dancing is a crime one could be sent to jail for.

Lakshman tries to train Raju to be a performing bear and wanders from place to place living like a nomad, trying to earn money by making him dance. Though Lakshman is cruel to Raju, he is aware that he is at the mercy of the ‘helpless’ animal. Lakshman depends on Raju; the bear can forage for food and fend for itself. It makes you think about freedom, who is actually free.

The book shows how leaving home in search of a better quality of life works out differently for people, and the price they pay for it.  (Warning – Animal sacrifice is described in this section.)  Continue reading “Book review – A State of Freedom”

Book review – Unbroken

When I was asked to review Nandhika Nambi’s Unbroken, I jumped at the chance of reading a book from the perspective of a teenager who is in a wheelchair. I had seen how the lives of paraplegics are in the movie Guzaarish and the book Me Before You, but they weren’t narrating their own stories like Akriti does in Unbroken. And I have a soft spot for YA so here I’m. The first person point of view has its limitations but here it is an advantage; we go straight into the heart of the matter. If you are expecting a story where everything works out in the end and Akriti miraculously recovers, then this is not the book for you. Her disability is permanent and she has to find a way to live with it. Akriti is in 11th standard. She is sarcastic and spews out hate on the world unable to come to terms with her condition. She is mean and cruel, especially to people, who are sympathetic to her. She could have been a normal grumpy teenager but the inability to do the simplest of things for herself, and having to depend on others, makes her angry.
I hated taking people’s help.
 Akriti’s life is now divided into a before and after the accident where she lost the use of her legs. Life as she knew it was over. The sooner she accepts the reality and stops dwelling on the past, and focuses on getting the help she needs in the present, the better she will deal with the reality. Unbroken shows that to completely heal, you have to go inward and face your deepest fears/demons.

Continue reading “Book review – Unbroken”

At cross roads, if not the (hallowed) mid-life crisis.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
-E. L. Doctorow

Isn’t that how life is? We can only see a little stretch ahead of us at a time on life’s meandering road that we all travel on (with binoculars and maps and other paraphernalia). That too if we choose to move forward on the path( whatever it is and wherever it leads) as opposed to being rooted to the spot in indecision (which happens more often than one admits) until shoved(pushed will be kinder but a gentle push has lost its power in this generation of forced everything) in the proverbial right direction by people who care (or want to wash their hands off you for they absolutely cannot look at your woe is me avatar anymore). One is carried forward by the surge of the crowd all moving in the same direction(mind you the goals are different or so I’d like to think!). Towards death,one day closer to it. Towards the realization of dreams,one step closer to it.

If drawing a parallel between life and writing is easier said than done then how on earth can I call myself a writer.  Has that life  ship sailed ?  I hope not because I’m ready to run with my running shoes . And ipod in tow full of thought provoking songs.

Yeah, right.

See what I’m talking about? Kill me already.