Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman

10-year-old  Nanju  wears a diaper to school and hobbles around as he has crooked feet. He lives with his Appa and older sister Shanti. He doesn’t pay attention in class and regularly scores zero but manages to hide the evidence from his father, who threatens to send him to a hostel. Happy in his world, nothing seems to bother him much. His best friend is Mahesh, who is terribly clever and lets Nanju copy all his answers. He gets by with a lot of help from his friends.

When I was reading Simply Nanju many people commented on the lovely book cover. The face of an innocent child with an endearing smile, who can resist that? (People who have hearts of stone, that’s who!)

It is business as usual in school with petty rivalries and merciless teasing, greeting teachers in a singsong voice, and the class turning into a fish market when the teacher leaves the class momentarily. Class topper Aradhana’s notebooks vanish and return days later in a shoddy condition. Nobody knows who is behind it and Nanju makes it his business to find the culprit when fingers are pointed at him. Mahesh and Nanju, though not quite Holmes and Watson, set out to solve the mystery. Do they manage to find the thief who isn’t a thief? Read Simply Nanju to find out. Continue reading Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman

Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory

A love story by any another name is still a love story, especially one masquerading as friendship. Don’t believe me? Read Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory, and if you come away thinking they didn’t love each other, I promise I will refund your money for the book (if that isn’t possible you can throw the book at me). Mukesh and Sunita meet each other in college and they stick together through decades but not in the way you’d imagine.

They hover around each other all their lives and mind you, this was an era before the internet, and cellphones became commonplace, when keeping in touch was much harder and people actually wrote letters and made phone calls. What bound them together all their life, through different continents and their respective families? To find out read the book or watch the play. Didn’t I mention? It was originally a play which was later adapted into a novel by Pal himself. I am dying to see the play and hope they revive it so I can see it in this lifetime.

Head here to read what I thought about the book. Continue reading Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory

The Purple Line

Six Indian women from diverse backgrounds as different from each other as chalk and cheese. What could they possibly have in common? What could a childless performance artist, who likes inflicting pain on herself, have in common with a young Muslim house wife, who was taken out of school the day she had her period, and married to an older man? What could an anaemic housewife afraid of delivering a girl child have in common with a beautiful computer programmer, who is looking forward to complete her family? What could an artist working in an advertising agency, who yearns to have children, have in common with a pregnant teenager distraught at the news of her pregnancy?

Unaware of each others’ existence they are bound by a common thread – they see the same gynaecologist, Mrinalini. She serves not only as their doctor but as a woman and a confidante, who helps them take decisions that are best for them whether or not they appease their families (or the collective social conscience). This is a story of the people we see everyday. I had read the book years ago, and rereading it again, I felt it was a more universal story – the story of every woman. Continue reading The Purple Line

Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Coming home to Tagore is always a revelation. I have probably owned this fine collection of short stories for over a decade now. My aunt had funded it when she saw me lurking in the aisle of the book corridor in Big Bazaar back when it still sold books, along with stationery. How little I must have understood of women’s plight and their predicaments, when I was a teenager if not a child, is dawning on me now. A great story is that which reveals itself anew whenever you pick it up to read. In short something which has repeat value. Tagore is a genius; every sentence has its place and importance in the narrative.

I never pick up Tagore lightly because I can never shrug off his words casually and carry on with my life pretending to be unaltered when the soul has registered change. Reading Tagore needs complete involvement of the brain and the heart, and I need to be on stable ground otherwise it would be tough to balance the emotions when I’m on uneven terrain. The emotions generated on reading the text will overwhelm me and teetering on the edge of a precipice isn’t good for my health.

Reading The Wife’s Letter I had to stop at a few sentences to completely understand them (I am not sure if it is brain fog or ageing in action) and compare it to the real world experience I have had in the last decade. My first hand experience might be very limited but observed or heard second hand experience is so much more. Women talk. Women share. Stories of friends, acquaintances, neighbours, stories from the media. A woman has empathy for all the women of the world (barring duplicitous mother-in-laws and conniving frenemies).

There is no doubt about that Tagore understood the female psyche and portrayed it in his writings better than any man could. I am really looking forward to reading another translation of Chokher Bali soon. Continue reading Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Punctuality or being on time – a lost virtue

“I am always late on principle, my principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”― Oscar Wilde

From the experiences I have had in my short life I would tend to agree with him. Earlier I used to be furious at being kept waiting but now I just keep myself busy reading, writing, checking emails, tweeting inane things, commenting on posts I’d rather not,  watching people, taking pictures, listening to songs, deleting stuff from the phone – whatever suits my mood at that point in time. I know what you are thinking, thank heavens for a smartphone, right? Without a smartphone it ain’t pretty, I get downright restless.

So that when the person I am waiting for actually arrives, looking up won’t be easy since I am immersed in ‘work’ which gives the illusion of being busy (so as not to look like a total loser for being on time). I can easily feign nonchalance, resist the urge to shout and lie that it wasn’t a bother waiting for 45 minutes or thinking that I might perhaps have been stood up (sob!).

If I am not busy and just stare at the watch looking at the minutes pass away waiting, I might blow a fuse and lose it in the true sense of the word. Well at least I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs like last time or mouthing obscenities in my mind. Or thinking of ways of storming out for maximum drama while shouting tardiness will not be tolerated when the person does arrive (Yay I have not been stood up). It is better than shooting daggers or sulking and losing the remaining time left. Life is precious and the minutes are ticking by.

I always like to have time to stand and stare but I would like to do it on my own time, thank you very much. I don’t like to be forced to stand in the hot sun staring at moving vehicles while breathing in polluted air. This is the not the time for it. This was our time together, half of which is now gone.

Chod aaye hum woh galiyaan

When I saw the song Chod aaye hum woh galiyaan from Maachis, I couldn’t remember if I had seen the film but the song felt familiar to me and the visuals unfamiliar to me. How is this possible? I love this song and didn’t even know it existed until yesterday. Yes, you can safely say I’m losing my mind or is it something serious like going mad? Well I can hear my school mates saying, “we knew that you will end up in Ranchi”. It’s such a shame I didn’t write diary entries during  those days. It would have made mining out information so much easier.

When I was a kid I went to see films with my maternal aunt and her friends. She took me along, mind you, I didn’t tag along or demand to go with her. But I don’t remember if she took me with her to see Maachis or if it  was a recommendation by her? Guess I will have to ask her and I really hope her memory is better than mine. With Gulzar it was bound to be a double treat. He has directed Maachis and the lyrics are also penned by him. Vishal Bhardwaj is the Music Director. Now you know what I’m talking about.  I have a movie to (re)watch until then you check out the song.

Life on the other side of twenty. It’s all downhill I tell you. Nobody told me that  20 is the new 40. Well I have always been an old soul. Is that all I hear you say? I was not the forgetful sort but lately I have been having trouble with my memory and none of my friends take it seriously. They think I’m exaggerating. The bane of having self-depreciating humour is that no one believes you even when you are screaming the truth out loud. They think you are always trying to make people laugh by putting yourself down. No amount of wailing or complaining will get me my memory back or for that matter my past life. Believe me I have tried both and it’s not something you want to ever see.

A song can bring back many memories, memories you didn’t know you still had but they are there somewhere. I have a uncle who looks like Chandrachur Singh, who I had always associated with Kya Kehna and suddenly I remembered that he(not my uncle but the actor) was also in a movie called Yeh Silsila Hai Pyaar Ka. Before you roll your eyes, when I was young I wasn’t that discerning a movie watcher. I just looked stupidly at the moving pictures and it’s safe to say I have watched some pretty ridiculous and lame movies oblivious to their greater purpose. Oh wait you weren’t bothered about the movies but were alarmed by my scattered thoughts? Well  it’s not in my hands (resigned look on my face).

Laurie Halse Anderon’s Speak

 I saw Speak a while ago, the movie adaptation of the very acclaimed book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Despair not, it’s nothing like Twilight (to be fair to her, Twilight fans say that’s how Bella is, in which case excellent acting ) where she has only two expressions (longing and longing) but it doesn’t translate into emotion. She is so much more than a pretty prop. Incidentally I knew that she can act having seen her in the bit role I had seen her in Into the Wild (one book I must get back to again). She emotes with their silence which speaks volumes. The movie does justice to the absolutely brilliant YA novel that deals with teenage rape and depression, alienation as a result of it, very serious issues which parents, teachers and the society at large will rather not admit exist, forget dealing with it. I kept remembering stuff from the book, the lines from the book in the screenplay and the things they missed.

I always follow this rule of reading the book first if I can help it. Like most book lovers or bibliophiles (I don’t mind what you call us, we are what we are) if I know the movie is adapted from a book I prefer to read the book first (I had to wait for long periods for reading Speak) and it has always been rewarding because I get to build the world created in the book, and that joy every book lover knows. Of course on the minus side the movie usually (I thought of using the phrase ‘more often than not’ but now that I have read On Writing I feel King’s watching me) falls short of expectations, except the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I don’t know why so many people look down on YA. Trust me there are many. What you read popular fiction?! The term pop fiction is even more hideous. What’s wrong with the term contemporary fiction? Other than classics and books written by dead writers everything else they look down upon. Book snobs! They deal with real things in a real and sometimes not so grim manner, and do not put people to sleep so that their target audience actually does read and understand it. I was absolutely bowled over by Speak. Anderson is brilliant in the way she captures the voice of a teenager on the precipice of completely losing her sanity and spiralling into a quiet depression, and sinking into it but for her art teacher who gives her something to do that she enjoys, hence something to live for and she looks forward to stay in the land of living day after day.

It was first published in 1999 and five years later the movie followed in 2004. At first look the movie appears to tread a familiar territory because we have seen so many high school movies but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

The book cover had intrigued me for a long time and I took some time to be convinced about the story- I did not want to read about another victim who had thrown her life away. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson’s website, read her blog, bought the book and absolutely fell in love with the cover again, one of the most beautiful covers ever and waited. I believe every book finds you at just the right time. Another way of saying it unless I feel compelled to read something I don’t read it. I read it and it was literally life altering. The author interview at the back gave me some background to the book and the furore it created after its release.

She deliberately goes mute chooses not to say a word because when she tries to speak out the truth about what happened that summer nobody listens. It gnaws at her inside and she changes from a girl who lived life to just existing. She finally speaks out and she is the one who helps herself climb out from the horrific past and begins the process of acceptance as she tells herself that there is no point denying what happened. She is never going to forget it and the best way to deal with it is to confront it head on, which would someday eventually lead to healing.

The book is a must read. How come it doesn’t top favourite lists here isn’t exactly a surprise to me, it is because of the themes it deals with. I highly recommend it. Speak the book is more powerful than the movie. I will be talking about the book again soon. It’s been calling out to me again. Time for a reread.

You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.

You can’t speak up about your rights and be silent.

You need to  visit the mind of a great one- Picasso who saw the truth and ripped it from the earth with two angry hands. If something is eating at you, you have gotta find a way to use it.

A revolutionary is only as good as his analysis. Why? We should be able to shout out how things can be better.

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

Waiting for life to figure itself out

Waiting for people who never come. Reading meanings into things that never were. This is the tragedy of life. Will I fight against it all my life?  I am weary in my bones and in my soul, and to live life as it is, is torturous. Yet I carry on in the world of living, as unzombie like as I can be, trying hard not to be a soulless automaton. Growing older, I have given up deciphering what it all means, in the quest to find peace, if not joy.

Some things aren’t for my puny brain to make sense of. Joining the dots and finding the thread of interconnectedness is something bigger than myself. It’s not my job to waste precious neurons and try to figure it all out. Life figures itself out. I ain’t dead yet. So why should I live life as if it didn’t matter, when it is the only thing that is real and tangible.