The week that was #1

Autumn doesn’t show up where I stay. It is just a mild summer. No browns, reds or oranges. I am mostly in bed these days, exhausted, because my body is making a tiny human. I try to invoke an autumnal aura by pulling down the window shades to filter in a soft honey light. And by vegetating in front of a Gilmore Girls binge watch. And daydream about talking to my child.

I read Janice Pariat’s book of short stories, ‘Boats on Land’. It was a real pleasure. It offers up an engaging mix of hills, sprawling tea-estates, mists, folklore, incessant rain, lives of people in places where nothing much happens, displacement, forbidden feelings, wistfulness, fragile hopes, and so much more. I read it this weekend, and have finally broken the reading slump I found myself in the past few weeks.

An assamese lunch has become a ritual every Sunday, a welcome break for me in a week of paneer, dosa, sambar, pasta etc. I take out the brass metal plates and bowls my parents gave me the last time I was home. My husband buys fish the evening before. We fry the Rohu pieces and later dunk them in a mustard gravy. The green chillies are from the garden. There is masoor dal with a generous sprinkling of squeezed lemon juice (unfortunately one-third the size of the ones found in Assam). Mashed or fried potatoes. With mustard oil. An unhealthy indulgence, but a loved one. There will be round slices of brinjal dunked in besan gravy and fried. Maybe an egg. Greens are in the form of a soup. Mango pickle. A slice of lime. And I am transported back to my childhood, and my mother feeding us the same food. The comfort of knowing it will be the same every day when we come home. Every single day. Its recreation is the comfort now.

List #1: Books I Read in May 2020

Books I read in May:

My Father’s Book – Urs Widmer

1. ‘My Father’s Book’ by Urs Widmer: A son describes his father ‘s life, growing up in Switzerland in the early 1900s-going through two wars, his painter and architect friends, a brief spell of being a communist, following a woman to Paris and living the life of poverty yet voraciously reading, setting up an enviable life with his wife, nonchalantly digging into her inheritance to buy records and books and wine, a career in translation and publishing, battling with chronic pain, but above all a glimpse into rural/ small town Switzerland and making me aware of its vibrant culture. I had always tagged Switzerland as ‘neutral’ (read bland), and known only for its cheese, banks and scenic vistas. But this book gave me a glimpse of its early and mid century politics, response to war, art scene, literature. What stood out: character quirks, the idea of documenting everyday of one’s life in a fat blank book gifted to them on their twelfth birthday (a tradition in the village of the author’s father), the practice of keeping open coffins outside the village homes for each of the family members (a daily morbid reminder of life’s brevity). This book meant more to me because I visited Switzerland for the first time last year, and was highly impressed by its beauty and efficiency. And this book offered me a view of the rough, uncertain and slow evolution of this wonderful country.

Close Company-Virago New Fiction

2. Close Company – A Virago New Fiction collection of short stories depicting lives of mothers and daughters throughout the century. It highlights the (often very, very) subtle inequalities and prejudices faced by women at home, work and society at large; the largely invisible chores assigned to and demands made of them ; the guilt and subtle shaming still being the price of their seeking independence; relationship power dynamics and mostly their dreams or its graveyard. The stories range from a couple of pages to longer ones, and includes a variety of authors from Alice Munro to Fay Weldon to Margaret Atwood. I was struck by the palpable helplessness I felt on reading Fay Weldon’s ‘ Weekend’

Atomic Habits – James Clear

3. Currently reading : Atomic Habits. Lesson imbibed in the first few chapters. Strive for 1% betterment in all spheres of life and goals. Gradually accumulate the benefit of these consistent mini-improvements.

Quiet

Yoda Press Bookstore, 2012

He is listening to songs by the band ‘When Chai met toast’, on a loop. I adore his childlike glee at sprinkled Tamil lyrics in a Hindi song.

In the early morning hours, drifting in and out of sleep, I dreamt of narrow lanes, blurry silhouettes of people rushing past, dark corridors, slate blue and dark green shop fronts illuminated by the diffuse haze of yellow lights. I remember being happy.

Throughout the day I tried to recall if it was a random image conjured by my mind or a real memory. If yes, then from where and when? Finally it came to me. Hauz Khas, Delhi. Dusk. Autumn evening. 2012. A solo trip. Walking through the busy lanes. Eating butter garlic prawns at a restaurant after walking six flights of rickety stairs. I remember hearing a strange, high-pitched bird cry, and was told it was a peacock from the adjacent forest. Later, chanced upon the Yoda Press bookstore and it was lit up with soft yellow lights. Browsed for hours. Sat cross-legged on the floor, taking my own time to decide, adding to the book pile. Roamed in the dark corridor studded with paintings and photographs. It was an unfamiliar vibe, a new feeling, very different from the small town I grew up in. More strolling around with a bag full of books. Ate gelato. I enjoyed that ordinary evening of roaming around alone. And this memory jumped to surface today, eight years later!

It is so important to be comfortable being on your own. And I am grateful that I finally do. I relish going to the movies alone every once in a while, and also eating alone at a restaurant , bookstore browsing, visiting museums and galleries, reading for hours , or going for a walk alone. Not just a refreshing break of solitude in a world that just can’t keep quiet, but also being able to do things at my own pace and be in the moment without worrying about making conversation.

At a lab I worked in very briefly, I was horrified at the thought of eating lunch together with a huge group, EVERY SINGLE DAY! At the risk of appearing rude (and I definitely must have appeared so) , I used to return to my room, eat my lunch alone, read for a few minutes while making coffee, and revel in the solitude! This need of mine becomes difficult to explain to those who thrive in being around others. I love being around people too, but I treasure my solitude equally. So much that I sometimes dream of solitude! 🙂

The day

It is a no pants day. An acute craving for freshly squeezed orange juice day. A wake up frighteningly early yet stay in bed day. An old Goan melody day.

A trying to find meaning in the checkerboard of light and shade stretched across my floor day. A speaking just a handful of words throughout the day.

A darkened room and the whirring of the fan and the whiff of the fragrant body lotion day. An Adrienne Rich poetry day. A graphic novel day. A book about books day.

A counting blessings day. A soupy noodles day. A red socks day. A staying in the present day. A call in sick and grateful for the headache day.

An internal day. A tree watching day. A piecing together the perspective puzzle day.

A quiet day.

(Note: This is a recycled post from a now deleted blog of mine)

A little something…

My desk
Late night desk

Writing in a circle of yellow light, alone at my desk, at four in the morning.An after dinner conversation about ecosystems, the last book I read (Autumn Light), the odd hour coffee (the culprit!), a walk under trees with bare branches, a familiar warm smile;  the previous evening swirls in my mind.

(Note: This is a recycled post from a now deleted blog of mine)

Saving The Day

The nights are damp and cold and windy. A vague reminder of the hills. It rains and stops and rains again. I love it. Cold autumn weather. Sweatpants and flannel shirts and scarves weather. Soft blue quilt weather. Hot cocoa weather. Curl up in bed delving into stories or weaving new ones weather. Petrichor weather.

There was a light drizzle when I walked back from work yesterday. The road was wet and shiny, reflecting the old oak trees that lined it on either sides. I stepped into occasional, unavoidable puddles; and my bag bore the brunt of the slanting rain. But the wind that whooshed through the trees was so cold and magical, I didn’t want the walk to end and be cooped up in a dark, cramped hostel room. So I decided to head off towards the centre of the college campus, nearly four kilometres away. The evening light and overcast skies threw beautiful shadows on the grand buildings and brought out every shade of green in the foliage.  The impending rain was a thrill, waiting to see how far can I make it before it pours down.

The collage centre has landscaped gardens,  a temple, large green fields, numerous tiny eateries and a central library housed in a grand, opulent ochre building with brick red domed roof and balconies. Of course, I went to the library.

It was already past the hours to issue new books, but I liked to walk through the huge circular hall lined by tall, never-ending wooden shelves stacked with several thousand  books. And the narrow corridors that led off the hall into various sections of rare books and manuscripts, the linguistics section, the book stack housing novels old and new, the arts and sciences sections, research sections, and journals section. It was my own personal heaven. I stayed browsing books till the sun set and tall, yellow lamps were lit in the garden outside.

I took a rickshaw back to the hostel, the magical wind still howling around me. I missed something sorely then. Or maybe someone. But soon I was back in my warm room, munching  banana chips, sitting crosslegged on the bed and studying about paragangliomas while “Rocks On The Road” played on my phone. My room-mate came from back from (supposedly) “evening” shift at the hospital well beyond midnight and after an hour of giggles and conversation, she created our routine ‘ambience’ to bring about sleep, that is switch on the air cooler. Even when it is biting cold outside because we could no longer fall asleep without the pleasant hum of the air cooler.

In the morning,  she left for work at eight.  And I found myself unable to get out of bed. Head exploded with pain and fever burned every inch off my skin. I called up a friend who readily agreed to replace my duty at the department till I felt better. I spent a couple of hours gathering the strength to walk the few steps to the medicine cabinet!

The day was spent in my darkened room, buried under two blankets, sleeping fitfully and aching for home. I longed for company, someone to just sit by me for a few minutes. For reasons unknown to me, I dreamt of you. Got teary-eyed and went back to sleep.  It was only towards three in the evening that my fever broke.

The feeling of utter loneliness and crying continued. I wondered if it had anything to do with the pent up worry about my mother’s recent cancer scare. Or was it just hormones? Or maybe it was an embarrassing pining for lost love? I hadn’t ate anything since the past twenty hours.

Just then my phone rang to inform me that the books I had ordered online would be delivered in five minutes. I had no choice but to walk downstairs to collect them. Holding the neatly wrapped package of books in my hand brought about an instant change in my mood.  I suddenly craved food and went into the dining hall and quietly had a hot meal of rice and rajma.

Feeling strengthened, I returned to my room and set about cleaning it up and opening the door to the balcony to let in fresh air and some pale sunshine. Then with eager fingers I unwrapped the package to unravel the books.

Maus- Art Spiegelman (A graphic novel that is one of the most personal retelling of the Holocaust)

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore-by Robin Sloan (The title is enough to intrigue me. Books about books and bookstores. Porn for me.)

Delta of Venus- Anais Nin (I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the sexual escapades of Henry Miller to even Khushwant Singh. But I had never read erotica written by a female author. This book would be a welcome start)

So in the bleak mess of damp weather,  high grade fever and loneliness,  the books and the stories that awaited therein managed to salvage my day, and reinstate my autumnal love. Books always save me.

Smorgasbord:Weekend Read, Orange Afternoons, Jethro Tull

My reading life covers a broad spectrum of fiction and negligible non-fiction that includes only biographies. I read purely for the joy of discovering new stories and newer insights, and the continual amazement of how words can be stringed together to evoke varied emotions. But i want to do a little more than flip pages to find the next twist in the tale; and want my reading to enhance and diversify my perspective of the world around me. I want to develop critical thinking and form sound opinions of my own rather than inanely agree to those of others. Not long ago it was a painful realization that i had only inserted ‘packaged opinions’ in my mind. Writing (or blogging) had changed that as I can gather and give some shape to my thoughts when I write them down. Despite the participation in numerous debates in school, I am unable to formulate convincing arguments and raise essential questions about the things I read and hear. So this weekend, two decades late into my reading life, I have picked up ‘How To Read A Book‘ by Mortimer J.Adler in the hope of getting more out of the books I read and increase my curiosity and understanding of a variety of topics.
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Nowadays, between four and six pm, the day takes on a warm orange hue. Outside my window, the leaves are yellowish-green and the warmth encompasses the red-brick houses too, converting their shabbiness into a rustic charm. The faces in the crowd has taken on the warm sheen of freshly baked biscuits. The sun lingers in the sky suffusing it with orange arteries and the impatient sliver of  a pale moon is already visible over the distant grove of trees. A pair of crows fly soundlessly, spiralling around the coconut tree adjacent to the window. Somewhere just beyond my field of vision the cuckoo melodiously leads a noisy lot of birds. I take in the unassuming and quiet beauty of this orange day; and you come in and reverberate in the sudden tranquillity of my thoughts.

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A friend, who knew my penchant for soulful and understated lyrics, had gifted me Jethro Tull CDs a few years ago, citing that they are lyrical gods whom I must hear. I wasn’t an immediate convert. But lying awake in the dark and still hours, the words and the flute grew on me. Here is one of my favorites:
‘Fire At Midnight’ by Jethro Tull
I believe in fires at midnight
When the dogs have all been fed.
A golden toddy on the mantle
A broken gun beneath the bed.
Silken mist outside the window.
Frogs and newts slip in the dark
Too much hurry ruins the body.
I’ll sit easy, fan the spark
Kindled by the dying embers
Of another working day.
Go upstairs, take off your makeup
Fold your clothes neatly away.
Me, I’ll sit and write this love song
As I all too seldom do
Build a little fire this midnight.
It’s good to be back home with you.

Jeffrey Eugenides

“I don’t know what you’re feeling, I won’t even pretend.”


“You never get over it, but you get to where it doesn’t bother you so much.”
“She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.”

“It was possible to feel superior to other people and feel like a misfit at the same time.” 
“She could become a spinster, like Emily Dickinson, writing poems full of dashes and brilliance, and never gaining weight.”
“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ” 

“A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims–these are lucky eventualites but they aren’t love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name. We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth. The perishable nature of love is what gives love its importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does. And we certainly wouldn’t write about it.”

(Unintentional) Things I Learnt This Week

# Even when the first sentence of the book provides details about the suicides of the female protagonists and even when the narrator is a vague collective ‘we‘ of neighbourhood boys, it can fuel curiosity and end up being a page-turner. Sometimes endings makes for great beginnings. Or maybe each ending is always a beginning, considering that’s when everything makes sense. I’m reading The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.
# There is always the option to dive and resurface with an appropriate mask that won’t make a valued friend uncomfortable to be around you. It can be a mask of essential detachment that would not crowd their imagination with unnecessary obligations, worries about unmet expectations and unintended hurt. You will feel a secret guilt that you aren’t being true to yourself, but then sometimes detachment spares unnecessary confusion and ironically maintains friendships. If you want things to be normal, take the initiative in behaving normally.
# Just for once put the words ‘hips‘ and ‘boobs‘ in the title of a post and watch the blog traffic escalate. It doesn’t matter that the content of your post isn’t remotely pornographic; a crowd of faceless strangers titillated by such anatomical catchphrases would swarm to your blog. Majority would be disappointed by the lack of sexual content and never return. You are relieved by the exclusion of such audience; but they had served their temporary purpose of upping the web traffic into numbers that you had never received with titles relating to books or love .
# I had heard of post-coital rituals that involves any combination of psychedelic music, naps, cuddles, smoking, or maybe reading; but it alarmed me that there is an unofficial genre of post-coital literature. I wonder what are the points that tips a book into that particular genre. Sleep-inducing? Post-modernism? Titillating? Spiritual? Or maybe good old love?
# It is amazing the innumerable ways things can go from point A to point B, and in real life, a straight line is the least common of them all.
# Coffee that has turned cold (and not cold coffee) can act as an unintentional laxative for some people (not me).
# Sitting in a pool of sunshine, away from distractions and people and responsibilities, with just a good book and some imagination can undo a lot of emotional ravages and allows for fresh starts. A vacation in an exotic locale isn’t a prerequisite for it; a quiet spot in the park, the terrace or even the bed by an open window does the trick.
# German language is populated with hefty compound words but they end up being the fun and unintentional motivation of learning it. Take fernweh (an ache for the faraway), backpfeifengesicht (a face in need of the fist) and my favourite herbeisehnen (the feeling of missing something you love while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable and entirely left to fate). I can’t wait to know more.

There Never Was Such An Animal

You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking. Or threaten me. No one has time any more for anyone else. You’re one of the few who put up with me.
(Note: The world is getting busier each day, and we discreetly explore the outer limits of our peripheral vision to find someone who would put up with us, the good and the bad, without being judgemental. It involves a lot of luck.)
He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who reflected your own light to you? People were more often–he searched for a simile, found one in his work–torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?” 
(Note: In my relatively short life, I had met only one person who mirrored my innate and well-concealed restlessness, but I didn’t stick around to find out more. It intimidated me.)
I feel I’m doing what I should’ve done a lifetime ago. For a little while I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I’m doing the right thing at last. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a rash thing and don’t want to look the coward to you.
(Note: For a little while we lose the fear. Just for a little while.)
Are you happy?
(Note: Yes. But I am afraid to think beyond what is obvious and within reach.)
How do you get so empty? he wondered. Who takes it out of you? And that awful flower the other day, the dandelion! It had summed up everything, hadn’t it? ‘What a shame! You’re not in love with anyone!’ And why not?
(Note: Seriously, how?)
Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. see the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that . Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.
(Note: Life’s unpredictability scares me immensely if I take a moment to take it all in, but then where is the fun and thrill without the surprise bumps and bends in the road?)
I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.
(Note: I would religiously follow this diet for a lifetime. Just garnish it with some fiction. I don’t mind the kyphosis either.)
But most of all, I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they are going. Sometimes I even go to Fun parks and ride in the jet cars when they race on the edge of town at midnight and the police don’t care as long as they’re insured. As long as everyone has ten thousand insurance everyone’s happy. Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountains, and do you know what? People don’t talk about anything.
(Note: Hmm. The last time I enjoyed talking to someone was exactly ninety-nine days ago. The rest of the umpteen conversations since then has coalesced into an indistinct lump of words. How many of us have real conversations and not vacuous daily updates?)

~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Smorgasbord: A Joke, Anne Tyler Read-athon, Rumi’s Words

I read this little joke on Twitter and only fat people will be able to squeeze out the last drops of humour from it and laugh so long that you will get hiccups. Here goes:
Doctor: Are you sexually active?
Me: I am not even physically active.
*hic! hic!* Yes, I am fat. 🙂
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I had an Anne Tyler read-athon recently; started with Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant, and followed it up with The Amateur Marriage and Breathing Lessons. The common elements of each story are: suburbs of Baltimore; emotionally volatile wife and subdued husband, who have a whirlwind romance and long tumultuous marriage, and despite their best efforts and the shared years the love often fades; at least three children and the eldest one is usually the rebel; the other two are obedient, intelligent and hence rather dull, nothing interesting happens in their lives; lack of communication, quick and wrongful assumptions, incoordination and unsaid words creates irreversible rifts; and an all-pervasive despair and bitter-sweet emotions about how things could have gone so well, if only they knew how to go about it and said what they felt. The prose is poignant and insightful, and certain sentences strike such a chord of familiarity that a new lump of heartache forms. But The Accidental Tourist is the last of Anne Tyler books I will read.
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Then I go back to Rumi:
 The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.
The most heartening words:
What you seek is seeking you.

And a poem about finding the way back to your own life to love yourself:

Love After Love
 The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~ Derek Walcott

Ignoring Life

The clock in my room observes a twenty seven year old wearing mismatched prints and a pair of precariously placed reading glasses, poring over a book with her mouth half-open, till a few hours before dawn. If these discrete hours of reading every night are gathered and calculated, it would amount to nearly two years of uninterrupted reading. Two years of my relatively short life had been spent in scanning words of unseen men and women to crowd my imagination with new stories, lives, places, ideas, stirrings, perspectives and often discovering a hitherto unrealized or unexplored thought, or a trace of familiarity. It brings a new plot to my life where things head in a specific direction, reach a climax/anti-climax, and i don’t have to wait for ages to see how things will turn out; i can skip decades with the flick of a page.
Real life introduces new plots and unexpected twists too. But they don’t come frequently and take ages to develop into something substantial; also the restlessness of not knowing what is to come is just too much for me. It is our prerogative to decide whether our life will be an open book that stands revealed and unapologetic about its contents; or be as private as an adolescent girl’s journal, with stories that are open to a select audience of choice. I have chosen to be an open book after years of being the latter. But what are its contents? I open my journals and all i read are accounts of the people i have met, the conversations i had, the funny thing that occurred, the disappointments; people walked in and out of these pages with no definite pattern or purpose. My days have no specific continuity as i run helter-skelter through life; there can be a wide discrepancy of the events of one day from the other. Milestones are often insidious and realized in retrospect. And so is love. He might be an irregular visitor on the pages of my journal, but all of a sudden i mention his name with the intimacy of an old lover. I miss the transitions. My life’s plot is confusing even for me to follow; it’s all over the place, going in every direction, and hence stagnant.

It is somewhat tragic to be reading old journals, only to be acutely reminded of the passage of time, the surges and dwindling of hope over the years, the unforeseen curve-balls, and the things that never amounted to anything substantial. Love had come into my life, and i waited with bated breath, wondering where it would lead. A few departed with the usual fuss and drama, and the hurt reached an early crescendo before ebbing away. They were easier to let go. And then sometimes things fell apart without a distinct snap of ties, without drifting apart, without monosyllables replacing conversations, and without a heap of failed expectations; they were just a clean and abrupt end; no explanations, no mess; it was just that over, and just that uneasy.
I am here now, experiencing these feelings, having these thoughts, writing these words; and a hundred years ago there must have been another girl pouring out her heart, believing in the permanence and relevance of her world. Where are those thoughts now? Didn’t they end with her life? I am just another person and my thoughts will end with me too. It is alarming to dwell on the impermanence of our hopes, thoughts, love and secret desires;and  i feel like spilling out the chaos in my mind, the love in my heart, so that it doesn’t wither away with me. But then i wonder if it is even wanted, whether it will be valued, and grudgingly accommodate the word repression in my life. And continue my quiet reading about lives where things happen. 
Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life”~ Fernando Pessoa

You Must Allow Me To Tell You

I imagine I am in love. And as lovers of book lovers will tell you, we have a thing for creating an ambience that mirrors our mood. I have a new and highly customized playlist on my iPod. Today I dusted a thick tome of Jane Austen’s complete works and placed it on my bedside. 1336 pages, and in minute print. I like the arduous challenge of tackling a thick tome, more so if it is the re-reading of old novels; I cherish the anticipation of coming upon certain sentences, the thrill of encountering the familiar twists in the tale; but mostly the joy is in reading words that reflect the state of my heart. I would wallow in the warm glow of whatever it is that I feel as I read about Mr.Darcy and the likes. Sadly, my beloved John Thornton isn’t included in this collection.

And then I stumbled upon this amazing coffee mug, while browsing through one of my favorite book sites. I can’t think of anything remotely as romantic and as lovely and as true as the words Darcy chooses to tell Elizabeth how he feels about her.
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
 
*Swoon*

Smorgasbord: Recklessness, Procrastination, Dating a Bookworm

Impulsiveness will be my nemesis, someday. You tell me, “Be careful not to bump into that wall, you will get hurt“. My restlessness grows and is vented out only when I kick the wall and limp on my bruised feet, content in the knowledge and first-hand experience of the pain of kicking a wall. I need to know things for myself. I will hear the advice, read the wise words, nod approvingly at the sermons of infinite wisdom and caution; but in the end, I’ll run headlong into that wall, you know, just to make sure. Instant gratification, sometimes it provokes the impulsive behaviour; the irrepressible urge to let something be known, to go somewhere, to recreate a memory, to meet a certain person, to write for myself, to just escape. I never foresee the ramifications of acting on my impulses; I just do it, because that’s what I want to do at that very moment. I had once told someone that I loved him, after knowing him for just a month, knowing fully well that the answer wouldn’t be what I wanted to hear. One day I woke up before sunrise and set off on a long drive, with no destination in mind, just because the road didn’t end, and it felt like an escape, from I know not what. Yesterday I told a near stranger things I had never told anyone, aware of the uneasiness such revelations will cause, and on a reckless intuition that they wouldn’t be shared with another individual again; just because I felt like writing it down and telling someone, “Hey, this is me, you know. I know resilience.” Nowadays, I speak up if I feel something is wrong, not worrying about revering age, or giving undue consideration to the consequences that would follow. My mercurial temper had tapered down over the years, I am surprised and somewhat amused at my own patience. I am not too optimistic about the eventual dwindling of this recklessness and impulsiveness that creeps up on me without any warning. Someday, hopefully, life would make a person with calculated moves and measured words out of me. Till then, I will continue to wear my heart on my sleeve.
I procrastinate and put off things till the maximum time admissible without any adverse effects on the outcome. So instead of pursuing a consistent study schedule of at least ten hours every day for two months, I prefer studying fifteen hours per day for one month. It’s the poorer choice, but until the moment I feel the fear and the adrenaline rush of knowing that I can’t delay a task anymore, I don’t feel any joy or enthusiasm in undertaking it. It leads to anxiety, and that’s not a habit one needs to cultivate, but some people thrive on that essential anxiety, that aura of unrest. I am one of them. One month till an exam, and the study marathon begins from today; social network deactivated, TV disconnected, all novels (except for three) shoved into a trunk. Only three portals of connection with the outside world: gym hour, blogging, and highly filtered phone calls and texts. I need to re-read the massive Kaplan and Saddock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, and it would be one of the rare times I haven’t felt studies as a chore, but as fun, like reading a good story. 
The review of the book I’m reading, Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves, will be posted soon. I am now onto the last story in the collection, Smog. A friend e-mailed me a delightful post enlightening people on why they should date a bookworm; it was adorable and made me smile for hours, wondering when would I find my fellow-bookworm. Read it here. “A true bookworm will go far beyond the traditional flowers and chocolates and move onto professing their love for you in the pouring rain without an umbrella.” That got me thinking. If I don’t re-create all the good ideas that I had read in my one and only life, it would be a sheer waste to confine them to a corner of the hippocampus. I’ll keep a notebook for that very reason from now on, collecting pebbles of romance from the books I read. If anything, it’d make a nice read on a dreary day.

Smorgasbord: Ismat Chughtai, Come Here, Dead Ends

Last year I had decided to incorporate the works of eminent female authors of Indian origin into my reading list, the ones beside the predictable list of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai that my generation identifies with. I started with the novels and memoirs of Kamala Das and Indira Goswami. I began 2013 with the short stories of Ismat Chughtai. They are unabashed, titillating, disturbing, provoking; they tell about the underbelly of conservative and orthodox households, about lost loves, about the lives of women from various nooks of the Indian society, and about the relationship dynamics in large households. In the anthology I had bought, there were stories about a dejected wife who embraces the devotion of the female servant whose rough hands massages her creamy white back and legs, and lets the servant do questionable things to her under the dark cover of a quilt every night; about a rogue Englishman, with  a glass eye, who stayed back even after India gained independence and tentatively tried to start a family with his Indian maid, under the mocking eyes of the very people he ruled; about an adolescent widow outcast from the household when the heir of the family impregnated her; about the lost years and love of two passionate individuals who never gathered the courage to confess their feelings; about the a pampered daughter-in-law plagued with the grief of serial miscarriages and the fear of her husband’s remarriage, witnessing the ease of birth of a child in a moving train; about how the craving for restless soul soured once it was possessed and tamed; about a tortured painter’s obsession with the thin line between pure innocence and veiled provocation of his subject. Ismat Chughtai is unconventional, hence unputdownable.
Love songs crowd the playlists on my phone and iPod. But the one I always return to sometime in the course of the day, is Kath Bloom’s ‘Come here‘. There is a scene in the movie ‘Before Sunrise’ when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in the listening booth of a music store, and this song starts, the words of which says what remains unsaid between them, and the subtle longing in their stares, and the wondering in their hearts, and the anticipation of what is to come. The palpable thrill of the unsaid. I’ll never tire of this beautiful song.
When you take the open road towards the unknown, with nothing but naked hope, you are wary of taking more than a few hesitant steps each day. When the sun shines on you and the fog around that obscure destination clears up a little, your gypsy feet tread with joy. But sometimes you wake up to an unfamiliar and hostile terrain surrounding you. Reason tells you to turn back before it’s too late, and you stand awkwardly, helplessly, not knowing what to do. The worst nightmare is to realize that you had been walking towards a dead end. You cry not for the lost time or the lost hope; but because walking back on your now weary feet would take so much longer. 

A Book, A Tear-stained Pillow

Certain books take my hand and walk me into their melancholic core. I think about them for a long time afterwards, but I’m the passive and often distant reader. It’s only sympathy that wobbles up.

But rarely I come across a book that makes me cry unabashedly. The tears just refuse to stop. Empathy is the only emotion. The heart gets involved unknowingly, one can no longer be distant. I don’t remain a mere reader. Their pain is mine. Their love is mine. So is their despair.
Khushwant Singh’s classic novel, ‘Train to Pakistan‘ is the reason my pillow is wet with tears tonight. The novel is set in one of the most harrowing times this country had witnessed less than a century ago. The brutalities of Partition always makes me shudder. People, who cohabited quite peacefully, suddenly starts slaughtering, looting and raping each other in the heat of communal violence and a seriously convoluted sense of religious faith and patriotism. Lives became statistics; they kill one, you kill two. The thought of a single corpse is disturbing, the end of a life that still had so many hopes perhaps. Thousands of corpses filled in trains, floating down the river, mass graves; Singh’s clear, vivid prose makes every detail achingly real.
Nothing much has changed since then. Religion, borders, intolerance to other faiths, castes, wealth; we still use them as reasons to shed blood, and kill within us every trace of humanity. It is so easy to rouse a mob; to manipulate minds in the name of religion and loyalty; to ask them to leave behind all reason; to exact revenge out of innocent and unintended victims. I wonder if it will ever stop.
Even the few sane ones who understand the true reason of having a faith, not coloured by communal overtones, when faced with such blatant hatred, reacts in myriad ways. Some give up; turn mute, blind and deaf. Few idealistic ones prefer armchair activism, everything is dismal around them, nothing has any hope, why even try? Where is the audience to acknowledge their bravery or sacrifice? Why waste one’s valuable life by being just another casualty of a hopeless cause? Some try every tactic, cunning they could muster; they look for loopholes; they manipulate, but for the greater good; sometimes they are trapped in their many half-baked plans; so they cry plaintively, kneel down and pray. Some just pray from the beginning, it’s easier to leave everything to a higher power, and be freed from any responsibility.
Then there are some crude hearts and simple brains, who don’t know much, don’t even attempt to understand. They know hate strongly. But they know love even better than their own selves. And even loyalty. When the whole world is ravaged by wars, inhuman acts and sectionalized into different religions, classes and countries; only love in all its selfish desire to protect its loved one from every possible harm, to just give without seeking anything in return, and just being its plain and simple whole, sans any calculations and justifications, offers hope.
That’s why even though the novel portrays an honest picture of wars and communal violence in all its brutality, it ends on a mixed note, a tragedy laced with a feeble hope. When nothing seems to work, no respite seems in sight, a heart quietly sacrifices itself to protect the one it loves. The worthlessness of war will keep you awake and distressed for a long time to come. So will the futile and irrelevant boundaries we have created in the name of religion, countries, race and money. Hatred is infectious; but so is love. Vouch for love. It’s all but a choice.

The Books This Week

Show me a girl in love, and I’ll show you a one-track mind. I had drifted off into daydreams, I worked myself into subplots of the book I was reading; it was all very distracting and made me a slow reader. But in the past week I had tried hard to get some much needed diversions, and succeeded. Four books. Aah! The reader has snubbed the lover. The Uncommon Reader, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; English, August; Quiet Days in Clichy are already in the ‘read and relished‘ pile.

The Uncommon Reader has been reviewed as a ‘bedtime story for adults‘. It is that good. A delightful capsule of wit, reading, libraries and even a queen. The repercussions of being a royal and a reader too. I learnt the word opsimath; a person who learns late in life, and I think I’m one too. I wish I had a Norman in my life; someone to discuss books with, and who would suggest what to read next. But definitely someone without any specific preferences, like Norman had for gay writers. I will carry this little book in my handbag always. For a quick pep up.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I had searched nearly all of the bookstores in Guwahati for this book. I never ordered it online. I wanted to chance upon it among a pile of books and relish a moment of quiet serendipity. And I did, when I found an old, worn-out, almost tattered copy buried under a pile of cookbooks in Daryaganj book market. It has a war, but it is about love. All sorts of love; laced with lust, platonic; and the one where it is “what is left when the passion has gone“. I enjoyed the latter. The narratives are scattered; the reader can’t rest. Pelagia and Corelli. Read their story. My wait was worth it.

English, August. It’s about surviving a sense of inner dislocation, of being a foreigner in one’s own land, of clashes in perspectives, of thinking in English and working with the vernaculars. It’s about the coveted cadre of IAS officers and the inner flurry of adjustment troubles in rural India where they begin their journeys. The prose is pithy and contemporary. Agastya is a city boy; he reads voraciously, listens to rock music, smokes marijuana and touches himself thinking about the pert bottom of a tribal woman who comes to him for some work. He thinks, he tries, he suffocates, he finds himself. The narrative feels like a good friend telling you about his life on a long evening; which won’t be stretching it too far, because it’s ‘slice of life’ fiction from the author’s life. Go back to Agastya’s life in tiny pockets of time stretched over a week. You’ll enjoy it more.

Quiet Days in Clichy. If you are a woman, you should leave behind all your gender-associated sensitivity in some deep cranny, and retrieve them only after you are done reading this book. A thinly veiled autobiography of the writer’s early life in Paris as an yet unknown writer, this book disturbs you as much as it captivates you; maybe the disturbance is the bait. It’s about fucking prostitutes (stress on the plural) on quiet, rainy days in Paris by two struggling writers. However nauseating it sounds here, if you can disassociate your inner feminist for a moment to enjoy the prose you might like it. I don’t want to go down that lane and analyze; but I keep telling myself that it doesn’t degrade me as a woman if I enjoy reading Henry Miller, Hemingway or even our own Khushwant Singh. I haven’t watched the film. I figure the visuals would be too much; I’ve kept the words subdued in my imagination. I need a palate cleanser now. Something that deifies my gender.

 I will read ‘Birdsong” by Sebestian Faulks next.

Smorgasbord: Books, Badminton in Winter, Sketchbook Snippets, Chaudhury!

My trapped soul celebrated its freedom today by splurging on books. There’s a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Panbazaar where the books are stocked from floor to ceiling, obscuring the walls from view. Orgasmic! The tottering piles overwhelm me, but I linger for hours as I leaf through one book after another. I had missed them so dearly during the self-imposed three month hiatus, I actually sniffed a new book! I am sure there is a name for this book fetish in a therapist’s heavy tome somewhere. I bought six books today; my December is made. I will be in Delhi and Noida for a fortnight, starting this weekend, and I plan to visit Daryaganj’s Sunday Book Bazaar again for some cheap bargains. Can you hear my squeal of pure delight?

I bought the following books:
1. Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark
2. Atul Gawande’s Better
3. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August
4.  Henry Miller’s Quiet days in Clichy
5. M.J.Akbar’s Blood Brothers
6. Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers.
I start with August this December.
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This cold is a poor fragment of the winters of my childhood; it’s almost reluctant. But December is here and I shake out naphthalene balls from the folds of the woollens. Often I wake up as a Jedi warrior with my ears warmed underneath a hooded sweater. My mind rushes back a dozen winters when the winter sun held so many opportunities for happiness. There were the oranges, peeled and succulent, that I ate with sticky hands; and the naps I took, curled up on an old mattress on the terrace, and a book would slip off my hand as the sun got mellower.

We used to set up a badminton court every winter, and I had a hard time controlling my enthusiasm as I watched the coral coloured net stringed between two bamboo poles, the boundaries marked with chalk powder and even outdoor lights being put up, so that we played badminton late into the night, often after dinner. I was competitive and wanted to keep score, but my sister threw a tantrum every time I insisted on it. She found it an insult to our blood ties, but she was just scared of losing! My youngest uncle was my main competitor and we were ruthless on the court.

My grandmother had a grimy coal stove over which we toasted our feet every night. And as I got into bed, Ma would cover me with a quilt still warm from being sunned on the terrace. Then there were the picnics, but that’s another story.


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I have a writer in the family. How thrilling is that! My jethai (mother’s elder sister) is a powerhouse of talent. She paints, writes, cooks and excels in all three. She was Assam’s first female jailor, then she quit it all to set up her home. She held a paintbrush for the first time after the birth of her son, and then went on to set up her own art school! After her sons left home, she filled up the empty nest with her words. She is a prolific writer and has penned several novels apart from being a regular contributor to newspaper columns. Her book “Karagar’or Diary” (Prison Diary) has been serialized and adapted on screen. I wish that even a fragment of her genius rubs off on me. She taught me it’s never too late to follow your dreams. When I visited her today, she showed me a folder that held few of her paintings and sketches. For her these sketches are just spur-of-the-moment ideas captured on scraps of paper. But I feel they deserve more light than the dark recesses of the old Godrej almirah where they had been tucked in for years. I will put a series of her paintings on my photo blog soon, but here I leave you with a few of them.
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Snippets from the sketchbook of my jethai, Elu Devi Baruah

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Meanwhile I can’t stop listening to this song in a loop, despite having a very vague idea about its meaning. The song grows on you after each hearing. Here’s “Chaudhury” feat Amit Trivedi and Mame Khan.

Book Spine Poetry from My Library

The Waves,
French Lover;
Memoirs,
A Moveable Feast.

 

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
Lifting The Veil,
Great Expectations;
Girl With A Pearl Earring.

 

In Praise of Idleness
Speak, Memory;
More Great Stories,
The Age of Innocence.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts

I have been reading about the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Here gregariousness is revered and is often a survival requisite in careers and building relationships. A talker triumphs over a listener. Everyone is always ‘preparing a face to meet the faces it meets‘. This pressure to sell oneself, the preference of personality over character, can be overwhelming for the introverts who want a little quiet and solitude in their lives, and yet don’t want to lose out opportunities to the hyperthymic extroverts.
One remains unaware of this anxiety in early childhood. I used to spend hours holed up in a nook reading my favorite comics, watched Sunday cartoons, sketched trees and rivers, while the rest of the children in the neighbourhood broke windows with cricket balls. My participation  in their games was quite enthusiastic, but when night fell I also needed to chase fireflies in our garden, oblivious to amused stares. Adolescence brings awareness of preferences for spending time alone or not being able to break in to conversations with ease. Introverts have a small group of  friends and engages in one-on-one conversations rather than be part of a rowdy, large bunch of friends at school/college. They prefer to blend into the crowd, cringing at any unwanted spotlight. It isn’t ‘social anxiety‘ or ‘inferiority complex‘ or ‘depression‘ as many helpful souls had termed it in an attempt to diagnose quietness. Introverts can be chatty, but only with people they are comfortable with. They don’t start blabbering in front of complete strangers in order to emphasize friendliness. None but my closest friends understand why I let calls go unanswered sometimes or spend nights in with a book and revel in some much needed solitude. It’s not a rude avoidance of any social contact, introverts just need their own space to recharge and dive in to do the things they love.
Introverts are a misunderstood lot and often pitied for their lack of voice. ‘She’s very shy‘, my father would offer as an explanation for my apparent disinterest in striking up a conversation at social events. He apologized for my quietness! I’m not shy. When it comes to standing up for what I believe in, when speaking my heart out or when voicing my opinion I have always been very forthright, even at the times when it is a boldness bordering on foolhardy courage. Introverts don’t elbow their voices into every conversation around them or boastfully state their opinion about matters they know little about. They are often assertive, they are just not into its loud exhibition.
Introverts have a million thoughts in their minds, but will tell them to you on a quiet evening over a cup of coffee, sitting cross-legged on the bed; they won’t announce these to mere accquaintances at a party. I am very fortunate that two of my closest friends are introverts too and I enjoy not having the compulsion to impress them, or constantly make sure that they don’t get bored; often we spend time quietly pursuing our own interests in companionable silence.
I don’t put down the ability to converse well and be comfortable in any social setting. That’s an enviable skill, and I regard its immense importance in this talkative world. I thank my stars that I chose a profession that has nothing to do with the corporate world where mostly extroverts flourish. I am there to treat patients, do my job quietly and efficiently, and that’s it. I am happy with this amiable one-on-one interactions. Even among physicians, I have seen smooth talkers, the gregarious ones being considered more skilled than the quiet, unassuming ones because of efficient marketing. But few of the best physicians who I have had the honour to meet were very humble and quiet. Once I met Dr. P. Dhingra, ENT surgeon, and his affable and serene aura invoked great reverence. This tiny old man wrote a book every MBBS undergraduate student in India reads!
If someone asks me what is it like to be an introvert, I would probably murmur a single word answer and escape. But you can see the paragraphs I have been going on and on about introverts, simply because it’s in writing. Introverts love to write. If it were not for us, the postal system would have gone extinct. We communicate better through the written word, simply due to the myriad observations finally finding an outlet, without interruptions and the need for approval. One just has to write.
I have had my periods of frustration and anxieties about the conscious effort it takes me to keep up with  social interactions. There had been times when I smiled and nodded my head so enthusiastically to show my rapt attention, I nearly dislodged a vertebrae. I had observed and applied the nuances of small talk, but there’s a lurking fear that others can detect its pretentiousness, that it is not my own preference, but a genuine attempt to blend in just for once. I did enjoy the fringe benefits when I slipped into my extroverted phases, mostly the laughter and the fun. But as I said earlier, I need some quiet time in between such phasesor I’ll collapse. Few of the introverts I know had adopted the same ploy of slipping into extroverted phases, and had enjoyed it enough to remain so, pumping their liberated fists in air! Adulthood had freed me from the need to fit in and more comfortable in accepting the way I am, which is in a minority of solitude-seekers, quietly and happily doing their own thing. I admire the verve of extroverts, but I don’t regret its lack in me.

Introverts all over the world are reminded at every step to be more voluble, get some chutzpah and radiate an almost blinding energy. But it’s a comfort to stay true to one’s self rather than act through life to be another specimen of ‘ideal‘ as deemed by society. So, walk slowly at times. Think. Observe. Lose yourself in what interests you, instead of multi-tasking. Stop. Breathe. Listen. Awaken your inner introvert for a day, and recharge. Be quiet.

I am thankful to Susan Cain for writing ‘Quiet‘. It’s a thump of approval, a comforting re-assurance, a pat on the back for the introverts, long awaited and much appreciated.

Where’s My Corset?

Dark, rainy afternoons. Feet under blanket. Austen. The Bronte sisters. Dickens. Hardy, Thomas not Ollie. Brooding, plain-looking men with intelligent eyes and mocking smiles. Women with proud tilt of a slender, white neck, and mouths that were not rosebuds meant for saying just yes or no. Lots of grey, weather and attire. Untamed shrubbery. Parsonage and vicars. Panting, star-crossed lovers. Unabashedly emotive conversations; each sentence a squeal of love or sorrow. Rich men, poor women; poor men, rich women; endearingly predictive equations. Dissatisfied wives. Eloquent discourse on love and religion. Cruel, authoritarian relatives with a favoritism towards middle-aged aunts. Moors. Long walks in the garden. Courting as opposed to dating. Dressing for dinner. Intense gazes. A lot of swooning. Chimneys. Law books. Hansom cabs. Maids in waiting. Delicate laces and fans. Stubborn people. Opinionated people. Difficult childhood. London. Paris. Voyages. Sisters, similar. Women who want to write. Whirling petticoats. The trials of the fallen rich striving to manage with the bare necessities of at least two maids, one as a constant companion and ro brush one’s hair at bedtime, and the other to help with the mundane household chores, along with the undeniable requirement of a cook and if residing in the countryside, a gardener. One can have four personal employees to cater to comfortable living, and still be poor.

Victorian literature and its aforementioned charms had occupied a large and unregretted portion of my reading life, and I have re-immersed into this world of haughty, intelligent heroines with Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South‘.  I have been reading the trials of Margaret, a poor vicar’s daughter, whose adolescence was spent under the care of an aristrocratic aunt in London. She was just back in her country home, revelling in the blue skies and trees that whispered to her, when her father made the hard decision to relocate to an industrial town in the north of England. It was a contrast to all sensibilities and elements that Margaret had been exposed to. Smog colured the skies of Milton and its people preferred hard labour in the mills and factories, real work, to spending leisure time reading Homer. They were bold and boisterous, spoke clearly and with a frightening frankness. She wore old silk, they wore cotton. Margaret was prejudiced towards their surface crudeness, till she found a ‘human interest’, a friend. She met a reluctant opponent of her ideologies in John Thornton, a wealthy mill owner, who valued hard work and competence above everything, while she struggled with the humane side of the industrial revolution.


 I am occupied with studying for my exam in November and can manage a reading pace of no more than ten pages everyday, so I am just halfway through the book. But what I have read so far has caught my interest; Victorian literature by a woman, that is distinctly ‘not‘ Austen or a Bronte. I have been so immeresed in Margaret’s world for the past few days, it’s a wonder I am not wearing corsets and grey silk bonnets yet!

Stuck Inside

Stuck Inside
60 days till exam.
61 days till freedom.
124 days till the verdict.

Surges of pleasure in this dark abyss:
1. The Complete Haiku of Basho.
2. Studying in bed.
3. Dairy Milk Silk.
4. Willie Nelson.
5. Sunrises. Early morning rain.
6. A Rubberband journal and a purple pen.
7.Catnaps. Coffee.Catnaps. Coffee. Catnaps.
8. Blue shards of sky through the leafy canopy outside my window.
9. Cuddles. Laughter. Family.
10. Legitimate excuse for a loner to avoid small talk. Exams.
11. Quiet by Susan Cain.
12. Birthday anticipation.

Step-by-Step Guide of Having A Stroke.

This article is meant for medical PG aspirants, but everyone is welcome to read their plight.

There’s a new cause of stroke that I am contemplating to request for inclusion in the next edition of ‘Harrison’s Principles of  Internal Medicine’. The cause is rare, affecting only people of ages ranging from 24-27 years, who are bound by a common variable of ‘dreams of attaining a post-graduate medical seat’. It’s ‘The Deccan Chronicle‘ newspaper.

How?

Let me elaborate.

Picture a girl diligently burning the midnight oil for six days a week, surviving on catnaps and caffeine shots. Sometimes the words blur and amalgamate into a lumpy mass in the middle of the page and she rubs her eyes. The clock strikes 3am. She yawns and curls up on the little space available on the bed (which she prefers over a study desk), strewn with books and a laptop, only to be awakened three hours later by the weirdest alarm clock ever: a rude rooster, a (what seems to be a) gurgling cow and the synchronized wing flapping of three scary pigeons, all of whom the universe has conspired to allocate within ten meters of her window.

This is her bed, her books, her pillows and a giant yellow turtle.


She has an exam in three and half months, the same exam that she got through last year, but in a move of sudden boldness, decided to give up the allocated seat for a better subject the following year. She had taken a risk, and that’s the strongest motivation to force herself through the grueling schedule, just so that her risk doesn’t translate into foolishness! So, she studies. She had sketched out a routine that would enable her to complete her syllabus by the end of November and devote the next one and half months for mock tests and revisions. The routine strives to include time for indulging in her love for blogging, reading novels and watching obscure foreign films.

She is perpetually tired and people, who hadn’t seen her in a while, ask her if she had been ill. But she is satisfied that she has a chance at scoring a good rank if she continues to work hard, and that too without giving up the things that she finds enriching. A lot is riding on her exam performance; her career, gaining back the time she had lost, marriage (that her parents keep dropping subtle hints about) and just ‘moving ahead‘. It doesn’t help that she is eligible only for the nation-wide exam, and that she belongs to the unfortunate batch of guinea-pigs the examining authority had decided to test with an entirely new pattern of exam, the sacred details of which is religiously guarded by them! She has no option but to indulge the speculations of the coaching centers who are cashing in on this panic among students.

She had been a good girl throughout the week and had abstained from all online social networks. So as a reward, she logged on to Zuckerberg’s money-making enterprise yesterday evening (irony?).

This is where the stroke comes in!

There is an article ‘liked’ by few hundred PG aspirants and a string of comments longer than she ever got in any of her photo albums. She is a curious creature, have always been so, and she clicks on the link. The article is from ‘The Deccan Chronicle‘ and as her eyes read the first few sentences, she suffers a stroke. Everything blacks out for a moment, or maybe it was eternity. She tries to move her eyes away, but all voluntary movements had come to a standstill.

The article stated that the exam that was supposed to be held in January second week, and based on which she had carefully chalked out her study routine to complete her preparations, has been scheduled for November third week instead. Seven weeks preponed and informed just two months prior to the exam! She is a ruined woman.

This is “Zor Ka Jhatka” on steroids! She is still experiencing episodes of residual absence seizures every few hours every time she contemplates the news. By today evening, she has gained some composure and is back to pursuing the only thing that is in her control: studying!

The coaching center is placating the mass hysteria among the students by assuring that it is just a rumour but, why take chances? Laboratory guinea pigs can’t afford to do so!

(Note: 1) Observation: Blog Updated. Inference: The above news is a rumour, and she’s ecstatic!
            2) Observation: Blog updated only in December. Inference: The above news is true! She barely managed to scrape through the ordeal.
             3) Observation: Blog never updated again! Inference: She’s dead. Or rearing llamas in Peru.)

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Other Updates (non stroke-inducing):

Books:  I’m reading The Marriage Plot‘ by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’m in love with the narrative. On page 52 now. Other books on the nightstand are Hanif Kuireshi’s ‘The Black Album‘ and Dorothy Parker’s ‘Complete Stories‘. I loved reading Nora Ephron’s breezy essays in ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck‘ so I read another collection of essays last week, ‘I Remember Nothing‘. It doesn’t live up to the preceding volume of essays but there were things that caught my interest, like ‘My Aruba‘ (which is the name Ephron had given to the particular arrangement of hair strands on the back of the head that gets clumped sideways at the slightest provocation of a mild breeze or a bus ride, and it appears to be a bald spot or a sign of never owning a comb. It is named after the trees in Aruba, that are all bent to one side owing to strong winds. Now I have a name for it!). I found it hilarious and painfully familiar.

Movies: I watched Shyam Benegal’s ‘Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda‘. The language was a constraint, and I am not sure the subtitles were accurate enough. But I enjoyed the story-telling, the gradual unfolding of stories within stories. It’s about what love is NOT. It highlights the various socio-economic factors that come into play when we pursue love. The characters were flawed, and hence believable. They break your heart, especially Neena Gupta‘s character. Planning to watch Pestonjee next week.

Doodling on a post-it.
 And I’m still in love with Barfi! Main kya karoon?


Travels: Does the gym count?

Duet: On People who Gifted Me Books. On Love.

 On People Who Gifted Me Books

Only four persons gifted me books I love and thus brought upon them the misfortune of being gushed over for life by yours truly.

Ruskin Bond’s autograph

There is Mannan, my classmate from medical college, who is straight out of an Austen novel- brooding, intense and frighteningly intelligent. He was in Mussorietraining to be an IAS officer and I had asked him to try to get me Ruskin Bond’s autograph. A few months later he sent me a book autographed by an author whose stories populated my childhood. Thank you, Mannan. I really appreciate the gesture. He gifted me Dust on the Mountains by Ruskin Bond.

Reading it now

There is Shakeel, a friend from high school who writes like a dream. He is living a life I covet and admire; writing and getting paid for it. Someday I hope to read a book written by him. Our mutual friend, Snata, is an amazing writer too and I’m simply happy to know this talented duo. I received a book from him today; and it was so unexpected and it made me so happy. Shakeel, prepare to be gushed over for life that would embarrass you enough to hide behind doors and duck under tables whenever you see me. He gifted me The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi.

Mystical

The third is Amrita, who is nothing short of my soul sister. We have conjoined hearts and minds. She is a quiet person weaving her own world; and it’s a beautiful world peopled with soulful thoughts. I’m glad she invited me into her world where we can talk about books, movies, love, life, men and hills. She has gifted me a lot of books including Paulo Coelho’s The Fifth Mountain.

Heart-felt essays and poems

Then there is Priyanka, who is courage personified. She brims with intelligence, wit, confidence and a passion for writing and for making the world a better place. She has taken risks in life that I highly admire; she is vibrant and full of infectious energy. She recently got into MIT as the prestigious 2012/2013 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow and it makes me proud beyond measure. I cherish you, Priyanka. She gifted me Kora by Tenzin Tsundue.

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On Love

I write about love, but I’m not a lover. I read about love, but I don’t live it. I see love, but I am a mere observer. Even when I was in love, when I was a lover, when I thought I was loved, it was emptiness and detachment wrapped in a thin crust of passion, that was a ghost of some earlier self, and a dollop of forced interest. This detachment and ambiguity of feelings scared me and I tried to be involved; I became neurotic about it and felt re-assured when I experienced symptoms of romantic jealousy or missed someone, which gave a false sense of being in love, or capable of being in love. I am often swept off my feet, but never by a person; it’s always a singular attribute: a warm smile, owning a common set of books, very often it’s the eyes, or kindness, sharp wit, ambition, intelligence, a fancy pair of shoes, arrogance, clean nails, someone who dines with family, writes poems, well-travelled, chivalry works every time too, or sometimes it’s just a mix of serendipity and hormones.

I can’t define love anymore. I was naive once, not so long ago, in a time when everything seemed possible and there were no missing puzzle pieces. I knew it once, this love, without having to say it in words and I poured it copiously in letters and gestures. But one day it slapped me out of my reverie. Singular attributes continued to lodge in my heart instead of a whole person. Now that time has lifted the veil off the pretenses I had forced myself to believe, I wonder why I ever considered it to be love. The conversations bored me, the laughter was hollow and I longed to be alone and with a book instead. But instead I talked for hours, laughed out loud, was a finicky and clingy lover, as if the love was real! I planned strategies, I made lists of pros and cons, I observed the duel of my mind and heart, and I was scared of acknowledging that it was doomed from the start or that I was passing off a fleeting attraction as love or worse, that I was incapable of love anymore. At twenty three! I was scared of letting go lest I don’t meet anyone before I turned thirty, or forty, or fifty.Knights on white horses were a cliché even when I was just ten. The concept of ‘casual dating‘ and testing the waters is lost on me too. So I settled for the first decent person who confessed his love for me. Sad, I know.
My friends call me the ‘most romantic person ever’ and I squirm in discomfiture. I worship romance. I love to love. I crave intimacy. But on actual confrontation with it, I panic and withdraw into a shell. It baffles me. Why do I get attracted to men who I know for sure will break my heart? Why am I incapable of living the romance that exudes from every single fiber of my heart? Have you watched the scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen is making love to Diane Keaton and she just lies there in bed, inert and passive, and her soul has an ‘out-of-body’ experience and walks around the room, lights up a smoke and reads a book? That’s exactly how I feel when I convince myself that I’m in love!
I have thought about it and have come up with few half-baked theories:
a)  I have set certain standards for the man I want to fall in love with and so far I haven’t met anyone who had lived up to them. Practicality convinces me that the standards are high, and I should settle even when just a quarter of my expectations are met. I did so; but deep down I knew it wasn’t what I was looking for and it would only damage me; so I clammed up, emotionally and even physically. One called me prude; the other thought I was sexless. But I tell myself it’s just about not meeting the right person.
b)  I can’t believe that anyone can love me. I have my own set of insecurities which leads me to wonder why would a person decide to devote his time and love on me when they could do so for the millions of other girls who are prettier, can speak well, can make them laugh, can walk on high heels, have lustrous hair, independent and knows how to dance. Why would anyone love me? And this question leads on to another disturbing query, ‘Do I love myself?’ Over the years I have started liking ‘me’, even though I am not bursting with love for myself. If loving self is tough, it becomes tougher to believe that one is worthy of love. Cynicism sets in. Sometimes it takes deep roots. It’s tough to see ourselves through a lover’s eyes, which in my mind is always scanning for flaws! ‘You had been bad relationships. Once you know love, all your cynicism will go out of the window’, my friends tell me. I give them a wry smile and my eyes mock their optimism, but my heart thumps with hope.
c) I worry about the word ‘forever‘. Intolerance is rampant. Who has time for love? Or the patience to make things work. People jump from bed to bed, memories fade, and all that remains of what started as a promise of growing old together is a tattered  Hallmark card. You start cautiously; you exchange likes and dislikes, you move on to dreams and hopes, then comes the stories of childhood and secrets you don’t tell your friends. You remember anniversaries of first date and first stirrings of love, and get wooed by flowers and dizzy kisses. Then one day when you least expect it (or expected and dreaded since always), everything vanishes. And you are left wondering why you invested so much time and effort on the relationship. It disturbs you that your declarations of affection and confessions of your innermost thoughts are in the mind of a man forever lost in the crowd. You despair that you are back to square one; you have to lay a foundation again, and build block by block another relationship. Just the thought of the effort tires you. So you remain passive.
d) I am scared of infidelity. I have seen it at close quarters in people around me. I question the existence of monogamy. And it disturbs me that I have reached a stage when I feel fidelity is a blessing. I try to be nonchalant about the end of a relationship and feel liberated from a worse fate in the future. But lurking in the subconscious is a cautiousness that’s overwhelming and sometimes damaging, nipping opportunities in the bud.
e) I am selfish. I want it all. The wooing, the proclamations of love, the romance, the right amount of possessiveness, the loyalty, the opposites that attract, the similarities that bind, the conversations that are endless and effortless (Before Sunrise hangover), the adequate space, public displays of affection (not bordering on perversion), the flavor of newness, the comfort of familiarity, the intimacy of knowing looks unknown to the rest of the world, the respect, the honesty, the book-lover, the laughter, distinctively ‘I’ yet ‘We’, a team of two in this world or against this world, growing together in life (not in chronological sense), and a disarming smile is always appreciated. And yes, soulful eyes. Since re-incarnation is not an established fact and I’ve just one life to live, why compromise? So, I wait.
A cynicism has seeped into my attitude towards love that I largely attribute to certain bitter experiences. But in the past week I watched three movies, three unusual love stories that have dusted off some of the cynic crust layering my heart.

Hypnotic

The first is Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’. This movie seduced me! It curled my toes, sent a shiver up my spine and unspeakable parts of my anatomy, and haunted my dreams for the next few nights. The simple act of passing each other on the stairs on the way to buy noodles can be orgasmic for the viewer. It told of a love that crept up unknowingly, discreetly; a love that would be illicit yet the purest form of love. Intense gazes, dark passageways, metaphorical rain when the tension brought you to the edge of explosion, a haunting melody that intensified every gesture-a bend of the neck, a touch of the earlobe, a wave of the hand. ‘It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered, to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.’ The agony stayed with me, I lived that tale of doomed love for two hours and a long time thereafter. It reinstated something I thought I had lost.

Subtle longing

The second is Before Sunset. Its prequel is one of my favorite movies of all time. But this movie edged ahead with a subtler love and longing that I could identify with better. It’s set in Paris over the course of an hour; two people who met just once and had spent an amazing and meaningful night in Vienna, meet again after nine years. They are still in love, but are cautious and bound by new commitments. They walk around and talk about everything under the sun. The effortless conversation portrayed in the movie is what I crave. No mushy talk, no promises, no flattering. But the love is palpable as it surfaces with every passing moment. The fragility of it all and the fierceness with which they protect it and hide it is touching. The way he looks at her, the way she looks at him, secretive yet fully aware, melted my heart.

Melt! 🙂

The third is Barfi! I don’t need to elaborate on this; by now everyone and their uncle must have watched it. It felt like a warm, fuzzy cocoon. Misty hills, the humor (Saurabh Shukla takes a nervous bow when he is caught peeing in the field by the hidden farmers), the dizzying visuals, the refreshing silence that spoke volumes, the Chaplin-esque acts, the lifted sequences (like the train scene from Fried Green Tomatoes) that blended so well and thus forgiven in an instant, the charming Barfi and the adorable Jhilmil ignited in me a love for the whole world! So this weekend I feel everything is possible and good things will happen. I put Libya and Egypt and diesel hike away for a while and basked in the mellow Barfi daze. But it’s the tender innocence of a love so giving and so enduring that rejuvenated my sense of romance.

I’ve a filmiheart!
 

Smorgasbord: Dating Readers, Ephron’s Neck, Calvino and Me, Being Jane Morris, Birthday Blues, Wedding Whiff

via urban sketchers

I spend a considerable amount of time trying to understand how my words and actions get interpreted, because more often than not people read between the lines for non-existent revelations. I lack the social graces and the ability for small talk; I get nervous when the onus of conversing with strangers or more than one person befalls me. I can’t talk about the weather, the people in front of me might not be readers and that eliminates books as conversation starters, I stare with my eyebrows raised to show interest, my mouth freezes in a half-smile and to heighten the creepiness I check the time every fifteen seconds. My tongue utters sentences that seem alien to my mind, I curse the unbearable length of a minute, I feign nonchalance and tip my head back but tip it further than I intended to and my chin hangs in an awkward thrust towards the ceiling, and heaven forbid if I have food in front of me, my lap is littered with crumbs. The  funny sentences, the smart one-liners, the queries about the pet and the travels, the sympathies about dental work and humidity-assaulted hair, and interesting trivia about Einstein or Madonna come to my mind usually a day after the end of such disastrous conversations. Despite the utmost caution with which I tread in making my point across, I often send innumerable wrong signals. My list of faux pas when it comes to interactions with people other than those in the inner circle of friends and family is longer than Sheldon Cooper‘s failures in detecting sarcasm.

Today I re-read this article about dating ‘a girl who reads‘ that I had read a year earlier. I present an excerpt from the article; it’s a lovely message that only lovers of book lovers will understand thoroughly.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

via Cyril Rolando

Sundays find me awake at a frighteningly early hour and staring bleary eyed at textbooks ranging from medicine to orthopaedics, and later reading the fat weekend newspaper while I eat my breakfast at the pace slower than of a snail finishing a marathon. Then I struggle for a frustrating ten minutes to hide my scalp, the graveyard of my beloved and recently deceased clumps of hair. I drive out of home a few minutes to nine am and on the way I rewind and keep listening to the songs that the iPod throws my way. I appear for a mock test every Sunday morning which I hope will equip me well in preparation for the important exam in January. I get bored of attempting questions after just twenty five minutes and start tapping my foot till the students around me glare disapprovingly. I dash home for the half a day in the week when I have declared a self-imposed ban on my MCQ books; from Sunday noon to midnight this bird is free from its cage. I sweat in anticipation and my hands grow cold as if I’m off for a secret rendezvous with a panting lover hidden in the dark bushes outside my window. I got that from Madame Bovary. I open the novels that had titillated me in stolen pockets of time throughout the week and watch a movie later at night. Twelve hours of pure, unadulterated pleasure and none of it involves a lover or dark chocolate or Disneyland.

I read two books last week Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart‘ and Nora Ephron’s ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck‘, and they were as diverse as they can get. One is set in a Nigerian village towards the end of the nineteenth century and the other is set in  1960s-1990s New York City. One is fiction based on stories the author heard, the other is an essay of womanhood. One is written by a legend of African literature and the other wrote few emotionally-manipulative Hollywood movies that I love so much. One is about drinking palm wine in the first hunted human head and the despise towards a lazy, flute-playing father, the other is about the joy of Julia Child’s cookbook and hiding wrinkled necks in mandarin collars. I loved both the books; but since my week had started on a sad note, Achebe’s grim novel was slightly upstaged by Ephron’s breezy essays about living in the most vibrant city in the world, the woes of ‘maintenance‘ by manicures and blow drys in case one runs into an ex-lover, the stages of parenting etc made me smile more and she won my heart with the sentence ‘Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.

 
This weekend I bought three books from Flipkart: Italo Calvino’s ‘If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller‘, Dorothy Parker’s ‘Complete Stories‘ and Julio Cortazar’s ‘Blow Up: And Other Stories‘. I also got Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl‘ and David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas‘ on by e-book reader. I am reading Calvino this week because his imaginative novel makes me, the reader, the protagonist!


I make sure to indulge in something sinfully good every week; sometimes it’s poetry by Whitman or Cummings, sometimes it’s a dark chocolate ice-cream, last week it was browsing online for  Pre-Raphealite art by my favorites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and John William Waterhouse. I devoured these paintings for hours till I fantasized being Jane Morris with the long honey-coloured curtain of hair and that proud nose and those sensual lips. I was mesmerized by the warm greens and mellow golds in their paintings.

 One of my favorite paintings is by an associate of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Sir Frederick Leighton; I had an acute case of Stendhal Syndrome when I first saw his ‘Flaming June‘.


Birthdays make me delirious with joy, they are highly over-rated in my world. I become excited on New Year’s Day for my birthday in November! I expect the world to stop spinning for a moment on my birthday to acknowledge its significance in my life. I blame it on my parents. Growing up, birthdays were the most coveted and lavishly celebrated events in an otherwise commonplace childhood in a small town. There were more than five hundred guests, I repeat, five bloody hundred guests on each of my birthdays till I decided I was too grown up to wear a party hat and cut a cake while standing under a tuft of balloons. I missed the mountain of gifts though. I continued celebrating birthdays that ranged from a rowdy get-together of friends with mock stripteases and dangerous truths to quiet dinners with family and a temple visit in the morning. Birthdays rule my life and birthday cynics turn me off. I make sure I don’t let the birthdays of my loved ones be just an ordinary day; I am worse than Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreations determined to celebrate Ron Swanson’s birthday. That’s why the news that this years AIIMS post graduate entrance exam is scheduled for the day after my birthday has caused such an emotional upheaval in my life! I don’t want to study on my birthday, but that’s what I’d probably wind up doing instead of all the good stuff I’d imagined, one of which included a leisurely lunch with my girlfriends who would coincidentally all be in town this November.

But God is kind, and he soothed my bruised heart with a news that made my heart do joyful somersaults. My oldest and ‘best-est’ (yes, I use this word) friend is planning to tie the knot next year and I feel so happy for her and the ‘best-est’ (again!) guy in the world that she has chosen to spend her life with (I told her just now that I am officially in love with him too after hearing about his romantic gestures and old-world, Victorian era gentlemanly concern for her which is so hard to come by nowadays. He is Mr.Darcy or ‘non blind’ Mr.Rochester!).

I will watch a movie now, In The Mood For Love.

Weekend

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.

-Walt Whitman

The magic hour when all the ideas are yours and the pillow is soft and the windows are open and the moon throws oblong shadows on your bed and the cicadas sing and the breeze softly brushes your feet.

I have been reading poems. Poems about love and desire, life and death, spring and autumn, hope and despair, books and travels, men and women, days and nights, time and eternity. Poems by Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Rabindranath Tagore, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou,John Keats and Sylvia Plath. Poems that exhilarate me, kindle flaming hopes, drown me in despair, bind me in a realm of fantasy, curl my toes, awaken myriad questions, isolate me, melt me into the unknown, swirl my soul and harbinger a good night’s rest.


I have also been reading a book that caused furrows in my mother’s forehead when I had unpacked it in front of her. It is Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘The Bad Girl‘. This is the book I chose to linger the charm of ‘Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter‘. A flip of forty pages and I’m thrown into Miraflores teenagers and Parisian bureaucrats,  bad girl who toys with the heart of a good boy, Peruvian guerrilla warfare and military coup. I vainly try to curb the erotomania for authors that seduce me with their words; this desire to devote my entire being to their genius and gaining a scandalously long list of potential lovers in the form of Hemingway, Pamuk, Nabokov, Chekhov, Saki, Jules Verne and now Mario Vargas Llosa.

I felt around in the dark for the switch that operates the need to stay connected and be within reach of a writing wall, 140 words or a beeping mailbox icon; then turned it off for the weekend. I read poems and the novel, I crossed off items in my ‘to study’ list, I took catnaps, I listened to Nat King Cole and even ‘The Kooks’, I watched a Woody Allen movie, and I got scared by a pigeon on my bathroom window. I heard the song ‘Tokari‘ by Papon and couldn’t stop the tapping foot and the heart bursting with a blazing love for Assam. I read the obituary of Armstrong and at night watched the moon that he walked on, and the space where a woman of Indian origin is still floating in, with gravity defying hair framing her face.

I basked in much needed solitude; it is so addictive, I think I will continue it till it gets on my nerves.

Smorgasbord of Rituals

Habit is not mere subjugation, it is a tender tie: when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness.
–Elizabeth Bowen
Often inadvertent actions slip into unknowing uniformity and turn rituals, but these everyday rituals define us, comfort us and bring a certain order to our lives. I’m not the paragon of self-discipline, and I lack a structured life. Yet certain rituals have osmosed into my life, and remained.
Coffee and Crosswords
I nearly barfed in my mouth when I first tasted jasmine tea served in the lilliputian cups by a stand-in-Chinese waiter; but the taste (or the lack of it) grew on me and this aromatic concoction is on my table every morning now. It’s a part of my morning ritual which includes the following:
  1. Fumbling under my pillow for my phone to check for any messages, hoping for some earth-shattering good news only to find BSNL/Pizza Hut/Tata Photon spamming my inbox.
  2. Two minutes of stupor as I struggle with the decision of acquiring a little more sleep, and as testified by my family this is the most dangerous time of the day to approach me. Civility is clouded by sleep and primitive instincts of violence are sharp.
  3. An unnaturally long walk (or so it seems) to the sink to brush and floss and being startled every time by my the sight of my hair that could nest an Emu.
  4. Drinking jasmine tea (and this time in a cup made for adequately sized humans) in a desperate attempt to replace the caffeine in my veins.
  5. Sitting cross-legged on the divan in the verandah, leafing through the morning newspaper to check the headlines and the crossword, and inhaling lungfuls of recommended daily intake of fresh air.
  6. Dragging my reluctant feet to the study desk where tattered MCQ books lay awaiting me.
 This routine has subtle variations once in a while to include coffee; and on the days I’m charged up about fitness (usually brought about by reading a new issue of Prevention Magazine) it includes an early morning swim/a walk/half an hour on the stationary cycle which on other days serve as a clothes hanger.
Assault of My Eyes
I don’t eat carrots, or spinach. And I read ALL the time. My hawk-eyed parents make sure I study enough hours in preparation for that elusive AIPGE seat. Then I read the books on my ‘to read’ list just about every where; on the pot, while I ‘inhale’ my lunch without taking my eyes off the book, on my way to the gym (on my way back from the gym I usually lay motionless and breathless on the back seat of my car), while waiting in a queue, while waiting for perpetually running late friends (I’m sure they say the same thing about me), at dinner as my parents threaten to snatch the damn book away and in bed before I drift off to sleep (in a ‘dontiya do’ position, which only Assamese readers will understand!).  Once a month I switch off my phone, shut my door, put on a pair of comfortable pajamas, assemble a variety of snacks, get in bed and spend the day in a marathon reading session. But my eyes have miraculously survived this assault so far and been at a respectable -0.25D all these years (I made the ever-obliging and surprisingly mild-mannered ophthalmology post graduate trainees check my vision quite often during my internship).
Notebook Porn or Life’s Witness
I have a notebook fetish. I hoard them, especially the tiny ones with faded yellow pages. I keep a journal even though I am erratic in maintaining it and absolutely love the diaries from ‘Rubber Band’, with their unassuming black cover and smooth white pages with rounded corners. There are doodles, poems, even limericks and declarations of love and of despise interspersed among the mundane details of my day. Every night I furtively glance around for spies lurking behind curtains and sneak out my diary from its hiding place to jot down a brutally honest account of all that I feel, which would lead me to trouble in the courteous world.
Get Me Tokyo!
Recently the armchair traveller in me has been harboring a fascination for Japan and try to watch at least one of the following shows on NHK World every week: “At home with Venetia in Kyoto”, “Takeshi’s Art Beat”, “Somewhere Street”, “Cool Japan” or “Tokyo Eye”. I watch a movie every weekend, mostly world cinema, courtesy of the heaven-sent torrents. I will watch “The Red Violin” tomorrow.
The Secret Life of Monica Geller
Every fortnight I go through an obsessive compulsive cleaning spree that is almost meditative. I neatly fold clothes in my wardrobe and arrange them according to colour, I air the books in my library and the shoes in my closet and clean out disk space and back up the files on my laptop. This particular ritual is equivalent to a spa visit and rejuvenates me.
Of Talking to God And Not Telling My Therapist About It
I’m neither an atheist nor overtly religious. I rarely visit temples, and send my reluctant mother as my proxy to any religious ceremony. I have grown up watching my parents take their wet slippers off after bath, stand in front of the tiny ‘mandir’ at our home, light up a few incense sticks, bow their heads and pray with a devotion so pure that awed me even as a child as did the ritual’s unfailing regularity. I try to replicate such ‘proper’ prayers only before examinations and they are shamelessly need-based. But I have an informal talk with an unspecific and omnipresent ‘God’ daily while lying in the dark and awaiting sleep. I relate the events of the day and point out (for future consideration) how things could have been better, express gratitude for all the good things in my life-acquired ones than those given unasked-and repeated reminders to make sure that the coming day goes without any mishaps for my near and dear ones. I carry a tiny Ganesha idol in my bag everywhere I go. That’s all the religion I have.
The Rest
  • Being the sole custodian of birthdays in the extended family and undertaking the task of wishing them every year.
  • Saving up for winter, the season of books fairs.
  • Playing cards with my parents on rainy evenings and listening to Pa’s uproarious anecdotes.
  • Late night phone calls with my best friend (she does the calling up, I can’t afford hour long international calls) to share the comical indifference of our parents to the idea of marrying off their daughters who will always be 20 year old in their minds.
  • Making perfectly round and spicy omelettes on the rare occasions when I lose my way and end up in the kitchen.
  • Writing in stolen pockets of time.
  • Putting up a Christmas tree (remnant of a missionary school education and overdose of Christmas movies) every year.
  • Packing my suitcase two days before a trip and staring at the clock in a vain attempt to make it move faster by sheer will.
What are the rituals that govern your life?

Sunday Inertia, Gluttony, Whodunits and Fernweh

Ma asks what I want for breakfast. ‘Something scrumptious’, flashes in my mind in bold,neon Spongebob yellow Comic Sans font. My ‘usual’ breakfast (since a month) has been brown bread, a runny herb omelette and frothy coffee. My weird body clock with its slipshod sleep rhythm and food cravings somehow deduces that it is Sunday, and demands some calorie-laden, scrumptious goodness. But I am averse to dishes that required elaborate planning or waiting time enough for my impatient stomach to digest itself. I want something oily, filling, and quick. And soon I sit down to eat pasta with oodles of sauce while watching the early morning joggers stretch their lithe bodies after a fat-burning run. Show-offs. 7am.
Summer. Sunshine. Sundays. Siestas. This quartet holds true for me. I am quick to blame the weather if I’m caught taking a nap. But I’ve loved these naps even before I first came upon the word ‘siesta’ in Gerald Durrell’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’; and considering my intense devotion towards this word, I often entertain the thought of being a Corfu inhabitant in a past life. As I sit down to Sunday lunch, I look at the clock and smile contently as in half an hour I will be in bed with a book and try to fight sleep, all the while rooting for the enemy. Rejuvenated after an hour, with replenished vigour, I feel a surging love for everything the world has to offer. But it translates to nothing more than a stretch of my arms and sitting cross-legged on my bed. That burnt some calories, I hope. 2pm.
Books. Five lay on my bedside table. And this weekend I’m reading two of them, John Updike’s ‘My Father’s Tears& Other Stories’ and ‘Great Expectations’ (I had ignored Dickens and most of classic literature in my formative years). After I lost my childhood to comics and adolescence to cheap paperbacks about summer romances (J-17s), blood-thirsty butlers with eye patches (whodunit novels), husbands who don’t YET love their wives or ruthless tycoons tamed by nubile young things (Mills and Boons), I resolved to undo some of the damage and read only ‘good’ books even if it killed me. But to my pleasant surprise I love these ‘good’ (read respectable) books. The whodunit thrillers and heaving bosom romances with lamentable prose were a thing of the past, and I prided myself on this transition. On a whim I decide to check the ebook library on my phone today and the book cover of a distressed lady in a brown coat holding hands with a sinister man in handcuffs catches my eye. It is “The Lodger” by Mrs. Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes. Set in 1913 London and inspired by the killings of Jack the Ripper, it tells the story of an old couple (The Buntings) who take in a lodger, but Mrs.Bunting has strong suspicions that their new lodger is the man behind the frequent murders that had been occurring in the cover of the London fog. The novelty of a thriller written in 1913, the psychological complexity and a healthy curiosity that it induces is very engaging, even though I fear a relapse into my previous fascination for racy page turners. But then, who cares? 6pm.
Online. Twitter. Tumblr. Facebook. Google Reader. Just the thought of them exhausts me and after a laconic browse, I single out the content that interests me. I came upon a quirky cartography site, a book review site that also posts beautiful art when they feel like it, and the German word ‘Fernweh’ (which means longing for faraway places, the poetic certainty that things are better elsewhere. I love it. I have it.). 8pm.

I don’t write in my journal today. This is it. My Sunday. In all its inertness, aloofness, and passivity of limbs. I’ll go back to “The Lodger” now. 11pm.

And yes, I found this on Tumblr today. I can’t help smiling.

Reading In Bed When Cold Rains Killed The Spring

When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason. In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.
Ernest Hemingway (A Movable Feast)
The bright spring morning and the promises it held was a deception; and as I bent over the sink washing my face and trying to rub off a pillow imprint, I could hear the first drops of rain. The sky was overcast with dark clouds; blotting out the sun and it’s tinseled rays, that had entered my window at dawn and had spread so unabashedly over my bed as I tried to hold on to the last remnants of sleep. As the downpour grew steadily, I looked longingly at my bed, overwhelmed by a strong desire to climb back into it, snug under a quilt and a book in hand. The human brain makes innumerable connections, and a certain stimuli can bring about the need to re-create a pleasurable ambience from the past. Rain for me meant being in bed with a book.
My earlier disappointment at a cloudy day ebbed off as I eyed my books, running my fingers over the spines that had seen better days and careful owners. I had picked up these books last winter, squatting on a footpath and haggling over prices while precariously balancing a dozen books on my hands. And now I stared at these dozen new books, trying to decide on a good volume of short stories. I’d started reading Hemingway’s ‘A Movable Feast’ yesterday, but today’s a ‘cloudy’ spring day, and I want to read short stories, and will get back to Hemingway when the sun comes out. I tried to recall the passage I had read before drifting off to sleep last night; about hunger making the senses grow stronger, as pictures seem clearer and writing more vibrant. I was yet to have breakfast, and my mind was quick to paint the picture of a foamy cup of coffee and homemade vanilla cake while leafing through the familiar writing of a favorite author.
The rain drummed on against the windowpane and the tin roof of the old shed next to my room. It was early morning, but it looked like dusk, as a bland grey suffused through the sky, the horizon, the trees, the buildings, and the silhouettes of people with raincoats and umbrellas. I turned back to my bookshelf where short stories of Chekov, Maupassant, O. Henry, Saki, D.H. Lawrence, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Tagore and even Murakami vied for my attention; and Maupassant won. I took the fat, purple volume with the now yellowed pages and extremely small print, as I remembered the first time I had read Maupassant. It was a story called ‘Love’, about the love of a wild bird for its mate that had been shot dead. I was ten, and I remember the teacher squinting as he read out the lines, “I’m a simple man with simple tastes”, and he paused for a while and then looked so contented with himself, as if he were the inspiration behind these lines.
So the foamy coffee and two slices of vanilla cake and the stories of Maupassant and a warm bed and the rain with occasional thunderbolts, created my happiness on a cloudy spring morning. 
And as the sun came out, I went to gym, showered, studied for an exam, and crossed items off a ‘to-do’ list and at midnight returned to Hemingway, Shakespeare and Company and writing in 1920s Parisian cafes.

Hills

“Mod”, the movie I watched this weekend. I had always been a Nagesh Kukunoor fan, enraptured by his simple storytelling in Dor and Hyderabad Blues.
Loopholes and unwanted subplots abound; there is an unimaginative “Mod” (turn) in the story, and few sequences were rushed and repetitive. But I didn’t want it to end.
I wanted to keep watching the sun peeping through the misty mornings of the charming hill town of Ganga, waking up to steaming cups of coffee, the unhurried existence, rides up the winding mountain roads in an old bike, the quaint clock repair shop, the delightful “Kishore Kumar fan” father, the fun and assertive aunt, the girl wooed by poems and poetry and the tender love story bloom. The movie had so many elements that I liked and wanted to see more of, but sadly they reached a plateau a bit too soon and got lost in the cacophony of the titular “Mod”.
But I would watch this poetic fable again, despite shortcomings, for it’s a Kukunoor film and he delivers some of the charming elements I looked forward to. Just like I would keep returning to every Pamuk novel, even if certain pages get tedious, because of the familiarity of prose that speak directly to me; I would return to “Mod” again.
The hills did it for me.
I explored another small hill town, Shillong, in the book I had been reading in stolen pockets of time over the past fortnight. Shillong had always been a favorite weekend getaway, owing to its proximity to Guwahati. The unruly rain that disobeyed all weather forecasts, tree-lined paths, frosty mornings, the old world charm of cottages and churches, the buzz of the market selling shoes a size too small for me, the cafes and eateries with impromptu performances, the rock music fans, the kwai chewing gentle souls, the undulating hills, waterfalls and brooks veiled in lush greenery; I had been a good tourist and fell in love with all these long ago. I never gave much thought what it would be like to live in Shillong, the town that held strawberry pie bake-offs, skinny dipping contests on New Year’s Eve, and has created generations of people who breathed music and religiously held Dylan concerts. I never wondered what it’d feel like waking up to the cold, invigorating air and a foggy breath every morning of my life. Or what it would be like to walk the rain-washed, grey pavements on a regular basis; will the rain depress me? Will the pine trees smell equally enticing after I rest under their shade for the fiftieth time?
I had been born and raised in the plains, where the pollution and dust to greenery ratio escalated every year. I need a Shillong break every year, but will the small town charm captivate me for a longer period?
I found answers in Anjum Hasan’s “Lunatic in my Head”. The book had piqued my interest because of the author’s origins in North-East India. The prose is subtle, poetic and rich. It follows the lives of three individuals who are strangers yet are bound to each other through acquaintances, circumstances and destinies. They lead parallel lives with events ranging from joyous to that of disgust, occurring almost simultaneously. The central protagonist is the small town of Shillong, how it binds them, shapes their destinies, creates in them a desire to escape and finally their reconciliation to their place of existence.
There is Firadaus, a thirty something lecturer who is entangled in her world of completing a PhD thesis on Jane Austen’s work, a young Manipuri boyfriend, an orthodox grandfather and submission to living her entire life in Shillong. The second character is Aman, an IAS aspirant, who feels Roger Waters writes songs inspired by his letters to him, and has a group of rock enthusiasts for friends. He loves a Khasi girl for whom Pink Floyd is just another band and this depresses him, along with his IAS preparation, his aloof parents and his own timidity. And there is eight year old Sophie who loves to smile when her parents smile, and convinces herself that she must have been adopted. Her world is about a mother who was pregnant a for a tad too long, a father who hopes for a job to fall into his lap, a kind Khasi landlady and her disturbingly provocative son, her school and the constant need to please Miss Wilson, her novels and the character of Anna.
These three lives are entwined subtly, each individual unaware of each other’s presence till they intersect for a brief moment once. The narrative is compelling and experimental, and the characters and subplots are well sketched out.
Nothing extraordinary happens in small towns, cocooned from the rest of the world, moving in their own unhurried pace. This happens in Shillong too. This happens to Firadaus, Aman and Sophie too. Nothing extraordinary happens, there are no twists and turns. The monotonous existence, the claustrophobia that brings about a longing to escape, the love of familiarity and fear of unknown that binds the residents of such towns to it; all such emotions are well-depicted in the book. Emotions, landscapes, individuals all come to life in Hasan’s vibrant prose. The melancholy of this small town that tourists overlook is palpable throughout the narrative.
I loved the book and highly recommend ‘ Lunatic in my head’. The hills had done it for me again.

My Autumn: Cottony skies, Ghibli magic, Banned Books, Lemon Cake, Pasta, Phase 3, Basho, Earthquake and Empty Bank

I would always be partial to November, as it gave me to the world and mostly vice versa.  September comes a close second, autumn subtly coloring up my life.
I got a new job. I am not ecstatic about it. It’s a government job (the mere sound of which nearly mars all possibilities of excitement) at a remote corner of Assam. But it’s preferable to studying at home the whole day till my exams in January. It’s just the right pace, 5 hours a day; the puzzle piece that fits into the jigsaw of my exam preparation and the solitude I seek. The place is so remote it’s like the 1920s.  A car passing by on the dusty road becomes the discussion of the day at the market. The people are laid back and “adda” is the widely practiced local sport. Only solace is the unsullied green fields, the trees, cottony skies, the dew-laden mornings; and a pristine solitude.
 September introduced me to Studio Ghibli movies. My breath often forms a solid lump of joy in my chest, as I watch and relish idyllic visuals, marvel at imaginations, and relieve my childhood. I cling to these movies like an oasis of pure, stark joy. I watch them alone on evenings, in my room, on my bed. ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, ‘Whisper of the Heart’, ‘Only Yesterday’, ‘Arrietty’, ‘Howl’s Movng Castle’, ‘Kiki’s delivery Service’, ‘Princess Mononkone’, ‘My neighbor Tortoro’, ‘My neighbours-The Yamadas’, ‘Ponyo’ and ‘Spirited Away’. I don’t rush through them, as I usually do with things that interest me. I am slowly savoring each visual, each word and each feeling that it arouses in me.

Being jobless for a month and half, had a weird effect on me. I went on a spending spree knowing fully well my dwindling finances. I added the color purple to my wardrobe, and made Flipkart.com rich by a dozen books. I have an upcoming exam and can’t afford to indulge in the luxury of reading a dozen novels. But I hoard them. My mother has banned nine of these books from my life till January. Her threat is a real one, a new lock on my library evidence of her resolution. She doesn’t trust me when it comes to a few things in life, and reading novels stealthily tops the list. Many a flashlight had been angrily flung to the floor and sacrificed during my childhood, when my mother discovered it aiding a new novel to keep me awake beyond 3 am. I am 25, I have few bank accounts, I can drive, I can finally cross roads during rush hour, I can eat alone in restaurants, I am a doctor, I can call myself almost an adult; but I dare not defy my mother’s rules when an exam looms in the near horizon. So, the books are banned. Not the MCQ books though.
 My mother is overall a kind woman and I’m her first-born; so she let me choose three novels to read during the three months till January. My mind went into a tizzy, trying to decide which books to choose from the dozen new ones. I chose The naïve and the sentimental novelist” by Orhan Pamuk, “The particular sadness of lemon cake” by Aimee Bender and “Oxford anthology of Writings from North-east India”. I’ve started reading the Aimee Bender book. Beautiful writing. I devote pockets of time throughout the day to it without upsetting my study schedule and most importantly, my mother. I’ve read only a hundred pages till now. It’s about a nine year old girl who can taste in food the emotions of the people who cook it. It agitates her routine life, when she can taste a sad hollowness in her cheerful mother’s lemon cake. The knowledge of facades people erect lurches her forward from her complacent childhood. Aimee Bender’s words are brilliant and effortless; conjuring up images from a nine year old’s perspective. I am looking forward to reading more of it.
 I am a disaster in the kitchen, and so less bothered about my lack of culinary skills, that I stupidly flaunt it. I had a panic attack once when I was asked to boil eggs, because the duration of boiling was as unfathomable to me as the mysteries of life and death. When I was in a hostel, I was a mere bystander when other girls chopped vegetables, measured oil, marinated with spices and cooked delicious dishes that I shamelessly ate. My mother shudders to think what I would cook for my husband after marriage. Maggi noodles and cornflakes, quips my aunt. Then a month ago I read Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I fell in love with Italy. The food in the book personified and seduced me. Indian meditation and Balinese life balance intrigued me too. But Italy won. Not just the country and the language, even the food. I downloaded apps on my phone to learn Italian verbs, listened to the soundtrack of ‘La Dolce Vita’, and ate Italian food at restaurants. This phase lasted a fortnight. It mellowed down after that, but my ‘Italy’ hangover did the unthinkable. It made me venture into unknown territory within my own home, the kitchen. I cooked. Pastas, frittatas, and a variety of soups. As I skinned and seeded tomatoes, and whiffed the herbs in the soup, I FINALLY discovered the “joy” in cooking. It wasn’t finger-licking good, but after a few mishaps, I can now cook some decent Pasta. My mother thanked her stars at this small start. ‘All hope isn’t lost’.
July saw me falling in love, that went unrequited and September found me making peace with it. It’s Phase 3. After Phase 1 of dazed existence, and Phase 2 of sleepless nights, constant turbulence of thoughts, and brooding about the same person every day; this is a cool, refreshing gulp of air. It has cleansed and calmed me, and has brought back some much needed focus and stability to my life. Getting a grip on my thoughts had been a topsy-turvy and unpleasant ride, but time has worked its magic again. Relief. 
 I also discovered Basho’s Haiku poems in the past month; another delightful discovery this autumn. It appealed to me like no other poetry ever did. I watched “Winter Days”, a short anime movie about visuals from Basho’s haiku poems. I basked in his words. I made a clumsy attempt at writing a few Haiku poems myself too, which are on this blog here and here.
And to round it all up, there had been a 6.8 earthquake on Sunday that literally shook the life out of me for the briefest of moments. It has resulted in a sad loss of life and property in idyllic Sikkim and neighboring areas; not to mention the emotional trauma, fear and alarm that it has caused in the whole of India. I will always remember though that at the precise moment when the ground beneath me shook, I sprouted legs that could run as fast as the wind. I, who am outpaced by my eight year old cousin on long walks, glided downstairs from my second floor flat with my hard drive, phone and folder of school and college certificates in ten seconds flat. I salute my inner runner.
My autumn has just begun…

Book review- ‘Empires of the Indus’ by Alice Albinia

A year ago I bought a copy of the ‘Outlook Traveler’ magazine and was highly intrigued by an extract from Alice Albinia’s book “Empires of the Indus”. But it was only recently while browsing through a bookstore at Mumbai airport I came upon the paperback edition and bought it immediately. But  my reading of this delightful book got delayed and it was only yesterday that I sat down to read the book that included two of my biggest passions: Travel and History.

Alice Albinia’s book is the best book in the travel literature genre that I’ve read in recent times. Wanderlust, astonishing sense of adventure, and a never-ending hunger to gather little known facts and the history of every place she visits is what makes her such a brilliant travel writer. A lot of research has gone into the making of the book, and it is evident from the numerous journals, books and ancient scripts she quotes to emphasize her findings. It’s the best kind of book with such a delightful mixture of travel, descriptions of the people, the culture, the history, the flaws, the merits, the geography, the architecture, the political scenario, quaint facts and trivia about every place she sets foot on while tracing the course of Indus.

She traces the Indus from it’s delta in Sindh, Pakistan and reaches up to it’s source in the mountains of Tibet and travelling through Afghanistan, India and China in between. I won’t mention the details of the exhaustive list of facts she unearths during her travels, but here is a glimpse of few intriguing facts that the book describes.

1. Pakistan’s current political, cultural and social scenario through the eyes of a foreigner who is well accustomed to their language and mingles effortlessly into their customs. An in-depth view of the delta region to swat valley. She brings into light for us the various tribes, their cultures, their living conditions within the country…Sheedis in particular, who claim to be descendants of Bilal, an Ethiopian man who was Prophet Mohammed’s companion.

2. She traces and co-relates the origin, rise or fall of various religions on the banks of the Indus. Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Christianity, all evolved through centuries and highly influenced by invasions and pilgrimages on the Indus valley. Hinduism proliferated during the early eleventh and tenth century A.D. and has persisted through the centuries despite invasion by Muslim rulers in the Indus Valley. She describes the Sadhubela temple in Pakistan, the Hindus worshipping Uderolal or Jhule Lal, the river God of Indus who travels on four palla fish. And then there was the spread of Buddhism mainly by King Asoka as far as the borders of Afghanistan. The Buddhist stupas, the Bamiyan Buddha, the Buddhist people of Ladakh and Tibet, Chinese pilgrims tracing the routes of spread of Buddhism centuries ago…everything comes alive in Albinia’s descriptions. Then Islam came with Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, whose plundering of the famed Indian treasures is a historical legend. Mughals followed but with varying tolerance for other religions, from Emperor Akbar’s exemplary tolerance to Aurangazeb’s zilch religious tolerance.

Then Sikhism started out in 15th century, with Guru Nanak’s birth in the Indus valley, and the spread of Sikhism throughout the centuries by the rest of the ten Gurus, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, and the holy place Nankana Sahib still in Pakistan. She also visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, on the banks of the tributaries of the Indus. Christianity came late with the British invasion of India, and it’s spread by Christian missionaries. The influence of British on the people and the customs of this region, the tactics followed by the British to spread their empire are wonderfully detailed too. Right up to the Independence of India.

3. She deals with the Partition of India, the after-effects, the large-scale migration, and the horrible massacres in the name of religion and the geographical boundaries which were peacefully cohabited by the same people for ages. The “divide and rule” policy of British culminating in the Partition of India, the thoughts and arguments of the Indian and Pakistani politicians who witnessed, welcomed or argued this change; a valuable insight is provided by the book.

4. She also describes the people and their varying customs in every place with perfect detailing; the Pashtuns, the Sheedis, the Ladakhis, the Dards, the Kalash being the most interesting. The Kalash have their own religion, resides in mountainous Northern Pakistan, a community whose customs have remained unvaried through thousands of years, believed to be the original Aryans, has the custom of burying people in open coffins, and the women enjoys the kind of freedom which is rare in the country. She also writes about the polyandrous communities of Ladakh and Tibet, where women have dominated men throughout the centuries. The polyandry is more out of necessity than personal choice, the limited resources makes traditional marriages a no-no because inheritance problems will arise in the little provisions the families have.

5. Architecture and heritage sites are a prominent feature in this book. The Harrapan and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations, the Buddhist statues and stupas, the numerous caves and stone circles populating the Indus banks, the temples and mosques dating back thousands of years, and stone carvings some dating back to 80,000 years, she encounters them all. But is dismayed by the indifference these architectural jewels are treated by people and little has been done for their preservation by the archaeological societies.

6. Albinia writes beautifully about her final and highly adventurous journey to the source of Indus in Tibet. But she’s in for a terrible shock when she realizes that the Chinese had dammed the Indus a few months ago and she had actually been following the tributaries of Indus all along. The construction of dams altering the course of a river, that originated far earlier than humans arrived on this Earth and had flowed without anyone disturbing it’s course, for purposes like generating electricity and irrigation has altered the entire geography and as a result the lives of the people inhabiting that region. Poorly planned and injudicious construction of dams by all the countries through which the Indus flows is highly condemned in the book. By construction of the dams in India and Pakistan, Punjab has the best irrigated fields but the people of the delta have to drink diluted sewage water or the highly saline water. Agriculture is impossible and only fishing in the ocean remains the only source of livelihood there. The aquatic animals have suffered too, by dams blocking their routes of migration.

7. She describes the Indian and Pakistani border military camps, the Kargil war, the sentiments of the people involved, Kargil now, and the issue of Kashmir, the object of dispute since Partition.

I’ve left out a million details, but I highly recommend this book to everyone if history and travel even remotely intrigues you.

The Book Tag!

I’ve been tagged by lostonthestreet to do this book tag:

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Hemingway, Milan Kundera, Ayn Rand

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown. I bought a copy in 2006 and friends and relatives have gifted the book to me twice till now; and I also have the eBook. So, I’ve got four copies.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not really

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Francisco D’anconia (Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand), Richard Kane (The Prodigal Daughter, by Jeffrey Archer)

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
Four books I never get tired of reading…Speedpost (the letters in the book I could so relate to and were an important part of my adolescence), We the Living (especially for Kira and Andrei), Buri Ai’r Hadhu (a collection of stories by Lakhinath Bezbaruah), the complete short stories by Guy de Maupassant.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
I loved “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Buri Ai’r Hadhu”.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
By the river Piedra, I sat down and wept. (B-O-R-I-N-G!)

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
“The Sea and the Jungle”, by H.M.Tomlinson and Carson McCullers’ “The heart is a lonely hunter”, and “Ignorance”, by Milan Kundera.

9) If you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be?
“Anthem”-Ayn Rand

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
Amitav Ghosh…I love travel literature (I don’t mean travel guides here), and the journeys he depicts in his books, the characters so profound and their intermingling…the research that precedes the writing of the book shows in the authenticity of the era portrayed in his novels, the language, the narrative…he’s far ahead of his contemporaries, cashing on in the same topics of NRIs, corruption etc. He’s a refreshing change.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Class- Erich Segal

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any of the chick lit books plaguing the market these days.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
It was way back in school days. There was these J-17 series that were hidden in our library, and I found one of the books in the series, “Too hot to Handle” (can’t get cheesier than this!), about two best friends holidaying in Greece. There is this character, Karl, in the book…and I fantasized about being his girlfriend throughout the last year of my school.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
A chick lit novel, “Trust Me” that I got last year.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Mrs. Dalloway, when the movie “The Hours” released. But I couldn’t grasp even half of it then.

16) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare

17) Austen or Eliot?
Austen

18) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I have hardly read any science fiction novels. I discovered the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Henry James only recently. And I haven’t read War and Peace and Ulysses yet!!

19) What is your favorite novel?
I can’t pinpoint just one novel. I’m still discovering amazing works every year. This year I found travel literature dating back to the early 18th century. So much more to read…

20) Play?
The Cherry Orchard-Chekov

21) Short story?
The works of Edgar Allen Poe, O. Henry, Guy de Maupassant and Chekov. Recently read “The Murders at the Rue Morgue”, by Poe. Love Dupin now!

22) Work of non-fiction?
The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux

23) Who is your favorite writer?
Guy De Maupassant, Chekov, Nikolai Gogol, Virginia Woolf, Ayn Rand, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri (Just for ‘Namesake’), Milan Kundera, Hemingway and Rabindranath Tagore.

And I tag any fellow bookaholic (Is that a valid word?? Or should I be the one to patent it?) to write about their favorite books and authors.

"Life of ‘Pee’", nervous boyfriend and hawk-eyed parent…perfect recipe for my first date!


I went after lunch to two of the few book stores in Guwahati which can boast of a good collection of books, from the latest bestsellers to the classics, covering a varied and interesting range of books. “Western Book Depot” and “Papyrus”, situated at Panbazar. If you happen to spot a fat female browsing through books at these two bookstores often, oblivious to the world around her…well, that most probably is me. I had spent many happy hours browsing at these bookstores every month, and save money all year round to splurge on visits to these shops. By the way, I bought three books today…Milan Kundera’s “Slowness” and “Ignorance”, and “Recess: A Penguin Book of Schooldays”. Reviews are due next month after I complete reading them.

Anyways, this post is not about the pleasures of endless hours of browsing at bookstores. I had already written about my fascination for book stores. Today I want to share a very memorable incident in my life that occurred at the “Western Book Depot”. My first date. Or my first date turned disaster. You must be thinking what’s wrong with me to have chosen a bookstore as the location for my first date. Read on to know why.

I fell in love for the first time four years back when I was 19. I was never interested in the guys I had grown up with, or studied together. And the whole concept of casual dating and testing the waters for a few months is something I can’t identify with at all. Add to that my introvert nature …and I would’ve remained single till I was 50 if I hadn’t met him! He was 5 years elder to me. Completely different backgrounds…he was an MBA student at IIT, Kharagpur, while I was a second year medical student in Assam. We met online. And I liked him instantly. He was witty, intelligent, caring and I absolutely loved talking to him. Friends first…and then in a year became a little more than friends. But we had never talked about meeting; and were quite happy with our conversations online. I admit I was scared that the comfort level in our relationship might change when we meet in person…scared of awkward silences in conversations, or that we might not have anything to talk about. When he got his MBA degree, and was about to leave for his new job…one night I received a phone call from him, saying that he’s on his way to meet me and arriving in Guwahati the next day.

May 14, 2005: To say I was petrified would be a huge understatement. My father is way too protective of me and my sister, and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere alone. I had no other way but to seek permission and go. That day I told my mother about him…the most awkward conversation of my life! She was OK with it but forbid me to meet him alone. Back to square one! He called up on reaching Guwahati, and I told him of the dilemma I faced. He was quite supportive and didn’t sulk. But I so wanted to meet him, I was ready to do anything just to see him once. I told my mother I had to buy a new book and have to urgently go to “Western Book Depot”. My mother, who was already suspicious after I mentioned him to her, was adamant on accompanying me to the bookstore and worse insisted on taking my sister and aunt along too! I was on the verge of tears. But this was my only chance to see him. I frantically texted him to meet me at the bookstore and warned him that my mother would be with me. He said he didn’t know the way around Guwahati and would accompany a friend to find the store. I was in such a hurry…I forgot to even comb my hair on the way out! That too the first time he saw me! The last thing I cared was how I looked; all I wanted was to see him once. We reached the store at 6pm. My mother got down along with me, while my aunt and sister waited in the car. I pretended to search for medical books. After about fifteen minutes, my mother said she would wait for me in the car. I was so relieved. As I waited for him, I decided to gift him a book. He had mentioned a few days earlier that he wanted to read “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. I got the last copy of the book available in the shop for him. At around 6:25pm, I heard two loud, excited voices in the shop. My back was turned towards the entrance and when I turned around; I saw him and his friend. I smiled at him. But he didn’t reciprocate. I was taken aback. Didn’t he recognize me? After a moment’s confusion, I realized he was deliberately trying to feign that he didn’t know me. The reason: there was a lady in the book store who he thought was my mother!! He came and stood beside me but carried on the little act of being strangers, and instead turned to a man behind the bookstore counter, and asked whether “Life of pi” was available. The man answered, “Life of ‘Pee’ toh nahin hain. Last copy inhone (pointing at me) purchase kar liya.” (“Life of ‘Pee’ is not available, she purchased the last copy”).We were all trying hard not to laugh at the man’s pronunciation of the book title. I then turned and gave him my gift, the same book. He smiled at me, and by now had realized that my mother wasn’t in the shop as he had earlier thought. As he took the book from me, the bookstore owner went, “How kind of you, ma’am! Giving him your book. And that too free of cost!” They hadn’t yet realized that we knew each other and I turned the kind, helpful girl in their eyes. I had already spent a lot of time in the bookstore, and was worried that my Ma would come in and find him near me. I asked him to leave, quite reluctantly though. It was hardly for ten minutes that we saw each other that day…the first time…and he had to leave. As I walked out of the shop five minutes after him, I saw that his bike was parked right next to my car!!! Of all the places available, he had to park near my car, with my mother sitting in the car! I hoped that she hadn’t realized who he was. And I drove off, without daring to even look at him a second time in my mother’s presence. After few minutes, my mother remarked, “So you met him? He seemed nice.” I nearly had a cardiac arrest, when I realized that my mother had recognized him. How on earth did she know? Turned out that when my guy had parked his bike right next to our car, she overheard him tell his friend that I had asked him to meet me in the bookstore. And after all the trouble we both went through to keep the meeting discreet!!
That relationship ended long back, and he is happily married now. But I still can’t stop smiling thinking about my funny first date-turned-disaster, the nervous look on his face that day, my hawk-eyed Ma on the lookout for a tricky Romeo out to trap her daughter and instead finding a bumbling fool, and me savoring each second of those ten minutes of my first meeting with my first love. Short and sweet, a memory so special that it would last a lifetime. And, the bookstore will always remain special too.