Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Liquid Confessions

 

1. I dream of being an advice columnist who prescribes books in response; as it would involve reading like a motherfucker (like Dear Sugar) late into the night, embarking on one literary odyssey after another, sourcing out the perfect sequence of words in poem or prose, the attempt of understanding which will be the answer that is sought. I am aware of the annoyance of imposing one's literary preferences on another, but when I have just finished reading a book that stirs up a delightful chaotic inner storm, I expect the world to stop spinning for a while to acknowledge what the book has done to me. I get the urge to stop random strangers and tell them to rush home, get into their favourite pajamas, put their feet up, and start reading the book now. Not because I want to flaunt some obscure literary gem that I have dug out, but for basking together in the aftermath of reading a good book and knowing that it has evoked similar emotions, a wordless joy, with just the reader in me beaming at the reader in you, connected.

Yesterday I was witness to a dilemma that a close friend is facing that involved risks, ennui, second chances, unspoken obligations and a love of five long years, and it pained me to see her suffering but I couldn't say anything that would miraculously solve her indecision without seeming like an unappetizing and uncalled for  discourse on the myriad complexities of love. And as I heard her speak, smudgy distant prints of words formed in my memory, from a time where I had experienced a similar indecision in a book. I nodded in understanding and empathy to everything she said, but the book that had answers for her continue to remain blurred. It came to me a few hours ago, when I was watching the rain through the grilled window, and felt an urge to just run and run, destination be damned, and I remembered that the protagonist in that novel once took off too, just ran and ran, which was later attributed to a combination of female hysteria and alcohol by her fiancee, and that it happened in Margaret Atwood's 'The Edible Woman'. I want to tell my friend to read the book, maybe she would find some answers, maybe she won't, or maybe it's quite insensitive of me to slip a book every time I hear about troubles. Hmm.

2. The inexplicable urge to tell you things, the rushed and voluble conversations; the desire to know you, the whole of you, to unravel the unsaid; the delight of knowing random anecdotes about you, the (now defunct) overwhelming belief that you were different, that you understood, that you knew what I knew; the comfort of you lingering behind every waking thought and some sleeping ones too; and the fervent anticipation, of I know not what; the journeying down secret lanes of nostalgia, ones that you were never aware of, and remembering you, observing parallel lives; the unspeakable things I wanted to do to you, have you do to me, that came in sudden rushes and alarmed me, causing conflicting inner dialogues and a heightened colouring of my face; the realization that I wanted nothing more than a subtle connection, that even a mere exchange of words was enough to cause a disproportionate joy that saw me through long days, and that even in my loneliest moments I was afraid to desire anything more, lest you slip away; the entirely new surges of tenderness that swept over me every time I thought of you; and the hesitant and quiet yet stubborn hopes that I developed despite knowing fully well your perspective of me in which I could only be ordinary at the very best. #imiss #idonotmiss #imiss

3. Sometimes I feel scared. Like being stuck in the perpetual loop of horror of waking up late and missing the most important exam of my life in a world with no second chances.

4. Sometimes I fall in love with absolutely nothing.

Monday, May 27, 2013

T.H.White


“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

“Perhaps we all give the best of our hearts uncritically--to those who hardly think about us in return.”  

“They had a year of joy, twelve months of the strange heaven which the salmon know on beds of river shingle, under the gin-clear water. For twenty-four years they were guilty, but this first year was the only one which seemed like happiness. Looking back on it, when they were old, they did not remember that in this year it had ever rained or frozen. The four seasons were coloured like the edge of a rose petal for them.”  

“He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him, but the ones who went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through strange seas.”

“Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.” 

“Unfortunately we have tried to establish Right by Might, and you just can't do that” 

 ~T.H.White

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books: Reviews, Recommendations and Reading Lists


Last night I read Herman Koch’s novel 'The Dinner'. Waves of satire and mystery leads to a dark whirlpool; and it all occurs under the perfectly placid cover of harmonious domesticity, husbands who love their wives, wives who find their husbands charming even after two decades of marriage, children who never get into trouble at school and never did drugs, families with massive wealth, power and a clockwork happiness. The events unfold over a dinner at a ridiculously expensive restaurant where the manager points his little finger to painstakingly describe each little portion of food set amidst the vast emptiness of the plates. Two brothers, one of them famous, and their wives gets together to discuss and find a way to undo the damages their children had caused. Violence springs up as memories are fetched from the not too distant past, and the reader is forced to review and rearrange their perspectives frequently. How well can you know a person? How far can you go to protect the ones you love? How thin is the line between self-righteousness and the sinister, and how easily can one jump to and fro over it? Obvious violence and gore can disgust, yet it never reaches the proportion of those that are veiled and implied and wholly unexpected. And this novel in its cold and tangential handling of threats and veiled crimes is both disturbing and funny, and hence highly addictive.
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I had upped my reading pace recently and read twenty books in the past two months. I highly recommend the following:

a) ‘How to be a Womanby Caitlin Moran: A contemporary take on feminism, part-memoir and one of the most hilarious books I have read in quite some time. From menstruation to masturbation, muffin tops to jutting cheekbones, workplace politics to strip clubs, Scarlett Johansson's breasts to Germaine Greer's books, dealing with siblings to awesome gay friends, disastrous love affairs to stable marriages, pregnancy to abortions, weddings to remaining childless by choice, appallingly long labour to handling toddlers, the book deals with them all. It is sharp, witty, agitating and raises up the right questions.
b) ‘tiny, beautiful thingsby Cheryl Strayed: It is a compilation of the 'Dear Sugar' advice columns and offers astoundingly empathic and deeply personal insights into love, everyday life, grief, unexpected setbacks, shaky friendships, self-doubts and more. Each letter of advice is a literary nugget.
c) ‘Bossypantsby Tina Fey: You see the trend here, don't you? Strong, career-minded, family-oriented, hilarious and bad ass feminist authors. Fey is no different.
d) ‘Incognitoby David Eagleman: I wrote about it here.
e) 'Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction' selected by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha: You can find it here.
f) ‘Big Questions from Little Peopleby Gemma Elwin Harris: It has experts in various fields of physics, space exploration, philosophy, literature and many more answering the questions of children that includes the profound enquiries about love and what good comprises of, and even questions about farting cows! The questions are answered in all seriousness and to the best of the understanding of the children. The simplicity and fun trivia that the book provides makes it a delightful, easy read.
g) ‘The Dinnerby Herman Koch: scroll to the top of this post.
h) ‘Before She Met Meby Julian Barnes: This is a novella about a man's insecurity and disproportionate jealousy about his second wife's sexual past as a struggling actress in films of questionable taste, and how a seemingly harmless obsession of a perfectly 'normal' person can spiral out of control into dark and menacing consequences. It reminded me of 'The Dinner' in its sinister subject yet irrepressible humour.

 And here are the books on my reading list for the coming month:

1. ‘The Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellanby Stefan Zweig
2. ‘Driveby Daniel H. Pink
3. Collected Poems (1947-1997) by Allen Ginsberg
4. 'Staying On' by Paul Scott
5. 'Humboldt's Gift' by Saul Bellow

I would love to hear about your reading lists and book recommendations. Do share them in the comments section. Go read.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

the sister ship of love

 
(In the poem "The Blue House", Tomas Tranströmer brings forth the idea of a sister ship that follows the course one's life could have taken but never did; it brims with unexplored opportunities, the places one might have travelled to, and the people one might have met, the diverse things one would have known and done then. The following words are based on that premise.)

The day you walked out to be lost in the multitude of unknown, no longer accessible, leaving behind a trail of quiet desperation and 'what if'', I pulled you aboard the sister ship of my life.

And there we talked and talked. And we laughed and laughed. And we went places and we were home.

Here, you will look away if we ever meet; and the knowledge of this rushes in entirely new waves of sadness. So in the familiar darkness of my closed eyelids, at odd hours, I follow the journey of a lost love on this sister vessel. 2 am, when I lie awake to listen to the rain. 5:42 am, when my room glows orange in the early morning light. 2:18 pm, when I watch my reflection in the chrome of the elevator doors. 7:09 pm, when my feet are up on the couch. 11:05 pm, when I trudge along through the soporific challenge that is Proust.

There you wear black. I am always in my favourite blue and even allow my hair an admirable bounce. 11:05pm, we read Saki and chuckle; or you show me Bellatrix and Rigel in the night sky, but mostly we make up our own constellations. 7:09pm, with our feet up on the couch we tell each other the minute stories that crowd our day, and I no longer have to fight the urge to touch that adorable cowlick. There's a word for it,you know, cafuné. 2:18pm, we study pillowy bottom lips. 5:42 am, we are in the mountains and the mist floats in through the open window. 2 am, you hear the rain with me.

And there we talk and talk. And we laugh and laugh. And we go places and we are home.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Long Answer Is No

Q: Can I convince a person about whom I'm crazy to be crazy about me?

A: The short answer is no. The long answer is no. The sad but strong and true answer is no.There are so many things to be tortured about, sweet pea. So many torturous things in life. Don't let a man who doesn't love you to be one of them.

~ From the "Dear Sugar" column in 'Tiny, Beautiful Things' by Cheryl Strayed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Moment


eyes narrowed to watch vehicle lights become yellow and red orbs, hazy, lucent, and gliding on the wet, dark sheen of the street.

cocooned in the dimly lit car; the low hum of the engine punctuates the sound of the rain falling on the roof.

window fogs up, the urge to write a name on it is irresistible.

roll it down slightly, raindrops gleefully chase each other down onto the palm.

it comes down harder, thousands of tiny ripples dance in tandem on the street.

traffic becomes sluggish, time stands still.

brisk wind, pleasant shivers, huge silvery sheets of rain, this song on the car radio

a sudden and overwhelming longing...

...you, shy haptic exchanges, a moment.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Everyday Freedom: Vignettes

(This article was published in Fried Eye magazine on August, 2012.)

Freedom. Our ancestors fought for it. It is difficult to define in the humdrum of everyday life. It means different things to different people. It rescues some. It transforms others. We don’t value it enough. Sometimes we don’t perceive its absence. Or take for granted its presence. At times, we misuse it.

In my life, relatively short and thus lacking in experience, I had felt the sparks of freedom that has touched the lives of people I have known. These aren’t epiphanies or sudden bursts of life-altering moments. These are everyday stories of how people recognized the constraints that bound them, struggled for a way out and gradually let in a glorious trickle of freedom into their lives.



She was the one who started it on their first day together. She let him decide the evening movie, the dinner menu and even the songs they heard on the ride back home. He was glad to ease the burden of decision making off the woman in his life. They had a whirlwind romance, an elaborate wedding (he decided the venue, the guest list and the honeymoon destination; she decided the table centerpieces, the Mehendi artist and the honeymoon lingerie), and the dizzy highs of playing grown-ups and setting their own home and family. His family was very ‘liberal’, they let their new daughter-in-law keep her job and weren't finicky about the hemlines of her dresses. She liked the role of a home-maker, smiling to herself every night as she laid out his dinner. He was so caring, always surprising her with gifts and vacations (that comfortably fit into his work schedule, not hers). She moved around the country with him, setting up new homes every time he got transferred. When she got a better job offer in another city, he calmly asked her why she bothered working so hard when he was earning enough for both of them. She shut up because the baby was due. His business trips increased. One parent should stay at home, and she did. The children grew up and no longer needed a mother, they needed ‘some space’. She took to writing. At the dinner table, her husband and children teased her about the Booker Prize winning novel that she was penning. She chuckled. Then she did the dishes. The caretaker can never afford to be tired. The children left the nest. The husband retired from his job. It was just him and her again, like old times. He suggested a tour of Europe. She declined; she was working on her book. He was surprised at her refusal, and then miffed. One night he read her manuscript while she slept. Her words-vibrant, agitated and alive-told him stories that populated her mind, thoughts he never knew existed in the woman he had been married to all these years. In the morning he told her she should write more. After lunch he helped her with the dishes; and later they went to watch a play instead of a movie. He learned that she preferred coffee but had quietly shared a cup of tea every morning with him all these years. He made sure she had a steaming cup of coffee on her desk as she wrote late into the night. They had conversations and not just about groceries and children and politics. She wonders how to describe her sudden lightness of being; rekindled love or freedom?

The Week


Book: Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction, selected by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha. Out of the forty-eight stories in the anthology, I have read 1-900 by Richard Bausch, Lavande by Ann Beattie, Off by Aimee Bender, The Love of My Life by T.C.Boyle, The Identity Club by Richard Burgin, Aurora by Junot Diaz, Reunion by Richard Ford, The Girl on The Plane by Mary Gaitskill, 'Adina, Astrid, Chipewee, Jasmine' by Matthew Klam, Once in A Lifetime by Jhumpa Lahiri and Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace. Each story is a revelation in how words can be stringed together in myriad ways to hurl the reader into a space rife with characters so well-sketched that it takes only a couple of pages before an involuntary familiarity is fostered. The plots vary from being elaborate and including multiple time leaps to ordinary encounters. What keeps the pages turning is the versatility of the content and style of these accomplished writers. Little nuggets of pure bliss.

Film: Often they are larger-than-life, crude and garish, but no one can deny how Hindi films have marked us with its invisible stamp of magnanimous dreams, instilled an inevitable sense of drama, bound us with shared memories of favourite moments from the screen, and made us unabashed (or closet) romantics. And yes, there is a song for every emotion and situation. I watched Bombay Talkies last weekend. I won't judge how true the four stories were to the common theme because each one of them brought in a new wave of delight. Each one told a story in twenty-five minutes, and told it well.

Karan Johar's story is about the angst of a man who has veiled his sexuality under the institution of marriage, the longing of a woman to be desired by the man she married, the overwhelming attraction of a gay man towards the husband of a close friend; and the confused, tender, passionate and brief entanglement of these three lives that changes them forever. Till date the only poignant film that I had watched about two men in love, devoid of stereotypes and caricatures, is Brokeback Mountain. And now in this film even though the moments were fleeting, Randeep Hooda brings in a passion, sensuality, repressed desire and tenderness that is incomparable. Rani Mukherjee had never looked more beautiful and real. Dibakar Banerjee's story is run by the genius of two men, Banarjee himself and the lead actor, Nawazuddin's flawless performance of a common man with big dreams that loses steam after the first few steps on the road to realize them. He craves glorious destinations without the ordeals of the journey, and wants it all without questioning his own potential and calibre. And he has a pet Emu ('ooi-ma' to his neighbours :P) named Anjali! Zoya Akhtar questions if our dreams and ambitions should be tailored to meet the approval of society and be within the rigid constraints of conventionality. A little boy is torn between his uncontrollable urge to be a dancer and gyrate like the on-screen 'Sheila', and his father's desire of seeing him ace the football games at school. When his father hits him for dressing up in his sister's clothes and applying lipstick, self-realization dawns that certain dreams are best indulged in secrecy till the right time arrives. His relationship with his sister is quite adorable too. Anurag Kashyap's story is witty, hugely entertaining and yet sad in the very premise of how the masses deify their screen idols, putting lives on hold for a mere glimpse or word from them. The delight of watching this particular story was comparable to that of reading a short story by Saki.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Timeless Song

Rediscovered a timeless song that captures the agony, the stubborn but simple hopes, and the yearnings of those in love. Song: Lag Ja Gale Ke Phir Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Movie: 'Woh Kaun Thi'

लग जा गले के फिर ये, हँसी रात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो

हम को मिली हैं आज ये घडीयाँ नसीब से
जी भर के देख लीजिये, हम को करीब से
फिर आप के नसीब में, ये बात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो

पास आईये के हम नहीं आयेंगे बार बार
बाहे गले में डाल के, हम रो ले जार जार
आँखों से फिर ये, प्यार की बरसात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो