Category Archives: Books

‘The Lowland’

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The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

Often, halfway through a book, I wondered if that sway of a story gets lost over the years; much like relationship chemistry.  Books are supposed to pull you into its sway, making you undulate to its rhythm.  But books like The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri) convince me that, much like people, books too evoke different reactions. With some people you perpetually have chemistry; with some, you have it sometimes and with some others, you never have it . Also with books. Some are easy to read and make you feel bereft once you are done with the book. Others

While I was never a big fan of Interpreter of Maladies, I found The Namesake very lyrical. The language conveys a sense of the time that passes in her stories, gently, while creating a vivid trail in its wake. This book is also expansive, lyrical and spans several decades.

I found many parallels in The Namesake and The Lowland. Of course besides the setting in Calcutta. It’s set in a similar time frame. Lots of lines devoted to how bonds are formed after marriages. So many roles that come from just expectation alone, especially in the case of the women here. Mothers and daughters; mothers in law and daughters in law. I am beginning to see how my experiences shape what I read too. Resentment of traditional roles. Decision to not follow those roles. The constant social justification that needs to be given. All of these are just points in an otherwise sprawling story. But it affects the way I process and remember the story.

For me, a good book of an author makes me want to read all the other books I haven’t read yet. So Unaccustomed Earth, here I come.

 

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I want to agree

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What happens when there are two sides to an argument…you agree with one side.. but prefer the person making the other side of argument? How do you make up your mind? Especially if it is a subject you don’t read much about…

This essay has me in a quandary but I am the first to admit I don’t know enough about “regional writing” to comment on it. But, to me, English is an intrinsic choice, one that I make without a thought to the power it supposedly awards me or success it ensures. So do not relate to the point that nuanced writing in English is a deliberate attempt at enhancing Indianness. On the other hand, I intensely dislike writers who wrap India on a platter and serve to the West. Jhumpa Lahiri and many similar writers come to mind.

On the other hand, I am huge fan of Chandra and of his writing too. But now am feeling a wee bit forced like I have to like his opinions too (not neccesary I know). So I can’t make up my mind about which side of the issue I feel strongly for.

That apart, the essay is very well written.

You gotta have faith

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Books I have read recently have only convinced me how faith is what you derive out of any particular word, book or symbol. Anything can give you faith and it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It can have  signs, it can be rituals, it can be meditation or it can be gazing into a big tomb of a book.

If you have faith, it doesn’t matter where it helps you from. Which also means the books really had nothing to do with it. It’s how I chose to interpret what I read. Since books forms such an important part of my life, it made complete sense that cementing of faith had to come from a combination of them.

I’ve read a varied series in the last few months and each one left me awed —  for all different reasons.

book cover_EGThe first was – Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book had taken the world by storm and in my experience, most such books can be full of hokum.

While this book talks about one journey one woman makes, it doesn’t necessarily have translate into a lifestyle solution, ‘now available on the shelf’, for the reader. Which is what I think the book aimed for.

The book starts off well (but I have a sneaking feeling I loved the beginning only because the gastronomic treat the first section is). It’s very easily divided. Italy, the first part of her journey, where she lives for a few months to learn to speak the language better. Pray, when she comes to India to discover herself  (I know!) and Love, when she lives in Indonesia with a healer for a focus that seemed blurred.

It’s only when you reach Pray section, the second phase, you realise her epiphany-laden journey  may or may not continue in the same vein, for you, the reader. This part is based in India and I had to fight against my innate objections of India being typecast as a place to come and ‘discover your true being’. Thankfully the book does not classify the whole of India but only that ashram, as the very place to achieve oneness.

At this point in the book I remember thinking it takes very little to go from a non-believer to a believer. She thinks she knows what she wants and yet her body tells her of other things she needs.  It’s a painful time for her. But it’s faith that keeps her going. Not faith in any one person or one philosophy. Just faith that she needs to get from one point to another.

It told me how a path of ‘getting better’ does not necessarily mean improvement or ease of method. It was like something made complete sense after that. It did not mean I need to go into an ashram but it meant believe in what you want, your actions will reflect what you believe in, therefore a self-fulling prophecy.

The third part in Indonesia was the blurriest to me. It spoke about love. It spoke about generic love and spoke about the need for love and for some reason, there was no resonance. It ends just like it starts, with no apparent focus. But that’s the best part. The open-endedness of the whole journey. Allowing any reader to go on it, and come away with what you are seeking.

book cover_BBThe second book to partially alter my thinking stream was Bill Bryson’s A short History of Nearly Everything. (As an aside, this is how textbooks should be written).

It’s a book  that, among other things, makes you aware of your scale. How big or small or important or insignificant you are.

How are there are *so* many things you still have no clue about and how there are stranger phenomenons that have to happen to convince you of your reason to be.

Last few days, even weeks,  I have been going through a faith upheaval as it were. Nothing I say or thought matched my actions. And I wondered what was teaching me a lesson.

I lamented the lack of an obvious focus and need to prove myself. Like I heard in a bad movie some days ago, I stopped betting on myself. Suddenly, after an argument yesterday, it became clear. I had vaguely formed my milestones but that argument cemented it. It was the change faith had shown me but I was refusing to accept it.

Now how I reach the other end of the milestone is another matter altogether. But that’s where a third, unrelated book comes in. The third book was the Book of Ram by Devdutt Patnaik. I was reading the book in continuum to understand Sita better but did get a different takeaway.

The books says: “According to AdhyatmaRamayana, Ravan is our ego, that part of us that is constantly seeking external validation. Having submitted to adharma, our ego has abducted Sita, our mind. That is why we constantly seek to dominate the world around us and that is why we do not accept it for what it is.

We have to rescue Sita. We have to unleash the power of Hanuman, our intellect, cross the sea of life, overpower Ravan, burn his golden Lanka and reunite Sita and Ram, who await discovery within us.”

This emphatic conclusion of the book is reminscent of that one powerful line from one song of Swades:

मन से  रावण  जो  निकाले, राम उसके मन में है.