Monday, June 22, 2020

The blind assassin by Margaret Atwood – A book review



‘I look back over what I’ve written and I know it’s wrong, not because of what I’ve set down, but because of what I’ve omitted. What isn’t there has a presence, like the absence of light.

You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labeled bones.’

Two balls of yarn. Two colours. Take your pick. 
Margaret Atwood calls them Iris and Laura. They are the Chase sisters. 
If not careful, entanglement and a mess are inevitable; with each other, within each other.
And Atwood hasn’t been careful!

‘But in life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife’s stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge.’

Laura drove a car of a bridge. Died. She killed herself. Was it an impetuous act? Her mind killed her. But who killed her mind. Laura Chase was born with a black and white cognition; dismissing the grays. She wouldn’t, rather couldn’t read between lines. She saw the literal world in the literal sense; the abstract was too abstract for her. Iris was the elder sister, entrusted with always taking care of Laura.

The book is the story that a contrite Iris writes in remembrance of Laura for her disappeared and estranged granddaughter Sabrina; to tell her the truth. Spanning across generations, the story of her life has devastating secrets, infidelity and complicity. As Laura’s shade gets paler, Iris’s ball of yarn grows darker and darker; unknowingly, deliberately, self-imposed, thrusted. As she herself is pushed gradually into a deceitful marriage, the helplessness and sedation brings out a vulnerable numbness that doesn’t thwart her from finding solace in the one person she shouldn’t have.

And there’s a gory story within the story; a story that is published posthumously as Laura’s but isn’t. As Iris, the wife of a wealthy and prominent person in society, and her insouciant lover, a fugitive, knit this parallel bizarre fantasy tale during their pangs of furtive and passionate love making in rented rooms, another act of treacherous adultery is altering their lives. Who are these characters in the story they create; why does it bear a striking resemblance to them?

Is she the muted girl in the story the lover saves and elopes with; her tongue pulled out; quietened? Is she really being saved? And is the lover the blinded one; an outcast rebel turning a blind eye to the atrocities of life and the people in it with an urge for destroying? Who has orchestrated this affair between a blind and a mute; the lover or her, or both together, but does love need an orchestration, any orchestration?

Iris has answered for herself. At a dying age, will her contrition be accepted? Laura didn’t die of the abuse, of helplessness, she died from the snatching away of one thing that was never hers but always hers.

‘How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next – if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions – you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

Drowned now – the tree as well, the sky, the wind, the clouds. All she has left is the picture. Also the story of it.

The picture is of happiness, the story not. Happiness is a garden walled with glass: there’s no way in or out. In Paradise there are no stories, because there are no journeys. It’s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward, along to its twisted road.’

Most of Atwood’s characters are furtive; she’s imposed them with secrets they need to bury; a few can and a few fail. Crafted vividly, Atwood has given us a patchwork of two stories fused in one. Very well written; a compelling read! Would have liked to read more about Laura – she was different; she had an innocence that comes from simplicity. Predictable, vulnerable yet not boring.

‘”Laura, what are you doing?” I said. “That’s the Bible.”
“I’m cutting out the parts I don’t like.”
I uncrumpled the pages she’d tossed into the wastebasket.; swathes of Chronicles, pages and pages of Leviticus, the little snippet from St. Matthew in which Jesus curses the barren fig tree. I remembered now that Laura had been indignant about that fig tree, in her Sunday-schooldays. She’d been furious that Jesus had been so spiteful towards a tree. “We all have our bad days” Reenie had commented, briskly whipping up egg whites in a yellow bowl.’


‘The sun declines, the shadows of the curtains move across the bed. Voices on the street outside, unknown languages. I will always remember this, she tells herself. Then: Why am I thinking about memory? It’s not then yet, it’s now. It’s not over.’

My rating – 9/10

Picture courtesy:

Book cover - © https://www.unitheque.com/the-blind-assassin/virago/Livre/140224

Margaret Atwood - © https://thegentlewoman.co.uk/library/margaret-atwood


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Je raate mor duar guli - my ramblings on a beautiful song by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

From the time I first listened to this song, it has kind of haunted me. Not an expert in Bengali, rather far from being one (though it’s my mother tongue), I had to take help from a friend to understand the lyrics (Thank you Shonali Bhattacharjee). 
Like all Rabindranath Tagore songs, this one too has a mesmerizing effect and like I’ve always felt with his songs, open to different interpretations.

Here’s the version of the song I’ve been listening to by ‘Somlata and the Aces’




Transliteration and translation of the song

Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare,
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare,
(The night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,
little did I know that it was you who came to my house.)

Sab je hoye gelo kaalo, nibe gelo diper aalo,
Aakash paane haat baaralem kaahar tare?
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare.
(Everything turned to darkness as all the lamps’ lights went out,
I stretched my hands to the sky, don’t know who I sought
little did I know that it was you who came to my house
the night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,)

Andhokare roinu pore swapono maani.
Jhar je tomar jayodhwaja taai ki jaani.
Sakalbela cheye dekhi, daariye aachho tumi e ki,
Ghar bhora mor shunyotari bukero pore.
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare.
(I lay there in the darkness thinking it was a dream or illusion,
that the storm was your war flag, I was unaware,
As I looked around in the morning, I saw you standing there – your illusional presence even in your absence,
the emptiness of my abode, lay heavy on my chest
little did I know that it was you who came to my house
the night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,)

© https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/super-cyclone-amphan-190km-away-from-kolkata/articleshow/75844078.cms

Here’s my interpretation and extended ramblings of this dark yet beautiful song.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and not be considered a translation of the song.

It was just another day.

I saw a beautiful woman sleeping in the shade of a tree. Careful scrutiny revealed that she was hurt but there was a motherly calm and peacefulness on her face in spite of the pain. Her children lay besides her playing, oblivious rather overlooking the pain; her body their playground. They looked hungry and play is all they could in the absence of food.

Passersby noticed her too. Some called her wretched, a few derided her thinking she was one of those, others thought she was diseased and left there to die, a few poked her to see if she was alive. She seemed worn out, impervious to these disparaging remarks and gestures.

A bizarre thing happened next. The children, her children, fatigued by their play and famished sank their teeth into their mother. They seemed to relish every bite they took of her flesh. A miasma spread in the air and eerily beckoned scavengers to the feast. Like maggots attacking decay, the passersby soon overpowered the children to devour the woman, ripping her flesh with their uncannily developed canines. A gruesome fight ensued for chunks of flesh as the two-legged monsters snarled at each other like laughing hyenas, blood trickling from their bared teeth, lips and chins.

The woman winced; finally. She opened her eyes and all there was in them was disgust; an abhorrence that could be felt strongly. Like a plant giving energy to itself, she woke up and grew; she let out a scream that terrified even the wind. She looked around ferociously as she grew and grew; all her torn flesh replenished. It was her turn now and she didn’t stop when she started.

An insatiable hunger radiated from her bloody eyes and she picked up and gobbled each of the terror-stricken creatures trying to escape her wrath. Not once did she wince as she devoured her children too. Madness reigned; it wasn’t hunger anymore. She ran shrieking hysterically when the last one disappeared, her hair and insanity let loose. The pregnant grey clouds complicit with the gloomy dark sky burst deliberately it seemed its bag of waters. Darkness and raging tempest engulfed as she grew and paced chomping on and ravaging everything and everyone that came in her way; she spared none.

What I create, I can destroy!
© https://www.pinterest.com/pin/525162006538642442/

Do we want to know her when she takes this form? Do we recognize her when she is like this? Can we accept her in her horrendous devastating appearance? Do we have a choice?

And have we loved her really; unconditionally? The garden wasn’t ours; she let us play in it. And we let weeds grow, in her garden, in our minds. She pleaded, she showed us her wounds, our given, but we furtively looked elsewhere, occupied in our superficial intimacies. Like with all mothers, we took her for granted.

She wasn’t ever weak; she was only patient and forgiving. And so we ignored her though we were just a speck in contrast. She still gave us importance and all we had for her was neglect. Like a cruel and ruthless child we went on relentlessly blackening and destroying the coulourful picture she had created, all that she had given us.

Should we be startled then when she comes on a war footing, leading a cavalry, mercilessly to avenge? Howling gales, hurricanes, and thunderstorms ride with her, armed with the ghastliest and most powerful weaponry. The angry war flags are like wild unforgiving storms, flapping wildly, outlines of red against the pitch darkness of the extinguished lights; all lamps blown out.

As the silhouettes grow in the ruins of every house, we look up at the sky stretching our hands begging for forgiveness. We fear and lament. For what, why? Who do we pray to now? We bow down now in the emptiness; helpless, beaten, in despair. We give in to her strength in sorrow; something we should have done in happiness.

Will we love her now, unconditionally; will we listen to her after this veritable reality check? A child slapped hard, we either hold and carry the anger or realize the unconventional love behind it.

Like a mother, hopefully she’ll forgive us yet again and let us thrive. Hopefully, the morning will bring a new beginning.

‘What fabrication they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves – our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.’
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Thank you Shonali for helping me with the translation
Shonali and I
© Soumen

© https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52765962

© https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/swarming-drones-could-help-fight-europes-megafires.html

© https://fi.pinterest.com/pin/479563060320526495/

©  http://www.mumbaimylove.com/26-july-flood/


© https://cosmicconnexion.com/vintage/tsunami-disaster-in-india-2004.php

© https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/event/2004-Indian-Ocean-tsunami/articleshow/55071172.cms

© Soumen



Picture copyrights:
Rabindranath Tagore - © https://www.amazon.in/Tallenge-Vintage-Photograph-Rabindranath-Tagore/dp/B076VGJ5K9



Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – A book review


Reading Mrs. Dalloway was like attending Virginia Woolf’s art class. The sitters Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus twin bodied, differently dressed sit there, striking a pose like failed mirrored images of each other; one joyful, the other in misery; which one is which is for you to decipher. The lighting is perfect for the darkness; their shadows are one. There are others in the frame - Peter Walsh, Richard, Sally Seton and a few others with expressions that need explaining.

And that’s exactly what Virginia Woolf does. Instilling a passion for the muse, she ushers us into comfortable seats yet the comfort is but only for a moment. As she beckons for your rapt attention, and elaborates each expression, like the demented Septimus she goes on an interminable rambling of eloquence. Her stress on every impression of shade and shadow isn’t effortless but fastidious. You realize that her honesty in revealing the inherent lives behind these faces and bodies is so urgent that it leaves you breathless just like she is, from the unabating flow of words.

The story, set in London, is a day’s affair. It starts and ends with Clarissa’s party - an ostentatious affair, rightly so as she’s always been ever so boringly practical, with her head in the right place and not to mention, her heart too. In the arrangement of this gathering, others tread in and out like thoughts and the past mingles with the justifications for the present. Interceding for the characters, Virginia Woolf presents the generally happy and impervious Clarissa, a flower in a vase, wilting by the day but strongly safeguarding the exterior.

The flutters in the disconcerted mind are what Ms. Woolf plays with. Must the show go on, one wonders, as Clarissa’s party blots out the pain of Septimus’s suicidal death; an innocent life to be mourned or frivolous ones to be celebrated?

Ms. Woolf’s work hasn’t been an easy read; not for the story or depth but for the manner. It’s been hard to stay with her and not digress in the long decorated sentences. Often I had to read them twice, at times more to recollect what it started with in the first place. This is the first of Ms. Woolf’s work I’ve read and I’d like to read more of her.  

My rating - 6/10

Image copyrights:

Book cover - http://kafkatokindergarten.blogspot.com/2012/08/mrs-dalloway-by-virginia-woolf.html

Virginia Woolf - https://www.thoughtco.com/the-modern-essay-by-virginia-woolf-1690207

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Just another massacre!



Our country has always been the ground for atrocities. We have accepted it, have become immune to it. We call ourselves resilient. Yes we do recover, but weaker and distorted; resilience has become shameful more than a matter of pride.

Be it the Mughals or the British, the Dutch or the Portuguese, India and Indians have been razed and ruined time and again. We’ve always been easy prey to devouring vultures. World history is replete with gory stories of Hitler but few other than historians and people who have lived that era know about Churchill and his obliteration of races, an abominable rapist who not just snatched every ornament from the beauty of our homeland but defiled it mercilessly and left it there – mutilated, burnt, broken, dying.

And today, as I watch the television in this lockdown, another equally inhuman event comes to mind – the Jallianwala Baug massacre.

On Sunday, 13 April 1919, Acting Brigadier-General
Reginald Dyer, convinced a major insurrection could take place, banned all meetings. This notice was not widely disseminated, and many villagers gathered in the Bagh to celebrate the important Indian festival of Baisakhi, and peacefully protest the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. Dyer and his troops entered the garden, blocking the main entrance behind them, took up position on a raised bank, and with no warning opened fire on the crowd for about ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to flee, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted. The following day Dyer stated in a report that "I hear that between 200 and 300 of the crowd were killed. My party fired 1,650 rounds". – Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallianwala_Bagh_massacre#Before_the_massacre


The audacity, the shamelessness, the inhumanity!

But they were others, not countrymen; these monsters. Centuries have passed, power has shifted hands but have things changed? Do we need Dyers and Churchills anymore? No, we have our own power hungry, intelligence devoid, indifferent special squad.

I’m sure you would have watched these on television many times, but take a few seconds to watch them again before you read further.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-852f1PXBo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq0tj5IYhL4

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Don’t hold it back – let go as you witness the biggest Corona virus immunity test that’s been happening in Mumbai, the financial capital of India over the last few days? Hordes of migrants being stuffed in tempos, buses; thousands lined up outside railway stations flaunting the best examples of social distancing – I can see the Corona virus grinning! Thousands of BEST buses stand unused in the bus-depots, probably cringing to help but they can’t; they need permission. The elderly, children and everyone else have been invited to the circus. Hungry, poorer, unemployed, they stand there in hope, like sheep, herded, probably to death, probably to freedom. And all they want is to go home and be with their families. Some will get on a train, some will wait, and others will be forced to leave in the hope to come back the next day. Virus carriers? Who cares?

A perfectly organized and managed circus; acrobats falling from their swings to their deaths, the skilled knife thrower not missing his mark and killing the girl with a knife right between her eyes, the lion chomping on the trainer’s bones – its salivating teeth red, the joker laughing but not the audience.  

Ghalib had said:

ye ishq nahin asan itna hi samjh liije

ik aag ka dariya hai aur duubke jaana hai

That’s a thing of the past Ghalib miya; let’s make it relevant to the present.

Ye ghar jaana nahi asan itna hi samjh liije

Corona aur politics ka dariya hai aur duubke jaana hai

If not a massacre, what is this?




Picture copyrights:

© https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/chaos-at-stations-maharashtra-calls-out-railways-for-cover-up-job/article31682538.ece

© https://www.thequint.com/news/india/migrants-stranded-at-mumbai-bus-depot-as-centre-and-state-spar-over-shramik-trains

Jallianwala Baug massacre picture - © https://scroll.in/article/806572/bloodbath-on-baisakhi-the-jallianwala-bagh-massacre-april-13-1919



Saturday, May 16, 2020

The garden of evening mists by Tan Twang Eng – A book review

‘The garden will remember it for you!’


‘The goddess of Memory’, I said. ‘Who’s the other woman?’ ‘Her twin sister, of course. The goddess of Forgetting.’

‘For what is a person without memories? A ghost trapped between worlds, without an identity, with no future, no past.’

'My memory is like the moon tonight, full and bright, so bright you can see all its scars.' 



In the middle of the forest, amidst the plantations, I see a garden; a quaint Japanese garden. As I enter, I realize there’s no-one. A thick mist shrouds the garden. There’s something strange about the place. It’s beautiful, but is that why it’s strange? I hear voices but I can’t see anything. I wonder if the ubiquitous mist protects or hides what lies underneath; it looks heavy, yet balancing itself perfectly; it’s movement, if any, is inconspicuous. The heaviness conceived by the eyes isn’t really there; I don’t feel anything but a tingle as I trespass further. Like a savage, the cloudy white scatter engulfs me, eating parts of me, making them disappear; I’m walking but I don’t see my legs. I’m floating.

I try and listen carefully. The voices are many; they crave for attention; they want to be heard. In the cacophony of faint whispers, they’re telling me loud stories of the Occupation war, the concentration camps, of atrocities, of power, of belonging, of separation. There seems to be a strange complicity in the voices of those who’ve committed them and the ones who’ve endured them.

I attempt to listen carefully; they disconcert me. They seem to read my thoughts, “Why did you chop her fingers, why did you rape those girls, why did you inflict so much pain, why did you behave so grotesquely, did you not feel anything when you buried them alive?”

“No”, they say, “I did it because I could. Because she was beautiful. Well, I was raped once. I had my urges to satisfy. They were brought here for this. They needed to be punished. I was asked to.”

I move further across and there’s a part where the mist seems unwelcome; a patch of grass trimmed to different heights, manipulated to make a Taoist symbol. A misery emanates from the waving grass and I ask, “So a lot happened to you, now what?

They answer in myriad echoes “I’m trying to forget. Like Magnus, I have forgiven and forgotten else life will be difficult to live. I carry all the angst and hatred with me like Judge Teoh. I won’t rest until I know, I will avenge. It’s my fate, I have nothing against anyone.”

‘What words could have healed my pain, returned my sister to me? None. And he understood that. Not many people did.’

‘They couldn’t kill me when we were at war. And they couldn’t kill me when I was in the camp.’ He said finally, his voice subdued. ‘But holding on to my hatred for forty-six years … that would have killed me.’

I move away from the voices but they linger in my mind. I reach a pond and the mist lifts as beguilingly as it appeared and stayed and now I see clearly. The voices disappear with the mist, their lives swept away. Tan Twang Eng’s enchanted garden is more beautiful than I had imagined. Everything seems to be perfectly pleasing to the eye. I sort of understand the strangeness now, the fusing of things from the surrounding, borrowing from it - ‘Shakkei’. The mist is part of the garden, a part of the d├ęcor like the scattered leaves.



All the characters from his lush, manicured garden are sitting around the pond, oblivious of my presence. Most of them are mutilated, more in the minds and hearts than physically. I see a landscape of human frailties and strength, of a war infested cosmopolitan Malaya; being ravaged by the Japanese, British, and Communists alike. It’s an unacceptable, unaccepted, unwelcome cosmopolitan Malaya.

A lone heron stands in the pond, confused by its own reflection, fusing into one. Only when it alights to disappear into the sky, is the reverie broken. The clouds drift in the water. I look in the sky and they’re the same. I wonder if it’s the same sky everyone sees, the same mountains, the same air that everyone breathes. Thankfully, there’s no line drawn, no fence erected there; yet!

My thoughts drift as I wonder – This love for one’s country, why isn’t it enough by itself; why does it inevitably induce hate for another? Does it need to be proven by conquests and hatred for the ‘not you’? And what brings this hatred, the looks, the mannerisms, the dissimilarity? Or is it the inability of acceptance? Every war is less a story of the brave and more a saga of inhumanity from the interminably grotesque power that we yield to, anger arousing from the throes of helplessness and being overworked.

No! No! It isn’t inhuman. How can we call it so when it’s so common a trait and event? We’re better off accepting that selfishness, jealousy, hatred, anger are what we are. We’re human! It is just the mist of power and situations that keep it unexposed; it is, was always there, though.

‘Sparrows rise from the grass into the trees, like fallen leaves returning to their branches. I think about those elements of gardening Frederik is opposed to, aspects so loved by the Japanese – the techniques of controlling nature, perfected over a thousand years. Was it because they lived in lands so regularly rocked by earthquakes and natural calamities that they sought to tame the world around them? My eyes move to the sitting room, to the bonsai of a pine tree Ah Cheong has so faithfully looked after. The immense trunk the pine would have grown into is now constrained to a size that would not look out of place on a scholar’s desk, trained to the desired shape by copper wire coiled around its branches.’

In the fight of memory against forgetfulness, the power of acceptance, I think is what makes all the difference. We can tell the mind a thousand reasons but the heart has its own way of behaving; happy are those people who can hear their mind stronger than their heart. What else justifies Yun Ling’s love and respect for Aritomo, the Japanese emperor’s gardener after all that was inflicted upon her sister and her and millions of others at their concentration camps; she was the lone survivor? I want to see the thin line where the hatred is gradually erased and love trickles in. In this fusion, does there still remain a line? Yes, I guess, but it comes and goes.



‘What is gardening but the controlling and perfecting of nature?’

It all looks deceptive to me now, the gardener Aritomo’s work of art. Like his ‘horimono’ (tattoos), though beautiful, it is nothing but a manipulated and contrived design. In the understated elegance of the garden, like his life, is a dexterous touch of cunningness. Like his rocks, deliberately placed to imperfection, he craftily uses the people around him to complete his enigmatic design. There’s no map, no blueprint; he schemes, what one doesn’t know doesn’t hurt, but a discovery later, will

If there’s one prayer I want to make today in all earnestness, it’ll be to not let one to ever gain power over another. Let us not see the worst side of ourselves.

‘The palest ink will outlast the memory of men.’ - True Tan Twang Eng, your story will outlast the memory of men.

‘The sounds of the world outside faded away, absorbed into the leaves.’

‘When the work is done, it’s time to leave.’

My rating - 9/10


Image courtesy:

Book cover - © https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12031532-the-garden-of-evening-mists

Tan Twang Eng - © https://www.davidhigham.co.uk/authors-dh/twan-tan-eng/

Shakkei 1 - © http://robertketchell.blogspot.com/2013/06/borrowed-landscapes-shakkei.html

Shakkei 2 - © http://wabisabi-trip.com/shakkei-meigetsu-in-kamakura/

Shakkei 3 - © https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/art-shakkei-or-borrowed-scenery

Monday, May 11, 2020

For the love of reading


“It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
                                                                                       The Bee Gees

We are made of words, as many as our feelings, probably more, and we use them unsparingly. Though feelings come before words, we need the latter to express the former. More importantly, the right ones are essential and if they fail the tongue, the expressions become misguided, misinterpreted and often misrepresented. If you’ve ever been in love, you’d know how difficult it is to find the right words to pour your heart out; there’s always so much to say but so little meaningfully said and sometimes so much said but so little meaningfully registered. It goes to the researched concept of sender, medium and receiver – how well and absolutely do you feel my love, vanity, anger, resentment when I express it? And then there’s an important life beyond words; do I feel the pain in your eyes or the fear you convey without anything or much being said? These seemingly piddly things are weapons of eloquence. As thoughts and expressions dance around in our minds shaped in these words, a chaos reigns and we are either trapped or released.  

“Oliver asks for more!” Is this sentence so intense that it is likely to arouse and trigger someone’s love for reading? Or is it the exclamation mark that did the trick (I don’t even remember if there was one.) I guess it did for me, though; else it wouldn’t be so deeply imbibed for it to stay and for me to be able to recollect it so easily. If you’ve read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, you’ll identify that sentence where Oliver is with the other urchins being trained to be a thief, and as they’re having lunch, he asks for more; an audacious and horrendous crime to commit; everyone staring at him in shock and disbelief. And me at them and him.

I read quite a few books as a child, but Oliver Twist struck a chord that has stayed. Later in life, I did read it again and it had the same effect. Probably as a child I wouldn’t have been able to explain why I liked the book or the ‘bringing to life’ of characters.

My parents were never into books and reading, so I can't put a finger where my love for reading has come from. I do remember though we had this shop collecting old materials and the mustached lanky shopkeeper, always sniffling, used to keep used story books as well. Sometimes, I used to buy; most times I borrowed for a price.

Growing up with Moby dick, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe was such a delight. And then Enid Blyton happened. Though I don’t remember much now, The Famous Five,The Fatty series, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Archie and his pals were a craze then. Also the comics – Phantom, Tarzan, Mandrake, Chacha Chaudhari, Champak, Chandamama, Tinkle – some characters like Shikari Shambhu, Supandi and Saboo are so vivid in the mind that the moment you utter their names, one can actually see them as they were, their looks, their attire, their expressions, simply everything. Ah, childhood!

So, what do I like about reading; what does anyone?


© Samyukta, my friend.

I’ve often read, and more than once have written myself that you live and breathe the characters you read; one becomes them, but does that really happen? Are you really transported to that era and emotions, do you actually see the sky as it is described – a purple spread of despair; do you feel the pain and anguish as is felt by the lover – my hatred was so intense as I loved her so much; and are you telling me that you can think and behave like that demented child? 

While reading a good book, we often don’t realize but end up writing our own story as we read along. How many Japanese gardens have I visited? None. So when Tan Twang Eng talks about ‘shakkei’ (borrowing from the scenery) in ‘The garden of evening mists’, do I understand? No. So I find out, I look for pictures on the internet and I realize. But do I still know what exactly the writer’s particular garden looks like? Probably not. So I make my own; I place the rocks where the writer claims to have placed it, I see the clouds in the pond as the lone heron, disconcerted by my presence and stuck in its own shadow sees it too and when this fusion of thoughts happen, it’s nothing but sheer magic invigorating the senses.

Yes, we can’t have lived all the experiences; so we do the next best or worst thing. Don’t tell anyone that you can empathize with the repugnance and brutality they faced in a concentration camp; you’ll be apparently lying then unless you were in one, being untrue to yourself and the others. When we can’t feel the bullets piercing the skin and can’t empathize, we just surrender to the closest resembling experience. We see the soldier from ‘Saving private Ryan’ instead, taking the bullet, the wound so fresh and raw, wisps of smoke emanating from the burnt gunpowder and we succumb to the heaviness and fall as he falls. 

You are in awe of how the simplest, subtlest and even the most complicated feelings can be sketched and magnified so perfectly, oh so clearly. The beauty, the clarity in some pages are so real and felt, you end up reading them twice, thrice, sometimes to understand, other times just to relive the richness. 

How often do you drift apart in your own thoughts, emotionally connected, feeling and living the situation and the characters?

I do. I do drift, I do feel. A derisive laugh does escape in a conspicuous disgust or treachery, a wave of anger does arise in an obdurate pride or a disparaging conduct, I do think of someone in words of passion, I do live the character/s even if for a while. I do! I run ahead - I want to tell the characters what to do, I want to warn them, I want to …

… I am there with Estha each time he makes the same walk in the rain; I feel his pain, I am his twin then, not Rahel. - The God of small things
… I strongly felt hatred for the person I loved as Maurice did; I was jealous just as he was; I yearned to cause pain just like the kind I was going through. - The end of the affair
… I didn’t feel disgust or guilt as Otto Gottlieb, making love to a married woman. - Unexploded
… I feel my chopped finger stubs beneath the glove and want to hate Tatsuji for what his people, the Japanese did to me in the concentration camps, I want to feel the hatred, for it to come back, but it doesn’t; I feel sorry for him in fact. - The garden of evening mists

Most novels, if you’ve noticed, are tales of sorrow; is that the truest of emotions and feelings then? There, I digress again!




The other gratifying thing about reading good mature writing is the realization that there exist others, who think and behave just like you; a kind of reassurance probably filling the emptiness you could never understand or probably express in your real life emotions. It gives a sadistic pleasure when you realize you’re not the only one capable of those contriving thoughts, feeling the gloom of an unrequited love, or so muddled in the head that madness, consequently, becomes a cure.

On the other hand one encounters many situations and feelings they haven’t experienced before. The author challenges you to visualize, to comprehend his characters and their feelings; his feelings. Even in the labyrinth of those million words, s/he leaves a lot unspoken as he hands over the reins of his thoughts to you - the reader, even for those brief moments, concealing himself in the shadows as you read between the lines; the story halts there in anticipation, watching you and either frowns from a failure to have been understood or displays a prized grin as the right chord is struck. A good writer is never a profligate spender of words; he respects the reader and treats him as intelligent.

For a lover in the story, the writer probably wouldn’t want to make him read between the lines; it’d make him go insane when he always reads it wrong. Or is it an act of deliberation for the character/s to go wrong? It’s a game the creator is adept at, a game he will always win, the rules are his and he tweaks them to his convenience and pleasure; not to the lover’s, not to yours!

In contrast, as a poet, the writer attempts to hone your skills of imagination. He feels a strong urge to force you to read between the lines; he believes expressing everything in black and white, not letting curiosity and fascination to bloom and scatter heedlessly, is not just mundane but vulgar, a shame to his vanity. I feel the best story tellers are prose writers who are really poets inside.

I’m so glad that I developed this habit of reading. Books like The God of small things, The secret scripture, Unexploded, The garden of evening mists, Waterland, The Heart of the matter, Disgrace and many others have left memories that can’t be erased; they’ll probably fade in time like everything else but I don’t want them to. I want to hold on to them for ever, forever.

I wish more parents would induce this love for reading in their children. It’s a world, rather many worlds and they’re out there waiting for you. Embrace and give in. Get lost in them and you’ll not emerge the same again.

Happy reading! :)


Pictures courtesy 
Open book - © https://www.halifaxpubliclibraries.ca/blogs/post/the-journey-of-a-book-part-1/
Books - © https://lithub.com/this-cruel-calculator-will-tell-you-how-many-extra-books-you-could-read-a-year-if-you-quit-social-media/