Tag: Musings

Our Tryst With Bond, Ruskin Bond

“This time when we go to Dehradun,  we will drive up to Mussorie on a Saturday. I heard Ruskin Bond comes to a bookstore there every Saturday!!”. As my sister excitedly prattled on I gave a non-committal grunt in response. Driving up to Mussorie on a Saturday before a long weekend involved getting stuck in a traffic jam all the way up the mountain road. The road would be choked with cars filled with people from the plains wanting to spend the long weekend in the hills, and I had no desire to be caught up in the mess, despite the allure of meeting Ruskin Bond. I underestimated my sister’s tenacity, she organised all of us like a general and had five adults, three young boys out of the door and on the way to Mussoorie by 10 am, long before the crowds would have even crossed Modinagar. While we waited for the scheduled time, we walked up and down the mall road, talking about books, trying to identify the trees and plants growing by the road and looking out at Doon valley spread below. The sunny morning gave way to a cold, damp afternoon which saw three excited ladies, two amused gentlemen and three young boys (who alternated between complaining about being tired and demanding ice cream), under a drizzling sky in a queue outside a bookstore, waiting for the author to arrive. Soon a car drove up, a portly old gentleman, wearing a florid yellow sweater vest climbed out and shuffled his way into in the bookstore. As our turn came, he listened patiently to our gushing praises for his books. The youngest brat, when asked his name for the book signing by the author, spelt it out for the author, earning a chuckle from the author who thanked him for letting the author know the spelling of his name! As we walked out of the bookstore, clutching our precious autographed books it seemed as if we were floating on a cloud. The irritation of an early start, the tiredness of the wait and the crankiness of the boys melted as we couldn’t believe that we had met and talked to Ruskin Bond. I couldn’t help but be thankful for my sister’s determination to make sure that we could meet our favourite author, the books autographed by him taking pride of place in our bookshelves.

On the quiet drive back I went over each and every moment of that all too brief meeting. The quiet, elderly gentleman who was listening to everybody with his full attention, all the time sipping his chai from a disposable cup, was the author whom I had loved and admired for a long time. On first glance, he looked like someone’s cuddly teddy bearish granduncle, but his pen holds magic. His books are simple and yet they touch places in the heart that you don’t know. A story like “Eyes Have It” shows you don’t have to write a complicated story to drive your point, you can be ironical and yet become unforgettable in less than five-hundred words. His books brought Dehradun, Mussorie and the hills alive, nature seemed to stand still in his books. Yet, he has also written books like “The Sensualist” (deeply disturbing) and “A Flight Of Pigeons”( one of the most poignant love stories I have read). “The Blue Umbrella” showcased the simplicity of village life and yet gave a lesson against covetousness. “Fun Times With Uncle Ken” brought out the humour and the absurdness in normal day-to-day lives. “Room On the Roof” brought alive my hometown of Dehradun. After reading it I went around trying to identify the landmarks mentioned in the books, though most had vanished Dhelaram bazaar was still there, (though I couldn’t find the municipal tap) as was the Allahabad Bank building, its stateliness marred by the hawkers on the pavement outside. His description of the tikki-wallah in the book as “the fleshy God of tikki’s” has stuck with me all these years and I hear myself repeating it mentally whenever I go to any tikkiwallah in Dehradun.

Some might wonder why he, as an author stands out, especially to people from Dehradun. Why we spent more than seven hours in Mussoorie, planned the whole visit like a battle just for a five-minute book signing with him. It might be because he is one of ours, a local boy who left and yet, came back as he couldn’t survive without the mountains. He, like us, felt that the hills were his home, how much ever progress might degrade them, the hills still had our beating hearts. His books and stories evoke a time gone by when Dehra was still green and unpolluted when life was simple enough that you could just sit and watch the nature blooming around you. There is a quiet symbiosis of man and nature in his books.

And I think that’s the reason why we were so excited to see him, he is familiar to us, through his books he brings back the Dehra we had all once loved!

Idiosyncrasies Of A Bookworm

There are two types of people, there are people who like to read and then there are bookworms. Bookworms are full of quirks and idiosyncrasies; We follow authors on social media; We are on cloud nine if an author interacts with us; We love discussing books, usually to the exclusion of any other conversation topic; Most of our life is spent thinking/talking/reading books. Bookworm is a tag we are proud to wear.

Our lives revolve around books and it is difficult for us to come out of our bookish worlds. A few of our idiosyncrasies are:

  • Our biggest nightmare is running out of books to read. I have about fifteen unread books along with a Kindle,  and yet, at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, my first thought was run to the bookstore to “Stock-up”! (My hands are still  itching to order some books online).
  • We usually despise movie/TV adaptations of books, especially those which take cinematic liberties and diverge from the book. We can also be very annoying viewing companions as we will keep pointing out the differences and muttering “the book was better” under our breath in a threatening tone.
  • We land up buying/borrowing books which we have already read. This usually happens to me with fiction books. I forget I have read a book until I pick it up again to read and realise my folly. Even worse is when you land up buying a duplicate copy on Kindle when you can’t “find” your hard copy.
  • We are extremely annoying conservationists. We prefer talking about books, about authors, about different issues read in books. If by any chance someone does start a non-book topic we are quite capable of single-handedly turning the conversation back to books. Basically, according to us, all topics have to have a bookish view-point.
  • Travelling and carrying books for vacations is another issue we have to face. How do we carry only one book for vacation? What if we don’t like it or finish it before the vacation gets over or we are in the mood for a different genre? Most people also fail to understand why we need to carry books for family excursions. Hello!! we never know when we can get a moment free and would want to read!
  • Bookstores are our favourite places to hang out, we can spend hours surrounded by their magic. It is, of course, annoying to our companions as even while travelling we would want to check out the local bookstores.
  • Social Media is our boon and bane. We love joining online book clubs which help us in getting many recommendations for books. We discover new genres and new authors widening our reading world. However, it can also lead to a corresponding increase in our TBR pile leading to reading anxiety!
  • We lack time-management skills. We promise ourselves that we will read only one chapter and then manage to read the full book through the night. Even while doing regular chores (and resenting them), our mind will be counting the minutes till we can sit down with the book. We are also, quite capable of reading through the night.

Do you share any of the above quirks/idiosyncrasies? Do let me know!

Tissue Paper ~Neha Soi

 

I write in borrowed ink.

Borrowed from those

Who have abandoned it somewhere inadvertently

or lost it absent-mindedly.

 

~Tissue paper, Neha Soi

“Tissue Paper” is a slim anthology of Poems by Neha Soi. Covering different facets of life these poems are about finding the words to express the mundane or routine. Even though I was surprised by the title “Tissue Paper”, as I read through I realised how apt the title was for the book. The topics on the surface are mundane, ones that would randomly pop into your head walking down the street. And yet, the poet has framed those topics into words, giving them a life much more than ordinary. The poet is not untouched by the happenings of the world around but rather than pointing directly she writes words which you interpret with your thoughts.

The book is divided into nine sections like divine, alive, parenting etc. The poems in each section do not have a specific title, you can read them as one flowing into another (as the topic holds them together) or you can randomly read each poem on its own. The poems are about the world around us, the one which we try to ignore as it doesn’t concern us directly. The words used are simple day to day words, words which you will not have to look up in the dictionary. These words are beaded together by the poet to make verses which stay with you and make you think about their power. There is an underlying sarcasm in a few of the poems.  My personal favourite poem in the anthology is in the divine section which is about God and of reducing god to a marketing gimmick as a decoration.

The school trained us to read and understand poetry as part of the board curriculum. We were exposed to traditional poetry with rhyming words, poetic devices, interpretation of the verses given by the teacher. After school, I did read some poetry for pleasure but realised I am more of a traditionalist who prefers Keats and Frost to the new age poets. To read a book then, filled with verses which didn’t have a rhyming scheme seemed like an uphill task. I, however, was pleasantly surprised when I did climb that hill. Poetry, at its heart, is about metaphors. The book “Tissue Paper” is an anthology filled with metaphors.

Poetry is languidness of words, softer than stories, poetry meanders and yet leaves an imprint on you. Poetry is an art of speaking, using minimum words, not directly and yet the words convey the meaning. The anthology “Tissue Paper” succeeds in conveying the meaning.

On Growing Older

This year on my Birthday, I not only turn a year but also a decade older. I am now firmly ensconced in the so-called “middle-age” category. This realization set thoughts turning in my head. When you are in the middle-age group you are struck with the fact that the years have suddenly added up to a big enough number. Despite the facials and the expensive face-creams, there are a few lines on your face. You get tired more often than you previously did, maybe now spectacles are needed to read the restaurant menu and the rich gravies of restaurant dinners can lead to severe heartburn. The night about town on stilettos gives way to binge-watching shows on Netflix, sitting on your couch in your jammies.

We suddenly wake up one day, look in the mirror and are suddenly dissatisfied. We are dissatisfied with our appearance, our weight, our hair, and our routine mundane lives. We look at celebrities gracing the covers of tabloids, looking exactly the same as they did twenty years ago, gallivanting off to exotic locations. We look at them and we wonder, “Why not me?” We are bombarded with advertisements of Olay, Nivea, Loreal, all selling youth. They want us to use them, to banish any faint lines that might dare to show on our faces. We color and volumize our hair so that it may look better and not show that we went through pregnancies and childbirth. We go on diets and to Zumba classes, not just because we want to get our cholesterol into range, but mainly so that we can fit into dresses which were bought ten years ago. Some of us manage to do all this and more. Most of us, despite our best efforts, fail. And this failure, further adds to our sense of inadequacies.

We have put unbelievable amounts of pressure on ourselves to look younger than our years. We are so scared of being labeled as the neighborhood “auntie” that we try our level best to be the lissome twenty-five-year old that we were. Whereas once we eagerly wanted to grow older and more independent, we now want to go back to those younger carefree days.”You look younger than your age”  or “You have maintained yourself so well” are the compliments we always aim for. Woe betides if someone guesses our age or the (horror!!!) thinks we are older than what we actually are!!

The beauty industry, celebrity culture, social media, and society, in general, have somehow made getting older a taboo. Despite all the articles on body positivity and acceptance the truth of the matter is we are living in a visual world. We have become so obsessed with our appearances that we, quite often, forget about the person underneath. We forget that the person might have got those frown lines worrying about the health of a parent, those grey hair might be due to the stress of the job and meeting deadlines, the chipped and cracked nails may be due to cooking healthy so that the children get a nutritious meal.

We want to look younger, not realizing that we are not the same people anymore. The person whom we were twenty years ago has been shaped and molded by the experiences of life, the good times, the moments of darkness, the moments of self-doubt and the moments of accomplishment. All these moments have made us the person we are now.

And I guess it is time to accept that fact.

On My Bookshelf

My last post, India For Kids, was about books which introduced the wonders of India to our children. That post, however, lead to requests by friends for recommendations of non-fiction books for them as adults. Non-fiction as a genre includes self-help books, biographies, travelogues, religion and many more as sub-categories.  Non-fiction is not something that can be breezed through and requires some effort in terms of time and concentration, so it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I personally avoid self-help books but enjoy reading books on religion and history. Thus it is all about your personal preference in choosing a book. Quite a few times people do want to read but are daunted by the actual task of picking out a book. Book lists like this one just give them a nudge in picking out a book. 

  • Sapiens (Yuval Harari). A bestseller, which it certainly deserves to be so, this book deals with the history of humankind. On paper the premise sounds boring, the author, however, has written the book with such engaging anecdotes and examples that it keeps you hooked. My favourite part of the book is when he writes about religion.
  • India In Slow Motion ( Mark Tully). One of the most famous faces of BBC in India, Mark Tully has not only distinguished himself as a credible journalist but has also authored several books on India. This book ranges on topics like Ayodhya, corruption and Kashmir from a very humane perspective. You cannot help but see how the book has been written as an impartial observer and yet it retains the essence of India’s heartland.
  • Why I am A Hindu ( Shashi Tharoor). I know its surprising to pick this book over “An Era of Darkness”. While the latter dealt with the pillage of India during the two hundred years of British rule, I found this one more engrossing. In today’s age of socialism, agnosticism and nationalistic Hinduism, a liberal Hindu is somehow lost. This book found me nodding my head quite a few times at the author’s words.
  • Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Rahul Pandita). Kashmir valley has been a troubled spot for many years now. A lot has been spoken and thought off, for the separatists of the Kashmir valley. However, the Kashmiri Pandits, the ones who bore the brunt of the happenings in the Kashmir Valley were a forgotten lot. Journalist Rahul Pandita has written a first-hand account of leaving the valley. He has included the accounts of those who left their homes and became refugees in their own country. It is a moving heart-tugging tale of displacement and then overcoming the odds to shine again.
  • An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (John O’Farrell). I know history is not enjoyed by everyone and that too, the history of a country which ruled you for two hundred years. This book is, however, a laughter riot with tongue-in-cheek humour eliciting chuckles at a steady rate. A totally delightful way to learn the history of a country who either directly or indirectly shaped the world we live in today.
  • James Herriot. I have mentioned the name of the author instead of the books as I loved reading all his books written under this pen name ( The author’s actual name is James Alfred Wight). James Herriot wrote about his travails as a country vet in the moors of Yorkshire. Written with classic, subtle British humour, his books showed his love for the animals and made for an engrossing read.
  • The Gita, for children (Roopa Pai). This list has been made keeping the adults in mind, however, I knew I had to add this book as well, even though it is classified in thirteen plus age-group. Most of us are aware of “The Gita” but are unaware of its nuances and depth. This book is an excellent starting point to discover the magic of  Gita and the philosophy of life. (I have written a detailed blog post reviewing this book which you can read here: The Conversation.)
  • Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortensen). An autobiographical account of Greg Mortensen who has been instrumental in building schools and spreading education in Pakistan and Afganistan. He writes about the challenges faced and his acceptance of the social norms in his fight for the right of education. The book shows how an ordinary man can bring about change.
  • In An Antique Land(Amitav Ghosh). Described as narrative, travelogue, historical account and even autobiographical, this book follows two parallel narratives. The first one is an account of Amitav Ghosh’s stay in a village in Nile Delta, Egypt during the eighties. His interactions and observation with the natives form the backbone. The other is the historical account of an Egyptian merchant and his slaves in India. Amitav Ghosh has tied the two narratives beautifully which stays with you long after you have finished the book. 
  • Begums, Thugs and Englishmen (Fanny Parkes/ William Dalrymple)Long time ago an English Memsahib, Fanny Parkes, came to India as the wife of a moffusil district collector. She was neither totally “native”, nor was she one of the aloof memsahibs who refused to mingle with the people of the country and thus she had a very colourful time in India. Edited from her personal journals this is an interesting read, especially the part about Thugee and the establishment of Landour ( of particular interest to me since I am from Dehradun).

 

This list has been made in keeping with my interests, there are however scores of other books on many more topics which might be more appealing to you. Do not hesitate to experiment, as only then you realise what you are actually interested in.

If you have read (or are planning to read)any of the above books, I would love to hear your views. 

 

Haroun and The Sea Of Stories

Salman Rushdie is one of the most famous, prolific and controversial writers of Indian origin. His books are consistently on the bestseller lists, win awards and sometimes even earn him a fatwa. You, however, cannot deny the fact that he is an exceptional writer who has a large repertoire of work loved by the readers. My very first Salman Rushdie book was “Midnight’s Children”, the book which won him the Booker Prize and made him a literary celebrity. The book, however, became my Mount Everest, which somehow I couldn’t scale. Despite getting hooked in the story, due to myriad reasons, I couldn’t manage to read beyond the first hundred pages. Fifteen years and three attempts later, last year I made it a goal to finish Midnight’s Children, come what may, and I am glad I did finish it! The book was poetic, the mesmerizing saga of a family and the child whose destiny is twinned with the destiny of a country. Salman Rushdie was quickly added to my list of favourite Indian authors. The second book of his which I read was “Joseph Anton”, picked up from a book sale. “Joseph Anton” is the autobiographical work of Salman Rushdie about the dark years he spent hiding incognito when the Fatwa was declared against him. The book revealed more about Salman Rushdie as a person and also about the books which he wrote during this time. The first book he wrote and published during this period was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”.

This book is about a young boy Haroun Khalifa, whose father is a master storyteller. His father, however, loses his gift of gab when Haroun ’s mother leaves them for a person who doesn’t tell stories. Young Haroun helps his father get his gift of storytelling back and thus saves the day.

“Haroun and The Sea of Stories” has been classified as a children’s book. In fact, this book was written by Salman Rushdie due to a promise made by him to his son. The book, however, was written during the time when Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the declaration of a fatwa against him. The colours of fatwa are visible in the book. Thus “Haroun and The Sea Of Stories” does not remain a simple children’s book but becomes a defiant declaration by Salman Rushdie. Reading through the book you cannot help but draw parallels between the characters of the book and people of the real world. You can mentally imagine and maybe, even permit yourself a smile, as you realise who “Khatam Shud” alludes too and what Salman Rushdie is trying to say when he writes about the “bezuban” and the “pollution of stories”. Using his pen Salman Rushdie made caricatures of the leaders who attacked him and turned them into objects to be mocked and pitied.

This book, in essence, favours free speech and artistic freedom. If so, is it then suitable for children to read? I think the answer to this question is an overwhelming yes! The story is simple, yet beautiful. The characters quirky, funny, imaginative and will stay with the children for a long time. The language is very easy to read, yet it flows poetically, drawing the reader into the tale. There is a strong flavour of India with Indianized names like Batcheat/Chup/Mali. Even Gopi(as guppy ) and Bagha make an appearance albeit as fish! Haroun’s character of a young boy who loves his parents is endearing. The children will love reading about a boy as young as them, who doesn’t have any super powers but yet manages to go on a magical journey and save the sea of stories!

This book has been classified as a children’s classic and I have to admit that I concur with this rating. The book is reminiscent of storytelling sessions with grandparents, it is a fantastical tale with funny characters and there is a fable-like quality to the whole book. This book will never be out of step with the events around the world and will always be relevant. So if you have an eleven or twelve-year-old who loves to read, give them this book, let them discover the magic of Salman Rushdie’s pen. It is quite probable that they might not understand the underlying currents and symbolism of the book. However, I assure you, they will fall in love with the story and the magic that it weaves. And hopefully, once they become more aware of the world we live in and read the book again, they may find the depth of the Sea of Stories.