Quick note.

This past month, my Internet connection has been dying a slow death. I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like to. But here’s hoping July is better blog wise.

Just so you know… #BSNLSucks

Book Review – One Amazing Thing, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

 

6585252

 

Nine people, nine stories, one disaster that is what this book is about. Towards the end of a normal work day, there are nine people remaining in the basement of the Indian Consulate waiting for their Visas.  An old Chinese woman (Jiang) and her granddaughter (Lily), an angry Muslim man (Tariq), a guilt-ridden soldier (Cameron Grant), a middle-aged couple going through their own problems (Mr & Mrs. Pritchett), a young Indian girl(Uma Sinha), the Visa officer (Mangalam) and his assistant (Malathi).

Each of these people is waiting for an interview with Mr. Mangalam to get their visas so they can visit India (except Mangalam and Malathi of course). The way the author describes these characters is interesting, with the usual surplus of details that you find in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books. Different people belonging to different cultures, religions, race, genders and age.

As they each wait for the interview call, the time passes and towards the end of the day, while only our nine characters are left, an earthquake rumbles its way through the building. And with its usual characteristic, the earthquake manages to disrupt the sense of peace and safety in their lives. The soldier’s instinct in Cameron Grant takes over and he assesses the situation as well as he could with his soldier’s training. Most of them are well, except for Uma who has a fracture and Jiang who has a serious gash.

Like in any dire situation, people tend to turn against each other. Tariq questions Cameron’s command and let’s his anger against the American authority color his behavior. Mr & Mrs. Pritchett quarrel over her medication, of course, that’s been building up between them for days. Mangalam and Malathi have words, lashing out at each other to cover their own guilt. It is their prejudice against one another that results in this primarily. The author’s description of each shows how view each other and how this inflluences their opinions.

They are cut off from the world. Water and gas are slowly leaking into their surroundings. After failed attempts at getting out from the basement, they realize the futility of arguing and fighting and get together in an attempt to survive.

Once things are more peaceful and all frustration is vented out, the soldier suggests each of them tell an important story from their lives – the one amazing thing that they experienced. Jiang starts first. Even her granddaughter is surprised to learn that her grandmother knows English. A language that Jiang conveniently lets go off once she moves to America. Her story is about love, heartbreak, and living life even when things get tough.

He was burning up, babbling nonsense. Suddenly he went stiff. His eyes rolled back. I thought, He’s dying. My insides turned cold. Don’t die, don’t die, I shouted. I love you.
Maybe he heard me. His eyes cleared for a moment. He lifted a hand. I clutched it. But he was trying to pull it away. Then I understood. He wanted to stroke my hair. I bent over so he could do it. Who knows why, next day his fever was less. In a week he was better.

The next story is Mr. Pritchett’s. His story is about his childhood. His story gives his own wife a glimpse of what shaped him into the man he is. After him, Malathi narrates her story with Mangalam translating for her. Her tale is how she went from being a potential underage bride to coming all the way to America. She breaks the usual box that she would have fit into. She also breaks a few rules of her own along the way.

He finds a pie server in a bottom drawer, digs a hole in the junkyard, and buries the stiff kitten-body though he can hardly bear to touch it. He can’t eat anything the rest of the day or the next, but no one notices because he fixes his own meals. At night he lies in bed, going over the moment when he had last wedged the stick in the freezer door. How could it have fallen out? Had he been in a hurry? Had he been careless? Had someone followed him and pulled the stick out on purpose? Who would do something like that? There are no answers.

Next Tariq starts his tale. His story is that of how he grew up in a country that has begun to classify his people as anti-nationals. The confusion that this brings up in his mind leads him to find his own religion amongst other things. Then comes Lily’s story. Her story is of finding her own self.

All our characters are across different age groups. There is her grandmother, the oldest person in the room and then Lily, a school student, the youngest. Yet, each of their stories in important and endearing.

I started playing something sad that I’d heard in my head as I walked along the beach after my conversation with Mark. But as I made my way through it, I found out that it wasn’t sad all the way through. It had leaps and trills and a ribbon of joy that kept looping back. After a while, the other boys heard the music and wandered over and sat down, too. My boy (that’s how I thought of him) might have felt proprietary, because he scooted up and put his hand on my knee. He smelled like strawberry jam. I played the melody for a long time, discovering something new with each pass-through, and then it was time for us to go home.

As Mangalam begins his tale, the nine survivors are worse for wear. Strengths are depleted. Their will to survive is what keeps them going as a whole unit. Cameron, an asthmatic, is no more the once sharp commander but a man who has to rest to gain his strength and hope for the absence of another asthma attack. Each of them finds strength in the others.

“It was the only time in my life I did something brave,” Malathi said, “even though it was a big cost for me. I don’t think I can do that again. I am too selfish. So it is special to me.”
At the mention of selfishness, Mangalam’s head jerked up as though he had not expected her to confess to such a vice.

Mangalam’s tale is about his actions came back to haunt him and his escape from his life in India.  He says it’s his Karma, which leads to Mrs. Pritchett’s tale. Hers is one mid-life crisis situation. One incident in her life makes her realise that all her life is filled with nothingness. She attempts suicide, yet here she sits with strangers telling them her deepest secrets.

“What do you mean, karma’s wheel?” said Mrs. Pritchett. She leaned across her husband toward Mr. Mangalam.

Next up Cameron tells us his story while he still has his strength. His young love and how he lets it go to make a better life for himself. His guilt over an incident pulls him down and he becomes a soldier. He then ends up sponsoring a child in India, whom he is going to visit.

When Cameron informed Seva, he was coming, he received an ecstatic note listing all the things she would take him to see once he arrived. He carried it around in his wallet.

Finally, Uma tells her story. Her story is of a revelation in her life. When the concept of security in her life is questioned, she makes some choices which then make her, literally, take an about turn and come back to where she left off.

“You telling the truth? People lie to me all the time. I’m sick of it. I want the truth about this one thing before I die.”
“I’m telling you,” Uma said. “It was an aurora.”

While each of them narrates their stories the other give us a glimpse of an incident in their life. It makes sense when we read their stories. Like every one of us, they have experienced, guilt, jealousy, love, hatred, loathing, despair, happiness and doubt. With the telling of each tale, these nine people look into themselves and come to empathise with someone in the tale. Eventually, they all understand where they come from and the others as well. They come to realise that these emotions that they experience are all experienced by others as well. Like Tariq says, “Now, I don’t feel so alone.”

I think One Amazing Thing brings out the fact that we are never without secrets. Like Lily who learns of her grandmother’s English skills, or Mr & Mrs. Pritchett coming to know of their secrets. These are examples of how we go a lifetime holding some secrets close to our hearts and they remain there in the deep dark corners for eternity.

Once the mask that we show the world comes off, we are basically the same. Vulnerable humans, who want some sort of validation in our life. Some seek love and affection, for others, it’s just acceptance. But in essence its all the same. This is what the book is about.

Like in her usual style, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni leaves us guessing as to how the story as a whole and each individual’s tale ends. It is upon us and our wild imaginations to go forth and take it further. Every situation is described in such detail that we can well imagine the surrounding smells and sights. We can hear the sounds of water creeping in or the ceiling rumbling. We can smell the hibiscus oils from the saloon that Malathi worked in. We can taste the desperation and feel the hope and despair of these nine people. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is indeed a marvelously gifted story-teller.

I wouldn’t say it is her best work, but it is definitely worth a read.

Little Hope

She dangled her feet, swinging them gently.

Her thick silver anklets keeping her rhythm.

Those little feet bear such a burden,

Yet they swing with abandon.

Little one, you have just begun to walk.

Do you know how far you have to go?

Do you know where you go or what you will see?

The people who will meet?

Some will trod on your little toes,

Some you will stamp on to get ahead.

Far from now, a time shall come when your little feet shall hurt.

I can only hope that then you can still swing your feet with the same joy and abandon.

 

While commuting today, we were stuck in a traffic jam for the most part of an hour. Next to us, in an auto rickshaw, there was a family. A little girl sat at the side alongside her mother. The little one was not bothered about the heat or dust. The traffic jam was nothing to her. She was in her own happy world. She sat there, swinging her feet and we spent that time listening to the tinkles of the bells from her anklets.

She inspired what I wrote above.

Summer Splash!

 

Ever since I can remember my father enrols me all sorts of classes. I started my Carnatic music classes along with kindergarten. It must have been a policy that I must socialise with other children or learn something. But I think that it really was to get me out of the house. I was very happy indoors, reading a book, or drawing, or just wrecking havoc being naughty. Outdoors was just dirty, hot and too much noise! It really is the same even today.

This morning, during breakfast I noticed a leaflet lying on the dining table. It had come along with the morning newspapers. And what do you know – It’s for one of my least favourite places.

I really don’t remember the year; I was definitely 7 years old at least when my father decided to enrol me in swimming classes. I say I was definitely 7 since I got my spectacles before my 7th birthday. Also, this was after my father came back from Bombay after a 6-month long assignment. Whenever he travels he brings back something for me and my sister. This time, he brought me a swimsuit –a brown one with two green-blue stripes diagonally across the torso. It had a matching cap as well. I really liked the cap!

Since we live in Gopalapuram, he took me to Savera which was the closest. Savera was a nice place in my mind. We had been to dinners and parties and it was all fun. But I had never been to the pool; I had only seen it from the upstairs dining in the dark. Have you seen this pool? It is really weird.

 

hotel-savera-1
Do they look like orcas doing somersaults to you?

 

The pool is shaped like a pear, and it has weird mosaics on the bottom of it. Take a look.  Now, it may seem normal to you, but being short-sighted, these things, especially at the deep end looked like Orcas to me. I had seen Free Willy by then and would definitely have not liked to come face to face with an orca – mosaic or not!

The classes that I was enroled in were first thing in the morning. I dressed in my swimsuit and put my frock on over it. The cap, a water bottle, a towel etc went in a bag that I would carry. My father would then drive us to Savera and come with me to the pool side. It all started innocently. Get in the water; hold to the rails and float; now hold onto the rails and float and start kicking your legs. That’s all fun. Then our instructor asked us to swim up to and fro in the shallow end. That too was ok, except I couldn’t see.

I used to come home with incomplete notes and when asked why I would always say I couldn’t see clearly. My parents thought this was an excuse and I was just being lazy. That was probably true before. Around Diwali that year I had conjunctivitis and when we went to the eye doctor he prescribed glasses and asked my parents why they were negligent thus far. Now if anything my parents are dutiful and sincere in their parenting. And so, I ended up being pampered a bit more than the usual. Oh, I started with prescription glasses for a -3.0 for both eyes.

So, getting back to the pool. With this sort of sight, it was an absolute terror to see those things at the bottom of the pool.  Every day as I climbed out of the pool, my father would be lounging nearby drinking his coffee. It went well for two days. The next day, half way into our session, the instructor asks us to get out of the pool and line-up at the deep end. All the kids dutifully did. Then he says jump, everyone but me jumps. I was shot such a dirty look and asked to jump again, I didn’t. All of a sudden, I end up being shoved into the water! There are killer whales in the water; I am flapping around kicking out my hands and legs to no avail trying to get out there. I really felt one of the seals being hunted by those whales. While I was doing all this trying to remain alive, something gets hold of my shoulder scaring me even further. All the air in my lungs was probably gone with my underwater gasp. It was our instructor getting hold of my swim suit and pushing me in the direction of the shallow end. Then he asks to do it all over again. And again and again. With the taste of pool water in my mouth, and tears in eyes I complied.

The first few times I was shoved into the water. Then I thought if I have to die it might as well be by my choice and I jumped into the water the next few times. Now all this was truly scary to me as a kid. End of that class I got out of the water and looked at my father. He was there still lounging with his coffee.

After we got home, I declared there will not be any more swimming classes for me. When my mother asked why my father told her the whole encounter and said I would get over it. I really think he was getting used to lounging around. Next day, after being woken up, I locked myself up in the bathroom and refused to come out unless they stop my swimming classes. I had to make a whole lot of threats as well including bad grades before my parents agreed to it. That was the end of any talk of swimming for me.

My father still held hopes for my sister and they kept the brown swimsuit until she was old enough to go to classes. Fate had other plans though since my sister was often sick as a child and had acute tonsillitis. When the doctors had told my parents to not let her play around water for any length of time, swimming was out of the question. The brown swimsuit was eventually donated.

Chutney case’s similar experience can be read here.

The pool in question from the top

 

aim_bn_3_1308935904
Why?!?!?!

 

Brilliance

Some times all of us forget to appreciate our surroundings. Come to think of it we look at beaches on our HD screens and don’t go to the real thing because of any excuse we can come up with.

Last week one of our friends who was going off on a trip asked us to take care of his pet fish.  He came and dropped off ‘Aqua’ at our place. Aqua is a fighter fish and lives in his glass bowl of a world. A brilliant beauty. He is a clever thing too. Always lying around at the bottom, and swimming around wildly when someone approaches.  It’s been fun with our little guest.

Tiny things make us realise that we are sometimes an insignificant link in the universe. I mean, here I get ready with sunscreen and compact and lipstick and eyeliner. And this little fellow is always so sharp looking. Humans can be so vain!
We always look to match colour but look at him, there  are a riot of colours yet they are all in such  harmony. The creator (or evolution) did a fabulous job with all living things.

But somehow human beings fail to find the beauty in life. Even if we do, we don’t find the divinity in it.

image

A Wish upon the Winds of Winter

After the Game of Thrones season 5 aired, we were all waiting for the next season to come out. As far as the entire series is concerned, I watched the show after I finished all the books. So it made sense that I read Winds of Winter before I watch Season 6.  And then this happened to make us all sigh! It is all true, we can completely understand why. We are also anxiously waiting for Winds of Winter –  no pressure on you Sir, none at all! Unleash it on us when you can.

So I thought I might as well just watch the show’s 6th season. And now I write even though I know Words are Wind!

 The North

Jon Snow is back! We saw Ghost wake up the hood with his mournful howling and what followed was a show of loyalty that Jon should be very proud of. None of his friends failed him while some of his brothers did.

Melisandre reveals that when she takes off the necklace she is old. (Though she is good form when she tries to bring back Jon.) The season begins with her doubting her visions and faith and now as Jon is back alive she probably has even more doubts.

Jon hangs those who murdered him, and then takes off declaring his watch has ended. So who is the next Lord Commander? And since many were killed, some were hanged who elects them? Or does Edd continue as Lord Commander because Jon gave him the mantle?

And what about the others? The Wildlings who came over the wall putting their trust in Jon, Ser Davos, and Melisandre who saw Jon fighting at Winterfell… what happens to them?

Actually, the last thing may still happen. Jon could go back to Winterfell now that his watch has ended and following him could be Ser Davos, Tormund, Melisandre and others. Of course, the crows stay back to look after the wall. With Sansa, Brienne, Podrick and possibly Theon setting off for the Wall there is a good chance they all meet. But, given that this is the Game of Thrones, that may not necessarily happen.

With Ser Davos (who was once a smuggler before becoming the Onion Knight) by his side, Jon Snow could make a brilliant plan to take over Winterfell. Given his entourage, he may as well be successful. The wildlings will triumph and eat up all of Ramsay’s overfed dogs. Wun Wun could play with Ramsay like a rag doll or perhaps Ghost can make a meal of him. I personally like the Wun Wun theory.

If Ramsay still has Rickon alive, Winterfell will then go back to a stark.  Again since this the Game of Thrones…

Then again, since we were promised two great battles in Winds of Winter, this could be one. The Wildlings and giants and all led by Jon Snow vs Ramsay and co.

I will write about the rest of Westeros and the others later. 

Book Review – Before We Visit the Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Before We Visit the Goddess

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

 

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of my favourite Indian authors. If you have read her other works, this one is a must read.

Before We Visit the Goddess is a tale of three women– a mother, a daughter and a granddaughter. It spans across the lifetimes of these three women and is mostly in their point of view.

When you read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books, the one thing that always stands out is how she portrays the relationships between characters. It comes out in all its brilliance in this book. The book is rich in details, yet at no point is it long or boring.

25814315

 

The beginning is with Sabitri, a girl from a small village, who wants to study and help her family. She moves to Kolkatta with the help of Leelamoyi and finds love, heartbreak, and hope in the city. As she continues to take us through her life, we meet Sabitri’s mother, Rajiv, and Bijan. All these characters we come to know through Sabitri’s eyes.

She marries and has a daughter – Bela. Once I got to know Sabitri, Bela comes across as less interesting. Yet, she does have some unique experiences in life early on. When Sabitri loses her husband, she moves on and starts a business which she names after her mother, Durga. Meanwhile, Bela falls in love and elopes to America with Sanjay against Sabitri’s wishes. They have a daughter, Tara.

While Sabitri becomes an independent business woman after her husband’s death, Bela’s life goes downhill when her husband leaves her. Tara caught in the midst of the divorce goes her own way – a journey where she learns about love, heartbreak, and life.

It is interesting that while Bela blames Sabitri for many things including the death of her baby brother, Tara does the same to her mother. But Bela doesn’t understand why her daughter does so.

The journeys of Sabitri and Tara are quite similar but set in different times. Throughout the book characters come and go. Like the aaya, Robert, Mrs. Mehta, Dr. V, Ken. Even these small characters have an important role to play in the lives of these three women. Every so often we need someone to place blame on; we need a shoulder to cry on. These characters are that and more. They change the lives of our three ladies in a small way at least – small steps at a time that eventually add up to the strength of character. We also get to know about their stories and how they are change for the better.

The book shows us how decisions made ages ago still come back haunt us and those we love. Sabitri will forever be my favourite character in this book. She really becomes a strong woman despite, or perhaps because of, where she started from. Tara comes a close second.

A book worth reading.