Like you’ve never, before…

Dream like it’s the only place to go.
Wake, like you’ve reached.
Sing, as if that’s all you do.
Dance, the rhythm’s flowing from you.
Love. Each moment, you can.
Be the hero. You’re the only one.
Maybe, the villain. It IS such fun.
Box, pummel, strike, slap.
Zip, zoom, zonk and zap.
Remember those secrets.
Now tell them ALL.

Sigh. You know, I’m happy.
I can do them all.
I do. Honest.

You see, I read ’em books.
And they let me.

😆

funny-quote-reading-books

 

19 June, 2013

I’ve been reading some fantastic reviews and anecdotes, here, from non-fiction to descriptions of Libraries and the love of reading 🙂 That reminded me of this rather silly write, from last year, written at the beginning of Reading Week. I’d like to think that anyone who reads, or listens to audio books, must be blessed, so as to live as many lives as one wants 🙂 And thank you immensely, to all the BookEnders for the zing and zest I’m re-discovering in my own reading 🙂 This is also posted here.(click)

30 May, 2014

Usha Pisharody is a learner who pretends to be a Teacher; she’s a dreamer, a rambler and absolutely in love with the quest of the quixotic in life 🙂 She firmly believes that ‘Love does not make the world go round; Love is what makes the ride worthwhile!”- more of her rambles can be found at A Quest on Overdrive…

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‘The Art of Travel’ by Alain de Botton

travelThe title was misleading. I was expecting to read about how to travel in an artistic manner or the science of artistic travel , whatever that would have been. As for the author, the only relationship till now were a few quotes, mostly from his ‘On Love’. The first few pages were more less on the expected lines – the anticipation that is mostly colored by a travel agency brochure. Palm fringed beaches, multi hued sea in shades of green , blue or a more sexy sounding aquamarine, the ubiquitous ‘hotel bungalow with a view through French doors into a room decorated with wooden floors and white bedlinen‘ and an almost always ‘azure sky.’

You think you know it all when the author comments on , how in the course of anticipation of a travel, mortal human beings like us tend to forget the details of what happens between the time that we get into a car on the way to airport and reach the hotel at your dream destination. We get an almost bleak picture of however exotic the destination maybe, how we experience it depends to a large extent, on a lot of other factors, beyond our control. The bliss cannot be permanent, and therein lies the beauty or the reality, as the case maybe.

The book is neatly divided into five parts – Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return – two chapters each, except the last, that has one. Enlightenment struck in the second chapter of ‘Departure’ where Botton talks about a remote service station somewhere between London and Manchester and connects his thoughts to the French poet Charles Baudelaire and how his poems borne out of yearning for places afar inspired the American painter Edward Hopper. This was much more than what I had hoped for. Poets and artists I’d never heard of, why they did what they did, how their travels and what they noticed in details en route affected their art and their views on people and life….literary bliss indeed.

In the first chapter  ‘Motives’ of travel, Botton talks about how the very term ‘Exotic’ was synonymous with Middle East at one point of time. Did you know Gustave Flaubert hated his homeland with a passion and was obsessed with the Orient? As the author observes, “What we find exotic abroad maybe what we hunger for in vain at home,” you can’t help nodding in agreement. You also wonder whether the places that you call home are really that , or as the cliche goes, ‘isn’t home where your heart is?’

Curiosity could be another factor that prompts one to take up travel. He talks of the extreme levels of curiosity that one can go to citing the example of the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who went on an expedition to South America and came back with details as diverse and detailed as to cover biology, geology, physics, chemistry and whatever else you could think of. (His biography is aptly sub titled ‘What May Be Accomplished in a Lifetime‘). If you are overwhelmed with this super human’s endeavors, Botton leaves us with a consoling thought,

“Instead of bringing back sixteen thousand new plant species, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts.”

‘Landscape’ and ‘Art’ are what really captured my heart. Serendipity strikes when you listen to Wordsworth echoing your thoughts on living in the city as against the country. It was on a visit to Red Hills in Ooty a few years ago that the fact of how your surroundings  can actually affect the kind of person you are, first came into mind as a conscious thought. Every morning, Vijay, the owner of the serene home stay could be seen sitting on the green wrought iron bench in the front garden, staring at the emerald lake below. He was a man of gentle manners and I wondered whether it was the lake and its surroundings that passed on its sage like qualities to him. Over the years, I’ve noticed the changes that come over people based on where they lived and who their constant companions were at any point of time. Some places leave a lasting impression on one’s mind that you are found going back to it time and again, especially when the mind is in turmoil and longs for peace. Isn’t this what the great poet meant when he said,

“For oft on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye….

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the Daffodils.”

The two chapters that follow goes on to tell us about what sublime is all about and how art influences our appreciation of certain things and places, which we might not have otherwise. At some time or other, most of us are influenced by the various reviews and historical significance of places and people. It is as if we are some idiots if we fail to find the same awe and wonder as others mostly pretend to. ‘On Eye-Opening Art’ tells us a different story. Botton , who is totally not impressed by the much appreciated Provence with its quintessential olive and cypress trees and wheat fields. It took aVincent van Gogh to make him appreciate the beauty of the place and its colours.

He saved the best for the last. ‘On Possessing Beauty’ is about John Ruskin, who I must admit, was someone whom I’d never heard of before. He gave a kick on my backside and how. Do we really see what we are looking at, and if at all we do, how much? According to Ruskin, humans have this innate desire to possess beauty. (That explains our hoarding mentality , I guess. The definition of what is beautiful may vary, though. ) And he says, the only way to possess it is by understanding it. And the most effective way to understand, you ask?

“by attempting to describe beautiful places through art, by writing about or drawing them, irrespective of whether one happened to have any talent for doing so.”

The catchword is of course, ‘irrespective.’ We are so worried about what others think and say of our work, all the while forgetting the real essence of art. For, isn’t art something that should give you absolute joy? Irrespective of definition, of what others term as good or bad, if it is something that gives you joy, without harming anyone else, isn’t that the ultimate aim of art? In Ruskin’s words again,

“Your art is to be the praise of something that you love. It may only be the praise of a shell or a stone.”

Art can never be separated from life. And when someone links one of the deepest longings – travel – to an object of beauty and makes you think of how you can never be really away from life and its twists and turns, with the added pleasure of finding new artists to enjoy and new authors to be read, you realize you have found a treasure, and a true one at that.

Botton says,

“I had seen many oak trees in my life, but only after an hour spent drawing one in the Langdale Valley (the result would have shamed an infant) did I begin to appreciate, and remember, their identity.”

True of people in our life as well, isn’t it?

ruskin2

‘The Small Brick Bridge’ by John Ruskin

 

Verdict : You love travel ? Art ? Poetry? Go read!

4/5 for the book and 5/5 for ‘On Possessing Beauty’

(Also posted here)

Bindu Manoj dabbles in numbers for a living, dreaming of words all the while. A mother of two, wife to one, sister to four and friend to many, she hoards books by the score. An arm chair traveler who does some real life off roading now and then, she prefers the moves and shakes of jeeps and trucks to the cushy comfort of normal vehicles. Her wandering soul muses at http://ruminateatleisure.wordpress.com/ and she ruminates her reads at http://wanderlustathome.wordpress.com/

 

Sita’s Curse – A review

After reading the reviews at many sites and many people’s wish to read this book, I was intrigued to try this one. Especially, it was the title, which made me curious. What could be Sita’s curse ?

This is what the book’s brief says:

Trapped for fifteen years in the stranglehold of a dead marriage and soulless household domesticity, the beautiful, full-bodied and passionate Meera Patel depends on her memories and flights of fancy to soothe the aches that wrack her body; to quieten an unquenchable need. Until one cataclysmic day in Mumbai, when she finally breaks free…
Bold, brazen and defiant, Sita’s Curse looks at the hypocrisy of Indian society and tells the compelling story of a middle-class Indian housewife’s urgent need for love, respect, acceptance – and sexual fulfilment.

Ok. I wanted to know how this Meera Patel breaks free from the hypocrisy that surrounds her. I wanted to know about the soulless life she leads, which makes her break out of it. And I also wanted to read about the dead marriage, which can literally kill a person.  But, as I came to know more about her life, the sensuous woman seeking liberation from her unhappy marriage disappears and all that remains in my memory is a woman who is able to understand her desires very well but certainly she has not understood herself properly. She is unclear of what she wants in life. Even when she leaves home one fine day, she doesn’t know what to do or what to expect of life or where is she going !!

But there are many other things other than these. Her relationship with her twin brother, her desire for her dance master, the ‘within the four walls-yet everyone knows‘ kind of relationship with that Godman, the steaming relationship with the dancer and of course, another one with the guy from a adult-site.

And then there are her sufferings – when her husband ignores her for one whole year after marriage – when she is not being taken to the in-laws house after marriage, while her younger co-sister Vrinda is being taken immediately – when her husband is kind-hearted to his brother’s wife while he screams at her – when her MIL thinks and talks as though its Meera’s fault that she is not conceiving – when her husband is unable to satisfy her sexually and because of that he treats her with indifference.

But all these sufferings do not justify those lust-filled pages. Her sorrows do not end by giving into such passionate desire with random men and no meaning.  Even with sexual affairs with different men, there is a meaning to it or there is some motive.  She doesn’t have any meaning or motive, yet high on sexual desires makes her portrayal as a weak woman. Yes, she attends some English-speaking course, but did she really benefit out of it is the big question.  Instead of depicting her as the strong woman who comes out of her sufferings and holds a place for herself, she has been portrayed as a sex object and everyone views her like one. Even though love is what she yearns, all she gets doing is the lust part. It’s sometimes so disgusting, that I had to skip them totally !

And all the men who show some consideration towards her in some form, either die or get arrested or mysteriously vanish – hmmm…its not a situation to look forward to when she finally liberates herself.

Her flights of fantasy are mostly sexual and nothing great about values.

Mostly, a disappointing book for me, except for the fact that one fine day, after 15 years of marriage, she gets out of the web of suffering. But, to where ??

The author, in her acknowledgements has written about the lady she saw standing at a window in the over-crowded Byculla lane and hence the story was born of what a middle-class wife in a crowded Bombay might be. For all Bombay stands for, Meera Patel should have worked at her values and success as a strong woman, instead of stupidly relying on her passionate ventures.

Finally, one more point, Sita’s curse – the title and the co-relation given makes no sense to me. Sita’s curse is her kidnapping by Ravana and here its Meera’s marriage.  While Sita came out of it with an Agnipareeksha, Meera’s freedom is less comparable.

 

About the author:

The author is a mother of two teenagers and currently managing the Production unit of her husband’s Ready to Cook Chapati Unit.  While she loves to blog, her daughters help her don hats like Chef / Baker / Parenting Consultant and many more. She manages three blogs, Blog on parenting & every-day conversations, her attempt to fall in love with this city called Chennai and the third one where she shares her recipes with the world.

Memories of my School Library

How did we start reading.. there would be somebody there in our past who initiated the habit, if not a person, it could be a book that caught our interest…

The mention of the school library promptly brings back the picture of a grey-haired, dignified, serious-faced and petite Martha Ma’m – Martha Alex. She was the permanent figure there, the Head Librarian. The library and our reading habits grew under her supervision. Her assistants changed almost every year. They were mostly candidates preparing for their civil service exams, determined to make the cut, doubling up as our reading guides and friends. A job as the Assistant Librarian was near perfect for them at the time as the place gave them all (to be fair, most of) their study material, discussion groups, experts to clear doubts with and a quiet corner to recollect all what they had gained.

Initially (that is for the majority of my 14 years), our school library was on the topmost-floor, near the old auditorium (old because we had a newer one built beside the school’s main building a few years before our batch graduated). The entrance was at the corner where the steps came to an end. It was an exercise to climb all the way up to that floor when the bell rang for the Library Period introduced in the school time-table when we are in Class III. 45 minutes when we had to give that restlessness a slight nudge to be quiet.

Martha Ma’m had the eyes of a hawk, ears of a dog, and her eyes sparkled whenever we made some noise beyond that pin-drop silence. It was always very quiet in there and mostly dark (of course, there was enough light to read the fine print).
We had a large seating area with long & heavy, polished brown tables that ran the entire stretch of the room (and the room was quite long, u know, half of that top floor corridor almost) with backless benches for us to sit on to read, write or even sleep on either side of the tables. One of the walls (the one on the side of the corridor) parallel to these tables was lined with cupboards. Their doors had small square glass planes so that we could see and read the titles of books stacked within. Reference only, it said in bold red letter, a stack of the big fat Britannicas, Collins and Americanas, 24 volume Oxford dictionaries and other hardbound heavy books, too heavy for a Class 3 standarder to lift. And from the opposite wall, lined with windows, light streamed in where dust particles played with each other in the air.. a phenomenon we were taught in STD XI.

The open bookshelves were behind the Librarian’s chair. It was a separate area, demarcated by a banister that ran along the breadth of the room to the right side of the door with a small opening for an entrance – a kind of rickety garden gate. The tables were on the left. When our names were called in the order of our roll number we walked up to Martha Ma’m to collect our abridged versions of the English Classics. In Class 4, she introduced us to Enid Blyton. When in Class 5 we were to write summaries (not copy from the blurb) of the stories of the books we read every week in a page of a 200-page lined note book. By this time, we were the envy of the junior classes. We were part of one of the four school houses, and in the library, we could go up to a shelf behind Martha Ma’m to select our 2 books for the week. One unabridged English Classic and one popular book. Here comes the best part we could sign our names in the library register next to our name :))

Like the old Christmas Card in that old dusty trunk the library brings back sweet memories for me…..and you ..

Pic Courtesy: LibrarianReading Habits

Initially posted at pins & ashes
I love to spread smiles… and that’s what I think I do best, can tickle the funny bones of more than a few folks.. can tickle their senses by creating some excitement with tales and pix of food and films, some material I read,  some games, a few pranks, and  a lot of chatter… Vaayadi Pennu aka Aswathi Jerome aka PNA, the ELT type according to a Menon girl & a Bawa boy is a true Aquarian, as crazy and creative as it gets.. and she talks & writes a ton when in the mood.. 🙂 & she blogs at pins & ashes

How I came to love reading

Five years of my schooling life were spent in Bombay at my uncle’s, so that I could get a better education in Bombay. There were other reasons too, but that is for another blog. I was put up in St. Gregorios High School, and those are one of my most memorable times I have had. One of the two life changing classes that I had over there was Library. Like all other subjects, we had a ‘Library’ class once per week. During this period we were to sit in the library, and return the book we had previously issued so that another one of our choice could be issued to us. Quite simple actually.

I was indifferent to reading books before that, and didn’t bother much except for the text books or the mandatory book we had to issue every week. Our librarian saw this, and I will be ever so thankful that she started recommending books. It started with ‘Great Illustrated Classics’, which are classic books like Oliver Twist, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Frankenstein, Black Beauty, Alice in wonderland and so on. These have a large font print one side and an illustration on the other. They soon had my attention. Once I had exhausted the entire series, I was told to select other books myself. When our names were called, we were encouraged to spend time in front of the books, read their jackets and pick one that we liked.

A sample of the Illustrated Classics (via classiccaseofmadness.wordpress.com)

As we got into higher classes (standard 6 and above, I think) the books we could choose from increased to include Goosebumps, and Shivers. They were such a wonderful read. However the incident that made me passionate about reading took place soon. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were popular in our school, and the library had a huge collection. Generally boys read Hardy Boys, and girls read Nancy Drew. As part of a bet I had to take up Nancy Drew. The librarian saw my sheepish look when I asked for a Nancy Drew, and asked me what was going on. When I explained, she just laughed and told me that for a good book, it doesn’t matter if the characters were male or female. She put me at ease and I started with ‘Nancy Drew and the secret of the slumber party’. I was hooked. I was now issuing books by the day instead of the regular weekly Library period. Every day, I would come back early from the evening games and finish my studies so that I could read Nancy Drew. The next day I would finish lunch quickly so that I could exchange the book for another.

And then Harry Potter happened. My friends were already into it. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is book 3 of the series was already out. I started with that, worked back to book 1 and then read the lot in sequence. I was hooked. We would spend our day discussing the book, challenging each other with trivia questions, or who could remember more spells. Newspapers were hounded for any news of the release dates of the next book. Since the school library would get limited copies of the book, we had a waiting list which went across classes. The list was public, and it was common knowledge as to who was reading the book and the next person in waiting would be after them to read it faster. We were playing a Harry Potter Trivia session in the bus, when we had gone to Bangalore for an interschool event. (We had gone by train, and the bus was for travel within Bangalore.) The principal happened to hear us go at it, and told us that if read our syllabus books with even fifth of this much devotion we would all be getting full marks.

We were encouraged to write reviews for the books we read, and the better of the lot were put up in the bulletin board. It was not an official contest or event, but we felt a pang of pride if our review was put up on the library bulletin board. We had classes only weekdays, but were allowed to come to the school library and read periodicals, Nat Geo, encyclopedias and other books that were not issued to be taken home.

As I grew up, many people told me that Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are two books which are a must read. When I asked them why, nobody could give me a satisfactory answer but just said that these were mind blowing books. Why and how the books did blew their minds, they didn’t know. Their minds were blown because they were told that was the reaction they were supposed to have. When I was doing my internship at General Motors (where I work now), my mentor told me that I remind him of Howard Roark. When I asked who, he told me about the Fountainhead and offered to loan me his copy. I said no. With the limited pocket money I had, I purchased a second hand copy of it for myself.

Reading that book for the first time had been an interesting experience. There were times I was nodding in agreement at what I read, there were lines which I had said myself. Same in essence, and a little different in the choice of word. There were also things that I only hoped I had the courage to do should the time came. Quite naturally Ayn Rand had my interest and I read Atlas Shrugged as well. It was an experience similar to Fountainhead, only more profound. Soon I had a job, so I ended up with all of her books that I could find. If you do want to read her fiction works, then read them in order of Anthem, We the living, Fountainhead, and finally Atlas Shrugged. It makes for an interesting study in not only the objectivist philosophy, but also in Rand as a writer. With each book you can see how her characters evolve, how the plot has more depth, and how the plot arcs reach out and meet each other.

Sometime last year, I was re-reading Atlas Shrugged. I had a strong reaction and felt like hurling the book across the room. I was going through a particularly difficult time, and was reading how the characters were dealing with their own lives in the book. Part of me thought that how could they manage to hold through through much tougher things when they only had themselves. The idea that they’re fictional characters and not real also came to me, at which I was about to throw the book. However I also thought that it was not who I was, and the characters were the kind I always wanted to be. Even before I had read or even knew of the book. Better sense prevailed.

As a practice, we never called the librarian in school by name or as a librarian. She was to be conferred with as much respect as we gave our class teachers. Which is why we addressed her as ‘Ma’am’. In retrospect she has taught me as much, if not more, as any other teacher I have ever had. It is she who gave me the love for reading.

 

About the Author

Hrishikesh is an Automobile Engineer based in Gujarat, India. He enjoys cooking and loves eating chocolates. He believes that he doesn’t have enough time to read all the books, and watch all the films and series that he wants to. He blogs at http://andiwrite.com where he posts his short stories, and shares his recipes.

A Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C Morais (2008)

seasoningA Hundred Foot Journey first came to me as a trailer of a film, an FB post from Pixie a few days ago; then as a painted cover page of the book jacket of one of the few hard bound books on sale at a good prize shipped three days after I placed an order. To call it a perfect buy would be an understatement.

One of the first sentences Hassan the protagonist said was “If I close my eyes, I can picture our old kitchen now, the smell of cloves and bay leaf, hear the spitting of the kadai…” This picture popped up from memory, a picture that encapsulated a group cooking experience of a month ago.

I had already backpacked and was following Hassan on his journey from the time he was aware of “the smell of machli ka salan, through the floorboards to the cot in his parents room.”

I may have been this Hassan in a different age.. our tastes match.. more than the food on the plate, we love the places and people associated with it…… One of his favourite vacation pastimes, “was accompanying Bappu-the-cook on his morning trips to Bombay’s Crawford market …” I told him that although I’ve never been to the Crawford market to shop for food, one of my favourite vacation pastimes is accompanying DJ to the Thevara Market. As Hassan walked beside Bappu, I walked alongside DJ. We set out to the market around 6-6:30 in the morning, that time of the day when the auction began…

He went on to state that one of his favourite stops at Crawford was the fish market… I was absolutely thrilled at this piece of information. Because I love the part of the market where they sell fish. I go and stand near the stalls to watch the men in gum boots and waterproof black aprons cut up a fish; their sharp knives slicing it neatly to fit the requirement of a particular dish… cut, clean and parcel.. the cycle continues this time to another set of fishes and a different customer for a different recipe…

You tell me, what do I do with a book like this, if I could I would have just become one of the characters and lived the tale. What I can do is keep it by my bedside when I sleep, dreaming of some lovely memories associated with choosing, cooking, tasting and relishing food.

In conversation with Hassan Haji of A Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C Morais, a 2008 Harper Collins India Publication, on a food expedition from Bombay to Paris… 🙂

I love to spread smiles… and that’s what I think I do best, can tickle the funny bones of more than a few folks.. can tickle their senses by creating some excitement with tales and pix of food and films, some material I read,  some games, a few pranks, and  a lot of chatter… Vaayadi Pennu aka Aswathi Jerome, the ELT type according to a Menon girl & a Bawa boy is a true Aquarian, as crazy and creative as it gets.. and she talks & writes a ton when in the mood.. 🙂 & she blogs at pins & ashes

 

Why she reads…

girlThe girl had never seen a shop like that before. It was slightly dark, the walls were hidden behind rows and columns of books, old and weary. The smiling man who was talking to her father noticed the wonder in her eyes, pulled down a small book and said, “take it, you can read and give it back to me.” And thus she crossed the doors to a wonderland where she still remains, happily lost in that magical labyrinth.

Years have passed by, people have asked her time and again why she refuses to come out or what is it that keeps her so enthralled. She was so busy travelling across places, meeting and talking to characters from across the world and sometimes even from outer space, sharing thoughts, learning new things, that she never thought it was necessary to even think of the why. For she believed some joys are meant to be savored sans reason. When the questions persist and people around continue to wonder the how, why, when and where, maybe its time she at least made an attempt at it.

Why does she read? The answer is quite simple, there is nothing in the world that gives her as much happiness and peace. Is it an easy escape route for her? Maybe. Or is it that the wanderlust in her gets some satiation? More so. Could it be that she gets to meet people that she wouldn’t have otherwise? Yes. And would it be that she enjoys her grey cells being simulated? Of course yes, because in her life of routines,many of the souls that she gets to meet…. she hopes you get the drift. Or is it that serendipitous feeling of meeting a kindred soul in an author who talks exactly the same voice that has been wandering inside her for ages? Yes, that too, and she says that is one feeling that cannot be explained so easily. So going back to the question, why read? She asks back, Why the song? Why the dance? What for the sun, the rain, the breeze? Why the air and why breathe? Or for that matter, why live at all?

Does she read too much? And what does she get out of it? Her answer is not in her words. It is in the sparkle of two pairs of eyes  as they delve into the land of princes and princesses. It is the thud of a young heart that beat loud and strong  with someone on a bicycle along the French countryside, the same heart that almost broke into a million pieces as the cyclist fell into a deep and dark gorge. It is also in a mind that is soaking in everything around like an insatiable sponge, spewing it out in bits and pieces, sometimes as a pleasant surprise, at other times as a rude shock, but never  a boring drone. The reward is a lifetime friend, that will never let her or her angels down , who will be there when they need it. What she gets in return for the long hours with her head in between the leaves of papyrus are a pair of heads that rests on her shoulders, two cherubic voices that ring out in laughter , tears that flow down a couple of cheeks as she guides them into that magical land she has always been in. What she also gets are two beings who slowly turn into humans and she hopes and prays the magic remains in them and they reside in that magic for life.

Have these characters of fiction, these weavers of magic, changed her? Her friends over the years consider her a little different, slightly crazy and mostly a dreamer. They love to remind her that she hasn’t changed a bit. She begs to differ, though.Yes, essentially she is the same person that she has always been. What has changed is the way she thinks, how she reacts, and the slow but sure tempering of the flaming fire that was her hallmark. Some might say it is the years that is mellowing her. She doesn’t disagree, but that’s not the only thing. It is also the people that she has met, the experiences that she has been through, the loved ones that she lost along the way and the new loves that meandered their way into her life. What has sustained her through this is the magic that she found all those years ago. Not everyone is lucky enough for that, though.

You need to be magical to find that special kind of magic.

Originally posted here

Bindu Manoj dabbles in numbers for a living, dreaming of words all the while. A mother of two, wife to one, sister to four and friend to many, she hoards books by the score. An arm chair traveler who does some real life off roading now and then, she prefers the moves and shakes of jeeps and trucks to the cushy comfort of normal vehicles. Her wandering soul muses at http://ruminateatleisure.wordpress.com/ and she ruminates her reads at http://wanderlustathome.wordpress.com/

Review of Stephen Greenblatt’s “The Swerve”

The basis of the Renaissance movement lay in the ‘discovery’ and absorption of natural sciences, mathematics and philosophy, in the 12th and 13th centuries AD in Italy. Onto this was added, in the 15th and 16th c.AD, the question of the true nature of ‘The Word’, and the relative positions of Church and Man to it. The answer to the question was a cultural efflorescence that dazzled the Western world, shook Abrahamic religions out of a millennial stupor, and culminated in the next phase of human evolution – the industrial revolution. To set a key, central date around which these five centuries swung, seems more self-defeating than an infinity of Sisyphean strivings; and yet, there is a date, after which the impetus for a new learning, a new enlightenment, and a new style of trade, gained critical momentum – 1453 AD, the fall of Constantinople. The rush, indeed a veritable, permanent exodus of scholars – predominantly lettered in classical Greek – from the clutches of Osman’s dreams, turned into a wave, as they fled from the only refuge they had ever known for centuries, to the closest ports of salvation that their awareness touched: Naples, Siena, Florence, Venice and the many other smaller, mercantile kingdoms that then made up the Italian peninsula.

Into this mélange must we now fit a man – Poggio Bracciolini, and one of the texts he unearthed: Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, written almost 1400 years earlier. A poem, that speaks of free will swerving unrestrained thru time, much as the author’s theorized elemental particles which constituted the Atomists’ universe he drew. As a physical theory, it was neither original, nor demonstrably Roman in origin; but as a subservient constituent of a wider tableau, it served both as firmament and analogy, for the poet’s invocation of a way of life; in fact, to use a tired, defining turn of phrase – a secular way of life, filled with contentment. Perhaps, in a region beset by devastating, periodic outbreaks of the deadly plague, such new paths to happiness might have provided the perfect, and timely, ameliorative ingredient to the mixtures that soothed ‘death anxiety’. And into this backdrop, must we now posit a query: whether, the discovery by Bracciolini of Lucretius’s poem, and its further dissemination, was the central spur to the return of vitality into various spheres of life – or not? Or, is the question itself, as the heavy texts that weigh upon the past that is our racial memory, a thin line between velleity and aporia? A most natural dilemma, since, an answer to that unexpected clinamen, is a little-accepted truth: when it comes to history, the author is as much under scrutiny as the subject he dissects.

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Stephen Greenblatt is a Harvard Professor in the Humanities department, and self-styled progenitor of the literary school called New Historicism. It has its roots in Marxism, and draws for intellectual sustenance upon a number of strands of thought; it submits every text to test, for under-usage, for having been ignored, even to see if it had been willfully sidelined – the epitome of subaltern studies. It permits the generation of new, insulated avenues of historiography – the art of writing history with a priori, or predetermined views. At a philosophical level, it draws upon the best that post-war Existentialism has to offer, and with every page, indirectly pays tribute to the hoary, much-maligned souls of Sartre and Camus. And, at the narrative level, it uses as literary tools, the chunky new script that fills the alphabet of Post-Modernism; for them, in the words of their founding father Jacques Derrida, there is truly, nothing but the text. To many, these multiple, often-differing, at-times-conflicting, strands, have finally anastomosed in the post-Soviet era into the next stage of human intellectual evolution.  Naturally then, for Greenblatt, the urge to tell a tale – and one told well in his book, “The Swerve” – is bolstered by a need to conform with the new enlightenment he subscribes to, while simultaneously bowing at the altar of innocent, unintentional revisionism. You see, he is a believer.

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Poggio Bracciolini was not the sole promoter of the movement now called ‘Renaissance Humanism’ – a delightful phrase describing a centuries’-long movement, which took the grammar out of ‘The Book’ and into vocational curricula. There were others, some just as famous, some even more – Petrarch, Boccaccio, Bruni…the list is literally endless. He was not even the first. Similarly, the poem by Lucretius, however inspiring, was not the sole guide for the return of individualism into humanity. To believe so, is to forget facts, to forget history. Already by the time of Bracciolini’s magnificent discovery in 1417, Dante’s Infernohad made more inroads into the vacuum of thought than any other work; now, to classify the impact of one text over another, to seek justification for that in a diatribe of silence, and to ‘paper-over’ other, equally significant works, is to press an agenda. That is where this reviewer is first forced to cross swords with the author: does a work have to gain significance only by the suppression of another, especially when no extant data may precisely describe either the temporal or geographical spread of De Rerum Natura’s influence? And why force this unsubstantial view? On whom?

History is written by data and re-written by courage; rarely does the established view change in our century, without the emergence of new corroborative evidence for the new standpoint. Still, courage has shown its timid head frequently – in Marxist Historiography, in both sides of the War on Terror, in exceptionalism, majoritarianism, and post-colonial studies. If Nietzsche asked whether God was dead, the answer was National Socialism; if Salafist groups prepped victimhood for motivation, the echo was the search for weapons of mass destruction; if religion was truly the opiate of the masses, then surely, that is what gave Saloth Sar the strength to walk his killing fields. In each case, the revisionist tendency served an insular, insulated purpose. Thus, the question is forced: what is Prof. Greenblatt’s agenda? One may only surmise: an academic nihilism that seeks to shine a lonely, brighter light on one self? Or, the furthering of alternative histories, a la Post-Modernistic trends? It is difficult to say; for just as easily, he may only be interested in telling a tale – one which obviously had an impact indirectly on his childhood. Certainly, whatever his agenda, he is passionate with his subject matter, infusing it with exactly the vitality he believes Lucretius gifted Europe. His narrative is engaging, and he does well to turn fact into readable tale; sadly, he may have cast his net too wide, for while the work of facts reads with the pace of a novel, it sets is basic premise in fiction.

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Venu Gopal Narayanan

http://venuatthewindow.wordpress.com/

When he is not writing unpublishable novels, short stories, reviews and poems; when he is not at the wheel of his SUV, away, lost alone somewhere in the wilderness beside architectural marvels, on another one of his road trips; when he is not frothing at the mouth over political statements made by his pet bugbears, ‘the left-liberal-anarchist-loonie crowd’; when twenty-two men in white step off the battlefield, and the world begins to exist once more; then, you can find him at his workstation consulting on the development of oil or gas reservoirs. Thankfully, the latter part happens only rarely.

 

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami has three characters at its core. Sumire is a young Japanese woman who is in her early twenties. She is an aspiring writer, and holds part time jobs along with the stipend she receives from her family to sustain her livelihood till she finishes her novel. Miu is a Korean woman whom Sumire is attracted towards. Among other things Miu imports wines in to Japan, and asks Sumire to work for her. K is the narrator and lead central character. He is her friend and few years older than her. An elementary school teacher, he has passionate feelings for Sumire.

While K is the narrator of the novel, the story effortlessly moves between the characters like a football team passing the ball. Sumire is an anti-social woman who doesn’t get along well with many people because she is a motor mouth. She dresses in clothes too large for herself, and often goes without matching her socks. Sumire can write beautifully but cannot complete her novel. Her works have an ending or a beginning, but never both. She feels that her writing lacks a soul that will connect the two.

K is two years older than Sumire, and they initially bond over their love for reading. K develops intense feelings of passion for her, but knows that she cannot reciprocate the same for him. There are moments when this passion flares up in him, and he takes to having a relationship on the side to deal with his urges. K even talks to Sumire when she calls him up in the middle of the night. K serves as the only person to which Sumire can vent out, or open up to.

Miu is a successful businesswoman, who gave up her training as a pianist to look after the family business after her dad died. She meets Sumire at one of her former student’s wedding. The two of them talk about the author Jack Kerouac, whom Miu mistakenly calls of the Sputnik style instead of the Beatnik style (having mixed up the two words). Sumire who thought herself to be asexual, feels an attraction towards her. Miu asks Sumire to work for her, first three days a week and as a full time personal secretary later. Due to the nature of work, they have to travel much. The word ‘Sputnik’ means a travelling companion, which is why the book is title ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’.

Sumire is an aspiring writer, and K is her friend who loves her. Sumire falls in love with Miu, who offers her a job and is 17 years older to her. The two are off to Europe for a business trip and decide to spend some time at a Greek island to relax. One day K receives a call from Miu, and she asks him to come at once. Sumire has disappeared. When K reaches the island, he learns from Miu and some of the Sumire’s writings as to what had happened before her disappearance.

The book is full of angst and loneliness. Sumire is full of angst about her not being able to write the novel she wants, and her nonconformance with society. Sumire has intense feelings for Miu, but doesn’t know how to talk to her about it. K pains about his unrequited love towards Sumire, and tries to sleep with other women. He ends up still thinking about Sumire all the time, and it makes things worse for him for her to be so close to him, and yet not with him. Miu has a secret in her past, and doesn’t know how to react when Sumire disappears.

Murakami has a wonderful way with words. His choice of words make you feel the stuffiness that the characters feel, and he can paint a vivid picture with ease. His play of metaphors is brilliant. When we learn of Sumire’s inability to finish a novel, he uses the metaphor of ancient Chinese gates. These were sealed with bones of soldiers, and their souls would revive only when fresh blood was mixed with them. There is another instance Sumire is going through changes in her life on account of her new job under Miu, when K explains how in life one uses the gears of a transmission to adjust to the realities of life. He tells her how she has taken off one transmission, but not yet bolted another while the all the engine keeps generating all the raw power. Another recurring theme is of duality or ‘the other side’. For most counts, the two sides are polar opposites. What one lives in, and what dreams; what one wants to be, and what one is; what is in the past and what lives today.

The story is well layered. Miu has a secret of something that happened 14 years in the past that made her hair turn white overnight. The story behind that is told in the Sumire’s story, which comes as a part of K’s own story in his search of Sumire. There are fantastical elements in Miu’s story, in Sumire’s dreams and K’s experiences.

Overall this makes for a gripping read with its layers of stories, character back stories and the intense longing for something that one cannot have.

Some wonderful quotes from this book:

“In the world we live in, what we know and what we don’t know are like Siamese twins, inseparable, existing in a state of confusion.” 

“We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life, like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it’s gone forever.” 

“I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again. No words passing between them. No promises to keep.” 

“I’ve written an incredible amount up till now. Nearly every day. It’s like I was standing in a huge pasture, cutting the grass all by myself, and the grass grows back almost as fast as I can cut it. Today I’d cut over here, tomorrow over there… By the time I make one complete round of the pasture the grass in the first spot is as tall as it was in the beginning.”

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About the Author

Hrishikesh is an Automobile Engineer based in Gujarat, India. He enjoys cooking and loves eating chocolates. He believes that he doesn’t have enough time to read all the books, and watch all the films and series that he wants to. He blogs at http://andiwrite.com where he posts his short stories, and shares his recipes.