Mixed Bag: Books and links

It’s been a while since I chronicled my reads here at The Literary Shack. And the itch to update you all on my progress has finally turned into an urge to put my fingers on the keyboard. Talking about typing reminds of this beautiful post I read recently on Londoner’s Musings on The Delight of Handwriting. It got me yearning to hold a fountain pen and write something too. Agree or not there is this impregnate romanticism  in writing by hand with a treasured pen that is missing while you type on a computer.

And then I read these books in this couple of months gone by. Somehow all except one of these are collections of short stories! I am no disciplinarian when it comes to ticking books off my stack for it is my whim for the day that picks the books. And owing to this I’ve had to suffer a slow and long-drawn period of completing them giving me more time than I required for thinking, making notes, loving, getting bored,etc. So I thought of just giving you tiny bits of what I thought about them for I’ve spent way too much time already than I can afford to.

The first one to get whim-picked was Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharpe of which I’ve made a mention in one of my earlier posts. Reading it reminded me of watching something like Dennis the menace and I obviously didn’t want to let go of it. Ambrosially speaking, I read it like savouring each and every piece of a Chicago style pizza. It is witty, outright humorous and altogether a heartily enjoyable package. If you’re in need of some bumps you can sit snugly in a chair with this book and yet fly off it in bouts of laughter.

Then I read something pretty uncharacteristic of me. I read a book by Jeffery Archer! I picked up Twelve Red Herrings hastily on my way back home after a tiresome episode of this and that. And it was enjoyable for a best-seller for once! Now some would call my statement as prejudiced but I have my reasons. Anyway, the stories had racy plots, vibrant characters and twelve red herrings! What made the reading all the more pleasurable was the fact that I could keep wondering who this mysterious V.B is to whom the yellow, dog-eared copy belonged to! Trial and Error, Chunnel Vision are some of my favourites from the collection. Not to mention the latter did remind me of Luncheon by Maugham. I would recommend this one to anyone in need of a book to unclog blocks of both kinds- reader’s and writer’s.

Difficult Pleasures by Anjum Hassan is another of those profound books whose presence doesn’t leave you for days after you’re done with it. It has a story for every kind of  cosmopolitan you can find these days in India. There’s the loner, the uncanny artist, the mourner, the dissatisfied wife, the unloved kid and the like. What sets this one apart lies in its form: of short stories, its tone: one of melancholy and pensiveness and its clarity: of thought. I think we’ve found a very good writer in the short story genre and can hope to get lots more from her.

I’ve also been reading a lot on the internet off late which should explain the Three-books-in-two-months syndrome(of course with other added complications) and thought of leaving you with some of the links I found were worth my while.

~ The White Correspondent’s Burden by Jina Moore

The argument about journalism from Africa is often whittled into two camps, Afro-pessimists vs. Afro-optimists. But these binary camps, too, miss that Africa is many complex things, simultaneously. In our news broadcasts and our headlines, though, it’s usually framed by just one static thing: suffering.

~ Reading Rants: Jane Eyre is not submissive at The Compulsive Reader

The problem I have with the super sexy Jane Eyre is the fact that, as I stated in my previous post, she holds to her convictions. She stands by her values and living with Rochester, having a relationship (sexual or romantic) with him is wrong because he already has a wife. Sure, we all are screaming at her to just FORGET THE CRAZY WIFE AND KISS HIM ALREADY but she doesn’t, and that makes the ending so much sweeter. If Jane HAD given in to Rochester (and we wouldn’t have blamed her, really), she wouldn’t have been the Jane we all fell in love with and rooted for and cried for. And without Jane and her amazing character, Jane Eyre wouldn’t work as a novel.

~ 7 Essential Books on Music, Emotion and the Brain at Brain Pickings

~ Tale for our Times at The Hindu

A metaphorical and visual delight, the book is set in an age when a group of rabbits live in happy freedom from their natural predators and are busy violently taming Nature. Some of them seek to do away with warren dwelling, and liberate themselves from the tyranny of old ways.

~ Will Self: ‘I dont write for readers’ at The Guardian

“You can’t go on pretending that the writer is an invisible deity who moves around characters in the simple past,” he says. “I just can’t do that stuff. It’s lies. The world isn’t like that any more. The world is really strange. It’s not to be explained by ‘He went to the pub’. You cannot capture what’s going on with that form, to my way of thinking. You can create a divertissement, you can create a very fine entertainment, but you can’t reach any closer to any kind of truth about what it is to exist.”

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance…


Clock (Photo credit: sleepinyourhat)

The sunday newspaper brought good cheer this morning with its awaited literary supplements. It is something I eagerly look forward to reading. But beautiful things come only in small packets and this particular supplement is published only once a month. And on beholding this month’s copy today I was overjoyed and instantly delved into its contents which as always had plenty to rout up from its depths. I discovered a completely new writer whom I felt I would really love without even knowing so much as what his books dealt with. And as the theme of his latest book surfaced in the article I knew exactly where my next investment had to go( The book happens to be Chronicles of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry, if you were just curious to know).

After reading about five to six articles I had to restrict myself from finishing all the other inviting pieces for I have to sustain myself on this six paged ration for a whole month. And before I could indulge myself in gleaning information from around the world and my city the clock struck eleven! There was still a day’s work to be done with all the added obligatory activities to be performed being the diligent thing that I am. Where have those precious days where reading a warm newspaper was the only activity that Sundays called for? And of course cutting out fresh squares of articles for the clip book collection too.

The ubiquitous time crunch just revealed its presence to me yet again. At a time when I am already grappling with the grievous fact that my reading time has diminshed drastically being snatched away from my morning paper by sundry duties stung me bitter. That said there’s even less time for me to chronicle my thoughts on the things I read.

Off late I’ve been reading a lot online than offline. It’s always easier to steal a few minutes from work while using a computer. But with every underhand activity comes a peril. Here the danger lies in forgetting where I read a particular piece I adored. And even worse being unable to recall what I enjoyed reading so much altogether. So setting aside the greater grief of not being able to tick off books lying around my room in piles I thought to address this other issue which came with a plausible solution too. Several Google searches and conversations with the geeks concerned revealed Evernote, Pinterest, zoo something, etc as ideal apps to turn to.

But then again a little squirm arose from within. I saw yet another electronic versus traditional approach question surface. Can a mere cut-copy-paste action replicate the wholesomeness of taking notes by hand with the mind aligned on the same lines rather than focused on jumping to the next open tab on the screen?This really wouldn’t matter to a person with a reasonable amount of time to forage the net, pick, reason and ponder. But given the time constraints any solution to appease a self-proclaimed purist is far from the sight. I suppose such questions will continue to arise until the electronic approach completely converges with every aspect of life or it slowly disassociates itself fully. The former is bound to happen naturally or rather “unnaturally”.

So when we stand at the transition point where the direction of leap is uncertain attacking the problem at its heart is perhaps the best solution that I can think of. I simply have to make time. But how feasible is that? I don’t know. It’s as complex a question as the time we are living in.

Taking into account all these issues I’ve only arrived at this: It’s not an easy time to be a purist of any sort. And this: The spare time for those little joys in life is almost extinct.


Note: The title is taken from one of my favourite poems by William Henry Davies.

Five life-changing books

Credit : booksaboutlife.com

Books can be the best possible source of constant companionship. They come in all different sizes and stories to suit each of our tastes and needs. But a book can sometimes be more than just an instrument to alleviate boredom. Sometimes they can one’s outlook in life. They are the grand category of books often referred to as ‘Life-changing’.

As a bibliophile and a book addict I’m happy to say I’ve seen my share of such books. Sometimes these are confused with self-help books but I’m referring to works, born out of the imagination of genius’ of writers. But don’t get it wrong. I’m not one against self-help books and I have my favourites in this section too. But how impactful they are to life is questionable according to me. For a truth put straight seldom is received in the way it should and so are secrets. And when it comes to life it’s one big secret and one big truth as well.

So, the first in this line that comes to my mind is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s got a beautiful philosophy underlying all the adventure. It teaches a most important lesson in life- Let go. And there are anecdotes aplenty to take as the escapade progresses.

Here’s a beautiful line from the book:

 The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

Holden is the quintessential urban yogi of sorts whom I personally try to emulate in terms of outlook towards life and Salinger is the typical genius of a writer whose writing amazes me.

The next book that flashes in my mind is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It’s a one of a kind book and I’m only too happy that I was able to read last year. It was instantly my favourite the time I read it. Short and crisp though it is the point is nailed so very clearly. Even if the theme is not one that can so easily be said or understood. Only a writer who has felt it can impart such clarity of thought and fact to the reader and the reader in turn can capture the essence quickly. One needs a little spiritual spark to get anything out it; read the book at the least. But such a reader is bound to get a seed of the truth vital to his quest. I can say that with conviction for I did get a lot out of it. For others who simply want to get a glimpse into Buddha you get more than that. Herman Hesse has Buddha demystified for the commonest of people. I wouldn’t say it’s the most precise chronicling of Lord Buddha’s life and teachings but the essential extracts are set on a platter and hence the life-changing quality.

Oftentimes a book cannot be anything if it is a bestseller. A bestselling book is now a book which has reached its saturation level of popularity and its universal acceptance has sometimes invariably rendered it a clichéd image. It is a sad reality which won’t keep me from listing Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert here. Everything’s said and done and what’s more even shown in this case. Its honesty is pivotal to its success and reach and so is its passionate telling instrumental in striking that personal connection with me. The same lesson re-surfaces: Let go.

Now I come to another important book which is quite interesting in that I’m impelled to list it now but asked a year ago I would have fiercely detested its very mention. The book I’m referring to here is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. For an Austen fan much accustomed to happy ending and sweet twists reading this one felt like chewing a big chunk of raw bitter gourd. But after exactly one year I feel there was much truth. It wasn’t a waste of labouring over seven hundred pages of one heavy and gruesome book after all. Interestingly I also noticed having noted down just three lines from the book. And here the golden lines are:

“In the end, it’s all a question of balance”

“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair”

“…Please always remember, the secret of survival is to embrace change, and to adapt”

They may be lines we’ve heard over and over but that doesn’t reduce their truthfulness in the least. And put in their context and storyline they make one big, impactful picture.

Finally the last one that I’m going to name here, assuming that I’m to name only five books, is Wuthering Heights. Yes, the gothic romance by Emily Bronte gave to me understand what a hero can actually be at the age of thirteen. I read the book twice immediately after my first reading to just make sure that I didn’t make any mistake in discerning the story. One thing, it strangely made me braver in matters of death and other grim aspects of life. On a more philanthropic level it taught me what love can be. It can be dark. It can be grim. It can be excruciating. But it can be true too. Heathcliff is a one of a kind hero whom I’ll always turn to at some point of time in life repeatedly.

So, there’s a cherry picked version of books that strike me as life changing. As of now.

I hope to turn this into a feature where we have other book lovers talk about books that changed their lives and the lessons they imbibed from them. As always I look forward to your support and suggestions.






May Round Up

Via Google Images

My reading has been sparse. When I say it I mean one and a half books. But nonetheless the reading has been absolutely pleasurable. For who can hope to get less out of a translation of the Mahabharata, the greatest epic ever written?

The Forest of Stories, by Ashok Banker is part one of the MBA series as he calls it. As far as my background knowledge of the epic goes I know most parts of it that the majority knows. At this point I’m so proud to owe all my knowledge to my grandmother and B.R.Chopra. Together they made knowing the epic one fantastic ride for me. In fact I remember little episodes of my wee nine year old self animatedly giving discourses on Yudhishtra(righteousness personified, literally) and Dharma(righteousness)

Now the book takes us back. It tells us the tale of our nation itself right from the beginning. My gremlin half reminds me of ‘The Lion King 3’ where Timon tells something like, “Oh no Pumba! We’re going way back”. Well, the book is everything but frivolous mind you, far from the distractive picture painted here. So I suggest a calm, interested mind while you decide to sit with it.

I’m yet again tempted to take a diversion from the point. But this one’s far more relevant. So hear me. The Tamil(a regional language in India) version of the title song of B.R.Chopra’s Mahabharata features these beautiful lines,

Oru kadhaikul pala kadhai

Pala Kadhaigallil oru vidai…

It literally translates as,

Many a tale within one

And each tells the same answer…

This has much to do with the context but as a new reader you can expect to be treated with stories galore! And Ashok Banker has done a great job of stringing together the many beads of the tale. The attention to detail, the accurate accounts of characters and the seamless conjoining of the stories with engrossing continuity really stands out. These render the translation that enchanting nature typical of the epic. For a sceptic of translations this one came as an exceptionally commendable one.

The narration has that surreal quality which initially creates a hollow and then pulls the reader into its depths. The book starts its magnificent sojourn at the mysterious ‘Naimisha-van’ a thick, majorly uninhabited forest and the focus zooms into the veiled ‘Ashram’, an ancient centre for learning. The beginning teases one’s curiosity to the limit and like a coaster fall delivers an exhilarating experience.

This volume revolves around the various events that eventually lead to the illustrious climax. The tension slowly builds on the periphery while at the centre of the stage are introduced powerful characters like the axe wielding great sage, Parashurama, the king of snakes, the ancestors and descendants of the heroes of the Mahabharata war. Their stories are less heard of but extremely engrossing to read. It’s more of a live streaming of history right inside your mind’s eye.

This little excerpt could well give you a good glimpse at what lies within this fast and fervid translation:

He had walked unstintingly for days, stopping neither for food nor rest. Accustomed though he was to a rigorous pace, a life spent on the open road, the forest unnerved him. There were tales told of Naimisha-van. Rumours of strange inhabitants who resided within its shadowy depths. Not all were human, it was said. Not all were benign. There were tales of horror, wretched stories of hapless travellers who had spent the night within the vaulting embrace of these formidable boles, and had never been seen or heard from again.

It’s one of those ‘un-put-down-able’ books and a must read for all, be it those who are acquainted with the tales or not. It’ll certainly leave you wanting for more, like me waiting to read the next installments. That’s the promise the writer offers.

Last year I picked up a typical yellow, dog-eared copy of the book ‘Vintage Stuff’ by Tom Sharpe. Somehow I never got to it until now and regret having done that. It’s more of a companion to me right now. I turn to it at intervals, when I’m away from my desk and have a good time. It’s everything funny, original and funny! I’ll be back to say more but for now, it’s my comrade that I’ll hold on to until work gets a little less taxing.


The Kindness Project

If you ask me after Greenpeace the next best initiative to support a good cause that actually matters to the people of the world, I will immediately tell you that it has got to be The Kindness Project. If I have to describe what it has been doing since its inception about a week ago, I will say it’s been doing magic.

Yes, magic that brings happiness to all people. These wonderful people, Elizabeth Davis, Christa Desir ,Sarah Fine, Liza Kane ,Amie Kaufman, Sara Larson ,Matthew MacNish, Sara McClung, Gretchen McNeil ,Tracey Neithercott ,Lola Sharp ,Michele Shaw, Meagan Spooner,  Carolina Valdez Miller,  have so beautifully taken it upon themselves to be the change they want to see. We all find ourselves making faces at snobs, debating about decreasing respect for another human being and the like. But it is truly commendable that these people took that extra step that matters. Now they have set the bead in motion and its rolling steady I must say.

Now solid proof of that can be found on all their blogs and the many blogs that will lead you to. And better still is my own story. My terrific friend D.B. Smyth decided to send her love for me one fine Monday, and stunned me and others alike with her gesture. It takes a golden heart to do something so truly kind and random. I know I can never say much with words when it comes to people whom I love, respect and admire. So bear with me. D.B. Smyth, you are the sweetest and I love you. May God bless you with all possible happiness! And I ask you all to please stop by her fantastic blog which is just as amazing as she is and give her your love.

And if you hadn’t heard about this project till now and feel inspired by it please join in and do your bit. As they say every teensy bit makes a difference.

Now after having felt the goodness and read so much about The Kindness Project I feel so inspired to do something. To do my bit. But I am at sea, let me tell you and I need suggestions.

So tell me, what do you think would be the best way to carry forward this initiative? Have you done anything that you would like to share?

The month in books: April

On the personal front April was a tiresome and trying month. I had very little or rather no time at all for myself and it seemed an unsettling period. The little hours of solitude that I snatched for my reading had me read these wonderful books which truly sustained me through those distressing days.

Firstly I owe the revival of my spirits to none other our beloved Rowling. Reading Goblet of fire sort of rekindled those feebly glowing embers of enthusiasm. It was my second time I think. The first time I read it, I remember clearly, was many years back and under a thick blanket, shuddering at the death of poor old Frank. I felt the very same fervour in this reading too. And I am pretty sure that it will never die out. My love for the Harry Potter series will definitely be with me throughout my life.

While there are many critics who argue that Rowling’s writing is too logical than fantastic I can but only detest that argument. Stories can be logical, magical, anything! That’s what stories are- impossible, possible, imaginative, real… The fact that as a child the book awed me and as an adult it remains a true and faithful friend, who sees me through tough times, even provides an unparalleled escape is a testimony to its brilliance. Only very few books have that power and the Potter books have it in them.

And with the alleviation of cloudy moods I even ventured headlong into ‘Pottermore’ and had loads of fun buying my wand and getting sorted. Mine’s a beautiful Sycamore with unicorn core wand and to my surprise I found myself in Hufflepuff house. Ouch! But the hat never goes wrong.

The other book that completely aided in my healing was Mr. Oliver’s Diary by Ruskin Bond. It’s a short and sweet book that will stay with me forever. It tells the endearing tale of a perfect school teacher, the strict and bendable, Mr. Oliver. It’s a children’s book and I loved it. Somehow I am never comfortable calling books as ‘Children’s books’ because I enjoy them wholly as any child would do and I am strictly way past my childhood. I never tire of them and it isn’t surprising that I turned to these very books in a very troubled time. Not intentionally though, but perhaps instinctively.

This also tells a very good principle to keep in life if you ask me. Stay a child at heart. When a book meant for kids can cheer one up so well, keeping your heart and mind like a child’s can certainly go a long way to leading a happy and fulfilling life. Yes and the book also has many a treats on the platter to cater to every imaginable childish craving- from croaky, slimy frogs to hot, savoury snacks to snow, ghosts and a cute love story.

And then I read a painting. Yes, I can only describe that book as a work of pure art painted in words. How else can anybody discuss about a work by the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore? ‘Shesher Kavitha’ a Bengali masterpiece by Tagore was recently translated to English by Dilip Basu. I recently read a little review of the translated version, ‘The Last Poem- A novel’ and instantly ordered it online. It was a long wait of forty eight hours before I held it my hands. This one is a true feast for the romantic sort. It is tragic, in a way, mind you yet it is not. That subtlety in its storyline kept me in a trance for hours later. Once taken up it is next to impossible to put it down. The story pulls you into its mire of poetry, nature and love; the three very elements that I live on. It is a beautiful little novel and in a way renders true beauty to the word beautiful.

Here’s a tiny eloquent poem, one of the many poems that bridge the romance :

Waterfall, in the crystals

of your flow,

The sun and stars

See each other

And here is another favourite of mine:

Let the shadows swing and play

Upon your waters,

Let the shadows mingle

With the music of your laughter,

Give it a voice

The voice of eternity.

The last poem in the book, from which the book derives its name, is a classic. There are several surreal illustrations, by a very talented Dinakar Kowshik, interspersed between the pages and they are great tools that aid in gluing to mind the quintessence of the characters. All in all, one marvellous book that I can just look at and feel happy.



Seasons: Mango Love

[Seasons is a new feature on The Literary Shack showcasing some of my favourite aspects of the season running. I hope you will enjoy this one and extend your support as you have always done 🙂 ]

The summer heat is decidedly on here in my part of the world. Whatever it is doing to people I couldn’t care for I wake up each morning hoping to spot a cart of fresh, ripe, juicy, sensuous mangoes in the market. But alas the showers have been sparse and I’m sure we didn’t even have mango showers this year. So it would be lame to yearn for mangoes before May but there you have it: I am a mango maniac.

An interesting fact is that I am not one of those sophisticated mango lovers. By which I hope to remember you to those clan of people who drool over mango mousses, mango flavoured ice-creams, mango puddings, souffles, mango tarts, mango pizzas (if that’s possible) and all other unimaginable such recipes with mango. So sophisticated I am not. But purist I am. I love the fruit as a whole, as a creation of Nature.

I love their sweet smell. Sometimes it’s not even sweet. It’s that half-ripe-half-unripe wavering aroma that teases the nostrils. The skin and form are an artwork in their own right. It’s a beautiful mishmash of dark green, yellow and even blue sometimes stretched all over in absolutely admirable patterns. We have to give credit the Maker for such safe, artistic packaging that is nonpareil.

Skinning and slicing is a pure pleasure job that has to be done in absolute tranquillity while you take in the various stages of unveiling of its inner beauty. After a certain age, when I was allowed to clutch a knife and peeler, I almost felt like I was vested with great powers and immediately set to its application during summer breaks. I would hurriedly empty my cleverly filled plate (consisting of only those essential food stuff I needed to get through the day as a human being) and run to the mango basket. And I still remember how cross I was with the flies that had outdone my speed in reaching the place.

And yes washing was a ritual I performed with less enthusiasm for it was later on included in my rule book after a thorough beating when mother discovered me hogging loads of unwashed mangoes. So the final mouthing of the pieces is by far the most pleasurable experiences I’ve ever had. I would eat on and on, not sparing the little scrapes of mango left on the huge seed which is pure fun chewing on. Sometimes I’ve had people losing their mango appetite eating along with me. But I am none the decent eater even now. When it comes to gorging on mangoes, it is messy business. And I completely love it as I am proud of my style.

And I really get friendly with other mango lovers. That includes who people love eating mangoes and most importantly that grow them. I had once wanted to belong to the latter category and later dropped the plan on learning that it would take at least a decade for the mangoes to spring. I was seven or eight then. I haven’t changed much since then too.

There is one other group of people who I worship- writers who write to glorify my favourite fruit. I came upon this poem sometime back penned by one of my favourite contemporary poetess Aditi Rao on the poetry journal, Muse India. Ms. Aditi Rao did such an excellent job of it that after reading it I was actually cross! Cross that it wasn’t time for mangoes yet and the mango seeker in me had been aroused before time. I’m so happy to share it with you here:

The International Mango Festival

is a real festival, an annual two day extravaganza, 

the only ritual my grandfather, a good Marxist,

allowed himself. Each year, he drove his white Contessa

(five/ nine/ eleven year old me chattering in the backseat),

led me through human throngs and sweet mango smells.

The heat did not matter. The crowds did not matter.

There were magic shows, mango slogan writing

competitions, and mango eating contests for women.

But we simply walked from stall to stall, cradling the fruits

in our palms, sniffing for flavor, touching tentatively,

feeling their pulse. Sometimes, I would rub my thumb

in little circles on the mango’s skin, carry its scent home with me.

I never believed the watermelon sized mangoes, and I refused

to take the plum sized ones seriously. Still, there was joy

in watching those first encounters, shy unveilings

of brides to worlds they had been sheltered from. The Sindoori,

with its blush, greeting the Safeda’s pale grandeur. The syrupy Alfonso

in its first meeting with a spicy pickle. The shock on a mango’s face

at this other, this who-is-this-other, this other-I-didn’t-know-existed.

While tourists flocked to the special events, my grandfather and I

pressed our ears to the mangoes and listened. We learned their secrets.

I have two words for you Ms. Aditi: Thank you! And now I hope I have fired up the mango lover in you for it is summer after all!