No time to turn at Beauty’s glance…

Clock

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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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!

 

 

 

 

Rejection Slips

They give me more than one kind of feeling when I get them. Before anything the first thing that my mind tells me is: Someone actually read your work. That was the point of writing after all; to get at least one other living being to see your work. The sadness dwells in another core of me, a place which actually steers the day-to-day activities of my life. So such slips do affect my life in a way.

So if there was some small positive part to rejection slips in my view, it was that. Now the larger part of the story deals with the traumatic side. Naturally.

With every rejection slip comes the feeling that the day of being published will perhaps, never come. That one dream which struggles to sustain itself despite all the other things in life that don’t actually matter might just stay unrealised.

Even though positivity is something I try to keep a good stock of, it just doesn’t help beyond a point; it falls flat in the desert of discouragement where one is thirsty for reassurance. Now that is something harder to come by than the goal itself. While two close family members really believe the day will come, and a few friends who don’t know the intensity of despair try to cajole you and even pull you to a bad movie, no Angel is out there waiting to bestow kindness and reassurance. If there is one that’s got to be me and I’m only a novice Angel!

Writing is a lonely process despite the fact that I love it more than anything. What with the other hundred issues that can bog me down I have to handle the solitary feeling too. Sometimes being alone is a great comfort but at times when I sit staring at rejection slips in my hand it is pure hell. It even stalls the WIP which clamours for attention and polishing. It’s a sad state.

But there’s one other thing that rejection slips can do. A positive one too (I really didn’t see this coming when I began writing this post). It makes one brave. If I’m writing about my rejection slips with an intention of sharing it with the world, when the rest of world is proclaiming slogans like “My First book is in print” or “I sold my recent novel” or “I signed a three book deal”, then that’s something to feel happy about.

While sailing through one of my rejections I happened upon writer Ellen Jackson’s website. And these priceless words really did some good healing work.

Rejection-proof your manuscript. Write from your heart. Everyone is looking for a little bit of wisdom to help them get through life with courage and grace. Do you have wisdom to share? Is your gift humor? Can you make a child laugh? Can you tell the truth in a new way? What was important to you when your were a child? Make the clear expression of your passion your primary goal. Then show your writing to friends who know you and will understand what you’re trying to say. If one person “gets” it, you’ve planted a seed. Your writing is successful–no matter how the rest of the world judges you. The rest is just ego.

And this piece, Rejection Slips: A balm for Writers and as certain as Death by Gerald. W. Haslam is by far the most wise and sensible take on this sensitive ailment facing writers. In the essay Poet Donna Champion is quoted to have said, “I wouldn’t mind rejection so much if editors would just take the time to send a personal note” and I couldn’t agree more. This is greatest form of reassurance in my opinion. Being replied to with a little note that’s personal gives that feeling of the all important “belongingness” which is so valuable to writers.

This particular line, I felt, was the keystone point of the whole piece:

It is important to recognize that there is no sham in receiving rejection letters. For someone who wants to be published there may actually be shame in not receiving some, since that often means a writer is not really trying. Jack London once claimed to have received 400 in a single year, but he hung in there and eventually saw a great deal of his material in print.

So the deal here is to try, and try, and get there! And even if I don’t exactly wear shirts like these I’ve learnt to accept them just as any other  felicitous news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Asian Writers Challenge: Gently Falls the Bakula by Sudha Murthy

I’m so happy to have started off with my reading for the South Asian Writers Challenge hosted by S.Krishna’s Books. Before I get to the book here’s a bit about the author.

Sudha Murthy

Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon in north Karnataka. She did her MTech in computer science, and is now the chairperson of theInfosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories, three collections of non-fiction pieces and two books for children.
Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages and have sold over three lakh copies around the country. She was the recipient of the R.K. Narayan’s Award for Literature and the Padma Shri in 2006.

SOURCE: PENGUIN INDIA

The book is a short read but a very impactful one. It’s simple in tone and took me very less time to get into its core though the settings are quite unkown to me. The story parodies the life of a couple, both of who are talented and ambitious in their own ways. It starts off with their early conflicts in schools and flows through the subsequent years where Shrikanth and Shrimathi, the hero and heroine, fall in love and feel they are entangled for life. The domestic disputes between their families, which had lasted for years as far as they remembered, shadows their relationship throughout passively. Though their differences don’t enter directly into their combined happiness, it still penetrates into their personal peace. Life and strife gets the better of them as years progress and Shrimathi feels the pinch of the sacrifices she blindly made for the man she loved. Despite the advice of her mentor, an old Professor from the United States, to pursue her passion for history she goes on to give up all her personal goals for the good of her husband. But even after ten years of unfaltering devotion to her family she finds all her sacrifices being neglected and even worthless. The pain unrequited love is felt clearly through the lens of Shrimathi’s character.

The book deals with a heavy, multi-layered topic of complicated family matters very typical of the Indian society almost thirty years ago. It shows in

crystalclear terms the impact of the IT boom in a conventional gild. A strong feminist voice speaks throughout which is the aspect I most loved about the book. Thetenderness and sensibility of a woman, her sacrifices, her fortitiude, her aspirations and her suppression is all set on a platter for the reader to assimilate. Over and above everything is the beautiful metaphorical allusion to the fragrant Bakula flowers, from a variety of ornamental tree that grows in India.

Shrikant was restless . . . Holding a bakula flower in his palm, he was wondering why he was fascinated by this tiny flower, that was neither as beautiful as a rose nor had the fragrance of a jasmine or a champaka. And yet, it was very special to him. It held an inexplicable attraction for him.’

The book is also pretty informative for a short novel that it is. There’s plenty of love professed generously for the poignant Indian king Ashoka the Great , even more admiration for the artistic ancient cities and marvellous monuments of Western and South India. In tiny little bits in between the flow of the story there’s much beauty to discover in the form of facts and little characters.

I completed the reading in about four hours but the story left me with a considerable impact. As a self-professed student of Hemingway in matters of writing and reading, I say the book was a good one because it ‘hurt‘ me. It left me thinking way after I was done reading about women and life.

Take Diversion

It shocks me when I think about how much I go fishing for author bios. In almost every literary magazine that I read there’s a blog address or email and it’s ever so easy to look them up on the net. And if such information is not available I make full use of my googling skills to pull up the person’s carefully isolated website. The reason I do that is simply because I get inspired by their stories. I’m always curious to know a bit more about the writer also for the reason that I can enjoy the person’s work better. If I know that the writer loves chocolate I can be sure that I can pull through the most boring or scary scene in his book. Also it guarantees bragging rights for me- “Hey, so you know Emily Awesome Writer loves Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream!”

Okay…yes. I couldn’t get as much reading done(I have fairly good reasons too) as I thought to be posting about it. So instead I’ll share some of my favourite author bio’s.

~ Elizabeth Eulberg – Here’s a writer you should read if you’re a part of JAJ because I simply loved her ‘Prom and Prejudice’

~ Kelcey Parker – Very witty

~ Elizabeth Gilbert – I love her and expect you would be reading it if you loved ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

~ John Lescroart – A tale which which has to be read.

~ Miranda Dickinson – Musical Miranda I should say for there’s an album she’s done. Her new book has such a cute title, I’m excited to read it just for that.

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