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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Admirable Women

I am a people person who loves to know what the other person’s life is like and their desires, dreams, struggles, passions, dislikes intrigue me. My inquisitiveness will see no end and this drives the sympathiser in me. Every now and then I find myself in depths of some person’s story, hoping and hating with them. Wikipedia is my constant companion that I turn to during my leisurely hours and read on endlessly about people who I’ve heard and not. Biographies are like friends to me. The people in them seem more like one of my own and I treasure the experience.

Women who veer off the conventional margins of life are the one’s who most amaze me. And every time I hear or see them I feel invigorated to strive for more. The reason these woman evoke such reverence is because they have transcended their personal and social limitations and combats and have dared to look beyond. More often than not we find people who say a lot about them and some are even cynical about these achievers. But then again these women have shown that only look straight ahead of them.

Oprah Winfrey

In my list of favourites, Opera Winfrey figures surely at the top. The hardships she faced in her early years are shocking and sad. For someone who was abused at the age of nine she has really showed the world, this chauvinistic one, the power of a woman. We all love her show and have been following it very dearly. It is her courage and empathizing nature that has brought her where she is today. She has been a great inspiration for me ever since I stopped watching Blue’s Clues. Even her voice has something very genial and genuine about it that one can listen to her for hours. And combined with stories she brings to light it’s just one amazing ride. Another thing for a book lover like me is her book club and its recommendations. I have sincerely read most of her recommendations. The acclaimed book, The road by Cormac McCarthy, The Heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen are some of my favourites from her recommendations. Yet another aspect that I really admire in Oprah is her spirituality. The spiritual journey of an individual is often fleeting and inconsistent and I take every opportunity to nourish my spiritual hunger from every source I can get. Her web posts are very convenient to get to and read and ponder about. Oprah is one amazing woman who I shall always love and admire. Ironically I haven’t got to her autobiography as yet and I sincerely hope to read it very soon.

Samantha Brown

Then the other woman who comes to my mind when I think of the admirable sort is Samantha Brown. At her age I wonder if I’ll be able to do my groceries decently! Though many like to term her life as ‘lucky’ I refrain from it. I believe that she is truly blessed by God Almighty for getting to travel the world like that only happens to one in a million. It requires extreme physique, mental stamina for a woman to hop about from continent to another. I wouldn’t be surprised if Travel Channel aired a new series, “Passport to Pluto” with Samantha gleefully going on about it “icy surface”. Again her voice is magnetic and is my absolute favourite too. I just realised that I seem to love women with great voices. Or maybe it’s a coincidence, But whatever it is Samantha is simply admirable. I do not think I have watched any other show as many times as I have watched, Great Hotels, Passport to Europe and Girl meets Hawaii. I love her language which is as exotic as the places she visits and of course her dressing style. Her sense of humour which is perfect in timing and meaning as well sets her apart from the rest of the clan. Most of all its her courage that truly exhorts me. For a to-be journalist this is the first thing that I take from her.

Barkha Dutt, the super-charged, intrepid Indian journalist is another one in my list. She has every high honour to her name that a woman can possibly be garnered. Her passion for journalism purely has taken her from her humble beginnings to national fame. Fear is something Barkha I assume has never seen for where have you heard of a young woman from a conventional society report from a war live. This commendable feat brought her a lot of acclaim and popularity. She has a clever way with words and a compassionate way with people. These are the two foremost qualities that I see in her and wish to imbibe. In an era where journalists are scorned as being political and corrupt Barkha sets an example for clean news making and reporting.