It is an undeniable fact that creating something gives the creator a high, but being a participant has its own perks. The experience of being touched by good art is a unique one. You are propelled into a state of thoughtlessness, something akin to meditation. I have noticed this more than once in the recent past and realised that this was the reason I looked out for that great film, song or book. Not to be able to laugh or cry, to speak about it eloquently about it after, but to feel something, to feel more in touch with myself and with life.
Over the years of being a consumer of all kinds of art, this is the quality that fascinates me the most. That beautiful moment after the experience when nothing else matters, that elusive state of mind, sometimes difficult to access even after an hour of meditation is so easy to access after such an experience. I guess this is why human beings have been so in touch with all kinds of art. It is not the crores at the end that matter, but this moment of exchange, between the maker and the participant, unknown to each other, but connected by one thing common to us all; life.
It inspires you to create something that honest and that in touch with life. I saw Masaan today and felt like this, recently after a performance based on Begum Akhtar’s life, I was left spellbound and zoned out. A book, a poem anything written with utmost honesty can touch you enough to hi-five your true ‘being’. I chase this experience with as much honesty as the creator of the art. Such an experience cannot be reviewed, it is life and that can only be experienced.
I have heard many people say that artists have a responsibility towards society, I think this is that responsibility; to be so in touch with yourself that you can share that experience with someone else through your work. I look forward to many more moments that push me out of the boundaries of ordinary thought. And wish to I create at least one such experience in this life. If I manage to do that, I will consider this life well-lived, connected with these moments of translucence created by art.
Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Saying I enjoyed this book, seems incorrect in more ways than one. I loved it, but not in a way that I will happily shout about it from rooftops. This was one humbling and visceral book. Featuring writing so sublime, it sucks into its difficult plotline and situation. I got taken in by each character, by what went on in the background and by the violence too. I wasn’t vicarious enough to know what happened next, but I wanted to know whether Mireille survives the ordeal.
Set in Haiti, the book divided into two halves the before and after, takes you through the kidnapping of Mireille, the daughter of a construction baron in Haiti, at the hands of some local goons. The kidnapping is so matter-of-fact in the poverty driven country that there are people called negotiators, who chalk out the deal and have rules for the same.
The book looks at two sides of Haiti, the one inside Mireille’s house and the one outside, with beggars, countless poor people, tepid suffocating weather and people returning from America with huge suitcases. This aspect of the book rings true to any Indian’s ears. Relatives returning from the states, with bags of goodies ranging from soap to candy. My maasi always came with bags of shampoo, soaps, clothes, chocolates and anything else foreign. Opening of the bags felt like Christmas, only it came once in four years and we waited with bated breath for our fancy goodies.
The vast divide between the rich and poor is also something common to both nations. The scenes describing Mireille’s American husband’s experience of the country resonates with the experience of any European/American tourist visiting India. The reaction of the native remains the same as well, anger for being stereotyped as an unhygienic nation, populated with poor people. Mireille feels passionate about being a Haitian, until the time she is kidnapped by her own people. Misled youth who think the rich are responsible for their problems.
Over the 13 days that she is in captivity, her body is a battle ground. A battle between the poor and the rich. A power struggle, a wish to dominate for this once, when the opponent is chained and outnumbered, when money is not a factor. The Commander who is the mastermind behind this activity, plays mind games, at times seems like the devil and at others a child gone wrong. That is the beauty of the story. It makes Mireille think does she really know her people well? Does she know the real state of her beloved country or only what she sees from her high status? It made me think of the same thing. Do I know India? The values, the problems, the anger of the people? Sitting in my house in the middle of Khar, I’m probably unaware of the issues plaguing people in Vasai, let alone a village called Gopiganj in UP.
After the reading the book, I think about this many times, are the poor in our country also this angry? What would happen if they suddenly got power one day?
The story then follows Mirelle’s journey of recovery. It looks at the power of the mind to repress memories, to forget everything in order to wake up and breathe every day. The legitimate wish to not breathe, the want to makes things normal immediately, and sheer confusion in the people who are supporting the victim. The journey from victim to survivor is not an easy one and the ways in which the mind takes turn to be friend and foe.
At the crux this is also a story of triumph, healing and self-reliance and forgiveness. She gets up and gets better, it takes a while, but she does. She acknowledges that she may be broken, but she is strong and some part of her may always be broken, but that is alright. I think that is what touched me most. In her brokenness, Mirelle managed to become whole again. She wasn’t like superwoman, because none of us are, we are all whole in our brokenness; that is what makes us human.
This book reminded me of the humanity in all of us and also the power of the human soul.
I would say, read it because it changed me a little and that is the sign of a great book. I can say this with certainty that I will not forget the experience that was An Untamed State, any time soon.
Fair Warning: You will need one whole day and a box of tissues. I read this book in a day and cried through most of it.
I know, I am late to the party and most people must have already read the book. But the rebel in me, kept me away for this long. God forbid, I like the book and then have to join the bandwagon. Sigh, the troubles of a non-conformist. I am trying to change those ways, but that is a different story.
For now back to The Help, a book about, well, the help and their lives. It is the story of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi from their point of view, the good and the bad. And oh! There is bad, but no story is one-dimensional and thank god there are enough nice white people out in those pages.
The feature that stands out in this book are the characters. All of them are multi-faceted, full characters; the antagonists also have their own troubles and stories. You understand, it wasn’t easy for the whites to be openly liberal and nice; there was just too much peer pressure, their social lives were at stake. I actually felt bad for Miss Hilly the main ‘bitch’, antagonist or villain just didn’t seem right in her context, towards the end of the book and that in itself is a triumph. The coloured characters as they have been called in the book, leapt out of the pages with their smart conversations, troubles at home and at work or in the neighbourhood, their unity, friendship, love and loyalty towards the kids they looked after.
This book taught me that there are no good and bad people, everyone is stuck in a cage of their own making and that is pitiful. While some characters had the courage to break that cage and see the bigger picture, some didn’t, that’s life, it doesn’t make them the worst people to walk this earth.
It taught me as a writer, that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and a book can focus on all of it. Well-rounded, beautiful, staying back with the reader kind of characters are written like this.
It also taught me that little kids do not see separation, segregation and bias. They love you, if you love them and that’s that. Doesn’t matter who you are, and I wish to retain that quality, love simply because I can.
And the most touching thing it taught me was, “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” Each of us is and we must spread this message amongst each other and the young people we interact with, it would save us a whole lot of damage and heartbreak, because it is the truest sentence I have read in a very long time.
So, get on it, buy the book, borrow it from the library, read it. And then watch the film too. It’s as awesome.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
This is the first book that comes to my mind when I think about recent reads that have moved me and made me recommend it to everyone I met.
I first came across Gaiman’s work when I read his calendar of short stories– a twitter project in collaboration with Blackberry. It wasn’t a horoscope or anything, but I remember quickly scrolling down to my birth month, with excitement to what it had in store for me, to meet the story that belonged to me. I was delighted and this was how I tumbled into the world of Gaiman, one month at a time. I loved what he had given my month and in a way me.
Ocean came out in the middle of the year and the internet was abuzz with anticipation. The excitement was palpable. It reminded me of the time when people would eagerly await the next Harry Potter book, some with bated breath and others smug with pride about having pre-ordered the next literary phenomenon.
I got the book early on, but didn’t manage to read it at the time, it was borrowed a couple of times before I got to it, each reader urged me to gobble it up as soon as possible.
One morning after I finished my daily ablutions – trying to write and failing, thinking about my future, thinking about the state of the world and humanity, sipping on my cup of chai, I looked at my copy of the book and it called out to me. Encouraging me to pick it up and get to know the people in the book, who were waiting for me.
That morning I fell into the ocean and learned how to swim there, feeling wave after wave of excitement, fright, companionship, awe and enchantment rock me, only to be reluctantly spat out in the evening when my work was done, I knew the story. I now had to introduce it to others. It was part of the magic of the ocean, it needed to shared for it remain alive, for the magic to be real and tangible more people needed to know about it and take a dip in that ocean.
The best part about the book is the story feels as much mine as it does of the author. I think I left a part of me in that copy of the book and a part of the book lodged itself in me somewhere.
The story is part fantasy, part philosophy and all heart. Gaiman has said in many interviews that he started writing the book as a way to tell his wife, Amanda Palmer, about his childhood and himself, most of which was spent lost in book, just like the protagonist. That is another reason that makes this book special, all of us look for the author in the novels we read and here is a book that gives you a glimpse into the mind and background of this fascinating man. I have stalked him shamelessly on social media and was delighted to meet a young intern at my previous job who did the same. It soon became our weekly ritual to stalk Gaiman and his partner Palmer. But, here was something that revealed a lot more about him and I cherish it for that reason. There is no point talking about the technique and structure because he is a master of the art and each of his books a master class in writing, storytelling and thinking.
Pick this one up because you will be the better for it and there will be more people who will know about the magical ocean, we will all have a common secret world.
It will be amazing.
This is going to be a series of book recommendations and observations, I don’t believe in book reviews or critiques. I respect the effort behind the story, whether I enjoyed it or not is secondary. There are no stars to be awarded as a piece of art cannot be judged on a scale of one to five.
I am going to write about books that have moved me and left an indelible mark on me. I have loved and enjoyed these gems, some might be obvious picks, but I can’t leave them out for that reason. I wanted to write about books for a long time, but haven’t managed to do it, I hope I succeed now. So, here goes. I hope you enjoy the articles and the books as well. Any suggestions are more than welcome and if you want to send in your recommendations too, do let me know.
Last night, I stood at a crowded bar sipping on a drink of old monk mixed with hot water and staring into a void. To others, it seemed like I was just lost and looking a bit dazed, but in my head I was travelling into the world of Murakami, into his books and the jazz bars of Japan. In one instant everything began to fade, all I saw was the random design of the wall paper, the people the noise; nothing mattered. I was miles away in a fictional world, created by this author in many of his books. It is a common trope in the stories of Murakami, that the protagonists are sitting at a bar alone and sipping on their poison of choice, the ambience is always dull and dim and it is the background music is some jazz or ambient music. In that moment at the bar, I was a protagonist in any of his stories, I looked at lamp that seemed to be the window into this other world.
This is one of the reasons why I love reading and books, because they permeate into your consciousness and alter your reality, when you least expect it. They enrich your reality and give you an alternate world to live and inhabit; the door to that world, lies in the book and the recesses of our mind.
I’m a big fan of Murakami and his writings because of the mood he creates, the setting that seeks you in and guides you into the world of the character and then takes you on a ride in your own mind, he breaks boundaries, introduces the concept of parallel universes and alternate realities. If I were to believe that, then for a little time on a random Friday evening at a bar in Mumbai, I was also at a bar in Japan listening to some music and staring at a random wallpaper.