Posted in Book Reviews

My Beautiful Shadow

During my primary school years, all I really cared about, academically, was the library period. That was probably the only class in which the teacher remained as quiet as the students (rather, as quiet as the students are supposed to be), so when she did speak, she had my undivided attention. I suppose twinkling-eyed, large-hearted Ms Dolasha did tell us to “never judge a book by its cover”, but oh well.

 

My Beautiful Shadow – Radhika Jha

 

Undoubtedly, it was the cover of this book that caught my eye. My fingers brushed across the spines of books, shelf after shelf, hesitating occasionally while I peered at the titles. I had picked seven out of the eight allowed books and was on the lookout for something different, something that would stand out in my bundle of ‘Robin Cook’s and ‘Agatha Christie’s. And so, yes, I judged this book by its cover and the Asian woman gazing into the distance called out to me, my hand pulling it out, seemingly of its own accord and adding it on top of my neat stack of books.

 

It started off as a rather engaging read, light and simple, the chapters not too long, (am I the only person who prefers books having chapters that don’t exceed 10-12 pages? I feel like it’s the same as when you have two small pizzas as against one medium pizza and somehow you can eat six slices of the entire medium pizza, yet eight slices of two small pizzas seem too much even though they probably amount to the same thing. I digress.) and characters not too many. (Again, am I the only person who forgets character names within a day? I finished reading this book yesterday and the names are already fading out of my mind like a drop of ink dissolving in an ocean. I digress yet again.)

 

The book follows the story of Kayo, her obsession with shopping, her eventual stumbling into the pitfalls of debt and the extent to which she goes to recover the money. Only to fall deeper in. One would think that knowing that her father had died precisely for the same reasons, owing money and being unable to repay the loan sharks, she’d know better than to spend without second thoughts, but as the author so aptly puts it:

 

The problem with beautiful things is that when you have one, you want two and when you have two, you want three. For the eye’s hunger has no limit. Unlike the mouth which has a bag, the stomach attached to it, the eye is simply an opening. Behind it is the bottomless cupboard of the mind.

 

The story is simple. So simple, in fact, that I wondered quite a bit as to what I would write in this book review. I’ve pretty much summarised the book two paragraphs above. But it’s not so much the story, as it is the words, the underlying meanings, the hidden implications that are left between the lines, that make this book so intriguing. I can quote a dozen sentences that made me stop midway and ponder, but I’m writing a book review, and not a book so…

 

For, peace and happiness, I realised, were two different things. Happiness was like the bubbles on the surface of dirty dishwater. Peace was the water itself. Water washed away all dirt, it made things pure and whole again. If I let the water run out of my life, there would be no bubbles. And then what would be left?

 

A year ago, I’d have scorned at this. Among the other “deep” stuff that I came across while reading. I didn’t get some grand enlightenment or anything, I’m still grumble-y, lazy, self-centred me. But the subtlety with which these things are interspersed among the story, just scattered among the words, leaving you to pick them up at your own leisure, left me hunting for these so-called pearls of wisdom.

 

The book has a very Asian tinge to it, some of their values echoing those of mine. A strong family bond, for instance. The desire to keep your loved ones happy, at any cost. Kayo refers to her family as her garden, the place she turns to for peace. One questions her decisions, especially the one of selling herself for money, and wonders why she wouldn’t simply confess to her husband and ask him to clear her debts, but I suppose nobody’s perfect and maybe we think we would do the “right thing” were we in her situation, but who are we to say, really.

 

The end is predictable, yet abstract. No, she does not clear all her debts and live happily ever after. After all, this novel is about consumerism in Japan, portraying the people as constantly desiring more – more clothes, more shoes, more successful children scoring better grades, and yet everyone around the protagonist, including herself, fits perfectly into this mould of elegantly dressed, high-heeled women projecting wealth or power. She mentions how everybody is so similar that they cook the same meals on the same days, buy the same vegetables, carry the same bags and lead almost identical lives. In stark contrast, there is a chapter or two in which she stays in the countryside, where everyone is happy with what they have; a garden, a bird, nature itself fulfilling the hunger that she always felt.

 

You hope that maybe she’ll go back to her house after that and everything will be okay, but the book strives to be realistic, and remains slightly open to interpretation. There is no spoiler, for maybe what I took away from the last few pages may be poles apart from what the next person would. But the slight disappointment that struck me at the lack of clarity towards the end dissipated, eventually leaving me with the essence of the book.

 

In conclusion, if you’re apprehensive about reading Robin Sharma but want something to question or muse over, give this book a read. Or you could just go over and read: https://karmaspeak.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/kolkata/

It’s shorter than a book, but just as satisfying.

*hehehehehe Suchit, I can shamelessly plug too*

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Posted in Uncategorized

Kolkata

In Ramblings #1, Aditi wrote Mumbai is a city, Bombay is an emotion. I loved that line. Speaking of her writings, if you haven’t read her Alliteration poem, GO READ IT RIGHT NOW! It is seriously awesome!

Anyway, getting back to the topic, Bombay and Mumbai. Sort of like Calcutta and Kolkata. Anglicised names being swapped for a more local flavour. But Kolkata is a city, just as much as Calcutta. Nobody makes much of a distinction. What is special is its soul. Kolkata is alive. It talks to you. You don’t live in Kolkata. You live with it.

Anybody who’s stayed in Kolkata will tell you, its chaotic. Pretty dirty in some places. Occasionally downright squalid. But Kolkata grows on you. And you’ll fall in love in spite of yourself, along with around 15 million proud Calcuttans sharing the city, you’ll realise, the quaint yellow taxis and the battered trams are a flavour you won’t get anywhere on earth.

Google Kolkata. You’ll see pictures of a magnificent bridge spanning the Hooghly, the world’s longest cantilevered bridge, Rabindra Setu; a beautiful white dome with an angel on top, the Victoria Memorial; the yellow HM Ambassador taxis and such things. This is one side of Kolkata. There are also hundred, two hundred year old buildings built so close to each other, they share walls. Not boundary walls, the wall of the entire building. There’s the Ganga, marking one of Kolkata’s boundaries. People bathe in the ghats, jumping off stone jetties for their daily dip at 6 am. You’ll find plenty of pictures of Kolkata’s annual gala, Durga Puja, a 5 day festival where the entire city comes to a standstill as the goddess Durga comes home.You might find our swanky new airport, our grand old railway station, all of it. People who have seen Piku (2015) will know a lot of this. But you probably won’t find the Kolkata I’m talking about.

[Incidentally, do give the sarod theme from Piku a listen, it’s lovely.
https://youtu.be/8C8ZyYnqOZs]

You see, no picture can probably capture what Kolkata is. Words will fall short too. Kolkata’s essence, well, it has to be felt. Waiting at an intersection, a bike rider knocks on your car door, and as you turn to him wearily he tells you that the door isn’t shut properly, that’s Kolkata reaching out to you. The taxi driver helping his aged passenger to his home, carrying in the luggage, that’s Kolkata and it’s caring touch. The tired old policeman at the intersection lecturing yet another kid as he was walking by blindly, engrossed in Pokemon GO, that is Kolkata, keeping you safe. The city loves you, and before you know it, you love it back.

It is pretty difficult to not love a city with sweet shops on every alternate street, and with a population of Bengalis (Bongs). Kolkata has probably the richest street food tradition in India. And, no matter what the Lucknowi and Hyderabadi purists say, Kolkata’s biriyani (it’s a rice and meat dish) is legitimate, proper biriyani. All the food is amazing, the streets are lined with lush greenery, there’s beautiful architecture and the people, well, they are the people of the City of Joy. They are what makes the city.

Cliched as it may sound, you need to come to Kolkata in order to understand it, to feel it. The warmth, the love, the caring embrace of the city is unmatched. There are big, swanky, modern cities, quaint old fashioned little nooks, cities on the way to somewhere else, cities that change every ten years. And then there’s Kolkata. For pure heart, no city comes close.

Posted in Poetry

Alliteration

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.

I’m not very poetic by nature. In fact, sometimes, poetry frightens me. I’ve read a fair share of poetry in my life, some of which I muse about to this day. However, on multiple occasions, I’ve read something that intrigued me; but for the life of me, I could not quite understand what was being said. Maybe I have a long way to go before I learn to comprehend the nuances of poetry, or maybe I just need to keep an open mind while reading and let my imagination flow. Either way, I think it’s a brilliant creative outlet and perhaps someday, I’ll be able to write a piece that I’m truly proud of.

I have a huge fear that maybe someone reading this won’t get the idea I’m trying to convey, partly because I decided to restrict myself at every line, as you shall see. So, the gist of what I’ve written is that at some level, we’re all probably trapped, maybe in a difficult situation or just generally in life. And that maybe, while we’re struggling and flailing about to free ourselves, we’re missing out on a lot that the world has to offer. I also acknowledge the seemingly arbitrary shift of pronoun from “they” to “we” somewhere in the middle, but I began to feel preachy so I decided to make it more self-inclusive.

I wish I could’ve been clearer in the poem itself, but I wanted to use only certain kind of words in a given line, hence the ambiguity.


 

Writhe, wince, whine, wail,

Tortured – ‘tis a terrible tale.

Waiting while the world went its way,

Trapped to the teeth, troubled were they.

 

Then tied with tassles, trembling in the tower?

Caged? Could be. Condemned to cower.

Or overtly oppressed or ostracized,

Perhaps, purposely paralyzed?

 

Time trickles, trips, then tosses in torrents,

Still, some seem senseless to sights, sounds, scents.

Failing to fathom life’s freedom and fullness,

Did we diminish our lives, doomed to dullness?

 

Cages can crack, chase your calling,

Tumble the towers, time’s a-ticking.

Soar some skies, swim some seas,

Feel fiery, fulfilled and fly free.

Posted in Uncategorized

Rambling #1

AS: *clears throat* *smoothens shirt* *nervously glances around*

Hi, reader. If you exist. I honestly don’t know if this blog is going to change lives, change the world, or even improve my writing skills. I don’t know if I’m going to vent here, rant here, pour my heart out or clinically recite my daily activities. But you know, the butterfly effect… small causes can have large effects…?

 

SK: *strides onstage confidently, trips, recovers. Incidentally, that’s me in almost all situations*

Yes. We’re here to… heck, we’re here because we want to be. And we’re putting up this blog jointly, because I’m too lazy to do it alone, and she, though a fantastic writer, thinks she’s not good enough. I know I am nothing great, but she is, so rest assured, you’ll have good content.

 

AS: *rolls eyes* Thanks Suchit, that doesn’t put any pressure on me at all.

 

SK: Well, that’s the intention, to keep it as light as possible.

Incidentally, mandatory disclaimer:
Any resemblance to persons real or imaginary is purely coincidental. Karma (not Aditi and me, Newton’s third law kind) takes responsibility for any wrongdoing. Not suitable for children who haven’t been taught to read yet. Choking hazard: Contains small parts. May contain peanuts. Not meant for people who are…

 

AS: Yes, I think everybody gets the gist. Basically we totally might refer to real people on our not-so-real college campus (oh wait, was that supposed to be a secret?), and if someone thinks it’s them, we shall shake our heads and shrug our shoulders.

 I feel like we’ve not said our hellos, so without further ado, I present to you Suchit Kar, a pretty good writer as you shall soon see, my fellow English Language Activities Society member, and one of the funniest, nicest and less-judgemental-than-most humans on the said campus, who occasionally pats my head and comments on my height. Or lack thereof. Also, extremely nerdy, is into random fandoms that I don’t even know exist, and does cool techno stuff on college fest websites.

 And I’m Aditi Sharma, a tiny human being who strongly is of the opinion that great things come in small packages. I rarely ever switch off my laptop because my Google chrome tabs are extremely precious, I stay hungry sometimes because the kitchen seems too far away (I swear I’m not lazy, it really is miles away from the couch), and if I could, I’d want to work at a quaint bookstore-café. Even though that probably sounds very mainstream.

 

SK: And I happen to be Suchit Kar, supposedly studying in the same hypothetical campus as this teeny tiny person. I sleep, and then wake up, decide the day isn’t worth the effort, go back to sleep. Then my mum wakes me. I love food too, and unlike AS, I would rather be not-lazy, than go hungry. Incidentally, I’m from Bengal, and the people there are affectionately called Bongs

 

AS: MISHTI DOI MISHTI DOI MISHTI DOI. Sorry. Go on.

 

SK: Yes, that. So the two of my defining characteristics are an overwhelming love of food, and incredible laziness. I, my friends, am a Bong par excellence. Also, our great gift to mankind, more sweets than you can name and MISHTI DOI, a sweet curd which tastes like the heavens on a spoon.

 

AS: Since we’re talking about our geographical backgrounds, I’m what they call a “pakka Bumbaiyya”. In other words, I’ve been born and brought up in Mumbai, the city of dreams. And traffic. I’ve grown up on the metaphorical Bombay soil. Yep, I do know that it is now officially Mumbai, but calling it Bombay is just another thing we Mumbaikars do. Because after all, Mumbai  is a city, but Bombay… Bombay is an emotion.

 I’m kind of biting my fingernails right now because Roger Federer is barely hanging on in Wimbledon. No, Rafa fans please stay, I respect that man immensely and I’ve even read Rafa: My Story and admired his dedication. But I’m a Federer fan through and through.

 

SK: Fedex forever! Okay, that is close. Controversial point there. Um, so beloved reader, you see, I love that man’s game. *_* That backhand. I don’t play much, but he’s poetry in motion and such a delight to watch. Aditi here is boiling over, Federer is struggling. I’m manfully holding back my screams. Anyway, I will go and focus on the match. This blog will be mostly informal little things like these, and occasional discourses from either of us on “how to life”. So, friends, adieu. See you at some point in the near future. OH, HE’S BACK! AND HE’S PLAYING TO WIN NOW! BYE!

 

*30 minutes and a whole lot of swooning, agonising, praying and lip biting later*

 

AS: He won!!!!!! I just barely survived a myocardial infarction (yes, I take pride in saying smart things and pretending to sound smart).

 I hope you enjoy our amateur attempt at collaborative blogging. Fare thee well.