L’Étranger

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What if I were

To not feel pain

What if I were

To not see love

 

Would I have

Lived this life in vain

Would I have

Found the eternal truth

 

What if I were

Deemed insane

What if I were

Incarcerated for the lack of tears

 

Would I have

An afterlife to gain

Would I have

Died a martyr?

 

If I were a stranger

To this unsought fame

If I weren’t a stranger

To the ways of the world

 

Would this noose

Have been my fate

Would this noose

Have meant anything at all?

 

I am now ready

To face the pain

I am now ready

For a thousand guillotines

 

For there is no greater joy

than the beauty in bane

For there is no greater joy

than the embrace of a void…

 

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”- Albert Camus

The Sunset Club

“I don’t want to grow old.” Parul said today morning. I, now sit wondering is there any truth to that. Do any of us want to be old and in the twilight of our lives and those who already are there, are they any different from us?
The Sunset Club is a story of three such men, waiting for the end and living in vain glories from yesterday. Khushwant Singh has turned this often autobiographical account into a life lesson for those waiting to live their lives out.
Boota Singh, of course, is the parallel to the author himself. An aging widower drinking to formal carnal glories often dreaming of his own daily excrement. Baig, the medicine man, living a lazy existence in a quaint corner of Old Delhi. Sharma, the virgin pandit, living with his sister and servants.

What really mixes the plot up is that Delhi, my beautiful city, actually is one of the characters of the book. Its seasons are celebrated like festivals and its political climate an oft discussed topic for the three veterans. Clearly, beyond the story lies the layers of characters and how they melt into the city’s artistic landscape. The story in itself tells of one year in the lives of these octogenarians and goes back to how their relationships came to in the first place. A light read that I romantically picked up during a journey from Delhi to Mumbai, it perhaps had greater sentimental significance to me than most readers for it tells of a Delhi I have known nothing about.

Would I ever have my own sunset club, I wonder? One where I find random strangers who turn into friends and eventually live out each other’s twilights. Or would I be at least a reminisce living in the memories of men who talk of the best and worst loves of their lives?

The Sunset Club makes you want to grow old and live out a life that is worthy of a remembrance.  It scores in its sarcasm and wit and in parts even makes you sentimental. A must read for the Delhi fans, it will either give you a future to dream of in the city or make you sit down with a glass of your favorite scotch and remember the good times!

Of writing a nightmare…

I had a nightmare. Which is a worse kind of speech than I had a dream, but the point is, I have been having these nightmares and turning them into stories almost all my life. Which brings me to how we write stories, why do we write them? Why do we write AT ALL? Writers all around the world have a weird sense of non-artist-ness about them, they don’t paint beautiful pictures or sing songs or dance, they write. They just put down on paper what most people think and that’s that. Beauty, its basic definition for a writer, is just what he/she writes on a scrap of paper.  
There is a very thin line for most writers between reality and fiction which is why it seems only real to write about dreams and nightmares and what we see. I remember reading the Finkler Question and telling myself I’m a lot like one of the main characters in the book Treslove, who almost always was waiting for something tragic to happen in life. I have been waiting that wait.
A life which is a little too uneventful is no perfection for a writer’s life. Hence, the nightmares, they are my subconscious’ way of feeling the exhilaration, of a tragedy. Unlike a lot of “artists”, I have had too many things that have gone right for me. A less than perfect yet uneventful childhood, a more eventful but less tragic youth, so I wait. I wait for fortune to bring me a misfortune. Meanwhile, my mind brings about unrealities in front of me, plays the truth of death and helps me write about lives full of lies.
But when eventually the lines blur, between reality and fiction, that’s when my masterpiece would present itself (or so I think). Virginia Woolf was right; a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
So this is me waiting, wanting and hoping for a tragedy, until then my dreams would stalk me until I pen them down. 

Confessions: Thespo @ Prithvi \m/

Ever thought of what Pulp Fiction would look like in a play, on Wednesday, Le Chayim theatre productions; brought us an interesting surprise in a dark comedy taken from the award winning play by Martin McDonagh called “The Pillowman”. The play is a dark reminder to all writers who tend to “enjoy” writing horrific stories with worse endings. Stephen King had once talked about how when he wrote his million short stories the ideas always came at the end of a “What if” moment. But I wonder if he ever thought of “what if” whatever he wrote were true!
There is a lot of Kafka-ism (a new ism word for the day) in the play. The concept of the police state, the lack of control over one’s own writing, the weaknesses of a totalitarian society, all reveal themselves layer by layer in a small interrogation room. Katurian, a writer of twisted, dark short stories, is being interrogated by 2 detectives, Topolsky and Ariel, because of the close resemblance of his stories to the bizarre incidents in his town. The story moves on to why the writer writes what he writes and the unconventional concepts hidden in his stories.  The star of the play was clearly director Kashin Shetty who plays the sarcastic detective Topolsky. He is effortless in his comedy and manages to bring out the various layers of the nihilist detective.
The highlight of course remains how the cast clicks as a unit; the production has clearly excelled since its debut in 2006. The entire presentation, be it characters finding more than one entry point or the unique lighting effects or the parallel story telling of Katurian’s stories, comes together as a unique comedy. At some places, the audience laughed realizing how inappropriate it is to laugh at something so sinister. Managing to make blood work funny, the play is the perfect candidate for pulp fiction in contemporary theatre. Can’t wait to catch another Thespo@Prithvi play soon!

In a stereotypical world…


“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Virginia Woolf

I suppose the typical urban woman would consider the above thought almost biblical. But the truth remains, that our voice as an entire gender is almost always driven by stereotypes. A man has to deal with only common identity issues like which place or what religion he belongs to. We, women on the hand, spend all of our lives fighting stereotypes (and add to that the normal communal and geographical ones too common to all MANkind!) Even now half of the audience reading this would probably think in their heads oh, this WOMAN is getting emotional, is becoming a feminist, and is, well, a recent word I made up – womany!

I was searching for ways of getting published (aren’t we all?) and stumbled across this blog that explains how the New Yorker and the NY times have a majority of female audiences and yet most of their writers are male. It went on to talk about how women tend to write about more personal things and these journals do not consider that as literary prowess and that women writers are “intimidated by the white male culture” as the editor of Atlantic Monthly pointed out. So the article makes two assumptions, one that women are incapable of writing big policy pieces, and second, their “emotional” articles and those with a “sexy twist on work/life drama” is not worthy of literary recognition. This coming from a country that boasts of having a woman in a key policy making position.

It is true though, we like to write about what we feel rather than what we see, but whoever said that policy decisions and strategic moves for a nation or a corporate for that matter have to be devoid of all emotion and empathy?!

Remember the times when women had to write under a pseudonym to be published? Well, by the looks of the times today, we aren’t very far from that world. (I used to think we are) There are still occupations women are “not good at”. (A stereotype we fight every single day at our workplace) Like recently a classmate of mine observed, “Women are not good traders.” Another once mentioned how “women can never understand politics.” I am reminded of how many men rejected marriage proposals because the girl was a journalist (she wouldn’t be able to do justice to her “duties” as a wife)

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to stand on soap boxes and hate men for their stereotypes, it takes two to tango. If we are so upset with these stereotypes, we should just stop attempting to adhere to them! We should be content with who we are and not try to prove a point every single day at our work place. (Lesson to self!)

I’m not a feminist or a nihilist (Gosh I hate the “ist” words, they are so patronizing!). But these stereotypes (and the million others I have broken) just make me attempt to fight them just for the heck of it. And it is beginning to get tiring to try and break Plath’s bell jar. Why bother upsetting yourself for somebody who has in his head made the stereotype (unless he/she is your boss: P ). And isn’t the fact that you’re trying to prove yourself mean you yourself believe in the stereotype? I’d rather just be myself and not worry.  However, the real”IST” in me is wondering if I should just swallow my pride and write under a pseudonym, who knows the New Yorker might just find me! 

To Sylvia

She conquers death everyday
lives to see the bloodstains
the slit wrists
everyday the window is darker
and the house lonelier still
She walks down the stairs creak
indomitable sounds of the night
tear through the silence
every night a new dream dawns
of white lights and what not
Mornings return unforgiven
The smoke settles and the drinks drain
The emptiness back
and wounds reopen
the world seems ugly
and her soul uglier still
Trapped in a Bell Jar
the world is far away
noises fade away
and the house is a silent friend
And then one day
when the jar will break
and the rug blood red
will welcome the uninvited guest
The world was always
too beautiful, too ugly
all in the same life!

Three Cups of Tea

The idea that appealed  most to me when I saw this book was the subtitle : “One man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time” Here comes a story I have never heard of before. In fact had somebody narrated it to me I wouldn’t even believe it. It breaks past stereotypes of all kinds and makes you realize that if you want to help anyone at any part of the world all it takes is one good heart!
Greg Mortenson is ahead of his time always. He is a new picture of America, a picture I’d like to keep. One of humanity and kindness. And one of humility.

This story is far away from the images we have of Pakistan: The “madrassas”, where maulvis “train” children to become terrorists and how every village has a Kasab born in them.

We, Indians, are generally very shallow. We take everything exactly the way it is served and forget that there exists a world where such battles exist, where a walk to school could maim you or even kill you. Greg Mortenson goes to such a world and comes back victorious. He talks of a tangible permanent solution which we could use against all forms of terrorism (and god knows we have fought our demons too many times!) He answers the question everyone is now asking regarding the Maoist “situation” in our country. He answers it with one word : education.

A part of a team of mountaineers, scaling the difficult terrain of K2, Greg was lost and spent a terrible time surviving the grueling cold mountains of Karakoram till he was found and taken care of by Haji Ali a local village chieftain. There is a sweet moment in the book when Haji Ali shows him the local school, or the place they call a school. The village has no teacher who’d come this far everyday so on the days without a teacher, the little boys and girls sit in an open ground writing on the sand with sticks. Haji Ali says, the one thing I wish for is a school for this village and Greg overcome by the desperation of the kids to learn puts his hand on Haji Ali’s shoulder and says “I’ll build you a school”.

What starts with one school goes on to become a revolution. The one thing the author writes about is that the moment you meet Greg Mortenson you start thinking “What should I do? How could I help?” and this emotion is not just on the meeting. I found myself going through the Three Cups of Tea website and clicking on the How To Help section, the moment I finished the book. The story is simple enough. The man had no money, no job and just had a simple dream to build a school for a bunch of Pakistani kids he had only met once.
The best part of the story would probably be Mortenson’s humility. He’s bad with compliments the author says, he just blushes and mumbles I just got lucky. And he did, the story has a lot of other heroes as well. But for Mortenson’s desire and relentless will, these people would have never known how exactly to help.

For the first time I saw the Kargil War from the other side and actually went ahead to apologize to my counterparts across the borders. We all really do have the same problems : corrupt governments, uncontrollable armies and social issues. I wish Mortenson would realize that none of the Indians knew about the injustice done in Pakistan during the war.

The book is a must read for inspiration, kindness and most of all for humanness. I think we are innately human and want to help, we just have to believe in our convictions and take that first step and make the resolve. With you all the way Dr. Greg 🙂

P.S: The next book has been published and talks about the next piece in the struggle and is called “Stones into Schools”. Mortenson has now moved on to Afghanistan with the resolve of building schools for the war ravaged country.

Have you ever had a teacher like this?

Morrie has set the bar real high! The book weaves around the last stages of an astonishing teacher’s life. And most importantly got me thinking how many of us remember the people who shaped our lives!

So this one won’t be a review, not just yet. this one is for all my teachers, particularly my language teachers. Starting from my class teacher at the UKG, Marwa ma’am, who took me onto the stage for the very first time! Then went on to drive my imagination wild by making me learn how to play the flute (never worked of course but still! I pictured myself playing that flute part in Mile sur Mera tumhara! ) 
Moving on to a Mrs. Malti, she wasn’t my English teacher but helped me hone my Public Speaking skills, took me to debates. She asked us to speak like Pronoy Roy of course I had no idea then how boring he was as a news reader. I was just glad that some teacher took interest in the few good speakers we had in our highly mediocre school!

But in my prized possession of teachers are two people, who by their hearts changed the lives of hundreds of children and continue to do so!
1.
In fifth standard, I was a difficult child, my father had left for States and, well, let’s just say I didn’t take it well. But then the first day of our English class our teacher told us to close our books and just, talk to her! That was the day I met Jyotsna Kashyap Ma’am. She was a whiff of fresh air in a highly claustrophobic surroundings. I liked her class so much I used to bunk my Arts class (because the Arts teacher had washed her hands off me!) and meet her just to talk and she’d oblige EVERYTIME! She could have easily said no but her funda was if not her I’d be sitting alone in my classroom cooking up Devilish recipes of disaster. We had a particular chapter in English at the end of which we were all required to write a scary story. She told us to go home, put ourselves in certain surroundings and just shut the world out and imagine. She told me how great it is to just jot down whatever our mind says. I mostly claim to be a self made poet but the truth is, that one short story got me so scared of my own self! And that was the beginning of this blog and every poem that I have ever written. She made me dream!
2.
When you are taught by someone in your on family, apprehension comes easy. But with my aunt, it was different. The one person who looks at every student as her own child. Cries his/her tears, laughs when she sees them laugh, my aunt has this special gift of making every one even the ones awful at math truly believe in themselves! I remember stories of students who flunked their first terms and I remember them saying one thing about her. She NEVER gives up on you. She never gave up on me and for that I am ever so thankful. She shows faith in you when you have none. And I am lucky coz while some of her students still miss her class. I have her for life. 
“A Teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops” Henry Adams

The Quickening Maze

The Quickening Maze is a tale of mysterious journey through a poetic mind’s endless intricacies and Adam Foulds makes it look like every word should be a part of a beat and every sentence a song.

“Walking towards the wood, the heath, beckoning away. Undulations of yellow gorse rasped softly in the breeze. It stretched off into unknown solitudes.”

The protagonist (if we can call him that!) poet John Clare takes us through the different entanglements of the human mind. Stuck in Dr. Mathew Allen’s asylum, John Clare feels imprisoned and longs to meet his childhood love, his wife and his children. Dr. Allen’s family has been brought under a lot of scrutiny as the charismatic doctor falls prey to the greed of modern industrial world and begins to neglect his asylum. 
The different characters of the asylum have been perfectly painted, each with one’s own specialty.  Simon the idiot, Margaret who strives for the “Lord’s Blessing”, Charles Seymour the count lost in love, the good mad in the “Fairmead House”, the absolutely blaring lunatics at the “Leopard’s Hill Lodge”, all add significant twists to the tale. 
And into this dark and unending maze, enters Lord Alfred Tennyson to stay close to his brother Septimus, a patient in the madhouse. 
Alfred Tennyson, in the book, is a dashing young poet mourning the recent loss of his best friend Arthur Hallam and embarrassed by the Tennyson family’s history of mental illness. The Allens are the perfect family that Tennyson envies in all sincerity. The family lives and breathes softly under the shadows of an over ambitious father, even the youngest Abigail has a small role to play in the story. Every character has been done justice and above all else, the poetry of it all has been done justice. 
While John woefully starts of a sonnet looking for his beloved Mary in the woods, Tennyson, the mourner, sees a “white fabric, candescent, pure, flowing through itself, surging, charged, unlimited.” All the metamorphosis of living beings, he says.
It’s easy to figure out why Foulds was the only one who could come with a story so perfect. He knows what it takes to be a poet: the energy, the restlessness, the insane torture of it all! He had said in an interview of his books, “These books wouldn’t be arising if what I was struggling to articulate was not occluded in some way.” brings us back to why he is so perfect. 
All of us poets, (if I dare to call myself that!) are living in a tormented world. So was John Clare, only his world was a bit crueler. It gnawed at his flesh and left him scarred for life. This is a story of his descent; it’s a story of the fall of charisma and the story of life just moving swiftly along. Do read it. He didn’t disappoint me at all. And Foulds, with that intense gaze you can look right through any story but then that’s what petrifies us all right?


And then the Gods smiled :)

When you start thinking the world is out to impress you, and not the other way around. Things suddenly fall into place. 
Alice Walker must have had a backbone of steel and a pen that won’t stop to have written this saga. The Color Purple has been interpreted in so many ways by so many people. Some call it the story of human spirit, others a tribute to all women. But to me it represented relationships, friendship, sisterhood and how sometimes you don’t even need to be related by blood to feel empathy. 
The story starts off on a terrible note, raped and abused by her own father, rejected by her mother, Celie is brought up surrounded by injustice. The parts of the book where she is pain with labor bearing her own father’s children was too painful even to read! She is ashamed of herself, a typical psychological trauma that all victims of childhood sexual abuse feel. And yet, through all the pain, her one priority in life is to fight for her sister Nettie. She prays to God Nettie is not bought by a Mr.——— (She never mentions his last name almost yelling out his insignificance) and is almost glad she is trapped into marriage with him. Through all the torture from her husband, her ungrateful children,she has but one thought and prayer, that Nettie comes out of her house safe away from abuse and away from shame. 
The story takes you through a journey of self realization and Celie makes you laugh and cry for all the naivety she is born with! It’s like watching a little girl grow up and find wings. Shug Avery is the perfect heroine who saves the damsel in distress from the clock tower, the irony of course being that Celie’s husband is crazy about Shug. Their friendship is one of contrast, Shug, the loud one, doing pretty much everything out of her own free will and poor Celie, whom everyone sympathizes with, taking in everything like a tree (a comparison she makes herself!) 
But the book has many more layers, it’s not just a story of long lost love finding itself, but that of motherhood, sisterhood, friendship, love and most importantly the freedom to be able to love and pray as one wishes. God is an interesting concept in the book. For Celie, god is a bad dream who sits there takes in all and does nothing but the entire concept of an untrue god changes in the book.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk past the color purple in the field somewhere and not notice it.
What did it do when it pissed off? I ast.
Oh, it make something else.”
Celie wins you over with her simplicity and innocence; Shug with her passion, energy; Sofia with her strength and Nettie with her perseverance. Each character in the story has been written with an innate human quality. Yes, it is about the triumph of a woman’s spirit but it’s also about finding the silver lining when there is no hope. It’s about holding on to those we love and keeping promises.
It taught me one thing, that Life is what we make of it. Lovely book, a must read for those who dream of a bigger better life! 🙂 Love you Alice!