01 August, 2016

Coming across Finding Violet Park again

I finished reading Finding Violet Park a couple of days ago and I am still thinking about it, which is always a good sign because my memory isn't as reliable as it is used to be.

I think the cover is brilliant and when I first got the book, I thought someone had actually doodled all over it. I remember thinking I liked it and at the same time wondered how could they sell such a book, even if it is second hand, until I read the blurb. Silly me.

I knew the book as Me, the Missing and the Dead (but I must confess I like the title Finding Violet Park better) as it was released in America, which is a title that doesn't give anything away. It's a title I was familiar with since 2010, when I had read Broken Soup (Jenny Valentine's second book), having noticed it in Pantaloons (when it still housed books) perhaps because it stood out due to its unusual cover. 


After reading Broken Soup, I came to know that her first book won the Guardian children's fiction prize and wanted to read it (the stunning cover was the actual reason). Then university happened and I forgot all about it. Recently I saw it on a used book site (thank you Bookchor) and it all came back to me. Jenny Valentine felt like a nom de plume to me but it is indeed her real name (she married her Valentine).


It is odd coming back to an author whose work I had read when I wasn't as much of a cynic and sullied by the world as I'm now. While reading I felt as if I was reconciling the present and past versions of me, which is weird because it is the first time I am reading this book but my mind associates Finding Violet Park with an earlier time, a pre-university era. 

I read a major chunk of the book while awaiting my turn in a long line (which twisted and turned in ways unimaginable) of people waiting for registration at a hospital. And if my nose wasn't buried in the book, the two hour wait in the line moving slower than a snail, which ultimately turned out to be for nothing, would have been maddening. If there is anything I have learnt all these years, it is this - Never leave the house without a book.

The book deals with how Lucas, a 16 year old and his family - mother, sister, brother and grandparents, cope after his father goes missing (read ghosting in real life). It's a book where death has a strong presence since the other lead character Violet Park, is in a urn, as in already dead. Their paths crisscross and what happens then forms the rest of the narrative.

01 April, 2016

Thoughts on The Heat and Dust Project- How (not) to tell a book what you feel about it


The Heat and Dust Project is a travel memoir and not just a travelogue as the title says. It is about the two people who are married to each other and how their relationship changes when they are travelling through India, to discover it and themselves in the process. It is about the feel of the place and the people they meet there, more than the place itself. They themselves along with the places they visit are the main characters in their own book.

They have dared to show things as they are, no gloss,no fuss. And shown themselves in less than flattering light many a time. Their relationship is there for everyone to see and that can't have been easy. Two writers in the house and both fiercely opinionated and stubborn. It must be have one hell of a writing and editing process. I,for one, would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see how it came to be the book it is.

Reading the book  shortly before a impending family trip, it fell into my lap at just the right time. I bought the book a few months back and hadn't gotten around to reading it. Then one fine day it struck me that it would make a great gift for a friend of mine who has the wanderlust and frequently travels with her better half. I read the authors' interviews to know more about them and their project and I thought I will read  just  the author's note to get a feel of the book. Then to get a better idea I read the introduction and before I knew it I was reading the book.

The strange thing is whenever I read nonfiction (which is not very often) I only want to read more nonfiction. Initially it was a slow read, I was savouring every moment and nonfiction is more powerful in the way one experiences it, probably because one feels that it's something which has actually happened, real and tangible. The writing is conversational but still literary. A good balance I thought.
Anxiety is a strange but not uncommon response to beauty. It is mostly exhibited by people with a talent for stress.
 Devapriya or D as she calls herself says this when they were going gaga over the beauty in Jaisalmer and thought they might not be able to do justice to its breathtaking gorgeousity (yes that is a word). At times like these I wished the book had some photographs.

15 February, 2016

When watching a movie alone isn't what you bargained for

In the darkness of the movie theatre all my worries fade, the world falls back and fades to black. It's just me and the story. Or is it?

Of late I have come into my own watching movies alone in the theatre, so I was surprised when I didn't want to see Fitoor alone. I had asked a friend but she was busy, so here I was. I was embarrassed that I would look like some loser (we might be  losers but we surely don't want to look like one) because it would be the Valentine's weekend. The worst time on the planet to be alone, bombarded by mush from all sides (you can only escape it on the moon) and the marketing gimmicks are scaled up to such levels sometimes I doubt it’s a conspiracy against singletons (Thank you Bridget Jones!). If there was ever a time to declare to the world that I am happy watching movies (romantic or otherwise) alone, then the time is now.

My friend cautioned me not to go see Fitoor on Friday as I am not too fond of crowds. It was a Friday and a holiday so a crowd was expected. On Saraswati Puja, instead of paying obeisance at the feet of the goddess of learning, how was I to know that people will rush to the theatres and bow down at the altar of entertainment.

1146 a.m. A burgeoning crowd outside and the door is yet to open. And here we were irritated because the lift opened at every floor (nobody got in seeing how many people were already crammed inside). I could almost hear the collective sigh of frustration.

1150 a.m. I am in my seat. None of my seat mates (I don’t know what else to call them) have arrived and I wished no one would but it was the first day and the last four rows are always in demand.

I'm not the only one who came alone to watch a romantic movie before the  V-day weekend and this fact fills me with glee. There's a guy in the row in front of me, who's sitting alone, nearly in the middle of the row. He will be squished by unknown people on both sides. An uncomfortable proposition. I always take the aisle seat so that one side is always empty. A guy came and sat in the seat next to me and he's flying solo too.

I looked around and saw too many guys in the audience. I thought they abhorred romance. The Katrina Kaif effect, I guess. It doesn't look like it is going to start any time soon. One is always punished for being on time. The rest of the seats in my row are still vacant. 

12 o'clock. The lights are on. Why do they do this every time for the 1145 a.m. show? They begin right on the dot for the morning shows, when people could actually use the time. Meanwhile the rest of my row has arrived and finally the lights dimmed and promos of upcoming movies started playing, followed by the "No Smoking" advisory (which is a monumental waste of time), at which the entire theatre jeered.

1205 p.m. The movie  begins.Finally.

I thought no interruptions now but a girl turned up right in front of me, who could not find her seat and was asking a guy for help; he was sitting in his seat comfortably watching the movie. The attendants vanish when you need them the most. I bet they are watching the movie, too engrossed to help people (latecomers) find their seats. Why do people come so late and shine the phone light into the eyes of innocent and punctual movie watchers? I want to yell but obviously I don't because I have been late on more than one occasion (though I always keep my phone light down).

When the theatres are filled to the brim like this and there is too much chatter, I remember how much I enjoyed the movies I saw in the half empty ones, without any interruption. The guys in my row cracked jokes and laughed at the most inopportune moments. You know, in sitcoms how the laughter is cued in after a scene that is supposed to be funny? This was no different but here it was far from funny. Their laughter spurred others on.

We are here for total immersion folks. For an experience which will not be repeated. No derailing will be tolerated. Do I have to say please to get my ticket's worth?

Even though I had gone to the movie alone and the guy sitting in the next seat had come alone, we left and came back from the interval together (weird coincidence), he with a soft drink and I, with an ice cream. Then, we immediately buried our noses in our smart phones, the prospect of conversation awkward, if not unwelcome. Lost souls who are not only watching a movie alone together but who do not even have money for proper food (insert sad emoticon here).

I found it annoying that he (my neighbour) was in my peripheral view, when he took sips from his drink and the way he sat with his hands folded in front of him. He checked his phone discreetly when there was a call. He didn't laugh loudly or mutter anything under his breath, which I did, on occasion. Perhaps he found me more annoying and much more of a distraction, than I considered him. 

Would it have been better if I had just looked straight at him and acknowledged his presence instead of trying to avoid him the entire movie? When the movie ended I got up to leave while he was still sitting (I guess I was not the only one who was surprised by the ending) and walked out of the theatre without looking back.

The sole reason to go see a movie in the theatre, is to see something magical unfold, to be lost in the world created by the movie. Not sit fidgeting in the seat, making up stuff and being aware of the movements of the person sitting next to me (I know how ridiculous and pathetic that sounds). Alas, we do not live in an ideal world.

08 February, 2016

We never change

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.” ― Brigitte Bardot
I am lounging on my bed, reading beside the window, the afternoon light illumining my pages and I feel a wave of drowsiness sweep over me. That is what happens when you have a large lunch and settle down to read quietly. It seems like the perfect time for a short nap. Suddenly my phone beeps and I am not in the present anymore but thrust into the murky waters of the past without any preamble. Photographs, like words, take you back in time but the effect is immediate and  jarring, if it is something unpleasant. 

In the photograph I see a place both intimately familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I am back at the university. In an instant I see myself as I was then and the past comes tumbling back. Old memories return, sad and joyous moments shared, fast friendships and swift betrayals, friends in unexpected places(amid ingratiating sycophants), having the most unlikeliest people stand by in their own way.

Suddenly I am the same girl, who rarely spoke out of turn, even though it was not my nature to be silent when something unjust was being done.The girl who mostly kept her head down and  worked, weighed down by the collective responsibility on her shoulders. The girl who was a dyed-in-the-wool romantic that crash landed into reality and didn't know how to deal with that seismic shift. The girl who didn't question the motives behind people's actions and took everyone at their word. The girl who came out of that place with her soul undivided (if not intact) but her heart bruised (if not broken). I am that girl and yet, I feel strangely far removed from her.

I have always prided myself on cutting off something unpleasant as soon as I see it rearing its ugly head but truly moving on, closing the chapter in the book of life (clich├ęd I know) takes time, more time than I'd like to admit.There is no pain now, only a vague recollection of the past events and the memories have faded (the slow swirl of time) but not entirely gone. Yet.

What is the purpose of these memories being retained in the inner recesses of our brains? (Watch Pixar's fabulous Inside Out to know more!) Do they serve as reminders so that we do not make the same mistakes again? 
But we never change,do we.

05 November, 2015

Stop the day : a procrastinator's plea


In the stillness of the early morning
I can hear thoughts of past, present and future in my head
along with the  birds chirping out loud in the garden.
I feel the warmth of the sunlight,
the winter hasn't yet taken all the warmth away.

The possibility of the day's events
not yet dampened by what it could have been.
Not a hint but a full fledged promise of a new day.
The day can be anything I want it to be 
 I shape my own destiny.

The warmth of a yellow sun
is more than what I can bear. 
The sunlight too bright glares at me
hurting my eyes.
I have been under the covers far too long.

Instead of basking in the sun
I draw the curtains back into place
shutting the sun-lighted world out.
I retreat into my unmade bed
to fall back asleep.

My warm safe place
where unformed stories, half finished dreams and nightmares live together.
There's always tomorrow to shape my Destiny.
I snooze a little more till the blinding sun has left
a mellow one in its place.

01 November, 2015

Of (fr)enemies and friends


Does anyone need friends? I never thought I would be standing here on our beautiful blue Planet (soon to be rendered uninhabitable) asking this question. If someone asked me this some years back, I would have looked at them as if they had sprouted two horns. Once upon a time I would have done anything for my friends. What changed? What if I say I don’t need any friends? Not because friendship as a relationship is dead. Maybe my standards are too high(I was  afraid that I have set them too low for the fear of disappointing myself) or I’m too idealistic(no surprise there). But really is it just a plain give and take a la barter system? 

Recently while talking to a friend she said friendship is an emotional investment we make and why should we continue to make that investment when there is no return? That stopped me in my tracks (not literally because I was sitting on the bed). I was stunned into silence(that is no mean feat). Does everything have to have a tangible return? How did everything get equated in terms of returns? Barter system. Give and take. Take and give. I heard myself replying that it's okay if there’s no return as long as there’s nothing negative and that’s where I draw the line. Yeah, right. Being burnt to cinders. That's more like it.

Another friend while answering a poll question, when asked what do you need friends for, ticked the option using them. She was honest enough to admit that it came automatically to her. I had no comeback for that. Being friends with people for the sake of using them is despicable. But then what do I know about the world.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light- Helen Keller 

What if it’s a frenemy? You will probably end up in a hospital with a memory loss in that case!

There are categories - acquaintances, friends, enemies and frenemies. I have never understood the need for the last category. I’d love to have enemies (not in a sadistic way but in a way that says we are equal in our hate and dislike) but it’s frenemies I can’t stand. Yes I know who you are, you are fooling no one. You want to act like you are my friend then start taking acting classes! You criticize and hate a person but keep a person close only so you know what they are up to, so you can sabotage or disparage them behind their backs yet acting like you have their best interests at heart. That is pretty low, like viruses who use their hosts for replicating and in return, destroy them. Win-Win. Give me an honest rascal any day who has the guts to say what he/she feels to my face, rather than a “friend” who wouldn't think twice before doing an “Et tu, Brute” and is just waiting for the perfect time to strike.

I don’t need friends. I want friends, always have, to share my uninteresting life with (happy now). I have no place for frenemies in my life and neither the time or inclination to indulge in acting. Enemies, of course, are always welcome. A worthy adversary is worth one's weight in gold. Or so I am told.


27 October, 2015

Mrs Funny Bones is a could have been



Mrs Funny Bones by Twinkle Khanna is a lighthearted fun read. Witty observations on life and the world around her I found it hard to stop once I started. It does not read like a book in the true sense of the word but like a series of (very )short blog posts.

 I had read a few of  her columns in Times of India where she took digs at accepted norms  in a very pop cultury manner and made them look quite silly. That is not always a bad thing,is it? Having said that the book would have found it very hard to achieve what it has ,had it not been not written by a star wife and backed by aggressive marketing.

To be funny one has to poke fun at oneself first and not take themselves too seriously, which she does with aplomb.She is funny and with her pithy observations, you will let loose a giggle or two,like I did. You also have to be a bit brave to poke fun at your fraternity,more so if you are famous.Sometimes she tries too hard to be funny. Sometimes it is all very predictable and you can predict how the sentence would end. 

 For me however the book will forever be an opportunity wasted. She could have done so much more. This is by no means a tell all account which will give you insights into a star household and like Aarushi, I resisted it for the longest time but then one fine day I decided to take the bait. I'm pretty sure it had to do something with a sale and a friend's indirect recommendation.

The last two chapters (I find it odd to call them chapters even though they have been named with great care to elicit a laugh or at least a chuckle)were more emotional than silly and a few life lessons were thrown in. I felt like telling her that you don't have to change your tone just because the book is coming to an end. The illustrations were perhaps supposed to be cute but they missed the mark.

The fun aside there were some things which rankled. She juggles her work with responsibilities at home. How many women claim they are modern but fit into the same age old traditional roles, is a little heartbreaking. She questions traditions but not enough I felt. A woman plays so many roles and she shows that it is not always smooth sailing ,transitioning from one to the other. Wife to daughter. Wife to daughter-in-law. Wife to mother. Working woman to housewife. There is a difference between what can be done and what society expects a working woman managing the household to do. She talks about her issues with weight and how they stem from being overweight during childhood. There always has been societal pressure on women to confirm to invisible rules in every sphere, which is both stifling and damaging. Naturally, breaking free is the only logical option. I thought this is a book my mother would identify with and commiserate with the author. So I read out a few snippets to her and she nodded solemnly.

The husband is called the man of the house and son is called the prodigal son. I wondered if she was poking fun at centuries of conditioning or reinforcing it?

Perfect for a few hours of downtime when you want some some light reading, so light it doesn't feel like reading at all as the movie plays on in your head. I have seen a few movies of Twinkle and  Akshay Kumar as a kid. That certainly helped. I have probably seen their son somewhere in the media . It was only the baby I had to imagine and I imagined the baby in Baby's  Day Out. Where stupid? Right here, baby.