Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Dislikes

I am an indiscriminate book reader. My reading philosophy is very simple – has a story, will read. I have given up – that is, not finished reading them – on only two books in my lifetime.  I finish what I start even if I do not particularly like it.

Even so, there are some things which grate on my nerves and sometimes prevent a good book from becoming my favourite. I think, all the book lovers have such criteria of categorising a book. Mine are simple and perhaps quite common too.

  1.  A perfect hero / heroine: Think of your favourite book and its central character. Was he / she a paragon? A saint so virtuous that everyone absolutely loved or canonized him / her? It is unlikely that that would be the case. The greatest characters may be larger than life but they are always human. They may be perfect for the situations they are thrown in but as people they are flawed.  Think Sidney Carter, Darcy, Howard Roarke, Heathcliff or Portia or even Harry Potter. None of them are perfect. They have their shortcomings – be it a temper or arrogance or simply a callous attitude. Absolute perfection, to my mind, is extremely boring, bland and lifeless.  
  2.  India as an exotic land / quagmire of poverty and ignorance:  There are few things which irritate me more than modern Indian writers of English who sell India as an unpalatable mix of snake-charmers, arranged marriages, call centres, Bollywood and loud, brash relatives. This trait is more common among Indian chick-lit (I dislike that term but there’s no help for it) writers and Chetan Bhagat. Then there are those who portray India as a land with no hope – a country with new, swanky malls in the cities and farmer suicides, deaths from hunger and Maoists in its hinterlands. The largest democracy where the common man, the middle classes lead an extremely depressing life. If you have read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance or Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, you will know what I am talking about.
  3. Pedanticism: Some really good authors suffer from it. Like Salman Rushdie. I have read two of his books – the really interesting Midnight’s Children and the relatively lesser known Ground Beneath Her Feet. In both the cases, the storyline hooked me. The characterization was great. I could practically see the events playing out in front of my eyes – from Veena’s descent into debauchery born out of a stubborn love to a lost Salim in the wetlands. But what ticked me off was the constant showing off by Mr. Rushdie. His narrative has this annoying stage-whisper in author’s voice permeating it: “Look how much I know. I know India’s history. I understand its present crisis. I know it all.” Agreed, a good author should have a good understanding of his setting but really, must you shout it out loud? 
  4. Moral Science lessons: I hated the subject in school, although I loved GK (General Knowledge) with which it was usually clubbed. So, it is no wonder that I cannot abide it in a book of fiction. Paulo Coelho loves stating moral of the story. I know, The Alchemist is often cited as the favourite book by most of the intellectuals, celebs and what have you. But seriously, I found the book difficult to read, despite it being rather short in length. Sure, it had some gems like the one Farah Khan shamelessly copied in Om Shanti Omif you wish for something with all your heart, the whole universe conspires to make your wish come true. But I detested the preachy tone of the book. I have not read any of his other works except a short story or two but they are written in the same manner. So, he is not on my authors-to-read-by-default list

That more or less covers it. There are some slightly lower order irritants, but the above seriously put me off a book. Yet I, almost always trudge on, unless the book is either really, really vulgar like the Shobha De novel I gave up on after reading thirty-odd pages or if the book suffers from all the maladies that I described above. Thankfully, neither of the two are common occurrences. Ergo, I almost always read a book to its end.

I wonder, if there are any other points that really irritate ardent readers? Do let me know :-)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From a Summer Morning

Gather a handful of stars and blow them away with a whisper so that they swirl around your skirt, like fairy dust, keeping rhythm as you dance to the sighs of the night and the tinkle of church bells settling in for their daily rest.

An image which simply floated into my vision on a hot, sultry morning in a polluted, crowded city. Today.

A Winter Interlude

It is a quiet winter evening. Not quite lazy. But quiet. There are noises. Of the distant traffic. A child cries having been denied what he wanted. There is the almost rhythmic hitting of the mason’s tools in an under-construction building close by.  A dog barks. But underneath it all, is a quiet that makes me feel so content but also a little edgy, as if to be content is unambitious, as if to enjoy and even long for this quiet is a sign of stagnation.

But I push these treacherous thoughts away. Because tomorrow will come soon enough. With its ambitions and anxieties and grouches and destined to stay longings and desires. But the quiet has begun to dissolve as the cacophony grows louder to intrude upon the solitude. The traffic runs faster, telephones sing, the hammering is louder……and the interlude becomes just that. An interlude. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunshine and Butterflies

I am a little rusty – there has been so much happening in my life recently that I have not had the time or energy to formulate a single cohesive line of thought. Actually, this time has made me realize how one, single incident can change how I do things.

Anyway, this post is not for brooding. This one is to remember some of the bright, unexpected spots of warm light that I have come across in my life. In them, I may have been merely an observer or a silent participant. But that does not prevent them from becoming some of my favourite memories.

Best Friends

I had just begun at my new job. The office was pretty far from home and I had to change transport thrice to reach on time. The last leg of the journey involved an auto-rickshaw ride in the bylanes of an area which I did not know very well. In fact, I had heard its name for the first time when I had visited my office for the interview. 

This particular morning, a mother with her two kids shared the auto-rickshaw with me. The son was older and at about ten years of age, clearly the man in the family. His mother was taking  him and his sister to school.

There was playful banter throughout the ten minute ride. But what I found most endearing was the relationship that the mother and son apparently shared. They were friends first and the son very clearly considered himself, his family’s protector. He advised his mother on the route to take back home, what to do and what not to. His mother listened with affectionate amusement but never took his words lightly. There was discussion on budgeting and places for good bargains. The little man held his kid sister’s hand and occasionally disciplined her with “Don’t poke your head out” or “Sit still”.

It was not the most scintillating conversation that I have eavesdropped upon but it was one of the most intriguing. There was so much love and concern that the little child felt for his mother and sister. It was as if he had grown up already and decided he was responsible for the well-being of his family. Also, very clear was the mother’s belief and pride in her son. He was her hope of the future and the sun and the moon of her life. I got the feeling that she felt safer when he was with her than at any other time.

The ride was over a little too soon but that mother-son duo – more friends than contemporaries – has stayed in the box marked as rides to savour.

Trusting Imps

Ever since I started working, I take a two-three vacation once a year to visit a place I have never been to before. Last year, my siblings and I hired a car and travelled across the lovely Himachal. After we had visited all the expected spots at McLeodganj (that’s where Dalai Lama stays), we had our evening free. So, we drove down to Dharamshala, which was only an hour away and arrived at Army Park.

This park was built in the memory of the martyred Indian soldiers. It sprawled over a large area with a monument inscribed with the names of the martyrs at its heart. The setting sun winked through the dappled brown trunks of the tall trees. The air had a pleasant nip and chill that we, residents of the plains, really enjoyed. The river flowed down the slope, silently gurgling its way through the park. The birds returning home chirped and cooed. There were not too many visitors and the near solitude was a rare gift. The best part, however, was the serenity that had settled over the park like a content lullaby.

Meandering aimlessly, we arrived at a small stone pergola beyond which a mini-playground for children had been set up. There was a slide and seesaw that were sitting at a little distance to each other. A swing set had been put up farther away. The architect of the playground, however, had overlooked one crucial fact. This being Dharamshala, the entire park was sitting atop a small hill. So, if you walk for long in one direction, you would reach the edge of some slope or the other. The swing set was installed rather close to one such edge. Nothing that an adult would fall over easily. But if you put kids into equation, the location became a little alarming.

When we arrived at this spot, a local family was already there, enjoying the evening. A grandmother had brought her three little grandchildren – two girls and a boy – to play there. The kids ranged from ages three to six-seven. The sisters were happily occupied at the seesaw, with the grandmother overseeing their antics. The curious and rather intrepid brother approached us strangers, who were watching their shenanigans from the edge of the pergola.

We said “Hello” and smiled at the child. He, in return, said something in a garbled tongue. We asked him to repeat what he was trying to say a couple of times. In the end, the grandmother interpreted his words for us. “He is asking you,” she said, “not to go there. Monkeys hide there.”

“Where?” I asked.

The boy pointed in the direction of the swing set and said, “There.”

We looked at the grandmother in puzzled askance. “The swing is very close to the edge”, she explained. “So, we have told him that there are monkeys near the swing. That acts as a deterrent. Please don’t tell him otherwise.”

I smiled at her in reassurance and was inordinately touched by the little guy’s attempts to warn us of danger. We were people he had never seen before and probably would never see again. And here, he was, trying to save strangers from his own personal bogeyman. 

As I sat there, watching the charming little tableau that the kids presented along with their adoring grandma, the dusk gathered slowly in her arms the last crimson vestiges of the setting sun and left me with a forget-me-not.

I am lucky to have more such gems sprinkled across the expanse of my memory. When these happen to me, I remember that life is not just a mundane chore with me at its grinding centre. When these happen to me, I feel blessed and content. The feeling may be momentary but it is cherished forever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

BBC's Top 100 books

Have been tagged by Scarlett. Given below is the BBC's list of the top 100 books of all time. According to them an average person has read 6 of these books.
I'm marking the ones that I've read...

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserabl
es - Victor Hugo
My count stands at 41..... I am looking to add to it, but like my friend and fellow blogger Supernova, I am surprised too that Ayn Rand does not feature on the list and neither do writers like D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe. And not to forget R K Narayan, who I think, is the best Indian writer of English prose.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


As I bid adieu to one of the most precious people in my life, I find myself, like most other people, dwelling on philosophy. What happens to a person after death? Is there another life? Reincarnation? Or is it simply the end?

For me the questions are not so much about what actually happens and the proof thereof. They are more about what gives me the most comfort – comfort that the one I love is safe and happy. That she is not in any pain. That she has found peace. That she has regained the vitality that disease treacherously stole from her. And that she would always be with me.

As she sits in a regal pose in her photograph and looks out at her large family, her children and grandchildren, I pray and hope that she becomes a star, a shining presence in my conscience, guiding me and my family. That she becomes our guardian angel, always watching over us – proud of our achievements, smiling at our little foolishnesses and holding our hand through difficult times.

So, I will not bid her farewell. I will not say good-bye. Because I believe that she lives on in that world beyond the skies and will do so forever.