"A room without books is like a body without a soul." ~ Cicero.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." ~ Cicero.
"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." ~ Groucho Marx

Friday, June 25, 2010

Storytelling at its Best

I don't think I am qualified enough to write about this book and this authoress. But I am tempted all the same as I love her writing-- her "Namesake" went straight to the heart and her "Unaccustomed Earth" kindles the soul. I got hold of this book in May last year at a bookshop at the Mumbai Airport on my way back to Kolkata from Goa. 
It is a collection of stories - stories that have the wonderful Jhumpa Lahiri flavor. The book is named after its first story of Part One, Unaccustomed Earth. The way Lahiri writes about the dilemmas, crises, insecurities and pressures of the people who have gone from India to settle in an "unaccustomed earth", the way her poignant stories portray how the vast differences between the within and the without haunt them is exquisite.

I guess, I have always been able to relate to Lahiri's stories better, as a part of my family had gone and settled in the US years ago(long long before my birth) and I have had my uncle and aunt and cousins visit us here in Kolkata during my childhood and adolescence. 

After enjoying the first story, I had skipped to the third one, titled "A Choice of Accommodations". I had read the second story "Hell-Heaven" earlier in an issue of Graphitti. The poignant tale had haunted me for days and I wanted to read it later. 

I was unwell and kept the book aside to resume reading it later. That "later" came only a week back, when I dug the book up from a pile of books and magazines, dusted it and started reading "Hema and Kaushik" - throughout the three stories, "Once in a Lifetime", "Year's End" and "Going Ashore" I was reminded of what Lahiri does to her readers. Her characters are so true and dignified- her characters are all so real! One moment I knew how Hema felt and the other moment I could feel what Kaushik went through. The stories are churned out of life and they linger with us.

Sudha and Rahul of "Only Goodness", Sang, Farouk, Paul of "Nobody's business" are people I got to know and understand intimately. Their lives, situations and stories- their strengths and weaknesses- their fears and worries are our own. The world today has become too small and the boundaries and differences have blurred. A reader sitting at any corner of the world today would be able to identify with Sang and Sudha, would be able to see through Farouk and Rahul, would be able experience the upheavals that the families experience.

I went on with the "Choice of Accommodations" before I started with "Hell-Heaven" last night just after dinner. I stormed through it just as I had the first time when it was published in the Kolkata periodical and it was over in around 40 minutes. This story of Usha's mother and Pranab Kaku, Usha and Deborah still remains my favorite. I was surprised to see how well I remembered it from the first time I read it

As I have said earlier, it would be inappropriate of me to say anything about Jhumpa Lahiri's literary talents. She has a refined prowess of the language and her art of storytelling is flawless. She is undoubtedly one of the best writers we have today!

Trivia: The paperback I read is a Random House India (www.randomhouseinda.co.in) publication. It was a winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a New York Times, Time and Outlook book of the year. Priced Rs 295, this paperback is nothing but priceless.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I remembered the rainbows I have lost

I finished reading "Where Rainbows End" by Cecelia Ahern, a few days back. I had bought this book from a cheap bookstore in Golpark, the same day I got myself "Johnny Gone Down".

This 592-paged novel is written entirely in an epistolary fashion and it comprises of only letters, e-mails, online instant messages, texts, birthday greetings, travel postcards and some newspaper articles. This was my first meeting with the epistolary structure and the idea appealed to me- maybe because there was a time when I loved writing letters- maybe because there was a time when I loved messaging.

Cecelia had intended this story to be a tale of fate and destiny - how two soul mates journey through life and finally find their ways to each other amidst myriad changes of fortune. But, I felt, at some points the story became a bit forced. The way the authoress was molding the two journeys was often becoming obvious and predictable. This beautiful story could have been more beautiful- had Cecelia kept certain things subtle- had she made certain surprises more incredible and certain twists more ironical- had she made certain flow of events less predictable.

The cobweb that destiny often spins by bringing people together and taking them apart and keeping love alive through ups and downs has been well portrayed by Cecelia. But it could have been better.

The writing at places is beautiful and at places pretty mediocre. Of all the characters, the reader obviously befriends Rosie and Alex, the two principal ones. I also loved the characters of Katie and Rosie's parents. One with Rosie's kind of destiny indeed needs parents like those. The relation between Rosie and Katie also earns a special place in the reader's mind.

Of all the letters, emails and messages the novel is made up of, Alex's letter that reached Rosie after so many years and Mr. Dunne's letter that reached Rosie after his death were the two that touched me the most! I read the latter a number of times!
Some exchanges between Rosie and Stephanie were very moving. I could identify with the friendship that they shared.

All in all, it is an enriching story for emotional and romantic people who believe in soul mates and who have still not lost faith in love!! Those of us who know how destiny plays games with people who love each other are bound to relate to this story.

I think younger readers will love this story more!

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Epic

I start this post with a nagging worry about whether I would be able to do justice to the book I am going to write about.

My uncle (whom I call Jethu) visited us from the US on the occasion of my brother's wedding in early 2006. He was carrying Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner with him - I guess he was reading it on his flight. He left the book with me the day he returned.

The book engaged me from the first sentence itself. The highly dramatic and intriguing story unfolds step by step mesmerizing the readers with the tale of Amir and Hassan, Ali and Amir's Baba, Sohrab and Soraya. This enchanting story of friendship and betrayal, trust and loyalty, sacrifice and penance, fate and destiny engrossed me to its core and drifted my mind away from the real life around me.

For the first couple of days after I started reading the book, I became oblivious of the pangs of returning to the mundane everyday life after the boisterous wedding ceremony. While I toiled at work, my mind yearned to be in my bedroom reading The Kite Runner from where I had left it.

It can be called an epic - it can be named a saga. I do not think many readers have been able to race through this book. It is HEAVY. If you have to soak in this work of Hosseini in its entirety, you have to proceed slowly. Many a times, you would want to pause, go back and re-read a particular section. Many a times you would recite a particular sentence in your mind, allowing your mind to sip it with all its richness.

I could relate myself so much with Hassan - one who means every word he ever says - one who has utmost loyalty towards his friends and loved ones.The value that he attached to his friendship with Amir was more than that he attached to his life or to his honor. When he said, "for you, a thousand times over".. he did not need to exaggerate, or pretend, or try hard. He meant it and lived it with his heart and soul, with every bit of his self!!
People like Hassan, never get value for their commitment - people like Hassan are betrayed and hurt the most. Hassan was betrayed the most, but his love for his Amir Agha never decayed.

Khaled Hoseini is a writer of the highest quality who transforms the reader to a different world altogether. The tale is so haunting and poignant, that the essence remains with you for months and years to come. The story ties the reader in its cobweb, refusing to let go!

When I finished reading the book, it took me a lot of time to take myself out from its aura. I wondered whether I have ever read anything like this before.. whether I would ever read anything like this again!

"For you, a thousand times over" - kept echoing in my mind again and again!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Quite a story!!!

Have any of you read "Johnny Gone Down" by Karan Bajaj?

Those who have read it will understand my dilemma - I don't know how to categorize this book - whether to call it a thriller, or a suspense fiction, a philosophical story on life, or simply a greatly entertaining and engrossing story of a person called Nikhil Arya!

If I have to describe this book in a single word, I will only say "extraordinary!". I congratulate Karan Bajaj for "Johnny Gone Down" - he deserves accolades for conceiving and plotting such a story. He is an excellent storyteller -- the pace and the vivacity with which this story flows is incredible. The only time I felt impatient and wished for Nikhil's sufferings to end, I found Nikhil running into Sam and his life undergoing magical changes soon thereafter. Bajaj is very intelligent no doubt - he knows when to stop and change the direction of the story.

Nikhil's understanding and application of Gautam Buddha's ideals and philosophies and the teachings of Gita (the karma yogi bit advocated by Ishmael) take the appeal of the story to a different level.
The thing I loved the most was the message that Bajaj conveyed - if your life follows a route completely different from your peers, there is a reason behind it - your peers were made for their lives and you were made for the life that destiny gave you- you were not cut out for the life that any of your peers lead. When we see ourselves drifting from the planned paths blown away by the strange storms of life, we ask : why me? If everyone else can have a good job, a happy marriage and a peaceful life, why not me? When we stand even behind the starting line and see our peers having a successful career with huge bank balances, we start searching for reasons for ending up differently.
The reason is that we were meant to be different - there is nothing wrong with us.. neither do we lack anything - we were meant to live the life we live --- This is what Nikhil's story tells us.

Nikhil had applied Ishmael's karma yogi philosophy wherever he went and whatever he did. He worked with his heart and soul and kept himself completely aloof from the results. Money never meant anything to him. His selflessness earned him priceless friends for whom he ended up where he finally did.
He had gone to such pits of despair, he could have ended his life any moment - but he did not - he went on learning new things and trying new things with all his might and did not get off the bus.. he kept on journeying through the tremors and the volcanoes.. and finally the bus took him home to Lara and his child, to peace and love, to sleep and dreams.
Such a message coming from an young writer like Karan Bajaj, deserves praise. Live life, take whatever it has to offer, do not question and do not seek.. you will understand the purpose of it all at the end. As the addict in the homeless shelter said-- if you look closely you will only see unraveled threads.. if you look from a distance of time you will see the pattern!

Of all the variedly interesting episodes of Nikhils's life, I loved the Rio episode the most - maybe because of Marco and the vibrant life around - maybe because it was in Rio that Nikhil found love in Lara!

It will be unfair to Karan Bajaj's literary talents if I do not put in a special word for it. He writes beautifully! The book is a treasure trove of some wonderful expressions, phrases and sentences that will remain etched in the readers' minds for long!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I have been looking for P.S., I Love You by Cecelia Ahern since long - Got hold of it last Tuesday at a cheap bookstore in Golpark - time flew after I started reading it - when I read the last bit of it on Tuesday(this week) evening, I could not remember when was the last time that I have completed a 500-page book in a week!!

I thought the writing was extraordinary in parts.. and pretty mediocre in others.. but the story is a wonderful one!! It is just THE thing for emotional people like me - I could relate with it so so much!! At times, I was wondering - How come the writer has penned my thoughts and feelings so vividly- at times, it was indeed like reading my own diary -- Holly's feelings, thoughts, dilemmas, insecurities, and a lot more seemed so similar to mine -- not often do we get our hands on a book with which we can identify so much!!

Holly's journey is a journey that many of us make - single and lonely in a world full of couples - with memories of happier times with someone who is no longer with us for some reason or the other - clinging on to the past and not wanting to move on - not knowing how to feel when siblings and friends go through life's happy milestones - some of us shut ourselves in our gloomy shells, others try to live life with an open mind - some sure that life will have something to offer us too - some very unsure of everything...
It indeed helps to have letters like those Gerry left Holly- things which can help us to hang in there, to go through the unbearably dark days with something to hold on to, to have something to look forward to! But not all are as lucky to have such a guide-- they have to be their own guides, I guess..

I must thank Cecelia Ahern for a story like P.S., I Love You - I could not have read it at a better time -- I felt a strange void when I came to the end of it --It has been a good friend telling me things which my real friends may sometimes hesitate to tell me...