Do you remember that book shop owned by William Thacker (Hugh Grant) in the movie Notting Hill? It sold only travel book. When I first saw that movie, I thought “Wow! How many Lonely Planets does he have?” and “Of course he isn’t making profits”! Back then, little did I know about this genre called travel literature and it’s magical powers!
A few years later however, on my last birthday, when my brother and his wife, gifted me my very first travel memoir, From Heaven Lake, by the one and only, Vikram Seth, I felt like I discovered a way to escape to any place I want to. In this book, I escaped to Eastern China and hitch-hiked across my way back to India. I felt, I was practically transported to 1982 China and to all the places Mr. Seth visited. I didn’t read the book, I experienced it.
The the diverse landscape of China, the dry and the cold desert, and the transformation of one into another, the finding of an oasis in the middle of unending inhabitable landmass, and finding unconditional help all along the way; sitting in the comfort of my home I experienced it all.
A noteworthy fact about this book is that, it hardly contains any pictures and the ones that are there, are in greyscale. Despite that, the author has been able to paint a vivid picture of his travelogue in my head. And wait till you web search all the places he has been to, they are all unimaginably beautiful. Yet, amongst all the literary merits and interesting subject matter, it is the author’s wit, that makes this book extraordinary and worthwhile. I couldn’t stop myself from grinning, giggling, chuckling and sometimes breaking into a roaring fit of laughter.
He goes on the explain the geographic diversity of China as well. Since the world climatic zones are arranged in latitudinal bands, a longitudinal journey, i.e. North-South, is likely to be much more varied than a latitudinal one, i.e. East-West journey. In western China the main topographical features are so latitudinal, and this enhances the variety of longitudinal journey. Hence, the sandy deserts, cold plateaus, arid land, pastures, glaciers, rigged mountains and passes. Sounds exciting? Now imagine hitch-hiking your way through it!
Mr. Seth has not only made an account of the physical surroundings, but also succeeded in showing the irony of two neighbouring countries India and China, so close to each other, yet culturally and economically so distant and disagreeable. It makes me wonder how the present-day China is like, maybe I’ll find another more recent travelogue.
In the end, if you want to travel and don’t have the resources or the time to, read a good travel memoir and escape to lands as inaccessible as it may seem; and come back rejuvenated.
Have you ever time travelled? Please share your experience in the comment section below or write to me on the ‘contact’ page.
Please don’t forget to share this with your loved ones 🙂
Have you ever read a classic? It is easier to know if you are reading an older publication. But how do we determine if the newer publication is a classic? I have devised a way! A contemporary classic will have the following few characteristics; first, it will be painful and/or slow read. It will make you question why are reading this book? Secondly, despite it being so, it will push you to read the entire story. Thirdly, it will not at all be dramatic (which means less entertaining!). It will be like our lives, slow and seemingly mundane. Fourthly, it will be devastating in the end. Fifthly, it will change your perspective towards life forever.
Never Let Me Go is one such contemporary pieces of work which won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the year 2017.
Preface of the plot
The book is first hand narrative of an English girl named Kathy in the late 1990’s England. It is about her and her friend’s lives (Ruth and Tommy) who grew up were brought up in a country side boarding school called Halisham for one purpose only- organ donation.
These children’s origin is unknown to them and Halisham. They grow up together in a secluded environment where special emphasis in placed on keeping their internal organs healthy; where they cannot smoke and drink for fun and experiment with their lives, neither can they ever start a family; they are made aware of sex as a physical need, like breathing. Throughout their lives they keep wondering about the strange and mysterious little incidents happening around them, like little remarks by their teachers or memories from Halisham.
Despite believing their lives have been marred by their fate, they somehow inadvertently carry on until they fulfill their purpose and finally realize the real meaning of their lives.
In the plot, organ donation does not hold a central position, it is rather in the background. The story, instead, is about the evolution of these three individuals; it is as insightful as it can get; and certainly incomprehensible without contemplation!
Thoughts about the book: Knowledge and Innocence
The book is suspenseful throughout for the readers and the characters alike. One might feel pretty clueless about the plot most of the time. But considering this is not a drama, that kind of feeling is acceptable.
The book is based on a philosophy and that philosophy can be inferred form the events of the story. That philosophy being, our life has a purpose; everyone has different purposes, and we are to carry them out with or without the knowledge of that being so. When we start our lives, we are innocent, impressionable and completely oblivious of “the big picture of life”. It takes a while to become partly conscious or aware as a person, sometimes it takes a lifetime. However, while we are unwise and naive, we fail to appreciate what we really have, we fail to see the real nature of things, for the very fact that we are ignorant and naive! Expecting ourselves to be wise and enlightened when we are young is unrealistic. But that innocence, lack of wisdom and naivety itself is a gift that we all are in such a hurry to get rid of.
It is inevitable that we will become wiser by our experiences. But the tragedy is that only when we are on the verge of losing what we have or when we have already lost it, is when we finally realize it’s value.
A word ofcaution
There are no short cuts to reading this wonderful book. It cannot be simply read and understood, it demands to be thought over and discussed. The language of the book is simple and devoid of any difficult words, which makes it an easy read prima facie, until you start contemplating.
Neither would it be advisable to watch it’s adaptation before reading the book. The adaptation by the same title is a simplified version of the book, and it goes without say, that the book is always better than the movie!
I would like to thank my very special friend who gifted me this book. I hope you are reading this. Just with this simple book you have completely changed my life and filled my heart with more affection and gratitude for you. Thank you 🙂
Seldom do I choose books which I can read in a couple of days. Being a slow and immersive reader with “heavy” preferences, it is less likely that I stumble across easy reads; and vampire fiction is far from it. In addition to that, I repel even remotely spooky stuff. Clearly I made an exception when I picked this book up.
The Book or the Author?
Let’s get to the “whys” now. Why did I pick this book then? (Drumroll please!) because of the author. The author, Phillip Ernest is a Canadian who grew up in a small town called New Liskeard in Northern Ontario. He learnt Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language similar to Latin and Greek) out of sheer interest and in fact went on to do a PhD in Sanskrit from Cambridge University.
I believe, a person who goes on to learn something new, with no previous family history of it, and excel in it, is extraordinary- an outlier itself. Not only this, he has gained such mastery on the language and understanding of the Indian culture that he wrote this book for the Indian audience, instead of foreign. This was one of the main reasons I picked this book up.
The title Vetala is a Sanskrit word which means a Vampire like supernatural being which is neither dead or alive. The book is based in Pune and the protagonist Nada is a foreign national, doing research on an ancient Indian (Sanskrit) literature (duh! hehe…) but is met with demonic-interventions and she must use her wit to resolve the mystery of the manuscript. Since I have lived in Pune (popularly called Oxford of the East- defintely a misnomer in my opinion) for my University education I can vouch for the fact that the describing of the city and it’s people is quite apt. (no spoilers here!)
The book is full of Sanskrit and Hindi (most popular Indian language) terminologies, with a not-so-long glossary at the back. Most Indians won’t need to use the glossary, however, it is essential for foreign readers.
At one point of time I was tempted to compare this book with other books in the same genre, and even Hindi films. But almost instantly I realized that, that would be huge mistake; just because I am so well acquainted with the Indian culture I was risking taking this work for granted. In reality this book is a result of in-depth knowledge of Indian folklore and beliefs. For instance, a common Indian belief of reincarnation (or re-birth) make a typical Indian more accepting of the present “sufferings”, which they believe is the result of their past life misdeeds. This belief, in fact, is the main premise of this book. This in-fact is one of the main reasons why Indians are generally more accepting of the “status-quo”.
Once again, it is a fairly easy read with a deep connection with Indian folklore and beliefs, which reminds me of stories I grew up listening to; they are spooky, fascinating and definitely entertaining. Moreover, because the book is written by an academician, not a screenplay writer, it has no flimsy content.
I was extremely fortunate to have gotten a chance to meet the author, Phillip Ernest. To my pleasant surprise he a very simple and down to earth person. He is a linguist, an intellectual, who believes that a dying language is one of the most tragic mishaps of contemporary times and is steadfastly devoted to keeping Sanskrit alive.
Death of a language is indeed quite tragic, as it is not only loss of the language itself but the concepts associated to it, the knowledge it contains, the philosophy it contains, the way of life, etc. Losing a language is like loosing a culture altogether and no economical parameter can equate such a loss in monetary terms. In fact, futurists predict that we are under the risk of loosing 3,000 minority languages in the next 10 years.
We are very lucky to have a few people like him who have such beliefs, as it is because of them that minority languages, might be preserved. Languages such as Sanskrit and even popularly used Hindi are under the risk of being completely engulfed by English language.
Yet it is unsurprisingly ironical that, such a person’s belief and noble intentions are not appreciated in India. Although Mr. Ernest who wrote this book for an Indian audience, it was not appreciated by a single publishing house in India until it was well received in his home country.
To sum up, the book is truly fascinating and sometimes bizarre, especially for a non-Indian, as it depicts common Hindu beliefs and folklore. It is definitely a page-turner. For me, the author and his motivation behind this work is more fascinating than the story itself; but for foreigners I think the content of the book would be more attractive.
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This Valentine’s Day I did something unusual. I went on a blind date, but that was not the unusual part, what was unusual was that my date was a book!
Thankfully, the public library near my residence is run by some very clever people. They wrapped up books in brown paper with a few lines of introduction of what our “date” is like and whatever we choose is going to our date. Clever, eh? The idea behind this is to encourage readers to try something we would never usually try.
It so happened that I ended up picking this light yet interesting novel for young adults, titled “Backlash” by Sarah Darer Littleman. It is about two teenage girls, Lara and Bree who used to be best friends in middle school. When Lara is going through bullying, self-image issues, depression, etc, Bree tries to help her cope up, but after repeated failed efforts, she gives up and distances herself from Lara. As they enter High School, roles reverse and Lara, who was struggling and simultaneously working on herself in High School becomes what she aspire to be and Bree on the other hand is suffering this time. Unable to contain her emotions mixed with jealousy, Bree makes some very poor choices. Knowing Lara inside out she decides to take revenge (or vent out her jealousy) by creating a fake Facebook profile, but unfortunately Bree ends up digging her own grave.
It was a dramatic read, and also some cute teenage romance and of course Cyberbullying! It was in fact reminiscent of my own teenage, because like most people I also saw cyberbullies in my school, hiding under the mask of their fake virtual identity. Back then, I was just an ignorant teen, like most people my age and I could not make sense of anything happening around me. But I somehow survived that too and now I am a Lawyer and can not only protect myself and people around me, but can also help you protect yourself.
Do’s and Don’ts of your cyber activity
Know your rights. Like it is a crime to assault someone, cyberbullying is also a a crime. Cyberbullying is most probably a punishable offence in your country which could include jail time and/or other serious consequences against the perpetrator. Even if it not a punishable offence in your country, it is certainly against the terms and conditions of most social media sites; which means the offender is in serious trouble. So don’t be afraid of such bullies, they are the ones who should be afraid instead.
Don’t be afraid to share such incidents with your close friends and family as they can help you.
If you feel someone engages in similar activities like cyberbullying, spreading fake news or hateful content, stay away from them as much as possible- virtually as well as physically. Most importantly, inform your peer and above about it immediately.
Avoid realtime update of your (or other people’s) personal activity as it can lead to cyber assisted crimes;
Avoid publicly criticizing or taunting anyone on social media;
Do NOT record anyone’s activity without their permission and obviously do NOT post it or threaten to post it online- even for fun;
Avoid making friends online, because they generally tend to be quite different from what you perceive them to be;
Never open up to a stranger online, there are plenty of people around you who love you and would treasure your company. If however, you still decide to do so, make sure you don’t divulge details of your personal life to them. Most importantly, be wary of emotionally investing in such relationships;
Last but not the least, don’t falsely accuse anyone of being a cyberbully, as it can be a Backlash.
Remember, your inaction can help the potential offender, who will one day find someone else to hurt. And.. “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” (-Edmund Burke).
PS- Please share this with your loved ones. And if you enjoyed reading this post, subscribe to my blog for some thoughtful write-ups 🙂
It all started when I unexpectedly traveled to Mumbai and unexpectedly stayed there for about two months. Living there (or anywhere) with any book is simply impossible for me. So I checked my to-read list and decided to purchase War & Peace. It got delivered on the 10th of September, 2016 and my enthusiasm got sublimed within minutes. The size of the book was bigger than my Constitutional Law book. I felt an adrenaline rush, my brain was numbed. I sat down in the sofa, sipped some water, and kept staring the book. There were no voices in my head.
For days to come I would just wake up every morning, look at my book for 10-15 minutes and say nothing to it or myself. I started reading my niece’s old history books. The one with a lot of pictures, the one she used to read when she was 11.
After about 10 days, when I was silently staring at the book, I said to myself, (in Raskolnikov’s Russian accent) “What have I done? Why did I do this to myself?” My sister and her entire family started to laugh at me when I would just sit and stare at the book. And after a couple of days, I finally opened the book.
One afternoon, when I was all alone, I sat on the dining table and started reading. I read about 5 pages and understood nothing and within minutes I dozed off. After a couple of days, I read upto 20 pages and again slept on the book. The next time I opened the book, after a gap of 2-3 days, there was nothing I could remember and page 21 was not comprehensible. I went back to staring my book for a few days and repeated the above process four times. It was the fifth time that I read about 20 pages and got a hang of it, I even went to to read till page 22 and could comprehend and not fall asleep.
And THAT is when I finally started reading War & Peace.
How to read War & Peace
This is one of the most notable and much celebrated works of Leo Tolstoy. It is divided into four volumes and it could be overwhelming for some of us (like me) considering it’s size, volume and simply because it’s Leo Tolstoy’s book. Following are some tips for how to read this book or the like-
1. Get used to the book.
Flip through, go through the contents, read the covers, about the author and other such short paragraphs in the beginning of the book. Accept the fact that you are going to read the book. Keep the book around yourself, so that you get to see the book every now and then. After getting used to the book, it won’t seem like a mountain. You’d start seeing it like a readable book, maybe not that big after all!
2. The Russian names!
In the beginning of the book there is a list of important characters. The list constitutes about 35 Russian names, which are difficult to pronounce at least for an average Indian. Well that’s not it; every Russian name has 4-5 variations. The name, the second name, the title, and the additional list of nick names. For example-
COUNT NIKOLAI ILYICH (Nikolushka, Nikolenka, Kolya, Nicolas, Coco)
Now this person Nikolai could be addressed with any of the above names, depending upon the situation and who is addressing him. He is also sometimes called by his father’s name, i.e. ROSTOV. So don’t be surprised if you have read about 100 pages and yet don’t recognize the character.
The solution is to keep referring to the list of characters often. Also creating a mental picture of each an every character would help (that would automatically happen, with Tolstoy’s description!)
3. Be patient with yourself and with the book.
This is one of the most amazing book you are going to read. It might be very different from anything you have come across until now. Learn to appreciate the book, the writing style, imagine the author’s dedication, hard work and research to be able to come up with this; countless people who have translated this voluminous book into different languages.
4. Read regularly.
The writing style of the book requires you to read this book regularly; even if it is one page a day. It doesn’t matter how many pages you’ve covered, if you don’t read it on a regularly, you might just forget everything and might have to restart. (gasp!)
Most importantly, always remember, You don’t read War & Peace, you live it. So don’t just read it, breath it, taste it and get lost in Tolstoy’s vivid work.
PS: I write my blogs with a lot of effort and passion, so if you enjoyed it don’t forget to follow it, like and share it among your friends as it’s my only incentive. And for any queries, comments or if disagree with me don’t forget to write to me in the comment section below and I would love to reply to it. Thank you
Shakespeare’s Hamlet recently caught my attention. When someone mentioned this phrase, “To be or not to be” I couldn’t help but purchase the book. I already knew about the tragic story of Hamlet, where his father is murdered by his uncle and his mother marries his uncle too soon. Hamlet is devastated, and in fact considered a lunatic by many. That’s when he eventually considers the question,
To be, or not to be- that is the question;
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The sling and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep-
Meaning, whether to kill his uncle and take revenge or to suffer all his life with the pain of reality.
The thing we need to consider is that, the question, to be or not to be has always been and is there in our lives. To take revenge or not to take revenge, to forgive or not to forgive, to be with family or not, to tell the truth or not, to pee or not to pee (hehehe) It is an everyday question that will haunt every human being forever.
Hamlet is considered as Shakespeare’s most enigmatic work- ‘the most problematic play ever written by Shakespeare or any other playwright (Levin, 1956). And I agree, in my free time, I often think about Hamlet and ponder upon the classic question, To be or not to be!
Favorite phrases from Hamlet
It is debated in literary circles about the originality of some of these proverbs. Some of them are considered to be preexisting and merely made popular by Shakespeare, while some are invented by him. (I haven’t mentioned it here, for I don’t want to bore you). I haven’t even done this literary analysis of these phrases.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses itself and a friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
Brevity is the soul of wit
To be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man pick’d out of ten thousand
for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
conscience does make cowards of us all;
Ophelia: ‘Tis brief, my lord
Hamlet: As woman’s love
Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;
Most necessary ‘tis that we fought
To pay ourselves what ourselves in debt.
For ‘tis a question left us yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune or else fortune love.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
I must be cruel only to be kind;
When sorrow come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions!
Importance of Shakespeare in our lives today
William Shakespeare has been influencing our language and our lives since the last 450 years; whether you know it or not. I feel it’ll be interesting to know more about it. Not reading Shakespeare is like having a secret garden in your home and not knowing about it and neither wanting to know about it (some might disagree with me, but read on).
William Shakespeare a.k.a the man of all times; it means, for instance, there are some movies we love as a kid. But after few years when we grow older, we think how lame it is. Likewise there are some books or stories which we liked as a kid or kids in 16th Century liked it, but now they’ve become completely obsolete. In case of William Shakespeare, those stories written centuries ago are still relevant today, and will be in the coming centuries, I bet.
He invented about 1700 words in English, by changing nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, using never before used prefixes and suffixes, etc. For example, I came across this interesting word while reading Hamlet,
And for my means, I’ll husband them so well
They shall go far with little.
Now here, what is the meaning of husband? The word husband is used in a verb form which now means, use resources economically. This is
Not only this, Shakespeare also inspired other novelists like (notably) Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner and many more.
However, I’m a person of many contradictions! I’m also of the opinion that, Shakespeare is full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores. Then why are his plays so popular and praised world wide? Where does this idea come from that Shakespeare was the man of all times and his plays are universal?
Shakespeare’s popularity: a colonial strategy?
There is no doubt about how much English language owes to Shakespeare. But could there be any other reason for Shakespeare’s popularity other than literary merit? Is it that our respective ancient literature books are so deficient that we have to adapt the literature of a foreign origin? Maybe the answer lies in the colonial strategy of using cultural dominance as a weapon for increasing their dominance.
Cultural imperialism, with the help of cultural commodities, i.e. products of the print and audio visual industries was and is used as a strategy for transmission of ideas, values and ideologies; this is often seen as corrosive to the recipient culture.
The life time of Shakespeare was also the time when European nations where the rising imperialistic powers who were facing the challenge of thriving Indian economy (there could be other counties as well, but I’m only aware of India) and to counter the same they used Cultural Imperialism as one of their strategies. Shakespeare (with all due respect) was a powerful tool for spreading the “apparent Doctrine of European Cultural Superiority”.
Shakespeare’s plays, if one reads for the first time will (most probably) find it hard to grasp; firstly because of the early modern English (Shakespearean Language) and secondly, because every play leaves a huge scope for the director and the actors of the play to inject as much creativity as they can. Meaning, by solely reading the play one may (most probably) not really understand the essence of the play or the emotion (or the madness of character).
Therefore to really enjoy Shakespeare’s work, one must obviously read the book, and then watch it’s play, enact it’s play or watch an adaptation. And that will make the entire experience unforgettable.
The most notable performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which is being talked about internationally is Barbican’s Hamlet being performed at the National Theater, London, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This play has no recordings yet and has only been telecasted live in selected counties at selected venues (which I missed 😦 ). I do hope they’ll record it in the near future.
Hamlet has also been adopted in a number of movies, such as, Lion King (1994). Indian Film Industry’s Haider is a brilliant adaptation of the play. One might not be able to appreciate it if oblivious about Hamlet. Vishal Bharadwaj’s insightful direction and impeccable acting has done a creative job in portraying the madness, darkness, wit and passion of each and every character. (Please watch if you haven’t)
About the author- William Shakespeare himself
I didn’t do the tedious task of writing about his life, when BBC has done it so well. (hehehe)
It is said that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be enacted and not read. Unlike some schools, Shakespeare was not really a part of my syllabus, except a part of the Julies Cesar. Luckily my teacher asked us to enact it, but despite that it never made an impact on me. I still don’t remember a thing.
I am of the view that Shakespeare shouldn’t be really forced on school kids, it hardly makes an impact on kids especially the way it’s taught. If it’s enacted properly with the help of some teachers and the right kind of emphasis is give to it, instead of just for passing exams, it would be a great learning and memorable experience for them.
PS: I write my blogs with a lot of effort and passion, so if you enjoyed it don’t forget to follow it, like and share it among your friends as it’s my only incentive. And for any queries, comments or if disagree with me don’t forget to write to me in the comment section below and I would love to reply to it. Thank you 🙂