Monday, November 28, 2016

The Perfect Winter Read

"There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price."

- Colleen McCullough
(The Thord Birds, Page 422, 30th Anniversary Edition)

What are your expectations from winters? Mine are rather simple. Warmth. Whether it comes via a fond conversation over drinks, or through mid-morning strolls in the beautiful monuments of Delhi. Or through a book which makes you forget all else as you plunge nose-deep into it's world of romance. Along with a steaming cup of Earl Grey as you lie limp wrapped in a blanket. 

While the first two expectations I am still working on, the last got fulfilled through the most gorgeous read which was literally thrust into my hands by the very sweet librarian at Shiv Nadar School, Gurgaon. Titled 'The Thorn Birds', I had no idea it was every bit the literary classic I had wanted to lay my hands on since long. It just looked thick, and good enough to hide behind the pages off for a while. And so, I grabbed it and began turning pages at the solemn pace the story demands out of a reader. 

It is not a page turner - a book like this never can be. It is a tale which makes you shut the covers once in a while to reflect, not necessarily on the contents of the story, but perhaps on the universal condition and experience of humans and humanity. It doesn't make you feel wretched; but it makes you realise how equal a participant you are in the inescapable suffering and pain which comes packaged with life. It makes you belong to this world, in its tribulations, if not the triumphs. 

But this is not all why I enjoyed reading the book. I loved it because it churned the ordinary into grand. To call it a love-story between Meggie Cleary and Ralph de Bricassart would be too less. It is a life story extending to three generations, taking the reader painstakingly through every detail, every season, every loss, and every minute of maturing which the characters undergo. It contains characters who are not shy of evolving or altering. These characters - people - respond not to their impulsive vows bound in time and situations, but to life itself. They respond to fears, tragedies, prospects and desires just like we would. It is fabulous to see how at the end, you can actually pin-point all incidents which led to the complex layers that have evolved within each character. That, dear friends, is very, very fine writing. 

A tall, imposing presence in the text is that of Drogheda - the land on which most of the story is based. Even when the tale ventures beyond the land and sea, Drogheda remains conspicuous by its absence. What is profound about this spatial dimension is that just when you are led into believing that there is a permanence which we all must return to, you're made to realise that such permanence can never be earthly. It has to be divine. It has to be of the realm beyond. 

The author - Collen McCullough - who died aged 77 last year.
And finally, the one reason the book will stay with me is because it taught me to see fulfilment in tragedies. It makes you believe that you may begin with a love story, and end up with another. It showed me how answers come to those who believe, not to those who doubt. And also because it, unerringly, and non-judgmentally, brought up the beautiful discrepancies as they exist between genders - through the upbringing, conditioning and also, intuitively perceiving the world. 

Like I said, calling this a love story would be too less. It is a story of lives - many lives, lived and lost. Most certainly recommended to all looking for something replete with grand ordinariness, and ordinary grandeur. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Moments of Epiphany

I have not written since a long time. I have made plans. Elaborate lists with themes. I have created full length stories in my head. I have saved pictures to write poems on. I have clicked images of people and their characters in my head. All for the sake of someday returning to Nascent Emissions and penning them all down, but each week presented a new picture of my own failure to my head. The amount of stories I have now hoarded inside me is nothing short of criminal. And the curious part is, it is not a crime against humanity, so much as it is a sin against my own heart which has now grown heavy, very heavy with the weight of all that is untold, and unshared.

Today, however, something triggered a change, forcing me to open my laptop, even though the hours are late and office time near. I had planned on sleeping the entire day - thanks to the constant dizziness caused by the Delhi smog, till I remembered a commitment. Two very sweet girls - Ditsa and Pushpangana had invited me over to give a short talk at their monthly get-togethers to encourage prose writers. They call their endeavour - Euphoric Epiphanies - a complex name signifying a very basic human urge, that to write and then to share what has been written with so much heart and labour. Of course, in the presence of a warm and receptive audience.

So I dragged myself out, reached the meet-up an hour late with an itchy throat and itchier head (thanks, again, to the Delhi smog), and was given a fabulous welcome note (most of which I missed), post which I shared a little something on prose-and-poetry writing. The writers who had collected at the spot, the beautiful Hauz Khas Monument Complex, gave me more than their ears, when they engaged in a discussion about what they find more solace in - prose or poetry. Surprisingly, most of them found poetry to be their calling, since prose demanded more 'effort', or did not come as naturally to them. While for the latter reason, I feel convinced, I am nowhere as satisfied with writers taking to a form of writing because it is easier. Poetry demands as much, if not more effort, because of the gravitas of thoughts and the unity of meaning which a poet constantly aspires towards while churning out lyrics in the most apt words, with music, and with metaphors yet to be unravelled and understood by the world.

I also read aloud my favourite prose passage from a book titled Ammi - Letters to a Democratic Mother, authored by Saeed Akhtar Mirza. The excerpt dwelt upon the simple, yet profound love story of the author's parents - Nusrat Beg and Jahanara Begum. In the simplicity of that tale, I know many hearts felt the weight of their own heaviness lift off.

It was already a very fulfilling day, but became grand when I received a special handmade gift from the organisers (I love gifts - always remember that!). Ditsa and Pushpangana (and Tavishi) put together a little box crafted like a book for me. This box/book was titled 'Nascent Emissions', and this is when I realised how others still remember what I have conveniently forgotten. With over 230 posts, this blog has chronicled most of me, through the best and worst of times. And thanks to the kindness shown by the girls, I had to get back here and pen a little of whatever I could. Truth be told, a lot came to me in life because of this virtual collection of very personal writings - my first writing assignments, as well as a little recognition in the world of bloggers. This blog, in fact, also served as the live portfolio for my first job!

So, thank you Ditsa, Pushpangana and Tavishi, for putting together this heartwarming labour of love. I would keep it very close to my heart. Thank you also for the pretty bookmarks with prettier quotes on them - all of which, by the way, are my favourites! How do you people know me so well? Cyber stalking, eh? And those notes on coffee smeared pages - sigh! How do I even begin to say how loved they made me feel?

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Continue doing pretty things to make our smog-ridden world a more tolerable place to live in. And thank you, yet again, for shoving the words 'Nascent Emissions' in my face, and having me land up back here, happily!

I hope the associations forged today continue a tad longer :)