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. 

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