Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mull Foon Chronicles

I don't travel much, generally, in life. The last month, however, was one in which I hardly stuck around in Delhi. I touched the beaches of Kerala, the locals of Mumbai, the dunes of Jaisalmer, and finally, the hills of Kumaon. All in a month - different terrains, different people, different motivations and different takeaways.

Each time I am back in Delhi, I have a standard homecoming ritual. Proud as I might be of my eccentric nomadic nerves, coming back home always brings with it an air of relief. The body eases off, the mind gets reflective and heart prepares itself to get wrapped in the comfort of that familiar blanket. But I was talking of my homecoming ritual, which includes two things. First, eating a 12-inch Subway sandwich. I've never been able to understand why, but I HAVE to do this. Must have something to do with subs being my original comfort food through college life. And the second is gathering at CP with a few familiar faces to hog in McDonald's and digest later with a roadside chai at Barakhamba.

Only this time, I felt compelled for neither of these. Homecoming did not happen because I never felt I left my dwelling in the first place. And this has to do a lot with both, the people and the place I went over to.

Faraway Renz, a resort close to the remote village of Falsaun, up in the Kumaon Hills, is idyllic. Secluded, calm and aglow with comfort, I have come to love this place post my first visit there last September, upon the invitation of Dipankar Mukherjee, a dear friend and the co-owner of the Renz. At that time, we had gathered to share and discuss poetry. This time, we gathered to share and discuss some bit of life. And the experience was, strangely enough, calming and overwhelming at the same time.

Among the most magical moments these hills present to you are the surreal spectacles of sunrise and moonrise. Since rising early is a chronic inability, gazing at the emerging moon is what I had to make peace with. From deep darkness, the sky turns the mildest shade of orange from the place the moon is planning to surface. It then peeks out, first looking like a distant glowing bulb with orange filament, till it captivates you with its steady ascent and enlarging beauty. It devours the stars in its vicinity as it announces it proud arrival. And for the two minutes it takes to become a whole, it keeps you intensely hypnotised. There, up in the hills, we become quiet, still, to breathe in this surreal sight, even as intensely cold winds tickle.

And then, as a post-ode to the lunar delight, we display our lunacy by singing all moon-songs we can think of! Old, new and innovated/improvised, our repertoire of music is fascinating. Throughout such moments of togetherness, I've been glad to notice and absorb, what a wonderful role music plays in cementing moments and memories. Be it impromptu singing around the bonfire, or a planned and curated cheap-gaanon-ki-list in the car - memories tend to have background music in my head. Do they, in yours?

Drives on semi-dangerous roads to playing cricket in the room; foolishly exposing yourself to the cold winds to getting lost in eskimo jackets; devouring plates-full of pakoras to swooning over local momos; and finding courageous moments to share intensely personal thoughts to crossing over into night-time shenanigans which are best left up there, in the hills - I had the most perfect time, which the most loving bunch of people I have met in life.

I do not know what stroke of fortune had perched itself on my shoulder when I decided to call the first poetry gathering, but two years later, I know how rich poetry has made my life not just the with magic of literature, but also with the glow of genuinely good people.

Each of my four trips had specific crescendos I will remember them by. This last one, however, was a continuous hum of relaxed happiness; and so that it doesn't fade away into some complacent corner of the brain, I thought it best to write it down.

Nimisha, Smriti, Utkarsh, Sakshi, Aniket, Prateek and Solanki - thanks a bunch!

PS - Let's do this again, soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


We're both
You and I
Packets of conflict
Which we've somehow learnt
To package within
The warm comfort
Of chaos
And cohabitation.

We're both
You and I
Within our respective set ups
Of repute and fulfilment
The flakes of which erode
As we dunk
Head first
In our tentative hooks of attachment.

We're both
You and I
Seeing through this shallow
Groping world
And within the counted hours
Of agitated murmurs
Do we find the sanity
Of shared dissent.

We're both
You and I
Ready to fly
Unto the horizons
Of risings dawns
And calming twilight
For too much light
Was never our turf
To play out the game of life

We're both
Getting by
On truth and a lie
Unhinged from our reality
But necessary for theirs.
Our existence only counts them
As expressions
If well uttered.
Our truth encompasses
The need to lie
To keep palaces of love
And lustre

We're both
Sitting aloof
Under a common roof
Of practiced codes.
We're drilling
Endless skies of imagination
Within these roofs of convention.
Our belonging is in pristine secrecy
Unhindered by mores
Undefined by the knowns.

We're both,
Both brave and naive
And hence lethal
To conditioning
And evolution
Of mimetic contours and edges.
We're tracing our own
Eclectic filigree
Of infrequent passion
Subsumed by over-awing need
To be different people
Within the same
Conventions of chivalry.

We're both
Breaking conventions
By upholding chivalry.
Our rebellion is quiet
Lit by clandestine glee
In the warm glow of which
We carve a sub-realm
Of demands and unrealistic dreams.
Realism was never our cup
Or perhaps it was
Not that china held in dainty hands
But one gurgling on wobbly beams.

We’re both
Evolution’s pride
And each other’s private nightmares
Full to breaking with intensity
We know our lust for creativity
Can subsume.
We’re yellow today
And red tomorrow
And blue in distance
And golden each rise of morrow.

We are
Our private griefs
Shared from a distance
For the insistence
On owning our misery
Is absolute.
Our misery makes us whole
Our love breaks us
Into miserable quarters
Of timepieces set wrong.

We’re both
Accepted by the obtuse
And scorned by the obvious.
We’re both
Silenced by conversations
And stirred by observations.
We’re both
Traced by the confused

And rejected by definitions.

Source - Wallpaper Craft

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

All of the 97 that I Read - Nano Reviews

While others do, I never like calling myself a manic reader. I am, if anything, a consistent reader. However little, I read each day. Long metro rides help. A marginally fast reading ability helps too. The need to savour words before I retire for the day definitely helps a lot. My world comprises others who read, inquire about and engage with the written word. All that I read, hence, finds convenient zones of sharing and reflection, which makes time spent with a book all the more special. A combination of all such favourable factors and my own undeterred commitment to the written word led me to reading 58 books last year (2015), and 97 this time around!

In a rare act of bravery, I am chronicling each book I read here in this post. If your views differ or converge, or if you'd like to lead me onto another track from these pages, do make use of the comment box!

(Caveat - I read very few current books. You'll find old, random, musty titles here.)

1. For One More Day by Mitch Albom

The last gift of 2015 became my first read of 2016, and it was a pretty tale themed on love, emotions, mortality, and perhaps redemption. However, I would not label this Albom's best - Tuesdays with Morrie and Five People You Meet in Heaven are far better reads. Average, not something I would shove into your hands.

2. The Broken Boat by Nitin Soni

Bias Alert - This is the debut book of a dear friend, Nitin, so I approached it with tinted eyes. And guess what, no surprises, I really liked what this boy had pulled off! I would make recommendations here, but, at the very least, his work deserves a look, for sure. And loads of good wishes given that his novel is around the corner.

3. इश्क़ में माटी सोना - गिरीन्द्र नाथ झा

रवीश कुमार का लप्रेक पढ़ने के बाद, मुझे इस किताब काफ़ी उम्मीद थी , पर 'इश्क़ में शहर होना'  के मुकाबले  बहुत कमज़ोर लगी। कहानियां सादा थीं, और ऐसे पल जो मन में घर कर जाएँ , उनका निर्माण  करने में असक्षम रहीं। ठीक ही थी।

4. The Japanese Wife by Kunal Basu

This is surreal prose. Slow, simple, nonchalant, but with strands of emotions and drama with easily envelops you. Each story of the book is an intense journey within human hearts, but the titular story takes the cake. There is also a movie starring Rahul Bose which has been made on the titular story - as beautiful as the story itself. Highly recommended. Here is your chance to dig and bury yourself in beautiful human sentiments.

5. Leela by Leela Naidu (with Jerry Pinto)

It is a book high on literary merit and very beautifully written, but where I lost myself a little was on the context. Or rather, the lack of it. Had I known Leela Naidu and her work, I am sure I would've enjoyed the narrative manifolds more. Still, however, I ended up with so much respect and admiration for the lady. It does make one curious about why I picked the book in the first place - the name of the co-author explains it. Jerry Pinto is easily a writer I can pick and devour blindly.

6. साये में धूप  - दुष्यन्त कुमार

दुष्यंत कुमार के बारे में काफ़ी सुना  था, पर यह इस ग़ज़लकार की पहली किताब है जो मैंने पूरी पढ़ने का साहस किया। कुछ कृतियाँ बहुत सुन्दर थीं, पर मोटे-तौर पर यह किताब मुझे निराशाजनक लगी। मुझे ग़ज़ल पढ़ने से ज़्यादा भूमिका पढ़ने में आनंद आया।

7. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

This is a horror novella by the author, which I had to read because of a theatre related project. A classic Gothic tale, it contains death and macabre aplenty, and since the genre is detached from what I naturally like reading, I had to drag myself through it. Having said that, I know the literary merit of the book is high, because of the way the plot leads the reader on - almost flawlessly constructing that macabre atmosphere in the reader's head.

8. A Twist in the Tale by Jeffrey Archer

Very disappointing - could guess the ends of most of the tales, thus rendering the 'twist' useless. My year began with rather disappointing reads.

9. उपसंहार - काशीनाथ सिंह

(Giving up the pretence that I can write in Hindi rather early) This was a great read, both, given to the imagination in its narrative, as well as my proclivity for stories constructed out of the Mahabharata. Here, Kashinath Singh tells the story of an ageing Krishna, who returned to Dwarka after winning the Kurukshetra war, but was rather defeated in the eyes of his own people and the city. From his return, to his dismal last days - a beautiful reconstruction of what might have been. Recommended!

10. Pulp by Charles Bukowski

Useless. I never thought I would say this, but toilet paper worthy.

11. Tales and Legends from India by Ruskin Bond

A pretty book for the young readers. I pick up and read a lot of children's books, because part of my work mandates interaction with students of all ages. India's treasure chest of folk stories is inexhaustible, and a few gems have been picked up and compiled here. An okay read.

12. Inferno by Dan Brown

Despite the high pitch of naysayers, I LOVED this book. Classic Dan Brown, he takes you on yet another quest, this time mixing some population sociology and economics along with his flair for conspiracies, myth, art and architecture. And the brilliant notebook this turned out to be on Dante Alighieri was a bonus! Absolutely recommended.

13. Confronting Love - edited by Arundhati Subramaniam and Jerry Pinto

The MOST beautiful poetry compendium I read the entire year. Here are some contemporary poems on love, the way you and I will recognise and cherish them. Do pick it up without a second thought if spotted.

14. Kaifi Azmi : Selected Poems (translated by Pavan K. Varma)

Kaifi Azmi's poems do not need me to endorse them; they only need time to be understood and absorbed. I am guilty of skipping most English translations, but that's because the language they were written in is so enamouring. Having said that, I have to mention that Pavan Varma is one of the better translators you'll read, basing my experience on the numerous Gulzar translations I have read.

15. The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories by Ruskin Bond

Bias Alert - I think this, along with Time Stops at Shamli and Our Trees Still Grow at Dehra is absolutely the best work by Ruskin Bond. He writes like the dream I want to be the calligrapher of. How can anyone not love him!

16. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

You've not read the whole series yet? Are you kidding me? Stop reading this post and order the entire set NOW!

17. Bosky's Panchatantra by Gulzar

The sentiment behind the book is, admittedly, better than the book itself. My fingers sift through many such gems because once a week, I work out of a library. This book was written by Gulzar as a versified rendition of the Panchatantra for his daughter Meghna Gulzar, adoringly called Bosky. The name comes from Russian Silk, if I am not mistaken. It makes for an average read, the stories easily digestible and rememberable in this form.

18. Do You Know Any Good Boys by Meeti Shroff Shah

A single girl's tails and travails while on the journey of searching for a groom the arranged marriage way - this is a great take on what we call the marriage mart of India. Dipped in humour, I would often catch myself guffawing in the metro while reading this one. The humour, however, does not distract from how real this book is. A nice read.

19. मुक्तिबोध - प्रतिनिधि कविताएं

If poems which reflect the society, its hidden layers and stigma are your thing, pick this book up without a second thought. Take time to turn pages, read the poems aloud and in the hard hitting words of Muktibodh, you might be able to locate the song of your heart.

20. The Lost Flamingos of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Bias Alert - I think Shanghvi is the best Indian English novelist as of today, and I base my conclusion on his debut book called 'The Last Song of Dusk'. This one, arguably, is much less spectacular than his first, but I still remember so many episodes in all their vivid details from the book, clasping my heart in their spell forever. The undercurrent of love and longing, and the fateful incompleteness of relationships is all too real to ever be able to ignore. Pick his first book first to know the genius of his writing, and then pick this one to remain attached to what his pen manages to accomplish.

21. The Ramayana in Pictures by Maya Dayal

This was a children's book, so it is improper that I judge it - but I am just a little disappointed with how simple we leave things for our children. Perhaps we should tell them simpler stories, not simplified versions of highly complex tales.

22. The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

I have read 4 of her books till date, and my favourite remains a title called 'The Sari Shop Widow'. This one makes for a decent romance-drama. Readable, not extraordinarily so.

23. Gulzar : Selected Poems (translated by Pavan K. Varma)

Lovely selection, well translated.

24. The Sour Faced Moon by Rohini Lall

Either I did not get the book at all, or it was a genuinely dull, fragmented read. Skip it.

25. The Book of Ram by Devdutt Pattanaik

The most disappointing Pattanaik book I have read. Read Sita if you're looking for understanding the same subject, but you can skip this conveniently.

26. Historicity of the Mahabharata by B. B. Lal

A wonderful, wonderful book to understand archaeological procedures for determining the historicity of the Mahabharata (and other ancient texts). The book is very academic, does not make for an easy or engaging read, but for those who like the subject - this is gold. One must, however, bear the caveat in mind that many of B. B. Lal's arguments and postulates have been widely refuted too - but that does not take away from the rich mine of knowledge this one is on three counts - ancient literary texts, art and archaeology.

27. Birthday Stories - selected and introduced by Murakami

Did not like it at all. Murakami's name sold the book to me, but not many stories in there which I would carry with myself.

28. Pashu : Animal Tales from Indian Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik

Highly recommended! Such a well structured and narrated book. You will not know what all to expect till you actually read about the diversity of animal tales and the symbols you can deconstruct therein. One of Pattanaik's best.

29. Hindu Rites and Rituals by K. V. Singh

Absolutely disappointing. It is a children's book, but does not even do justice to that age group. Over simplification and repetition mar the subject the book attempts to deal with completely.

30. Land of the Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal

My BEST read of the year. Or at least in my top 5. This book attempts to take you first on a geological journey to understanding how did the Indian landmass come into being, and then slowly unfolds India's story via its geography. In simple terms, the text of this book was a revelation!

31. Letters to a Young Poet by R. M. Rilke

So good that I have already gifted a couple of copies to friends. Rilke is a profound genius, and so is this book in which he delivers valuable advice to a poet for writing great poetry. A text-book for poetry lovers, let me put it that way. Highly recommended!

32. Meena Kumari, The Poet : A Life Beyond Cinema (translated by Noorul Hasan)

Her poems are simple, very basic, but so touching! The bonus is short biographies of the great actor both, at the beginning and at the end. Other than being an enjoyable read, the book is beautifully designed - a factor that matters greatly to me!

33. Delhi : Historical Glimpses by R. V. Smith

R. V. Smith's tales about Delhi are legendary! I've been attached to his writings through his weekly column in The Hindu, and the book only does well to enhance the flavour of his Delhi on my mind. Should read, if you're looking to discover a little more of the undiscovered city it continues to be.

34. Why I Write by Sa'adat Hasan Manto (translated by Aakar Patel)

Excellent read. The book contains essays which Manto had written about himself and his writings. As someone who has only very basic knowledge on the genius writer, this provided a good first glimpse into his world.

35. The Nightingales are Drunk by Hafez

Contrary to expectations, nothing profound in here. I invested a lot of time in these poems, but was left very disappointed.

36. The Mother I Never Knew by Sudha Murty

She's a weaver of simple tales, and that is what works for Sudha Murty. I open her books expecting to read some very simply worded stories and uncomplicated human emotions and I am always rewarded. This particular book has two stories about the search for an unknown mother, and both the stories left me warm. Should sample her writings at least once.

37. Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India by Akshaya Mukul

Oh my god what a book! Perhaps the most time consuming read of the year, but the way it opens your eyes to so much about the way the world around you gets constructed and influenced by a handful few. Other than that, a very well researched book. A must read if you want to understand how history religion and politics get intertwined.

38. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Like I said, read Harry Potter on priority.

39.  उर्दू की आख़िरी किताब - इब्ने इंशा

Among the best things you will read in life. It is a satire on our education system, the coloured knowledge we receive, on our understanding of history, of language, of learning, of living. It will make you laugh loud, but will give so much to think and deconstruct in your head. The only limitation is very chaste Urdu - translations of certain words helps, but needs focus along with all that laughter.

40. प्लूटो - गुलज़ार

Not the most satisfying Gulzar. Not much I could simmer in my heart to make a part of myself.

41. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Arre. Read it. Whoever you are. Wherever you are.

42. Civil Lines : New Writing from India

I do not clearly remember many stories from this compilation, but I do remember this as a dcent read. Short non-fiction prose pieces on many facets of contemporary India - written by well-established writers. Not great, but not bad either.

43. Friends in Small Places by Ruskin Bond

Warm. Pretty. Simple. Classic Ruskin Bond describing people he's met in life. Only the way he can,

44. I Hate and I Love by Catullus

A poet of the neoteric tradition from Ancient Greece, this one takes you quite by surprise. Half-read people like me, at least, confine Greek literature (and for good reason) to epic dramas and themes of grandeur and nobility. Common emotions like love and infatuation are not thought to be concerns of their society, till you stumble upon someone like Catullus. He writes for his beloved like anyone of us would, though that might also be a result of some very ordinary translations. Had fun reading this one.

45. Who Wrote the Bhagavad Gita by Meghnad Desai

This book scores in the way it problematizes the premise of the Bhagavad Gita, which is a topic I have been obsessed with since a while now. However, it quotes so heavily from a few other sources, that you want to leave this book midway and pick those other ones up. I'd still recommend this to those who like questioning the text itself, not just the contents of it.

46. How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing by Michel de Montaigne

Ordinary. The essays postulate interesting concepts, but the arguments behind them are loose and inept.

47. Poetry Please (100 Popular Poems from the BBC Radio 4 Programme)

Fabulous book! Randomly open it and read from whichever page you stumble upon. The fact that it is illustrated makes it that much more fun to read. (Advice - Read poems aloud. Always read poems aloud.)

48. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Aah. Can the painful beauty of this book ever be surmised in words? Other than 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas', this constitutes my favourite piece of literature on Holocaust. A sizeable number of books have been inspired by this ghastly phase of history; yet very few communicate the deep gashes on ordinary psyche that such an event has the potential of leaving. The narrative is perhaps also unique because it goes beyond empathising for the Jews, and opens the prism of humanity a little more. Please read it! (and later, see it)

49. I Am An Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler

This is a book to be cherished and read and re-read. Eve Ensler is the master of monologues, and she continues the tradition as she takes a few steps into the lives of women from different cultural backgrounds and creates fictional monologues on their life. Written mostly as blank verses, and even rants at places, these poems ring in your mind till long later as sentiments you're at times afraid of, and at other times, unaware of.

50. Fairy Tales at Fifty by Upamanyu Chatterjee

A lot of this book went above my head. I have no idea why I lived through it. (Another chance, and I would skip it.)

51. Sufiana : Poems by Hoshang Merchant

A collection of some really beautiful poems, of the postcolonial strand. You'll find verses wrapped in history; from which subtly emerges the aroma of memory and personal experiences. My favourite from the collection is a short poem where Hoshang Merchant has used the devnaagri letter 'क' to convey a way of being. Good stuff in here.

52. Lectures on the Ancient History of India by D. R. Bhandarkar

For those of you with a research bent of mind, well documented and packaged book. My only conflict remains with seeing academic writing so exhaustively unimaginative.

53. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

If you like thrillers, Jo Nesbo should be your God. And this is his best work. You can put the two and two together.

54. Ambai : Two Novellas and a Story

She is beautiful for who she is and what she writes. Commonplace stories told from within the domestic sphere of sensitivity. Strong women laid wondrously well within stronger narratives. I'm so glad to have discovered her this year.

55. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling (and Jack Thorne and John Tiffany)

This book disappointed a lot of people, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I reckon, what helped me was to read it bearing the limitations of the stage script in mind. Once the hassles of the format got out of way, I could appreciate the storyline too - imaginative and fantastical; classic J. K. Rowling all the way!

56. Hindu Myths by Wendy Doniger

Requires effort to read, but this is the best and most comprehensive author on mythology I have ever stumbled upon. In this book, she takes you within the roots, the origins and the enduring philosophical foundations, patterns and symbols our mythological system is based upon. Worth every brain-cell which popped while I tried to understand the patterns in our entire corpus of mythological texts.

57. Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Contrary to popular opinion, I did not enjoy it. That, however, could easily be a side-effect of reading Wendy Doniger, Sukthankar and Irawati Karve in quick succession, alongside a consistent dose of Devdutt Pattanaik. This was an MnB take on the epic; and since I reek of literary elitism to myself, I'll just run away and hide in a corner.

58. The Incredible History of India's Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

Brilliant book! This is the kid-version of Sanjeev Sanyal's Land of the Seven Rivers, but still took me same if not more time to finish. I'd say about this what I said about the earlier book. Place it on top of your priority list of books to read.

59. तीन सौ रामायणें एवं अन्य निबंध - ए. के. रामानुजन

Because of the controversy surrounding the essay, I had been looking forward to read this since long. When I finally did, I was disappointed by the the level to which we allow our brains to degrade. There is nothing scandalous/blasphemous in the essay(s). They're textual, analytical and literary. Your blind beliefs do not affect the word that has already been written! Let some keep their faith, let others keep these words - as well as the autonomy to read and construct their own meanings.

60. The Storytellers Tale by Omair Ahmad

A quick read which is as much the storyteller's tale, as it is storytelling's tale. Try it for a breezy walk into British era royalty of India.

61. Quakes and Flames by Ruskin Bond

Not the best Ruskin Bond, but what is astonishing is how he manages to warm the readers' hearts while telling tales based on earthquakes and forest fires. I was smiling the familiar Bond smile at the end of each story. (I think that is because he takes these events to be what they are - natural phenomena, and not disasters, which is what unscrupulous human interference makes them.)

62. The Right Kind of Dog by Adil Jussawalla

The poet is, and correctly so, among the best contemporary ones we have. He weaves into humour and satire everyday struggles and ordinary situations - some meaning within layers of hilarity. Worth reading, especially with the illustrations embellishing ample pages.

63. Krishna's Forgotten Poets by Harsha V. Dehejia and Ramanand Sharma

A repository of some great poems and artwork - this text reads like a literary history of all ever devotionally documented about Krishna. In verse and in paint. A huge book, edited and designed painstakingly, it makes you meditate on the approachable divinity which Krishna was - owned by women as one of the kinsfolk. A naughty son, a mischievous gwala, a hypnotic flute player and the secret love of so many - Krishna finds manifestation by what devotees and lovers made of him. The corpus is huge, and I think I am lucky that this book found me. I spent the entire Janmashtami reading this, and I plan on making it an annual ritual.

64. Why I Am An Athiest by Bhagat Singh

It is hailed as a historically important text, and it definitely is one. To read a young Bhagat Singh's thoughts, when he was younger than most of us, is eye-opening for the kind of depth and sombreness depicted in them. I still struggle to identify beliefs, but the greatest point of inspiration in this little book is the firmness and ease with which the beliefs of the revolutionary are articulated. And this makes you understand the persona was not as simple as the one who occupies our imagination.

65. Nawabs, Nudes and Noodles by Ambi Parmeswaran

Again, among the best reads of the year. It is simply a compilation of advertising trends in the Indian industry since the earliest days. At once, the book is insightful and nostalgic. I was particularly prone to googling alongside the advertisements mentioned in the text, and this used to last, on occasions as an unending string of ad after ad. There is much understanding of trends and issues in the Indian advertising industry which this book will help you build.

66. Walking Erect with an Unfaltering Gaze by Ambai

Because the stories of Ambai fascinated me so much (like mentioned in point 54), I wanted to know more about this author, hence this monologic-biographical piece by the author was picked up. And while it was rather concise, it still gave me enough to form great levels of respect and admiration for her. Her brand of feminism is subtle but firm, and her work in the domain of gender studies inspiring. Worth a read, anyday!

67. Munnu, A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad

First graphic novel read in life and WHAT A GREAT EXPERIENCE. It is a satire, allegory, subaltern retelling - all together - of the Kashmiri people. Don't denounce this as just a perspective or a one-sided view - the thread of personal in perspectives is what makes literature far reaching and human. This is a treatise on the contemporary Kashmir and the roots of its contemporary issues. All of us as must try and, at least, once, understand Sajad's story and the brilliance of the symbols he uses to make it impactful.

68. My Favourite Nature Stories by Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond is always beautiful. Simple, nice. (but not among my favourites by him.)

69. What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Couldn't keep up with the book.

70. दो खिड़कियाँ - अमृता प्रीतम

The first ever foray into Amrita Pritam's (translated) prose and I understood well the source of criticism on how audacious her stories are. Because they are. Strong female characters with wounds as large as entire universes. Fierce romantics, and individual thinkers, the women of these stories are so real that you'd end up admiring them. Not the melodrama you'd associate when stories smell of villages; quite the opposite. These stories wound your heart, so they can make a place there.

71. इश्क़ कोई न्यूज़ नहीं - विनीत कुमार

I'd suggest skipping this.

72. Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Beautiful! Rossetti's verses were a part of my subconscious when I was growing up for the elegance of nature and romance in them. A convergence of them all made for a pleasing journey.

73. A Thousand Unspoken Words by Paulami Duttagupta

It was a love story which surprised me for the calm intensity it maintained. A tale set in Bengal of tumultuous times, it not only speaks of romance and admiration, but also tries to bridge the gap between ideals and reality. A quick, satisfying read.

74. Rekha, the Untold Story by Yasser Usman

Bias alert! Since I had a tiny association with the book when it was being brought together, I do honestly think that it is the best Bollywood biography ever written! The fact that many writers, readers, tabloids, and journals think the same is such a 'yay' factor for 2016. On a personal note, you MUST read this book for the breezy style of writing and the honest attempt it makes at humanising a star whose only existed between extremes of controversies and glories. Put it on your reading list now!

75. Devlok by Devdutt Pattanaik

A good compilation, especially for those who like the TV avatar of the mythologist. I love the depth in Devdutt's arguments though, which the book glaringly lacks.

76. My Life had Stood a Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson

It is Dickinson. She does not need validation. Go read!

77. Poems that Make Grown Women Cry by Anthony and Ben Holden

Oh. So. Beautiful. The editors go out asking a 100 women which poems make them cry and why. So here is a compilation, not only of 100 very evocative poems, but also personal anecdotes of why these poems matter in the lives of the respective readers. Added icing is the cultural and lingual diversity the poems are drawn from. The copy I read was borrowed from the library, so I'm definitely going out to buy one to include in my personal collection.

78. Amir Khusrau, the Man in Riddles by Ankit Chadha

This is a beautiful compilation of the fabled riddles of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, along with philosophical explanations of the answers and the symbolism in those answers. Why I call the book beautiful is not merely because of the textual content, but for the vivid illustrations the book is drenched in. You've got to see it to believe it!

79. The Tenth Rasa, an Anthology of Indian Nonsense (edited by Michael Heyman)

For the academically inclined, this book is a gold mine. It compiles nonsense literature - an oft ignored genre - from across languages, in different literary forms. Adequate attempt for cultural contextualisation has been made, lest meaning be entirely lost in translating nonsense - which, by the way, is among the most difficult tasks in translation practice and studies.

80. परवीन शाकिर - प्रतिनिधि कविताएं

I'm head over heels in love with her poetry. What else do I say. (Woh toh khushbu hai hawaaon mein bikhar jaaega / masla toh phool ka hai, phool kidhar jaaega)

81. Red Kite Adventure by Leela Gour Broome

Children's adventure story. Nicely written. Was a super-quick read for me, and while I deluded myself with predictions on the way the plot would unfold, the story took some intelligent turns to keep me hooked. At the end, it was about childhood friendship. All of us must read about those pure relationships once in a while.

82. Pandeymonium by Piyush Pandey

I have mixed feelings about this one. I immensely enjoyed going through it, but not because of the content. It was rather because of the national infatuation that our generation possesses towards this giant, legendary ad-filmmaker. Piyush Pandey is a cult in his own self. So, while it was nice to discover him and his beliefs, I wish the book was less Ogilvy and more advertising. I wish instances had been built into case studies before getting lost in personal triumphs and learnings. (Having said that, I will still go ahead and gift this one to a couple)

83. The Mahabharata, A Child's View by Samhita Arni

Mindblowing. You'd think because a 13 year old has written (and illustrated!) it, this will be a simple retelling of the Mahabharata. You'd be mistaken. It is as complex as the basic narrative demands, and it comes with a introduction where the prodigious author shares informed opinions on why she prefers Duryodhan's character over Yudhishthir's. She almost convinced me, which is difficult, since I stand on the threshold opposite to blind-worshipping the defeated, because we believe they were wronged. But this girl, she has lent us a wondrous version of the grandest epic of the world.

84. How Did the Harappans Say Hello (and 16 other Mysteries of History) by Anu Kumar
85. The World's Funniest Folk Tales by Rajee Raman

Chill books. Random facts in first and some nice stories in the second. Won't ask you to read them. Won't tell you not to.

86. On the Meaning of Mahabharata by V. S. Sukthankar

If there is one scholar I prostrate myself in front of insofar as Mahabharata studies are concerned, it is Sukthankar. This one requires a detailed analysis, for a later day. Superbook!

87. (A miss on the list. I know I have read something, but failed/forgot to document it.)

88. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough

Some books make me sad for not having discovered them sooner. This is one such. Read in detail about  my fascination with this one here.

89. Gulbadan by Rumer Godden

Strangely enough, very disappointing.

90. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This book is a MANDATORY reading for all humans alive. Please read, and we may later discuss.

91. By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

Overrated, but beautiful nevertheless. Loving demands much of us, craze and submission at the least. Renunciation and tolerance, too. Combined with a doze of spiritually uplifting content, the romance of Coelho is unique and worth engaging with.

92. Death Under the Deodars : The Adventures of Miss Ripley Bean by Ruskin Bond

The best Rusking Bond I read the entire year.

93. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

No opinion.

94. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

A wonderful book, the second half of it is pure gold. It is non-fiction based on Jhumpa Lahiri's journey from one language to another - the latter her diglossia not aiding her in. What is interesting is that you would never have thought you'll read this English author in English translation. Her romance with Italian, arguably the most romantic language in the world is engaging, endearing and even frustrating at places. 'Language is the principle metaphor' - remains the most profound line from the book for me.

95. Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

Again, one of those books all of us must read - first with empathy, and later, perhaps with objectivity. This was the year's second book on Kashmir, now dwelling on the plight of the Pandits from the valley. Sensitive, yet sensible all at once, the book has done well to maintain this balance of storytelling, while remaining fiercely personal. I did not cry at any of the tragedies mentioned in the book, except at the oscillations between persistence and denial of memory. It is a beautiful book, for the way it chronicles, with different voices, the painful period of Kashmiri history.

96. एक चुप्पे शख्स की डायरी

Little yellow diary, zero expectations, but some relatable, preciously worded sentiments in here. Loved reading it, again and again! This has vignettes from the life of an unknown, silent man.

97. Amrita-Imroz by Uma Trilok

It is not a very well written book, but I would still go ahead and recommend it to all, because the basic story is so strong. Amrita was an unconventional lady, as I discovered through her stories; and her love/companionship/relationship is more unconventional than any I have known. Her bond with Imroz is the kind which makes you want to believe in the ease and surrealism of love. In the inherent nurturing characteristic of love. In the innocence and fulfilment of love. The perfect end to my 2016, on the morning of the last day, as I wept reciting 'main tainu phir milaangi'.


Now I can get on to 2017's reading. Have a wonderful new year :)

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 :)