Sunday, 12 February 2017

Why I feel that there are no real poets anymore..

Once upon a time in my life I was madly in love with poetry......Does it mean that I don't love poetry anymore? The answer is somewhat neurotic...I love some poems more than others but I do realise that there is an abundance of terrible poems that people for some reason like, like for example poets of the Beat generation...I don't really get them...I mean I do on some level understand the gist behind their writing but not really connect to their verse like say the World War 1 poets like Wilfred Owen, or the Romantics or John Donne, Christopher Marlowe and Alexander Pope.

I guess I am no longer going through the thoroughly maudlin phase that I went through in my late teens...poetry at that time of my life was my way of telegraphing all my teenage angst through poems. Now that I am older I have learnt to really enjoy the beauty of certain poems just for the great works that they are and on an unselfish level really let it be about the brilliance of the person behind the poems.

A good poems can really change one's perceptions about life. I can say with a lot of certainty that there are a lot of people who would agree with me when I say that some powerful lines from great works of poetry really changed their lives.

Abelard and his pupil Heloise by Edmund Blair Leighton
In times of turmoil I always find myself remembering lines from poems and they really provide me with solace, strength, and a sense of belonging even. How wonderful is that? Novels are in my opinion powerful works of prose that can shape one's philosophy, and yet it takes you some time to read through one. Poems on the other hand have the magical quality of conveying so many impactful emotions in short bursts. Especially those times in our busy 21st century lives when we are compelled to stop and really take in the surroundings.

I feel that we have lost the ability to be eloquent like our ancestors, in this day an age we have this constant compulsion to be up-front; which is not necessarily a bad thing, and yet we have somehow forgotten to feel and convey those feelings. I wish that someone still had the ability to write about a simple flower like a daffodil that Wordsworth wrote about, or convey separation like Pope did in his Eloisa to Abelard, In our constant modern chatter, we have perhaps lost that unique ability to convey a lot in really few words and that in my opinion is one of the unspoken tragedies of the modern 21st century society.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Books that change our lives

Good Morning and Happy New Year! I want to begin 2017 by talking about something that gives me immense joy; reading. My uncle gifted me a copy of Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen on my eleventh birthday and that day and that book changed my life.

 In the movie You've got Mail, one of the characters talks about reading habits by saying that one of 20th century's most profound truths was "you are what you read"and then Meg Ryan's character summed it all up with this gem  “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” Truer words were never spoken. Pride and Prejudice and later, Jane Austen played a major part in shaping my identity, I can still recall the crisp paper and that unique smell that accompanies brand new paper. From the moment I opened the page and read the memorable opening lines I was pulled into a world of genteel late Georgian/ Regency society; where an independent and intelligent women had only selected avenues to lead her life. I confess now, that first reading didn't really open before my eyes the complex layers of the characterizations and situations in the novel, in fact it is only now that I am beginning to fully comprehend the subtext. But I do so cherish that first time reading. I was captivated and couldn't put the book down. I loved it and couldn't stop thinking about the story. 

For a long time I even slept with my battered and worn copy under my pillow. If you ask me the reason behind that odd quirk now, I really couldn't answer why. I just did!I was proud that I had read such a 'grown-up' book and made certain to boast about my accomplishment in front of everyone, needless to say I did not end up endearing many.

 Reading Pride and Prejudice gave me the confidence to read further and opened up a whole new world of classics, I devoured Jane Austen and then moved on to Charles Dickens whom I adored, Anthony Trollope, the Brontes, W.M Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, Walter Scott and many others followed in quick succession. I loved them all. For me Pride and Prejudice opened up the world of reading and literature, and I am indebted to Jane Austen for playing a major role in forming my healthy reading habit.

So yes, to paraphrase Meg Ryan 'I certainly am what I read due to the fact that reading Pride and Prejudice at the tender age of eleven made a love for classics an eternal part of my identity as an adult'; it was most certainly a book that changed my life. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

The year of bleakness

Just switched off the television after watching the news about an increasingly alarming, bizarre and bleak world and now all I want to do is bury my head in the sand like an ostrich, or even better, curl up under my blanket and go to sleep hoping to wake up when all this is over.

Plato said "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light", he also said "Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something".

Those are some very wise words by a man we now regard as one of the greatest ancient philosophers. Until a few decades ago, it was mandatory for students to have some knowledge about the ancient philosophers, sadly that is not the case now. The men in power are increasingly ignorant and seem to have a wealth of words but not wisdom. They also have a disturbing and annoying habit of talking at a person, instead of to a person which I honestly find exhausting.

I cannot tell you how tired I am after listening to the constant cacophony of words that seem to flow at us in this glorious age of information and instant communication. I have also read various tweets, memes, witticisms about how 2016 was a really bad year, however did anyone ever apologise for contributing to making it so. The year did not start as a bad one, we were all hopeful in the beginning yet by May, people seem to have given up and pronouncements were being made about the absolute shambles the year 2016 was.

I confess, I want this year to end too. I am in the middle of a deeply disappointing decade that began as I completed the quarter of a century mark. But I would not blame it on anyone but myself, I am the architect of my own misery and have disappointed myself the most. If I have learnt something over the past traumatic year from what has been happening around me; it is that I should stop complaining and start working to improve my future or in case of the worst to paraphrase a quote by Theoden King of Rohan from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy "If this is to be the end then I shall give them SUCH an end as to be worthy of remembrance" 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

When Books begin to reflect life

I have a confession to make, whenever I like or dislike people or for the matter like or dislike situations, I automatically compare them to literary characters ot books, for example, I dislike a particular male movie star so, my brain always compares him to Willoughby the shifty bounder from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, or the other day when I felt paraphrased a line from a Charlotte Bronte novel, needless to say, it was a bit weird for the people who heard me, because to be completely honest, a Bronte novel almost always can be depended upon to deliver dramatic dialogue. 

It is the moment right after, when I saw the flummoxed expressions of those around me, that I realise this particular habit of mine. But really all I want to ask is; is it really that odd a habit? I suppose to those of us who are of a literary bent of mind, it may be that I am perfectly normal. But, even if I am completely bonkers, I know that it is perfectly fine to be odd. I have had a lot of fun in my life and gotten away with a lot of really controversial hijinks by having a long- established reputation for craziness. 

To get back to my original observation, I don't know why, but I think that writers of old, especially Jane Austen, Dickens and the Brontes were really on to something. I find that I can always draw a suitable parallel in their novels for just about any person or situation. It really is amazing that novels written all those years ago in such a different era can still be so relevant even now in the second decade of the twenty first century. Perhaps it is the genius of such writers that they studied humans and human emotions so well. I am sure that we can still find a complete nincompoop like Mr Collins or even an intense self destructive and vengeful man like Heathcliff even now. 

I have always thought of myself as a realist, but I find myself changing that opinion about myself lately. You see, I think I might be a bit of an optimist with a romantic's heart. After all who, but a romantic would attempt to quote Jane Eyre in the middle of a heated argument humm?     


Monday, 31 October 2016

Autumn in the life of a non-happening millennial

It is a bright crisp October evening as I am writing this and I can't help but remember some of the sweetest things connected to my childhood. I have always loved this time of the year, it heralds my favourite season winter. There is a freshness in the air and the anticipating the cold north wind makes one feel nostalgic for that time in life when October stood for the start of the holiday season.

Well the two of the major festivals in the Indian calendar have come and gone with a few more to follow. But, I must confess that a sense of fatigue has begun to set in. There was a time when I was younger when autumn was a buoyant time of the year when, ever single day brought a fresh chance to enjoy with friends and go on epic shopping expedition to various 'upscale' malls and frantic flea markets in anticipation of the winters.

Now though, one finds more joy sitting around in the evenings reading, which might prompt the following question, when did I become so boring. If I were to stand in front of my younger self, she would berate me for consigning my life to what she would consider 'purgatory'. Yet one can't help but wonder whether one's  tendency towards becoming a homebody has something to do with just growing up.

I have read so many articles about the rapid decline and fatigue most millennials face in their late 20's. Whilst I shudder at the thought of my life taking such a moribund turn, I guess that there is some grain of truth to it all. Life, I guess does catch up with us at some time or the other; or is it that we catch up with life? That is a question for the intrepid pop-philosophers of the modern era. In the meantime I am of to curl up on the settee with an exciting new book.            

Monday, 12 September 2016

To my father on his birthday

It is the 12th of September, for me one of the most important dates in my life...Today is my father's birthday and I swear to you that I miss him so much that I can barely breathe. Fathers play such an important role in our lives. They tech us so much about ourselves and the world. My father certainly did.

He played a major role in shaping who I am as an individual. We had a largely adversarial relationship, my father and I, it was the case of like poles repelling. We were too alike to really stick together but that trait also helped us understand one another at a very basic level.

I have always been extremely inquisitive, argumentative, and tend to live in a world of my own. Needless to say, these traits tend to rub people the wrong way and made me feel disconnected countless times. My father was perhaps the only one, who ever made the effort to understand the world which I inhabited. He was so emphatic about so many things. He also never backed down from an argument; we had arguments and discussions that lasted for days if not weeks and months.It was like playing chess with a grandmaster who gave as good as he got.

How I hated it! It is only now that he is gone that I realise, how much respect he afforded me, his young and odd daughter, who was sooo clearly intellectually inferior to him. Since the day he died, all I can think of is his voice, I keep wishing to hear his footsteps, in fact sometimes I fancy I do, I sometimes get this feeling that I can hear him breathing like he is sitting next to me, I can still smell him some days. What I really miss is just sitting in companionable silence with him. I realise now that I am a feminist not just because of my illustrious mother, but also him. Never once did he ever through word or deed make me feel that I as a girl could not do what boys could, never did he compare me to the boys in the family and make me feel inferior. In fact all I can recall now is his immense encouragement.

He was my greatest advocate and always insisted on me speaking my mind. every time I faltered, he didn't support me like a father should, rather, he egged me on to get back on track on my own. In hindsight he made sure that I was self sufficient and capable enough to make it on my own.

Today is his birthday, the second year that he has been gone, but I will still celebrate it, I will always celebrate my father, his glorious life and the lovely, difficult, magnificent relationship I had the privilege of sharing with him. Happy Birthday my darling Papa, you amazing, stubborn, brilliant man. I hope the cake in heaven tastes as good as the ones I bake!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The soothing anticipation

It is peak monsoon season and I love it! For some reason Indians are wired to enjoy rain. Yes I know that we might complain about the traffic jams due to the rains and the slush on the roads but there are so many great memories that all of us have that involves the rains.

I think this has to do with the fact that Indian summers are so hot and suffocating.The long summer moths start in April and get worse and worse as May gives way to June, by July all we can do is wait and the only solace that those torrid days hold specially for those in the north of the country is the news about the upward journey of the rain clouds and the glorious anticipation that thrills many a heart during those long unbearably muggy and suffocating days.

For me the rains always bring with them a sense of renewal. Winter might be my favourite season but monsoon, threatens to dislodge it from that cherished place some years. When I was a little girl running up to the terrace or the courtyard to get wet in that first monsoon shower was something that I used to look forward to every year.

Even now the sight of trees swaying in the cool, moist wind that heralds those first rains brings sweet joy to my heart. It makes me always feel revitalised. The reason I have been waxing poetic about the first monsoon shower is the what it symbolises in my mind. For me every hot and horrible summer day is equal to the trails and tribulations that we face in our terribly complicated lives and that first monsoon rain symbolises the revitalising and soothing end to those trials. The seasons in a year for me stand for our lives, really. Lives in today's modern era have torrid summers, monsoons that are revitalising for some and a deluge for others, the brief interludes spring and autumn give us the hope of relaxation and harmony and then there is winter, harsh and cold for most but clear and bracing for others. This cyclical fact of life is whats makes me look forward to the day in the morning and quite frankly gives me the strength to get out of bed on those terribly difficult days.    

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The welcome embrace of monsoon

Walking on a rain drenched street in a small town sometimes can be oddly liberating. When most of the denizens around one are running for shelter from the battering rain, the mere act of getting partially wet under my faulty umbrella feels nostalgic and wonderful. It gave me a sense of peace when my mind has been regularly filled with chaotic thoughts of late.

There are so many things that I could do and so many thoughts that go on in my head simultaneously. The monsoon drizzle and the cool easterly wind feels like a welcome embrace after the torrid unforgiving summer. I wish for so many things and so many events to happen all at the same moment. How I love the rains. I have written extensively about this but I can't seem to stop. The rains are the most amazing muse anyone could hope for, especially for those living in the subcontinent. In fact, in my opinion rain is the subject of the most beautiful melodies, songs, dance forms, art forms, literature and varied things that provide us with moments of happiness in the otherwise stressful and difficult 21st century.

When I was a teenager I was introduced to 'Meghdoot' (Cloud Messenger) the lyric poem written by Kalidasa, one of the greatest classical sanskrit poets. It is the story of the love messages sent by a husband living in exile in the south to his wife in the north by the means of a monsoon cloud. It is the most poignant and beautiful story of love and longing I have ever come across. Reading that great work of classical literature gave me hope that only exceptional pieces of literature can provide.

The chaos that has been my mind lately sorely needed the cooling rain to soothe my thoughts. There are times in our lives when one needs peace in order to thing clearly. This year has been particularly troublesome so I was really glad to walk in the spitting rain. It was also an act of defiance for me, because for some reason women walking in rain on nearly deserted roads is not a common sight in small town India. So, as I get ready to go to bed, I am feeling defiant and at peace for the first time in ages after feeling the welcome embrace of the great Indian monsoon.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

To my sister with love... Sometimes it scares me how weirdly in sync our craziness is!

This post is dedicated to my long suffering sister. T, you are the coolest person I know, you are also a saint who has infinite patience and have dealt with my  insanity since the day you were conceived. I will always thank the superior being upstairs to have had the brains to hoodwink you into becoming my lil sis! You are utterly fabulous.

As all of my invisible and nonexistent readers may have surmised; I am going through one of my occasional bouts of sibling love, when I randomly decide that my sister is perfect and don't necessarily complain about her, much! (Old habits and all that) Like every one with siblings, my sister and I love each other, but there are times when we don't necessarily like one another.

She and I are in the same age group, so we had to go through similar life experiences together. Some, we loved, most, we hated with a passion.

Things we hated with a passion

Being gifted similar frocks in different colours.

Being made to wear matching outfits at the same time.

Being confused for the other (We are not identical!)

Being blamed for the stupidity of the other cousins who we grew up with.

Being made to do chores when we wanted to read story books.

One of my favourite memories is sitting across the dining table and studying with her. She was always so focused, she still is and I admire that about her. Another memory is of sitting next to her and reading storybooks, comics etc which we swapped after finishing. Staying up late and weaving crazy stories for her (she was always a rapt audience, so flattering!), experimenting with different ways to make Maggie, and making her eat the resulting culinary invention.

Things about her that annoyed me

She always beat me at sports, especially the ones I had taught her to play!

She always got better grades

She was the perfect daughter, and always did her chores on time, thus made me look bad in comparison

She could never keep a secret (still can't) and always ruined surprises.

Things about me that annoyed her

I was always praised for my intelligence even with poor grades whilst she was always called 'hardworking' despite being the class topper!

We were always running late because of me

I was never blamed for idiotic things, because I never got caught

I have the worst habit of saying 'I told you so'

I always managed to shirk my chores till the last and still managed to coast through

Needless to say, we fought like cats and dogs whilst we were growing up. We still do, and now as adults, we even recourse to sulking for days. I sometimes miss being little. One of us always made up, we were constant companions, so it was hard to be angry for a long time. One of the things that I am thankful for is that I have her in my life. We don't even live on the same continent anymore, yet she and I still have the same wavelength. I miss her constantly; I even miss the juvenile act of bickering (it isn't the same on face time!). I especially miss the time when she told me everything that happened during her day right after we got back from school. I know that there have been times, when I have been the absolute worst. But in my defence, I love her to bits and will be the same annoying girl who told her strange stories till 2 in the morning even when I am 80.

PS: I have always known that we will be the type of sisters who grow old together, and one day be irascible old biddies and terrorise our respective families


Saturday, 11 June 2016

The curious case of the judgemental and perverted in small town India

Woman….what does this word mean? Well, right off the bat I would say someone who is not a man.  The Ancient Greeks of the Hellenic civilisation considered women to be a distorted version of men, a belief, which has always baffled me. Also, I must point out that we know nothing of what the Hellenic women thought of this belief themselves. I like to think that they rolled their eyes and benevolently let the men believe in their delusions. But then, considering, how they revered the male form; it is hard to judge them, that and the fact that they lived thousands of years ago.

Now, though, in the twenty-first century, this belief in the inferiority of the female sex has spread from the men to the women. This, in my opinion, is what disturbs me the most. I live in a small town in the Indian hinterland. The mentality here is a curious mix of the traditional and the perverted. In the words of a friend, if a man and a woman so much as walk on the road holding hands; they raise eyebrows. The male gaze constantly follows women, on the road, in the market, the gym, even the temple. If you are a woman, you will constantly get the feeling of being watched. The phrase “big brother is watching” becomes literal only there are many, many brothers who have undoubtedly un- brotherly thoughts in their minds.

Then there are the women, if you so much as behave differently, or dress or speak differently, you are judged…oh sooooo harshly. If you thought that the male gaze was your only problem, you are sooo wrong my friend.  I can’t help but ask this inevitable question, when did small town India become so judgemental and perverted?

To answer my own question I would like to think that it is a combination of unhealthy attitudes of women and men of the past generation towards masculinity and femininity, that has led to this steep and unwanted decline of the mind set into the quagmire of depravity. I would like to give an example of this by something that happened to me at my gym thrice. I was approached on three separate occasions by absolute creeps whilst I was working out. Despite rebuffs and the Insta-freeze treatment I had to suffer through the embarrassment of having to go complain to my trainer and the management to tell these creeps to refrain from approaching.

This happened to me that first time!
Was I overreacting? I asked this question again and again. But I swear I got the chills thinking about acid- attack victims and other bad incidents. I am ashamed to say that I changed my gym timings. What really shocked me (as I have travelled and lived in various different countries) is that someone could find me attractive when I was all sweaty and gross, the concept of ‘women only’ timings at the gyms in the city and the fact that I was naïve enough to think that I would be safe in a small neighbourhood gym patronised by (on surface at least) reputable folks. The first time I laughed it off by saying to myself, that these things only happen in big cities and that my home town showed progress indeed, if guys here had started approaching girls at the gym!

Happened twice this week
I know what you are thinking, my naïveté astonishes me too. I know that women all over the world deal with ‘everyday sexism’ regularly, and yet the concept of slut-shaming, harassment and sexual innuendo being casually dropped in conversation in my small home town is still a big surprise to me. A friend of mine told me that some women were spreading malicious gossip about her and a male friend, which in my opinion reeked of slut- shaming.

This has become a menace. I don’t mean to say that people, especially women have never gossiped or spread rumours before. But, if something has been done time and time again by the past generations doesn’t mean that it is right. I have heard my sister feminists preach about ‘healthy masculinity’; About how, by making sure our brothers and sons learn to respect women from an early age and letting them grow up organically into their manhood will bring about the big change that society is asking for. This is really necessary; however, before we start moulding the men, it is time to remould ourselves.

After all, how are we supposed to teach the male of our species to respect the female, when we don’t respect ourselves? Therefore, we have to stop judging ourselves and our fellow women; we must try and open our minds to all the unique attributes that make us who we are. We must learn to celebrate our similarities and differences. To establish healthy forms of ‘masculinity’ we must first redefine  healthy ‘femininity ‘; Learn to love and respect ourselves, as change, does begin at home.