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Thanks for all the fish

Thanks for all the fish

This past week, everything on the internet was about turkeys and thanksgiving. And though we don’t do thanksgiving here in India (except for a few people on Twitter), it IS November and that signals the end of year. The  Guardian already has a list of the best books of 2012, so this is my list of things I’m thankful for this year.

The writers of Community, The Newsroom, Mad Men and Homeland:

Personally, I haven’t had the best year. But as always I find distraction and solace in television and books. And I have to thank Community, The Newsroom, Mad Men and Homeland for getting me through it without going batshit insane, growing dreadlocks and living in a tree. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do; being so invested in fictional characters but it just makes me feel so…so alive and so…you know, I’m just going to give my hard drive a big hug right now.

Books that find you:

As you might have gathered, my life decisions don’t always lend itself to a well-fed bank account. But that’s what second hand bookstores, sales and friends are for. This year I have read borrowed books, books I picked up for Rs 50 at a sale, and books that I abandoned or never got around to reading. And I have been consistently surprised and happy. They have been books I have picked up grudgingly because I was too broke to buy what I wanted. But the good ones just found me. In many ways, I’m an old lady who is afraid of new things. I like finding my comfort zone and sticking to it and sometimes have a closed mind. I don’t want to listen to your new favourite band; I don’t want to read an author I’ve never heard of before. But almost every time I have done it, I have been rewarded. I’ve read a great deal of books this year, even signed up for a post graduation course in literature (not made a dent in that list yet though) and I do hope the next pay cheque is big enough to do some splurging. But till then, there is always my Flipkart wishlist to check and sigh everyday.

Amy Pohler:

Amy Pohler is not only television’s funniest woman, she is also the personification of woman power and an example for girls all over the world. Along with being the super ambitious and funny Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec; she also has her own youtube channel. Called, Smart girls at the party, it encourages young talented girls to be themselves and be proud of it (the last episode had a Sikh girl explain her religion and what her culture entails).  I imagine Pohler in real life to be something of a superwoman. Incredibly talented, funny, confident and amazing. Even if she isn’t, I’m just glad she’s on one of the best sitcoms I’ve seen this year.

The interwebz:

On a regular day, I spend about nine to ten hours on my laptop. I can find and read this on Wednesday, laugh till my ribs hurt at this the next day and watch this on the weekend. And I can sit here in Mumbai and read the New Yorker and The Slate and The Guardian and Flavorwire. I can spend hours looking at cat videos and I can also spend hours talking to a friend in San Francisco. We talk about dependence, we talk about how the internet has us by the balls (metaphoric ones) but I don’t see the problem. The good things outweigh the bad, a million times over. The internet is filled with vile and disgusting things offset by art. Beautiful art in the form of music, videos, literature and so much more.

2012

What a great time to live, I think sometimes when I’m standing inside a matchbox sized room and listening to the Bombay Bicycle club or when I feel gooseflesh on my arm from watching The manganiyar seduction on stage. I think about the lives my parents must have led when they were my age and I can’t believe my luck. International artists aren’t just those mythical creatures forever stuck on records (or iTunes library) any more. India isn’t just a far, exotic land of elephants and snake charmers anymore and every month we hear announcements of international artists performing here, international films being screened, international brands setting shop and we are here to witness this. It fills me with such a rush to realise that we are part of a turning point of sorts, for this country in the cultural field.

Yes, the world is still listening to Justin Beiber and One Direction, but you know what, fuck that. Every small singer, songwriter and trumpet player now has opportunity. Opportunity to reach out and make themselves heard (whether they’re good or not decides how far they go) and that’s as good as it gets. A million music, art, theatre and literature festivals have sprung up. Can’t find an audience there? Put your work online and somebody in a tiny town in Brazil may just become your fan.

I can tell my very tambhram family that I want to be a writer and they don’t automatically assume that all is lost. Just that much is great. I live in a time when I don’t have to mind my manners, wear corsets that cause asphyxia or be ‘married off’ when I turn 18. I don’t have to rebel. I know, most people don’t see the appeal in that and find rebelling against society and their parents very cool but really it’s not. We have been born in a time when it’s not rebellious to cut your hair real short and come home at 5am. It’s normal. It’s great that we don’t have to fight these tiny battles because the previous generation already paved the way for us. They fought to break out and now it’s up to us to take that chance and go as high and as far as we can. We owe it to so many, many people.

Old school forever

Old school forever

Hey, remember when Reader’s Digest used to be good? Remember when there used to be fights about who got to read it first, till things got ugly and there were time slots allotted to each family member? Remember when the joke page used to actually make you laugh? Remember when there were bleeding heart stories about how a mother helped her five year old son fight cancer, or adventure stories about how someone fought off a grizzly bear? That slim, notebook sized volume had such a great exhaustive tank of good reading, that I remember certain stories even to this day. Ooh, remember the one where…ah never mind. I don’t recall exactly when it was that the magazine just straight up stopped being as entertaining as it used to be. I’ll wager it was around the time Brooke married her 700th Forrester husband on The bold and the beautiful.

But the magazine had some glory years, I’ll tell you that much. Reader’s Digest and the National Geographic were the only two magazines that my household didn’t give away to the raddi waala. You just didn’t do that kind of stuff. For years, a falling down bookcase in my grandmother’s house held editions from the early eighties. Tattered things that held great big-hearted true life stories. And we even had a separate shelf that held those special edition RD Volumes- you know the ones that were denser than the Bible. Yeah, we were purists all right.

Sundays were spent at my grandparent’s little cottage back then and there were three main events in the day. Lunch, which was always amazing. A 3 o’clock, kids movie on Star Movies. And then going to the bookshelf and choosing a dusty, hard cover volume of Readers Digest, special edition. The dust would stick to my fingers and mix with the sweat on my palm and form a kind of grimy paste, but I would read lovely illustrated stories like Good Morning Miss Dove, My son Goggle, Old Yeller and Mr Hobbs Holiday. There was no greater joy than a Sunday and reading.

I was reminded of this exhilarating joy when I read this argument recently. Its heavy stuff, but let me sum up the essence of what Piper is saying. A real book, a paper and jacket cover and ink book, actually stands for something larger that what it is. It’s how your body acts when it’s reading. How you lie down on your back, holding your book up on your stomach, or on your stomach with your ankles crossed in the air, or propped up on your elbow, or sitting up at a table or whatever. When you’re reading a book, your whole damn body is reading with you. Your fingers feel the paper, the paper yellows over time and the heavy weight of a book in your hands can never ever be replaced by some cold, chrome thing. In any case, I’m fighting a lost cause. Technology will be technology after all and it will go on ahead and change lifestyles and values. But it gets me upset, because when it comes to certain things, nothing beats old school. Reading and literature is one of those things. A grandiose Forrester wedding is another.

Enter the Russians

Enter the Russians

The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment were names I’d just heard a lot, mostly from superior Delhi University type friends who spoke of the writer in tones of hushed awe and respect. I, in my whole life of reading, talking about reading and finding new things to read, had never read the Russian Masters so I decided to go for it. Two weeks ago, I began my first Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. And I couldn’t be happier. My train and bus commutes are like watching mini episodes of The Wire. In my head I’ve named my future children, Katerina and Anastasia. My days are filled with this book, its atmosphere, how it’s written. Of course, in two weeks I’ve barely made a dent in the tome but every page is promising. This book promises to be a family saga of great dramatic, proportions and so far I’m riveted like never before.

There are a couple of things I love so far about reading The Brothers Karamazov. One, the unnamed narrator, who seems to be the most chilled out guy on the planet. There is a bit in the text where he is giving the reader the story of Smerdyakovs birth and suddenly he brings the tale to a hasty end by saying apologetically, “But I must not bore you with stories of servants.” He seems so real to me, just like the rest of the characters do, but I don’t know anything about him except that he seems to belong to the same village as the Karamazovs. Will I learn his identity at page 1045, or is he going to be He who must not be named until the end. I don’t know.

The second thing I love about this book is the fact that each character is very lovingly and painstakingly sketched out but not in a way that makes me feel like I know them intimately. Some actions, the curl of a lip or a sneer perhaps, aren’t explained at all and I’m left wondering why the person did it. It’s like I’m watching the story unfold before me but I’m still not invited inside the actor’s heads. It’s very strange and unsettling. Sometimes, when a character is narrating a story to another – Dmitri Karamazov talking of why he is leaving his fiancé for instance – I somehow, seem to distrust them just a little bit. I catch myself thinking “I’m sure that’s not the whole story. He is definitely glossing over some things.”  I don’t know how Dostoevsky does it. I feel like I’m learning to read all over again.

The third thing that really fires every neuron in my brain is when the plot takes a whirl with drama. This morning, on the train, I missed my stop because I was so engrossed in a scene where Dmitri Karamazov throws his father to the floor and kicks his face with the heel of his boot.

It’s amazing. I have no idea why I haven’t read Dostoevsky before but I do know this. Now that I have started, no reading is likely to be the same.

Three pieces of literature that taught us true things about love

Three pieces of literature that taught us true things about love

And what it all comes down to is that love as an emotion is so powerful, every writer and his grandfather must use it in one way or another. From the star-crossed lover theme to unrequited love, poetry, drama and novels just plunk it in there. It was obviously easy to get it right at first (My love is like a red, red rose indeed). But as time passed, people changed. What’s more, facebook was invented and with it came relationship statuses. So literature started fucking it up. We got all manner of insipid pulp lit, supposedly about strong confident women, but with a love story at the heart of it. We got 50 shades of grey.

Wait, wait. This is not another one of my superior rants. I’m actually going to talk about books that got it right. There are several but only three have impacted my life and my perception of relationships that hold a romantic tenor.

The scene where lady Macbeth goes all “Be a man!” “From this time/ Such I account thy love.” OUCH. From Macbeth. Don’t even deny it. Sometimes in a relationship, the girl gets the guy to do stuff he wouldn’t do normally, by hinting delicately that he might not be man enough to rise to the occasion. It might not be as dramatic as murder, like it was over at casa Macbeth. But still, “Oh. Okay. I don’t know. Whichever guys I know think nothing of killing lizards. It’s sport to them.” Check. And mate.

Gloria and Anthony Patch from The Beautiful and the Damned. When insecure meets insecure, there can be no awesome. Write that down and put it up on the fridge. In my experience, the more insecure you are, the more you’ll stress out about not appearing insecure. It’s only human nature. That’s why in relationships, two messed-up souls who seem to have it together only end in tragedy. This makes for great and poignant story lines. But off the page, its more hysterical weeping over vodka martinis, punching walls, threatening to throw the beloveds possessions into a river or taking penknives to mattresses to carve out names into the coir. I may or may not have seen all of this in real life. Living in women’s hostels can be pretty instructive.

Scarlet and Rhett from Gone with the Wind. There I go defying my hipster-ness by citing the most talked about love story of all time after Romeo and Juliet (I’ll never be that much of a sellout.). The Scarlet and Rhett angle to love is the most amazing, because the can’t-see-past-the-end-of-ones-nose philosophy (Props Mary Poppins) happens to one in every four people. “Oh my god. Eddie liked me, when I liked Joe. But I actually liked Eddie all along. Isn’t that the craziest”? Cosmic misdirection and misread signals are the hugest part of this ladka-ladki chakkar. And only one novel nailed it.

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