The Vernacular

Everytime my Achan comes to Bangalore to visit us, he brings a suitcase full of vegetables and coconuts for my sister and a book or two for me.  This is a bit of a ritual. Even if he doesn’t bring a book for me per se, he’ll bring one for himself which, chances are, I will nick. Having been at the wrong end of the book-theft-program quite a few times, he now travels almost always with a spare book for yours truly.

This time when he came to visit, he bought me the Malayalam translation of a Kannada book named “Bhujangayyana Dasavataragalu” (which can be roughly translated as the Ten Avatars of Bhujangayan, the protagonist) written by Srikrishna Alanahalli. I started reading it, got hooked and swore to finish it, only to be frustrated by how slow a progress I am making.

You see, there is a pattern here. Everytime I start reading a Malayalam book, I start off with a lot of enthusiasm – grand plans on how I’m going to read it, absorb it and talk about it eloquently to anyone who will listen. And almost everytime, I lose interest halfway through. Well, lose interest is too broad a term. What actually happens is I give up on the language.

I am extremely ashamed to admit this, but it is true. Malayalam is not my mental home ground. One of my English teachers in school used to tell us that to master a language, we have to start thinking in that language. “Most of you”, she used to say, “think in Malayalam and then try to convert it to English. That is why you find English frustrating. Think in English. THINK in English”, she used to repeat time and again.

For me, the case is often opposite. This is not to say that I don’t know Malayalam. I speak fluent Malayalam, I write, I read – all good. What I lack is the ability to appreciate Malayalam literature, the ability to articulate emotions or experiences beautifully. And I can’t put in plain words how much this frustrates and depresses me.

To be fair, I was not always like this. For a better part of my life, I was not aware of what I was missing. I have officially studied Malayalam till 4th std. After that, I took up Sanskrit as an elective. (if you have an hour or two to spare, lemme know. I can rant on and on about how ‘raama, raamau, raamah!’ screwed up my life) And it amuses me to no end what followed. Around 6th std or so, our school saw an influx of NRI malayalees – kids who had grown up in Dubai or Kuwait. Kids who spoke flawless English and took pride in saying “enik Malayalam korach korach ariyam” (“I know very little Malayalam). Stories of how they can’t read Malayalam and how they ‘speak only English’ at home were shared with a lot of panache. Not to be left behind, I decided to follow suit.  No more Malayalam. Na-ah. I became a I-am-too-cool-for-Malayalam person. I wrote out notes to my amma in Manglish. And when she pulled my leg about it, I ignored her.

Somewhere in 9th std, a lot of things changed for me. I don’t remember why or how, but looking back, I think of that period as ‘the time I grew a spine’. Among other epiphanies, it dawned on me how shameful it is that I can’t write a word in my mother tongue. And being the stupidly persistent person that I am, I decided to rectify this by spending an entire summer vacation copy-writing the headlines of each day’s Malayalam newspaper until my handwriting stopped resembling that of a 5-year-old.

But somewhere in between all this, I forgot to learn to appreciate fine Malayalam literature. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that good tastes are acquired, not instinctive. Sure, the effort that you are willing to put in matters a lot, but it also matter when you put in that effort. There is such a thing called the ‘formative years’ and what you are exposed to then is likely to stay with you forever.

As I grew up, I often lamented (albeit privately) that I didn’t put in enough effort into understanding Malayalam literature. Today I have an additional concern. My baby niece, my MiniatureHuman (or Mihu, as I call her) is growing up in Bangalore. A place that is an amalgamation of all cultures and lifestyles. A place where she will learn a lot of things that I hadn’t. But will she learn her mother tongue? When she hears a poem in her mothertongue, will she appreciate the emotion in it or will she just…process it? I am worried, because as Vineeth Sreenivasan said in an interview, there will come a time in every person’s life when he/she will feel culturally adrift. It is only then that you will realise how closely linked your identity and your roots are.

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The Labyrinth

You know what I should be doing? Trying to figure out my life. You know what I am doing? Watching Adele on Youtube and pretending that I am not having a life crisis.

Story of my life.

So I am at the crossroads of life where I have to choose between the perfectly-good, decently-paid job that I have and a probably-not-well-paid, might-or-might-not-be-magnificent job that I don’t have. And since I have exhausted all the people around me by talking about this for the last few years, pretty much nobody wants to hear about this anymore. But I can’t stop obsessing over it and it’s driving me CRAZY. Hence this very short, pretty pointless blog entry.

Something I have noticed is that the catch about having something to look forward to in life is that you often get consumed in what you will do that you often forget to enjoy what you ARE doing.

As John Green writes in ‘Looking for Alaska’, “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

I think that is the best description of my current predicament. Nevertheless, I hope that I manage to get out of the labyrinth someday. But I wonder what awaits outside it. Another labyrinth, maybe?

 

Gone Girl

So I read Gone Girl. As usual, it was by chance (is that an oxymoron, btw?). I had just downloaded the Aldiko E-book reader and wanted to try it out and the only epub file I had with me was this one. So I just loaded it to check, and boy, was it incredible!

Gone Girl (Cover)
Gone Girl (Cover)

Gone Girl, the 3rd of Gillian Flynn’s works (each “darker” than the previous, according to the reviews I’ve skimmed through), is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a painfully beautiful and charming couple who had a romcom-ishly perfect courtship and marriage only to realise that they are, basically, two psychos. Seriously. There is no other word for it! Now I’m not going to go into the plot because I’m pretty sure half the world have seen this movie and been adequately scarred for life. At least I was.

Truth be told, the reason I decided to watch the movie (back then, I had no idea it was an adaptation of the book) was mainly because I had a crush soft spot for Ben Affleck. So I started watching the movie in my usual I-am-watching-and-playing-game-and-fiddiling-on-my-phone mode. I wasn’t really into it. Sure, there was a bunch of stuff happening on screen but I wasn’t…hooked, you know. Heck, I didn’t even understand half of what was going on! What made me sit up was seeing Neil Patrick Harris on the big screen (Pretty sure you are starting to sense a pattern here). And in a bit, The Boy Met The Girl and all hell broke loose. In other words, I got mindblown.

To say that the story is a disturbing one would be like saying Messi is a footballer or gulab jamun is a sweet – diabolical would be more appropriate, especially since the Doer-of-All-Evil is a woman. Yes, I know how that sounds. But you have to remember that we, as a society, have it ingrained in our mind that women are essentially sweet and delicate and incapable of planning, much less seeing through, incredibly and intentionally evil schemes. But that is exactly Amy does. And this is, by far, the most contradicting-ly feministic and misandristic blur of a book I’ve ever read. For instance, Amy, while waiting for the news on television about ‘how her cheating, lying, scum of a husband killed her’, makes the following observation:

“Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxi pad commercial, windex commercial – you’d think all women do is clean and bleed.” 

It is said so casually, in so wry a tone that you can’t help but chuckle. That, I feel, is the power of this book. Flynn has constructed a good-on-paper-but-not-so-much-in-real-life situation which, thanks to the characters, seems not unoccurable.

And to be honest, I loved reading the book. Nick and Amy take turns narrating the story and as in real life, their versions of it are conflicting. He sees the rainbows, she sees the rain. He sees the spilled flour, she sees the cake. Life as it is. But more than just characters and premises, what grips you (with a bit of dread, if you will), is the idea of how easy it is to manipulate reality. It’s a bit like Inception – only that it is real and unpleasant and detailed to a fault. As Joshua Rotham wrote in The New Yorker,Gone Girl is fascinating because it gets at what is unsettling about coupledom: our suspicion that, in some fundamental sense, it necessarily entails victimization. Just as Fight Club showed that manliness and violence were imaginatively inseparable, Gone Girl raises the possibility that marriage and victimhood are inseparable, too. In real life, this is a widespread suspicion, sometimes justified, sometimes not. Gone Girl has resonated for a reason. It has found a creepy, confused, and troubling part of us, and expressed it.’

Or as Nick puts it (in simpler words),

“There’s a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.”

Suffice to say that this is the first book that I’ve read in a long time (and by that I mean a VERY long time) that I’ve read with an intensity reminiscent of my fervent-bookaholic days.

The Bad Bad Day

It was a bad bad day. It was a not very feel-good day. You’ve probably experienced one of those before. I have too. No matter how many times you’ve had it, it is one experience that I hope we never get used to.

So where was I? Yes, bad day. What was so bad about it, you ask? Oh nothing. Nothing in particular. Just a day where you mess up a lot of things you could’ve not. You know, work things. Nothing major, just….things. I’m not being very eloquent, am I?

So what do you do when you have such days?  Seriously? The old me would’ve headed to the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, shouted a bit at amma and sat in a corner reading a good book. The new me, on the other hand, deals with such days by heading home, switching on the laptop and going through an entire season of FRIENDS/The Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother/Mentalist/…., you get the gist. Effective, you’d think.

Nah.

So that’s what this post is about. (Yes, there is a purpose to this, you-snarky-person-who-is-grinning-as-you-read-this). This post is a celebration. For what, you ask? Celebration of an aberration. An anomaly. A deviation from the well-treaded path. This post is a hurray to the old-turned-new-turned-old me who is dealing with a bad, bad day by crawling in bed with a cup of coffee and a fascinating book and ending up writing a short post about it, that, in retrospect, doesn’t make much sense.

THE PAINTER OF SHANGHAI

As often is the case, I found The Painter of Shanghai by pure chance. I had lent my library card to my roommate because she was utterly bored and wanted to walk it off and had no place to go except the nearby library. So off she went and when she came back, she had this book clutched in her hand. Though I didn’t say anything just then, I was secretly disappointed at her choice. I had once tried reading ‘The Memoirs of Geisha’ and was unable to enjoy it even slightly, so the description of ‘Can a concubine escape her past?’ didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Which explains why this book was left untended to for about 2-3 weeks before lack of alternate reading materials forced me to pick it up.

The Painter of Shanghai
The Painter of Shanghai

The Painter of Shanghai’ also published as ‘The Painter from Shanghai’ is a fictional version of the real-life story of Pan Yuliang, a young orphan who went on to be celebrated, if rather controversial, woman artist (a term that irritates her to no end) of China. It traces her journey from an innocent girl sold to a brothel by her opium-addicted uncle, to that of a young woman who ends up being a concubine to a virtuous government official (Pan Zanhua) at Shanghai. There she discovers the talent in herself and goes on to pursue a life as a painter. Her choice to paint nude self-portraits creates much controversy, particularly in the war-ridden Shanghai of 1930s until she moves to Paris where she attains the acclaim she deserved. Jennifer Cody Epstein, the author of Painter of Shanghai, has done a wonderful job of recreating the life of Pan Yuliang. I particularly loved the poems that are intertwined with the prose. One of my favourite is the last line of Li Qingzhao’s poem that goes:

I caress the withered flower, fondle the fragrant petals

Trying to bring back the lost time

As always, Pan Yuliang’s remarkable legacy was honored in the way it should be much after her death in 1977. However, even today, her nudes continue to cause controversy and furore – in 1993, an exhibition of her work in Beijing caused enough concern that several of her nudes were removed.

After all, it is not in vain that the famous French artist Henri Matisse once remarked “Another word for creativity is courage”.


Driven by curiosity, I managed to locate a few of Pan Yuliang’s works – ‘The Lingnan School’s‘ site offers much more insight to her artistial journey. I’ve attached two of my personal favourite paintings of hers’.

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Oh, and as always, happy reading 🙂

The new-found freedom

It was only the last evening while talking to a friend on phone that it dawned on me that I’ve been away from home for nearly 6 months now. Which, of course, in the larger scheme of things is kinda like a drop of water in the ocean. It’s just that I absolutely loved these last few months. And I find that amusing ‘coz if you were to call me up at this moment and ask me to educe my memories of Bangalore, I’d probably come up with more rotten ones than the other.

Huh.

On second thought, that shouldn’t surprise me so, should it? En masse, we humans have this tendency to highlight the bad over good, haven’t you felt? Trashy movies, shoddy books, third-rate politics, mediocre celebs, their sub-standard tactics…all this makes us have collective mini-orgasms. The good stuff usually makes us go “Damn, why didn’t I think of that? And now I have to sit through others praising him. And smile while I’m seething with jealousy.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that bad experiences end up being a damn good story. And yes, I realise it echoes of the first line of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. And that, keeping in with the tradition, I’ve drifted off the topic. Focus, Navmi.

So yeah, Bangalore. I keep saying Bangalore ‘coz even though I’ve been here for just 3 months, life in Gandhinagar had been a breeze compared to that here. There, everything was handed out to us in a platter – all we had to do was to shell out a few bucks to keep ‘em coming. Here, we had to start everything from scratch. You know how you watched Ayesha paint her cute little apartment in ‘Wake up Sid!’ and told yourself “That’s how it is gonna be when I move to a new place”? Well, I really don’t want to rain on your parade, but THAT is utter bullshit. When YOU move to a new place, you’re probably going to end up in a P.G which advertises free wifi, “homely” food, and a bunch of smiling owners only to realise by the end of the month that (a) it takes an hour to load Google, (b) you can only have so much dal in a day (c) you are the little Red Riding Hood and the owners may as well be the big, bad wolves in your Grandma’s clothes. So there.

And then you are going to realise that life is bloody expensive. I’m not talking about the ‘No cash for petrol’ kinda crisis. I’m talking about the one where you realise a packet of Surf Xcel costs as much as a king-sized Diary Milk Silk! And once you realise the number of chips packets you consume in a month, you’ll start wondering how your parents could afford to stay off the streets. Seriously. But hey, jokes apart, there is nothing like being completely in charge of your finances that helps you grow up. A few of us taste the first spurt of this growth in your college days. For a few others like me, it’s a completely new arena. There is nothing as baffling as watching your carefully scripted monthly budget plan falling apart in the first week of the month. From then on, it’s like increasingly depressing cricket match. Theoretically, there is hope till the last over is bowled. And yet, you get a picture of how things are gonna be in those crucial initial overs.

And somewhere between all these, you’ll start getting hounded by a newfound worry that you are not doing enough for your parents – financially or physically, whether they need it or not. There’ll be times when you’ll be astounded by the heights of your selfishness in choosing to put your life, your dreams, your independence above that of theirs. You are gonna fret over those calls that start with “I have this headache for the last few days…” or “Cholesterol level is quite high…” When they call you up to inform you about the demise of an acquaintance or a friend or are uncharacteristically silent on the phone, you are gonna catch yourself wondering “If only I were there, we could have talked about this…” You are gonna brood over that for a while and will, almost certainly, try and shake it off by watching a movie or reading a book. After all, you gotta do what you gotta do.

And in between all these, strangely enough, you’ll relish the life you live. You’ll enjoy that you can go out at 9.30pm to buy a jar of jam. Or that you can go jogging in the morning just because you felt so. Or that you can blow off a good portion of your salary on books and no one is gonna give you THAT look. Some days you’ll go up on the terrace, look at the stars and simply lie there, listening to the distant rumble of traffic, the impatient horns and wonder where everyone is going. You’ll gaze at the apartments nearby and wonder what they are doing. You’ll have the luxury of being at your whims and fancies…

Some days, most days, that’ll be enough.

PERSEPOLIS – MARJANE SATRAPI

You know how sometimes you pick up a book with the hope of achieving nothing but a lightness of mind, sort of like a distraction from all that is going on around you? That is the reason why I started reading Persepolis. It had been introduced to me by a friend and though I found it mildly interesting, I had put it on my ‘Must-read’ list. Well, if you must know, my ‘Must-read’ list comprises of widely acclaimed books like those of Marquez’s and Tolstoy’s that I’d really love to be in love with. Someday.

For one, Persepolis is a graphic novel. You know, the ones with cute illustrations, characters speaking out in bubbles and rouge-on-the-cheek shown as a blob of pencil shade. Like Tintin. Or Calvin n Hobbes. Funny, but a bit juvenile, I thought. Boy, was I wrong!

Persepolis 1 & 2 traces the story of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian girl. With simple words and illustrations Marjane describes her memories of growing up in the war-struck country, moving to Vienna at 10, coming back after a few years, studying in Iran under the reign of Islamic Revolutionaries and finally moving out for good.

Personally, I’ve been very interested in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Islamic nations (except for the UAE. Yawn!) I know not where this fascination comes from, but it has resulted in me trying to read Quran, understand the fanatics’ perspective and such in my late teens. Needless to say, my grandparents were deeply disturbed by this, even as my parents tried explaining to them that ‘it was just a phase’. My mother blamed it on Kamala Suraiyya and stopped prodding me to read Malayalam literature. Anyway, my point was, as much as I tried to understand what is going on there, there were always holes in my theories, you know. For instance, how the entire thing started was a mystery – yes, I knew it was about the oil and yes, the ‘Burger-and-Fries’ nation was involved, but the real deal – no idea. I tried reading about it in magazines and newspapers but after 2 pages of words like ‘imperialists’, ‘savak’, ‘proletariat’ etc, I gave up. It took too much effort to understand what was going on.

What I find absolutely amazing about Persepolis is the ease with which the author explains what went wrong at Iran. It describes the effect of the countries mucked up political situations on the common man with simple words, instances and often, a tinge of humor. For example, Satrapi describes one of her brushes with the extremists and their obsession with women ‘maintaining their dignity’ in the following strip.

A page of 'Persepolis'
A page of ‘Persepolis’

I could go on and on about this, but nothing I say can do justice to Satrapi’s work. All I can say is this one is, officially, one of my favs.

So, happy reading 🙂

PS: If anyone is tempted to give Persepolis a shot, I have the ebook with me. Drop me a mail and I’ll let ya borrow it.

Falling for ‘What Young India Wants’

There are a lot of things that you don’t do in life – for various reasons. Some things you don’t do because you don’t want to do it. Like getting drunk. Or eating curd rice. Or eat curd rice when you are getting drunk – you get the gist. Then there are some things that you don’t do because you KNOW it’ll get you killed – like check if you are, by some stroke of fate, a long-lost third cousin of Spiderman, or put up a Facebook status that goes “Mohanlal is fat”. And then there are things that you really want to do/say but don’t because you know that it’ll make you seem – there is no poetic way to say this – LAME to the world.

Where are you going with this, you ask?

Well the point is there is something that I really want to say but is hesitant due to Reason No.3. But I really want to say it so I’m gonna just blurt it out fast so that I can try to pretend I didn’t say it, okay?

Here goes. *Deep breathe*

I’mKindaStartingToFindChetanBhagatReallyREALLYCool.

There. I said it.

You know that guy who writes predominantly crappy novels that get turned into rather crappy movies that people love? Yup, I’m talking about him. Correction – only two of the movies turned out to be total crap – 3 Idiots and Hello. The rest of them, the movies that is, were pretty good. *And this is where it dawns on me that there is only one other book that has been adapted onscreen. Good going Navmi, good going*

So where was I? Haan…Chetan Bhagat. As someone who has read every single one of his unbelievably ridiculous books that somehow turns out to be bestsellers (I can personally justify the popularity of 2 States. That one, you gotta admit, was pretty cool), I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always had a certain amount of scorn for people who find his books “awesome!” Imagine the look on the face of someone who has watched a Leonardo DiCaprio movie if you tell him Nargis Fakri is your favourite actor. That’s how I’ve felt every time I heard “Chetan Bhagat is my favourite author”.

Around 2 weeks back, I came across one of his books, “What Young India Wants”. Expecting the usual potpourri of the girl-who-kisses-the-poor-timid-guy, sex scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot and a storyline that makes as much sense as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, boy, was I surprised to find myself hooked – like dream-about-reading-the-book hooked – to it. So much that I dashed off to Flipkart and bought that babe home. And lemme tell ya…it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve done THAT.

Hey, before you dash off to check out ‘What Young India Wants’, a word of caution. The book, is by no means, an awesome piece of literature. The content is, to be frank, nothing new. It is a seeda-saada Chetan Bhagat book.

And yet I was (and am) totally smitten. The entire book, a collection of selected essays and columns CB has penned over the last few years, is very well put-together. The issues CB brings up have been discussed about at length and with varying degrees of seriousness and expertise. So nothing new there. The real pull of the book for me was how it spoke about various issues in India like an average Indian who is so in love with the country, despite all that is wrong with her. An Indian who dreams of India growing up to make a name for Herself not unlike how our parents dream for us. A tad bit silly, I guess. But you and I, my friend, are in our hearts, subscribers of that silliness. Often, it is the only thing between us and insanity in this amazing country which is, many a time, an increasingly frustrating place to live.