Reclaiming Pleasure

I completed reading a book the other day.

(No, not this book.)

Normally, this would not have been news. Definitely not bloggable. I used to read a lot and often. Like writing, something broke, and I didn’t read a book for a long time. I didn’t stop reading; articles, documents and such were still being consumed voraciously; but a book didn’t figure in the list.

Clearly there is a loss of patience to go through the book. From deep within, there is a constant nagging that seeks finishing the book. The remainder of the pages on the right hand is a daunting task. Desperately waiting to increase the pages in the left hand.

It doesn’t help that others are reading so many books and so frequently. What should work as motivation creepily transforms into competition.

What should be pleasure, becomes a chore.

#NotesToSelf

Pressure and Pleasure Theory

A few posts on this blog early in this year, dealt with the problem of the “writer’s block” – what it meant for me. I thought I had found some answers, but deep down I wasn’t really convinced with those. There was more to it. Something real. Something tangible, something I could put a finger on and say, this is it. This is the writer’s block! Subconsciously, though, it seemed I was aware of it, and was taking action to unblock so to speak. I was aware of those actions, I was unaware, however about the purpose behind the action.

This news is not new, but there is an epidemic of attention spans getting shorter. Having grown through school and life with a heavy dose and habit of long-form reading and writing I believe I have acquired some immunity to diminishing attention spans. But belief isn’t enough, so I had to test it by reading and writing as I did. It was a relief to discover that I was indeed immune. I read two long-form non-fiction books, wrote reviews and other long-form writing. But, as Sulu would have said, defences were at 75%. Something was missing. The flow wasn’t as smooth, the effort was laboured, and the distraction was larger. There was an urge to complete.

This was new. And I did not recognise this sense at first. Folks had commented on a few posts, saying it felt abrupt. This sense extended to reading. I could see how my reading was changing. I looked forward to finishing the book. I wasn’t skipping parts of the book to get to the end, I was getting impatient with the content.

It was spilling over to my writing, for sure. The urge to publish was strong. And that was affecting the quality and the completeness of the content. The days when blogging was the primary social network is long past us. There is sanctuary there. There is no pressure to churn content like before. Thankfully that has shifted to micro-blogging networks, and I have shifted away from those.

What’s true for coffee is true for life and everything else.

Real Pleasure Can’t come in An Instant.

(Caption Courtesy: An old MR Coffee print ad).

Slow-brewed Heavenly South-Indian Filter Coffee

So 2020 will all be about taking time. The pleasure will all be mine. To savour it slowly.

#SOTD The 59th Street Bridge Song

Friends As Homing Devices

A peeking rose

 

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

I read this poem a couple of days ago. Only because I stumbled upon it, while I was reading a book. A book, which I had no idea existed, and discovered it only because I saw a movie, which was recommended to me by a dear friend, which, I would have never watched, if it was left to me. How and why this poem found its way to me, intrigues me. In an amusing way, i.e., not in a way that makes me weave the wool of conspiracy with needles of reason. Ironically, this book had itself alerted me to this phenomenon that I was to soon experience. I had smiled, when I read it; it was cute, but to have experienced the exact phenomenon couple of score pages later, was a revelation, it said:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

Importantly, the above line ended with, “How delightful if that were true.”

Ah, well, dear author, here is a perfect example of why I believe that books have homing instincts. My time to tell you the story.

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Time-travel is my favourite movie/series genre. It fascinates me, much. The actual time travel not so much, but the implications of it all. The scientific and the philosophical. Needless to say, all time-travel themed movies and series have been binge-consumed and there is nothing left. I move to the War genre.

Out of the blue, a friend asks, if I have watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – I tell her, it has been nagging me on Netflix, but it seems (because of the poster) too mushy for my taste. She urges me to watch it. A few days pass. I do watch it. I love it. I tweet about it. Amit thinks I am talking of the book. I say, no, I watched the film. As gently as he can, he curses my wretchedness, that I haven’t read the book, and Amit being Amit, he explains why. Point well taken. I buy the book. I flip through it. I know, what Amit meant. I start reading the book. It’s enjoyable. Then I stumble upon the homing device statement. I smile. Cute, I say to myself. Then I stumble upon the opening line of a poem, that the character in the book writes of; he doesn’t recall the author. Well, I have Google.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

These are the opening lines of Malcolm Arnold’s “Hymn to Empedocles,” part of Empedocles on Etna. I’ve never heard of Malcolm Arnold the poet before. More Googling ensues. I am reminded of something else, in the book”

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

And suddenly, late as it is, I am reading “Dover Beach. for sheer enjoyment.”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I feel blessed. I thank my friend who suggested the movie. I thank Amit for making me read the book.

I am grateful to the homing devices, that are my friends.

Running Behind

It isn’t working out. Present continuous.

My July commitment, of a post a day has failed as of the middle of this month, and I am lagging behind. Seven days. Six, if this post ever gets published. The saving grace is that I have not been lazy. I have been busy on Twitter, Facebook, and oh-so-busy on WhatsApp.

Amba Ghat, MH, India

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I even started reading a book. Then, I saw the comments of the folks who reviewed, wrote blurbs, and praised the book. Almost all of them were people I disagree with from an ideological point of view. 20 pages into the book. I am reading it, but I am not. A question lingers: If those that I essentially disagree with have endorsed the book, isn’t it obvious that I will disagree with what’s in the book? I linger on a paragraph. I am not reading it, I am seeing it. My eyes don’t dart the way they should, when I read a book. They hold a focus. It’s a form of slavery, I say to myself. To trust in reviews and endorsements. Reviews and endorsements by people who hold a common view, somehow, tell me of what to expect. 20 pages done. I wonder if I should just shelve it. I continue lingering on that paragraph.

Best case, I will learn something new. Worst case I would have gone through a few hundred pages of propaganda that I am already aware of. Should I pick another one from my unread shelf?

I have decided to read the book.

With an open mind. Books are ideas. They may be good ideas or bad ideas. Yet, they always inform us. Books are not good or bad for the ideas they present. They may be good or bad in the way they are written. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Come to think of it. Ideas have a purpose and a content. Those may be at cross-purposes with each other. Not all ideas work. But ideas are to be celebrated. Even if they have no standing or a life. They have to be celebrated for what they offer and the story that they tell of the human progress.

Always chase an idea.

Coming Of Age

When does one come of age? What age, i.e. I believe that questions does not have a definitive answer.

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I consider myself fortunate that I grew up surrounded by books. But the books I grew up with were not mine. They belonged to my father. My sister and I were allowed spaces in that library to keep our books. I do not know if he intended it, but that was our education of books; not their content, but their upkeep. We were, if you are wondering, allowed access to his library. And there was a theme to the books he read.

Eventually, I grew up. I chose books that were very different from the books in his library. Our library, now. I was grown up enough to buy my books. I was never a rebel. It was the influence of a combination of the books I could afford and the influence I was under. My books were welcomed in his library. I was flirting with atheism, and a book by Dawkins found a place nearby his Upanishadic texts. On weekends we had good conversations of the books that I was stuffing in his thematic library. Lovely conversations.

It’s been 17 years, and now they are only ghosts of conversations. Now, my sister and I are the sole heirs of his library. That’s the best thing he bequeathed to us.

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In Bullet Time

I just finished reading a book called Nationalism by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Gurudev was an articulate person. He had a power over words, which he used, not with dominance, but with love, care, and sense. Gurudev’s ideas about nationalism are incongruent with my own acquired beliefs. But, it matters less. It was, to say the lest, an enjoyable read. What he believed in, he has expressed so well, with so much conviction; as you read the book, you cannot feel anything but respect. I have an ideological difference from his POV.

This post is not about that.

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Having read that book, I discovered that there is a point of view that is discordant with mine. Then came the question. Do I accept it or reject it? This problem of binary will be the death of us all. David Weinberg, in his book “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room” — I know a really long title, talks of the nature of debate, among other things:

“A conversation like this is possible when each of us has freedom of expression and no one is required to change.”

While I study Nationalism, Gurudev’s perspectives have informed me. I respect his views. I do not entirely agree with them. And, as I study more, I am willing that my perspective may change.

May I read more books!

Writing Rigour

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. – Agatha Christie

That’s the headline of a blog that I have followed for a while. For a few years now, the blog has been defunct; not the blogger. I met the blogger today; very much alive. Said blogger stopped blogging a few years ago. What’s the point, she said. When she stopped blogging, she did not explicitly ask this question. I know another blogger who did the same. She perhaps was asking different questions. I actually know of a third blogger. He stopped blogging too. His question — I have no idea. He went to the extent of deleting his blog. It must have been serious.

I have, I will confess, considered not blogging. But for the life of me, I could never consider deleting my blog. Good or bad, I cannot deny that this has been an integral part of my life. That, some of the followers of my blog bring up posts from several years ago in a conversation, is reason enough. (I tried doing an April Fool gag; fell flat on my face). There was a time when I wrote words that everyone most people liked. That’s not the case, now.

Not that words are foreign. They are still mine. I recognise them just like before. Just that the way they want to be together is unlike how they’d gather like obedient children; earlier. Perhaps, I am not a shepherd of words. Perhaps words shepherd me. Perhaps, that is why some of my recent posts are shite. Or, I have lost the ability to shepherd. The shepherding, notwithstanding — the words are mine and I am of words.

We have just lost the rhythm.

All I need, is to go to the dance floor that isn’t patronized by any one any more and do my silly dance. Where no one will see me. Where neither my words, nor I will care.  Salsa with adjectives and Samba with verbs. The apocalyptic dance. One writer in the world; no reader left. Is a writer made of readers or is a writer made of writing? Will a writer write if there is no one left to read? What defines a writer? The writing, or the readers?

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I told her today, my writing, in recent times, has achieved heights of mediocrity, not knowing, if that is a sense of achievement. But I have to write. Not because you will read. Not because you will like it. I have to write, because I have to write. Scribble.

125659: Wall Grunge

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No writer, if she can, should give up writing. Because every writer knows one thing (even if she cannot sense it) – she and the words are one. She may walk away from words. (Words are kinda stupid; they have no emotion – they will sit where they were last sat; where words should be – is a writer’s prerogative.) But there is no leaving. Even if she never writes them – she cannot escape them.

If you can help it – do not become a writer. There is no escape. If you become a writer; welcome to the club!

209 pages

This book that I am reading. A mass market paperback. It’s called “What is History?” by Edward Hallett Carr. I started reading it on 10th October, this year; am on page 112, now. That seems like an achievement to me. So, as is my nature, I posted this update on Goodreads, and it showed up on my Facebook feed. (Not magically; I’ve given Goodreads permission to publish on Facebook on my behalf.)

Of all the people who saw that post, it was picked up by my English teacher from school, and she commented, “Atul, keep up the speed.”

Disclaimer: She is my favourite teacher of all times and I am her favourite student of all times. (Irrespective of the thousands of kids she taught after I completed high school. A few of these thousand kids may have been good, but I am her favourite, I am sure. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I didn’t make it to Editor of the school magazine, in my last year. Those were purely technical issues.)

More than twenty-five years later, she keeps tabs on what read and write. On my previous post, she said, “Well tried.” That was a message, if I ever got one. That’s who and how she is; she always pushes you forward.

You are never as good (or bad) as what you just accomplished, you are as good as what you can achieve.

Perhaps, that was her mantra for all of us. Perhaps that’s why I am not as lost as I think I would have been, otherwise.

20161129_222808

Back to the book.

This book is about Historiography. Unlike most facile stuff that I once used to read, it’s not an easy read. Here’s a sample:

This is the real indictment of those who seek to erect a super-historical standard or criterion in the light of which judgement is passed on historical events or situations—whether that standard derives from some divine authority postulated by the theologians, or from a static Reason or Nature postulated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is not that shortcomings occur in the application of the standard, or defects in the standard itself. It is that the attempt to erect such a standard is unhistorical and contradicts the very essence of history. [E. H. Carr, What is History?]

As is obvious, such a paragraph takes time (for me, at least). The idea in itself is quite simple and straightforward. The manner in which it is presented seeks that the reader be involved with heart, soul, and mind.

So, yes, I’ll complete this book. Soon enough, for it’s the kind that needs to be savoured.

And that’s the speed. Thank you Ma’am!

One of His Many Books

I want to read Demian, by Hermann Hesse, again. It has been a few years, since I read it. And as I was cleaning the shelves today, this book just called out. It will have to wait, as I finish the book I have on hand. But Demian is next.

IMAG0418-01

This is a book that I did not buy, borrow or steal. It is an inheritance.

I remember seeing this book on my father’s shelf. As a child — I must have been 10 or 12 at the time — this book scared me, because of its cover. That expressionless face, with those empty marble-eyes devoid of focus; celtic-like tentacles flowing out, where hair should have been. The stony under-eye-textured face, and those tentacles again, that slid dreadfully to the back cover creepily intertwining a screaming skull. In my immature mind, Demian was another word for a Demon.

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Years later, when I first left the country for a long-term assignment, fifteen years ago, I took this book with me. I remember the time, when, with much trepidation, I opened the book; my childhood fears still alive and begging me to close the book. In a foreign country, alone, afraid, adventurous, audacious, and animated at the same time, I added to the excitement and the fear, and opened the book. At the end of the two-page prologue, I discovered:

The life of every man is a way to himself, an attempt at a way, the suggestion of a path. No man has ever been utterly himself, yet every man strives to be so, the dull, the intelligent, each one as best as he can. Each man to the end of his days carries round with him vestiges of his birth — the slime and egg-shells of the primeval world. There are many who never become human; they remain frogs, lizards, ants. Many men are human beings above and fish below. Yet each one represents an attempt on the part of nature to create a human being. We enjoy a common origin in our mothers; we all come from the same pit. But each individual, who is himself an experimental throw from the depths, strives towards his own goal. We can understand each other; but each person is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

~ Demian, Hermann Hessse, translated by W. J. Strachan, Granada Publishing Limited, first published in 1960; last reprint in 1976

This concluding paragraph of the prologue was hopeful, and frightening at the same time. The original fear had manifested itself, and I felt the presence of new invisible fears. What lies ahead; in the hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that I am to read? I can never know. Leaving the safety of home, when I asked my father, if I could take this book with me, he seemed happy as he handed the book to me. I remember little now, but perhaps, he was smiling. I think he knew that this book terrified me, as a child. But, if he was smiling, it wasn’t because of the irony, it was, perhaps because he sensed that it was the right time for me to read the book.

This book is unique, for me, because he never signed it; it is bereft of his marginalia. There is a small pencil-scribble on the first page. Top-right. ₹9.50. That’s what he must have paid for the book. There is nothing to say that this book was his and he read it, other than the fact that I know he did. Only a few sticky-notes (mine; I dared not enter marginalia in a book that did not belong to me; even now, I do not) stay glued, neatly above paragraphs, where some questions terrorised me. And this fear was different. It had nothing to do with the cover. It became real. I hoped that I’d have a conversation about these questions with him someday, but we never found the time. And without a spoken or a written word, that sudden day, his books were bequeathed to me and my sister. And we had to find our own answers, since that day.

Time passes. Our questions change. And therefore, our answers.

It’s time for Demian.

The Challenge

I don’t remember the last time a book challenged me.

Reading non-fiction, for a long time has, perhaps slowed me down. In a way, non-fiction is the book of answers, fiction is the book of questions.

This one book has me in a frenzy. For many reasons. One, it was written in a language that’s not native to me. It’s not alien though. Both my parents learnt this language, and were good at it. Two, it is written by a person who is known as the father of the revival of this language; I know little about his work, but I am learning. And I am fascinated. Three, it is historical. That should explain a lot, of my interest in the book. Yes, it’s fiction. Four, it was written about 125 years ago, and it is timeless, for it holds within it answers that society is asking today. If we can see it through our own eyes and not through a lense that belongs to another. Five, finally, the questions that this book asks of me, that are appearing in my notebook, are those that I do not recognise. I am excited of what answers will come.

image

The Questions I Was Asked

But they’ll have to wait, those answers, I need to read two more translations before I know. And I think my life will thank me for it.

Moblogged. E&OE

Word’s Worth

A well-known person recently wrote a very ill-structured article, distorting history, and creating a hateful environment, all around. It was worse than a recently released film, which distorted history, but without any predetermined malice. This article, not so.

The nature, structure, and intent of the article disturbed me, I wrote a response. A really long response. A well-intentioned friend, encouraged me to publish it. It’s there, in my drafts.

I don’t want to publish it, however. At least not now.

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After I finished writing that article, and was proof-reading it, I thought of the time I spent thinking and writing about it. What was the time worth? If I had published it, nothing would have changed. I do not mean this in a defeatist way. Some like-minded folks would appreciate it, and then, in a month or so, we would move to the next outrage. Knowing (as in, about the person; not personally knowing) the person, nothing would change. That person will continue to spew hatred, irrespective. A few hundred words would not effect a change. There are enough problems in this world, and they need our help to be solved. And the way to solve these problems is through a concerted effort, not one-off responses.

For the Love of Writing

For the Love of Writing

In these same few hours, I could have written a better post, which is due, anyway. It’s sweet, interesting (to some of us), and informative. It’s part of a very long-term project I am working on. The limited time I get in a day to write, was wasted on a response to a confirmed bigot. Even if I wasn’t writing, I have a very interesting book, which I’d love to read. I’ve, mostly been able to ignore distractions from folks like the aforementioned bigots, but once in a while I succumb. Today was one such instance. I may have wasted my time, but I feel happy about my decision not to publish that article. In a chat, with my well-intentioned friend, I mentioned, that this is a slippery slope. I felt there was no turning back after I click, Publish!

At the edge, I saved myself.

Our time, our words, are worth much more than being directed at a worthless person or a worthless idea.

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On a separate note, I am taking cue from my dear friend, The Bum, and plan to write letters. On paper. With pen (or pencil). Using envelopes. Postage stamps. In India. Abroad. Wherever you are. If you’d like to receive and write letters, let me know your address by email. (You can get my email through a comment I have posted). If you have difficulty finding that, let me know, and we’ll find a way.

Our word’s are worth, much more.

Of Courtly and Carnal Love

A while ago, I was wondering, “What’s Underlying In The Underline” — a description of a conflict, of writing in books. Marginalia, to be precise and its various cousins.

Recently, Amit tagged me in a tweet:

My instinctive reaction was: NO!

I’ll admit, however, since my last post, however, I’ve been doing more of underlining (neatly) and making small notes in the margins (good handwriting), in pencil only.

Then, Rob Burdock, got into the conversation. We exchanged a few tweets, and the conversation, though short, was very sweet and interesting. Rob, then shared an essay with me. I read it.

[Imagine a very long pause. A really long pause.]

Sacred Games
Given the length of the essay, it is the most compelling essay I have ever read. I felt an urgent need to return to my books and underline and add notes to all the books I have ever read. An almost impossible task, given the books I have read. A few days ago (i.e. before I read this essay), I was reading a book, for an article I have been researching for my latest adventure — The Custodians. I was quite excited about the topic and I began slashing underlines defiantly, adding notes here and there, circling dates and names of them, who caused history. It was as if, I was myself of fifteen years ago, copy-editing a storyboard. (I know it is hard to believe). Just four pages down, I felt an acute pain, heavily underlined by a new-found guilt. I could no more do it. I went back to the first page, erased all the graffiti (yes, it was a pencil), and calmly restarted marking the lines neatly, slowly, with care. Therefore, the book isn’t finished and my neat markup continues; needless to say, the article is delayed.

And then, couple of days ago, I read this essay. I shared it with The Bum. He agreed wholeheartedly with me.

I don’t know about you, but if you love books, this essay is a must read. If nothing, at least to know the idea behind the title of this post.

Download the PDF of “Never Do That To A Book” by Anne Fadiman. And many thanks to Rob!

It All Comes Together

Bugis Junction

Bugis Junction

It was early in 2000 or 2001 that I took this photo. As the caption (on Flickr) says, “A photo that has eluded me for long. I probably took more than sixteen pictures of this place. I wonder why…” These were the days before the digital camera, when you can take a few hundred photos of one thing, choose the best, and happily delete the others. Film photography was expensive, and perhaps that is why we spent more time composing a photograph and ensuring perfect exposure. But it never comes easily to an amateur. Some exposures (photos) will go bad.

As you can see, I still didn’t get it right, after sixteen exposures. Yet, this has remained one of my favourite photos. Why this place and this name fascinated me then, was also a mystery. (Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t inclined as much to curiosity as I am now.)

Cut to today, after that evening with an elusive photograph, fifteen years later.

I am reading The Spice Route, and early into the book, one and a half decades later, I see the word again. Instantly the elusive photograph comes to mind. Something about travel, photography, and reading, makes perfect sense.

Bugis.

By foreigners — Asian or European — seeking to usurp control of the most obscure extremity of the spice route, all such indigenous operators would be termed ‘pirates’, a pejorative freely applied to any rivals and especially to local seafarers who attempted to defend what they considered their own territorial waters and maritime rights. The Bugis of Makassar, in particular, invited obloquy. Master-shipwrights and excellent navigators who were supposed to be able to detect a reef purely by smell, they darted in their rakish prahus (sailing vessels, sometimes with outriggers) from unsuspected anchorages on the coasts of Borneo and Sulawesi to challenge all rivals. Against monopolistic Europeans the Bugis would continue to wage a rearguard action well into the nineteenth century, by which the term ‘bogey’ or ‘bogy’ was entering common English usage. This may have been a coincidence; but allusion to the spice trade being not uncommon in nursery rhymes, those who as children were hush-hushed to bed by ‘here comes the Bogey-man’ may well originally have been threatened by a ‘Bugis-man’ who, at the helm of a piratical prahu, would certainly ‘catch you if he can’. ~ The Spice Route, John Keay

The online-etymology dictionary that I frequent often, has a different tale. But I did find other references for the etymology of ‘Bogey.‘ The disagreement about the etymology notwithstanding, it was an excitable moment for me, to encounter the word.

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I am enjoying the coming together of my travel, photography, and reading. The fascination with a word or an image, the context and meaning coming to you, years later, is a wonderful experience, even if it is not new. I recently told a friend, that I watch movies twice; just like I want to visit places, at least twice.

There are times when you can visit places again, without actually going there, and that’s a fine feeling.

The Book and I

The same wise man I referred to in my previous post is the reason I love reading. I have many books, and may I say — just like him. As I have said before, I haven’t read all the books I own. I’ve seen books go out of print, in my lifetime, so buying them while they are available makes good sense. It’s, what has been called an anti-library.

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As I have grown, I have toned down my belief in books that are life-changing. There was a time I believed that. Apart from God himself (or herself, as the case may be), I believed Richard Bach and Paul Simon to be Gods. Perhaps, I still do, but I don’t pay as much attention to them. Amit recently shared a trailer of a documentary on Richard Bach. I liked it, but I am not sure I want to see it. God may, indeed, be a human.

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Our Prime Minister, in a recent public address, exhorted us citizens to read biographies of great people. I took it up with some seriousness. And I am glad, I did. I am more than half-way reading a biography of a great person, and it is inspirational, to say the least. It is changing how I think. In a nice way.

113508: Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

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I have recently developed a phobia of publicly claiming books that I am currently reading. I discovered, I end up not finishing that book. And this is backed up by personal empirical evidence. So, this particular book that I am reading, will show up after I have read it. I am more than half-way through it. A little over 600 pages.

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Superstitions, and all.

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Books aren’t life-changing by themselves. We are influenced by what we read, learn, and assimilate. There may be an impressively life-changing book and we may ignore all that it has to offer us. Or we may find meaning in the trashiest of all books. And while Amit (yup, same guy as above) said this in a different context, I think its pertinent to this post:

It’s a sorry state of affair, two misdirected iconoclasts going after each other when they have a lot of common foes to go against, and common ground to build on. Good literature is beyond language. So is shitty literature. And thank [G]od for that! We’re richer because of the vernaculars, and because of IWEs. [Indian Writing in English] Give me more, not less … [Emphasis, and [Edits], Mine]

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And while I have not been able to do justice being a member of a library, I am glad that they are doing a wonderful job of spreading the love of the written word. In an inimitable way.

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Grudge not the unread book. Each one of them has something to say. It’s just foreplay for now. Those inanimate pages will express themselves, when the time is right.

*

Meanwhile, embrace what you are reading. May there be a union of what you seek and what is on offer.

Anti-Anti-Library

I’ve often wondered about my library.

3383: David Sassoon Library & Reading Room

I am inclined to buy books and not join a library to borrow them, when I need. There is perhaps an apprehension that I will need to refer to that particular book again, and it will not be handy. It is usually easy for me to remember what I had read in a book; it’s a bit of a task for me to remember exactly what was written. Buying books, however brings along with it, the problem of their keeping. (If you need to know about my relationship with book, read this) Some years ago, I read The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in which, I read about the antilibrary:

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

I am no Umberto Eco, but this helped reinforce, in some way, the raison d’être for my library. My mom always gives me a look when new books come home. But the looks are not for the books (she is as much a book lover as I am) but because she knows some space will be encroached upon.

*

I was a bit hesitant to open the shrink-wrap of a book. The book was for sale; what if I decided against buying it?

Go ahead, open it. Books aren’t meant to be in a shrink-wrap.

And there it was, in pristine condition, Traces of India – Photography, Architecture & the Politics of Representation 1850-1900. Within five minutes of skimming through, I knew I would buy it. And then, it had to happen. I stumbled upon Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture. Oh, the pain! The dilemma! The budget! I settled for the later, with a heavy heart. (Wise words floated in the room: The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.) I promised the other book: I’ll be back.

I bought only one book, but brought back four, today, from Trilogy. That’s because the Trilogy is not just a book store, it’s a library too. Given that hardly any local libraries stock books of real interest, I had long given up on joining a library. There’s also the inconvenience of returning books to the library.

The Eternal Library - Trilogy - Membership CardTrilogy was started with lots of love by Ahalya and Meethil Momaya and this love shows when you speak with them in their very tastefully done library. (Unfortunately, they do ask that you return the books in two weeks). Meethil happily removes the shrink-wrap so that you can see inside. Trilogy is a bookstore, a library, and an events location, rolled into one, but you feel the library little more than the book shop. These are of course, early days for this fantastic venture. The library provides flexible membership plans for people who generally don’t borrow books (like me) and allows you to borrow more than one books at a time. Eight books, if you take the family membership. I’ll confess, I wasn’t about to join a library when K&S took me there today. I thought, maybe, if I liked something, I’d buy a book.

I was willingly converted; took a membership. [There’s a fun secret about the membership card, but hey, you’ll know it only if you join]

Trilogy is 37kms away from my place. About an hour, without traffic, which is impossible on Mumbai’s main arterial road. Twice a month, to the library is asking for much. But I am glad about joining. Books aren’t just about words and pages and binding. They are about bonding. With people who love books as much (or more) than you do.

There is of course the disadvantage that I’ll not be able to underline and annotate, but I’ll end up using my notebook more. (Inspired by Thirteen1999). And perhaps, just perhaps, I might not take three months to finish a book. There’s your advantage. Visit teltrilogy.com for more information.

Right now, I have to go finish reading a book that I have borrowed.

🙂

What’s Underlying in the Underline

Down South of the Border, West of the Sun, Moushumi is writing about the humble underline. She thinks it is quite underrated. The post resonates with me. For long, apart from my name, the date & place of purchase, I never wrote in a book. No, not even an underline. But, like it has been for her, things have changed for me too.

From the time I started buying books, I have been extremely possessive about my books. Apart from the yellowing of pages, my books look new. No dog-ears, no scars, no tears, no broken spines. A few of my favourite books sometimes get cling-wrapped. They get opened, and they get cling-wrapped again. And definitely no coffee and food stains. It’s a simple rule; at any given time, you either feed your body or feed your mind. So, Moushumi and I are not very different that way. There was a time when I used to lend and borrow books. Once, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest came back home to me, with a large coffee stain on page 38. I once lent Microsoft Secrets, to the HR head of my old company. It never came back.

That day, I stopped lending.

My friends know this. And I love gifting books, so if I really want someone to read something, I’ll usually gift the book. But I never lend. And by the same standard, I never borrow. The Dharma Bum, when he heard of this theory, agreed with it, but has had second thoughts:

I still cannot bring myself to lend or borrow, but the writing-in-the-book rule is changing. Perhaps, it was because of The Journey to the East. This book is inherited. My father bought it on 8th of August 1982. In the book, I found his annotations: underlines, and notes in the margins. It was a sweet note from heaven. I stopped reading the book and started scanning for his notes. All the notes were boldly done in blue pen. A bit of his soul was in that book. While the book itself is beautiful, it became that much more special for me. When I (re)started reading the book, my own annotations and underlines appeared; but not so bold. I used a pencil.

The Journey to the East; Hermann Hesse; Bantam Press

The Journey to the East; Hermann Hesse; Bantam Press

I now use a combination of stickies, underlines, brackets, and margin notes. It is a good experience to go back to a book that you have read years ago, and to flip through the best and the most interesting parts of the book.  But I still do not lend or borrow books. Which means that all the annotations I make, are only for me. At least for now. A few weeks ago, I told a friend that I’d be happy to lend him my books. Only because I know he respects books as much as I do. I’d lend my books to Moushumi too. However, I cannot (yet) bring myself to feel romantic about dog-ears and broken spines. I don’t see the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes out of mutilation (I know, strong word)

But that may change someday, just like the underlines and the notes. Perhaps I’ll learn that from some book.

We never know, how a book and how a friend may change us.

*

Here are some of the underlines from my books:

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Read-Write-Yin-Yang

As is obvious from the recent posts, that were essentially old photographs, with just three lines (not even sentences) below them – I am not writing much. Apart from the three lines, i.e.

I am excluding all the emails and documents that I write at work, and other small things like search strings in Google Maps on my phone and keywords & tags for articles that I bookmark. Which means that I am writing nothing.

Which is not a bad thing, actually.

Because I am reading. I am reading a few books and a few articles, so I am, in a way, taking time off to read what others have written. Which of course brings another problem: because I now think I am reading, I am buying books (and four were gifted, earlier this month). When I do stop reading and get back to writing, these books will have piled up, like the many which came before them, and I’ll be reading less than what I ought to be reading. Somewhere, I’ll get back to reading all the piled up books, but by then more books will be recommended by friends, bought, and the old books will have to wait.

Reading and Writing is like Yin and Yang.

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So far, of the three books I’ve read this year, one was good, another was interesting and the third was a waste of time. I read it anyway. To be able to finish three books in a month is no mean feat for me. I read slowly and I usually cannot keep a book down if I get into the groove. Which means that I have to read it till I finish it. I don’t like abandoning books midway, but some authors write such books. Even if they are good authors, sometimes they write badly.

For a while now, however, I have been quite addicted to Longform. For one, the collection is eclectic, for another, the curation is impeccable. I have found myself reading about subjects, topics, events and people, hitherto unknown, and I am enjoying it. It’s quite surprising that you can surprise yourself with what you read and find interesting. Of course, I do make it a point to search for familiar topics, but ever so often, and interesting article surfaces and beckons. Here are just two examples: The Disappeared; How the fatwa changed a writer’s life; by Salman Rushdie and America Unhinged, by John J. Mearsheimer. However, unlike books, you can’t add these to a social sharing site like Goodreads, so I have thought about writing reviews of such articles on my review blog (which I’ll admit, I’ve been thinking of merging with this one).

So, while the yin-yang balances itself, you will see many photos, perhaps small excerpts, and links.

I’ll be busy reading.

The Jungian Fine

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The dried words crackle and crumble
in the famine of thought
Organic reflections transmit emptiness
as transactional assessments overflow.

Loss! Loss! Loss! Cries the mind
of that which is quantifiable
That which uncountable
is lost without a whisper.

As artistic deficit stacks up high
no coins remain even
To pay the Jungian fine for
“the divine gift of creative fire”.

The Small Bookshop Survival Guide

A small bookshop has opened up, a couple of months ago, on the other side of the street I live on. I was there when it had opened: was offering huge discounts for the opening week. Not a single discounted book was on my wish list. After a very quick browsing session, I walked out, slightly unhappy that all relatively tolerable bookshops are far away or in the cloud. I miss Waterstones. Crossword has become a stationery shop that sells books, and Landmark is a hassle to get to.

Quote from The Journey to the East, Hermann Hesse

My interest in bookshops grew sometime around when I was seven, I think, when my father used to take the entire family at least once a week to the CLS Bookshop, in Nampally, in Hyderabad. We all had our aisles. I think my mother was the only one who used to get a bit bored there – she is a voracious reader of Marathi literature – and they didn’t stock those. I used to be glued to the comic book section. My father didn’t believe in buying comics. So, while going to the bookshop was always a pleasure and excitable event, leaving the shop (empty-handed) usually was a disappointment. Somewhere early in life I resigned to the fact that I would never own comics and that all my life I would have to read borrowed comic books.

In 2001, I was in Hyderabad for a day, and after the meeting, I insisted that my friend take me to the CLS shop. I couldn’t recall that it was in Nampally, then but I described the entire surrounding area to her (in case and as if nothing had changed in 25 years). We did find it, it is derelict now, and it doesn’t seem to have as many books as I remember, when I was younger. And I was surprised, that in all these years that I have been nostalgic about the shop – I was never curious what CLS stood for. (It’s Christian Literature Society; I discovered that in 2001)

But we had a lot books. He used to buy many books, except comics. So we had Aesop’s Fables, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Bal Bhagvatam, All of the Panchtantra and Hitopadesha series.  And many more. Very few of these books had pictures in them and they had many difficult words. So our father got us the Kingsway Illustrated Dictionary and a few years later, he bequeathed his Oxford Concise Dictionary to us. The Kingsway Dictionary, I have fond memories – I liked that because it had many pictures in it – the paper was glossy and the pictures were fabulous. I am sure one of my younger cousins or a niece or a nephew is still using it somewhere. I was not very keen relinquish my favourite dictionary, but the Oxford Concise was too tempting. The word “set” I had been told, had a hundred meanings, and my Kingsway had only twelve. And of course, we were growing up – it probably had meanings of words that I couldn’t imagine asking my parents, my teachers and definitely not my sister. We got a big fat dictionary, yes, but still no comics.

I promised myself, I’d have all the comics when I started earning. I told my father that – and he encouraged me to do that, and he wasn’t being sarcastic. In the meanwhile, I was graduating from the Secret Seven to the Hardy Boys to the Three Investigators (library only – my father wouldn’t buy these books either). My father’s bookshelf was ever-growing – with titles that didn’t make sense. And because of sheer curiosity and the cover pages of the books on his shelves, I was drawn into the world of Richard Bach, Hermann Hesse and Martin Buber and RD Laing. Not much was understood, but it was still read. I stayed away from Demian, because of the cover. For a very long time, I did not buy books. The library circuit was flourishing in Pune and in Mumbai, when I was a student.

Then, I started earning.

I still did not buy comic books, but was raiding my father’s bookshelf more often. I think age made a lot of difference, and we now could talk books, not just read them. A few years later, he passed away and that entire bookshelf was now mine.

My father rarely borrowed books. Even his use of libraries was limited to reference or research. We never understood why he couldn’t do what we did – subscribe to a library. We ended up reading more books for a tenth of the money he spent on books. And when we moved homes, which was often, at least three crates were of books and such. Once, reading through a book that he owned, I saw many notes in the margins. Blue ball-pen. Pencil. Black ink. Darker blue-ball pen. Thinner Black pen. Faded pencil. Even the handwriting was slightly different in each of the notes. He had read his books more than once. I smiled, as I read the text underlined in faded blue:

I, whose calling was really only that of the violinist and story-teller, was responsible for the provision for the music of the group, and I then discovered how a long time devoted to small details exalts us and increases our strength. ~ Hermann Hesse, in The Journey to the East

I think I know now why he did not buy comics for us. In his mind, perhaps the re-readability of those books was limited. In the last ten years, my bookshelf has been stacking-up with alarming consistency. It has swelled to the limit of spilling books, when my mother with her easy air of finality, warned me that I was not to buy any more books unless I bought a bookshelf. For many years now, I have not joined any library, except a sweet birthday present – a subscription to the British Library – and I don’t borrow books nor do I lend, with a few exceptions.

That small book shop, which opened up, a couple of months ago, on the other side of the street I live on seemed to want me to step in yesterday, if only to take-up a few minutes of my time. After about an hour, I put six books on his counter and asked him to process them. I asked him to give me good neighbourly discount and even informed him the price of these books on Flipkart, to give him a benchmark of expectations. He asked, “Are you going to return these?”

I looked at him with surprise.

“If you return these books after reading them, I’ll buy them back at half price, else I’ll discount them, almost to the Flipkart price.”

This is a great survival tactic for small bookshop owners, I thought, notwithstanding my proclivity to keep books in my bookshelf. I have many books that I have bought, read, and not liked, but I have never returned them. They are in the lower shelf, stacked up, not sideways. Perhaps this was a good way to make shelf-space and avoid being admonished by my mother.

“Give me the discount, I won’t be returning them,” I said.

Unique Coloured Animals

In the last few months, I have read The Purple Cow and The Black Swan. Both these books talk about unique experiences. One more differently coloured animal, and it won’t be quite so uncommon.

The Birth of the Reader

[…] the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.

There was a recent tag on Facebook (whatever happened to those wonderful tags on blogs?) about authors who have influenced you. Multiple people tagged me, and I’d like to say that I was forced to do the tag – reluctantly. I have done a few tags on my blog, and I must say – I have enjoyed most of them. I can’t say the same for this one.

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Having said that, I am not cursing whoever started the tag. It was done in the spirit of social Facebooking. We all love being a part of a social movement, while being stationary at our desks. There is some futile fun in that, I confess.

The problem with ill-defined tags is that they coerce you into finishing them.

I have been influenced by everything that I have read – and given the times that we live in – influenced by everything that is published – beyond words – audio, video and imagery. I have been influenced with a significant body of work; I doubt, however, if I have been influenced by an author. The one work that has influenced this thinking had this to say:

The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author “confiding” in us.

I have worked with a group of people who may never be able to articulate this philosophy, but adhere to it as if their life depends on it. No one adds the signature.

I have been further been blessed that I live with my artist friend, who helps me cement this thinking with her ever-growing work – always challenging me to seek an artist in a work. The signature of an artist, I have called it once. Society almost demands the definition of an artwork that is defined by the artist’s profile. My primary personal influences, for example have been the Panchtantra and Hitopadesh. Let’s violate the primary premise of this post, and quote Roland Barthesfor the third time:

Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.

For a person who reads many books used to read many books and is potentially dyslexic, It has been a difficult journey for me to remember authors. Where some body of work has left a lasting remark, I have usually remembered the body of work, rather than the author. I will never be able to quote it verbatim, but I will never forget the message. It is usually the same with music. I remember songs – I can never identify the composer, sometimes not even the singer. This means that I have survived numerous guilt-trips of you-love-this-song-but-you-don’t-know-the-singer-or-the-music-director? kind of accusations. I have persevered many such exclamations, often with difficulty. It took me some time to realise that I am not a Fact-roid. It has taken me a bit longer to come to terms with that. I haven’t crossed page 16 of any book by Umberto Eco. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has been endured with no avail. I have finished four Dan Brown books in less than four days (There was a discount offer from Tesco, so I bought all four). Applied Discrete Structures For Computer Science, believe it or not, is my favourite book.

Two, otherwise innocent, comments on the Facebook tag triggered this post. My list appealed to a few and a few others had questions about a few authors that did not make the list.

Scroll back to the top. and then come back here.

Are we who we are because what we read or because of who we read?