Thursday 27 February 2020

You Damage Me: A Poem.

You damage me,
in spectacular ways...

Singing winds of melancholy
weep on rainy days;
Dancing demons unholy
leap in gleeful sways.

Sunny clouds flee
sombre tree-umbrellas pray;
Passions tingling eerily
in hammock of desires, I lay.

Image: Fine Art America

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Book Review: 'Clear Light of Day' by Anita Desai

This is the fourth novel that I've read, based on the partition of India. However, the treatment and story line is different from Bapsi Sidhwa's 'Ice Candy Man' and Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'. 'Tamas' by Bhisham Sahni was different too, as it dealt with the violent aftermath in the country owing to the division.
I have been curious about Anita Desai's work, ever since I read her daughter Kiran Desai's 'Inheritance of Loss' many years ago, when it won the Man Booker prize in 2006. 'Clear Light of Day' was of course, published decades earlier, in 1980 to be precise, and I was glad to have finally purchased it, earlier this year. 
This book is different from the earlier ones because, rather than dealing with the country as a whole, Desai focuses on delving deep into the psychological nuances of individual characters and the situations that shape the course of their lives. These in turn, serve as symbolic representations of the political upheaval of the country during the 1940s.
The handling of the story narrative is different, because it is on a more personal and familial level, rather than a national one. The key theme is woman-centric, blended seamlessly into haunting ghosts of the past that wield their powerful influence over every key character, in different ways.
Set in the scorching summer of 1947, in Old Delhi, the trials and tribulations of the Das family mirror those of a new country that struggled to tackle the changes, thrust upon its infant shoulders, owing to the end of colonial rule and the battering of partition. 

Characters and Storyline 
The Das family of four siblings, faces an upheaval of sorts, when the younger sister Tara visits Bimla. Raja, the estranged younger sibling, is in Hyderabad with his wife & daughters, while the youngest one, the autistic Baba is nursed at home, by Bim. 
Tara's visit to her ancestral home after her perceived escape to America, post her wedding to an IFO officer Bakul, causes a flood of past memories to assault both the sisters.
Although the tale seems to commence with Tara, it is soon apparent that the industrious Bim is the key protagonist of the novel. Layer by layer, the past intrudes into their reminiscent interactions. Readers are privy to the contrasting characteristics of the siblings and the consequences of the situations they have encountered. The role of their bridge-addicted parents who scar the psyche of their children with their perpetual absences, highlights the crucial role played by Mira masi, who is their pseudo-mother figure in the story.
Tara is the unambitious escapist who uses marriage as an excuse to leave home and find greener pastures in Washington. Bim is the ambitious history professor who ends up sacrificing her dreams of achievements, to stay behind and nurse her family: Raja's TB, then their aunt Mira masi's alcoholic illness and Baba's incoherent challenges, as well. Raja not only escapes from his dual responsibilities towards their father's insurance business but also Baba's care. He moves to Hyderabad and settles down after marrying their Muslim landlord's daughter, Benazir. His letter to Bim absolving her of having to pay rent for their home, which incidentally he has inherited from his father-in-law, Hyder Ali, enrages her and makes her cut ties with him. So much so, that Bim refuses to accompany Tara's family to Hyderabad for the wedding of his daughter, Moyna. This is the familial backdrop that is revealed to us through the reminiscences of the siblings. 
However, the more subtle but significant juxtaposition is that of the aftermath of the partition. The tensions between the Hindu-Muslim communities in New Delhi spills over to old Delhi too. The hordes of misplaced refugees on either countries are symbolised by the disappearance of the Hyder Ali family. Raja being forced to study English literature in a Hindu college by his father, as opposed to his dream of Islamic studies at Jamia Millia, showcases the unsafe environment for both the communities, doing the period.

Ample symbolism enriches the narrative. Desai's poetic prowess in language is a delight to absorb. Rich imagery of nature and its elements add the flavour of multiple senses of sight, smell, hearing and feelings of the characters. This, juxtaposed with the backdrop of partition, makes the narrative throb with myriad speculative undercurrents.
Many scenes are heart rending in the story. Important lessons may be gleaned from the depth of angst felt by the characters, owing to their skewed childhood, that manifests itself in all of them in various powerful ways. The sheer neglect of bridge-addicted parents makes one wonder why some people even have children in the first place. Desai's narrative highlights the tortured lives of its characters, who remain caged to the ghosts of their past.

Music is used as a defining attribute throughout the novel. A number of birds add to the musical elements that are already predominant in the story such as Baba's gramaphone or the neighboring Mishra family's strong ties to music. Bees form a crucial factor that tortures Tara with guilt. The river Jamna plays her role throughout the novel, by being a past-time for the Das children as well as showering sand through the wind, across their home doing the Summers. 
The neglected house in itself is a powerful symbolic element that signifies the turmoil of the country during the time. The constant struggle between choices of the old and the new is a repeatedly occurring motif.  The well adds sinister irony and fearful apprehension to the atmosphere, with its green slime and rotten body of the family cow. The repeated motif highlights the irony of the Hindu symbolism of cows, drowning in green water.(perhaps a subtle reference to the flag colour of Pakistan). 
Guilt is a predominant entity, shared by Tara and Mira masi, albeit for different reasons. Tara regrets her escapism, while masi rues her role in the cow episode. 
But perhaps the most crucial element is the woman angle. The position of women during the time is showcased with intense clarity through each of the female characters. Irony plays a viral role as well. For instance, Bim the ambitious one, who wanted to be a heroine and do things independently, ends up staying behind to perform the roles of a provider and nurse. Tara, ironically fulfills her unambitious dream of becoming a mother. Masi is ill-treated as the young widow and her constant sacrifices backfire into severe alcoholism and get subsequent death. Raja, despite being the male of the family, chooses to leave to follow his dreams. He does not become a great hero, instead marries and settles down into familial life after scoffing his father's business.
The Mishra sisters are providers of their  family, including the men, after being abandoned by their husbands. 
Time plays a vital role in the narrative that moves forwards and backwards, between the past and the present, to complete the picture for the readers. Time also acts an element that allows the characters to decipher their feelings and heal themselves of the repercussions of the past, through self realisation, and also by seeking and offering forgiveness. Tara seeks to be forgiven by Bim, while Bim endevours and succeeds in forgiving Raja's betrayal.

Resplendent with multiple facets, penned in rich, poetic, impeccable prose, Anita Desai's work is a masterpiece that ought not be missed. 
I rate the book a 4.8/5.
Hope this review was useful. Do let me know your thoughts in the comments section. Share the review with literature lovers, who enjoy deep and enriching works, that stay with them long after the book is put down.
Happy reading!

Book Photography: Chethana Ramesh

Last Chance of Bliss: A Poem.

Watching my dreams
in flows & ebbs
full moon sighs in mist
tapers rooted in love, thus.

I succumb to screams
of silence; silken webs,
promises of you exist
in memories of us
Beloved crossroads sear
& burn like cubebs,
as gnarled twists
of aching abyss.

In drifting twilight, I disappear
into clouding cobwebs
my soul pleads, & persists
one last chance of bliss.

Image 1: Rosie Hardy
Image 2: My Modern Met.

Imagination and Reality : A Quote.

Let the winged flight
of your imagination
soar without restraint,
as long as your roots
of reality remain
clear and compliant.


Just Another Goodbye: A Poem.

A stolen kiss
lingering & languid,
torment of bliss
delicious & fluid;

Gossamer stillness hovers
above fervent thirst
of star-crossed lovers
covered in cloudburst;

Yearning eyes betray
longing for violent delights
Quiescent touches play
to unravel the nights;

Welcoming arms encumber
in passion-soaked embrace
drowning in sleepless slumber
starved souls need solace.

Mute waves of heat condense
invisible signs conspire;
Amber hues, passion intense
like a jungle on fire...

Bowed lips murmur
& release a sated sigh;
Forest floors are warmer
with just another goodbye

Images: Pinterest

Empty Promises: A Poem.

Zero shades of love
denude the battlefield  
of empty promises
where echoes
of the heart survive
as saporine
undercurrents of
passionate liasons
& endevour to be
whole again.

Image: desicomments

Harmony - A Quote

Do not shirk away from the ghosts of the past, bcz they have given us the gifts of perception to tackle the present. True harmony happens in life, only when we integrate the past and present, to enlighten our future.

Image: Pinterest

Monday 24 February 2020

The Book of your life...

What did you pen
in the book
of your life?

More love, smiles,
& joyful memories?
Or pain, guiles
grief & miseries?

Let gifts sink
from the former
into the stories
of another's life.

Remove cursed ink
of the latter,
& rescue histories
from strife.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Book Review: Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa.

This is the third book I’ve read, based on the theme of the partition of India, in addition to 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie and 'Tamas' by Bisham Sahni. This novel is entirely different in all aspects, except for the religious divide the partition brought about and the consequent violence it resulted in.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s story is interspersed with multiple themes. The key ones have been summarized in my review below.

It is achingly easy for a child to lose the quality of innocence. Sidhwa’s protagonist slashes into the mind of an adult reader with a compelling mix of inevitable horrors: the erosion of the child’s naiveté and the unveiling of a juggernaut of events, that leave readers gasping to cope with the monstrosities of mankind.
The first thing that one notices in the book is that the child narrator is too smart for her own good. Lenny is not childlike in her eloquent, elevated language or keen observation, comprehension and conclusions she draws about adult behaviour. Adults can be really stupid when it comes to children. It is stunning how they underestimate the intellectual capacity of children, when they speak or behave in ways that are typical of them. It is only towards the fag end of the novel that Lenny is spared the gross details of a few horrors that are too perturbing for a child’s psyche to be thrust with.
Some parts of the story do not ring true at all. Lenny’s grandmom assumes a high power, with powerful strings in Lahore’s society. She pulls off bureaucratic wonders that perhaps seasoned politicians may find hard to achieve and is able to locate kidnapped women, as well as pack them off to India.

The Title: Ice Candy Man
Why did Bapsi Sidhwa name the book ‘Ice Candy Man’? The key story is about Lenny, the Parsee child. It is about the consequent aftermath of the partition of India in the last century. It is also about Lenny’s 18-year old Punjabi Ayah who becomes a pawn in the ego games of a deranged man and a victim of religious fanaticism that leads to her disgraceful kidnapping and subsequent ruin. The ice candy man is only one of her many suitors, who vies for her attention. In fact, it is the masseur who assumes more importance as Ayah’s lover. The gardener Hari, the Sethi cook Imam Din, or the low-caste sweepers Muccho and her daughter Papoo are also given ample importance in the first half of the book. Further, Lenny’s friend Ranna’s story takes considerable precedence in the middle portions too.
Hence the reader waits for the Ice-candy man to assume more importance, given the title. It is only towards the kidnap and the end, where he repents his actions that he takes centre-stage. The tilte therefore may be a little misleading for readers who assume that he is the key character throughout the novel. 
I was surprised because of the obvious twist wherein the Ice candy man is depicted in shades of grey (or even black) in the story. He is a stalker of dangerous proportions and suffers an obsession of manic magnitude for Ayah. His demonic treatment of Ayah during and after her kidnapping, where he pimps her for money is disgusting to the core. Although some readers may want to term his behaviour as stemming from ‘love’, he is an obvious case of a person who is psychologically deranged. It is only in the end when Lenny’s grandmother accosts him severely that he breaks down and appears to repent. How then, does such a character deserve the titular honour, in a story narrated by a child? It leaves a distinct bitter feeling in the mind.

Theme of Human Psychology
Disturbing, heart-wrenching scenes complement irksome incidents to the core.
The disturbing scenes are those which remind us that human beings have latent demons buried within their psyches. It only takes the right trigger, opportunity and endorsement from fellow demonic humans to let the demon loose on their victims. Religion, politics and gender serve only as mere excuses that alleviate the allowing of such humans to wreak havoc on society.
Ice candy man who claims to love Ayah causes her devastation. He is deranged with hatred for Hindus after he witnesses the train from India, with mutilated Muslim bodies. He pimps her to other men to make money, despite claiming to love her. The warped sense in which his so-called love is portrayed towards the end does not match up to his earlier behaviour.

Theme of Religion
The partition of India unleashed horrors on both sides of the border. Sidhwa’s story revolves and culminates in Lahore. In showcasing the leading up and aftermath of the partition on the Hindus and Muslims alike, Sidhwa brings out the fear, uncertainty and grave dangers that Lenny’s family.  In doing so, the readers are aware of what Hindu and Muslim families in the region, alike would have suffered during the time of the partition.
The keen observation of the protagonist offers us the chance to comprehend the changes and effects of the partition at the ground level, amidst the common man. How families and livelihoods get disrupted, along with the loss of life, property and peace is showcased with the perceptive clarity of a child.
The most irksome scenes are the ones where Lenny’s cousin repeatedly takes undue sexual advantage of her innocence although Lenny is smart enough to avoid too much damage.

Theme of Innocence
As mentioned in the introduction, Lenny’s aching innocence is slowly, but surely corroded with the horrors that she is forced to witness. Her keen observation does not miss the changes that happen around her during the time when the political situation of the country undergoes massive change. Lenny sees, records, learns and continues to learn. Each revelation is another slice chopped off her childlike innocent mind. The first time she hears of the brutal murder of someone she knows, (a British policeman, a family friend who visits and interacts with her parents over dinner) causes in her the realization that the horror of violence is more powerful when it hits closer to home, on a personal level.
The most perturbing scenes are the ones when she watches the massive fire that destroys the Hindu settlements at Lahore. The worst one is when she comes upon the mutilated body of the masseur on the pavement near her house.

Theme of Betrayal
Lenny first tastes betrayal as a child after her painful operation to rectfy her polio. Her parents fool her into the belief that her father goes to fetch her doctor to alleviate her pain, while all he does is sleep in the adjacent room.
The bigger betrayal, that is a major turning point in the whole novel, is when Ice candy man betrays Lenny’s friendship when he shrewdly wins her trust and weans the Ayah’s hiding place from her.

Theme of Guilt
Lenny’s guilt after she inadvertently betrays Ayah’s whereabouts to Ice Candy man are heart-racking. The irony, where she punishes her own tongue for being truthful, burns into the mind of the reader.

Theme of Politics
The common man is a mere puppet at the hands of those who wield the strings of political power.
The so-called leaders of the country, together with the British deal out cities like a pack of cards and divide the country based solely on populace and boundaries, with no regard to the sentiments or livelihood of the people. How different is the situation today? Do the leaders of either country truly care about the sentiments of its countrymen while taking crucial decisions that affect their daily lives? Food for thought, indeed.

Theme of Death and Danger
The scenes where Lenny’s friend is grievously injured and left to die, and his subsequent escapades from the bloodthirsty Sikhs to return to his aunt keep readers on the edge of tension. The dangers are not limited to a particular community. The underlying irony that all humans behave the same way when it concerns love, religion, or violence is not lost on readers. The danger does not lie in politics or religion. It  lies amidst us, in the psyche of the common man who is inflamed by people, dialogues, visions and events around him, that causes him to behave in unnaturally violent ways.

Theme of Sex, Assault and Violence
A recurring theme throughout the novel, the assaults are both physical and sexual, and not limited to a single gender or even age. Ayah is groped by her friend and sexually assaulted multiple times after her kidnap. Thankfully, the reader is spared of the gross details owing to the age of the narrator. The ice candy man’s toes and their twitching is hilarious and annoying at the same time.
Lenny’s cousin may qualify as a sexual predator too, despite his young age, with his highly questionable actions with the five year old Lenny that extends to his shameless groping of her, as an eight year old girl. His shrewdness in milking every opportunity to take undue advantage of her innocence is infuriating in its objectionable recurrence. It is perhaps prudent to acknowledge that children may satiate curiosities and discover the word of sexual joy through experimentation such as this, however, adult readers generally tend to find the articulation of such actions by children loathsome and unsavoury.
The attack on Ranna is described in the context of extreme violence that is punctuated by mass murder of menfolk and rapes of the captured women. Scenes that describe the outcome of the mob attacks are gory. So does Muccho’s violent ill-treatment of her own daughter Papoo. The abusive language leaves a gash in our minds, as does the description of the episodes.
Another scene that stays in the mind is the one where the ‘firefighters’ arrive to contain the fire at Shalmi,  douse the neighbouring Hindu homes with petrol instead of water and cause an inferno that destroys their settlement of Lahore.

Theme of Wry Humour
Last, but not the least, Sidhwa infuses humorous interludes in the form of Lenny’s dialogues. Names like Slavesister and Oldhusband put smiles on our faces, even as Lenny proceeds to dissect the background of their titles, in her narrative. Lenny makes life simple for herself and refers to the characters as cousin, masseur, gardener , ice candy man, etc. Also, the sheer stupidity of adults who go about gossiping, ogling, groping and lovemaking in the presence of an eight year old is not lost on the readers.

While there have been quite a few books about the partition, this one stands out in its presentation and treatment. The combo of a child protagonist narrator and the theme of partition, juxtaposed with familial, psychological and religious brouhaha make the novel a compelling read.
I rate the novel 3.8 out of 5.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments. Do like and share it with readers and book-lovers too.
Until my next review, happy reading!

Book Photography: Chethana

Thursday 13 February 2020

Poison of Love : A Poem.

Kiss me, kill me 
once more 
before it's time
to walk out the door.

I picked my poison
they call it love
sinking seconds close in
shrill voices from above.

Struggle & strife
mock & threaten
Dusk of life
begins to beckon.

Wasted endevours
paid a price
searching forevers
in your eyes.

Image: 'The Kiss', Gustav Klimt

'The Kiss', Gustav Klimt


Book Review: 'The Catcher in the Rye', by J.D.Salinger.

I love reading Bildungsromane. But this one is beyond one's expectations of a 'clean' Bildungsroman. 

Salinger meant this book for adults. Small wonder then, that it was a super-hit with teenagers. 

Holden Caulfield is not your average teenager. He's beyond average in intelligence, highly disinterested in studies and endears himself to readers, despite his rather disgusting behavior. The heart of gold is firmly in its place, though and it is more apparent as the story unravels. One feels sorry for the poor little rich kid, desperately lost in his intense loneliness, in his pathetic attempts to find his place in the 'phony' universe.

One also finds rings of truth in his intense musings about life in general & people in particular. Holden's unbiased critique of the large cross-section of society strikes a chord, while his angst tugs at heartstrings. The lack of moral or emotional support for the teenager who is obviously in need of help. Holden's friendless isolation in a world full of people is palpable. 

The story begins with frustrating the reader, and goes on to leave the reader more frustrated at the end.

This classic sold a million copies a year and for good reason. Unapologetic in it's language and demeanor, this is one mean story that let's you in on the workings of the male teenaged mind. .


I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot.

What really knocks me out is a book that, 
when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. 

I am always saying "Glad to've met you" to somebody I'm not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.

It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands & they'll do practically anything you want them to.

People always clap for the wrong reasons.
People never notice anything.
People are always ruining things for you.

Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.

When you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up & write "Fuck you" right under your nose.

If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. 


Book Photography: Chethana Ramesh
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Surrender : A Poem

Warm lips, tender
upon my flesh,
I crave his plunder
in my dreams afresh.

My strength of wills freeze
& dissipate asunder,
in wild flower breeze
of lethal lavender.

One last chance of reason,
to potion of sky splendor
& an orb below the horizon,
my heart & soul, I surrender.

Image: Wallpaper Flare