Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"A Fine Balance" By Rohinton Mistry

Its past one o clock at night and I should have been in the bed two hours ago in order to be prepared to reach office on time tomorrow but here I am trembling and shaking, unable to move with the baggage of having read a saga of great misfortunes in the book “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. I toiled with last 100 pages for more than week with a meek hope that somehow the author will contradict the statement made over and over again in the book, “everything ends badly”.

“A Fine Balance” is a story of four people and how their lives get intertwined with each other, yet their fate remains solely theirs.  Dina Dalal is woman in her forties, a widow and is trying hard to lead a dignified life without taking help from her snobbish elder brother Nusswan. She had always been the tough nut to crack for her brother with her indomitable spirits. She married a man of her own choice much against his will. Her husband died after 3 years of their marriage and she never married again.  She gets into a contract with a garment company and hires two tailors, Ishvar and Om. Om is Ishvar’s nephew and they belong to the Chamaar community. Ishvar and Om had come to city to ward off their past which stinks of ill-treatment, sufferings, burnt bodies and with them a whole generation of hope, love and happiness. For a steadier income, Dina decides to accommodate a paying guest into her flat. Maneck, Dina’s ex-classmate’s son enters the scenario.

Set in the emergency era, the story impeccably handles the details of the world the government creates for the poor and the world that is ultimately created. For person born in the nineties like me who had known nothing about those turbulent times, the book indeed drafts out the era with precision. And the precision comes out boldly with the characters the author has painted in bright colours even though their lives are painted in stale chalk powder.

This is not the book you would want to open and re read again as once you have read it, it will remain with you and direct your understanding of life. You will feel sad and will remain in despair for a long time, accusing the author of stealing you a happy ending. You will curse him for over exaggeration and will produce a catastrophe at the end of every misfortune. But you will surely thank the author for writing such brilliant novel which has greatly changed your perception of life.

P.S Please share your reviews on the book if you have read it.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sailing over lives: I Am No Mother Teresa

Walking into the lanes of the slum dwellers haven, Iti felt an unusual ache in her heart. Often she had thought about these people and sighed and pitied at their animal like existence. She was not sure what she was feeling today, the happy faces and cheerful demeanour contradicted her opinion. Kids playing on the dirty streets flanked by garbage, open gutters, shit and everything despicable evoked trivial guilt into her being. Why are they happy? The question hovered over.

Between her thoughts, Shiv interrupted her to show her his dwelling. Tot her surprise the dwelling was a lot cleaner and habitable than any other she had stumbled upon before. Bare brick walls covered with a tin roof. There were no doors and entrance was through opening covered by an old rug. She hesitated to enter, waiting for some to come out and give her the permission to invade someone’s private territory. But Shiv quietly led her inside. His mother was nowhere to be seen. The place was cleaner and organised to clichéd description of a slum dwelling. A 21” T.V in one corner, an old double bed, a rack neatly stacked with few clothes, one racking holding the utensils atop it a gas burner. Everything hinted towards a poor yet dignified existence.

Shiv took out a folding chair from beneath the bed and offered her to sit. Why was she here? What can she offer this family? What has dragged her to come here? She was no Mother Teresa. Neither can she pretend to be one. She began to rehearse how will she start a conversation with Shiv’s mother and before she could make up anything, his mother appeared.

"Namaste", mother gently greeted Iti.
Iti to her own amazement froze in her seat; the woman was partially covered with burn marks. Iti stood up and reciprocated. "Namaste"

“Your son was roaming on the roads in the morning. I though I should bring him back here”, Iti initiated.

“Oh, thank you but you need not have bothered he is doing this for many days now, thinks he can find his good for nothing father and bring him back but I don’t stop him. He will realise it himself one day and get back to his senses.”

“But he is just 5 and you should stop him. He needs to go to school; also he might get hurt while roaming around”

Shiv’s mother remained silent for a moment and began speaking again.

“I am running this house for 10 years. Shiv’s father used to work in a garment factory. He was paid well to feed the family but his desires of earning big money led to his demise. Now here I am running this house alone and taking care of three kids. You cannot meet them now. I sent them to the village to study just after their father died as it is difficult to raise children in this big city. We don’t have much in the village also but enough to make the ends meet and give them a good life.”

“Will you be sending him also?”
"I thought of sending him too but I need someone here with me. I will live in the city for one more year and then both of us will go back to our village. I have saved about one lakh in the past 5 years and I will use to start a new life."
Iti looked puzzled.

“Oh, you must be thinking how a poor woman like me can save so much money. But I am working as a house maid for so many years. Initially I used to spend everything on the house but one day I stopped. I took some help from my employer and got a bank account. Never told his father about this though. He would have grown suspicious. I stopped taking any diwali or holi gifts from madam and asked her to instead deposit money of the value in my account.”

“You should be an economist. You can run the country”

“I am illiterate. I can’t even read or write, but I know to read money.” She laughed.
Iti was speechless. And she thought she would help this poor kid and his family. She rose and asked to leave. She didn’t know what to talk more. Words refused to form a way with her and she willingly gave in. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

30 by 30

I will be turning 21 within few days (though I distinctly feel not a day older than 13) and realising the fact that I have not done anything worth bragging about in the last so many years has irked me to pen down this list which I believe will add some amount of farsightedness to my “always on the edge” outlook.

Here it goes

  1. Write a book or many
  2. Design and build my own house (It is perhaps the only thing I want to design)
  3. Take a foreign vacation alone.
  4. Attend a literary festival as a speaker
  5. Take my mother to Venice, her dream destination
  6. Build a personal library
  7. Live alone for a year in a different continent, preferable South America
  8. Wear a bikini
  9. Scuba diving in coral reefs
  10. Volunteer in rural parts of India
  11. Adopt more dogs (I believe in adopting, not buying)
  12. Buy a Armani Suit for my Father
  13. Visit all states in India
  14. Take a cross country road trip
  15.  Start and build a venture of my own (part of it has been startedJ)
  16. Learn a new dance form
  17. Trek in Himalayas
  18. Visit all seven continents
  19. Form a book club
  20. Visit a coffee estate
  21. Visit a vineyard
  22. Get photographed at all Seven Wonders of the World
  23. Get drunk
  24. learn to paint
  25. Meet any five of my favourite writers
  26. Watch a Nadal play in a Grand Slam
  27. Develop a habit of writing 1500 words everyday
  28. Plant 100 trees
  29. Be financially independent
  30. Take a course in filmmaking and make a documentary

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sailing Over Lives:journey shall begin

Iti started to feel the rush in her veins. Packing was something detestable for her but tonight she felt her life was changing and she should welcome it with change. It was the first time she had no idea of what was she going to do ahead. For the first time nothing was certain and this precarious state amused her. Vague thoughts of being an escapist crossed her mind but thoughts held no importance in her life at this moment. She was beginning to feel like Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love” but knew instinct alone was not enough. She needed money and that too not just in mere numbers.

After 3 hours all she could pack was some clothes, toiletries which to her amazement left the mere backpack feeling light too. She left her home after a quick bath. It was 6 in the morning. The morning sun was still rising. The last time she woke up into the early hours was six years back. The rays falling on her skin illuminated it. She almost felt angelic about her existence for the brief period of time until she was bought back to reality. A child of about 5 was begging on the road. “Begging at this hour?” Iti felt baffled. There were no cars on the road and only a section of the society was running its errands. She went closer to the child but he kept moving away. She realised he was too timid to talk. She took a chocolate out of her bag and showed it him. His nerves began to relax and he made way for Iti.

Iti began talking.
“What is your name?”
 “Where do you live?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Do you go to school?”

Iti thought the boy might be hungry. She took the boy with him to a nearby dhabha and ordered only for the boy. But when the aloo parantha came, buttery aroma tingled her nostrils and she ordered for herself too. She felt satiated watching the boy eat. She had been right. He was hungry, may be for ages or so.

Iti initiated the conversation again.
“Where is your school?”
“I don’t go to school anymore”
“What do you do then?”
“Find my father”

Iti was baffled at his answer. Before she could ask him about his father the waiter arrived at the table with a piece of paper passing off as bill. Waiter sighed at the boy and told Iti that his father had died in an accident last month.

“And the boy wanders around looking for his father everyday. His mother is pregnant with another child. She wants to go back o her village but has no money. His father was a painter but was out of work due to the off season, barely able to meet ends. And now he is gone leaving behind a pregnant wife and a child. God help them”

Iti looked at the boy and asked him to take her to his home.
She now began to know her journey. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sailing over Lives

Its over!
This was the thousandth time Iti was reiterating the words in the last two hours. She checked her watch. It was 2:30 AM. The coffee was cold now. She stood up and drained the cup in the sink of her tiny kitchen. She made herself another cup and sat with an old book her mother has given her. It was one of those books a teacher would gift a student after the latter has repeatedly failed. Iti knew she was not going to read it but she liked holding it. It reminded her of her mother. Mother she hasn’t met for two years now.

World was just more than perfect when Iti arrived in New Delhi leaving behind the big lanes of Chandigarh. This was the place she was born and she was happy to be back here. She was the senior graphic designer at a leading Ad agency. Staying over at couple of relatives for 4 months, Iti decided to finally have it on her own. She found a little less decent lodging as compared to her sprawling bungalow in her home town but the run with struggle was something she had yearned for years. And to her amazement, she loved it to the fullest.

The moment she began to know her reality of a dream struggle, things begin to change. The flat provided nothing more than shelter, independence was more of a baggage, and friends …forget it. She stopped talking to her parents, her old friends and completely subsided into her own nut shell. A shell that was too hard to be broken. At times the urge of calling some one and cry loudly would come so strong but Iti always shrugged it aside thinking how will she explain her unhappiness? How will she explain why her world was falling apart? How will she explain her perfect life is not perfect any more? How will she explain that she herself doesn’t know these answers?

So she kept quiet and moved on with the sleazy pace of her life until one day when she decided to call the struggle off. No she was not going to end her life. She was the last person on earth who would succumb to the temptation of dying. She gulped down the coffee quickly which burned her throat. But she was too busy to feel anything. For the first time in two years she felt full of beans and began packing.

Where was she going? And why?

…wait for the next post to find outJ

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Things I Want My Daughter To Know

Things I Want My Daughter To Know
by Elizabeth Noble

I bought this book few years back and left it after reading first few pages. I am not one of those who get hooked to a book just after laying hands on it. I take time to let the book grow on me till I get immersed in its world (not if it’s Dan Brown of course). But I didn’t give this book the privilege of grow on me. Last week when I had nothing left to read, I skimmed through my bookshelf and reluctantly took it out with the thought of scanning the pages till my next visit to the bookshop which was due on the following evening.

But against my due plans, the visit to the bookstore never happened as I found myself glued to the book within minutes of opening it. The book revolves around a mother, Barbara and her four daughters. The mother dies of cancer but she still feels there are things that she always wanted to tell, share and teach but will not be able to do so because of her illness. So she writes each daughter one letter and leaves her journals where she has penned down every phase of her life.

Lisa is 37 and still commitment phobic. Jennifer, 36 is dealing with an unhappy marriage and can’t share it with anyone. Amanda the traveller has been an escapist all her life until she finds herself in love and begins to confront things. And Hannah is the teenager who is just exploring her adulthood after going through her mother’s illness for two years. Amidst all the girls is Mark, Barbara’s husband and Hannah’s father. He too misses Barbara deeply and is confronted by his moral guards when he decides to date again. Barbara’s letters and journals give them the common thread to bind their lives together once again.

Overall the story is simple but with an impeccable narration. I would like to quote the opening line on the book’s cover,” I laughed, I cried. I could not put it down.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

Jigsaw Puzzle

Three years old Iru woke up to a misty morning with a broad grin on his face. He was completely oblivious to the world around him. The world which was tattering away in pieces and innocent Iru was still trying to join the pieces together as he did with his animal puzzle set. For him life was just about making and breaking the puzzle. He spent hours juggling the pieces and joining them correctly. With each piece into its place, Iru would elate with happiness.

But that morning was different. He was not able to find his puzzle set and was petrified to see his house full of people. People he could not recognize. People who were sighing looking at Iru. Some embraced him, some began to sob and some handed him notes rupee 10 and 20. Iru felt perturbed. His eyes were restlessly moving through the crowd to find his father but he was nowhere to be found. He felt his heartbeats hard and feared not seeing his father again. A moment later he saw his father coming through the crowd towards him.

Iru said,”I thought you went away with mother”
His father gave him a smile and said,” I can’t. Not till you want me to go.”
“I would never want you to go.”
“Do you love me?”
“More than baba?”
Iru didn’t answer and Adil felt his heart in his mouth.

Adil was a man in his early 30s. Leaving his native village where he lived since he was born was more than just difficult. He had made a conscious decision of leaving the village after his wife passed away due to a prolonged illness. There was no hospital in the vicinity of the village and the dispensary doctors kept asking Adil to take his wife to the city. But he had no money. He never had. He worked for the village Sarpanch and was dependent on his charity which was just not enough to keep his wife alive.

Sarpanch was the richest man of the village and lived with his wife in the haveli which was big enough to accommodate more 30 people. But he had no children. He once asked Adil to give him his son but Adil refused vehemently and threatened to leave the job to which Sarpanch pacified him and said it was all in humour.

But it was not in humour.Whole of the village talked between the sheets of the Sarpanch’s desire to adopt Iru. He was always buying gifts for him asked Adil to get Iru along with him to work.

After Adil’s wife died, Sarpanch started visiting Iru more and more and the deep down desire was coming out loud and clear. Adil was always sceptical of his visits and tried to keep Iru away from him but the effort was futile. Iru developed a liking for Sarpanch and would ask for him on days he could not visit. Iru’s inclination towards the old man was becoming more and more profound which made Adil anxious and one day he decided to end it all.

He bid farewell to his village mates of 30 years and put Iru on his shoulders. It was 5 AM in the morning but he decided against waiting and set out. He had spent only an hour packing his home of 30 years and was taking only few meagre things with him. He started to walk towards the bus stop in a fast pace so that Iru would not notice sarpanch’s house. He had not allowed Iru to take any of the presents Sarpanch has given him including his favourite jigsaw puzzle. Iru spotted the house and pointed at the balcony where he and Sarpanch sat for hours and played.

“Can I play with Baba one last time? I promise I would not love him more than you”
A tear fell from Adil’s eyes and he continued to walk but not to the bus stop. He has now solved his own jigsaw puzzle.