Dog Boy: Raw And Feral

9781921656378I finished reading Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy on 8-October. It’s been about 13 days; I have read four more books, went on a three-day vacation, frequented hospitals to care for my parents, but Dog Boy is refusing to leaving me. I woke up at 5:45 this morning, with an image in my head — the dog boy was lying on his dog mum’s belly as the other puppies and dogs were also resting beside him, forming a canine circle. The image was a sign. I had to write about Dog Boy.

Whispering Gums, whose blogs I adore, mentioned Dog Boy in one of her posts, and I knew the book was written for me. Forgive me for being presumptuous, but the book follows an abandoned boy adopted by a bitch, who becomes a part of her pack, later its alpha, is indeed a book that’s written for me, for I am incurably in love with animals, and it’s one of my important goals in life to read every book on animals. But Dog Boy is not an awww-inducing work on the antics of dogs or Hornung’s attempt at anthropomorphising them. It’s raw, feral just like the dog boy and the dogs.

Hiding inside his dog self insulated him to a degree from his own thoughts and feelings. He was a dog: words meant nothing. He was a dog: numb grief and wild joy were the boundaries within which all feeling was stretched.

Hornung offers a fly-on-the-wall view of Romochka’s life. She doesn’t tell us why he is abandoned — that doesn’t tarnish the story — but besides that loose thread, she includes me quite intimately. I am a part of their pack. I feel their lair’s blinding darkness, the brutal Russian winters, the strange yet curious ways of canines. I eat what they find — a rat, a bird, and sometimes their own kinds.

While the four-year-old Romochka keeps his former life’s memories safe in some crevice of his heart, he feels belonged to the pack, and he doesn’t want to be any other way. Hornung’s narration teems with conviction that the account on Romochka’s gradual induction into the pack, although demands good degree of patience from me, is painfully delightful.

The institutions established by humankind will only become intimidated and piqued by a boy like Romochka, and that’s not good for the tight pack, is it? Romochka and the canines become the objects of humans’s curiosity, and that sadly jeopardises their clandestine lives. To my surprise, this is where I find myself rooting for the pack. As one of the characters observes, Romochka is safe with the canines.

The first part where the story shadows Romochka is a universe that’s not known to humans. It belongs to Romochka and his dog-mum and his dog-siblings. That fragile universe, in spite of being a part of this world, is tactfully suspended from it all the same. I find myself drifting back to that universe. While danger lurks in its corners, while life can break like an egg in an instant, that universe is beautiful in its uncertainties and oddities.

The part where their universe is invaded reveals a new perspective of Romochka’s world. Although it is necessary to look at his world through adults’s eyes, it can only be done by braving several stabs in the heart, for Romochka’s world with the dogs is achingly beautiful.

For me, the ending is perfect. Perhaps, I am still nursing a hangover because I want to keep following Romochka. I find myself wishing for the author to write a sequel. I don’t know if that might dilute the marvel I enjoyed in Dog Boy, but it’s still a wish.

Dog Boy is unarguably one of the best books I have read this year. One can’t say that it should be read by every animal lover. But it must be read to see how the line between humans and animals quietly blurs right in front of our eyes.

Now, I think of all the dogs, travelling in Moscow’s metros. I wonder if they are going back to their dog-people to share their prizes. Maybe a skull. A liver. A heart. Or a good lick.

It is a long autumn twilight. The hour between dog and wolf. Light and dark are mixed, fear mingled with possibility. Between dog and wolf, everything seems to hesitate, everything is neither, until the point when night, like a drawn-out exhalation, spreads over the city.

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Of Stolen Sunsets and Toothless Smiles

The cloud-whale was solemn. Against the rising sun and pink clouds, the indigo cloud-whale was stubborn. From my train that was negotiating a generous bend, I followed the cloud-whale as he refused to be dragged by the morning winds. The cloud-whale seemed like a prelude to the legendary, glorious sunset I was expecting to see in Kanyakumari, a little coastal town in Tamil Nadu, India. The train took a couple of turns and I lost the cloud-whale. But I trusted Kanyakumari to show me more marvels during the sunset. I knew she would. After all, Kanyakumari has the sunrises and the sunsets wrapped around her little finger.

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added: “You know– one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.”

― The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI am a sunset person, and I don’t agree with the little prince here. Even if I see the sunset every day, it is not going to make my heart sink. Sunsets fill me with hope, make me feel alive, and lift the veil of sadness.

As the sun washes the sky with myriad colours, as the clouds reflect the burning brightness and draws their favourite patterns, as darkness races against light, it’s hard to think about the trivial problems of life. Even the pressing ones. The spectacle might be staged by the universe, but the real performance happens in the hearts of the spectators who watch it from the sandy shores, who lose their breaths to the ephemeral truth.

I was one of those hungry lovers, waiting to steal a kiss from the cosmos, when I sat on the promenade in Kanyakumari’s sunset point.

But… it rained on the last day of my trip.

On the first day of my two-day trip, I missed the bus. I didn’t employ the cliche there. I really missed the bus that would have taken me to the sunset on time. My bus coughed and coughed while it braved the evening traffic. I understood the passive-aggressive message: I was not going to see the sunset.

The next day, when it rained, I prayed to the gods to push the clouds aside for a minute. Just a minute to devour a fleeting glance. Quite like the cloud-whale I saw from my train, these clouds were obstinate. Their bums were glued to the sky. They stole my sunset.

Minutes drained. The collective sigh of the audience grew heavier. The selfie-takers were still euphoric. But the sunset was robbed quietly, tactfully, by these adept thieves. Clouds.

My disappointment couldn’t be contained in words or tears. But AK knew how to see the bright side of the stolen sunset too. “Perhaps, it’s a sign that we would be here again,” he said. I hugged his words to pass some warmth to my cold heart.

Her sunset could have been elusive, but Kanyakumari was charming in other ways. I would remember her for her people:

The tea-maker whose tea was so-so but whose grey hat was adorably quirky. He was even more cute when he handed me a piece of spoilt cake. He was the cutest when he took it back and offered another piece of cake (which was also almost rotten) as though I was a child and he was sharing his candy heartily. With people like the man under the hat, it’s impossible to fight about smelly cakes. His toothless smile was my kryptonite.

The localites who held a tiny conference to work out the best route that would take me to a hanging bridge. I stayed out of their circle, as they put their heads together — sometimes arrogantly, sometimes humbly — to find the best bus for me, and to coerce the driver to stop the bus where I wanted to alight. I was their guest although they didn’t invite me.

The incredibly talented driver who took us on the green roads of Nagerkovil and some little villages on his 40-year-old car. A white Ambassador. The car listened to him like a loyal dog. In the corner of my imagination, I was on a sled pulled by a group of Samoyed. A girl can dream, can’t she?

The most sought-after sunset could fail me, but so long as I remember to look for beauty even in prosaic, unassuming things, life would show me more whales.

And perhaps, even a cloud-ocean where the whales can swim to eternity.

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Be Here Now: A Candid Chat With Anu Boo

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetAnu Boo — my canine companion, my best friend, my emotional crutch, my roommate — turns four on 5-October. While she is adequately pampered every day and even more on her birthday, I have decided to run the Proust Questionnaire on her, as her birthday gift. Gift for whom? She has to figure that out. But for now, I am pleased to present Anu Boo. 🙂 Also, if EB White can interview his Fred, if Enzo can narrate The Art of Racing in the Rain, and if Snoopy could write his own stories, why not my Anu Boo?

It wasn’t easy as I expected, to rendezvous this snobbish dog. She was constantly distracted initially. Mother was making dosai, Father was chopping apples, and I was trying to have a conversation with her, which is not even in her list of favourites. She was visibly miffed. I shut the door to shoo away the tantalising scents and sounds, and she reluctantly agreed to talk. (Read: I offered a bowl of buttermilk, she polished it, and then she agreed to sit for a while. Phew!)

What is your greatest fear?
Being alone. I am so scared that I pee and poop in the balcony when I am on my own at home. And I begin to worry about you all. What if you guys don’t come back at all? What if I am marooned in this place? What if I run out of Pedigree? (Please calm down, Anu. Thank you!)

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetWhat is your idea of perfect happiness?
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! There are too many things. Lying in the sunniest spot. Barking at the milkman. Chasing the neighbour’s children. Sniffing your bicycles’s tires. Hanging out with Shravan. Being cute when Ammamey baby-talks to me. Looking at her when she is stuffing her face. Sitting and watching squirrels by the window. Waiting for Ramesh. Gosh! Life is replete with wonderful things. Are we done?

Who is the greatest love of your life?
Ammamey. I love her like how the dark sky loves the stars. I can get poetic too. Don’t shoot that look. I was with you when you read Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs. Remember?

What is your current state of mind?
*cocks her ears*
I don’t know what state-of-mind means. I am just here talking to you. Can’t you see? I am with you.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I steal your socks and hide it in my crate… I know you call me Dobby. But that doesn’t make you Hermione. Puhleese. And I lie when I gobble bones dropped by my nemeses… (Crows?) You know who. Don’t say their names. No. No. No.

Which living person do you most despise?
The lady who delivers flowers. I try hard to like her. But when I hear her footsteps, I start barking, and I just can’t stop. By the time she leaves, I am exhausted. (Why do you do this to yourself? She is not a threat?) I know. I just can’t help myself. It happens on its own. I have no control. (You are lying now.) Please open the door. (Okay. Okay. I believe you.)

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
When I was just a few months old, it was fetch. These days, it is TREAT. Woohoo! *stands and chases her own tail*

20171004_215150Who are your heroes in real life?
My Calvin. I was not a regular happy-to-meet-people, happy-to-go-out dog, unlike my four-legged best friend. Due to my unusual beginning — I was stranded in an abandoned, locked-up house for the first 3.5 months of my life with no human interaction, and with only my siblings’s carcasses as my meals — I am still skittish, diffident, and aggressive around strangers. When I was rescued, I didn’t trust anybody but Calvin. I aped him; he was like my nanny-elephant. If not for him, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen in love with you all.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetWhat is your motto?
Be. Here. Now. (*begins to scratch her ears and lick her paws*)

And that’s how our chinwag ended. I am grateful to Anu Boo for being who she is. I am glad she was born.

Thank you for reading! 🙂 ❤

My September in Books

Not a lot of things changed after August. I am still hunting for a job, but my panic attacks about being unemployed have exponentially reduced. Maybe, I should attribute that change to having rediscovered the power of faith and the magic of workouts. Regardless of what keeps me sane, I feel thankful as I write this blog.

My September was filled with books of all kinds — beautiful, enlightening, fun, annoying, and scary. Here is the list:

34594982Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim: This poetry collection on mental health didn’t work for me. I wished it had more clarity and depth. Maybe, it is just me. Usually, a couple of poems stay with me even if the book was forgettable. I can’t recall a single poem from this collection. I understand that the author’s poem Explaining My Depression to My Mother became an Internet sensation, but the book could have been deeper.

1048645Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo: Michael Morpurgo, with his prose that is light yet poetic as ever, shows the darkness of the war, the mesmerising beauty of the English villages, and the burning love that is fanned by the Peaceful family.

23317538Rising Strong by Brene Brown: I am not sure why I approached Rising Strong with expectations. That was out of character for me. Maybe because I saw Brene Brown’s name being dropped by Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert quite often, I presumed that I would fall in love with Brown’s books too. I could’t do well with the book. Brown delivered some great lessons. Some life-changing perspectives. But they were all so sporadically offered that I had to wade through her ocean of academic research notes to unearth that one piece of dashing advice. As I read Brown’s prosaic anecdotes and mind-numbing data points, the wait became an exercise in patience. I don’t hate the book. That feeling is strong. I only wish that it could have been more personal, and the writing could have been warmer. It had a powerful title. It was replete with inspiring quotes and lyrics. But its heart was missing.

28928541Chirp by Dolores Costello: Chirp — a tiny chick — sets out on an adventure all by himself when his mother and his siblings are napping. He runs into a cat, large birds, gets lifted off the ground by a gusty wind, lands in a paint bucket, meets a kind girl, before he goes back to his family. Much to his dismay, his siblings don’t recognise him because he landed in a paint bucket. Remember? What happens after that? I am not going to say. Chirp is for super little readers. And it tells them that they can go on an adventure, make glorious mistakes, and when they come back, their parents would accept them regardless of their appearance and experiences. The picture book is an advocate of parents’s unconditional love, and it is ideal to encourage young readers to explore with confidence. Even if everything goes wrong, their parents have got their back. I loved this teeny-weeny chick, and of course, his kind momma.

35464601The Girl Who Said Sorry by Hayoung Yim and Marta M: This girl keeps saying ‘sorry’. Because she is told that she is too shy, too bold, too girly, too boyish… She is boxed in adjectives. She feels suffocated for the adjectives not only put her into a straitjacket but they are contradictory. Above all, she is made to feel sorry for who she is. When she realises that she is drowning in her sea of sorries, she breaks free. The Girl Who Said Sorry is an enlightening picture book that breaks gender stereotypes, and equips young readers to fight societal pressure. It is a lovely book that can enable parents to initiate a safe, crucial conversation on gender fluidity and the beauty of being oneself. Unapologetically oneself.

14467The Best Short Stories of O Henry: I took two years to read this book. When my friend exclaimed, I said I had to read it S. L. O. W. L. Y. Then I thought I also owe O Henry an explanation — in his own style — on why it took so long for me to finish. 😉 “This reader laid the book in the parlour where the afternoon sun was the harshest. As the book caught the light, and looked like an ember in the ashes, she lost her dear heart to the magnificent sight, and lost the words to the sun, like a shepherd who lost his sheep to woolgathering.” I’m sure O Henry is now turning in his grave. 😀

25893534Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed: It’s been almost two years since I read the book, and I revisit it often because reading it is like listening to your best friend, who knows you, who knows all that you have gone through. I will keep rereading Brave Enough.

23363874Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig: Haig is full of empathy. He is not one of those, who would ask you to ‘cheer up’ when you are smothered by depression and anxiety. He trusts that you don’t want to be in that black hole, you are trying to crawl out, and so he gives you practical advice to embrace depression and anxiety. That is the point of the book. He doesn’t offer a magical cure. He lets you face it. He lets you make peace with the fact that depression and anxiety will keep knocking on your door. But how can you send them away, at least for a while, kindly all the same? I love his advice on reading. He is a loyal advocate of reading and writing. He is all about slowing-down; find that which thwarts the mind from slowing down, and catch its collar. Haig sprinkles quotes after quotes in the book. And those are exactly the ones I wanted to read to dismal my fear of my own mind. Some favourite advice here:
* Shower before noon
* Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind
* Look at the sky. Remind yourself of the cosmos. Seek vastness at every opportunity, in order to see the smallness of yourself
* Read a book without thinking about finishing it. Just read it. Enjoy every word, sentence, and paragraph. Don’t wish for it to end, or for it to never end
* Remember that the key thing about life on earth is change. Cars rust. Paper yellows. Technology dates. Caterpillars become butterflies. Nights morph into days. Depression lifts.

(Thank you, Laila, for placing this book in my radar. Thank you very much!)

6048816Solo by Rana Dasgupta: If I removed science and politics from this book, I would be left with a heartrending, insanely creative story of a 100-year-old blind man, who endures his life by daydreaming. The writing was terrific, and the stories were crazy and beautiful. For I am not a big fan of science and politics in books, Solo didn’t work for me here and there. But the book’s soul was warm.

35232864Perry Panda: A Story about Parental Depression by Helen Bashford and Russell Scott Skinner: It’s a lovely, little book that gently introduces children to Parental Depression. Children often blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in their families. Perry Panda is also like every other child. He can’t figure out if he is being bad, because his mother is always sad. He wants to help her. He thinks he must become a good boy to make her happy. As he sulks, his grandmother makes him understand that he is not responsible for how his mother feels, and what he can do within his limits to help his mother. The book doesn’t hesitate to tell the children that their parents might have to stay at a hospital or take pills or need a tight hug to fight depression. A tiny, important book!

35259724Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: Behold The Dreamers offers many stories — the story of a boy who is fond of the Universe and Oneness, the story of a man who jeopardises his marriage and family and try to salvage it when choppy waves have already engulfed it all, the story of children who don’t want to be anything but children, the story of a woman who was born out of rape, the story of a woman whose voice is stolen by her husband, and the story of a country which quietly plays with their lives.

519ZDrI-BPLSpeaking Our Truth: A Curriculum on Non-Violent Communication by Jessica Xalxo: Despite our love for words, despite consuming thousands of them everyday, we are guilty of using them mindlessly, and unleashing verbal violence. Books like Speaking Our Truth remind us to realise the power of our words, and work on our outlook on them. Like Thich Nhat Hanh said, peace is every step. And it begins with words which are chosen with loving-kindness, compassion, and empathy. The book is an unassuming advocate of all of it. Speaking Our Truth empowers us, and restores our faith in the power of language. When it comes to words, we are all sorcerers.

36195376The Doodler of Dimashq by Kirthi Jayakumar: The Doodler of Dimashq is one of the most moving, thought-provoking, and unassuming books I have ever read on wars. Author Kirthi Jayakumar has given us Ameenah — the child bride, the survivor, the helper, the mother, the warrior, and the doodler of Dimashq. Ameenah’s story is so powerful and heartrending that it would make so many of us realise that we don’t dive into art to escape from our lives, but find our very lives there.

What did you read? How was your September? 🙂

Calvin’s Web

18199087_10212986011861974_849897393581806179_n“Dear CALVIN we miss u”

I woke up to those words today. Father’s status message on Whatsapp. Five words. They shook my heart and triggered a tsunami. A tsunami of memories.

Those memories violated me, broke my bubble of sunny thoughts, filled me with doubts, and made me bawl in the restroom. In spite of the assault, I didn’t wish I could flush those memories down. I didn’t want to pretend that I am okay, when I can’t banish a bunch of images which would chase me until my bones are reduced to ashes. I choose not to cast off those images. They are mine. They are me.

We place Calvin on the cold table. He pants, still gathers some strength to look around. He knows that place and we know he loathes it. I don’t see his tail. I don’t know if he wagged it then. I see his eyes. Grey and glassy despite the cataract. I try to travel deeper into the eyes, I see fear. I think I see fear. My vision becomes blurred because tears are filling those two inadequate windows called eyes. I am mad at the tears because they are thwarting me from looking at our Calvin for one last time. I allow them to mar my vision all the same.

10993423_10206083724069093_7601953312908706755_nThe doctor says he will not be in pain anymore. I thank her and she says I have a couple of more minutes with Calvin. I reach his ear and whisper, “I am sorry.” I am sorry for all the times I ignored you. I am sorry for hurting you. I am sorry for yelling at you. I am sorry for not talking to you a lot. I am sorry for being mad at you when I couldn’t manage my anger. I am sorry. I am sorry. IamsorryIamsorryIamsorryIamsorry.

I… am… sorry…

I drop a kiss on his face; I leave the room without turning back.

Calvin is alive. He breathes. He smells death. I cross a door.

I cross the door again. Calvin is not alive. I smell death.

A door. A door that conjured up a gulf that can never be crossed.

Father’s friend carries Calvin as we collect all the shards of our broken hearts to see our dear boy for one last time before he is going to be offered to the eternal darkness. His eyes are open. Grey. Glassy. Gone.

Fred’s aroma has not deserted him; it wafts over me now, as though I had just removed the stopper from a vial of cheap perfume. His aroma has not deserted the last collar he wore, either…

Here I am, seven years after his death, still sharing a fever bed with him and, what is infinitely more burdensome, still feeling the compulsion to write about him.

— ‘EB White on Dogs’

10524374_10204316727975295_7597362351294833951_nCall me schizophrenic, I wouldn’t complain. Two years after we let Calvin go, I still hear the pitter-patter of his paws which walked miles and miles, and I hear his sigh as he turns to his side to make himself more comfortable while he is asleep. I use the bowls in which he drank litres and litres of buttermilk. I sniff my old clothes, close my eyes, and I see him looking back at me with benevolence.

My nephew Shravan was right on so many levels when he said Calvin is alive. The years we shared with the great black dog is woven so deeply into the tapestry of our lives that it is beyond our brains to believe that he is gone.

We once had a balcony. A spacious balcony from where Mother and Calvin saw us leaving for work. Mother would wave with enthusiasm, with zennish Calvin at her heel. Before I take the last turn and leave the road, I would look at them one more time.

Calvin would look down, his leaf-like ears partially curtaining his eyes. Jet-black face. Velvety fur. Pink tongue bordered by shiny saliva. His starry eyes trained on me.

Calvin. Our golden Calvin.

We are forever haunted by him; we don’t want our lives any other way.

We are forever mired faring in his web. After all, he is our Charlotte.

There is far more to us than what we live.

— ‘Solo’ by Rana Dasgupta

1462955_10202520148741937_776591400_n

The Doodler Of Dimashq: Between Black And White

Author Kirthi Jayakumar wrote in her notes:

…until Ameenah came to me one afternoon, unexpectedly, and stayed in my mind till her story came out. Day after day, update after update filled my newsfeeds. The war in Syria is everyone’s problem. With that in mind, I couldn’t show Ameenah the door. I wouldn’t, either. Her story found its words, forcing their way through my fingers as I furiously pelted the keys on my laptop, changing my life, forever. I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel. And so, I leave this piece of my heart at your doorstep and knock thrice, on your doors of empathy.

IMG_20170916_115137_485I answered.

I received Ameenah this morning, at the doorstep of my heart.

Ameenah — the child bride, the survivor, the helper, the mother, the warrior, and the doodler of Dimashq.

Ameenah — the soul of Kirthi Jayakumar’s latest book.

As soon as I met her, I knew I would spend my whole day with her; I knew her voice would be compelling, her story heartrending and important. And she ushered me to her Syria. Her Dimashq. Her Aleppo. Above all, her doodles.

I listened to her story as tears streaked down my cheeks. But she didn’t falter. She showed me the unquenchable thirst of war, and the never-ending quest for peace.

For Ameenah is so much more than a fictitious character to me, for my love for her cannot be contained in a formal blog, I have decided to write a letter to the young girl.

*****

My dearest habibti,

That guy who shot that missile didn’t know that he was fuelling your faith in humanity. That guy who bombed your homes didn’t know that you would make art out of debris. None of them knew that their weapons were too weak to quell your indomitable spirit, Ameenah.

Love never came in colours, did it? Red for a lover. Pink for a mother. Blue for a sister. Green for a father. Orange for a brother. A dark hue of rose for a grandmother. No. None of it. Love was black and white, like the stains of ash black on the sheet of weak ecru concrete. Love was black and white, like death and life. There, or not there.

How can we ever thank Tete for what she has done for us, habibti? By telling you that you must never quit doodling, she made me realise that I must never stop listening to what speaks to my soul. The evil around us might not become exhausted. It would wail and wail and wail. But Tete made me understand that I must use my precious life to nourish my soul, instead of trying to ward off the evil.

The strains wove a magic that sounded like someone was doodling with music, instead of ink.

Ameenah, the world wept for Alan Kurdi, came to the streets, held candles, and shouted slogans. The world did something. But the very world would call you insane if you doodled or read or sang, when your city was being bombed. “Mad woman helps, but keeps scratching something on the paper when her folks are dying.” I wish your story would uproot that outlook, and make so many of us realise that we don’t dive into art to escape from our lives, but find our very lives there.

Every doodle that you made on broken concrete slabs is a eulogy, Ameenah.

Every scratch was a goodbye to the deceased.

Every stroke was a bold statement.

Every pattern was a quiet warning; wars may go on, but peace will be created in surprising ways.

Ameenah, you are my Anne Frank, my Liesel Meminger. In your art lies my hope and future. Between black and white, you have taught me to see a spectrum of colours. Between life and death, you have taught me to live. Thank you, for being vulnerable, for being brave, and for being human. Thank you for passing your hope forward.

That is all we need.

Yours,
A Reader

Behold The Dreamers: The Home Hunt

How could anyone have so much happiness and unhappiness skillfully wrapped up together?

Capture505That’s the America Imbolo Mbue presents in Behold The Dreamers. It is ‘a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers‘ and also the land that is not open to its neighbours. In that torn place, the Cameroonians Jenda Jonga and his wife Neni struggle to make America their home.

Not only does the city of New York sway between harsh cold and warmth, Jenda and Neni also contradict themselves throughout the book that’s full of moving dialogues. As much as they love their Limbe, they celebrate New York for it could make them somebody, make their children somebody.

In a conversation with his boss Clark Edwards, Jenda, who is his chauffeur, observes about Limbe, The Town of Friendship:

…as you pass through Mile Two, you will see the lights of the town at night as they are shining all around you. The lights are not too bright or too many. They are just enough to say that this is a town made of magic.

Edwards wonders why Jenda would leave that magical place. The innocent immigrant says that America is America. With that illusory love for the country, Jenda and Neni face a series of predicaments before they could grasp the ultimate truth — the meaning of home.

Neni amuses me. She is a mad, mad dreamer. Her children have to grow up as Americans. She has almost set that idea in stone, and to make that dream come true, she even prepares herself to dismantle her life with Jenda, making her very own dream futile. Quite an oxymoron, and an interesting one at that.

In Mbue’s story, no character is stereotyped. They are all kind. They are all cruel. They are all mired in dreams and despairs, and they are all exhausted by their never-ending inner battles.

Behold The Dreamers offers many stories — the story of a boy who is fond of the Universe and Oneness, the story of a man who jeopardises his marriage and family and try to salvage it when choppy waves have already engulfed it all, the story of children who don’t want to be anything but children, the story of a woman who was born out of rape, the story of a woman whose voice is stolen by her husband, and the story of a country which quietly plays with their lives.

Maybe, Mbue’s writing is not as intense as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s. But Mbue has many stories; they are relevant, significant, and charged with all things human.

Home will never go away
Home will be here when you come back
You may go to bring back fortune
You may go to escape misfortune
You may even go, just because you want to go
But when you come back
We hope you’ll come back
Home will still be here