The High Priestess Never Marries: Between Prose and Poetry

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The book and the filter coffee were consumed on a languorous Sunday evening. ❤

All alone on a night like this — quite as confession and blackwidow blue. Oh what she would give, tonight or any night, for a lover’s mouth, for a lullaby, for a moon so low it could snag in the conspiracy of branches. And she sits there in the darkness and watches the silhouettes of trees against the city sky blanched with artificial effulgence, and admires the silver rings on her toes, and thinks of how a good reading can unbraid everything. She blows a smokey cloudkiss to the Venus flytrap in the corner and even the Venus flytrap doesn’t bite back.

16298748_10212046600537278_7784908729883477375_nWhen I read Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One a few weeks ago, I made a secret wish. I wanted to read something as intense and feminist as her poetry collection, but I wanted the stories to be closer to me. I wanted the characters to drive on the roads I take. I wanted them to speak my tongue. I wanted them to know my gods and goddesses. I wanted them to lose themselves in the ocean where I seek solace.

Then Sharanya Manivannan’s The High Priestess Never Marries happened to me.

As I finished every short story and postcard fiction, I kept asking myself, “Between prose and poetry, where does this writing lie?” I released the question religiously, only to realise that it was an exercise in futility.

Because the stories were just there.

Feral. Timid. Pregnant. Empty. Loud. Silent. Intimidating. Comforting.

The stories were just there.

If Haruki Murakami’s heroes kept making spaghetti in his books, Sharanya Manivannan’s characters were fond of bitter gourd. More specifically, bitter gourd tossed with jaggery.

Dark, bitter, and yet sweet. Quite like her stories.

“Bitter gourd that tastes of love and all its consequences. It is my simplest, most sincere dish: my heart on a platter.

‘This is an epiphany,’ she grins, her nose running, her back resting against the spice cabinet. I watch her for a few moments before reaching to serve myself.

With her clean hand, she grabs mine. ‘Thank you!’

‘Anytime, my love.’ I squeeze her hand, drop the spoon I reached for, and decided to wait. What a pleasure it is to give.

Sometimes a meal is a psalm. Sometimes it is a code, a consolation, a sense of an unbroken coast in a season of ravages. Always, it is an offering. Always, it is an embrace.”

The other motifs created the feminine, divine, resplendent atmosphere too. Toe rings. Mangoes. Neem trees. The colour red. Celestial beings. And of course… sea, sand, soil, and shores. There were myriad omens which made me feel feverish.

I love Sharanya Manivannan’s women. They did not demand my sympathy. They did not offer condescension either. They were beautifully vulnerable, incredibly human. They related their stories in a tone that was free of apologies. Their voices were laden with regrets, melancholy, and pain. But there was no pretense.

I love her women more because those are the ones who can listen to my story without judging me. Those are the ones who can say, “You fucked up? It’s fine. Let’s clear the mess together.” Those are the women who won’t ask me to stay strong. Those are the ones who would say, “Weep. Weep. Weep. It’s okay to be broken.” Those are the ones who understand the need to feel belonged, the need to love, and the need to be loved and cherished.

Those are the women who know what it is like to be a woman.

I wanted to unleash my love on two women particularly — Sarala Kali and Antara. (Oh! The names! There was a man called Mazhai.) Both the women taught me something that I have been meditating for a long while — allowing myself to feel.

I am tired of hearing phrases like, ‘You have always been brave. Continue to be brave.’ Or a patronising one like, ‘Snap out of that depression.’ Or a reduction like, ‘What you are feeling is a mere disappointment.’ So when I met Sarala Kali and Antara, I naturally warmed up to them more for they didn’t wage war against their emotions. They walked into the eye of the storms. They swayed to the tunes of gusty winds. They destroyed themselves. They re-birthed themselves. And when the cyclone had crossed, they were brave and authentic in the way they embraced their sentiments. How can I not love them!

It’s been a day since I finished the book. But I can’t capture one word as such and pin it down to explain how I feel about it. There is a lump in my throat. I want to hug somebody and cry for a little while. I want to take deep breaths. I want to reread some stories from the book. I am giving myself to the quicksand of thoughts. I am throwing a courageous glance at the bright clarity that has surfaced. I feel everything. I feel nothing. I am melancholic. I am contented.

Maybe, I am one of them. Maybe, we all are…

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RK Narayan Readalong: The World of Nagaraj

Nagaraj was sitting on the pyol, spending the evening as usual looking at the coconut trees with crows retiring for the night. Before repairing to the trees they assembled on the roof of the tall house in the opposite row. Scores of them flew down and perched like schoolchildren under the supervision of a convent sister. The crows argued a lot among themselves and hopped and shifted about before dispersing. Nagaraj always felt a fascination for this evening activity of the crows, and wished he knew the language of birds as did the kings of folklore. The crows probably have a leader who allots them treetops for the night and they argue and debate about it before coming to a decision. The leader would probably be saying, “Don’t you see the sky is reddening? Hurry up, darkness will soon be upon us, and remember we are not human being who light lamps for their night life…”

IMG_20160503_155207RK Narayan’s characters pay attention to beautiful, little things in life. That is one of the reasons why I adore his books. The World of Nagaraj, just like every other book of RK Narayan, is replete with such people. They find the extra-ordinaries in the ordinaries.

The World of Nagaraj, as the title suggests, revolves around Nagaraj. The man in his 50’s harbours a dream — to write a book on the great sage Narada. He talks to people from all walks of life in Malgudi to collect material for his book. Much to his dismay, nobody knows about Narada well.

Just when he is disheartened about his book, his nephew Tim chooses to live with Nagaraj and his wife. Nagaraj, who is a creature of habits and who derives immense pleasure from leading slow, relaxed life, is forced to look after his mischievous nephew. Nagaraj’s life begins to be eventful.

Tim marries a singer. The young girl practises Hindi songs every morning, when Nagaraj tries hard to write on his book. The man cannot confront. He cannot tell the girl that she must stop practising awful songs during his time. Because of his inability to communicate and confront, he loses his peace of mind.

Besides becoming eventful, Nagaraj’s life loses its rhythm. Everything goes haywire. He has to discipline Tim, prove to his brother that he didn’t let Tim go astray, ask Tim’s wife to be quiet during his writing hours, and manage to write his book on Narada.

Many a time, I was reminded of PG Wodehouse’s stories. Nagaraj is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster. His wife Sita rescues him often, quite like Jeeves. And the plot becomes thicker and thicker, just like in Wodehouse’s book.

Unlike Wodehouse’s stories, everything doesn’t end well in The World of Nagaraj. But the mood of the book doesn’t change. It stays true to its theme till the end, even when Nagaraj gets mired in more responsibilities.

The World of Nagaraj is for the readers, who like slow, funny, and warm books.

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Me and Kaminski: A Portrait That Isn’t A Portrait

“For example, I wanted to do a series of self-portraits, but not using my reflection in a mirror or photos, just drawing on the image I had of myself. Nobody has any idea what they really look like, we have completely false pictures of ourselves. Normally you try to even things out, using whatever you can. But if you do the opposite, if you intentionally paint this false picture, as accurately as possible, in every detail, with every characteristic trait…!” He banged on the table. “A portrait that isn’t a portrait! Can you imagine such a thing? But nothing came of it.”

41REs310GQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“How much of what I think of myself is true? Do I massage my ego by making more room for thoughts which flatter? Do I torment my soul by overexposing it?” I asked myself when I read that passage from Daniel Kehlmann’s Me and Kaminski, for TJ @ My Book Strings’s 12 Germans in 2016. The book is beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway.

The narrator Sebastian Zollner is so much like a lot of us. Even as he slides down the hill of life, he holds on to his ego tightly, and the very trait makes him more fascinating, even though he is annoying.

The 31-year-old journalist and critic wants to do something big with his life. He might be a mediocre journalist, he might be dumped by his girlfriend, but he hopes to redeem himself by writing the biography of an elusive, senile, intelligent, intuitive artist called Manuel Kaminski.

Zollner is so deluded that he fails to recognise the fact that Kaminski is not popular anymore. The proprietress of the cafe in Kaminski’s neighbourhood hasn’t heard of the artist. The critics in Zollner’s circle don’t remember Kaminski’s work. But Zollner hopes that Kaminski would say something sensational about his first love Therese, whom the artist believes is dead, and that Kaminski would die soon for the book to become a bestseller.

The duo embarks on an impromptu road trip after Zollner reveals that Therese is alive. On their way, they meet an unconventional thief, a prostitute who understands Kaminski well and ridicules Zollner, and when they finally meet Therese, the table turns. Their exchanges on art, artists’s ego, media, and identity made me laugh and think.

Although Zollner travels with Kaminski to discover more about the artist, he ends up meeting himself along the way, for Kaminski is not what Zollner thinks. Not only does Kaminski surprises Zollner, but he gently steers the journalist towards self-awareness. Daniel Kehlmann walks a tightrope, as he chooses bathos, but I wouldn’t have wanted Zollner to live with his delusions.

“I said to the proprietress how beautiful I thought it was to be here. She smiled proudly. Here in the countryside, in nature, even here in this station. Way away from everything, among simple people.

She said what did I mean.

Not among intellectuals, I explained, overeducated posturing types with university degrees. Among people who were close to their animals, their fields, and the mountains. Who went to sleep early and got up early. Who lived, instead of thinking!”

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The Thing Is: Warm and Hilarious

28966786When I was aloof and sad, and chose to stay with a friend for a while, because everything was going wrong, my father did the most unexpected thing to bring me back home. He asked my mother to tell me that if I stayed with friends, they wouldn’t look after my dog Boo, and that I would have to make arrangements for her. “How can you do this to Boo? It’s not her fault. You are kidding. I know you all love her,” I told my mother. I couldn’t believe that they could make such an unkind decision. But my mum was unrelenting. “You come back or take Boo with you.”

One hour after our call, I was at home, and I promised I wouldn’t leave again.

I was talking to a friend about my parents’s ‘radical’ behaviour. She guffawed and said, “Your parents are adorable. They had tried reverse psychology to make you sensible again.” I felt cheated. 😉 But I was thankful all the same.

Reverse psychology, that’s what Monica tries, to help her sister Meredith, who is grieving for her fiance Kyle. Meredith is a women’s fiction writer. Although so many readers in her neighborhood enjoy her books, she claims that she is not popular. Quite like many humble authors we know.

Her life doesn’t progress after Kyle’s death. She mourns him for about three years, lives on canned food, binge-watches TV series, wears his clothes, and suffers from writer’s block. But, she has to meet a deadline. Her next book should be written.

That’s when Meredith is coerced by her sister into pet-setting a Yorkshire Terrier called Prozac. What a fitting name! Of course, dogs are amazing anti-depressants, and Prozac — a Spirit Guide Dog, who had ‘explicit jobs and functions to perform’ during his limited time on earth — brings hope and love into Meredith’s life.

It’s not easy for Meredith, for she says she is not a dog person, and she doesn’t want her messy life to become better. But she cannot return the dog. Prozac’s human, an octogenarian, is convalescing after a surgery, and she firmly believes that Meredith will be the next best human for Prozac. Above all, Meredith is being blackmailed by a retired judge into looking after him, and bringing him to Evergreen Gardens, an independent living facility, where ladies worship him every week.

Prozac is incredibly intelligent and more intuitive than other dogs. He assumes the responsibility of breathing life into Meredith. Needless to say that he succeeds. Unlike a lot of literary dogs, Prozac doesn’t sound just awww-inducing and funny. He is sagacious, well-read, and possesses a great understanding of human psyche. His meditations on life, loss, hope, and life are moving and enlightening.

She climbed into bed and, guided by the nightstand lamp, read self-help books — out loud. The latest was titled Get Out of the Rut Called YOU: Strategies for Getting Your Life Unstuck. I mentally rolled my eyes when Meredith read lines like “Get up and get out there again!” or “Find what you love and do it — just go for it!” How was it that grossly underqualified people got paid to write such drivel while intelligent humans like Meredith shelled out money and spent time reading retread, generic crap? She should’ve been reading something of intellectual substance more along the lines of A Grief Observed by CS Lewis. Unfortunately, being a dog had its limitations, and the ability to recommend better books was one of them. But I was well acquainted with Jack’s work — that was what those in C.S.’s inner circle used to call him — when I was assigned as his charge. I once consumed half a volume of Plato. Chewed it to bits. That might’ve put an end to Jack’s work on the Greek translation, but I liked to think that my actions served as the inspiration for the talking animals in his Narnia saga.

Prozac loves William Faulkner too okay? 🙂

Kathleen Gerard’s The Thing Is is warm. While I love every theme the book explores, I particularly enjoyed Gerard’s reflections on random act of kindness and second chances.

The novel is peopled with characters who are memorable and thoughtful. One of the residents of Evergreen Gardens, who is an amazing gambler, throws a grand birthday party for her deceased son’s 50th birthday. Another resident, who watches three TV series on three iPads simultaneously, owns a vintage car that she hasn’t driven after she acquired her driving license in the 60’s. A magician, whom Meredith meets at Evergreen Gardens, has eye-opening conversations with her about illusions and reality. They all gently steer Meredith toward making peace with her past. Meredith gathers courage and strength to move on by leanring about their difficult lives, and their resilience to go on, come what may.

Sometimes, when humans shared things and finally gave voice to their feelings, they cast a light into dark places they’d kept locked inside. In those moments, there were no words.

The plot negotiates quite a few unexpected turns, quite like Wodehousian stories, and ends in the most satisfactory fashion. The Thing Is is cute, hilarious, and has a big heart.

Many thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy. And, my opinions are super honest all right? 🙂

Three Books I Secretly Read

I blog only about books I adore. (I wrote about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Shatter Me, although they didn’t agree with me. But, I want to believe that I was not too harsh, because I asked my furry friends to give me a hand.) So, yes, I blog only about books I adore. I gush about them, abuse nice adjectives, shove the books under your nose, and almost arm-twist you into picking up the books.

Sometimes, I read brilliant books, and for reasons that I cannot fathom, I do not write about them. I read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, and Jodi Picoult’s Harvesting the Heart last year. I highlighted myriad passages, I still quote them during discussions, and awarded many, many stars on Goodreads. However, I could not bring myself to gather, and pin down my thoughts. While the logic seems elusive, I thought I should not dish out that treatment to the wonderful books, which one of my friends recommended this month. I am going to try writing a couple of lines.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir:
My blog on Shatter Me made my friend recommend An Ember in the Ashes. She said she loved it, because it let her escape into an another world. I couldn’t say anything better after I read the book. The plot is compelling, the characters are memorable, the story is beautiful, and the dialogues are soulful. There is a sequel, and I look forward to reading it. It is safe to say that if one misses Harry Potter books, Tahir’s can fill the gap. Also, I want to be brave enough, and confess that I found An Ember in the Ashes deeper than Harry Potter. Ouch, did I just say that?

“You’ll never forget them, not even after years. But one day, you’ll go a whole minute without feeling the pain. Then an hour. A day. That’s all you can ask for, really.” His voice drops. “You’ll heal, I promise.”

“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.”

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng:
As soon as I learn that one reads, one of the first questions I pose is, “Are you on Goodreads?” I draw immense pleasure from looking at the shelves, and adding a hundred more to my TBR. When I browsed this friend’s shelf, I found quite a few interesting books. I ordered Everything I Never Told You, Room, and To Sir, With Love without paying a second thought.

Celeste’s book is a gem. It took a while for me to get warmed up to it, but after I invested enough time, I wanted to live with it. This is an important book, and I am glad I chose to read it. Almost every theme that Celeste explored is still relevant. Also, I loved, loved, loved Celeste’s writing, and her impressive eye for details.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you — whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

“It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.”

Outline by Rachel Cusk:
I am grateful to friends, who recommend books like Outline. I am more grateful to friends, who recommend books like Outline, and make time to deliver “mini literature classes.” (I heart you, SM!) This novel was everything I wanted to read. The book spoke to me. Will you forgive me if I employ a cliche here? The book spoke to me… like literally. Outline is about everything that we often discuss. Love, loss, friendship, relationships, marriage, identity, values, writing, success, failure… To grasp the finer aspects, and meditate more, I want to read this book again. I also intend to read Cusk’s memoir Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation.

“What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of.”

“As it happened, I was no longer interested in literature as a form of snobbery or even self-definition. I had no desire to prove that one book was better than another; in fact, if I read something I admired, I found myself increasingly disinclined to mention it at all. What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.”

“It was impossible, I said in response to his question, to give the reasons why the marriage had ended: among other things a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious. What was real, in the end, was the loss of the house, which had become the geographical location for things that had gone absent and which represented, I supposed, the hope that they might one day return. To move from the house was to declare, in a way, that we had stopped waiting.”

What kind of books do you read secretly? I would love to know. 🙂

When Breath Becomes Air: A Tryst With Life

41jFVZL72YL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I read Paul Kalanithi’s essay in The New Yorker in January, and pre-ordered When Breath Becomes Air. The book arrived last month, but I couldn’t muster the courage to read it. Although I was reading a lot of books that affected me deeply, I still shuddered at the mere thought of reading Kalanithi’s memoir, only because it’s a dying man’s reflection on mortality, and life’s meaning.

Many Goodread’s reviews contained warnings — the reader would shed torrential tears, the reader would be depressed, the reader would empty numerous boxes of tissue papers. I admit. I am a crier. A heavy crier. However, this poignant book didn’t depress me. At the end, I had the satisfaction that usually envelops me after having a profound conversation with an intelligent friend, and I was moved by Kalanithi’s tenacity to face death, the very thing that retained a sense of wonder in him all his life.

Kalanithi read George Orwell’s 1984, when he was 10. His mother ensured that her children were exposed to great minds, as they lived in Arizona, which didn’t have great schools. His father practised medicine there, and Kalanathi spent many afternoons, sprawled in the desert contemplating life, and its meaning. When his mother became suspicious of his frequent escapades with his friends, Kalanathi observed that nothing else intoxicated him besides the poetry that he had read the previous day.

I wasn’t surprised when he chose to pursue literature. Although he completed his BA, and MA in literature, he realised that his answer to the most baffling question — what is life’s meaning? — was not offered by literature. He noticed that literature was far removed from science. However, a lowbrow novel that his friend shoved on him, when he was in Arizona, planted an unassuming seed in him, which later blossomed as his love for the most beautiful human organ — brain.

Kalanithi deemed that if one had to understand life, and if literature didn’t quench the thirst, then the next natural option was to understand human brain, the instrument that enables one to define identify, and the confounding aspects of humanity. He joined Stanford again, as a resident neurosurgeon, and he toiled hard for about six years, before he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. All his hard work became futile, and boiled to this moment, when he had to confront his own mortality. He might have been fascinated about death all his life, and observed death at close quarters through his patients, but that didn’t prepare him for this ill-fated moment, when death appeared in front him with its horns, and fangs. He told his wife, “I don’t want to die.”

He was a bright, esteemed neurosurgeon, and neuroscientist one day, and he was a terminally ill patient the next day. The Stanford campus — where he employed his adept hands to operate on petrified patients’s brains, where he comforted grieving families, and friends — became the hospital, where he underwent multiple levels of treatment, and finally inhaled his last breath.

Paul Kalanithi-jacket photo - Norbert von der Groeben- Stanford Health CareKalanithi was a man of principles, and appreciated the moral responsibilities of a doctor. To Kalanithi, his patients were not problems. They were not discharge papers, nor X-Ray, and MRI results. They were people with values, ideologies, dreams, and fears. They were people who could love, who were filled with hope, who were terrified by the sharp turns their lives took. He didn’t reduce them to mere statistics. Even when asked about the prognosis of his patients, he refrained from saying, “You have got six more months.” Instead, he said, “You will live for many months to a couple of years.” The sentences, despite sounding similar, carry a chasm of difference between them. He was a doctor with a big heart.

In his memoir, Kalanithi wrote mostly about his ambitions, grand dreams that evaporated, a life well-lived, and his philosophical views about life, and death. On one hand, he offered little information about his strained relationship with his wife, and how his illness saved their marriage. Before I could reach the afterword written by his wife Lucy Kalanithi, I wanted to know more about the Kalanithi, who might have also been vulnerable, and who at some point in time harboured regrets.

Kalanithi’s voice was steady, and his thoughts were pristine through out the book. However, I couldn’t dismiss the sense of urgency his words carried. Of course, he raced against time to finish the book in a year. As the end approached, as Kalanithi’s health deteriorated further, maybe he had to hurry, and the book had to end abruptly. He had no time to soften the edges. So, in her afterword, Lucy Kalanithi assumed the responsibility of opening a window to her husband’s world that he didn’t have much time to reveal. She showed a Kalanithi, who was always surrounded by his family, as he went closer to death, and she showed a Kalanithi, who was a doting father to their daughter Cady, whom they decided to have after his cancer surfaced. She was a pillar of support to him during his battle, and ensured that his book was published, as he wished. After his death, his distant dream came true — he became a writer.

With little to distinguish one day from the next, time has begun to feel static. In English, we use the word time in different ways: “The time is two forty-five” versus “I’m going through a tough time.” These days, time feels less like the ticking clock and more like a state of being. Languor settles in. There’s a feeling of openness. As a surgeon, focused on a patient in the OR, I might have found the position of the clock’s hands arbitrary, but I never thought them meaningless. Now the time of day means nothing, the day of the week scarcely more. Medical training is relentlessly future-oriented, all about delayed gratification; you’re always thinking about what you’ll be doing five years down the line. But now I don’t know what I’ll be doing five years down the line. I may be dead. I may not be. I may be healthy. I may be writing. I don’t know. And so it’s not all that useful to spend time thinking about the future — that is, beyond lunch.

(To his daughter:)
When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Memoirs inspire me. I haven’t read a lot, but a couple of ones like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Monica Holloway’s Cowboy and Wills, changed me a bit. Kalanithi’s too has hurled a stone in my pond, creating enormous ripples. In his wake, Kalanithi has left some questions, and heartbreaking meditations on the pointlessness of planning, the irony of hope, and the fantasy of survival. However his views were not cynical; they were powerfully pragmatic.

When Breath Becomes Air is not about Kalanithi’s rendezvous with death, but his tryst with life. That’s how I want to see it.

The Story of Lucy Gault: The Solitary Survivor

picmonkey-collageWhen I told Cathy of 746 Books that I couldn’t cope with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and asked her to recommend an easier book since I was determined to participate in Reading Ireland Month, she offered quite a few options. I chose William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault. (Thank you, Cathy!) 🙂

51fmPNvuvpL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_William Trevor set the tone from the very beginning; I knew that nothing would go right for Lucy Gault. Her story was melancholic, but it didn’t make me sob. I felt a distant pain, and it lingered for a while, as though my mind played a sad song over and over again even after the music player was switched off. I didn’t pity her, for she didn’t demand sympathy. But there was a dull ache. A longing for things that could have been.

Its subtlety made the novel memorable for me. All the characters buried their thoughts. And, yet Trevor wrote about them in a poetic fashion. From Lucy Gault’s helpers, to the nuns, who tried alleviating her solitude, none of them seemed redundant; every one of them was unforgettable.

It was 1921. The political climate in Ireland was unsettling. Captain Gault, and his wife, decided to leave Ireland, after he shot an arsonist, who tried setting fire to their house. Although Captain sought forgiveness, they were not sure if their lives were safe anymore. As they packed to relocate to England, their daughter Lucy went missing. The little child, who was incurably in love with the sea, the fishermen, a stray dog, nature in general, couldn’t imagine leaving her home, and it was her parents’s fault for not letting her know the significance of relocation. Owing to accidents that ensued, the Gaults deduced that their daughter was no more, and kept travelling across Europe, grieving for their child, only for the Captain to return several years later.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Lucy was found alive, a few days after their parents’s departure. She was mad at herself for destroying their parents’s peace, and immersed herself in solitude. She had a lover, but she didn’t allow herself to be loved, because she couldn’t forgive herself. And, she hoped that her parents, who couldn’t be reached for years, would return one day, and offer her absolution. Her indomitable faith about her parents’s return from their exile, and her inability to release herself from the painful clutches of guilt kept her going.

You made up heaven for yourself, her mama said, you made up what you wanted it to be.

‘Love is greedy when it is starved,’ Heloise reminded him when they walked across the difficult paving. ‘Don’t you remember, Everard? Love is beyond all reason when it is starved.’

And novels were a reflection of reality, of all the world’s desperation and of its happiness, as much as one as of the other. Why should mistakes and foolishness — in reality too — not be put right while still they might me?

Calamity shaped a life when, long ago, chance was so cruel.

All gone, it feels like, and yet not gone at all.

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William Trevor                      Image Courtesy: Telegraph

Lucy filled her days with books. I smiled when she told her lover that there were more than 5,000 books in her house, and that she had read more than 500. She wondered if he thought she was crazy to count it. I nodded, and murmured. “Of course not, Lucy. Of course not! We all do.” I loved her more when she told him that he could leave her house only if he finished reading Vanity Fair, and discussed its merits. What a thoughtful way to make a lover stay longer! He had to read more than 600 pages, and how daunting it would have been for a non-reader.

One thing, just one thing went wrong in Lucy’s life, and it fell over like a row of dominoes. She lost her childhood, she had to live like a fugitive in her own house, she deprived herself of ordinary pleasures, and above all, she was weighed down by guilt, and self-imposed solitude. I loved Lucy. But, I loved her more during her twilight years, when she couldn’t enjoy her father’s company, when she was lovelorn, and when she made the most compassionate choice of gifting her time to the man, because of whom Lucy’s life slipped away from her. Although she couldn’t forgive herself, Lucy embraced the perpetrator with unconditional kindness. I will remember her for that. Maybe, Lucy never knew that her selfless act toward the end was her redemption, the comforting end to her tragic tale.