Darling, I love You: A Therapy

CapturePatrick McDonnell — author, illustrator, and the creator of the beautiful Mutts — has collaborated with poet and translator Daniel Ladinsky and has created a soulfully addictive book called Darling, I Love You, Poems From The Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends.

Most poems in the book are shorter than the title. πŸ™‚ I have been revisiting the book often with the intention of memorising the poems; they are so full of heart.

Daniel Ladinsky has translated the works of Hafiz, Rumi… The poems which he has written forΒ Darling, I Love You too present themselves like they are the fallen leaves from the books of the great mystic poets themselves.

The cover features Patrick McDonnell’s heroes Earl (the dog) and Mooch (the cat) and the book features most of his regular characters. Their humans, friends in their neighbourhood, and their furry and feathery friends. Since I have been reading Mutts Comics for a couple of years, it felt like a reunion for me when I met them in Darling, I Love You.

20170810_132405Earl, Mooch, and their humans are peace advocates. They ask us to meditate, listen to birds, smile at canines and felines, make eye-contact when we converse with humans. In the book, Daniel Ladinsky retains their characters and makes them more wise and adorable by throwing in his unique style.

As I am incurably in love with the book, I am sharing a couple of poems here:

Every event is entertaining, if only one observes.

A Child At A Circus

like a child
at a circus,
i am in awe

of the postman
driving by

and poeple
walking past

and that squirrel
on a

and the sound
of a pot in
the kitchen

and the water

and my own

How does one understand a snail? πŸ˜‰

She Phoned Saying

she phoned saying,

“i will
be over in a

but the sweet snail
was just figuratively

of course

These Zen masters want me to slow down.

Going So Fast

i wonder
where everyone
is going so fast…

and then

probably still
feel anxious about

I am moved to tears.

The Sky

the sky is
a suspended
blue ocean

and the stars
are the fish that

This is the simplest poem I have ever read on interconnectedness that I kept reading in Thich Nhah Hanh’s and Pema Chodron’s books.

Greet Yourself

greet yourself
in your thousand
other forms

Darling, I Love You is the kind of book that I want to read at the end of an awful day to heal it, at the end of an amazing day to thank it. It’s the kind of book that I want to carry in my bag and keep beside my pillow. It is my best friend in a paper jacket.

The Liberation of Sita: Remaking of The Past

CaptureI grew up listening to myriad stories from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. During my high school, I spent a lot of time learning and reciting slokas (Sankrit prayers in meters) from Bhagavad Gita, and Bhagavatham. Whenever we visit ancient temples, Father narrates intriguing stories from Hindu mythology.

I have always loved the stories. It’s been exhilarating, intimidating, and comforting to be told that, regardless of all the trials and tribulations, the law of karma wins. But as I began to expand my reading horizon, it became obvious that only men won in all the stories which I learnt from my childhood. Women were abused, humiliated, and used as pawns. I didn’t recognise then the need for a story to be written about the women who are pushed behind the curtains. When I spotted Volga’s The Liberation of Sita at a bookfair this year, I knew it was an important book, for it’s the voice of a woman who was not given a chance to talk.

Originally written in Telugu (one of the widely spoken native languages of India), and translated by T Vijay Kumar and C Vijayasree, The Liberation of Sita is a beautiful remaking of the past.

Sita is now abandoned by her husband Rama. She lives in sage Valmiki’s ashram and raises her sons Lava and Kusha. The tiny book, presented as five stories which are interconnected, follows Sita as she meets the women — Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila, and Ahalya — who were insulted and hurt by men. Sita listens to their inspiring and enlightening stories, learns how they rebuilt their lives, and gradually releases herself from the clutches of her love for Rama and their sons. Toward the end of the book, Sita, as ably aided by the women’s wisdom, discovers herself and a life beyond her husband and her family.

In India, writers are most often not allowed to exercise their creative freedom to recreate parts of Hindu mythology. Despite the straitjacket, Volga has woven a tale that is clever enough to not offend the fundamentalists, and loud enough to offer a feminist voice to all the women who were insulted in mythology.

Besides allowing me to travel with Sita as she liberates herself, Volga dedicates a chapter to Rama. In that surprising tale, Rama laments for being a prisoner of Arya Dharma which doesn’t allow him to bring back Sita from the forests until she proves her chastity. The reluctant king is lovelorn, depressed, and finds no way out from everything that suffocates him. Sita might have been abandoned by Rama. But, with the help of the women like herself, Sita discovers her free path and Rama continues to be caged. The most unexpected irony.

I adore this note written by the translators:

What Volga attempts through these stories is a compelling exercise in ‘revisionist myth-making’. It was nearly four decades ago that Adrienne Rich made that famous statement about women’s writing as ‘re-visioning’. In the words of Rich, ‘Re-vision — the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction — is for us (women) more than a chapter in cultural history, it is an act of survival’. Since then, re-visioning has figured prominently on the agenda of women writers, and all institution — political, social and religious — have been subjected to a critical re-vision in women’s writing. Even the process of cognition and contemplation have not escaped the re-visionist project and feminism has come to mean ‘a rethinking of thinking’ itself. In the process, re-vision no longer remains a simple act of looking back nor a mere act of survival. It evolves into an active remaking of the past and a re-invention of tradition. In other words, re-vision has turned into an act of creation and trans-creation.

The Liberation of Sita is a fitting tribute to all who try to break gender stereotypes, who raise their voices for the suppressed, who struggle to eliminate the taboos, who initiate life-altering dialogues, and who stand up for what is right.

Note: This is my second read for Bibliobio’s ‘Women in Translation’ month. I am so glad that I read something that was written in an Indian language.Β 

Out: Unleashed Monsters

CaptureI read Natsuo Kirino’s Out for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge and Bibliobio’s Women in Translation month.

I finished reading Out last night and I still can’t remove quite a few graphic images from my head. I am also wrestling with some questions for which I can’t find answers. I hope you will help me understand the book more. (This blog might contain spoilers because I would like to discuss a couple of loose ends which are haunting me.)

Everything is going wrong in the lives of Masako, Yayoi, Yoshi, and Kuniko. Everything. They all do night shifts, making boxed lunches. The factory sounds like a place that can make a sane person insane. Quite a gruelling job and an unfriendly place.

Yayoi murders her husband, and all the other women cut up the cadaver and dispose it around Tokyo’s suburbs. That’s only the beginning. They now cannot stop what they have started, for things have gone beyond their control.

I like the book till here. I have given four stars on Goodreads. I still like the book but I don’t see myself recommending it, for I am worried about the all the ghoulish details.

Natsuo Kirino’s observation on gender equality in workplace makes for a great point to discuss. Masako, despite being talented and incredibly focussed at work, is not allowed to grow, only because she is a woman. The men who joined after her are enjoying higher compensations and promotions. I was thankful to Kirino for dedicating a chapter just for that.

I loved the idea that four unassuming women — three of them are pressed by financial crisis — were courageous in their own ways to chop up a body in their bathroom, and tried their best to lead a normal life even after the incident that would have shaken anybody’s core. Although there was no camaraderie among them, they were united by their own problems, by their selfishness. If they were bonded by a heartwarming friendship, perhaps, the book wouldn’t have come across this cold and clinical.

My problems lie here — I do not find Masako’s motive convincing. I understand that she is shutting herself away from the world, her family is dysfunctional, her 20-year-old career turned futile, and that there is a huge void in her life and she decides to fill it in an unconventional way. Despite that, I still wanted a strong reason for Masako to jump into this pool of blood and flesh and bones.

The biggest of problems is this: The climax. I didn’t expect Masako to identify herself with Satake (I choose not to mention anything more about him!). I didn’t want her to find pleasure in being raped, nor did I want her to think that he was the love of her life. When I reached that part, all the bathroom scenes seemed less nauseous. Perhaps, that was a strong statement. But till then, Masako looked human in some way. She might not have drowned in guilt like others, but she still seemed human. After she began adoring Satake, she seemed even more lost and cold.

I enjoyed reading Out. The horror tested my endurance. When I was brushing this morning, I measured my bathroom in my head, and envisaged having a corpse there. I shook my head harder to dispel the image. Sigh!

Perfect Eight: The Symmetry

CaptureI stumbled upon Reema Moudgil’s Facebook page Unboxed Writers a couple of years ago, and wrote to her like a shy squirrel, asking if she would like to feature one of my blogs in her website. She readily agreed, and since then, like a friend who clandestinely sends her artworks to media houses to have those published, she visits my blogs on her own, and publishes my stories in her website. Believe me. Such people exist! ❀

Unboxed Writers is a central repository of inspiring, moving stories. (My stories are there too. Ideally, I shouldn’t be bragging much all right.) πŸ™‚ So the page is here.

A long time after I discovered the page, I learned that Reema Moudgil had written a book called Perfect Eight. I don’t remember when I bought it, but it was languishing in my little library for a while. Why I did not go to the book for so long is a mystery that I would never resolve.

I felt livid when I started reading Reema Moudgil’s Perfect Eight;Β I was smothered by the unfairness of the world. A beautiful, poetic book like Perfect Eight just has 17 ratings on Goodreads, when books which don’t really talk to our hearts garner soaring attention. But that’s how life works, doesn’t it? It’s not always just.

What can a reader like me do to honour the deserving books? Write about it.

Perfect Eight has a life of its own. The protagonist — whose name I choose not to reveal — stayed with me for a couple of days, relating her life. Sometimes, her presence felt ghostly, sometimes friendly, sometimes depressing, and sometimes she exuded hope and peace. I adored her company.

When she finished narrating her story, my hands pierced through the air, and searched for her. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to tell her that she is loved and cherished. I wanted to tell her that she fought, and that her spirit is invincible.

She had no more words to offer, but I still feel her presence deep inside my soul.

Her mother bears the brunt of the Indo-Pak Partition. She is uprooted from Lahore, thrown into India, where she travels from one place to another, not feeling the sense of belonging anywhere. Her father — an inspiring idealist, a true worshipper of life, a smile-dealer, an eternal optimist — tries to keep their family happy despite all the adversities.

And their only daughter sees beyond what is apparent. She understands the displacement that has wounded her mother. She revels in the unconditional love of her father, and his songs and poetry and wit.

But she is lovelorn in her own ways. Samir. The annoying-yet-lovable Samir handles her heart with reckless abandon. She is vulnerable, and that makes her more beautiful.Β I won’t ask her to be any other way.

The atmosphere is thick. Indo-Pak Partition. 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. Demolition of the Babri Masjid. Maybe, it has to be thick, and laden with conflicts, for it is a true reflection of the battles which take place in her.

She bleeds all her life; she recovers like all of us.

Perfect Eight poses important questions on home, love, war, violence, passion, trust, fear… It allows me to meditate, as I travel along with the protagonist, from Patiala to Delhi to Bangalore to Ambrosa, from darkness to hope to light to death to rebirth, forming a perfect eight in life. Just when I begin to think that I need answers, it offers. I want to keep them safe. I would certainly go back to them.

Sometimes, I sat alone on my terrace to watch kites of the deepest pinks, blues and greens and pet pigeons being guided back home with flailing arms, strange, guttural, human-pigeon noises. I wished I could fly too. Somewhere. With someone. To someone.

‘This island is a miracle. It moves from one place to another but no one can see it moving,’ Inder uncle told me. I looked at the island and it looked at me. It was my mirror image. I knew then that, one day, I would move away to a place no one ever expected me to reach. The thought made everything else easier to bear.

The home town, I realise, is a memory of smells that trigger off unbearable nostalgia and unbearable joy, a place too small in retrospect but also the incubator of dreams, a womb of safety, a well-thumbed album of mohallas, familiar faces that smile at you, little lanes you will never be lost in, small shops with fading signboards and beloved bazaars fraying at the edges.

You cannot escape from life. It won’t let you escape. It will find you. And when it does you can either stay or you can run a few more miles till it finds you again. Choose. You tried to hide. To run. Always. What do you fear so much? When you learn to trust, you will learn to live.

Reema Moudgil has given us a heroine, who is incredibly alive. She is so alive that she often worries that she is not living enough, that she is not trusting enough, that she is not loving enough.

Now I must tell her that she is perfect.

She is as perfect as the eight that the silver road at Ambrosa makes. Walking along the eight might bring her back to where she started, but each new round would make her wiser, stronger, braver. So it doesn’t matter if she is taking the same path again. When she embraces her losses and pain, when she sheds her apprehensions, when she takes each step with the belief that she is a new person at every dawn, then every round on the same path is new, and full of possibilities.

Like those occasional marbles on a gravel path. ❀

A Kind Man: Generous and Unfortunate

19665315_10213701128539444_2226657273705733934_nI haven’t read Susan Hill’s books, I haven’t read anything about the author, and I can’t recall how I discovered this book. Just like the atmosphere in A Kind Man, everything seems hazy. But I am glad all the same. This unpopular work of Susan Hill is a gem.

Tommy Carr — our kind man — and Eve are happily married. They live in a cottage with abundant access to fields, flowers, fresh breeze, sunshine, and happiness. They are childless for a long while, but that doesn’t dampen their spirits, for the kind man always said that it would happen in its own time. He is wise, patient, caring, and of course, utterly, utterly kind.

Life can’t go on that way, can it? Life can’t continue to be beautiful. They have a child, only to lose her to brain fever in three years. Quite like the grey cloud that hovers over the peak that Eve keeps watching all the time, sadness and melancholia hang around their humble cottage, slipping out effortlessly only to darken my heart.

The child is gone. Can they be left to be happy with their lustrous china, and blossoms that catch the sun, and the chickens that reduce the loneliness with all the clucking, and a job that feeds two mouths? No. Tommy is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Eve tries to gather courage. Her daughter is dead, and her husband is dying. How is she going to live after him? Her night is filled with anxiety, fear, and terror. But the next morning, Tommy recovers and looks as healthy as a horse.

The doctor, who treats Tommy, is puzzled. Eve is so shocked that she refuses to allow her husband to go out, lest he might become ill anytime. But, Tommy has got a new life. As soon as he begins to feel like a new person, he walks up to the churchyard where their daughter is buried.

After the recovery, Tommy is not the same man anymore. He is still kind, but he has acquired a magical power. He can heal anybody with his touch. Bring any sort of ailing people to him, he can cure them by holding their hands, and passing ‘heat’ from his body to theirs. It’s a mystery that Tommy cannot comprehend. It’s a secret that nobody in the sleepy town can understand. So long as the ailments are cured, nobody could complain.

Tommy is a reluctant healer. For he doesn’t understand the source of his newly acquired power, he is hesitant to practise, and he is against practising it for money. How will destiny let him be principled? He is fired from his current job. Eve accepts a cleaning job, where her back is exposed to a lot of pressure. They can’t pay their rent. They are slowly losing all their money.

The conundrum arises now. Will the kind man agree to use his power for money? Will the little family become happy again? What will he gain or lose if money begins to play a pivotal role? Will he be haunted by guilt for using a power that he doesn’t grasp well?

As I begin to wrestle with these questions, Susan Hill offers one answer after the other, in her lyrical, moving, poignant, and profound prose.

“Everyone has a time when they are in their prime of life. Everyone has as little as one year when they are the best they will ever be, the healthiest, strongest, most handsome, most full of energy and hope, when they might do anything and it can be seen upon them, this prime, in their eyes, on their skin, in their walk. But they do not know it. Perhaps they cannot know it. If they could they would not wish the time away, as people do, even children when they are unhappy or sick or trailing through some tedium of growing up. No one can know it about themselves but others may know. Others can see it on them and envy them. But it may even pass them by and then it is over and can never be recalled. And years later, they look back and know, recognise it as having been their prime, but of course by then it has gone and cannot be recalled.”

Life should not be this unkind to a man who has been nothing but kind.

A Kind Man made me angry. I wanted to question the laws of nature. I wanted to debate about the laws of karma. I wanted to understand what else could the kind man do to survive. I might not have found answers to my questions, but the book cannot be blamed for that. It is a gem. Certainly a gem.

Susan Hill’s world in A Kind Man is bleak — grey clouds, cold floor, frost on the air — when Eve and Tommy are depressed. Their house is filled with light when their hearts brim with hope.

The play of light and darkness in Eve’s house establish the surreal setting for the novella that oscillates between dream and despair, and love and loss.

To me — an unassuming reader — Tommy Carr’s kindness is not reflected in how he cures the myriad illness of the rich and the poor. His kindness is evident in the tea he fixes for Eve in the morning, in watering the blossoms, in feeding the chickens, in tending their garden, in buying a blue scarf for her, and in buying a rose-scented soap for his wife who is the best recipient of his unadulterated kindness.

That man deserves a better life.

Susan Hill has made me sad. But I am proud of the kind man.

If My Moon Was Your Sun: Always Around

33573074If My Moon Was Your Sun — the poetic title armtwisted me into choosing the book on Netgalley. If My Moon Was Your Sun — when I try the title in my mouth, it tastes like longing, nostalgia, and melancholy. But when I say the words again, hope slips out from somewhere.

Max is losing his grandfather to dementia. He is worried that he might forget him one day. So, Max goes to his grandfather’s nursing home to rescue him. As they sneak out from the nursing home, Miss Schneider joins them too. The trio goes to a beautiful place called Blossom Valley, where Max’s grandfather kissed his grandmother for the first time, and asked her to marry him.

There are magical places in the world — children know this, and some grown-ups know it too — places where enchantment is at work. Places that radiate a power, even at a distance, that reaches deep into our human thoughts and feelings. For some, it is a small, hidden lake, far out in the wilderness, a deep-blue lake in which all of the clouds in the sky are reflected. Others may find such a place in the middle of a bustling city where — on a busy boulevard — a lone flower holds its ground against exhaust fumes of the countless cars zooming around it. And for others still, it is the silence of the inside of a church.

During those few hours, when they are in their favourite place in this world, Max has a moving conversation with his grandfather about love and memory. Max might have kidnapped his grandfather. But that’s the cutest kidnap I have ever read. As the old man, and his grandson enjoy their day, Miss Schneider breaks into an elaborate dance routine.

Watching Miss Schneider dance was like watching the sun spill itself over the earth. Stiff arms and legs, now in motion, suddenly seemed touched by eternal youth, and from their graceful movements a lightness flowed throughout the valley: the yellow of the buttercups turned to gold, and the clover and grass shone greener beneath the light summoned by Miss Schneider’s dancing. Her movements grew ever wilder as she twirled, marched, stamped, threw back her head, and spin with flailing arms; and from her lips a bubbling, joyous laugh escaped in the glimmering air. It finally dawned on Max: she had been a dance instructor. Now she danced to the sun.

The police might have arrived at the end; Miss Schneider, and Max’s grandfather might have been sent to their home again. But I am happy for Max. He deserved that day with his grandfather, to lie in his lap again, to feel his warm hands on his face again, to listen to his comforting hum again, and to learn that his grandfather will always be around even after the disappearance of his physical presence.

20170721_212226A crow plays a pivotal role in the book. It is a fitting, metaphorical representation of the darkness that is always just an inch away from us even when we our lives are perfectly sunny. Max’s grandfather slips into the abyss of memory loss, and there is a crow. Max is anxious that his grandfather will completely forget him some day. And the crow is there. If we recognise the existence of the crow, and still choose to turn toward Miss Schneider’s performance that is dedicated to the sun, the darkness doesn’t seem that thick. Perhaps, that’s the important choice.

If My Moon Was Your SunΒ — written by Andreas Steinhofel, and illustrated by Nele Palmtag — is lyrical, heartwarming, and uplifting. I am glad I followed Max on his adventure today. The little boy taught me that I should go after what I love, and that it doesn’t matter if my success is transient. Max restored my faith in unconditional love. The grandfather reminded me that love does not die, even if the lover does. And Miss Schneider made me understand that I should dance to the sun. Even if I am losing my mind.

Once Upon A Tree: Do You Feel It Inside?

I always ask myself what Mary Oliver asked us.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The answers have always been different.

I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant when I was a child. Then a soft-skill trainer, when I began working. Then it felt like the corporate industry didn’t allow me to tap my creative side. Ahem! A wee bit haughty all right. Sigh!

So, I became a journalist, and wrote for newspapers, and websites. I thought writing was my soul’s call. But, journalism almost killed my love for writing. And, I returned to the corporate industry again, after having learned a lesson — work is only for sustenance, and that I am still a writer even if I don’t write for a media house. So long as I feel like writing, I am a writer.

Look at that wide smile! πŸ˜€ Look at that teeny-weeny butterfly! πŸ˜€

My life flashed across my eyes, when I read Once Upon A Tree, an uplifting book written by Dawn Jarocki, and Soren Kisiel, and illustrated by Jessica McClure. As I read the book, I asked myself again, “What is the purpose of life?”

There is a gorgeous leaf. Our protagonist. He looks at a tiny bird, and a colourful butterfly take their first flight. From the top of the tree, where the view is breathtaking, he witnesses the changes which happen to the bird, and the caterpillar. He doesn’t know what he has to do with his life. Should he fly like the bird? Should he build a cocoon around himself to become a beautiful butterfly? He is crestfallen.

How futile would life appear when one is not sure what to do with it? How one fails to appreciate one’s own goodness, when one is bogged down by uncertainty?

The leaf asks the bird, and the butterfly to help him. But they can’t counsel because they just feel it inside themselves to do what they are doing. Poor, poor leaf!

“How do I know I’m doing the right thing!” he called out…

The leaf worried, day and night, that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do.

The bird comes back to the leaf, who has now turned ravishingly crimson. As the leaf was so preoccupied with his inability to find a purpose, he fails to observe his own beauty. During their conversation, the leaf, who was feeling lost, realises his purpose. That moment is utterly beautiful.

Once Upon A Tree is an important book. It tells the children, and the children who are hiding in adults’s bodies, that we don’t have to do what others are doing. Our childhood friend might go on a world tour. Our colleague might quit his full-time job, and establish a start-up. Our cousin might become a mother. Our neighbour might redo his house. But, it doesn’t matter.

It just doesn’t matter.

If only we eliminate our misplaced perceptions on what we must be doing, if only we relax with our anxieties, if only we embrace what we think are our inadequacies, if only we accept our wrong decisions, if only we stop placing our lives against everybody else’s, if only we let go of our egos, then our purpose will emerge like the first ray of the morning sun.

The purpose doesn’t have to be grand. It doesn’t have to change the world. If it encourages us to be in this moment mindfully, and if it inspires us to look forward to the next moment with hope, then that purpose is supremely meaningful.

Once Upon A Tree takes us on that tour — to find a purpose that belongs only to us.

Note: I chose this children’s fiction on Netgalley again, and I am glad I chose this.