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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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

Private Peaceful: Remembrances Are Real

There’s a sliver of a moon out there, a new moon. I wonder if they’re looking at it back home. Bertha used to howl at the moon, I remember. If I had a coin in my pocket, I’d turn it over and make a wish. When I was young I really believed in all those old tales. I wish I still could believe in them. But I mustn’t think like that. It’s no good wishing for the moon, no good wishing for the impossible. Don’t wish, Tommo. Remember. Remembrances are real.

Capture213Thomas Peaceful (Tommo) — a teenager from an English village — replays his entire life in his head, and uses his memories to stop him from falling asleep. He has eight hours to relish the special moments, recall the painful ones with courage and regret. Charlie Peaceful — his elder brother, his best friend — is going to be shot at 6 AM the next day, for he is pronounced guilty of insubordination and cowardice. The brothers are in the front line, fighting for England in the First World War.

Michael Morpurgo smothers me with a secret as Private Peaceful begins. The Peaceful brothers’s father dies because of Tommo’s carelessness. (Please do not worry. It is not a spoiler.) The little boy grows up with an inexplicable heaviness in his chest, as his family suffers after their father’s untimely demise. He torments himself with the question — if his father didn’t die because of him… the Peaceful family would have been financially comfortable, his mother would not have to work in the ruthless colonel’s house, and they would have always had a place to stay. The secret is too heavy for a five-year-old boy. But I also wonder if a five-year-old boy would feel guilt quite sharply as Tommo.

Their childhood is filled with warm, indelible memories. And both the brothers fall in love with Molly – their schoolmate and their neighbour. Will their love for the same girl cause a crevice between the brothers? Will their friendship be jeopardised by a feeling of inadequacy and jealousy? As Tommo wrestles with the questions, the brothers join the army.

Tommo narrates the story, carefully presenting all sides of Charlie, who many a time appears to be a hero. Charlie is taller and stronger than Tommo. He rescues a hound from her cruel human; he loses his job for saving the dog. He is everything that Tommo wants to be. When the brothers fight in the frontline, and when Tommo is paralysed by the sounds and sights of the war, Charlie is always there to prop him up. Always.

Why does everything go wrong in the brothers’s life? They are perennially mired in problems because of their love for their ‘special’ brother Big Joe is unconditional. Their love for animals is inspiring. (Of course, the characters love animals because the book is written by Michael Morpurgo, who is an ardent animal lover. I loved his War Horse and The Butterfly Lion.) Their love for their family can make them sacrifice everything they love. Even one’s own life.

The brothers often wonder why they are in the war, for they don’t know their enemy. In a striking scene, when a German is caught, Tommo looks at the prisoner and wonders that there is no difference between themselves and their enemies, except their uniform’s colour. The fighting becomes harder for the brothers as they don’t recognise the cause.

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.

After Sergeant Hanley and the field punishment, and the way Charlie managed to smile through it all, there isn’t a man in the company who doesn’t look up to him. Being his real brother I could feel I live in his shadow, but I never have and I do not now. I live in his glow.

The book’s postscript mentions that 290 soldiers of the British and Commonwealth armies, who fought in the First World War, were executed for desertion and cowardice, and two for simply sleeping at their posts. In November 2006, the injustice suffered by the soldiers were recognised, and a conditional pardon was granted.

War Journey: Diary Of A Tamil Tiger

17972631When the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fought the Sri Lankan Army, and when I read reports on their victories and losses, they only seemed like yet another news item. I must admit. Their battle, their losses, their stories seemed distant, for I was reading about them from the comfort of my home, while sipping a cup of hot coffee. But when Malaravan — a young, intelligent, fierce LTTE member — wrote a diary about his life as an LTTE member, he was sure to exorcise the indifference and ignorance in people like me. He wanted to make the reader a fly on the wall, a comrade who travelled with him despite hunger and fatigue and depression, and a warrior whose ‘body was for the land and soul for Tamil’. So, the journey of the reader — needless to mention — was excruciating.

The translator N Malathy — a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora — was volunteering in Sri Lanka when she stumbled upon Malaravan’s book Por Ulaa in a library. She was instantly moved, and began her research on the young writer and all the places where he fought. Thus War Journey: Diary of A Tamil Tiger emerged.

Malaravan’s diary dated between 9-November-1990 and 27-November 1990. He was 18 then. LTTE was advancing toward a place called Maankulam, where they later won the battle. He might have written more entries, but he was killed by an artillery in 1992. He was 20.

In her afterword, Malaravan’s mother noted that he was an avid reader. I felt a stab of pain in my heart, when Malaravan himself mentioned in his diary that he travelled with a bag of books, and some basic stationery. This boy was in a war. He was dodging bullets every day. In spite of losing his friends, in spite of swimming in a pool of blood every day, he wrote. It was not just because of his love for reading and writing, but also because he was determined to educate the next generation about their love for their motherland.

Oh, my dearest little brothers and sisters, where are you all? We know that the enemy does not like your young feet stepping into schools. He doesn’t want to see you carrying books. The enemy is bent on destroying the backbone of the Tamil community: their education. I know you will be huddled somewhere in a little hut or a building to avoid the rain. But you will be drenched because the huts have only palm-leaf roofs which are thoroughly decayed. You will not be eating lunch. Your little stomachs will ache due to hunger. Come here again in a few days. Wash your tiny feet in these water tanks. I will come like a big wave looking for you. I will put your feet in this school. I will cushion your tiny feet from the earth. I will embrace you like a breeze while you are studying.

He was poetic. He just didn’t write about the greatness of other comrades and their organisation, but he mentioned how the moon was yellow when they fought, how the birds kept singing, how the wind was gentle, and how his pain was alleviated by the sound of the flowing river. The boy made me guilty for not being mindful. If he could observe his environment in a war-zone, and still romance the nature, what could possibly discourage me?

In those few days, in their dangerous travel, Malaravan and his team were fed by the civilians. When they were not building their fortifications or cleaning their weapons, Malaravan sat with the people and listened to their stories, which were equally harrowing. The Tamil Eelam people had their homes and hearts opened for LTTE because their losses could never be compensated, and loved the LTTE members for fighting on their behalf.

Malaravan observed that women began participating in the battle, thrashing patriarchy. He wondered if more children could join them too. That thought made me shudder. It is imperative for the children to know the history of their motherland, but I couldn’t envisage them handling weapons and witnessing mutilated corpses.

A large group of pooralis were sitting in rows. They were firmly holding various types of weapons in their hands. Their faces were bright, intent and full of conviction. On one side stood female pooralis. They were the burning lights rising from a male-dominated society. They represented the historic steps into the future.

I am an animal-lover. So, my heart bled when I read Malaravan’s entries on animals who were killed in the battle. Malaravan, who was fond of animals, paid homage to them in his diary. I heart the boy more.

Salam opened the door. God! A dog killed by a shell was rotting. I was barely able to bear the smell, but I forced myself to take a peek. Once this brown dog with thick hair around its neck would have been the beloved pet of a family, and a dear friend to its children. It would have walked with the mother of the family as she went to the fields carrying food. It might have walked the children to and from school. Now it was lying dead with a bloated stomach. I pulled my head back from the door and slammed it shut.

It’s hard to read the book in a cafe, or while listening to music, and it’s harder to take a break from it to check social media. It feels almost blasphemous to do anything else because the boy’s voice is loud and full of steadfast opinions, and he holds the reader’s wrist tight as he moves from one base to another.

Books which are pregnant with facts and figures might offer a better picture of the war fought by Tamil Eelam. I — a reader who approaches books viscerally — loved Malaravan’s diary, which was full of raw emotions. Reading his notes was like listening to a family member who was in the eye of the war. Having travelled with him for a month, I wished Malaravan was alive now to walk the same roads where he battled.

(Thank you, AK, for discovering Malaravan’s diary for me. I love you!)

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. 🙂 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 for 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
limb

and the sound
of a pot in
the kitchen

and the water
sprinkler

and my own
breathing

How does one understand a snail? 😉

She Phoned Saying

she phoned saying,

“i will
be over in a
minute,”

but the sweet snail
was just figuratively
speaking

of course

These Zen masters want me to slow down.

Going So Fast

i wonder
where everyone
is going so fast…

and then
once
there…

probably still
feel anxious about
something

I am moved to tears.

The Sky

the sky is
a suspended
blue ocean

and the stars
are the fish that
swim

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. 

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!