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 Sun — 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.

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Look at that wide smile! 😀 Look at that teeny-weeny butterfly! 😀

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.

I Give You My Heart: A Love Letter to Nature

All that we have is this moment. This moment, when we are taking a breath in, this moment, when we are leaving a breath out, this is all that matters. The past is a fragment of memory, and future a fragment of our imagination.

IMG_20170719_145916_746I Give You My Heart is an unassuming meditation on embracing the now. Written by Pimm van Hest, illustrated by Sassafras De Bruyn, and translated from the Dutch by Clavis Publishing, I Give You My Heart is a quiet book on interconnectedness, random act of kindness, and the incredible power of love.

A mysterious old man presents a wooden box to Yuto. His parents ask him to be patient, and wait for a little while, as Yuto is not able to open the box. When the right time arrives, and when the young boy opens the box, there is a heart-shaped seed. He plants it, gives his heart, and the tree becomes a large shelter for Yuto. He spends all his life there.

I love his conversation with a girl called Miyu.

One day, a young woman came and sat next to him. Yuto nodded politely and kept humming. “Why do you always sit here by yourself?” she asked. “By myself?” Yuto smiled. “Even if you were not sitting beside me, I wouldn’t be alone. Look and listen with your heart.”

He pointed up. Birds, squirrels, bugs, caterpillars… and the tree itself. They were all smiling at her. She blushed.

“We are never alone. Never.”

The poetic exchange reminds me of what the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said.

“Around us, life bursts with miracles — a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”

IMG_20170719_145936_975I Give You My Heart humbly holds our hands, and tells us to give our hearts to things which can free us of our anxieties, and worries. It asks us to pay attention to nature, and be patient for it to work in its own ways.

Love doesn’t have to be offered by our family, friends, and strangers. But even by a feral cat who lounges in our backyards, a stray dog who wags her tail when we return home, a butterfly who hitch-hikes with us, a feather that lands at our feet, a sparrow who tilts his head when we look at him, a leaf that floats in the air, a flower that flaunts colours, a cloud that asks us to guess its shape, and a tree that is too old.

I Give You My Heart can cheer us up when times are too dark. In a very few words, it offers solace, hope, and a lot of light.

Note: I picked up this children’s fiction on Netgalley, and you always knew that my opinions are sincere, didn’t you? 🙂

300 Things I Hope: Give Me More

I turned 30 on Friday, according to the Hindu almanac. So, I decided to celebrate my birthday again. (I celebrated one last month.) 🙂

When I shared a sheepish post on Facebook, asking my friends to wish me, and send me presents, I didn’t expect them to play along.

shy-cat
This is how I look when I am sheepish. 🙂

Many sent me virtual hugs, and gifts. I was super happy with that. But Uncle OT sent an Amazon gift card. Like really! I love the Internet, and the book-blogging community. They know how to have fun.

This is how I looked when I received the gift card from Uncle OT:

happy-dog

So, using the gift card that Uncle OT presented, I bought quite a few amazing books. But I want to tell you about this heartwarming book for now.

300 Things I Hope by Iain S. Thomas

CaptureIn the adorable book, the author hopes for 300 beautiful, moving, simple things for us. Just that. He simply hopes. Each page carries one hope, and some pages feature minimalist illustrations by Carla Kreuser. Most of them made me smile.

As I read the book like the world was ending that night, I told myself that I should make it a tradition to read the book on my birthday every year, and gift it as birthday present to friends. I am also thinking of writing postcards to some of my dear ones, with some ‘hopes’ from this book. As the world is becoming more cynical, hope is the panacea, isn’t it?

Here are my favourite hopes from the book:

  • I hope you never become something you hate
  • I hope you always have a pen
  • I hope you never have a sleepless night
  • I hope you always have something to say in a lift
  • I hope you discover a book written entirely about you
  • I hope you get to meet yourself as a stranger
  • I hope you never sit next to someone in a movie who tells you what’s about to happen before it happens
  • I hope you discover what it’s like to lose an argument and be ok with it
  • I hope you have catnip or a fish with you every time you meet a cat
  • I hope you have a cat with you every time you meet a dog
  • I hope love moves through your heart like light moves through glass

And, how did I look after reading the book, and while writing this blog?

Like this:

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As I have read an uplifting book, I must pay the good vibes forward. Hence, I hope a few things for my friends here.

For all the book-bloggers, and the visitors:

  • I hope everybody reads your blogs
  • I hope you receive enlightening comments
  • I hope nobody spreads hatred
  • I hope you discover amazing books
  • I hope you forgive the books which disappointed you
  • I hope the spammers leave you alone
  • I hope you create time to read, and write more
  • I hope somebody tells you that they are your fan
  • I hope you tell somebody that you are their fan
  • I hope we spread more cheer
  • I hope we fill the world with more smiles, words, and memories

Thank_you

The Silent Raga: The Immortal Music Of The Mortals

Dearest reader, this blog contains spoilers. Please forgive me. I have SO much to tell you about the book, and I didn’t want a boundary. Thank you! 🙂

CaptureNeelaranjani — the warrior princess, as our heroine Janaki calls her — is a tribal gypsy. She is dying of thirst, so she enters Janaki’s backyard, seeking water. How can she enter an agraharam (a Brahmin quarter)! What a blasphemy! But Janaki, although scared that her gossip-hungry orthodox neighbours might witness her clandestine act, allows Neelaranjani, and her son to shower in her backyard, and offers a portion of her breakfast. Before leaving, Neelaranjani holds Janaki’s hands, and utters a prophecy. Janaki should not quit practising veena, for only she can bring a silent raga to life.

The phrase — silent raga — keeps appearing over and over again, as though it is an underlying current that connects every character in the book.

Everybody has a silent raga playing in their lives.

Janaki, who is coerced into looking after her family after her mother’s untimely demise, has a loud silent raga. She wants to continue sharing her soul with veena, the heavenly instrument. But how can she, when she is expected to labour from dawn to dusk, for her family who fails to appreciate all that she does for them?

Mallika, Janaki’s younger sister, has a silent raga. Her mother might have died. But she has Janaki. Her everything. Will she have Janaki with her forever?

Venkatakrishnan, Janaki’s father, has a silent raga. A note that is unkind, immoral, and out of place. Who can fix the notes?

Gayatri Chitti, Janaki’s aunt, has a silent raga. With her face caked with inches and inches of talcum powder, with her head filled with lust, and in the later part of the book, with her body filled with pain, she is unapologetically herself. Her raga fills me with rage. But that woman is something.

I can’t hate anybody in Ameen Merchant’s The Silent Raga. Every character is extraordinary in their own ways. Sometimes magical. Sometimes painful. Extraordinary all the same.

This incredibly atmospheric novel is set in a small, sleepy, judgemental town called Sripuram. Unlike other Brahmin families, Venkatakrishnan’s is aloof. Besides her two close friends, and her music teacher, Janaki is not allowed to talk to anybody. Even if she tried to befriend her neighbours, she would only be judged more because it’s that kind of a community.

Merchant observes that the walls don’t speak if the people behind them don’t. Sripuram’s walls are replete with stories. And even the trees have many tales, because girls hang themselves from them.

10 years after giving her heart and soul for her father, and sister, Janaki escapes from the clutches of Sripuram. She marries a Bollywood actor, who is a Muslim. Venkatakrishnan becomes more insane. Mallika feels abandoned. How could Janaki do such a thing? Deserting her family for a Muslim man?

Mallika, and Venkatakrishnan move to Madras, because Sripuram would never allow Janaki’s story to be buried, when it has reached national dailies, and tabloids.

In a decade, after Janaki’s abrupt exit from Sripuram, life only becomes bleaker for Mallika, and her father. He becomes delusional, and he is sent to the Institute of Mental Health. He loses all orientation. He cannot remember Janaki’s ‘betrayal’. He cannot remember all the carnal pleasure he shared with Gayatri chitti. He cannot remember that Mallika is now left alone. He is completely functional in his own world.

Maybe, Mallika would have preferred that to the lonely life she is made to lead. Despite a great job, and kind colleagues, she has no respite from her bitter past. And to add insult to the injury, Janaki returns after 10 years.

How will the sisters reestablish the bond that was deemed to be killed? How will the sisters bring themselves to forgiving their father? How will the sisters see each other for who they are? How will they make peace with the past? How will they give second chance to their future? 

Ameen Merchant weaves a tale of a dark sky that is adequately embellished with stars. He hands us myriad notes to compose our own silent raga.

Women. Ah the women in The Silent Raga. There is a Brahmin woman, who is suppressed, and who breaks free to present her talent to the world, and to marry a Muslim man. There is a Muslim woman, who offers golden philosophy, as a cigarette dangles in between her lips. (Zubeida, I love you.) There is a Bengali woman, who doesn’t want her daughter to be in an abusive relationship. There is a Brahmin widow, who shares the secrets to bargaining, with a 13-year-old girl — dress well, and go to the stores which are run by men. There is a Brahmin young girl, who kills herself, after her bridegroom walks out of the wedding hall, because the dowry was five thousand rupees short of what he was promised. There is a music teacher, who prays to her saki, who also took her own life. And there is this warrior princess, who can see beyond.

Women. They are all perfect. Imperfect. Conservatives. Rebels. Ugly. Beautiful.

They fight. They lose. They win. 

I heart them.

There are some things about your life you learn not to share. Not with anyone. Like the answers to questions you never summoned the courage to ask, or the inner voice no one else hears.

Memory is binary. The moment, and the feeling in the moment.

If hopes and dreams and wishes all could be reduced to one single essence, one otherwordly scent, that would be attar.

In the darkness of my head, I saw the notes rise slowly, glowing like flames on a copper tray. And then the raga spoke. It was my voice, through my fingers. Lord Shankara closed his eyes.

If I had the superpower to memorise a million words, I would remember every word in The Silent Raga. Every. Word.

It’s been 12 hours since I finished reading the book, I am still in a trance. It’s the sort of trance that I don’t want to break. It’s the sort of trance I wish I could return to whenever I want to. It’s the sort of trance that makes reality an illusion. It’s the sort of trance that makes illusion real. It’s the sort of trance that sends melancholy to the dark chambers of my heart. It’s the sort of trance that lights up the very chambers with hope, and redemption.

The Silent Raga is godly.

One Last Time

“Because dogs live in the present. Because dogs don’t hold grudges. Because dogs let go of all of their anger daily, hourly, and never let it fester. They absolve and forgive with each passing minute. Every turn of a corner is the opportunity for a clean slate. Every bounce of a ball brings joy and the promise of a fresh chase.”

— ‘Lily and The Octopus’ by Steven Rowley

“Cheech, is that you?” I instantly recognise my friend K’s canine friend because he is holding a tennis ball in his mouth. Cheech can’t answer because I just told you. He has got a ball in his mouth.

There can be a million of German Shepherds in the whole wide world. But there can be only one Cheech. And he is my K’s, and hers.

“But Cheech, I haven’t channelised my inner Sybill Trelawney today. You didn’t even give me an opportunity to look all hippie, and redo my room with flashy colours, and crystal balls, and all that to summon spirits,” I begin to complain. Cheech drops the ball, and walks toward me. He might be old, but senility can’t deter Cheech’s invincible spirit, and his unconditional love. I scratch behind his ears; he plonks beside me. “What are you doing here?” Cheech doesn’t answer. He simply sighs.

It’s been one month since Cheech passed away. Ideally, he should have gone home, if he wanted to have a quick chat with his folks. But no. He is here, in my room.

He doesn’t seem to be in a mood to answer any of my questions. So, I would never know why he chose me for this rendezvous. I am grateful all the same.

11133901_10206425851262059_4589740014763179636_n“Cheech, what do you think of death?” I make him field the question that’s been haunting so many of us since he left last month. He yawns. “Don’t you think death sucks? Everybody is missing you. K wishes that she could be with you for just five more minutes,” I persist. Cheech scratches his ear using his hind leg. He licks his paw which touched his ear, and lies on the floor. His eyebrows rise, and crash.

I want to call K, and tell her that Cheech is in my room. In his spirit-form. But K would kick me in my derrière because she is a militant atheist. Hence, I decide to have the conversation all by myself.

“Would you like some ice-cubes, Cheech?” He tilts his ears. That signature gesture. That tilt which can change our world’s axis. That tilt that can exorcise our demons. That tilt that can fill our hearts with happiness. I rush out to the living room, collect a couple of ice-cubes, and offer one to Cheech. He gently collects it.

My room now echoes the beautiful sound of Cheech enjoying his ice-cube.

“Kruk! Kruk! Kruk!”

I rub his belly, massage his chest, and suddenly remember that I must tell him important things. Like everybody loves him, and everybody misses him… But no. Cheech is here not for that. I am not sure what has brought him here. But no. I am not going to let the futility of words fill our meaningful silence. This moment. This has to be just this way.

Three hours? 30 minutes? I am not sure how long we spent like that. But when I wake up, Cheech is lying next to me. I see his ears which are dancing to the tunes of July zephyr that enters through my tiny window. His fur reflects the thin rays of evening sun. He takes a deep breath.

Peace.

If I had a jar that was enormous (or a Pensieve), I would have captured that moment, and preserved it. I would have taken it to K only to replay the moment. I would have taken it to her grieving family to give them that extra memory. But there can never be a jar big enough to hold such a precious moment. It is beyond sizes and shapes and thoughts and words.

Maybe, my thoughts were loud. Cheech wakes up. He stretches like a seasoned yoga master. Who said old dogs are lazy? He walks briskly toward the balcony door. I understand him. “Did you hear the squirrel, Cheech?”

I open the door, as a wave of sunshine washes over us.

Cheech steps out with his gaze fixed on a squirrel who is working on a nut. He takes his first step. Slowly. He takes another step. Slightly faster than the first one. The squirrel drops the nut. Cheech now begins to trot, and then takes a long leap, while the squirrel tries to escape.

The duo hides, and seeks, and they repeat.

The evening sun goes down, and they play, and play, and play.