Sunday, October 15, 2017

The braid

The ringmaster takes his whip
The horserider, his rein
The soldier, his rifle
The teacher, his cane
The mother, her daughter's hair.

Oiled and ruffled,
Tangled and mangled,
The mother in hindsight
Knows she has to combat- to fight
Alas! No comb in sight.
Mother now wrought with worry;
'Twas infantry with no inventory

The kid brother scoots around
His eyes constantly on the prowl
For the wicked comb is at large
And was he not the one in charge?
The mother hastens the kid
And the detective makes his bid-
Lunges under the sofa with aplomb
And lo! Quite an entrance for a comb!

The vision of her mother, now armed
Makes Miriam increasingly alarmed.
Mother says "Hush! it's alright"
But each tug worsens her plight
As mother deftly fashions a plait
From twig like strands of a sparrow's nest,
Putting all her nifty skills to test.

Miriam prays for her travail to end
There are endless classes left to attend.
The blue ribbon comes to her aid.
Miriam lauds the perfection made
With one last look at her intricate braid.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

When Nithira Devi was knocked down by my nocturnal train of thought

The pillow looks so inviting after a long day. As soon as I hit the bed and wait for sweet sleep to take over, few uninvited guests come knocking. "Tadading..  tadading... " no they aren't Facebook, WhatsApp notifications.  They are pesky neurons  transmitting thoughts at the speed of 120 miles per second. I think, think and think and finally fall asleep when my neurons had had enough.... some 2-3 odd hours later.  

I know I'm not alone. This is one major epidemic seriously threatening body clocks world over. 

This picture perfectly sums up how majority of our brains work. 

Picture this. You live in a city. You look at the night sky and you hardly see any stars.  Where do they go? We fail to see them because of the artificial lights all around us.  They obstruct stars' light from falling within our line of sight. Meanwhile, if you go to a place with no man-made lighting around and look up, you'll find your jaw drop. 

Poets, musicians and painters are at their creative best at night precisely due to this reason. The stillness of the night. Serene and brilliant. 

I usually forget everything I think at night the very next morning. The smartest wisecracks*, some amazing comeback lines** and the most intricate plot lines*** that I'd conjure at night disappear into mist the next morning no matter how hard I try to remember them. I had to come up with a way to note them down.

There was a WhatsApp group to share placement related stuff during my college days.  In due course everybody left except one. I used this group (ironically named 'information unlimited') to send myself messages so as to pen down things ranging from grocery lists to birthday reminders. And this was the group I used to chart down things I think about each night for a week. 

And the results were um.. You decide. 

So here goes a random list of thoughts that keep Nithira Devi some light years away from me. 

Ratha Kanneer and Iraivi. 
          I watched the 1954 classic "Ratha kanneer" (tears of blood) this week. M. R. Radha's voice requires no Dolby surround sound to make a lasting impact. His portrayal of a spoilt educated brat with a self acclaimed  penchant for art (!) was as breathtaking as his subsequent role as an all suffering leper. His performance drew my breath away that I didn't notice the storyline until much later..yeah until I began reminiscing at snooze time. The movie had the dying protagonist admit that he is the sole cause of his wife's misery. 
My mind drew parallels between this scene and the main plot line of the recent Karthick Subburaj flick "Iraivi". 

"Iraivi" (Goddess) is a finely made movie that unabashedly states the fact that most women in our society languish  because of the men in their life. The problem with Indian flicks is that there are characters who are painted white (the hero,  heroine, hero's mom etc. ) and there are characters who are wholly black (the villain, the goons, heroine's mama payan etc.) In reality we are people of grey, with different shades of it. We all have our weaknesses and "Iraivi" boldy attempts to bridge this gap between white and black,  portraying men and women as they are. Men in this movie admit without ego, without any 'buts…' or 'ifs…' and without blaming their wives that they are directly responsible for the latter's grief. Therein lies the similarity. 

In Ratha Kanneer, the lonely wife of the rich lecher has an epiphany of sorts when she tries to convince herself to break from the shackles of society and lead her life with a new partner. A friend advises her not to depend on any man and thus lead a life unscathed. She refutes him saying a life without a husband isn't as easy as it seems to be.   

Fast forward half a century later and we see a similar scene in Iraivi where an estranged woman seeking remarriage is counseled by her friend not to give into marriage and lead a free life. The woman shrugs off her advice as wishful thinking.  

The climax of Ratha Kanneer has the leper hero, now in dire straits, convincing his wife to get married to his best friend so as to make amends. He proceeds to leave them alone, resigning to his fate.

We see a similar ending in Iraivi where one of the lead characters on realising that he faces a jail term and a grim life ahead, makes way for his divorced wife to get remarried by faking a drunken brawl, thus degrading himself in her eyes. 

Both movies have lead me to rethink the definitions of "progressive" and "regressive". Messages driven home in less than 3 hours - so stark so deep that they kept me thinking almost the entire night.

To be or not to be… organic
              I have this habit of drinking soaked Fenugreek water early in the morning in the belief that it reduces body heat. Every night, I religiously take a handful of Fenugreek seeds, put them in a bowl and then proceed to hold a mini debate as to whether wash them before soaking or not. 'Hey!  The pack read "organic" when I bought it. No pesticides to wash' I assure myself, dunk them in water and hit the bed. 

Have you seen this amazing CGI in Anniyan/ Aparajit, when Ambi transforms into Anniyan and they show this electric spark that zaps from his toe, through his nerves, his spine and makes a touchdown in his head? As soon as I hit the bed, similar imagery takes place within me, leaving my neurons super excited. The result?  Thoughts break free leaving me with puffy eyes the next morning.

So what did my neurons do that particular night? They fetched this for me!! 

Richard Muller is a physics professor at Berkeley and a name to reckon with. He has some 88.1k followers on Quora. So it is not some Buzzfeed post but a Richard  Muller answer that now haunts me. So the Fenugreek seeds that I eat everyday ups my risk of cancer? And if I buy a non organic version I'm still prone to cancer if the chemicals are not within permissible limits ? But who checks for pesticide permissible limits in India? Do they check anything at all? Remember the lead in maggi? And how it turned out to be a joke?  A costly one at that?  What about potassium bromate in bread?  FSSAI banned it after finding the carcinogenic additive in 84% of breads tested. So how far did they go to enforce it? How far can I believe the ingredient list ? The shampoo that reads "100% herbal actives" lists methyl paraben at the bottom of the label.  A video by India101 showed how malachite green is added to make vegetables appear fresh and how silicone spray is used to add sheen to stale vegetables. And there was another video where the "organic" label was abused to sell everyday stuff at a higher price and now organic isn't organic anymore! 

All this thought slamming leads to a burn out that I ultimately get out of bed, head straight for that damn bowl of soaked Fenugreek seeds, wash it thoroughly, refill it with fresh water, hit the bed and just pray to God that I fall asleep. A sob story! 

Books!  Angst!  Jeyamohan! 
         A fetish for books frequently keeps me awake from time to time,  be it reading a novel or just thinking about one.  This time around, I kept thinking about my visits to book fairs.  10 used books for 200 rupees. Stephen King,  Khalid Hosseini, Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child and a hundred more biggies among that pile. The seller mostly wouldn't know the difference.  Every book worm's delight! 

 One more reason to cherish local book fairs were regional books. Books written in English are readily available in Amazon or Flipkart but that isn't the case with regional books,  in my case Tamil ones. Book fairs seemed to be my only way to discover tamil literature. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find one good book. And why?  

Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret", Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist", Chetan Bhagat box set, the Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi fill most of the book Tamil. These translated best sellers are a big blow to any reader seeking original content. Other tamil books that are rampant include the ones written by Sujatha and Kalki. I'm a big fan of these two writers but where are the others? Publishers hesitate to stock up lesser known works due to lack of popularity of the writers. Writers of regional language are struggling to find foothold in an era where the reading population seems to be dwindling with each generation. 

It's a sorry state of affairs when I see my peer group having no exposure to regional literature. To revive our sagging interest in Indian languages, an extensive campaign is needed (No I'm not talking about another Semozhi Maanadu) and reading books written in one's own language must be in everyone's checklist. Readers aren't the only one to blame. While there is a book for every age group in English, there is almost no book in Tamil targeting the teenage/ adolescent segment. Young writers below the age of 35 are painfully few in number. 

When talking about Tamil writers of this era,  it is impossible to let slide Jeyamohan. Most of his works are available online through his blog. He is undoubtedly a genius, his works are diverse and often requires pain staking research.  But he is a writer and writers world over have a common trait,  pride. 

An earlier edition of this wonderfully curated monthly magazine "Vikatan Thadam" (buy it folks!  Worth every penny) carried Jeyamohan's interview. The whole interview was thought provoking to many as well as wrath provoking to some. His views on Periyar,  current crop of writers, community bias among others may evoke criticism from some quarters. But what personally irked me was his comment on women writers.  He generalised them saying they write only for fame and for invitations to literary events held in America. How misogynist for an accomplished writer in this century! He accuses women writers in Tamil do not spend time on research before writing. But a novel is more than just some research thesis, isn't it sir?  

Writers like S. Ramakrishnan,  Perumal Murugan, Jeyamohan and the like pen incredible novels specific to a timeline and to a particular region that require solid groundwork. And there are writers like Balakumaran who write on relationships and influx of emotions. One can't claim Balakumaran is not a writer just because his novels don't belong to the former genre.  The same rule applies to women. When Dalit writer Bama writes about caste discrimination prevalent in Hindu-Christian communities in her region, she writes what she sees before her.  She has been ostracized from her community for doing so.  Women like her would rather like to speak out than seek fame.

Thus goes another night where I have make-believe conversations with a writer I guess I'd never meet in my life. 
                                                - - - - - - - - - -
Not all the nights go like this though. Some nights I’d read a very boring book so as to sleep immediately. Other nights I’d feel happy thinking about college, friends and trips that I'd taken with best pals. Thanks for the trip to Ooty guys!

Then there are nights where I hope to listen to some long lost songs and gradually fall asleep. And of all the songs in the world, this is the song my mind comes up with - "Theemthalakadi thillale" (damn you Put Chutney!) 

To all insomniacs out there - never watch a Christopher Nolan movie, eat Andhra mess kothu parotta, start going through your childhood photo album, scroll your quora feed or watch the Newshour debate at 9 just before falling asleep. Unless you are Kumbakaranan on a 6 month sabbatical or my friend Kavitha, I assure you your chances of finding Nithira Devi are pretty slim. Sweet dreams everyone!

*** classified information (wink) 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Rain Maiden - a tribute to Satyajit Ray

The dark lords black, burdened
Heave a sigh of relief 
  Droplets flung all over 
  Stir the lake from her sleep
Concentric circles abound 
  Their lives mystical but brief

The rain maiden's soaked 
  Drops slide down her hair
  Unoiled yet fragrant, 
  Setting off ripples a few
Outnumbered  though
By the dark lords' own.

A pair of little eyes watch
Her antics from afar 
  Part thrilled part terrified 
  Join didi? um no!
Petrified or amused- Apu stands still 
  And so does the tree beside.

  The rain maiden's delirious,
Unmindful of the the dark lords' cry
She spins her fragile figure around
Weaving magic like fine silk.
If the sky, the lake, the rain make the canvas,
Our rain maiden's the art 

  The rain maiden's finished 
  She runs towards the frail thing 
And holds the child close. 
  Apu, eyes wide, seeks refuge 
  In didi's outstretched sari
Wrapped safe, fear lapses to joy 


  The dark lords filled with rage 
  For some reason unknown
Perhaps taken aback by her audacity
Cast a spell so fierce!
The rain maiden's no longer fiesty;
Gold has a melting point and so had she. 

  The rain maiden's sick 
  Bedridden, numb with cold 
  Her playfulness knows no illness.
She beckons the worried child
And promises a spectacle soon,
"We'll run alongside the chugging train!"

The dark lords still relentless
Storm her room at night.
The rickety doors, the open window
Only hasten her woes. The rain maiden-
Scared, clings onto her mother 
  And onto her dear life.

The kind neighbour relents 
  To poor Apu's plea
What awaits her is pure misery.
The mother and her young
One alive one dead; 
Eyes as lifeless as the rain maiden.    

The rain maiden's gone
And so is his smile 
  He's bereft of her fingers-
The fingers that caressed,groomed
His unkempt hair. A void, left behind,
As big as their bond.

The picture of the desolate child
Staring at the vacant sky
Evokes something inexplicable 
And soon we find ourselves say,
"Take heart little Apu, 
  Durga's only asleep, till it rains again"

The 1955 Bengali movie Pather Panchali (song of the little road) is a poignant tale laced with love and warmth.  Satyajit Ray was an unconventional story teller with an eye for detail.  His repertoire includes an assortment of genres- ranging from the highly intellectual to the deeply spiritual. Pather Panchali, his best known piece of art, was incidentally his debut movie. Watching the movie was indeed a surreal experience for me. The grandmother who gleefully relishes stolen fruits, the aspiring playwright who finds it hard as a priest to make ends meet,  his wife who is the ultimate embodiment of sacrifice, our hero Apu who is the picture of innocence and gaiety,  the child maiden Durga who wins our hearts with her sprightliness and makes us cry inconsolably at the very end are earthy characters who tug at our heart strings and claim all our love. I have tried to pen these verses as a devout fan drawn to the inimitable genius of Ray as well as the lyrical realism of his debut work.  
  To Ray, with love. 

Note -

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Are we ready yet?

Thanks to social media, we have people turning famous overnight and things going viral in less than 24 hours and fade out from our memories even before the 24 hour time frame is up.  “Sensational” - this word has crept up every time we Indians attach ourselves to some new change or mission.

Ringing bells” (sounds like a wedding planning company?) felt obliged to do something for the nation and ta-da, we have freedom in our hands @251. All those features and what a cute looking phone! What were our people thinking? Would I consider buying a car whose price is cheaper than petrol? Think of this phone and the rate of 1 GB data pack. You get the picture.

 Like tickets to an India-Pak match, people thronged to buy it even before they realized the prototypes handed out during the launch weren’t even made by them but a Chinese company, Adcom. It can benefit the masses at a steal of a price, true -but why am I so skeptical about it?

Trust issues. People didn’t trust the Nano  (Tata PR guys did a bad job marketing it as the poor man’s vehicle) or the Government subsidized Akash Tablet but when an unknown company, even if it is well intentioned, rolls out a massive plan that banks on our money to release its products and with a business strategy that lacks clarity,  I can’t help but flinch looking at my naïve countrymen . Very well the deed is done so I’ll wish the company the best of luck. They know they are being watched by sharks – IT honchos and the media. We know stories of people who apparently built robust empires but couldn’t handle the heat eventually. Think Satyam’s Ramalingam Raju, Sahara’s  Subrata Roy, United Spirits’ Vijay Mallya…

We took to social media like a fly to a light bulb. Sentences acquired new meanings and conversations took dramatic turns.

“I like this song” now meant liking Adele’s Hello on YouTube and down 
voting a negative comment below it.

“I shared a meal”  now refers to sharing a snap of last night’s Biriyani on Instagram and make sure your dirty fingers are somewhere in the pic

“I voted for the Delhiwalla”  now meant upvoting an 4.8k answer of a most viewed writer on Quora to “What are the most embarrassing incidents that happened in front of your crush?”

“I need to change my status!” means... Yeah adhey! Adhey!

Social media keeps our always online friends near and boredom at bay. There’s no dearth of “25 crazy things to do with food that spills on the floor”, “67 things people do to hide their dark circles. You are not gonna believe this!”  (with an awkward photo accompanying it),  “101 tricks to teach your Dalmatian” , “This amazing potion can make you go from flab to fab in under 26 minutes” and the like. It goes on for all eternity.

I’m not going to write how we are all heading in the wrong direction and how smart phones have taken over the inhabitants of planet earth. I leave that to the Open –Ed page of the Hindu. Humans evolve, technology changes, attitudes differ, passions and interests evolve. Change is indeed inevitable. Even before smart phones and applications became our obsessions, we looked elsewhere while having our dosas and tomato chutney for breakfast, we laughed at things that weren’t talking to us and there were things that made us miss our bus stop. These “things” were magazines, television sets, books, radio sets and crossword puzzles.

Some of these pre-smartphone devices were also met with resistance.  In the 15th century Bonfire of Vanities in Florence, Italy, certain books were burned along with cosmetics, dresses and musical instruments by the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola as they were too “sinful” to his taste. Uninstalling some apps might be our personal bonfire of vanity. It takes less than a minute to uninstall that candy crush app but it requires immense courage and effort for an individual to rise above the average and “just do it” (pun intended). Addictions to some applications are harmless – be it criminal case, clash of clans or 2048. They are akin to doing meaningless activities like throwing pebbles at the lake, crushed paper bits into bins, popping bubble wraps and squishing ants (Never mind there are apps to do all of these)

Not all the apps can be ticked off as harmless, some apps are used by miscreants to spread malice and instigate violence. Consider the inhuman and meaningless lynching of a person at Dadri, the hapless man was killed by a mob for eating beef at his home. It wasn’t beef but that’s not the point. Mohammad Akhlaq was killed over a dead piece of meat by a mob that gathered over the course of a WhatsApp message.

Any emotionally charged piece of act triggers us. We fall for the Facebook post which rebukes us for “shamelessly” celebrating the death anniversary of Bhagat Singh as Valentine’s day. 


The tragedy of Rohit Vemula and the JNU incident have created furors all over the social media space. With fingers pointing in all directions, we are confused on whose side to stand by and voice our support. Should we stand by Kanhaiya Kumar? Should we believe he is a wronged student? Did Vemula die because he was a Dalit? Did the JNU students raise slogans of  “India Murdabad! Afzal Guru Zindabad!”?

We feel our emotions are being swayed every day with every new report, every new political speech.

Report  1 - “JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar arrested on charges of sedition. JNU students intensify protests over free speech” screams the headline and we take the student’s side .  Sedition is a serious charge and we don’t really think twice when the reports state that Kanhaiya is falsely accused.

Report 2 - Rajnath Singh’s tweet that JNU student’s protest had the backing of Hafeez Muhammad Saeed,  Lashkar- e - Taiba chief made us raise our eyebrows and we reconsidered the whole situation. After much media bashing , the Home Minister later admits he made a blunder and we roll back to Report 1.

Report 3 – We all have the video grab of Arnab Goswami turning green with rage and metamorphosize into Hulk. He shredded JNU student and protst organizer Umar Khalid to pieces. Arnab brought martyr Hanumanthappa into his speech. We are patriots and we start hating Umar as well.

Report 4- A JNU student posts on Quora that the video of students shouting slogans of anti-nationalism is misleading as the students who feature in it aren’t JNU students but belong to a political party and we end up really confused.

Report 5 - Smriti Irani speaks out her mind, silences her opponents. We see the video on YouTube, she wins our admiration and we are back to square one.

Social media puts too many things on our plate. Even before we could chew on one, it offers another!
We must decide for ourselves, trust reliable sources of information before we take a stand.  It is hard not to get overwhelmed by watching an emotional/traumatic video. Our voice counts, our support counts. It is to cater to us, the media works round the clock.

So, are we as a nation ready to handle social media and not let our emotions take over? Not yet, Not now.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Earl Grey Matter–and all that scatters! Random Ramblings again!

Almost all of what I call my ‘tastes’ were acquired. I took no instant liking to anything perhaps with the exception of Hershey’s kisses. I pretty much took in everything during my um.. formative years, be it books, food, music or movies. But I have ceased doing so… and the credit in its entirety goes to my filters aka mental taste buds.

We all know there were no dearth of books written during the 19th and 20th century but we read only a handful of works that belong to that era and why? Because these works, say that of Charles Dickens’ or Mark Twains’  withstood the sands of time long enough to remain in public memory. We are hardwired with filters in our brains. These are the very filters which cause us to forget memories, events and other data that are no longer required or important enough for us to remember. These filters are also responsible for shaping our interests and passions.

The sky is blue because blue isn’t absorbed by the earth. Blue is of shorter wavelength and thus scattered by tiny molecules in the atmosphere at a much higher rate than the colours which are of higher wavelengths, say red.

violet is shorter than blue! I don't know either!

One of the things my atmosphere scatters away is science-fiction – it is extremely difficult for me to sit through a sci-fi flick while I can watch a docudrama about the Tudors without batting an eye. It works the reverse for some. My Scatterlist also includes astrology, Arnab Goswami. tomato rice, anarkalis, tea with milk, lavish weddings, horror movies, legacy politics, E.L.James etc.

Important - The Scatterlist is not to be mistaken with a Hatelist!

The difference between the two is the rate of tolerance.

  • The Scatterlist is tolerable. The Hatelist is not.
  •  If somebody were to come to me and talk about the significance of my birth date and the role of stars in deciding my destiny I wouldn’t stop them but my interest in that subject will continue to be vague.
  • The same thing happens when somebody starts gushing about how spectacular le Game of Thrones is. I have never watched that, strongly doubt I ever will but I am all ears.
  •  But if I were forced to write a review of ‘Messenger of God 2‘ (God forbid), I would loathe it with all my heart for it’s strictly on my Hatelist!

The many interests and likes that successfully wade through my filters land on what I would like to call the Imbibelist. I absolutely love watching astronomy videos… you know the ones where they show an endless expanse of stars and explain their workings through the voice of a narrator who sounds just like Morgan Freeman. (There was this show that actually had Freeman hosting a show on wormholes. Just so you know).  I know I’m not alone. Who doesn’t like gaping at the stars or watching deep sea divers observe underwater creatures? Historical fiction, biopics, bitter gourd, Balaji Vishwanathan (on Quora) , blackcurrant cakes, the colour green, the delightful Anuja Chauhan  etc  all find a place on my Imbibelist.

Draw the lines between your Scatterlist, Hatelist and Imbibelist and you’ll be surprised at the results. Just keep in mind to move as much as items on your Hatelist to your Scatterlist as possible. Tolerance is a virtue too.

Trust me I began this article so as to write about my love for teas..yes teas. No milk no sugar added. Guess some of my grey matter got scattered away that I ended up writing about filters, Scatterlists and Imbibelists instead. Speaking of grey and teas, there’s this tea called the Earl Grey tea with a very fragrant citrus aroma that comes from the rind of the exotic sounding Bergamot Orange.The smell is so overpowering that you might mistake it for eau de parfum. It is aromatherapy in a cup. Take a sip, relax and let the cuppa do its work!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A booklover’s tryst with Amitav Ghosh and all writers Indian….

I feel drenched. This is perhaps the second time after Vairamuthu’s “Thaneer Desam” that I read a book on troubled Indian waters.  “The Hungry Tide” is penned by Amitav Ghosh, Indian by birth and going by his writings, Indian- rather Bengali- by thought.  

Nostalgia affects everything. Our desires, interests, pursuits…It spares nothing. I love Ilaiyaraja’s compositions. His songs from the 1980’s give me solace whenever I feel alone and restless but I cannot equal the fervor with which my appa listens to his tunes. Some songs never fail to moisten his eyes. He has lived through an era in which Ilaiyaraja ruled over people’s senses.  His admiration for the Maestro therefore will always be greater than mine.

And nostalgia is the same reason why the British classic “Jane Eyre” will remain my favourite book and I am reluctant to let any book replace it. I cannot sum up with words the kind of emotions that welled up in me when I first read it as a pre-teen. When Jane grew up, I grew up with her. Words fail me again when I recount how I felt as a girl late into her teens rereading it for the nth time. Now in my twenties, I feel not an iota of change in my stance. I am simply content with Jane. But the same cannot be said of my favourite author.

As a child, I loved the works of J.K.Rowling, Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters and a host of other famous writers but I couldn’t find anyone to label as the “author I admire the most” probably because  most of their writings failed to  touch my native chords. In simple words, they weren’t “Made In India”. I wanted the author to write prose with a kiss of poetry; fiction based on actual facts; narrative that included well grounded research; action and romance in equal measures; elaborate writing backed by a rich vocabulary and most of all, the indigenousness I earnestly craved for.  So the search for the favourite author seemed to continue for all eternity until my eyes met Ghosh’s…name on the cover.(wink,wink)

A few years back, Ghosh’s “Sea of Poppies” set me up for a journey I wasn’t prepared for. The book offered me an eclectic mix of history and fiction, a genre I wasn’t familiar with until then.  The Sea of Poppies was the first of the Ibis Trilogy. Set in the Nineteenth century, it had an ensemble of characters whose lives were intertwined with one another and whose livelihood were deeply rooted in the Opium trade rampant across the Indo-Chinese border.  As I reached the end of the 533 odd pages, I knew I was in love.

The sequel “River of Smoke” was a bit disappointing, perhaps I expected way too much. The book was filled with anecdotes and well researched content from page to page which I enjoyed but to my dismay, it left little space for the drama to unfold in full measure.  It was more smoke and less fire which I believe Ghosh will compensate with his aptly titled “Flood of Fire” set to release this summer.  I can’t wait to read it. (The last time I anticipated a book launch was when “The Deathly Hallows” was released.  The wait!)                                                                                                                                            

Amitav Ghosh was the first of Indian/diasporic writers whose works I started reading. Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies), Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni (The Palace of Illusions, Mistress of Spices), Aravind Adiga(The White Tiger), Gregory David Roberts(Shantaram), Willian Dalrymple (The Last Mughal) and even Hussain Zaidi (Dongri to Dubai) are the latest entrants to my author list whom I count on to satiate my hunger for all books “Indian” and I vouch for each one of them. I plan to add Vikram Seth, Ramachandra Guha and Anita Nair to this list soon.

 Eventually I felt guilty for boycotting foreign goods that I read a “Love in the Time of Cholera” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) to make up for it. It is a lovely book in terms of language but the theme seemed quite disturbing.

 My love affair with Amitav Ghosh grew deeper as I read more of his works. The Glass Palace is an exquisite piece of work set across Bengal and Burma- the story extends over three generations and is laden with historical snippets.  The Shadow Lines won Ghosh his Sahitya Akademi award.  In fact I was disappointed as the book ran short of pages. It was slim (246 pages) compared to his other novels. Sigh!

The book I finished today is The Hungry Tide. Ghosh mostly centers his books around Calcutta . His Bengali roots run deep as seen by his works because of which- I have to admit- I have this new found fixation towards all things Bengali. I loved reading the book. It was a deeply engaging and a surreal experience for me. It gave me an urge to travel, to explore and to learn the ways of the world. I felt I was living in the Tide country(the Sunderbans) and my journey came to a saddening halt as the story ended.   My perspective towards people living in territories of endangered species took a whole new turn and I ended up feeling extremely sorry for them.  But the book comes with a warning as with all other books of Amitav Ghosh. His books are not for everybody. It takes patience and enormous zeal to learn about a culture/scenario in-depth. He has meticulously researched each and every tiny detail that goes into the story and it even requires you to read between the lines. You cannot just skim through his descriptive accounts. That amounts to doing injustice as a reader.

It is of course cool to read about California’s Gold Rush, Chicago’s Scarface, Churchill’s Biography, Che Guevara’s revolutionary ideas but it is equally important to equip ourselves with our country’s history and be aware of well documented but little known accounts of great Indian men and women. Historical Fiction is one of the most plausible ways of achieving that. Indian writers other than those best selling candy floss, fantasy or romance laden sort of writers need an audience among youngsters too. Try reading an Amitav Ghosh or a Jhumpa Lahiri  between your John Green and Veronica Roth, you will find  the experience truly exhilarating!