X-Mas Tales

When it comes to Christmas and winter, there are certain stories I keep reaching out to and although, like every year I couldn’t read it this year, I plan to get back on track this coming winter. Stephen King, the undisputed king of horror, makes for a fabulous read during this time. You may think it to be weird, but trust me, when the temperature dips low and the world is already tucked in bed, and you’re left with the King in your hands and a world that’s slowly going out of control.

A book I first read as an ebook, The Shining by Stephen King taught me that digital books are not meant to be looked down upon or even despised for that matter. And during my first job, when I had to wait before work started, I got hooked to reading digital books. Considering the size of The Shining, it’s a wonder I managed to finish not just this one, but a host of other books too.

Unfortunately, I happened to see the movie before I read the book, and like most cases, there were so many concepts that sprung to mind only after I read the book. Books have a way of explaining to readers what really goes on inside a person’s head, it’s much easier to break the fourth wall in a book. I realized, after watching the entire movie, that I had no clue to the exact concept of the ‘shining’.  Based in the fictional Overlook Hotel located in the Colorado Rockies, Jack Torrance along with his wife and child, take up residence for the winter. Jack who has a streak of violence and alcoholism in the past, is in desperate need of the job to pay for his writing, while he uses the opportunity to connect better with his family.

The ‘shining’ is actually in connection with Jack’s son Danny, who unbeknownst to his parents, is able to read minds, see premonitions and has telepathic abilities. The hotel they stay in is haunted, and previously, even a young family that had stayed here earlier, the father had fallen under the spell of cabin fever and had murdered his family.

Many wonder why Stephen King is so great, and while they may rattle off his other titles, for me, it’s this book. Fear literally creeps up your back, it does not come bounding towards you. You wouldn’t even realise how and when, in the daily humdrum of settling in at the hotel, do certain things look a little different and how even the seemingly harmless topiary may be alive after all.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Whorls of China

Ever been on a trip and spent two-third of your travel budget on books? Well, I have. It was seven years in the month of September, when a few of us had made an impromptu trip to Goa from Pune. Day 1, we land at Calungate beach and everyone is busy shopping, and I come back with an armful of books, including Canadian journalist John Fraser’s The Chinese – Portrait of a People.

I’ve always had a simmering interest in China and its people, culture, especially food and the arts, and I loved this book. A correspondent for the Toronto GLOBE and MAIL, John arrived in China in December 1977 and stayed on for two years. The book showcases his perspective on the inner world of China that so far, for a long time had been hidden, misunderstood and even feared. The book not only depicts China as per John, but to put on record certain events that may seem extremely complicated to a stranger’s eye.

All of us have a general idea of China that of the People’s Republic, the party, the importance of ranks and maintaining them, obedient officials and citizens, this is our idea of China, from the outside looking in. During his first few days, John explains how the West has often viewed China. He says when the first Jesuits had come in the 17th century, they saw a land of perfection marred only by the absence of Christianity. And then in the late 1970s, the West still views the country as a perfect land barring the absence of certain human rights or academic standards. He adds how it took his being among the Chinese that helped open his eyes towards their reality, and not one painted either by the West or by the Party.

During his tenure in China, John witnesses the events leading up to the Xidan Democracy Wall. From November 1978 to December 1979, thousands of people gathered at Xidan Street and put up posters on a long brick wall, raising their voices against the political and social issues of China. This is said to have laid the foundation for Chinese Democracy Movement.

When in Peking, John describes young people ice skating, poor peasants from rural China travel to Peking to petition for their grievances to be addressed, sculptures of ancient kingdoms and even how Peking is the city of bicycles.

Although I may not be scratching even the surface of the book, do read The Chinese for a better understanding of the many whorls of this beautiful country, however it may be caught up in its own issues.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Varanasi and her ghats

Any traveller in India worth his/her (or others) salt, must have at some point visited the Varanasi. A place often written about, photographed, filmed, painted, sketched, etc., this city has always caught the fancy of people, from artists to writers and truly mesmerizes everyone.

As is wont with me, I tend to get easily influenced by books, films and impressionable things in general. With every kind of book I’d read, my future career in my head would change. And this I realized only recently because a colleague pointed it out. So, from wanting to be an astronaut to a climatologist, a marine biologist to volcanologist, there were few trades in life that I did not want to pursue. Needless to add, books based in certain regions would make me want to leave everything and be spirited away, but sadly, I lack that drive. So while I’ve never visited Varanasi, the day I completed reading The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra, I had gone batty for the city and her ghats.

The story revolves around Samar who lands up at Benaras and traces his way in and around the city, to do nothing but read books like Schopenhauer and Turgenev, books that promise wisdom and knowledge. When he takes up a room at an elderly Brahmin’s house, he meets his co-guest, Catherine. The beautiful Catherine and her lover, Anand, a sitar player, introduce Samar to their group of friends, and Samar finds himself in the midst of intellectuals and artists, free-wheeling foreigners and their fixed notions of India.

The book, similar to modern Indian literature, brings together the stark contrasts of western and eastern culture. Through characters and scenes, Mishra shows just how different the two worlds are even if there has been enough opportunities to bridge the gap.

Samar befriends a lonely, young political activist, Rajesh, and Samar takes a shine to him immediately. Rajesh’s world is infused in demonstrations and odd cases of violence. This is another aspect of India that Samar wishes to stay away from, preferring to hide in the world of his books.

Those who have read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August, will see the resemblance here too as to how the protagonist gets easily taken aback by the sheer poverty and raw life of rural India.

The second half of the book is rather subdued, with Samar travelling to Pondicherry to check on his ailing father, and this is when he decides to give the attraction of Varanasi a rest and so he begins his career as a school teacher.

And while I am yet to visit the holy city, I do intend to re-read this book before my trip.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

A long time ago, when I was fairly in middle school, I was up late at night flipping channels while working on a project. Some local cable channel had a rather sketchy movie on. My mum and I settled down to watch it. It had Sean Connery, mum’s favourite actor. Soon the title of the movie came up, The Name of the Rose. My mum’s immediate reaction – change the channel. I protested, but she was adamant. I relented. But since then, this name was stored carefully at the back of the head.

Years later, when I realized it was the debut novel of Umberto Eco, a name that does wonders to a mind at an impressionable age, I knew I had to get a copy of my own. The best part about reading this book is not just the story, its setting and enjoying the shenanigans of its characters, but the author. Eco was a learned novelist, a professor who managed to combine the likes of biblical stories with semiotics – that includes the study of signs and symbols – and literary theory, medieval history and more. The takeaway in reading this book is beyond imagination, all the while enriching us in some aspect or the other.

Essentially a murder mystery wrapped with a lot of meaningful issues and clash of ideologies that plague society and religious groups, the book centres on a learned Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk, are sent to the Benedictines’ monastery to solve the mysterious deaths of almost six monks. It also depicts in many ways how religious orders are often resistant to change and refuse to accept science.  This book also introduced me to a host of Latin phrases, in fact I found myself looking up a lot of things while reading this book.

The story starts with Adso, an old man, who recounts his tale as a young novice to William in 1327. The Benedictine abbey in northern Italy is said to have a renowned scriptorium where many scribes copy, translate and illuminate books. When a young illuminator dies in mysterious circumstances, the abbot reaches out to William of Baskerville to use his powers of persuasion and reasoning to bring the shed some light on the event.

Being a typical murder mystery at its core, I do not wish to get into the details, but Eco masterfully managed to string in a lot of elements. There is one scene that irritates me to the core, when the young Adso had sex with a village girl. I just don’t buy into how he managed to partake in that? Why did he not stop himself or even her? What is the point in taking the oath of chastity, poverty and celibacy, wherein at some point one has broken each and every one of them? Yes, we’re all human, but then why do some have to lord over others? Anyway, these were just some of the passing questions that popped in my head. All in all, this book is a treasure trove in terms of content, stories and characters, and I can’t wait to start my second book by Umberto Eco soon.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Tragic ending

There are not many times I reach out for books with tragic endings, but sometimes they spring up on me, like A Fine Balance. I generally skirt around books with tragic endings or even a sad storyline, because, I tend to take those emotions to a whole new level. That’s just me. And this is also the reason why I haven’t been able to see In Pursuit of Happiness, because I don’t seem to be able to handle such situations too well.

I saw The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas way back in college, huddled with a friend till late at night, and while she cried, I was stunned. I hadn’t thought I would ever buy the book by John Boyne, but when my good friend M. did, I did too. What surprised me was the perspective of the author, to see things through the eyes of a child. Or even the ability to see issues and events through their perspective. I mean, they obviously don’t overthink as much as we adults do, or at least as much as I do. They have simpler minds, sometimes bordering on devious, but generally simple with their approach being likewise. And it made for quite a refreshing and easy read, barring the storyline.

The story is set during the Second World War, and the central character is the nine-year-old Bruno who stays with his parents and sister in Berlin. When his father is promoted to a top position by Adolf Hitler, the family move out of their urban dwelling and shift to the ‘Out-With’. Phrases such as the ‘out-with’ and the ‘fury’ gave a sense of childlike thinking, that clearly implied the family were staying near Auschwitz camp and had the Fuhrer over at their place, if we go by the story.

At their new residence, like any child, Bruno goes out exploring and comes upon a wire fence that seems to go on. As he walks on, he chances upon a boy of the same age as his, Shmuel. As they talk, the reader gets bits and pieces of the life in the camp, how Shmuel has been separated from his mother and is now with his grandfather, father and brother. As their bond grows stronger, Bruno develops lice on his head, leading him to get his head shaved as a result. When Shmuel sees him, he comments on how alike they seem. Well, one thing leads to another, but the ending is as horrifying as it may seem.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.