In Evil Hour – The beginning of the end

I am insanely behind on my reading schedule this year. I’m taking part in @blogchatter’s #TBRChallenge and I set myself up with a comfortable 25-book target. However, currently, I don’t think I will be able to make it and I don’t want to psych myself into reading faster or reading just for the heck of it.

This is precisely why when I took a little over two weeks to complete this rather short novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I was a bit upset with myself. I picked this up because I thought it would be the perfect little nugget between two possible substantial reads.

Ah. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Marquez dragged me to a very laid-back Colombian town where the weather was humid, stuffy and absolutely unbearable, while Gurgaon weather, barring a grand total of 2 days of rain, was equally stifling.

The book forced me to break my pace and really brought me in step with its narrative. The town is electrically charged due to politics with the story depicting a very violent period of fighting among different groups. The government may have changed, promising peace and guarantees, but the officials were still the same, setting a tense scene between the corrupt officials and the wary public, always on guard expecting violence to break out any moment. A sense of foreboding hung in the air, along with the suffocating weather. Following the intense humidity, torrential rain and floods, animal carcasses were found at various spots across the town as the floodwaters receded. The stench from a dead cow filled the air, adding another element of oppression. 

And making matters much worse were mysterious posters that were being put up on walls and doors, sharing news about the townsfolk that were quite scandalous. While some of these may not even have been true, the people did not like their matters being brought up publicly, they did not want to be the centre of attention and preferred to stay behind the perfect image that they had taken pains to curate. Everyone was under suspicion and the collective paranoia of the people hit another level altogether.

The story opens with the local priest Father Angel, whose helper Trinidad talks about the poster on the lampoon that kept the public buzzing rather than the serenade from the night before. The story gathers pace as a rich lumberman César Montero shoots his wife’s alleged lover, the topic of the said poster, in broad daylight. The town’s mayor, while initially not taking the notices seriously, realises how it could turn detrimental for him as he tries his best to represent the new government responsible for law and order. Not to mention, the toothache that plagues him as he avoids the local dentist with whom he’s at opposite ends of the political arena. This leaves him with little bandwidth to worry about other things.  

But with the townsfolk worried, the mayor takes things into his own hands, declaring martial law, enlisting local criminals to find the source of the messages and the story takes an ugly turn. It possibly is the beginning of the ‘evil hour’, as some of the townsfolk feared everything going to hell, their lives being ruined, and that it spelled the beginning of the end.

While Marquez has an undeniable quality of transporting the reader to another realm, I would not say that this book would count as one of my favourites by him. However, he does manage to put me in a trance with his words. Reading his work is such a pleasure. The way he develops his characters, the ambience and the climax – it is quite the feat. Everything seems so real, with real world issues affecting them. The rampant corruption, poverty, complicated relationships, political unrest, revolution… it’s a story that makes me think.

Maybe, just maybe, another issue I may have had with the book is my growing disability in reading fiction. I’ve been reading non-fiction for quite some time, and off late, I’ve found myself reaching out for this genre even more. I seek out works of fiction far less these days possibly because of the way they make me work harder in understanding the setting, which could be real or fantastical or somewhere in the middle. I don’t know what to expect. And because of this uncertainty, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to take the plunge.

Also, my mental health is, and has been for quite some time, all over the place, and reading non-fiction is relatively easy. I don’t have to apply my brain so much. It sounds weird, I know, but I’m working on this. I want a healthy balance in my reading, and I also want to give myself the necessary space when it comes to reading and dealing with a book and its topics. I know am part of a reading challenge, but I will not let the aim sort of breathe down my neck. It’s my wish how I want to navigate my way through this. Somewhere, I am glad my brain hasn’t shut down and I haven’t lost my reading mojo yet, but considering how this year turned out, this could’ve been possible. So I’ll just keep at it and see how it goes.

As always, leaving you with one my favourite quotes from the book.

“If men gave birth, they’d be less inconsiderate.”

Header image by Leandro Loureiro from Unsplash

Loss – Surviving grief and its facets

Loss by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi came into my life earlier this year as a birthday gift from a friend. I lost my brother almost a decade ago, and it is one loss that has really weighed on my mind. My brother brought me up just as much as my parents have, and his death has also shaped my adulthood in ways I cannot explain. The loss of a sibling has been soul crushing for me, and few know how much I love and cherish my Dada. But who knew this gift would also be a portend of sorts, a premonition, since I lost my father quite cruelly a few weeks later.

For a person who lost half her family, reading Loss has been quite an experience. I was distraught. I had pushed myself into reading just so I could put this idle mind to work. I read Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart because I wanted something light, something to take me far away from my reality, but after I was done with it, I knew my soul needed something else, it needed some love and understanding, a balm of sorts, something to calm it.

And so I picked up Loss. Six pages in, I was already sobbing, that too in a public place. There were so many things mentioned that resonated with me, it felt unreal. Siddharth lost his mother, father and pet Bruschetta all within a decade. He opens up about his losses in this series of essays, taking the reader through his mind, his heart and his pain. I feel, in a way, he has helped me face my own trauma, my own fears and accept the situation. Of course, coping with grief is not a straight path, it has its ups and downs. Some days I am distraught, unable to work or even think properly. Grief ​hits one like waves; sometimes it comes at you like a tidal wave or some days, it feels like the shallow waters of the sea that wash over your feet​, making its presence felt every single day​.

​”It’s the phone call you dread – yet fully expect.”

​Sadly for me it was not a phone call. Everything pretty much happened in front of my eyes. Getting a phone call would’ve been so easy. I would not have been burdened with the emotions, the experiences, or the nightmares. On the other hand, the author talks about how this call jolted him from his reality, and he had to travel from Rajasthan to Maharashtra in a daze, thinking of the things he’d have to go through.

“We would have to wade through it now and come over to the other side.”

When it is all said and done, there’s nothing left to do but to tackle it head on. See to the various rituals as per religion, contact the municipal corporation, bank accounts, things that needed to be done, documents to be submitted, photocopied, affidavits to be made, shared, hunting down lawyers or notaries in the middle of a pandemic. Death certificates, crematorium certificates, letters to the parish priest, letters to the cemetery board. It is maddening. I can’t wait to get it all over with so I can mourn in peace.

Celebrations in the D’Rozario household meant preparing a feast fit for a village. This was one such celebration we got to enjoy. This year, we managed to squeeze in quite a few and both mum and I seek refuge from the fact that dad enjoyed these family get-togethers with aplomb

When Shanghvi talks about the call he received from his sister about his father’s death, among sadness and disbelief was also cold relief. I absolutely understand this sentiment. When both my brother and father passed away, one after battling illnesses for nearly four years, and the other succumbing to COVID-19, I was distraught yet relieved that their struggle and pain finally ended. Siddharth’s father battled a lymphoma of the brain, and even after surviving that, it cost him “his independence, his mind, and the full dignity of presence”. This bit reminded me most of my brother. If anyone should ask, he was the better of us two. He should have been the one to live. I wish he didn’t have to suffer for so long.

“A death exposes the living as they are.”

Another element that resonated with me was when he spoke about a protocol following a person’s death – to be present. He mentions how people may forgive someone for not turning up at a birthday party, but would definitely hold a grudge for their absence at someone’s death. Even though this is the era of COVID, forever changing how we socialise, I will remember the many people who picked up the phone and offered condolences and those who got away with a simple text. A text is not enough. Everyone who sends me a gif as a form of a greeting during any festival, gets a similar one in reply. It’s all about making an effort to not just mark one’s presence but take cognisance of the person that was, the one that passed on. It’s all about remembrance and to me, it is very important.

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.”

Nan Goldin

I loved the pictures shared by Siddharth of his family, his dog Bruschetta, and a poem from his mother’s published collection. It reminded me photographer Kannagi Khanna’s work. A college batchmate, her pictures are quite ethereal and fleeting at the same time. Pictures really are meant to capture and hold that moment forever in time for us, a still from life that cannot be changed, but last week when I went through some old pictures of my family, I started to cry, again. What is it with pictures?

Everything feels different. I know it’ll take time. The pain never eases but it gets easier to cope with the loss. I guess, we get a little bit stronger each day, to remember, to cherish them better in our hearts and minds. I’m trying to read and keep myself occupied. I am waiting for the time I can face the horror of my dad’s death, the events that led up to it. I try not to think actively about it. I know it may not be healthy, but I try to work through things in my own way.

I may sound like the Hulk but am always angry, and in this I find my solace

All of us face varying kinds of losses. They cannot be compared. But, somehow, the vast financial gap between someone like Shanghvi and me is quite stark. This is something I felt while reading the book. It makes me wonder, does money make things easier. Yes it does. Don’t get me wrong, I do not diminish anyone’s feelings and emotions, but yes, I do wonder, if we had more wealth at our disposal, would it lighten the blow? Could I have done more for my brother and father had we the financial backing? I know my parents sold some of my mother’s jewellery to fund my brother’s medical care. And I know that maybe I could given my father better medical care had I the connections or the right bank balance. Maybe, just maybe.

The thing is with COVID, it’s not just been a leveller of sorts, but it’s brought a lot of elements into perspective. The rich do have it easier. Maybe not all the time, but definitely most of the time.

In this deeply personal account, the author seems to talk about his experiences and emotions in a slightly detached manner. I don’t know if this was intentional, but I get it. It’s not easy to revisit the hurt and pain, and dig into old wounds and talk about such experiences. I too get a bit detached and cold when talking about my brother’s death, his sickness. Otherwise I’d be a bumbling ball of mess. Not many know the details. Not many want to know.

​Never did I ever imagine what it would be like to read this. I was quite daunted by it. I did not want to resurrect the very feelings that I had so meticulously buried away in the crevices of my mind. I really did keep it aside for a rainy day, but who knew that day would find its way to me so quickly. But picking this book up has also been a very good decision, I must say. It’s helping me purge myself of certain emotions, feelings, and dark thoughts. After my brother passed away, I had shut a part of myself down. I am trying not to traverse that path again. I am trying to do things differently this time. I am trying to retain my sanity.

And while I grapple with my losses and try to navigate this world without the presence of my father and brother, I remind myself of this line that Shanghvi wrote, a quote I leave you with…

“Breathe. Let it go. Let it be. Nothing mattered. It was all an illusion.”

It is a pity that I do not have too many pictures with my brother as an adult.
I wish I had more so I could fill all the walls of my room

Header image by Tim Foster on Unsplash.

The Joy of FARMERS’ Markets

I don’t know when, where or how the concept of farmers’ market arose, and when I think about it, I wonder if it’s a purely western concept. While all across India, there are weekly and daily markets/ stalls, farmers’ markets are generally more associated with organic products, products which are toxic-free and have relatively less pesticides, etc. Beyond fresh produce, there are also different kinds of flours such as amaranth. I recently visited a farmers’ market that was organised in my society, and I must say, I was quite blown away by the quality of the produce offered. Plump red tomatoes, solid looking potatoes, shiny onions, dried oyster mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, and a whole plethora of sauces, honey, relishes, ghee, unprocessed oils, flours, rice. Ah! It was such a trip.

Continue reading “The Joy of FARMERS’ Markets”

My Top 3 EXOTIC Pantry Additions

Ever since the first lockdown a little over a year ago, my interest in cooking has increased manifold. This may have spearheaded my love for building a well-stocked pantry, but the constant urge to keep adding some exotic condiments, sauces, and other items stemmed from a passion that took root when I was in school.

Continue reading “My Top 3 EXOTIC Pantry Additions”

DRIVING – An extreme sport in India

Almost five years ago, I published my last post for my first A to Z Challenge. I was grateful for having completed the challenge successfully, but also for the post I put up. Here’s the link, go read it. Today, I must say, I have even more gratitude in my heart as I sit to pen down my deeper experiences on the topic. Driving. Here are a few of my takeaways.

Continue reading “DRIVING – An extreme sport in India”