There’s an unexplained, indescribable joy in peeking into someone’s home, twisting your head one way and squinting if the need arises. It’s fascinating to see strangers in their four walls, wordlessly watching the television or moving from one room to another.

Don’t mark me as a ‘peeping tom’. I don’t stand and stare, for too long. But the strange comfort in looking at cubicles of people’s lives, zipping past hundreds of apartments and balconies, while in the metro or walking, gives me unbridled excitement. At the end of the day, tired and exhausted, my brain is often left muddled to be reading a book in transit. More often than not, the swelling crowd in the metro makes it impossible to even hold a handrail, forget lifting a book to read. So as days turned to months, I took to looking out of the window, especially while passing from Akshardham to Mayur Vihar Extension, and the view presented, a glorious number of parallel worlds, open to my interpretation.

Small flats, large houses, huge television sets, modest furnishings, utensils lined up on shelves, laundry being folded, pets, servants at work… these split second frames of living rooms are swept up in my brain, and there they lie stewing in a vortex of possibilities.

As a child I loved looking at homes. Not just looking, looking, but looking closely. I’d always notice the extra beautification of one’s balcony to the over grown shrubbery in another’s garden, choc-a-block homes lined in a neat row or marvellous bungalows. Even now, this has become quite a hobby.
In winter last year, I spent a good twenty minutes every morning walking to work from Maharani Bagh main bus stop (where my charter bus would drop me) to my office complex on Mathura Road, near New Friends Colony in Delhi. It would not just be a great way to hit my target of steps in a day, but I’d love to walk through the posh enclave of Maharani Bagh. I would pass a rather chic boutique hotel, a park filled with dogs and joggers, a couple of dishevelled looking homes and few more in need of repair. And yet as I’d move inwards, I would gape at towering bungalows with opulent architecture and massive gates, that wouldn’t let a spot of the interiors be betrayed. But come nightfall, and lights would filter through the gaps, rewarding one with sliver of vision of the beauty that lay beyond. Fancy garages, beautiful linen curtains, fancy swings and polished woodwork, hanging gardens and tinted windows, intricately carved pillars and tiled roofs, appreciating the beauty of homes is such a luxurious pastime.

The Lovely Bones – Death is not the end

There was a time when I was scared stiff of reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I always imagined myself as the sister in the story who ignored the changes in her brother and in the end, was invisible to her. It pained me to see family members brush his existence away, the way sometimes I imagined myself doing. There’s nothing like living with guilt every single day. Even if you know it was something you cannot help but do it anyway; even if you know that given a chance you would apologise every single day and try to make up for it, take it back and wish it all away – but never did I imagine Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones affecting me the way The Metamorphosis did.

Yes, the story is about a murdered child, but what I didn’t realise to the fullest, was the narrator. The dead child or rather the freshly minted spirit of a fourteen-year-old girl. She peers down from heaven, watching and observing her family and friends, often living life through them and with them. As I progressed through the story, it dawned on me how even my brother may be up somewhere, looking down upon us, observing us, crying with us and even celebrating the little nuggets of happiness that escape through. I believe that sometimes, if not all, he sits with our father when he’s home alone during the day, my father who nursed him closely during his illness, and who now doesn’t even have the strength to support himself and walk easily.

I imagine him flitting around our mother, whom he loves the most. Swooshing in during her trip in the school bus, zooming around in her class and being that invisible source of strength and energy she needs to get through at an age past retirement, yet working full time, both at school and home.

It makes me think that he smiles at me from the picture that I’ve tacked up on my office board, silently cheering me on at work, whispering words of advice and pushing me to become a better self.

What is the mark of a great book if it does not push you to think? Is it better if it slowly creeps up on you and you suddenly find yourself in a rush of emotions and thoughts. You wonder how the dead are living through the people who touched them, both in a good and bad way, and you wonder how the living are often dead, moving aimlessly from one day to the next with little to no consequence, wondering when death will come knocking.

I had seen the movie years back in college, but it didn’t strike me the way the book did these last few days. Of course, my life has turned around in the past few years, but then again, I suppose a book has a way of reaching out to its readers in a more forceful way than movies can. The spirit of the girl from the beyond the dead is the narrator and she reaches out to the reader. Her voice, is soothing, or so I imagine, and before I knew it, I got swept into her story. With every happiness, my heart whooped with joy and with every failure and wrongdoing, I realised I was just as helpless as the dear narrator. I matched the rhythm and pace of the story, hoping for Susie to get justice, but some things don’t always happen the way you wish it to be. But karma is a bitch, and I strongly believe that ‘what goes around, comes around’. While time may be a healer, fate never forgets anyone’s address.

Among the many characters, I emphathised with Jack Salmon the most. He always spoke to his eldest child Susie, and the only one who kept after the killer. He loses his wife in the process, but preserving the memory of his daughter takes precedence. Ruth, Susie’s friend and Lindsey, Susie’s younger sister, are two other characters who have left me stunned. Their growth in the story and how they become stronger and better able to care for themselves and others, left me overwhelmed.

As always, I shall be leaving you with a poignant quote from the book, one that ties the story and the title together, one that touches my soul at a vulnerable spot and one that must mean something to everyone, as death often impacts people in different ways.

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”

The Shadow of the Wind – What a journey!

Some books are just so great they manage to sweep you off your feet. Despite chronicling the lives of its many characters and treading on for pages, it feels as if one had only been reading for a short time. When Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hit the stands, readers worldwide were gushing over it. But it left me with a bit of disappointment.

But not this one. Oh, definitely not this one.

I chanced upon The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon at the recent Delhi Book Fair, and having posted my pile of treasure on a number of social media platforms I had quite a few followers praise this particular one. Although the book jacket blurb did lure me in, but ‘The Number One Bestseller’ on the cover can sometimes turn out to be quite misleading.

So when I couldn’t handle my mounting curiosity, I began. And then I never rested till I was done, quite spent having read it with increasing speed. Since the first page, I was utterly and completely taken up by the many characters, its twisted plot and subplots and the gothic city of Barcelona, that’s almost a character in itself.

It all starts in 1945 Barcelona, when a young Daniel Sempere is introduced to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ by his father. Imagine a vast, towering building, its facade etched with gothic designs, set in the middle of the city yet hidden from prying eyes, with a gargoyle for a door knocker and a labyrinthine library of ‘obscure and forgotten titles’ – a resting place for books and their souls. Having been allowed to choose one book from millions, Daniel fishes out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax, and so begins his journey that twists and contorts with every dribble of secret unearthed of its dead author, how his life hangs in peril when he embarks in search of the truth of Carax’s life and death, and all those connected with him.

The book also reflects the pain of a city ravaged by war, of its denizens that turn into the living dead, of those in authority who take control of the city, terrorising the already afflicted and the defenceless. It’s been such a pleasure reading this book.

Since I prefer to read with a pencil in hand, marking the quotes and phrases that leave me thinking, here are the top three. Read them carefully, ponder over them silently and introspect, they’re worthy of separate blog posts in themselves. Here they are:

“Books are mirrors. You only see in them what you already have inside you.”

“Never trust anyone, Daniel, especially the people you admire. Those are the ones who will make you suffer the worst blows.”

“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits.
You have to go for it.”

While I’m incapable of saying ‘no’ to those who seek to borrow my books or I skirt the issue altogether, this is one book I shall never part with. Much like Daniel Sempere who was entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the soul of The Shadow of the Wind, so shall I. But I urge you to get yourself a copy immediately, and while I re-read the book with guilty pleasure, I look forward to the other books in the trilogy.

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

Sunday Special

It was over two years ago when my good friend M. introduced me to an online book club – The Sunday Book Club or #TSBC. Quite a long name if you ask me, but I was intrigued about how they could sustain a book club based on a weekly Twitter chat. Do people even take part? But I couldn’t have been more wrong. People from all over India take part in the chat held every Sunday
at 3 pm.

Like every good thing in the world with a strong fan following, TSBC was started by a group of three: Sudhagee, Raghav Modi and Neo. Over the years, the founders actively handling the account may have shuffled, but currently Sudhagee and Raghav Modi are the active founders.

Do you know what it means to show up online, every week of every year, on a holiday, since its inception to host the Twitter chat? Sometimes, I wonder how they do it. Heck, even if I’m home I’ve never been able to show up at the chat session with such discipline. Sunday afternoon feasts and the sweet haze of slumber would often take over. But I try.

The chat sessions are based on themes, announced mid week to allow participants to read up. Every Sunday since September 30, 2012, TSBC has not repeated a single theme. From author-based chats such Amitav Ghosh to diverse topics like book covers and even bookstagrams, TSBC ensures the world of books is thoroughly explored.

And not just this, they even pepper the week with mini engagement sessions such as Mondays would have the TSBCBookList, where one member would share a collection of 15 random books and others would have say which ones they’ve read. Wednesdays are all about current reads with the hashtag #TSBCWedReads. Thursdays are for #TSBC1Book1Author where fabulous recommendations pour in and Fridays are picture heavy with themed pictures being shared.

Sometimes, the founders even tie up with their favourite publishers and have book giveaways for certain book challenges. I too won a book for acing a challenge on English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Oh so proud of myself.

And at times, we even get to meet the faces behind the Twitter handles at meet-ups in Delhi NCR and Mumbai. It’s so much fun to meet a group of book lovers and chat endlessly. Such sessions also have book exchanges and Raghav Modi almost always comes bearing extra goodies. You can read my experience at the first ever Delhi meet here.

But above all, being a part of the TSBC community is a heartwarming experience, where people are ever ready to share recommendations, empathise with the phrase – ‘there is no such thing as too many books’, understand the pain of being broke thanks to overspending on books and engaging in discussions on favourite authors and titles.

To this community that turns four this year, thank you.

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

The Calling: Read with an open mind

Some of us go through life without the slightest inkling of our purpose here on earth, while others just get through one day at a time. In pursuit of a career, ambition, better pay and better life, one often forgets the necessity to feed one’s soul to nourish our inner selves.

The Calling by Priya Kumar aims to get people to stop for a moment and think, think deeply about one’s actions and its corresponding consequences. Ultimately our lives are our own for making or breaking. We may not be able to change our neighbours, our families or friends, but by changing ourselves we may slowly affect others and our environment.

The book introduces us to Arjun, a media hot shot, whose life is increasingly spiralling out of control. His wife has filed for divorce and is demanding half of everything they own, his relationship with his two little girls is being threatened, pressure at work is building up and to top it all, he survives a near fatal accident en route Shimla. And of course, then he gets to meet a sadhu who send him on an errand to Hemkund Sahib and his real education begins.

One aspect that jumps out is the insatiable need to be connected to our smartphones. The fourth word in the book is a BlackBerry which is not just the cause for Arjun’s terrifying accident, but at every step he is frantically searching for network connection, to link him back to his old world. There’s never a true escape for those who always have one eye on their phones. Even when Arjun is instructed by another (or maybe the same) sadhu regarding certain tasks, he’s always waiting for that network bar to pop up on his phone.

The Calling is peppered with some good quotable quotes that could be tagged up on the pin board for posterity. Since I’ve been in the corporate industry since the past five years, the quotes in the book have resonated with me at some level or the other.

“Don’t continue selling your life and your soul to the highest bidder. For when you do, with that you sell your family, your dreams and your purpose.”

For me, I do not know what is the purpose of my life and reading The Calling hasn’t exactly removed the mist around my confusion, but it has at least helped straighten out my priorities and put a lot of my thinking into perspective. Sometimes, we get so absorbed in our daily routines, we don’t realise how we are slowly falling into a rut and this eventually deadens our senses. Our social lives diminish and personal lives come to a screeching halt.

While self help and philosophy may not be my go-to genre, it’s good to read such books from time to time with an open mind and heart. You never know what may strike you as profound and what gets retained in the subconscious.

What really struck me were the three tests Arjun was made to go through, along with his guide Chandu, by the sadhu. Every level has a deeper meaning attached to it, which to be honest, did not occur to me. Thus, don’t go through life mechanically, but live it to the fullest and always in search of your true calling.

About the author: Priya Kumar wears a number of hats, chief among them being motivational speaker, corporate trainer, author and columnist. She also organises fire walks, i.e., getting people to walk over burning coals, and instilling the phrase ‘Impossible is Nothing.’ And I’m having a strange feeling that she may have conducted a similar walk at my college, almost 5-8 years ago! Imagine that!?

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, however opinions expressed are my own.  

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.