Book Review: The Withering Banyan by Hyma Goparaju

Book CoverOur bookstores are garlanded with lots of ‘PS: I’ll slit my throat for you’, ‘My wife, too, had a love story’ and such stuff which surprisingly sells like hot cakes and makes to the bestseller list.

It is good, rather great, that people are getting more and more into reading, but in this hoopla created by cleaver marketing, the real gems often go unnoticed.

When Hyma Goparaju contacted me about her book, the first thing that caught my attention was the title: The withering banyan. I read its blurb on Goodreads, and agreed to read the book.

Somehow, Hyma had a great difficulty in making the book reach me, and I’m sincerely thankful for her patience and generosity.

Now moving over to the book, The withering banyan is a tale of rise of one Marri family to affluence and its gradual fall due to Schizophrenia – a brain disorder genetically passed along its four generations, which the members ignorantly interpret as madness, till Natya, the granddaughter of the Marri family, comes to the rescue of the family.

The tone of the prose is biographical. And the precise, elegant, and graceful writing of the author has nicely managed to convey the story. Also the author’s love for the language is clearly evident on the paper. In fact, I found the language as one of the greatest strength of the book.
Hyma Goparaju
However, at times the author has gone out of the way to describe things in detail, which derails the momentum of the central theme. Also too many adverbs and adjectives have been used to describe the dialogue of the characters, where even if you pick only the dialogue and discard its description, you don’t lose the meaning of the story.

But I highly liked the way the author has narrated the story, where alternate chapters have been dedicated to carry forward two stories – one of the past, and other of the present – to finally converge at the end to complete the story.

It was an interesting read. The story was good. The language was excellent. But I feel that the same could have been said in fewer pages.

So I would give two stars to the book (for the language and the story), and hold three for the length of the book and the adverbs and adjectives.

I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t read for a mere timepass, and also has love for the language.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

True Confessions of a Failed Blogger

Frustrated

Neighbouring kids have recently started addressing me as ‘uncle’, and here I am: lone, frustrated, bored, and having achieved absolutely nothing in these past thirty years of my life. Each morning I wake up with sleep deprived eyes, pick up my pen and journal, and forcibly try to turn on the faucet of my dwarfish brain. But nothing useful comes out of it.

Then I turn to the internet and hunt for bloggers who continue to write post after post after post (I wish I could write so many ‘post after post after post’ here that together they could make my blog with so many posts – just for the content of my heart, you know!) throughout the year. Which ultimately leaves me more frustrated than solaced. Because here they are – the successful bloggers – writing meaningful content which people actually read, and here I’m, a pitiable soul who reads more stuff about how to write meaningful blog posts than actually write any.

Each morning I wake up and beg the muse hovering over my house to land on my front porch – if not front, maybe back – but she is inconsiderate of me and rather prefers a bloggeress hundred blocks away, whose (the bloggerress’) even an underexposed photograph of her conniving kitten fetches greater number of comments and likes than the best of my posts.

WritingI once shared this frustration with a blogger friend of mine whose name I can not disclose because his elder brother is a dentist. And this friend philosophically advised that blogging, rather social media in general, was a big mad world where the only rule was: you lick my ass, and I lick yours. Sorry, he said something like, you like my snaps, and I like yours. I just fondled with the nouns & verbs; I shouldn’t have done this! But nonetheless, I did not take his advise seriously because he had once maintained five blogs about biking, hiking, kayaking, sleeping, and men’s makeup. And had to delete them as he was diagnosed with ‘blogger’s block’ before he could publish his seventh post, which he were to title, ‘No men, no cry!’

But deep in my heart I still envy him, as all his posts did get likes and comments while there are posts on this blogs which have managed none. Moreover, I also envy him because here I have nothing meaningful to say on this only blog of mine whereas he, mind you, singlehandedly maintained five! But then this is how cruel life sometimes can get- few men end up confused between their girlfriends whereas some, like me, struggle to fetch even one (This line may be read in the past tense as I am a married man now, and when my wife doesn’t talk to me, she reads random posts out of this blog.)

I know, if I consistently manage to produce content for this blog, eventually few good-hearted people will come and comment and like and share this blog. But the only problem remains is ‘kitten’. Though I’ve a cellphone with a megapixel camera, I don’t have a kitten. And I’ve been hunting for a ‘For Sale Cute Kitten, Hurry!’ ad but couldn’t find one. If you have any idea please advise.

Into the Bottle

Bottle

Three steps to the motel, three to the ravine;
Three steps to the bottle, that could be mine.

Three men are wiser, but we were nine;
We drank, danced, drenched till we were fine.

***

An ode to the place I’ve been living for more than seven years. Where all we have is a dingy restaurant, a dwarfish wine shop, and a shabby road passing through a ravine where landslides occur almost daily.

The Perils of the Mountains

While travelling in the mountains, you require more than a good luck. And with this ‘more than a good luck’ we traversed two hundred kilometres of secluded mountain road in a worst rain. That day it wasn’t raining cats & dogs, it was: cats, dogs, buffaloes, elephants, grizzly bears, and whatever you could think of.

Actually, the downpour had started the previous night. And for the entire night it had been like a constant flow of a rivulet by the windows of our bedroom; and the persistent rumbling of the clouds made me twist and turn and worry in the bed. In the morning when I opened the front door to peer out, it was cats & dogs still. But we had packed our bags, and the snacks were packed too, and the refrigerator was cleansed to the last morsel of eatables, so we had no choice but to start.

Traveling alone in the mountains is risky, but traveling with your mother, wife, and an infant is a different story altogether. You’ve to be the strongest – not only because you are at the wheel, but three other lives are your responsibility. So at every bend and cliff I kept my right foot on the brake pedal and peered ahead faster than the speed of the car to see if loose rocks were not charging ravenously at us, or a tilted tree about to lose hold of the ground, or a sudden gush of water making way on to the road.

the fog
the fog

In the rains the mountains are least forgiving. A single stone rolling down the slope could tear the window pane of your car and penetrate your intestines. One falling tree could neatly smash your car into two. And it takes just two landslides to trap you in between. And in those secluded faraway corners you could be waiting for hours, if not days, before you meet any other creature with two legs. In those moments you can’t do anything but sit idle in your car and leave everything to almighty, if you believe in him (I do).

Landslide
the disaster

We had covered half of the perilous terrain trembling and chanting prayers when we were brought to halt by a log of vehicles on a ‘U’ curve. A landslide had blocked the road and people were trapped at that remote, isolated spot since two hours. I pulled the car to side and walked ahead to see the scale of the disaster. Few people, who were also travellers like us, were surrounding the landslide in raincoats and umbrellas, and a few like me were soaking in the rain. Then few men brought whatever tools they had in their vehicles: one gentleman brought a shovel, another brought a rope, and one pickup driver brought an axe (?), and they started clearing the sludge, not bothering about their getting dirty or drenched in rain and sweat. They were taking turns to pull the shovel whereas a few, including me, stood there worrying that the debris was beyond the power of the men.

clearing landslide
few good men

I soon got soaked and irritated and cursed god: why, why, why were we trapped there?
Dejected, I turned to wait in my car. It was then I saw this:

jhungi karsog
beautiful, isn’t it?

Beauty in the disaster that left me awestruck, lessened my worry, and subdued my fury. Sometimes beauty is right behind us whereas we are busy cursing the ugliness. All it takes is just one turn to change the perspective.

The landslide was half cleared by men before the machine arrived and cleared it. We escaped the spot as fast as we could, but the rain was still the same: non-stop and unforgiving. The fog still covered most of the area, only sometimes it touched the front of our car. But I observed that now I wasn’t as irritated as I was before I witnessed the magic of nature. And we reached home safely. But, yes, it was a great risk that we embraced, and I would never advise you to travel in the mountains in the rains, not with the family.

English is such a Phunny Language

english

English is such a phunny language, that is.
I have absorbed that you speak english for two hours, your head start oskilating, and your carrier become danger. Last time when I speak english with my boss, I absorbed my phlow was prafect, but this time my tongue have twisted.

‘Don’t waste my time,’ my boss speak to me. ‘Say what you want, or leave!’
You no what I say to him? I say, ‘You know what, boss? I don’t give it a dam!’
And in my mind I say, ‘Are you even a man? Bloody sixer you are!’

Then he say, ‘Suck my walls you bastard!’
‘You suck my mats!’ I say. ‘Bloody don’t talk to me like this ever, no!’
Than I give two tight hands on his right and than his left cheek. And I rezine the job, that is.

Then my mood go heavy.
I no talk anyone but only my friend, Ramesh. He is prafact subdude, that is.
He drink me child bear with non-vegetable food.
And he such a jockey man. He tell me a joke. What a joke it was. I laugh very heavy, and my head start getting circles. Then he tell me that I no worry, thousand jobs already behind me. And he tell me that my ex-boss such a dump man. So my mood go light.

I obsoletely agree with him, that is. My boss such a dump man. Bloody english medium, convent school man. I no better english than him. I no go to job with him now, never. Looser boss!

And I study advance grammar, that is. Now english unimpossible for me.
I just use double negative. ‘Unimpossible’ that is. I so cleaver, you see.
Two negative no make one right, and you still go jail. So you see, english now favourite for me, that is.

I find new job now. To build my carrier, that is. You know one? Prafect! Than tell me?

***

PS: English, like any other language, is perfect in itself. By this post I mean no disgrace to anyone. These are just overheard conversations in a fancy-for-english society. And a bit of my own imagination.

The Secret Life of Snails

snail

Snails have a secret life. Like the men with extramarital affair have. That is why we don’t get to see snails except in the monsoons. It bewilders me where they thrive in between the monsoons. Perhaps they stay underground, relaxing and meditating.

Now, if I told you that humans with hectic lifestyle reincarnate as snails, you won’t believe me. But what if this were true? What if extremely busy people actually did become snails in their next life?
Idle, slow, and relaxed life. Would you accept it?

Snails are lazy creature. All day they can leisure around the most ripe cherry in your garden, or stay curled up on the back walls of your house.
But their life, though small, is like one long meditation. They are never in a hurry to be somewhere, they are never worried, and they don’t have goals. They always seem to enjoy where they are and what they have.

I wish we humans could be like them, too. Slow, cogitative, and relaxed. Never in a hurry to accomplish something, never worried, and always cheerful.

So, what would you prefer? Be a snail in the next life, or a slow human in this?

Why do Bestsellers Disappoint?

Books

What differentiates humans from animals, apart from the tail, is that humans love stories. We love to hear stories and we love to share them. Say, you are late from the office and your wife starts hurtling carrots at you, what do you do? You quickly weave a story to escape the wrath.
Your mother finds a pack of cigarettes in your jeans, what do you do? You again make up a story. In fact, all our talks and gossips are stories. And this is why humans devised writing and books: to make their stories travel far.
We even have mastered the art of limiting them to 140 characters (on twitter).

So what makes a book work?
Sometimes I’ve picked a bestseller only to discard it within first few pages, because the story didn’t click me. The book wasn’t inherently bad, it simply didn’t work for me. If you go through the list of the best books of all time on Goodreads, you’ll find that each book has some one-star reviews. So for every book ever published, there are people who’ve hated it.
But the taste for books is subjective, isn’t it?

If a book has all the nuances of the language but a weak story, it fails for me. And if it has a story but the author’s inability with the words is clearly evident on the paper, then too the book fails to interest me. One thing I’ve realized over time is that the bestsellers generally don’t go well with me; and i’ve read many of them in the past. Now the ‘Bestseller’ tag is insignificant for me, and so are the star ratings. However, sometimes the books that have not the greatest ratings on the planet have worked well for me. Like Animal farm and The catcher in the rye.

So what exactly makes a book work?bookwork
Some books grow onto you slowly over time. Like, in my case, Animal farm. The more I’ve faced the politics of life, the more I’ve grasped the meaning of Animal farm. And each time I marvel at George Orwell’s capability of having conveyed so much in so less (The Animal farm is just 128 pages).
When I read Lord of the flies, I absolutely hated it; but slowly I’ve come to understand its meaning. I don’t have to re-read it. The book simply comes to me when I’m faced with tough situations of life, like a betrayal by a colleague, and it makes me realize that humans aren’t bad, it’s our instinct for survival that makes us do evil things.
I like such impact of books upon me.

So for me a book either must have a good story, like The Hobbit; or it should grow upon me, like Animal farm and Lord of the flies. Fancy imaginings like Twilight never work for me.
However, reading something is better than not reading at all. So tell me, do you read the bestsellers? Or what kind of books do you prefer? And how do you select your next read?

We Lost Our Hero

Dr. Kalam

The enormous auditorium was tightly packed with people occupying the chairs, narrow spaces in between, and the corners. Once inside, there was no space to move. The main door was barricaded by police and there were people desperately waiting to get inside. People had entry passes, but the hall was running full to its capacity. The auditorium could not accept anymore, and the security had to shut all the doors. The excitement kept building on.

I remember clearly, our hearts were pumping extra blood that day, and each eye was fixed towards the closed doors on the left. When our our hearts couldn’t contain the excitement and were running like a steam-engine of a locomotive, the door near to the stage opened and first entered two burly security men, and behind them entered a meek, smiling man waving enthusiastically at the audience. This was it! This was the moment when our hearts stopped pumping the blood. The entire auditorium, filled with college students & their wards, stood up and started clapping fiercely in unison. The man was none other than the ex-president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

kalamsketch

Dr. Kalam went on to the stage and waved his hands for everyone to sit. But who wanted to sit at that moment? Every soul present in the auditorium continued clapping with joy, and the echo kept on increasing. Dr. Kalam, the humble, simple soul stood there on the stage with folded hands and kept thanking the audience. For me, it was the first time when I witnessed what true respect and true love was. There wasn’t a single soul in that large auditorium who didn’t felt what I did, else the echo of the clapping would have been like any other event. After much requesting, people agreed to sit down. I glanced to the left and to the right. Each face was sparkling with immense joy.

Dr. Kalam was there for our graduation ceremony in 2009. He talked like a passionate man. He talked about education for all, development, love, compassion, and service to the nation. We noted his message, we clapped at short intervals, and we were uplifted by his sheer presence. That was the grace and aura of the man.

Dr. Kalam was beyond caste, creed, colour, or religion which, unfortunately, still matter in our country. The scientist, the missile-man, the president, and the passionate patriot resided in each of our countrymen’s heart. He was the pride of our nation. We loved to talk about him, we loved his ideas. And above all, he was the only lotus in the murky waters of Indian politics.

kalamquote

Sadly, yesterday night came the bad news: Dr. Kalam left us for his higher journey. This broke something in my heart, a feeling I haven’t felt since long. A constant pang is striking me now, as if I’ve lost someone my own, someone I loved deeply and cared for. But then every journey has an end so that we can begin anew. Our hero, I’m sure, by now must be smiling in his new abode, as he did while with us, and must be showering love & compassion on everyone around. I won’t say goodbye or rest in peace, because Dr. Kalam will always be in our hearts. He’ll never depart.