To writerly aspirations and Maya Angelou

Today, I woke up feeling doubtful and stressed because of the changes happening around me. Then there’s this fear of not being able to fulfill expectations I have of myself. But everyone goes through this, right? And they manage to deal with changes that happen in their own ways. I am told the best ways are to have courage in your daily life and to not be afraid of working hard.

I always liked to think I was never afraid of working hard. I tried to study well, go deep and understand something, be able to contribute in class. But even then, I was a terrible organizer of things and I always operated out of fear and stress.

Here I am again, reacting the same way to the next dilemma I find myself in. And this time, I can’t just make myself believe what I’m doing is ‘working hard’. I can’t go on operating out of fear and stress. The only way I see out of it is to pursue things that scare me, that put me out of my comfort zone. Things that make me question myself more often. But I can’t lose my mind as I try to do this – which is why organisation.

But really, this heavy word *organisation* is simply the following of routine and focusing on the work you have to get done. In my case, using words to express the ideas I manage to catch. It is as simple as that. There is nothing romantic about it, which is why it doesn’t appeal to young people like me.

But romanticizing something is a very useless thing to do. For the longest time I romanticized working hard. But I really thought I was working hard when I was merely sitting in one place worrying about the wrong things. Wrong things like whether this will get me good marks, whether these marks will get me into that college, whether getting into that college will make me one of the cool kids, whether this assignment will please my teacher, whether this story will please my boss and make me go viral.

When instead, I could have made better use of that time by trying to address things like whether I understand something from what I am studying, whether I really want to go to that famous college, whether my assignment is really good, whether I have cracked the story I am presenting to my boss to my satisfaction.

Like I said, I am in a difficult and/or exciting phase in my life – it all depends on the way I choose to see it. There are big changes and big learnings. There is love and there is heartbreak. There is youth and there is growing up. So on this dull, sad and stressed Saturday, it’s Maya Angelou – the knight in shining armour – to the rescue. (no female equivalent for knight? I shall use it as a gender-neutral term then!)

My day is suddenly better. This poem below is the reason why it is necessary for writers to do their unromantic, relentless work: to be able to pass on the struggle to the next generation without letting them focusing on the fear part of it.

Am I romanticizing writing this time? Well, circle of life.

So in case you are having a bad day, here’s the poem that turned my day around. And if you aren’t, bookmark it for a rainy day.

Still I rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Book review: Fahrenheit 451.

Ray BradburyTitle: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Panther Books
ISBN: 0-586-04356-X
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 158
Rating: 5/5

Recently, I went to Himachal for a 10-day vacation. Most of the vacation was, not surprisingly, about books and poetry and café hopping. Mcleod Ganj is the perfect place to just sit and read after you’ve chosen from the various teas and coffees available to you. Almost every café there is a book-café, after realising which, a book-café-starved-soul from the city – like me – feels at home and immediately gets down to the business of getting comfortable. And once that is done, there is no turning back.

Whenever I went to a book café, I wanted to take along at least one book from their collection but in return, I had to give something. And since I wasn’t ready to part with the few books I had, I settled on reading the books I liked from the café there itself or noting down their titles. On my last day, however, I was losing it. I desperately wanted to take a book from Common Ground café and I spoke to the owner twice but she refused to part with her copy of Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryōkan. Obviously. No give, no take. Fair enough.

So, I went back to my home for 10 days: Yellow Guest House. Lhamo, the owner, had by now become great friends with us. During our stay there, he would bear with our indecisiveness about the number of days we’d be staying, our late hours, and our demands for water bottles and cigarettes late at night. So, it was Lhamo who, once again, gave in to our demand of a book or two from his tiny shelf.

I picked up this petite, beat-up copy of Fahrenheit 451 and Revati picked up a French book. I was, obviously, immediately jealous – since both of us were looking for a French book for days. But then I looked at Lhamo stamping my book with the guest house address and I stopped thinking about who’s getting the better deal.

I left the same evening and the moment I settled in the bus, I started reading. No, I didn’t finish it on the bus journey. I struck up a conversation with the girl sitting next to me in true McLeod spirit. Soon, the lights were switched off and I decided to put the adamant child in me – who wanted to turn the bus back – to sleep.

It’s easy to guess that it took me a while to get over the fact that I’m back from the mountains to a city that resembled a gutter from the plane. In the week that followed, reading Fahrenheit 451 was somehow my foremost link to all the places and people I had left behind. It is strange since the book is about a possible future where firemen set fire to houses instead of putting them out. And not just any house, but one with books and with any kind of a free-flow of knowledge in it.

I realised that our relationship to the grasping of knowledge has changed a lot as time has passed. Bradbury was writing about the Age of Information – in which we’re right now living – in 1954. And his prediction rings frighteningly true. In the futuristic world he creates in Fahrenheit 451, people don’t have families but ‘parlour families’. Parlour families are wall-sized TV screens on all four walls of the parlour with virtual family members in them. A virtual family who tells you how special you are, how important, and keeps you occupied and updated with gossip and news. On train, bus, and subway rides, a recurring jingle keeps the mind’s attention on the surface, not allowing it to go deep inside. Billboards are 200-feet long and wide. People no longer think, read or have conversations.

They’re slowly being emptied of their essence, their minds are nothing but sieves. And this army of empty individuals is hell-bent on keeping the emptiness intact so that the monster of feeling doesn’t disrupt the order of things. They will do everything to stay distracted, to not pay attention, to not know.

In Captain Beatty’s words:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

The story is about Guy Montag, a fireman, who is suddenly jerked awake to the reality of his world due to a series of incidents. These incidents make him realise that he isn’t happy despite all the fun parks and the culture of titillation that the city provides. No longer could the jingles and colourful visuals that form the empty clanking of his surroundings drown the war within himself.

But there is another, larger, war that is taking place outside the many Montags of different realities and worlds. What will the war bring? What do wars always bring?

However, Montag soon learns from his wiser, yet equally terrified guide, Faber, that saving the physical books in itself is not enough. Aren’t wars being waged even now when men and governments have free access to books and all knowledge? What needs to be saved and understood and taken into ourselves is what the books really say. Aren’t we all just hoarding sources of knowledge without really taking any knowledge in? In approaching the future, we’re approaching another Dark Age, I am convinced. But Bradbury convinces the reader that after every age of darkness, there is an age of light. And that even if they burn all the books, they can’t burn the books that have become a part of us. As long as we strive to remember.

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as you’d drop dead in the next ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass!’”

And for this reason, Fahrenheit 451 has been a reassuring read.

Back in the city, I met Revati and we were in the company of books once more. And yet again, I ended up picking up a book in which books were being burnt. What cosmic sign is this? Until the next review!

Appalachian Springs by The Verve

The first song I ever heard by The Verve was ‘Rather Be‘ on Channel [V], if I’m not wrong (it could have been MTV). The song has since been one of my favourites. For some reason, it brings to me a sense of happiness and well-being. Both ‘Rather Be’ and ‘Appalachian Springs’ are from the band’s last album, and also their best: Forth.

I think, it took me 6-7 years to listen to other songs by The Verve. It’s because I had a habit: once I really like a song by a band or an artist, I wouldn’t listen to more of their stuff for fear of getting disappointed. O the monster of disappointment! I won’t say I don’t ever feel like that any more; the feeling does return at times. It recently happened with Mrittika’s ‘Jochhona‘. And I’m sorry to say my fears did come true.

Anyway, I have recently changed the way I listen to music because P told me to. I don’t have a play-list of random songs by random favourite bands/artists. I choose artists and listen to their discographies one at a time.

I also had (and I guess still have) the habit of setting myself up for failure. What with my huge lists of books to read and reviews to post. Somehow, my mind was making sure I keep running around through the same things like a hamster on a wheel. And I wasn’t even making any electricity out of it, just poo. So, why I’m saying this is, instead of thinking of posting ‘a review’ of the The Verve discography, I’m just noting down the experience of listening to this one song – Appalachian Springs – and how it makes me feel. Forget everything else.

I’m hooked to this song for days now. It keeps playing in my head when I’m about to fall asleep, when I wake up, when I’m walking my dog, right now as I write this… and it will continue to until I finally get into the train and plug my earphones in. I don’t know if the song is extraordinarily good, my mind just seems to be fixated on it.

These are my favourite lines from the song:

Took a step to the left, took a step to the right
And I saw myself and it wasn’t quite right
Took a step to the left, I took a step to the right
I keep it together, yeah

It is a moody song, and I guess it reflects exactly what I’ve been feeling for a while now: wondering about right and wrong, while trying to ‘keep it together’ even though something doesn’t feel quite right.

***

P.S.: The Appalachian Springs video wrongly credits Billie Holiday’s Solitude. But, such a haunting video! It captures the essence of the song, I feel. Total win.

Poem of the week: Week Forty Eight.

And the last poem of December 2014 from Hemant Divate’s poetry book चौतिशीपर्यंतच्या कविता.

कुमारीपण 
– हेमंत दिवटे

मी
पाहतोय मला टांगलेलं
दोरीवर उलटं
आणि त्याही अवस्थेत
झेपावतय माझं शरीर
तुझ्या नग्न शरीराकडे
एक सरपटणं
शरीरातल्या मऊ काळोखतून काळोखाकडे
तू थांबवू पहातेयस
तुझ्यावर कोसळणारं कुमारीपण
आणि तडातडा तुटतेय
तुझ्या-माझ्यातल्या काळोखाची त्वचा.
***

Poem of the week: Week Forty Seven.

And here’s the second last poem of December 2014 from Hemant Divate’s poetry book चौतिशीपर्यंतच्या कविता.
बेंबी नसलेला माणूस 
 – हेमंत दिवटे
उंचसखल नाकारांचे पडघम
वाजत आहेत
आणि
आठवणींचा गर्भ वाढतोय चिरंतर
किती वाट पहावी तुझी
हातातली फुले डोळ्यांत उतरलीत
आता नसलेपणाची दुखरी खिडकी उघडून
डोकावून पाहतो तर
हडकुळ्या शब्दांचं
पॅरलाईज्ड शरीर दिसतं
आता कुठल्या इस्पितळात जाऊ?
 
साली दुनियाच बेंबी हरवून बसलेली
मला आता
कुणाविषयीच वाटत नाही प्रेम
तिरस्कारही नाही
आणि म्हणूनच
मी झिडकारतो तिची स्पर्शलिपी
स्तनांवरून बेंबईवरून अतोनात सळसळणारी कविता
 
आता थोडं चाललं की 
तिचं नसलेलं गाव लागेल
मग मे मनाला झालेला एड्स बरा करून घेईन
विचारांना भोकं पाडून
त्यात स्क्रू पिळून घेईन
पण आता
कुणाची आठवण नाही काढायची
आता चंद्राची पुडी बांधून
निंबोणीच्या झाडाखाली पुरून ठेवायची.
***

Poem of the week: Week Forty Six.

This is the second poem from stolen time: December 2014. It is from Hemant Divate’s poetry collection चौतिशीपर्यंतच्या कविता. 

स्पर्श
– हेमंत दिवटे  
 
मी वेडातून गेलोय वेडावून
अशी तुझ्या स्पर्शांची गस्त प्राणाभोवती
तुझा अधाशी स्पर्श
कापत राहतो देहस्वर सपासप
अन्
मी मनाच्या वेदनेने फोडून काढतो
स्वप्नाचे हात
तर एक एक जखम
वाहत राहते शरीरातून
हा मरण आकांत स्वप्नांचा
ज्याची अतोनात वाढलेली नखं
घुसत राहतात वसनेत
आणि वेडा होऊन मी
धावत सुटतो
तुझ्या शरीरातून.
 
***

Poem of the week: Week Forty Five.

For December 2014, I had read Hemant Divate’s चौतिशीपर्यंतच्या कविता, a book of poems in Marathi. The year’s gone but the poems remain to be shared. Here’s the first one:

मी
– हेमंत दिवटे

मी
विस्मरत जातोय
मला 
उरत नाही कुठलाही रंग रूप भाषा स्पर्श आणि अर्थ
मला
उरत नाही
ईश्वर आई बाप नातीगोती
मला उरत नाही
जात पात धर्म देश भाषा लिपी
श्वास मन शरीर आणि आत्मा
मी पोहोचतोय
जन्म आणि मृत्यूच्या पल्याड
मला
माहीत नाही मी
जन्मतोय की मरतोय
की पोहोचतोय कुठल्याशा
अनाकलनीय समाधीत
मी
नसलेल्या.
***

 

 

Book review: The Perfect Groom

Title: The Perfect Groomthe-perfect-groom-NEW
Author: Sumeetha Manikandan
Publisher: Indireads Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-927826-14-0
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 122
Rating: 2/5

I am reviewing The Perfect Groom as part of the Indireads Reviewer Program. I feel this initiative is great as it encourages dialogue between writers and readers.

The Perfect Groom is the story of Nithya, a young Indian girl who comes from a poor family, and how she finds her perfect groom. In the first chapter itself, the reader learns that Nithya is stuck in a bad marriage, just like her mother was. Also, Nithya’s marriage is arranged by her cunning uncle, just like her mother’s was arranged by her cunning step-mother. For me, there is excess drama in this situation.

Nithya is any other girl who, despite her poor background,has somehow managed to finish her studies in the field she wanted to. Only, even after she gets married, she finds herself stuck in another situation and chooses to stay stuck in it for her mother and her sister’s sake. But there is nothing else you know about Nithya the person. She’s the heroine, that’s it. Her mother’s character is stereotypical, too: a poor and helpless woman who has a drunkard for a husband and two daughters. The younger daughter is better off since the mother and the elder daughter have protected and provided for her.The family is, therefore, constantly kept in a state where they are at the mercy of others and need rescuing.

Most characters in the book are flat: they’re either black or white, good or evil. There are no grey shades or depth to them. Even Nithya, the protagonist, gets out of her situation, not because she does something but because the difficult situation gets resolved by itself.

Around 30 pages into the book and the reader, unfortunately, starts getting a hint of what the twist is going to be about. Still, one continues to read till the end to find out whether what they’re thinking is right. The book is mostly well written and free of superfluous language, except for a few clumsy lines like:

He turned around and took my hands in his. A jolt of pleasure went right to my breasts. I looked up and met his eyes. They were alight with remorse and a passion that touched the deep core of my soul.”

The only good thing, I think, about the story is Sumeetha’s treatment of Nithya’s relationship with the hero.

I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for a quick, easy read.

Visit the Indireads website here.

Poem of the week: Week Forty Four.

And here’s the last poem from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry book Love’s Permission.

‘Sunday’ Afternoon
– Hoshang Merchant

Actually, it is Tuesday
But I’ve taken off from work
He, from school

We listen to Ifti Nasim’s ghazals
Read gay poetry from Boston
Discuss Ashok Row’s magazine piece

We have installed ourselves
in a world made by ourselves
with a little help from our friends.

I think of Hockney’s paintings
of his sleeping lovers
They sleep, he paints

My lover sleeps, I write
I shop for bread and cheese
My lover dreams

I cannot enter his dreams
Living together for him began
with a dream of friendship

In his dream a boy became a man
There is no man or woman only love

The poem is complete
The challenge of this once empty page met.

***

Poem of the week: Week Forty Three.

Here’s the second last poem from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry book Love’s Permission.

Reading Rumi
– Hoshang Merchant

This morning has come whoring
Where are incense and prayer?
The sun is in bed
Outside it is raining
Rumi’s plaint reaches our ears
It frees rivers of ink and tears
Something must sit at centre for this to be
The Master absconds
The pupil sits searching
The sky for an eye
He waters the earth                                 Verses wet
By giving up each one’s brought up bone dry and shining
Each letter a burning jewel
Each jewel a burning wound
Received on the way to Mecca
Dealt by the Beloved’s own son
This morning the darlings are turning
at Konya as they do each mourning
They celebrate the son of the Sun
They call to the Lover to come
So the Beloved can become the bridegroom
Each day is death
Each day is marriage
in this world but not of it
Why then do I
turn to you in bed with wet eye?

***