Book Excerpt: English, August

One of the most amazing books I’ve had the pleasure to borrow and read from my cousin’s library, English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. What matters most when it comes to such books is the time when you read it. But of course, there is no just one good time to read a book as great as English, August, is there? The book has had a major impact on me as a person, and it is one of those books I keep going back to again and again.

This is my favourite passage from the book. Enjoy!

They sat down. One whole side of the house was bordered by thirty-year-old eucalyptus tress. ‘I’m not very happy in Madna. I can’t settle down to the job -‘ He smiled shamefully. His uncle was a pale soft man, with a large nose and small brown eyes. He said nothing, but look at Agastya distastefully, prompting him to speak, to defend and justify himself. ‘Of course, nothing is fixed. I’m in a sort of state of flux, restless.’ He shuffled in his chair. ‘I don’t want challenges or responsibility or anything, all I want is to be happy -‘ He stopped, embarrassed. It seemed an awful thing to say. In that mild autumn sunlight Madna seemed light years away, yet he knew that it would return, perhaps after dark, or whenever he was alone. It seemed unreal, yet accessible, a sleepwalking eighteen hours away. He wanted to say much, but didn’t know where to begin, or how to express himself. He wanted to say, look, I don’t want heaven, or any of the other ephemerals, the power or the glory, I just want this, this moment, this sunlight, the car in the garage, that music system in my room. These gross material things, I could make these last for ever. If I have any grand desires, they are only grist for lazy fantasy – Vienna and Hong Kong and kink in Bangkok. This narrow placid world, here and now, is enough, where success means watching the rajnigandhas you planted bloom. I am not ambitious for ecstasy, you will ask me to think of the future, but the decade to come pales before this second, the span of my life is less important than its quality. I want to sit here in the mild sun and try not to think, try and escape the iniquity of the restlessness of my mind. Do you understand. Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity if it.

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Book Excerpt: Letters to a Young Poet

The eternal Rilke. I never get tired of reading Letters to a Young Poet; I might end up typing the whole book down here!

Here’s an excerpt that has bettered the way I deal with things:

But everything which one day will perhaps be possible for many, the solitary individual can prepare for and build now with his hands which are more unerring. For this reason, love your solitude and bear the pain it causes you with melody wrought with lament. For the people who are close to you, you tell m, are far away, and that shows that you are beginning to create a wider space around you. And if what is close is far, then the space around you is wide indeed and already among the stars; take pleasure in your growth, in which no once can accompany you, and be kind-hearted towards those you leave behind, and be assured and gentle with them and do not plague them with your doubts or frighten them with your confidence or your joyfulness, which they cannot understand. Look for some kind of simple and loyal way of being together with them which does not necessarily alter however much you change; love in them a form of life different from your own and show understanding for the older ones who fear precisely the solitude in which you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama which always spans between parents and their children; it saps much of the children’s strength and consumes that parental love which works and warms even when it does not comprehend. Ask no advice of them and reckon with no understanding; but believe in a love which is stored up for you like and inheritance; and trust that in this love there is a strength and a benediction out of whose sphere you do not need to issue even if your journey is a long one.

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Temples

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Here’s something you don’t find out every day- from the book Speaking of Siva. And the bonus is, it is also beautiful:

Indian temples are traditionally built in the image of the human body. The ritual for building a temple begins with digging in the earth, and planting a pot of seed. The temple is said to rise from the implanted seed, like a human. The different parts of a temple are named after body parts. The two sides are called the hands or wings, the hasta; a pillar is called a foot, pada. The top of the temple is the head, the sikhara. The shrine, the innermost and the darkest sanctum of the temple, is a garbhagrhra, the womb-house. The temple thus carries out in brick and stone the primodial blueprint of the human body.

 This is such a beautiful concept. It means, literally, that god resides in us. That he is within us. And it could also mean, that the temple is a woman. And that god is her baby. And I don’t mean it in a feminist way or something. It’s just that, the process of creation, of giving birth to your faith yourself, or merely nurturing it, is an extremely earthy and beautiful a form of worship. The sad part is, this understanding, or sensibility is lost somewhere; but the fact that it somehow finds us, like it found me, is the happy one.

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