I like reviewing books. More than being a critique of the book, and its merits vis-a-vis another book, it helps put down my thoughts and what I felt about the whole thing. Because, reading a book is a very personal experience, and a book might work or not work entirely based on where you are in life and what you are going through. And anyway, you don’t read a book to know its merits or demerits, but mainly for yourself, so the latter applies a lot more than the former.
In that context, ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ is one of those books, that just worked for me. It was one of those books that I approached with a fair bit of trepidation as, well, it’s the story of a family of four living in a one-room flat in Mumbai. And when I think of books set in Mumbai they tend to slot themselves into those that offer a fair degree of poverty tourism – life in a chawl, life in a slum, life in underworld gangs – you name it! As much as I wanted to I didn’t end up reviewing EATBH, not even a word would come out. The book was just too personal and I couldn’t do a book review as such. Maybe this post is my way of getting to that task. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just my recounting of life in general and that EATBH just provided the ideal foil for it, which should explain why it worked so well in the first place.
At that point I realized what it meant to be a man in India. It meant knowing what one could do and what one could only get done. It meant being able to hold on to two patterns simultaneously. One was methodical, hierarchical, regulated and the outcomes depended on fate, chance, kings and desperate men. The other was intuitive, illicit and guaranteed. The trick was to know when to shift between the patterns, to peel the file off a table and give it to a peon, to speak easily of one’s cousin the minister or the archbishop. I did not think I would ever know what these shifts entailed, and that meant, in essence, that I was never going to grow up. Or, and a goose walked over my grave, I would only grow up when The Big Hoom died. Only then would I learn how to deal with the world, this city, this life.
There were multiple points in time while typing the above that I wanted to quit, I felt it was too much for me to type this thing, that I might be setting out more than I wanted. But then, I guess, I chose the most diluted paragraph of them all. I chickened out. It’s not a book that I’ll gift anyone. One of those that’s personal. Very.
I guess in some ways this is also a year-end review. I don’t think I’ll be able to write one more. So this might just have to do. Looking back since my return to India, 3 years back, that past is now something that is no longer an active part of my life, but only of my memories. And these years, especially the last two are what I can call the ‘grown-up’ years.
I have always harboured a not-so-secret longing for my childhood, almost to the point where I can say that I believed that the whole thing is a mad circus and when it is over, I’d be back to my nine-year-old self, back with my younger parents and playing cricket with my brother through a long never-ending summer. Increasingly, the past two years have crushed that sense of ‘security’, that sense of a home which I’ve left and will return to. Increasingly, am aware, there is no going back and only forward and life will take me through the inevitable path which is not going to be something filled with happiness always. Increasingly, thus, I find myself losing sense of the concept of ‘home’. It’s as if I’ve ventured out from when I was nine years old knowing that I’d be going back to then, but find myself stranded with no path home and having to make my way forward. The Peter-Pan years are well and truly over.
There is always a clear line between what one wants to do and what one has to do. I guess all these years, it was a lot more of what I wanted to do and less of what I had to do. And then, you start paying your taxes for that. I do mean this in a bit more serious way. I know many of my friends would want to spend their evenings sitting in a bar and talking cricket over beer, while what they have to do is trail their wives while shopping in malls. (But then, am talking about friends who don’t read this blog, so it’s not you. :))
Oh well, one will find a path I guess. As my cousin puts it always – you’ll eventually find and do what you want to do. But then, that again is a want. At what point will want come back over have, one wonders. My biggest fear is that I’ll reach a stage where I don’t even know what I want, and just keep doing what I have to do.