[This is not a new year post. I’ll make that clear. Even if it is being written on the 31st Dec. I am just going to ramble about stuff, mostly books that I read. You can safely jump ship if things don’t interest you.]
Kaaton se keench ke ye aanchal, todke bandan baandhe paayal goes Lata Mangeshkar in one of my favourite songs ever, from one of my favourite movies ever, based on one of my favourite novels ever, written by one of my favourite authors ever. Later as the camels move closer comes Chittorgarh with its looming Tower of Victory, Waheeda Rehman goes atop the ruined roofs singing and dancing. The lyrics and the beat keep a steady upbeat tone that can move anyone. I think of Cuckold, of Meera, singing and dancing for her blue-skinned Lord, while Bhoj Raj her husband pines for her love, for anything from her. It is hard not to think of a novel that is so will written that it evokes a place in such a way that you feel like you’ve been there, you’ve traveled the streets, you know the landmarks.
I wanted to do Chittorgarh, to see the tower, to see the ruined palaces where she’d have walked, where he’d have pined, a sense of solidity, a geographical marker to imagine a richly written work that you lived through and experienced. I ended up doing just Jaipur, Jodhpur and Ranthambore – the lure of the big cat and the blue city trumped everything else. Also, the need to leave the key ones for the future.
Why do we read? As quite a few people have told me, reading is not everything, you can also travel, it is not the only way to travel the world. Maybe. But then, do we only read to travel to new places? Can we go to Mistry’s Mumbai of ’71 and ’75 with its people struggling to get through life, struggling through adulthood, struggling to make a living, by travelling? Is it possible to live the Istanbul of Pamuk with Harbiye, Aladdin’s shop, and its identity crisis. Can we get to see the gestures that change with time, the way people change and the way people cling to an earlier time?
In the scene where Janagaraj takes Kamal Haasan to the brothel in Nayagan, Kamal showed his exasperation with rolling eyes. “You cannot do that, it’s a Western gesture” reproaches Mani Rathnam. There was a need for a more Indian gesture. Gestures. How often do we make what are pretty much gestures that we have learnt over time? That pursing of the lips to indicate empathy when there’s none, that rolling of eyes to make it clear that you are exasperated. What would you have done to convey emotions when you were, say 10 years old, in say 1990? Do you remember?
Coming back to traveling, can we travel to the era of Apartheid in Africa, to Coetzee’s allegorical one, to Gordimer’s visual one, or to McCall-Smith’s Botswana with its Batswana? To say that reading is the same as traveling would probably hold true if all you read was travelogues. There is so much more to it than just knowing about a place, to read about people, their emotions, their challenges, their sufferings, their happiness, or to read about processes, events, or just science.
I loved Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction”. Was surprised to note that it got published only this year and I read it pretty much 6 months after it got published. This is how Science should be written. Especially when it comes to life sciences. It is so easy to get lost in the Biology of things, in the utility of species – remember that sea mollusc that was used in reflective paint that is used on roads? No? Me neither. Anyway, it is so easy to get lost in berating the human species, in feeling depressed about the number of species going extinct. But then, how difficult would it be to joke about “don’t step on any dead bats” when the whole cave is teeming with millions of dead bats! If you read my blog, please go read that book, I cannot recommend it enough. Have even pushed it to Indhukka without her asking. 🙂
Things are depressing in general, the more you read about all this and realise that no one seems to learn anything from all this. That we still want to haggle about emission control. I still have some hope for humanity, but then humanity is the least likely to be affected by all this. Am sure we will survive any catastrophe that will strike us as a species. We will eventually move further up towards the poles in the worst case like most species are trying to.
I’ve been following brainpicker on Twitter and it put this book on Depression on to my list. Written by Jonathan Rottenberg it looks at the history of depression in the US, how prevalent it is now and different treatments. The depressing part is that it is only going to increase with our increased obsession with happiness. And we don’t have a sure-shot way of treating it. Different things work for different people. Scary!
Thinking of Depression, I went through quite a few phases where I just wanted to quit everything and stay in bed. Somehow things seem to have looked up towards the end of the year and I can safely say am at a much better place that at times during the middle of the year. I don’t usually write about it or talk about it, but its there. Have never been a visibly “happy” person, so the emotion level never really flies up or hits rock bottom. But apparently, according to the book, I fall more into the category of those likely to get depressed. I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if there’s much lazy diagnosis in this matter. Give people the modern day Valium and get them home happy. Almost everyone who lives in NYC seems depressed these days! Either way, it was an interesting read. Mostly for personal reasons.
I will do the list later. I wanted to just write about stuff and mostly ramble about some books I read. A couple of large old monks also help. Will do the list after Anush does. That’s tradition.