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Posts from the ‘Nature’ Category

Of Seasons, Longings & Despair in Soviet Russia

Allen Ginsberg, in his biography, Ginsburg : A Biography by Barry Mills had explained poetry as something which was “not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”  This meaning of poetry and the work of the poet comes out in all its vivid forms in a collection of Boris Pasternak’s poems, February, translated by Andrey Kneller. Boris Pasternak, the 1958 Nobel Prize winner who declined the honor under pressure from the Soviet Government, and whose work, Doctor Zhivago has been immortalized in every possible form of media,  was born in a well to do Jewish family (though the Pasternaks had assimilated into the Russian Orthodox Church for years) and had lived through the most turbulent years of Russian History – World War I, Russian Revolution, World War II and the Great Purge, had captured all this changing history of the land and her people and thought about it and then poured it into words of great beauty and resonance, in an act of making a private world, public!

BORIS_BESIDE_THE_BALTIC_AT_MEREKULE,_1910_by_L.Pasternak

Boris Besides the Baltic Sea, by Leonard Pasternak, 1910

February is a slim volume of only 110 pages but within it, are 27 pieces of powerful poetry, that touch upon a variety of subjects ranging from politics, the faith of Pasternak’s beloved Russia, Nature, Christianity and Love! The compilation begins with the said poem February, first published in 1912, and in sparse, terse words, Pasternak manages to blend in the pathos of the last dregs of winter, with mankind and poetry. I fell in love with the simple but powerful opening lines of the poem –

Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

One poem that especially was singed into my imagination, is apparently nameless, and powerfully captures the rule of Stalin and its destructive forces on a person and his soul!

The cult of personality is stained,

But after forty years, the cult

Of gray monotony and disdain

Persists like the day of old

Each coming day appears lackluster

Until, it’s truly hard to bear

It brings but photographic clusters,

Of pig like and inhuman stares.

The cult of narrow minded thinking

Is likewise cherished and extolled.

Men shoot themselves from over drinking,

unable to sustain it all.

There is a soul searing piece called Noble Prize, written, after he declined the honor which captures the raw anguish and pain of Pasternak on the stands he was being forced to take, by the very same country and government, he did not choose to abandon or flee, while all his family and friends left, believing in the ultimate good of Lenin led Socialist society! And here in lies the greatness of the poet, that despite all the angst and heartbreak, he ended the poem in hope and faith –

Even now as I am nearing the tomb

I believe in the virtuous fate

And the spirit of goodness will soon

Overcame all the malice and hate

Yet another poem titled Hamlet, captures the need to walk away from a predestined plot, to address something more urgent and ephemeral!There are lovely play of words in his poems about nature, from White Nights to the one called Spring Flood, to yet another work called Easter. His love for Olga Ivinskaya comes through in all the glory of meeting, falling in love and then when Ivinskaya was sentenced to Siberia, of longing, guilt and memories, in the poems titled as Meeting  and then, Parting. The fact that Pasternak was a student of philosophy is a fact that is never really far off in his poetry and in many of his writings,  he touches upon ideas of what is tangible and what is transcendental, especially in his poetry of nature. In Autumn, he says, 

The Lodge’s wooden walls now gaze

At us with grief and hopelessness.

We never vowed to break the restrains’

We will decline with openness. 

There are many powerful and moving things in this collection that shines like a beacon of what poetry is all about! Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!

 

And Now Its June….

As I read other posts, on glories of Summer, I am hard pressed to find one good thing about this damm season in this part of the Geography! Heat, dry and unceasingly stifling beats, down on all in the Indian sub continent and those of us able to afford air conditioning count our blessings. But what of those who are barely able to manage a roof over their heads, let alone any cooling instrument to give relief? There are many such in this part of the world and I can only say, we have a long way to go way before equality for all in all kinds becomes a reality for many!

I had no intention of kick starting this post is such a pedantic note, but sometimes you gotta stop and count  your blessings and spare a thought for those not so fortunate! Anyhow, June is here and of course its time to read! I was hoping to read a lot more in the last few days of May, which I spent at a friends place in the deep Himalayas; but nature in all its beauty kept calling me and I abandoned reading in favor of hiking all over the small Himalayan town, gossiping with friends over cups of tea and playing with my friend’s three cats! I never figured myself for a cat person, since I always had dogs around, but I guess we live and learn! Due to such wonderfully rejuvenating distractions, needless to say, reading took a back seat! But now is the time to play catch up!

I have finally finished, Histories by Herodotus (Finally and Yay! and blog post coming up soon!) and can now move on to The History of the Peloponnesian War  by Thucydides as part of The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge  the with Cleo and Ruth! Again with Cleo, I continue reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. And again with Cleo and O, I continue the serialized reading of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as part of O’s brilliant and innovative Reading Event. I have quite a few read alongs with Cleo for the Summer, and a host of interesting books to read, but then what’s so unusual about that? 😉 I also picked up The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley and am finding it very interesting and intriguing! Finally, after much plodding and many recommendations (the last being Stefanie’s decisive review), I have decided to join the Ferrantas bandwagon and plan to read My Brilliant Friend, through the next month!

Besides all of this, as many of you are aware, I am also hosting The Shadow of the Moon Read Along through June-July. Cleo and Helen are joining the event and I hope some of you will come along for the ride as well!

That’s the plan for the month and as I bid adieu for this post, I leave you with some pictures of the mountains and the cats!

 

Come September….

Yay!! September arriveth and summer goeth! If that is not a reason for me to celebrate I do not know what is! The fact that Summer recedes from this month on is enough to add vigor and excitement to my life! However besides this fact, there are several reasons to rejoice the onset of fall.

To begin with, ahem! ahem! Moi, the 102 Kgs (224lbs), plump personality completed a marathon! Not a full event, but what we have in the geography called Half Marathon event, which is more for beginners! Now for the more fitter personalities there, I know its a not a big deal, but please understand when I say that running with 102kgs on your back, as in on your body is bit of a task! Add to it the fact, that I have never run before this, let alone compete in any event. However, I was and am blessed with some awesome friends, and one of them, when couple of months ago over late dinner, I expressed my fascination with running, took it on herself to get me trained and ready. She devised all kinds of training plans, diets and kept egging me on. All of this when she was sitting 1700 kms from the city where I stay, working as the HR Director in an MNC, getting her house constructed and generally following up on all the lose tie ends of her life! If my completing the run is awesome, then the fact that Rups could get me up there and ready, especially from a confidence perspective was a miracle only she could have pulled off. I have not lost any weight and yes I practically crawled to the finish line, but I did it!!! I am so kicked. One of most amazing aspect of this marathon was that instead of being given medals, participants were given little India puppet dolls, made by the survivors of the Tsunami which hit Souther India, back in 2004. I loved it all and I hope to do more!

Ok, now for Bookish news – well, needless to say, I am falling BEHIND! August was a busy month. I played a host for a bunch of cousins; then myself went on a 12 day road trip across Himalayas and for the first time , the beauty so overwhelmed that I did not get much reading done. Then, there was the Read Along which I LOVED hosting, however research for its background, to help my fellow readers understand the socio-cultural context of the novel, took some time! As a result, I am now in September and need to play catch up like never before. To begin with, from my 12 Months Classic Literature Event, I have Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens to finish from July, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for August and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for September (September Theme – A children’s classic). For Reading England, yet another event I have neglected (I should stop saying that, considering I neglected  all my monthly reading plans!!!) I cover Berkshire with Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. This would be a re-read but I have not read this book in a loooonnnngggg time and I am in a mood for some fun books!Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event, I will go back to a novel, I started and then just stopped – Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cathar. If this was not enough, I continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and give Cleo company in reading The Brother Karmazov’s by Foydor Dostoyevsky and Jane Eyer by Charlotte Bronte Read Along, the latter, hosted by Hamlette. I have also bought some books and been gifted some over the last couple of days which I will atleast attempt to start this month; The Silk Road – A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and Jerusalem, A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

That’s the attempt plan for September….I know its a LOT, but I am hoping to conquer most! Happy September Reading!!!

All About The Absence

Hello! Hello! I know I have been away for nearly two weeks without a word, and some of you have been wondering where I have been! To begin with, a big Thank You to those who have been checking up on me; I really really appreciate the concern and feel blessed to have people who watch out for me!

I was away on a road trip all across what is considered the Himalayan Desert at about 15000 ft from the Sea Level. The region around 10th century used to belong to the then Tibet empire and still retains many of its culture and practices, which are especially evident in the Monasteries that are dotted all over the region.The place is called  and is a unique natural phenomena of a desert at a very high altitude,  located in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Spiti” means “The Middle Land” in Bhutia language, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

While Spiti River surrounds the valley, the region is in a rain shadow area and is devoid of the lush green vegetation that usually forms the landscape of the Himlayas. However the barren brown mountains in the backdrop of the clear and deep blue skies are absolutely awe inspiring and in their presence you are intensely aware of a power at work, which is much greater than those of the mortal man. And then after range and range of imposing brown mountains, there would be flash of green and all kinds of wild flowers and it would seem like some one had taken a crayon and painted the whole natural canvass.No wonder, Buddhist monks chose this region to deeply meditate and some of the most powerful monasteries of the Buddhism is located here!

I took this trip again with the absolutely brilliant Shibani and her team at Wonderful World and only they could have managed to infuse a sense of comfort when the conditions were anything but, provide luxury when none existed to begin with and ensure we get a feeling of truly experiencing Spiti and her culture with a well thought through and extremely considered plan. For 10 days, managing 12 women across adventurous terrain, Wonderful World, this time led by Pooja Sharma, ensured that we all got to do what we wanted and keep calm in face of crisis including when my flatmate and cousin decided to take photos anywhere and everywhere  delaying the scheduled arrival time. Pooja was also wonderfully patient in helping me navigate some of more challenging trails, which became challenging thanks to the 224lbs that I carry with me! This team remains a girl’s best travelling companion!

This trip was not meant to be  relaxing vacation, a day at the resort; it was arduous and difficult. Every day we would drive about 8 hrs or so and then hike some more km. As the altitude increased, air became thinner and simple tasks required more effort and sleeping at a different place each night and living out of the suitcase for 14 days was anything but easy! But this was one of those truly life changing epic trips and the majesty and the brilliance of the landscape sears your soul, until you find yourself introspecting and come away with a heightened awareness of self and the surroundings!

I know I will go back there and at some point, move to the valley to spend the rest of my life there. Until those grand plans materialize, I leave you with some pictures of its grandeur!

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P.S. None of the photos have been Photoshoped and the play of colors and shadow that you see is a complete natural capture!

In The Company of Magnificence…

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate and I set off for a tour to a historically rich but now ruined citadel in South of India, Hampi. Both of us are great travelers but due to various circumstances last year, we had to keep our wanderlusting in check. Therefore to say we were really excited about this trip is an understatement! The USP of the trip was we were travelling as part of a tour group of all women’s team organized by the brilliant Shibani Vig and her team at Wonderful World.

Women from all parts of the country flew in to meet at Bangaluru, the metropolis of South India, from where we all took began the road trip to Hampi. Per Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, the now UNESCO heritage site of Vijaynagar, the primary city of Hampi, was founded by two brother Hakka and Bukka when trying to flee enemy forces. They came across this mountainous – ridge range and met a sage who convinced them to establish their seat in this region! . Under the rule of Hakka and then Bukka, the empire became rich and went from strength to strength. The city flourished between 14th and 15th century and at its height it was the second richest kingdom of the medieval world after Beijing and way bigger and more prosperous than Paris or London. The Kingdom continued to flourish under the heirs of Hakka and Bukka, and especially famous was King Krishnadeva Raya whose reign saw a burst of cultural activities, including prolific writings in literature and the building of some architectural marvels. The empire declined after losing successive battles with the neighboring kingdoms of Deccan Sultanates in mid-16th century. The victorious forces plundered the city and destroyed the buildings in a long drawn systematic way. Today all that remains of this once great city are the beautiful and haunting ruins!

Shibani is one the most thoughtful and considerate tour planners I had the good fortune to travel with and this trip was no different. The trip was led by the amazing and extremely patient Liane Ghosh and since we were traveling to a city of great historical importance, Shibani, even got us a personal historian to talk us through the great buildings and monuments! We set off on the bus with some articles on history of Vijaynagar which our historian had written up and just add an element of fun, he had even procured some comics, whose plotlines told the readers of the history of the city and tales of its denizens! Even the hotel Shibani had sought out for us was a testimony to the taste and elegance of team’s planning – instead of some ultra-modern luxury resort; we stayed at these wonderful cottages of Uramma Resort, Anegundi. This resort run by a philanthropist who aims at creating better lives for the villagers around Hampi, by trying to offer better healthcare and educational opportunities. The profits from the resort goes towards education of the youth as part of the broad program of the Uramma Trust. The resort is not fancy, but has all that is basic and comfortable. There are no televisions or bars, but the rooms are sparkling clean, beds super comfortable and a wonderful and obliging staff that is willing to do anything make your stay memorable. Staying at Uramma Resort, you get a feel of what it feels like to stay in real South Indian village surrounded by the marvelous vegetation, with some wonderful views from the green grounds of resort that overlook the majestic landscape of Hampi. We reached the resort, extremely late after several wrong turns and going round the circles, thanks to the drivers who claimed they knew everything when they actually knew little. We did manage to get a view of the magnificent sunset at Tungabhadra reservoir and that view alone made up for all the delays!

Sunset

(Picture Courtesy – Liane Ghosh)

Nevertheless after dinner had been served which by the way, was absolutely lip smacking delicious, we were all extremely sleepy and we called it an early night, looking forward to the morning of fun and adventure.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The next day we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and started off right after breakfast for the historical explorations. We crossed over to the other side of the town via a ferry (not my most favorite mode of transport, with high levels of hydrophobia), but have to admit that the ride was smooth and easy.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The first site that we visited was the magnificent Vitala Temple.  The temple was built by the King Deveraya in 15th century and was enhanced by the same famous Krishnadeva Raya. The temple is dedicated to Vitala, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu and the architecture once again shows the elaborate and the artistic creation of Vijaynagar that combined science and art to create these mammoth creations for a single rock cuts. The temple is surrounded by 4 madapas (entrances) of which 3 are still standing. The temple complex consists of many shrines and halls made of stone with intricate carvings that depict both Hindu legends and social and economic lives of medieval India. The stone chariot standing in the middle of the temple courtyard is breath taking and carved with graphic detailing. It’s dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The main hall of the temple was closed due to maintenance, however its outer walls again testify to some magnificent sculpture. There are set of pillars in complex that are carved out of some kind of resonate stones and legend states that at the height of festivities these pillars were used as musical instruments to be played in accompaniment to the hymns. Even today, the seven pillar emit seven different sounds of the musical notes of different density and volume. The temples today stand as a testimony of not only what was brilliant, but also show case the systematic destruction that was undertaken once Vijaynagar fell.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

We walked from the temple along the ghats (banks) of the Tungabhadra River. Some of the most beautiful scenes opened up to us …long narrow caves that suddenly open upon a scene of high ridge plateau on top of which sat a magnificent architectural creation.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The second important destination of the day was the Virupaksha Temple. This is one of the oldest functioning temples of the region. It was originally built in 7th century and later enhanced and renovated in 14th century by the Vijaynagar rulers. The temple consists of the main sanctum, a hall and open pillared hall and three chambers. The eastern gate or the mandapa is 50 meters high and this nine tiered entrance consists of some of oldest and most elaborate carvings.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

As we neared the temple however, my legs decided that they had enough and I managed to twist my ankle and pull my muscle at the same time. (Don’t ask me how I managed this medical marvel!) After much ado, my flatmate and I came back to the resort and after spending hours soaking in hot water and several painkillers and muscle relaxant dosage, I was finally able to walk again. (Thank You Liane/Sabeena for that amazing muscle spray and medication!) The fact that I was travelling with a wonderful troupe was brought home even more by the fact that the moment they reached the resort, the made a beeline for my room to figure out how I was doing and what could they do to make me more comfortable. Further ministrations and care, and I was finally ready to venture forth and join everyone else for evening dinner at Hema. Hema is a dimly lit shack where you get the most delicious Shakshuka and sizzlers. After gorging on some of this great food, we were back in the hotel for some rest, looking forward to-day 2.

Since I had limited abilities, I did not visit all that was planned, choosing only selective venues to explore and therefore to do justice to all the greatness of Vijaynagar, I make over its retelling to my bestfriend/flatmate/sister-in-crime, mentallynailbiting in the next post!

 

The Joy of “Living”…

I first heard of “The Blue Castle” by L.M. Montgomery from Jane. The fact that Ms. Montgomery has written anything outside of the “Anne of Green Gables” series was in itself a revelation, but the fact that she wrote adult novels was a whopper! Any girl who ever read Ann of Green Gables in her pre-teen years must become a lifelong devotee of Ms. Montgomery (some even later- my flat mate for instance read “Ann of Green Gables” just recently in her mid -30s and now she is convert! Imagine Ms. Montgomery’s effect then on adolescent youth!! ) and when you are a devotee, you stick by your Icon in all their shapes and forms. Naturally, to not read “The Blue Castle” was out of question and I finally wound down to do all kind of indulgent reading over this holiday and this book was lying among the top, HAS TO BE READ label!

The book is set in early 20th century and located in the fictional town of Deerwood, in Ontario. The novel opens with Valancy Sterling, our protagonist, waking up on a cold May morning, shedding copious tears, on her 29th birthday, reviewing all the have-not-dones in her life. She has lived her entire life among the large and formidable Sterling Clan, who have set narrow standards of how life ought to be led and by those standards, Valancy is a failure. She is 29 and has never been sought by any young man and is going to spend her whole life living as an old maid, living with her mother and cousin. She is neither good-looking, nor rich and therefore no man has even been interested in her and is completely dominated by her mother and constantly compared to her more beautiful and more socially acceptable cousin Olive. On top of all this, she is nicknames Doss and no one seems to be interested in addressing her as Valancy. Things however take a turn when, constantly bothered by a chest pain, Valancy consults a doctor, who tells her unequivocally that her heart is in a dangerous state and she has only one year to live. Finally realizing that the sands of time are slipping by, Valancy decides to shed her old life and live for this one year on her own terms. This includes moving out of her mother’s house, getting a job working for a town outcaste and falling in love with the town’s reprobate and living a thousand life times in a year. However, the fateful year is up and it’s time for Valancy to face the truth…

It is a lovely, slow-moving funny and soothing book. The characters are well defined and everyone’s role is cut out. Valancy Sterling is a very much a flesh and blood creature, inhibited by circumstances and when those circumstances become difficult, she discovers an inner courage and resilience that makes her a wonderful heroine. Barny Snaith completely answers to one’s idea of a hero –the reprobate with a heart of gold. The Sterling clan is exactly what it should be – horrid to live with, but absolutely laugh out loud funny when one reads of them.There are many hugely humorous moments and a strong sense of everyday fun, which keeps you smiling through the very end of the book. There are not too many wisdom nuggets or profound life truths in the book; but I think Ms. Montgomery was exactly doing that – writing a simple book, that highlighted the simple and therefore often overlooked pleasures of life. The plot is linear and everything kind of rushes in together headlong in the end, but it does not really effect the book. It’s got a lovely, absolutely marvelous Mill’s and Boon touch to the story, without being ekky, clichéd, kitschy and tactless, something most of today’s romances are. It is indeed a lovely love story of not only a man and woman, but also about loving life and loving nature. There are gorgeous descriptions of Muskoka region of Canada and the wilderness is described in all its splendor and beauty through the four seasons. There is some lovely lyrical portrayal of Southern Canada that makes you want to take the first flight to visit the place.

It’s a book you take out with you when you have the whole day stretching ahead with no plans you can sit soaking the winter sun, and multi task at reading this book in a unhurried manner and watch the squirrels play. Trust me this book is best read in natural surrounding!

A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

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