Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Poetry’ 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!

 

The Eternal Question –

On this 23rd year celebration of the World Book Day, I want revisit an old question, a question which has been asked to me and to many other readers, more times than I can recollect and a question, which till date, I struggle to find an apt answer for! For every reader, convinced of the sacrosanct nature of words and their power, nothing is more difficult to answer than to explain, Why do we read? Why do we read so much? Why do we read so many books? Why do we read the same books so many times? Why do we read?

Neil Gaiman, in his remarkable essay on “Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming” describes reading as “getaway drug”. The urge to know what happened next keeps the reader going and in the process forces them to read new words and exposes them to new worlds and new thoughts! He further says that reading builds empathy in the world. The reader is forced to create a world of his/her own out of the prose and that investment in building this world and characters creates a connection and thus empathy, something which does not exist in a cinematic medium. L.M. Montgomery, writing several years before Gaiman, made the same succinct observation about books being kind of a addiction. She wrote about being “book drunkard” and about books having the same temptation to her that alcohol has to a drunkard and further, a temptation that cannot be resisted! Rebecca Solnit said reading allowed her to build and then disappear into her imaginative world, in her essay “Flight” in the book The Faraway Nearby. William Nicholson in Shadowland, took a bit of a different route when he called out that “We read to know we’re not alone”. And Kafka of course took it to a whole new reasoning when he wrote to a friend that “we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

Fragonard,_The_Reader

The Reader by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770

There are many others who say many of these things and more and wiser minds than mine have tried to better understand the “addiction” to books and reading! So when I am asked, why do I read? I feel stumped, ill qualified and overawed at thought of explaining something that is fundamentally inexplicable until experienced by self! I have observed and I could be absolutely in the wrong here, that most deep readers, have had a childhood which was had limited or completely devoid of companionship. Children need companions, people their age or atleast people who understand them to keep loneliness and confusion at bay! In the absence of that, if you are lucky, you may get books handed to you by a sensitive and intuitive adult, and after that, you find a world which is really no comparison for the everyday dull life. You never need friends, because your mind is populated with a host of them and this circle is ever enlarging! You find that your emotions and your vulnerabilities are not unique and you are not a freak, but just someone going through the motions of “growing up”. You may also find yourself doing better at school, or at minimum knowing more than most around you, giving you a bit of early edge!  All of this may happen if you are fortunate enough to discover books, via an adult or school library or a friend or some other means! Once you are hooked as child to reading, then of course, the “addiction” comes in easily. Though to be fair, I have had friends who have taken to books as an adult and become equally obsessed converts to power of books, but when you start early, like all arts, it’s easier and you do not realize that this has become a “habit” or a “hobby” or how much words mean to you; as Scout Finch recounted “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”. Either way, once the “addiction” develops, you can, as reader never really rest, your imagination is far too much of an exciting place and you keep adding on to it, because, real life just cannot keep pace and you need sustenance for your intellect.

Child Reading

Mother & Child Reading a Story by Carlton Alfred Smith

You also discover reading widely without actually realizing until much later, that this has had a significant impact on developing your “skill sets”. More than a decade ago, in an attempt to get through to one of best Graduate School of this geography, I discovered the blessing of the power of reading. Having graduated with Honors in English Literature, I was convinced that if I wanted to keep reading, I needed to stop pursuing Literature, academically. In a 180 degree career switch, I decided to go for a graduate degree in International Politics and to get through to the said Graduate School, one had to write an admission test, of 5 essay answers on various questions of International Politics and pass it with a rank among the top 50. The entrance examination is held countrywide and at any given moment, more than 20,000 student attempt to crack the code! That day in the the examination hall, surrounded by the most brilliant peers who had first class undergraduate degrees in Politics and Economics, I felt out of depth, like never before. However the question paper seemed simple enough and the question which to me cinched my attempt was to compare the Western Allied powers war against the Taliban regime’s with the Anglo Afghanistan wars of 19th century. Everyone knew enough about Taliban and the Allied forces. CNN and BBC had brought the war inside our houses. But what of the Anglo-Afghanistan wars? Unlike my peers, I had read “The Far Pavilions” by MM Kaye, an author whose family had served the British Raj and the Afghan wars with distinction and whose authentic accounts can be relied upon. I had not only read it once but several time and I could fill the examination pages with copious reference to Dost Mohammad and the shameful British retreat of 1842 and so forth! Needless to say, I not only got the admission, but thrived in my double Masters! My peers with all their first class degrees in relevant subject did not and I discovered many of my classmates, some who have been my best friends for years now, too did not have the requisite subject undergraduate degrees, but had spent their young lives, reading and reading voraciously! Later when I entered the corporate world, I found much to my amazement, my colleagues struggling to find the right words for the right emails/presentation, while I could easily find the right word to sound, enthusiastic, assertive or diplomatic all over emails as the situation desired! So much so at one point, one of the senior leaders, used to call me in to review his really important emails for better presentation! Finally the more I read, the more I find myself becoming a more sensitive, more tolerant and more humane person! This is I know is sweeping generalization, but I find people who read to relatively kinder than their peers. Of course there are a number of exceptions, and I must mention as footnote, that one of most selfish person, I have the unfortunate honor of calling a relative, is also a voracious reader. However, despite this, I do feel that reading liberates the mind and the soul!

But all of this does not really answer to why we read? For as a child starting out with Corduroy by Don Freeman and then slowing graduating to other books, I did not know, that I was seeking companionship or a liberal mind or even skills which will enable me later in life.  As a child the only thing, I understood was when I looked at my illustrated book and then looked out of the window, the illustrated world, seemed exactly what it was meant to show me – a bright, colored, happy world; a world that drew me in and kept my company and made everything so much more merry!  By the time, I realized consciously the power of the books and words; I knew that this is some secret, joyous habit that cannot be let go, at any cost! So like many I kept on and today, cannot even begin imagine a life devoid of books! But these are thing which a non-reading “Muggle” can hardly understand, so every time when I am asked why do you read, the answer that actually comes to me is “how can you not read?”

The Year That Was….

Here we stand on the very threshold of 2017 and I must say, that while this year was good, but I am very glad to see the last of it! It brought several challenges with it, both personal and professional and while I am grateful to have survived and conquered it all, I must confess, I am glad to say, Off with the Old and On with the New!!

However, before we say a final goodbye to 2017, as goeth the tradition, I did want do a wrap up post on all the books I loved this year – books which enriched me and filled my soul and of course gave me a lot to think about. Therefore, here goes the final countdown , in no order whatsoever….

  • A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell – This book moved me, moved my soul, Japan came alive under the lyrical writings of this author! Perhaps one of the best books, I have read, EVER!
  • Thud by Terry Pratchet –  A re-read but Sir Terry, may God Rest my soul, always captures every human action from bravery to stupidity to turn it into life lessons, only with dollops and dollops of laughter! Sir Terry, You are missed!
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden – Yet another re-read, but I cannot think of a more masterful, more evocative and more gripping narrative of the rise of the House of Mongols than the one recreated by Conn Iggulden, tracing the birth, death and the rise of new era of Mongols, under the leadership of Chengiz Khan! Moving away from myths and sifting through half truths, Mr. Iggulen shares a powerful and spell binding narrative of a tribe, who continue to resonate through History
  • Histories by Herodotus  – While I am miserably lagging behind in Reading the Histories, this is one book, I am glad I read, in the company of Ruth and Cleo! The first written History of the Western World is a epic narrative of facts, gossipy nuggets and wise words, that bring the world of 3rd Century BCE to life! This one book, I am so very glad I read!
  • Trespasses by Caroline Bridgewood – I read this little known novel when I was 16 and since then I have been searching for it! Nearly 2 decades later, I was able to own a copy and re-read this tale of cousins and a family in England, torn apart and then brought back together through the Second World War! Simple, funny and one of the few books that make me cry!
  • Shadow of The Moon by MM Kaye – What more can I say about the book that I have not said so far? My blog is filled with notes about this novel that tells the story of Winter De Balletros and Alex Randall set in 1857 India, during the Mutiny! I was honored to hold a Read Along in August and had the great pleasure of Cleo and Helen for company, which made this particular reading even more joyful and memorable!
  • Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull – Oh!! One of the very few “new books” I read this year and, boy, did this take my breathe away! Set in 18th century Europe. the story of woman scientist is so many things at one go – an adventure, a indictment of the society, a love story, a story of a women’s journey! This book defies genre and words, except, Vi, Va Ms. Mascull!
  • The Edwardians by Vita Sacville West – Another first time read, that blew me away. Edwardian society comes alive in all its glory as well inconsistencies in this brilliant novel by Ms. West.
  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – This was one book, that one very rarely comes come across – it blows away some of your existing belief systems and then sets up new foundation, that forces you to think and wonder, why the hell did you not see these things before! For me, this was the book, that everyone should read, whether they like it or dislike or whatever, simply because, history of mankind is presented in a whole new light, making us question how we interpret our past and its consequences for the future!
  • Ann of Green Gables (Series) by LM Montgomery – Who can help but not love Ann? In yet another re-read, she came in to cheer me up in some of my most exhausting work days and regaled me with the goings on of King Edward Island, her attempts at being a lady, her friends, her college and her life as a wife and mother! Simple and joyful!
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yet another re- read and yet another layer of brilliance that I discovered in this enduring tale of women’s right, society and love! Ms. Austen remains, masterful!
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window & Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Rod Bradbury – This is my optimistic book of the year. The book that made me smile and hope that no matter what, never give up on your life and if you are lucky, you may get some companions to make it more joyful like a would-have-been-anything-but-now-hotdog-vendor, a crook, a drug lord, a detective inspector and an elephant! My ha-ha book of of the year!

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – This 21 month Read Along, the brilliant idea of O, where we read the book in installments as originally published  over 2 years!! It was brilliant and one of the Read Along ever! Eternal thanks to O for hosting this!

  • A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee – I am usually wary of Indian Authors writing in English; most are not Amitava Ghosh or Arundhati Roy and the reading often writes contrived. However Mr. Mukherjee brings Calcutta of 1920’s to life in this old fashioned whodunnit with just the right mix of language, history and plot twist!
  • Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot – A last minute read again suggested by Cleo. While the story of Thomas Beckett is well known, the drama and language brings the whole incident to life with a very interesting ending.

That is that; a small snapshot of my reading Year! Many thanks to all of you who joined me in my reading adventures and had the patience to read through my blogs! Reading is so much more fun when shared with friends!

To end, I would just want to say in the words of great Lord Tennyson –

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be

 

The First Time of Everything – Top 10 Tuesday

I started this post on a Wednesday and then work came and intervened like never before and suddenly the next Tuesday is upon us! But we must finish what we started, so here goes neverthless….

I never ever do Tuesday Top  (hosted by The Broke and Bookish) simply because a. Its already Wednesday in my part of the geography and b. Tuesday and Wednesday’s are killer days at work! But I do love the lovely ideas our host always comes up with and keenly follow the Top 10 responses that my usual comrades in arms post – Cleo, O, Brona, Ruth and Helen. I love comparing their responses with mine and just in general chatting about books and more! I know this week was a throwback freebee, and I loved going down the nostalgia path of all my fellow blogging friends. But I really really loved the Spin that Helen put on it – of recounting top 10 books from her first year of blogging. Now this was a nostalgia trip, I simply could not pass up!  And though in 2012, I was still figuring out the nature of my blog because of which I only blogged about a few books, I added my own spin and added some books I read and loved that year but did not blog!

  1. Three Comrade by Erich Maria Remarque – Now what has become one of my all time favourites, this book was procured after much fanfare from my roomate and a lot of difficult logistics, since it was a copy was not available locally. However all the trouble was worth it as I followed the joys and tragedies of three young men in a country gone crazy on eve of World War II
  2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and her brilliance in 2012. I always knew she was someone I should read but my first attempt of North and South had left me unhappy. So the last minute rush before the library closure and a hurried decision to pick this book turned out to be a life changer. As we travel around Cranford with Ms. Gaskel and the denizens of this town, we discover joy, laughter and just rollicking fun. The book turned me into a devotee and I would go on too read North and South and many other books by Ms. Gaskell with much love and absolute wonder!
  3. London by Edward Rutherford – I love historical fiction but there are not too many authors who can keep your attention over a 1000 pages as you wander over the initial beginnings of London to modern day World War II setting, following the lives and fortunes of 4 family. Edward Rutherford managed to this and more, he managed to create brilliant novellas connection the past and the future with a page turning plot line and minute attention to detail. One of my all time go-to books!
  4. The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye – Yup! This was the first time I posted about this novel and since then I have not slowed down, rounding it off with a Read Along his year! Let’s just say I and this tale of Mutiny and loyalty in 1857 India have come a long way!
  5. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder – This was another one of those; I began with hesitation and ended of falling in love with the time defying wisdom of this simple tale set in 18th century Peru where a bridge collapses and the narrator helps us look deeper into the lives of those who died in the accident and discern the subtle from the obvious!!
  6. The Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay – Poetry, ballad and an ethereal love story of a trust that went wrong, this lyrical book set in Stalin ruled USSR brought about the harsh realities of a toleterian state and the most beautiful prose ever to describe a land of innumerable secrets and beauty!
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – There has been so much that has been written and said about this book that I cannot write or add any more praise to this book! All I can say, what a wonderful lovely read!
  8. The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Yet another story set in Stalinist Russia, a modern cult classic that was denied publication when originally written. Part allegory, part love story, one of the most captivating and ingenuous piece fiction that I have ever read!
  9. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling  – Ms. Rowling showed us again the imagination and versatility can even make a plot based on the mundane sounding town council election a gripping, hard hitting and a humanitarian tale!
  10. Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman – Bunch of kids out to save the world, with a support of a demon who went good and a somewhat eccentric angel, in a battle of Good vs. Evil – what is there NOT to like???!!!

When I look back on my 31st Dec post of the best books I have read through that year of 2012, I see that so many books endured in my memory, translating to many re-reads and yet so many faded away! That’s time and that’s nostalgia for you!

A Very Special Date

Raahrarraaahhhh!!! Tara Dum! Tara Dee!!! Roll the drums and bring on the fanfare, for today, ahem! ahem! we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices!!! (Virtual confetti being showered!!!) Yay!!Its the big 5 blogaversary!

It’s been 5 years since I started this blog after being rather disgusted over a over-hyped thing I saw at the mall on Valentine’s Day. As most know, 5 years down the line, my thoughts have not changed much as was evident from my last post. Oh! Well…everything changes and nothing does. But not really!

Over the last 5 years I have gained so much that I could scarcely believe was possible when I started out that February morning of 2012! I have written more blogs not only for myself but also for many other sites. I have felt myself improve as a writer and in the process become a more evolved individual. I have a read more books and ventured into literary spheres which I would have scarcely ventured into had it not been for all of you opening up the erudite vistas for me. I have read such a variety of non fiction, classics and poetry than I would have thought possible in February 2012, forcing me out of my comfort zone and making me look at the world at large in whole different perspective! I have read Metamorphosis by Ovid and Bewoulf because of Cleo. I have read science fiction because of Stefanie and found innumerable lost authors, thanks to Jane who has a knack for finding these authors. There are sooooo many others who have made me read so many different things! You all have helped me not only read more but also do things that I would have not thought possible from participating in marathons to cooking yumilious carrot ginger soup!! You have made me grow in all possible ways! Most importantly, I have made some awesome friends – friends I have not met, but who have stood by me through thick and thin, through deaths and dumpings and cheered me on when I was promoted or took one an adventurous road trip. Through 1000 miles of geography and cultures that separate us, they came together as a bunch of kindred souls while helping me navigate through the choppy waters of life! Finally my readers, thank you for sticking around and reading my blah-blah. I am sure you do not always like what I write and may often be bored, but thank you for sticking around and reading anyways!

Since I was/am feeling all sentimental anyway, I thought I will complete the trip to the very end and feel nostalgic as well. Therefore I went back and read some of my older posts and thought I will share some of them with you, especially the ones which most seemed to have enjoyed and were also kind of personal blogging milestones –

  1. Satire be my song….List of 10 best satires from all time – February 19th 2012 – One of my very fast posts, about things which I liked the best – books!
  2. Love and Mutiny in the Time of British Raj – July 1 2012 – I begin to get into the groove of book reviews.
  3. The Year Through Posts -December 7th 2014 – Inspired by Jane, this seemed a perfect way to wrap the year!
  4. Defining Style – An Alternative Perspective – February 17 2015 – Where I venture out of bookish blogs and start posting for other sites!
  5. Celebrating Freedom – The Home and The World Read Along – July 19th 2016 – I host my very first Read Along!

It’s been such wonderful 5 years of learning, fun and cherished memories! Thank you for being part of this wandering with me and for enriching my life with your ideas, enthusiasm and thoughts!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End of the Year Wrappings….

Another year goeth by and yet another year to make new beginnings with! What did we accomplish in these 12 months and what do we hope to accomplish in this new year?? I am not a resolution person and from experience I know that whatever I propose, God/Fate disposes completely differently, therefore it makes total sense to make no plans and go with the flow! Instead I look back on 2016 and think of all that was done and if I may say, I deserve a pat on my back; while I did not do a lot, I did do some stuff that atleast showed some traction on my self improvement trajectory –

  1. I ran a marathon – ok! only 5km, but hey I am 115 Kgs and managing 5km is a task!
  2. I took 3 major vacations and 3 minor getaways, including a 14 days road trip into deep Himalayas. A year in travels CANNOT get better than this!
  3. I got a short story published!! Yes, finally I got something printed! So its not a big journal and the work is not one of my best, but hey! I am now an officially published person!
  4. I made some wonderful new friend, friends who are akin to my soul sisters, who have encouraged me run to marathons, keep writing till I get published and in general become more rational in life!
  5. Most importantly, I read and read and read!

On that happy note, as is my norm, I share below, the 12 best reads of the year as is my norm, with wishes for an even better 2017 for all of us –

  1. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – I have been in perpetual terror of Woolf ever since I read Orlando when 15. However, Ali was hosting a Woolfalong and I was also participating in the Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event hosted by the Classic Club and this seemed as good a time to plunge in. And I am ever so glad I did; with it’s subtle narrative of following the thoughts of the protagonists and the sense of time passing and some of the most brilliant prose. I fell in love with the book, to say the very least!
  2. Miss Marjorie Banks by Margaret Oliphant – I had this book in my collection forever and now I sit back and wonder what the hell was I doing waiting for ages to finally get around to reading this one! Another one of Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event read, this wonderful narrative of the Victorian town of Carlingsford and Miss Bank’s effort to be a comfort to her father and the residing social priestess of her town is a hilarious and at the same time a gentle telling of things that were not quite right in the Victorian society! One of the best books I have ever read!
  3. Metamorphoses by Ovid – I would have NEVER EVER read this one if it was not for Cleo! Cleo with her enthusiasm and pep talk kept me going and I discovered a book that I had dreaded and ended up loving. This is an epic poem which is a compendium of all Greek and Roman legend has violence, greed, sacrifice, courage and every other element of human drama that come together to form a grand tour-de-force that simply sweeps you away!
  4. The Fortunes of the Rougons by Emile Zola – Another one of those books I did not want to read and ended by up loving it. This first book in a series comprising of 20 novels, traces the rise of the Rougan family from Plassans during the coup of 1851. Not a happy book, with hardly any redeemable characters, this book yet manages to share a story of humanity and deep insights into the human  heart! The only word I could use to describe it is profound!
  5. The Gypsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp – This one was another one of those great finds thanks to Jane! The trials of the Sylvesters in their Victorian farm with new wives and wayward sons, seen through the eyes of a distant 12 year old cousin, is a retelling of an old tale of good versus bad with wonderful plot, characters that you wish were actually in existence and an end that kept you on the hook. Margery Sharp showed that with the right crafting of the plot, the old stories of human relationships will endure and even become page turners!
  6. The Rose and The Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray – A children’s tale that I picked up on a whim, while looking around for something different to read! Did I stumble on a gold mine or what!! Biting satire with hilarious dialogues with absolutely marvelous cast of Princes, Princess and amulets, this one was written originally as a fireside pantomime, and continues to be a complete enteratainer some 150 years on!
  7. The Dairy of Nobody by by George Grossmith and illustrations by Weedon Grossmith – If I have a find of the year, it is this book! Why in the world is this book not more popular is quite beyond me. This is hilarious, in fact uproarious narrative of Charles Pooter, who has just bought a new house and is adjusting to his life in suburban 1892 England, with some aid from his friends, his difficult son and his exasperated wife! if there was ever a laugh out loud book, this is the ONE!
  8. Up The Country by Emily Eden – My favorite non fiction read of the year! This wonderful travel journal, of Emily Eden kept while her brother was the Governor General of India, is a lovely description of an era of British Raj and of a time gone by. Free of prejudices, and with more insights, than her brother ever displayed, this book is a wondrous read into what the past really looked and felt like!
  9. Shadow of The Moon by MM Kaye – I know and I know! This is my all time favorite and I should not have included this and all that! But every time I read, this breathtaking saga of Winter de Balletros and Captain Alex Randall, in the backdrop of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, I am left breathless and mesmerized! Kaye who was born and for many years lived in India, poured her love for the land and her people in this masterful novels about tolerance, sacrifice and human courage! They really do write books like any more!
  10. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore – My first ever hosted read-along, with the kind support of many of my friends in the Blogging world! The story of Nikhil, Bimala and Sandeep in the backdrop of Indian Indpendence Movement, tells a complex narrative about freedom, responsibility, choices and a woman’s true emancipation, at a time when India woman had in fact no place of their own!
  11. The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – I am NOT a science person, but this book, another one purchased on a whim,.is a wonderful, engaging and at times downright funny telling of , well everything! How this universe, earth and we, the living all came into existence. It makes you appreciate the wonder of the earth, read more about the Big Bang and sit back and wonder at the genius called Bill Bryson!
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – This is one of those re-readings that classify under “I know”. I know this is a classic, I know there is nothing better than this yarn of revenge and forgiveness and I personally find no better philosophy to live by than those enshrined in this book – “All human wisdom is contained in these two words, Wait and Hope.”

I know I restrict myself to 12 books alone, but this has been a very very interesting year, and I wanted to make an honorable and critical mention about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Here was a book and an author I was not ready touch with a barge pole, until Stefanie came along with her wonderful review. Now we all know, I trust Stefanie, so I picked it up and ended up receiving some very practical advise, about being a creative person, about persisting in your craft and about capturing the moment, without wondering about when/what/where will the rewards coming in! This is perhaps the first self-helpish book that really helped, saw me pick up the pen and write more and genrally recommend it to all other creative folks!

That just about sums of my 2016 adventure!

Thank You for being part of this bloggish journey, thank you for your diligent and thoughtful comments/likes and advise. I am better reader/writer, because you all decided to help me out! Here’s wishing you all a fabulous and brilliant 2017!

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be

Changes in the Ancient Greek-Roman World

Now this post should have been like written centuries back, but what can I say except life, vacations, friends and finally sickness caught up and this post went lower and lower in the priority, until today, when I finally swore that I will not budge until I had written this post. Considering it took me 3 months of solid reading time to get through this book, it is of utmost important that I devote atleast one post to it!

Back in January, in a fit of complete madness, when possessed by book demons who tempt you to read all kinds of things, I agree to a read along – Metamorphoses by Ovid, with Cleo and O and couple of others. The idea was to read a book every week starting from January and finish the fifteen books by March-April. It seemed doable enough and come on, this is Ovid; in the absence of a real Classical education, this was as close to a group study/help event I was going to get to read one of the most important texts of the Roman world! There was no intention of giving up on something like this and through hail and high water, sometime exhilarating and sometime faltering, I managed to complete the book, early August.

This is an epic poem which is a compendium of all Greek and Roman legends. Each books talks about certain events that led to a metamorphoses of a God, demi-god or human into some feature of nature, tales with an intended moral epiphany. I am not getting into the details of each book, instead I leverage Wikipedia to provide an overview. For details, I would strongly recommend you visit Cleo or O’s  blog post for an excellent summary of each book! For now, Ovid divided the poem in 10 books comprising pf about 250 myths, from the time of creation of the world util the rule of Julius Ceaser. The Books can be broadly categorized as –

  • Book I – The Creation, the Ages of Mankind, the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton.
  • Book II – Phaëton (cont.), Callisto, the raven and the crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury and Battus, the envy of Aglauros, Jupiter and Europa.
  • Book III – Cadmus, Diana and Actaeon, Semele and the birth of Bacchus, Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo, Pentheus and Bacchus.
  • Book IV – The daughters of Minyas, Pyramus and Thisbe, the Sun in love, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the daughters of Minyas transformed, Athamas and Ino, the transformation of Cadmus, Perseus and Andromeda.
  • Book V – Perseus’ fight in the palace of Cepheus, Minerva meets the Muses on Helicon, the rape of Proserpina, Arethusa,Triptolemus.
  • Book VI – Arachne; Niobe; the Lycian peasants; Marsyas; Pelops; Tereus, Procne, and Philomela; Boreas and Orithyia.
  • Book VII – Medea and Jason, Medea and Aeson, Medea and Pelias, Theseus, Minos, Aeacus, the plague at Aegina, the Myrmidons, Cephalus and Procris.
  • Book VIII – Scylla and Minos, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Perdix, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Althaea and Meleager, Achelous and the Nymphs, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon and his daughter.
  • Book IX – Achelous and Hercules; Hercules, Nessus, and Deianira; the death and apotheosis of Hercules; the birth of Hercules;Dryope; Iolaus and the sons of Callirhoe; Byblis; Iphis and Ianthe.
  • Book X – Orpheus and Eurydice, Cyparissus, Ganymede, Hyacinth, Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, Atalanta.
  • Book XI – The death of Orpheus, Midas, the foundation and destruction of Troy, Peleus and Thetis, Daedalion, the cattle of Peleus, Ceyx and Alcyone, Aesacus.
  • Book XII – The expedition against Troy, Achilles and Cycnus, Caenis, the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, Nestor and Hercules, the death of Achilles.
  • Book XIII – Ajax, Ulysses, and the arms of Achilles; the Fall of Troy; Hecuba, Polyxena, and Polydorus; Memnon; the pilgrimage of Aeneas; Acis and Galatea; Scylla and Glaucus.
  • Book XIV – Scylla and Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas (cont.), the island of Circe, Picus and Canens, the triumph and apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the apotheosis of Romulus.
  • Book XV – Numa and the foundation of Crotone, the doctrines of Pythagoras, the death of Numa, Hippolytus, Cipus, Asclepius, the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, epilogue.

This book has inspired, poets, play-writers and painters. Its effects can be seen even in the 21st century and needless to say has many complex and layered meanings in it. Ovid creates a world which both incredibly frightening at the same time extremely interesting – like a world you are scared to explore, but cannot seem to draw away from! There is intense violence in the book; some of the most grotesque violence I have ever read were in this book – violence that defines imagination and brings in shuddering horror! Violence against women is another theme that runs through the book – they seem to be constantly chased and violated by some God or other for their beauty. Makes one wonder, why these creatures were designated Gods in the ancient world, because they seem to display very little God like behavior and you would never want to be a nymph in ancient Greece, because first the Gods chase you and rape you and then the God’s consort turns you into a tree or an animal for enticing him! Yeesh! In fact Ovid’s woman do not come out in a good light, either they are making each other’s life miserable through curses, or lusting after father/brothers. There is a certain antagonism against the women that comes through in all the 15 books.Having said that, let me re-emphasis that the Gods are no better and their deeds no very God like either – challenge them and you will fall, defy them and you will fall , ask for forgiveness, that too may be denied! They indulge in wars which sound like bar brawls and the only thing that seems to keep em’ going is to engage in some kind of sexual escapade! To me this kind of action from Gods seemed difficult to relate, especially growing up around Hindu mythologies, where Gods are Gods because of the exemplary conduct; it was difficult to wrap my head around a concept of a God with as many failings as a common mortal! It is written in meter of epic poetry, very much in the lines of The Illiad and The Odyssey, but in a significant departure to those poems, Ovid combines all kinds of genres in Metamorphoses – there is tragedy, comedy, drama, irreverent humor mocking the Gods, love poetry as well pastoral hymns! Yet while writing an epic, he subverts some of the key events which are considered of epic nature – The battle of Troy and the adventure of such heroes Achilles or initially Hercules. But then, considering the breath of his work, Ovid may have considered skipping some of the more well known events to focus on lesser known stories! He briefly touches on these subjects/heroes and nimbly and quickly moves on to other subjects! of Another unique feature of this book is the way Ovid plots the books together; in a daring leap of innovations, he plots the books through themes and yet manages a chronological timeline which propels the reader from one century to another. Though there are times, the plot seems to jump leaving certain threads hanging, yet one cannot help but appreciate the different approach to a timeline.

To end, this has not been an easy book to read! Especially towards the end, I have had to struggle to continue and the treatment of Roman myths was a let down. Also the amount of violence and the kind of personal pleasure that Ovid seemed to describe it and re-visit it disturbed me greatly! However there is no taking away that Metamorphoses is a grand adventure, a Goddish tour-de-force if you will and while I do not like the poet much, I cannot help but say, that read this book atleast once!

 

 

%d bloggers like this: