Blog: ‘I Bit Off My Braid And Walked’

Firewife

When you did not come back for me,
I bit off my braid and walked
my heaviness to the river

and cursed the many ways I had
sought to hold you — how I had stood
bloodless under the victor’s flag,

disarmed pillage, all my hopes quivering
mother-of-pearl in the moonlight.

Once, love was an unmarked territory,
a way to forge an uncommon ground.
Then, love lit a burning boundary,
and lifted its great wings in shame and

circled and circled and circled.

The Altar of The Only World by Sharanya Manivannan

When I read Sharanya Manivannan’s The Altar of The Only World two weeks ago, I felt ancient and young, euphoric and despondent, cold and feverish, broken and whole, all at the same time. I should not have been surprised really, for her writing stirred similar feelings in me when I read her short story collection The High Priestess Never Marries too.

It’s hard to go on with life after reading Sharanya Manivannan’s stories and poems. Her characters are affectionately demanding, like the matriarch in my family. I have to sit beside them, listening to their stories, and allowing them to feed me. In those stories, they are warriors, they are victims, they are rescuers, and they are all utterly memorable. They relate their stories with unrelenting candour; it shocks me and it liberates me. Those are the kind of stories I want to forget, only because I want to read them with a new pair of eyes again and take notes in my fresh, shimmering heart, and repeat the process. My love for the people in Sharanya Manivannan’s books is deep-seated and complicated, and my love for her words is unconditional.

Today, Sharanya Manivannan talks to me about writing her latest book The Altar of The Only World (a collection of poems), her love for mythology and celestial beings, and she even recommends some books for us.

The Q & A is here:
I understand that some of these poems have been with you for about nine years. How did you bear the weight?
It was the other way around. The poems helped me bear the weight of my life.

37120616The cover art is gorgeous. How was the idea conceived? How did the process take shape?
I knew two things. The first was that I wanted Saurabh Garg, who came up with the beautiful red-blossomed cover of The High Priestess Never Marries, to design it. The second was that after a little dawdling on my part (because I’m someone who gets super distracted by beautiful visual art and every existing image seemed equally cover-worthy to me) I was absolutely certain that only shadow puppetry would do. Shadow puppetry spoke equally to the themes of light and darkness in the book, and was an homage to wayangkulit, tholpavakoothu and other art forms that were a part of my internal landscape as I wrote the book. Saurabh illustrated the beautiful shadow-woman you see on the cover. We had actually finalised another colour scheme, then the black and gold happened, and it was perfect.

I’d like to say at this juncture, especially for writers with their first book deal in the works — negotiating the cover art is not a lot of fun. It helps if you have clarity on your side, but you can’t be overly attached to your concept either. You’ll also be having that negotiation at the same time that you’re looking at your final proofs, so it can be quite stressful. The cover of The Altar of the Only World was an easier process for me because I knew the immensely talented Saurabh would be the one to make it happen for me (he had come on board to do The High Priestess Never Marries only after a fight!).

Why do you love Venus? The references are sprinkled generously in your poems.
You can see Venus in the sky with the naked eye some nights of the year, and she sometimes hovers by her lover, Mars, and our grandmother, the moon. There’s the traditional reading of the planet as the goddess of love, but you chase her a little more and you are unsurprised to find that she is also the goddess of war, as Inanna. And exiled from heaven, as Lucifer the morning star is. I love that complexity because it gave me so much for my poetry. I love that what has survived through the ages is a less austere kind of imagination, one that embraced the contradictory. We need more of that today.

Hanuman, Sita, Chayya enter your poems. Of course Inanna and even Chimera. Why does mythology influence your work?
Chayya in the book refers to Chayya Sita or Maya Sita — in some tellings, it is Sita’s shadow that undergoes all her trials, while the visceral Sita remains unscathed. Chimera in the text isn’t so much a reference to the creature but to the word that means illusory. I adore mythology because I really see it as a larger canvas for the quotidian. Somewhere near the beginning of my work on The Altar of The Only World, someone told me about how women in interior Tamil Nadu burn camphor in their palms during all-night therukoothu performances, and this stayed with me. Their empathy for Draupadi is also an expression of their own pain. The making and the consumption of art offer catharsis.

You are an ardent lover of folk arts. In The Altar of The Only World, I noted Chhau, Therukoothu, and Theyyam, and a beautiful poem on the ancient instrument Ravanahatha. How did you research?
A couple of years ago, when Karthika Nair’s brilliant Mahabharata-based Until the Lions came out, I looked at her bibliography and squeaked a little. I couldn’t have a bibliography for The Altar of the Only World because its greatest influences were performances, not texts, and I had not kept an exhaustive list of what I had seen, where, and who had performed or produced it. It felt deeply disingenuous to show off my library but not acknowledge the artforms and artists that had moved me to write these poems. So there was no bibliography. The research was always along two parallel lines, which themselves were parallel lines to my actual life and its events (nine years is a large fraction, at any age). One was experiential, the other was scholarly. In the earlier years of writing the book, it was dance, theatre, music, film and painting that most influenced my work, and I consumed as much art as I could. In the later stages, I went to the texts in a more rigorous fashion, reading everything from the Gvay Dvorahbi to the Raghuvamsam. Among these, I will tell you that I loved the translations of folksongs most of all. I wish there was more. Some of the work is incomplete, so we find it only where interlocutors like Nabaneeta Dev Sen and Velcheru Narayana Rao have highlighted it in their papers. At other times, the work is simply lost: there’s an intriguing, lively Mappilai Ramayana (from a Kerala Muslim community) that we have just a small chunk of in translation (I found it in a volume edited by Paula Richman). The existence of these hundreds of Ramayanas gave me the confidence to write my own outgrowth, which does not resemble the canonical epic chronologically but is immersed purely in the emotions of its female protagonist, who most often was treated as beautiful chattel. I put some of that research into this lighthearted piece: http://agentsofishq.com/ramayanas/.

The High Priestess Never MarriesI have always suspected that you are incurably in love with astronomy. 🙂 Not a lot of writers use georama and analemma as literary devices. I would love to hear about your love for all things celestial.
Lucifer opened the heavens to me. The light-bearer — the morning star! I truly loved being able look at science as a poet. I loved rolling those new words on my tongue (analemma, syzygy, occultation…), reflecting on the deep sadness of a pulsar’s song, receiving this new knowledge and bringing it into my language.

Did you slip in a tribute for Sylvia Plath too somewhere? A poem ends with ‘I’ quite like Plath’s ‘I am. I am. I am.’ and udumbara (fig tree) can also be seen in your book. Am I looking too much into it? 🙂
I’m not a Plath fan, to be honest, so no tribute was intended. 🙂

Sharanya Manivannan - Jaison G
Sharanya Manivannan (Photo credit: Jaison G)

In an article, you mentioned that Malaysia closed its doors on you a decade ago. I am truly sorry and I hope Chennai is being kind to you. I am not able to shrug off the feeling that some verses are surreal lamentations of a woman who is uprooted, displaced. Am I hearing Sharanya’s voice there?
Of course. I’m a double exile. I’m a Sri Lankan Tamil who grew up in Malaysia holding an Indian passport. It is no coincidence, although I may not have realised it at the time, that another double exile, Sita, was whom I was drawn to. You know, I was thinking the other day about how an interviewer asked me two months after I moved here (right before I got into trouble with the Malaysian government for writing that it operates on an apartheid structure) if India was home to me and I said “Yes”. I’d never lived here before, except for one failed half-year attempt when I was 19. But I was so profoundly traumatised that I said what I wanted to have become true. More recently, another journalist asked me, flipping through the pages of The Altar of The Only World, whose voice A Country Contains Nothing, which is in the Malay verse form known as the pantun, is in. She meant: was it Sita’s, Lucifer’s or Inanna’s? And I said, “Mine, actually”. Just like the poem The Amputees is really about the temple demolitions I had been tracking in 2005 and 2006 (more recently brought to attention in the film Kabali) which led to my eventual status as a political dissident. I poured my emotions about losing places I loved into this book.

The blurb quotes David Shulman: “Riptides of Tamil hide beneath or within her (Sharanya’s) honed English, for those who can hear and see.” I love that aspect in your books — the way Tamil hugs English. How is it seamless and sublime?
I have to admit it was a wonderful shock to read that line that in the blurb Professor Shulman wrote for my book, because where Tamil is concerned I often have imposter syndrome. I don’t write in the Tamil script except rarely with extreme care and with a trusted friend to look it over, although I do read it, slowly. Then there is the question of speech. I speak an Eastern Sri Lankan dialect, which is what I grew up with, and many Chennaiites (especially of the middle class and above, but markedly not below) are remarkably unfriendly, casteist and even jealous of or to anyone with an accent of any kind — be it in Tamil or in English. A few months ago, I heard Professor Shulman read from the Kambaramayanam under the banyan tree at Kalakshetra, and I enjoyed so much his own accent, for it was proof of how deep understanding and love don’t need to be reflected in only the superficial. Still, I speak Tamil only with those who aren’t comfortable in other languages, and at home, and with a few close friends. But I internalise the language absolutely when I hear it, and think in it as well. It’s interesting to me how my use of Tamil in English is noticed in the same way that so many people have told me that they’ve never seen Chennai written about like it is in The High Priestess Never Marries. Perhaps it’s the friction, the unbelonging, that allows me my askew and always alert perspective, and forces from me my creative rejoinders.

Some poems are slightly reminiscent of Rumi and Khalil Gibran’s works. Is it because of the mystical air around the poems?
Perhaps. I love Rumi’s poetry. I also love that a queer Muslim poet is still a bestseller in this bigoted world of ours. Which brings me to your next question…

My blogger-friends here and I would love to read queer literature written by Indian authors. Would you recommend some for us?
Let me offer a list whether or not I have read the author in question, because I’m just happy to signal-boost literature: Ismat Chugtai, Suniti Namjoshi, Hoshang Merchant, A. Revathi, Living Smile Vidya, R. Raj Rao, Vasudhendra, Rahul Mehta, Parvati Sharma. These are writers whose work has dealt with relationships and sexuality; I have left out of this list others who are queer but may not forefront the same in their work. My friends Nadika Nadja and Nawaaz Ahmed haven’t published book-length works yet, but they will. There’s a lot of good writing online and in anthologies too — and finding these writers and encouraging their work may pave the way to books from them too. I can’t over-emphasise the importance of sharing links in the age of algorithms. It can go a long way, both in bolstering a writer’s confidence, and in bringing their work to a larger audience. On that note, thank you so much for this interview, Deepika. It’s been a pleasure!

(Thank you very much, Sharanya!) ❤

Have you read Sharanya Manivannan’s books? If you haven’t, which one would you read first? Please feel free to share your thoughts. Sharanya and I would love to hear from you. Thank you for reading!

Links to Sharanya’s profiles:
Instagram, WordPressand Twitter

Blog: Reading Bingo 2017

Goodreads just told me that I have read 157 books this year. Please allow me to bask in this little moment for a couple of reasons. A) I have only read 364 books all my life. B) I started reading when I was 28. I don’t know what I was doing with my life till then. Quite an opsimath and a sulking one at that. When I read posts on how readers met books when they couldn’t even talk, I mope and mope. Again, one is never too late really. At least that’s how I comfort myself. C) Although I chased a goal every year and pushed myself to reach it (cheated a couple of times by reading picture books ;)), this year, I let go of goals; I read because I felt like reading. That was liberating.

So this is how I look as I write this post:

blog-happy-panda
Happy panda says hi. Image from here.

I wanted to write year-end lists, but I saw TJ and WG’s posts on Reading Bingo. It seemed like a simple yet creative idea to revisit the books I have read this year. Their posts are here and here. And here is my list:

reading-bingo-2017As per the grid, I should choose one book for each square. But I am going to break the rules.

Books with more than 500 pages:
Stephen King’s IT – 1116 pp (I will never know how I survived 1.1.1.6 pages. I should not inflict such wounds on myself anymore. Will you remind me if I forget?)
Philip Pullman His Dark Materials – 1102 pp (Where does Iorek Byrnison live? I want to meet him.)

A forgotten classic:
Does Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself count? Maybe, I have brought it to this square because I want to forget it. 😉

Books that became movies:
Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything
The movie was like…

tenor
GIF from here.

RJ Palacio’s Wonder (My neighbour — a stranger — and I became friends instantly because we bawled together. Such connections are precious. I missed that neighbour when I watched Coco. I would have so loved to cry with her.)

A book published this year:
Sharanya Manivannan’s The Altar of The Only World

A book with a number in the title:
Reema Moudgil’s Perfect Eight

A book with a mystery:
Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life

A book of non-ficion:
Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive (This book saves my life every now and then.)

A book written by someone under thirty:
Kirthi Jayakumar’s The Doodle of Dimashq (Kirthi, you were not 30 when you wrote the book. So yaay!)

A book with non-human characters:
Grid, you should not ask that question to me. I live to read books only animals. However, I must say something about this book because the dog is a poet — Samm Hodges’s Downward Dog: Very Serious Haiku from a Very Serious Dog. I don’t think I can stop with one book. I loved Anita Nair’s Muezza and Baby Jaan, Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy, and Seigo Kijima’s Polar Bear Postman.

A funny book:
Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in A Boat (Hi Montmorency!)

A book by a female author:
Square, you are drunk. Go home!

Books with a one-word title:
Nayyirah Waheed’s Salt
Rana Dasgupta’s Solo
Natsuo Kirino’s Out

Books of short stories:
The Best Short Stories of O Henry (I took two years to read that book. Phew! Give me a medal.)
Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things

Books set on a different continent:
Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin
Karan Bajaj’s Johnny Gone Down

The first book by a favourite author:
John Green’s Looking For Alaska (The book hasn’t become my favourite though.)

A book you heard about online:
How do I even answer this question when I hear about books only online! How! To still use the square, let me choose Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy.

A best-selling book:
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

A book based on a true story:
Imbolo Mbue’s Behold The Dreamers (This must be based on SO MANY true stories.)

A book at the bottom of your TBR pile:
Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A book your friend loves:
Since it’s impossible to mention all the 25,872 books, I shall stop with Cecelia Ahern’s Love, Rosie.

Books that scare you:
Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, and Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. They topple my universe, question my beliefs, challenge by habits. They are SUPER scary. You know what I mean.

A book that is more than 10 years old:
Munro Leaf’s The Story of Fredinand. The book is 81-years-old.

The second book in a series:
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. Twitter introduced that book to me. An international readalong is going on now. The books starts on Midwinter’s eve and the boy turns 11. Does it remind you of any other book?

A book with a blue cover:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Some thoughts on the said books are here.

Thank you for reading. Please tell me about your favourites from this year. 🙂

Blog: Some Love For The Book Fairies

The Book Fairies love me. It’s official.

I am not talking about the ones who leave books in public places; I am talking about the ones who send me books, the ones who send me books without telling me only to make me feel happy and special, and the ones who send bookish stuff.

Please be with me while I marshal my thanks.

Uncle OT found my not-so-subtle request to send me some present on my birthday subtle. So, he sent me a gift card and I got these books. (Uncle OT, Anu Boo sends you love. Me too.)

A friend from Thailand gifted this book and it reached my Kindle. I didn’t know it was coming. A surprise that I will never forget. Right after I land myself in a job, I must send a huge bar of dark chocolate to her.

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A friend from Germany sent these. Please allow me to shed happy tears. I really, really want to cry. I don’t know what I can send her. (Hallo Freund, Sie können meinen Hund für ein paar Tage behalten.)

Capture

A friend from Singapore thought I would love this book. Of course, I loved it. But this sort of love is melting my heart. Excuse me while I make more saccharine remarks. When gratitude washes over me, I am bound to write posts like this one.

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AK observes my moods like a weatherman and sends me these books.

I shamelessly whine on Twitter that I look forward to buying a book after I go back to work. An author, whom I really adore, has now sent that book to me. How do I handle this kindness?

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My best friend sends these. *sniffles*

My nephew sends something on animals. He knows me.

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There are more. Maybe, my memory is even betraying me. But, I wanted to take a moment to send some love to all the book fairies.

Thank you for sending me books.

Thank you for making me forget my famished bank account and the abandoned Amazon account.

Thank you for being kind when you didn’t have to be.

Thank you!

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

Winnie-The-Pooh by AA Milne

Blog: Cat Person

Did you read the short story Cat Person? I read it and I didn’t like it. Instead of discussing what didn’t work for me in the story, I am choosing to respond to it by writing my version of it — Dog Person. 🙂 I hope I would like this silly story. 😉

Dog Person

Misba met Ravana on a Sunday night toward the end of her shift at the pet store. It was her first week there, but Ravana was a regular. He bought 3 kgs of Pedigree, a pack of tiny bones, and a tin of treats. The owner was visibly delighted to see Ravana. “How are the dogs doing, Ravana?” the owner swiped Ravana’s card. “They are all okay. Looks like Muthu has to lose some weight. The boy has been eating his sister’s food too. Greedy fellow!” The owner chuckled. Misba dropped Ravana’s things in a holdall which Ravana brought. “Would you like me to bring the bag to your car?” Misba asked. That’s when he noticed Misba’s presence. “I don’t have a car. I am just a street away from the store and I walk. But thank you!”

After Ravana left, the owner and Misba dusted the store before shutting it for the day. “Ravana has three dogs, Misba,” the owner sounded like he was talking to himself. Misba had to strain to catch his words.

“Muthu, Meena, Marudhu! They are mongrels whom he rescued from the street.”

“What about his family, Uncle?”

“I haven’t asked him and he hasn’t mentioned too. But the man has been my customer since he rescued the dogs. It’s been about four years.”

Misba never had pets. Her family’s religious values didn’t allow. But her heart ached whenever she saw people with their dogs. She might not have raised an animal, but she knew the joy and agony of sharing one’s soul with an animal.

Ravana frequented. When the owner was not around, Misba exercised the liberty to interview Ravana about his dogs, the painful past of the mongrels, and how they all had gained health and vigour after they were adopted by Ravana. “Would you like to meet them, Misba?” Ravana asked nonchalantly, as he dropped the treats and toys in his bag. If anybody else had asked that question, Misba would have said no, without paying another thought. But this was Ravana. The man who had three dogs. Even if he was a molester or a murderer, Misba could find her way out. She remembered the reassuring presence of the pepper spray canister in her satchel. “May I drop by after the shift? I am closing at 7 tonight.” Ravana wrote his address behind the bill and left it on the counter. He was not the one to text his address.

On her way to Ravana’s house, Misba bought a bag of apples for the dogs. She remembered Ravana mentioning that his dogs loved fruits. Misba didn’t have to search for Ravana’s modest house. One of the dogs was at the gate, barking at a feral cat. She wasn’t sure if she could open the gate. From the threshold, Misba called for Ravana. The man sprinted from the drawing room, the dogs followed him, and he opened the gate. “I thought you wouldn’t come, Misba. Thank you for visiting. Thank you!” Misba asked if she could get a knife to chop the apples and to treat the dogs.

She sank in his sofa, with a plate and a knife in her lap, and all the three dogs sat around her, drooling and asking. Muthu was a black dog with a patch of white fur on his chest. “The tuxedo doggie,” Ravana laughed. Meena was all brown, and Marudhu was all white except a black patch around his left eye. “The pirate!” Misba, who was usually taciturn, couldn’t reach for any word that evening. Her silence was thicker. After six apples were cut and Misba’s hands were polished, Marudhu jumped on the torn black sofa and lied beside her, with his snout between his paws. Meena placed her velvety jaw on Misba’s feet, while Muthu sat against Misba, demanding her to scratch his chest and forehead. How could Misba say no!

The image of Misba being surrounded by his dogs warmed Ravana’s heart. From the way his dogs took to Misba, he knew her love for them was pure, unconditional. He let her soak in the moment, while he sat on the floor, reading RK Narayan’s A Tiger for Malgudi.

The room was filled with silence and it was comfortable.

The dogs began to snore, as though they had signed a pact to follow a rhythm. Muthu started the tune, Marudhu took it from him, and Meena ended it. The snoring went on and on. Misba had to be at home before 9, but she had no strength in her heart to wake up the dogs.

“Would you like to come next weekend too, Misba?” asked Ravana as he slipped a bookmark into his book. He asked his dogs to let Misba go. She stood up, dusted the fur on her t-shirt and jeans, touched the dogs’s heads one more time, and shook hands with Ravana. As she buckled her footwear, Ravana came to the door with a bunch of books in hands. “These are for you. Looks like you are a dog person too. You would love these books.” Misba took them from him like a child, reluctantly, but her eyes betrayed her enthusiasm. She read the titles aloud. The Art of Racing in The Rain by Garth Stein. Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. Dog Boy by Eva Hornung. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. “When you come next time, we can watch some dog movies together and discuss these books. It would be fun. And thanks for the apples!” Ravana clapped on her back.

Misba didn’t have to use the canister. She was not sure if she would ever use it in Ravana’s house, but she loved the dogs and Ravana’s silence. She didn’t know why he lived alone– No! She didn’t know why he didn’t have a human companion. With three dogs, a pregnant bookshelf, a modest house that could do with a fresh coat of paint, and the sort of silence that was comforting, Ravana seemed content and happy. That was enough for Misba — for her friend and his furry friends to be happy.

c877bd9c26629e7bb81c4d24a4a20c60--dog-search-husky-dog
Image from here.

Blog: Six Degrees of Separation

Since the time I read about Six Degrees of Separation in Whispering Gum’s blog, I have been turning the thought in my head, to see how I would link the books, and to know if I can jog my memory. I am trying this month and I hope I would try this exercise regularly. It’s fun.

From Kate’s blog (booksaremyfavouriteandbest), I understand that the journey for December has to be started from Stephen King’s IT.

The clown wasn’t scary, but the fictional town Derry was. How could children live in a dark, dark town like Derry! I stayed up reading till 5 AM a couple of nights to finish reading the book because my ticket for the movie was booked. Stephen King cheated me. I didn’t know the book was THAT long. That was TOO long. I am sure his editors were scared to read the book, so they failed to run their scissors on hundreds of pages. Speculations aside, the book helped me to make some decisions: I will not read King’s book for the next two years; they make me anxious. I will not read horror for a little while. I really need a breather. (Delia, I will read your story alone. Yaay!)

I read Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything just before the movie was released. I enjoyed Maddy’s journal entries and her mini -reviews. I love when the characters talk about books. In Everything, Everything, Maddy reviewed The Little Prince, Flowers For Algernon… Oh! To my dismay, she mentioned a few spoilers too. But that’s okay. I look forward to reading Flowers For Algernon. And who doesn’t love The Little Prince!

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed wrote about SO many books. Loads of them. But I chose to read Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter. I read it when Chennai was flooded in 2015 and I read it by the subtle light of candles. In retrospect, I realise that I could have read something fun because the city was already drowning, but for reasons which I can’t fathom, I read The Optimist’s Daughter. It’s just the kind of book that’s placed in a particular spot in my bookshelf, so that it can keep looking at me. It’s that dear.

“At their very feet had been the river. The boat came breasting out of the mist, and in they stepped. All new things in life were meant to come like that.”

The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

Just when Chennai was facing the worst deluge, I read Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and The Professor too. The problem with the book was that it brought too many wonderful characters into my life and I didn’t know how to love all of them. As I write this post, it occurs to me that I had wanted to read The Housekeeper and The Professor to feel all the warmth and kindness, and to forget that we were stranded with no power and to make peace with the image of a boat tearing through the floodwater in my street.

I read Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat even before I read The Housekeeper and The Professor. Maybe, The Guest Cat showed me the sort of Japan that I couldn’t see in Haruki Murakami’s books. Those were the only Japanese works I was reading then. So The Guest Cat cleansed my palate and widened the horizon. Chibi, the cat, is precious. The couple who are in love with Chibi are more precious. How painful it must be to fall in love with the cat who doesn’t belong to them! How hard it must be to mourn the cat who doesn’t belong to them, but who belongs to them in many ways! The Guest Cat tests our patience. Nothing really happens. But, that’s the thing. Nothing really happens but the loss and longing bubble in the pit of my heart.

“Having played to her heart’s content, Chibi would come inside and rest for a while. When she began to sleep on the sofa–like a talisman curled gently in the shape of a comma and dug up from a prehistoric archaeological site–a deep sense of happiness arrived, as if the house itself had dreamed this scene.”

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

While I am at an animal-book, let me slip a note about Patrick McDonnell and Daniel Ladinsky’s Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends. Most poems in the book are shorter than the title. 🙂 It is the kind of book that I want to read at the end of an awful day and an amazing day. It’s the kind of book that I want to carry in my bag and keep beside my pillow. It is my best friend in a paper jacket. 🙂

She Phoned Saying

she phoned saying,
“i will
be over in a
minute,”
but the sweet snail
was just figuratively
speaking
of course

Have you read any of these books? Are you trying this activity too? Let me know. 🙂

Blog: His Dark Materials

DQai9u6VQAA9B5UI picked up this intimidating tome this morning. 1102 pages. The font is not generous. I am not sure how I am going to hold it in my hands for long hours. Kindle has spoiled me. But I have decided to end my year with this book, which I have already begun to love. I think I will write a couple of blogs about His Dark Materials. However, I want to share this modest, beautiful preface with you.

I began to write this novel with little sense of the plot, even less notion of the theme, and only the vaguest idea of the characters. I’m convinced that that’s the way to do it. I tried to work out the plan of a novel once, when I was young, ahead of writing it. It was an excellent plan. It took me months and covered page after page, and in the end I was so fed up with the damn thing I threw it away and started a quite different novel with no preparation at all, which came out much better. I suppose these things are partly temperamental; I know that some excellent writers make a great thing of planning every book before they write it; but it doesn’t work for me.

One thing such a technique prevents is what I think every long book must have if I’m not to go mad writing it, and that’s the element of surprise. I had no idea what Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, would say when Lyra first came face to face with him. His vulnerability to strong drink was a huge surprise. I knew there was going to be a boy called Will, but his reason for running away and thus meeting Lyra was a complete mystery to me until it happened. As for Lee Scoresby, I was as ignorant of his existence as the gyptians themselves the sentence before he turned up. These surprises are pleasant and exciting; they feel like a kind of reward. If I knew they were coming I wouldn’t enjoy them at all.

In the first sentence above, I mentioned something I called the theme. By that I mean what the book is about, in some fundamental sense. I’ve heard that some writers decide on a theme first, and then make up some characters and a plot to exemplify it. They seem to get on all right, but again, it wouldn’t work for me. A book, especially a long book like His Dark Materials, has to have some sort of theme, or else you’ll be working for a long time (this story took me seven years) in a moral vacuum. But that doesn’t mean you have to decide what the theme is. If you’re working as seriously as you know how to, for a matter of years, then a theme will emerge whether you want it to or not. It’ll be something you think very important. It might be the most important thing you know. Once you know what it is, you can shape the story more precisely to help it show up, but it’s a mistake to rely on the theme to lead the story for you. I think I did that in a couple of places in this book, and it’s the worse for it. But there we are, we’re never too old to learn. Next time I shall remember: the story should lead, and the theme will emerge in its own time and its own way. Besides, if you want to write something perfect, write a haiku. Anything longer is bound to have a few passages that don’t work as well as they might.

So here is a story that was the best I could do at the time, written with all the power and all the love I had, about the things I think most important in the world. I think it was worth writing. I hope you think it’s worth reading.

— Philip Pullman
Courtesy: Random House

This note is comforting for a lot of reasons. Writing terrifies and liberates me. Before I hit the ‘publish’ button every time, I pose some questions to myself: Why did I write this? Why should anybody read this? What makes me think that this piece is worthy? Did I prepare well? Am I just rambling? Is my grammar okay? Are my sentences too short? Just the sort of questions which fan my insecurity. But I muster the courage and publish the posts because I have something — just a whisker — to share, and I want to say it in the way I know.

I love Pullman’s note even more, for I don’t ever scheme my stories; that has made me feel small. I have never known the beginning and the end. I have always allowed my writing to lead me, surprising myself on my way. Maybe, that’s why I think that my stories write themselves and that I am their instrument. I can never chase and pin down my thoughts if I work backward. Maybe, that was why I couldn’t survive in journalism, for my temperament supplied my words.

Sometimes, writing feels like a trance. Sometimes, it’s like abusing substance. Sometimes, it’s like inflicting pain on myself. Sometimes, it’s like lifting weights. Sometimes, it’s like walking an unruly dog. Sometimes, it’s like communicating with the beyond. Sometimes, it’s like the last ray of the evening sun. But, it’s always, always liberating.

PS: I thought Pullman’s note might motivate you or hurl a pebble in your pond, if the idea of writing a book is in the offing. 🙂

What do you think of this preface? What are your thoughts?

Blog: My November in Books

23319015_1530041427088493_4897820902453455231_nI have been reading and writing a lot these days — one of the greatest perks of being between jobs. Despite being desperate to be employed again, I am enjoying this time. Loads of books. Loads of blog-hopping. Loads of books again. No complaints at all. 🙂 I am practically broke, but how can I complain when books are my magic carpet! And that reminds me of this passage from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.

This is how my November looked in books:

Non-Fiction:
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, Sam Taylor (Contributor) – Five Stars
Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green – Five Stars
Sunrise, Sunset: 52 Weeks of Awe & Gratitude by Kim Weiss – Three Stars
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay – Five Stars
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman – Five Stars
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling – Three Stars

Fiction:
Undelivered Letters by J. Alchem – Two Stars
I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi – Five Stars
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong – Five Stars
Maidless in Mumbai by Payal Kapadia – 3.5 Stars
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, Michael Hofmann (Translator) – Five Stars
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome – Five Stars

Poetry:
Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair by William Evans – Three Stars
Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav – Three Stars
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur – Three Stars
Vertigo: There Is a Secret Written in the Stars and in the Mountains by Analog De Leon – Two Stars

Children’s Literature:
Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung Tran-Davies, Josée Bisaillon (Illustrator) – Five Stars
If a Horse Had Words by Kelly Cooper, Lucy Eldridge (Illustrator) – Five Stars
Polar Bear Postman by Seigo Kijima – Five Stars
Happy Birthday! by Mamoru Suzuki – Five Stars
Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels by Kazue Takahashi – Five Stars
The Snowbear by Sean Taylor, Claire Alexander (Illustrator) – Five Stars

YA Fiction:
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – Five Stars
The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis – Three Stars
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – Four Stars

21740031_1482000091892627_2288840640534506545_nI am channelising my inner Sybill Trelawney to see if a job offer is on its way, and I have even asked the centaurs to read the stars for me. I hope I would hear from them soon, and I am curious to know how my reading and writing pattern would evolve after I start a full-time job. In spite of the anxieties, I am asking myself to enjoy this precious time.

And, and, and may your December be filled with light moments and bright memories. 🙂

How did your November go? What was your favourite read? What do you recommend for me?

Images courtesy: Buddha Doodles