In Search of a Good Read

Goodreads the platform, has a very evocative name. No matter how much you read or how many books you have in your digital or home library, there comes a time when you are searching for the next book that will make you feel alive, involved, entertained and other such tall orders.

So, Goodreads works on recommendations based on the books you have been reading or the books people in your network or those with similar tastes are reading. However, even these are not enough at times.

And so begins the quest to read beyond your normal preferences. I picked one such book recently, from a platform I rarely visit, published by small, indie publisher with a tacky name meant to obfuscate rather than enlighten. The collection of stories seemed wanting, as did the cover. The blurb had extracts from the stories, as if someone did not want to spend time writing them afresh.

The text, sigh, was rife with exclamation marks as if the reader could not understand what was being written. There were ellipses, is that even the way each sentence should end?

There was no reason the stories were clubbed together. I prefer reading anthologies that have atleast a thread of theme running through the collection or some logic that defends them being put in a book.

This post is a rant, I know, and from talking about finding a good book to read I am discussing why a book did not work. But here’s the understanding I have arrived at: just because we can now put together any content, choose any cover, package and publish it as a book, whether it is 10 pages or 100, does not mean we go ahead with work that does not fulfil the bare minimum obligations of it being good work.

‘Do it right and well, even if there are no gatekeepers.’

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

Throw your Hat over the Fence for Best Results

Being an Indian, I have never worn a hat. In my teenage years, I was obsessed briefly with straw hats, the influence was possibly all the books I was reading of summers in Europe and our own frequent trips to Goa, the most anglicised part of our country I knew at that time.

However, I like the idea of hats being thrown over the fence, for it’s a wonderful way to get my self to climb the fence. Talking of fences, just a few years ago I was itching to jump over hedges, ubiquitous in the city I lived, to photograph flowers that residents had living my nurtured. This was the year I discovered bokeh and macro photography and the art of taking a close-up shot when phine cameras were still rudimentary by today’s standards and you had to hold your arms in and your breath to keep the phone steady.

Coming back to the hats, signing up for BlogchatterA2Z was my way of committing to write everyday. Since I am not much of a planner, when it comes to blog content or books, this was the perfect time to write posts from the heart, at the drop of a hat (there it is again).

So far, it’s going fine. By fine I mean, just today this is the fourth post I am writing and publishing because I am playing catch-up. Atleast I am still in the running. Let’s see if I am there at the finish line.

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

My younger one has raved about this book ever since he read it and trying to get me to read too. One of the reasons was that I refused to listen to the story and the dialogues, since I had already had an earful from ‘The Witches’ (going by the memorised passages, it looks like a wondrously delightful read).

While I was in the transition period, having finished one book and looking for the next one, I was given George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl by the kiddos. It’s fun, fun, fun.

A little story exposition here: little George, 8 years old is left alone for the day and asked to take care of his grumpy grandma. I was blessed with sweet, loving grandmothers, but this grandma in the book is an absolute bulky, cheerless, bossy and made me chuckle all through. Because grandma is such a pain and because she constantly belittles George, misguiding him (which is apparent even to a child) and making him afraid of her supposed witch powers (though it is George who gets lucky with the magic after all) that the boy decides to take matters in his own hands and brew her a medicine that will — if not cure her, definitely do something to shake her up.

He goes around the house collecting every substance that’s runny or powdery or gooey to make a concoction (frankly I shuddered at the stuff he put in, even my non-judgemental, non-motherly self). Finally, after a boil and a stir, grandma gets to taste the medicine with hilarious effects.

All through the book, I was super worried about George’s parents getting back and going all ballistic about the stuff he used up, right from his mom’s toiletries to the veterinary medicines but Roald Dahl being who he is, Mr Kranky (pops) lives the idea and wants to take it further.

No more spoilers but this is a really entertaining book. A Roald Dahl classic, but it for your kid and yourself.

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

FeelGood Homes

‘Banish the gloom’, ‘mood-boosting makeover’, ‘instant feel good spaces’ — these were some of the phrases that made me stop scrolling and click on the article link.

I am a sucker for reading home improvement articles, poring over pictures of beautiful homes and gardens (yes I love that mag too), going through designing and cleaning hacks. In fact my favourite way to de stress is reading about the new shade of throw cushions guaranteed to cheer up a space. Disclaimer: there’s no real connection between a person’s home beautifying abilities and their desire to read about it.

I might be doing the minimal when it comes to making a space feel good but flowers work for me very well. There’s nothing like a bunch of flowers right on my work desk/dining table/ kitchen counter, wherever I can get an eyeful of them multiple times a day. I also like bright corners, designed to be comfortable reading spaces and recently discovered that I had one, which I have made more and more personalised over time. Tapestries are another favourite way of livening up a space and I change cushion covers, table covers, runners and curtains to give a new feel to the room. Oh yes, open windows that let in the fresh air and plenty of light are a must. And to round it all up, I put on my favourite music and cook to the sound of the lyrics.

Do you have any pick-me-up tips for making a space cheerful?

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

When Trees have Email Ids

Much has been written about trees — poetry, prose, research dissertations. Now, it seems we can talk to trees the way we communicate with other humans, via email.

People in Melbourne, Australia are doing just that. In order to increase green cover across the city and mitigate climate change, it was important that the community was involved, in planning the kind of new trees they wanted and taking care of older ones. Perhaps, we humans have an innate desire to speak to trees, beyond watering them, fencing young ones to protect from animals and maintaining them — Melbourne tree programme calls it ‘reduction pruning’. So we are doing it the way we are used to, by sending them emails. There’s a jaunty message that says ‘good luck with the photosynthesis’ (isn’t that cool?), an outpouring of thanks and gratitude.

The colony I live in has a good tree cover, so much so that the temperature is noticeably cooler as soon as we turn in from the main road. There are sprawling mango trees that are laden with fruit in summers; it’s a rarity to see fruit bearing trees out in the open now. Then there are the rain shower trees that make the area a gorgeous yellow in May-June, Gulmohar, Pine trees that lets us pick the pine cones, trees that bear red flowers and others that have little purple ones. There’s mulberry too, the branches springing forth from one epicenter and many others dotting the path. I don’t think I would be sending them emails, even if they happened to have their own ids, but I do say a silent thanks to them all when I walk.

What would you say, if you could talk to a tree?This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral

Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral can very easily be a treatise on marriage and mental illness. Instead, it’s one step ahead, a thriller that builds the suspense and the distrust in your heart slowly, bringing it to a menacing level that chills the reader.

The book begins with the description of quiet domesticity, children who are adored, a serene hill town and a placid pace of life. However, the peace is disturbed by the afternoon doorbell, the arrival of a strikingly similar-in-looks half-sister and the incessant rain and storm.

Soon, peace gives way to chaos as Aisha peels back the layers of her memories and her present life. Her marriage has been fractured for some time, she battles her mental demons, she is living with an unsupportive spouse, a teenaged daughter who shows signs of an eating disorder and through it all, Heer arrives, the person Aisha has abhorred for years.

In a matter of days, Aisha disappears and she is declared missing, presumed dead. But the reader is privy to Aisha’s story. For the next few days, as she ostensibly takes back control of her life but is actually sliding away from reality, the mystery gets deeper.

Who is right, who is good, who has ulterior motives, is there an unreliable narrator, are questions that the reader grapples with.

In places, the prose becomes almost poetic and wise as the story moves along. It is a beautiful delving into marriage and relationships as also into the dark recesses of a person’s mind. The last part is surprising, moving swiftly into the realm of betrayal and avarice.

Read the book for a good storyline and exploration of the nature of relationships. The mental health angle is deeply researched and sensitively handled.

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

Caffeinated and Writing

What’s it about coffee and writers? The two seem inseparable, atleast that’s what popular media would have us believe.

I have always liked coffee more than any other beverage but never made the connection with writing. When I saw that being overly dependant on coffee to get your creative juices flowing was the in thing, I played along.

I also played along with the idea that we cannot function well without that first strong cup in the morning, or that we cannot have a great conversation till we are sipping something. Honestly, we humans are really obsessed with eating and drinking, so much so that no life pursuit remains untouched by them. I know it’s a primitive need, the nourishment and the having enough food to sustain us but I like to wonder, what would I do now this moment, if I were not eating.

But I digress. This post is about coffee and I do like to sample different brews. However, instead of becoming a true blue coffee connoisseur, I am just struck by the futility of it all. I sometimes, many times, use a tea strainer to drain out the ‘coarsely ground specialised arabica beans, dark roasted to perfection’ instead of using the French Press. I have a hack that involves steeping some filter coffee in hot water in a pan and pouring it carefully. I don’t look down upon instant coffee; they are a wonderful convenience, in fact the single-serve pouches ensure I get the same taste and strength every time. I don’t dislike the pre mixes even where all you need to do is empty the pouch in your cup and add hot water.

I am yet to appreciate the undertones, the roast, the oils, flavour or character of brewing. But I would rather not pretend and say I like this brew or that. Coffee is coffee, simply that.

And oh, I can equally write with a tall glass of mint flavoured iced water.

This post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z.

A Book of Light

When something scares you, it’s a sure sign that that’s the very thing you need to do.

I was scrolling through Instagram and came upon a book being read by a fellow blogger, a Van Gogh painting on the cover. I was immediately paralysed by a mix of fear, anxiety and a curiosity to know more. I let that feeling sit in my heart for a few hours, wondering if I should read the book.

And that’s how I came to get ‘A Book of Light’ edited by Jerry Pinto. It’s a collection of real-life accounts of people who have had a loved one battle mental illness. I am wrong there. It is the person and the family who battle it out. Often, the family is at the receiving end, trying to hold it together. There are questions and questionable choices but the book is completely non-judgemental. It presents people and events as they are.

I paused every few pages, letting things sink in. I examined the questions and the doubts, our definition of normal and the vast reservoirs of love that people are.

A Book of Light isn’t merely a conversation on mental illness. It’s compassion washing over you and a lot of healing if you have been hurt somehow.

I have the book on my bedstand, a constant reminder that there’s light in our lives and most often, that light is within us.

Perhaps a few more readings and I would be ready to write a somewhat-review, a more coherent narration of the stories, the varied voices on different kinds of mental health issues.

But for now, I would say it gives me peace.

This post is written for #BlogchatterA2Z.

Of Ambitious Projects and Keeping up with the Joneses

When you are part of a blogging community, every thing that others do entices you to try it out too. BlogchatterA2Z is one such thing.

Blogging everyday is an exciting concept, experimenting with your voice and post format even more so. And it’s a good thing to push your boundaries or perhaps do more of something to see where it leads to.

Participating in a strenuous blogging challenge where you write 26 posts in a month is my version of keeping up with the Joneses.

It’s ambitious of course, considering that I am blogging in fits and starts for a few years now. Let’s get back to my first love, I say to myself in my head.

And the hope is that regular blogging will be this cornerstone habit that will spill onto other aspects of my writing life. I often consider what would happen if I were to write more, write candidly, write of things that are unsaid and unexamined. A voice whispers back that it may be life itself – this putting into words what I need to hear the most.

This month, let’s try and get those words out.

This post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z.

Baba Yaga, the witch

Witches in books and popular fiction have been portrayed as evil looking, with crooked noses, long claws, flying around on brooms.

Baba Yaga, the witch in Slavik folklore is all this and more! So, why is she such a recurring character in folk tales from Slavic nations and from Russia?

A sculpture of Baba Yaga (Source: Public Domain)

There’s a fascination with the morbid that draws us to such characters. Evil is needed to set off the good in the stories. Sometimes the evil characters are grey, sometimes bad and sometimes good.

Let’s get a picture of Baba Yaga. Scrawny, long crooked nose (in some stories, the nose touches the ceiling as she lays to sleep), a good appetite for humans, especially little children (possibly to scare the little listeners of these bed time tales). She does not have an ordinary broom to take her around, rather she travels in a mortar with a pestle by her side. (Phallic imagery again, as in case of brooms but that’s another subject, another day).

Baba Yaga, flying in her Mortar

What I loved best about her stories was her house. It was almost always in a deep jungle, a house on chicken legs (!) that could move around and even turn it’s back on people coming to seek her out. There’s a rooster’s head on top, and (gasp) a fence made of human bones!

She is the one who sets people to tasks. Her criteria for eating someone depends on whether that person is able to complete exaggeratedly difficult things she asks them to do. Like emptying a river with a bucket, combing a grassland to find a small object etc. You get it done efficiently and she rewards you! Travelers seek her out and she replies to their questions if she is in the mood.

To triple up the pleasure of encountering a witch in a story, sometimes Baba Yaga appears as a trio of sisters, all bearing the same name.

As an avid reader of Russian literature for children (ah, those days of Indo-Soviet friendship and cultural exchanges), I found Baba Yaga as one of the most fascinating characters in folk tales. Add to it the beautiful illustrations that can set off a child’s imagination wonderfully.

This post is written as part of the A2Z challenge.