Stepping Out of My Reading Comfort Zone



The best conversations are bookish. If you are stuck in a party (uh, what’s that, asks my post-pandemic brain) and know no one there, a good thing to do would be share what you are reading. All readers worth their salt would jump in with their own observations, opinions and recommendations.

Talking of recommendations, they are easy to listen to but difficult to digest. What if the other person recommends a genre that you dislike? What if it’s a book you are sure you wouldn’t like? Worse, you may not even like the cover (of course we judge a book by its cover but that’s another blog post in the making).

I am rather wary of others telling me what to read. Somehow, somewhere I feel that the other reader Must be my exact personality type for me to even think of listening to them. However, sometimes I let my judgement slip and do pick up books that others recommend and surprise, I like the book!

Midnight’s Library by Matt Haig is one such book. Left to my devices, I wouldn’t have picked it for a read even though I really like the author, his balanced and positive approach to all things life and universe. Alas, a lot of people on my TL had read it and done the requisite raving. In a soft moment, I started reading this story of infinite possibilities and infinite choices available to us through other lifetimes. And the best part? It’s all through a huge library, a sympathetic librarian and shelves of books that rush past you in a blur. It’s a lovely book, and now I am sure I wouldn’t want any other life than my own.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka was another such book. I wouldn’t have read it, but for the prodding of The Creative Soul Club. Upon reading it, I was baffled. Why was a person changing to a bug? Why was I reading about a maybe cockroach lying flat beneath the sofa? What was the point of it all? Also, what’s life? I also happened to like the book very much, in all honesty. It has stayed with me all this time and while every weird and repulsive bug brings the name Gregor Samsa to my mind, I can appreciate, even if a teeny bit, and mostly because of my book discussion gang, the ahem, underlying themes.

Coming up next is The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond. I am aware he’s much loved and I have read a few of his short stories but that’s about it. I did like to stare at the gate of the school he was supposed to have attended for a few years. It was on my short route to the market, hidden away and accessible on one side by a mud track. Anyway, I liked to know about his life but not his books. Till I was stuck on letter ‘U’ for Blogchatter A2Z and anyone who’s participated in it knows what a pain the last few letters of the alphabet are. So, my kids had the book and all I had to do was to flip through the pages and write a blog post. Simple? Yes, the book is endearing in its simplicity. And having lived in the hills I know the innocence of the hill folks, their slow partaking of life and the contentment of a simple world. Boy, was I glad I read the book! The story feels like a comforting hug.

And the last one so far this year (again, I know which year it is because of the TBR Challenge, talking of which, have you checked it out yet?) Ok, the last book was a bunch of beautiful illustrations of The Horse, the Fox and the Mole. Wait, there’s a boy in it too. All the wisdom of the animals who mysteriously seem to talk, comfort, encourage the little boy is endearing. If you like to look at bold lines, both in drawings and in writing, this is the book for you.

Do you step out of your reading comfort zone often?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

If you read a book without any preconceived notions, without trying to guess what it’s about, you have wondrous insights that’s far removed from what others are thinking. For me, Catch 22 was a tragedy; everywhere else it’s hailed as a comedy of epic proportions.

A second world war novel based partly on the author’s own experience, Catch 22 is a satire with absurd humour lining every situation.

The novel is set in a fictitious island off thd coast of Italy that stations an American bomber troop. Every bomber has to go in a set number of missions and while the war is on, there’s no end to this number. Yossarian, the young protagonist can find no way out of the madfully stressful missions that he has to go on.

All Yossarian wants is to stay alive. He is convinced that he would be killed in one of the missions so he tries to escape going for them by devising inventive excuses.

However, through the absurd, weird, funny and often sad (maybe just to me) events, Catch 22 brings out the foolishness of war and of bureaucracy. Repetition becomes an instrument that presents craziness whether it be Major Major Major Major (a person’s name) or the shrieking nightmares that the young soldiers have.

What’s a Catch-22 situation? Where you lose either way. When you can’t get out of it no matter what. It’s a paradox and that’s the fire of the book, one that underlines everything else.

As I read the book, I feared for Yossarian and his fellow soldiers, their mental health and their helplessness in the face of a war. Not allowed to go home, not fit enough to man the frontlines, the soldiers live in an isolated island in the Pacific, making the best of the situation they are in.

The closing of the book completely reveals the emptiness that war, killings and death bring and the final image of Yossarian paddling away to somewhere remainrd etched in my mind for a long time. (No, this isn’t exactly a spoiler)

Read this much celebrated novel with an open mind, observe what you feel, gauge your own emotions and expand your understanding of your own morality.

I am writing book reviews this month for #BlogchatterA2Z.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a treatise on writing and on life, liberally sprinkled with hope and empathy. Narrated in Anne’s characteristic self deprecating wit, it explores vulnerability and grace in equal measures.

The book has a meditative quality, not to be just read but also re-read, giving the reader new perspective and depth each time.

On being a writer, she says,

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.”

This in itself is gratifying, bringing a kind of validation to writing, something we do for our soul but can now tie with wordly benefits.

Writers often think that the acme of their careers or even their endeavours is being published. Anne says:

“I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self esteem.
This did not happen for me.”

Once we are disinvested in publishing being the sole aim of writing (it’s still a very big part, of course), it becomes easier to find satisfaction in the process rather than the end.

Anne teaches writing workshops and being a writer all her life, her advice springs from practicality and even vulnerability that’s endearing and makes you feel human and glad.

“Sometimes, when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time.”

And that somehow sums up, why we get back to writing again and again in our lives.

Talking about beginning to write, she emphasises the importance of short assignments and knowing that first drafts are always going to be insufferably bad (my euphemism for the ‘other’ word that’s used to describe first drafts). There the battle that sets you against perfectionism, the enemy of writing.

There are rich insights on character, plot, dialogue; Anne makes us see and feel things beneath the surface of our own consciousness and how we can be intuitive to write and develop stories.

While talking about the writing frame of mind, she talks of reverence and awe that helps us be open to things and experiences. Writing becomes meditation, a way of self discovery and of salvation.

Anne also talks about her own writing process, how she takes notes, how she uses her material, how she researches and what to expect from writer support groups.

Here’s something she says that stuck with me:

“They all look a lot less slick and cool … because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through.”

And this, for me, is the essence of the book. Compassion, acceptance, love. Life and writing merge and seem to feed each other.

I am writing book reviews this month for #BlogchatterA2Z.

PPD, Mid-life crisis, the works

A depressive episode can hit you hard. I didn’t even see it coming and when I was enveloped in that fog-like state, everything seemed hopeless, pointless and the reality a little out of reach. It was being behind a thin veil that I could not cast aside.

I am no expert in doling out advice, talking about medication or therapy for I didn’t really embrace any of these. However, when I felt a little better, I understood that I had to take control of a lot of aspects of my life if I wanted to take care of my mental health.

Here’s what I did (again, take this post only as a recounting of my personal experience and to reiterate that it’s possible to get better and take charge of many things)

1. Identifying the triggers – I knew certain things aggravated my mind and disturbed my mental equilibrium. These little things would then blow out of proportion and I would be crippled by a feeling of helplessness and spiralling negative thoughts.

I practiced self awareness to check when and under what circumstances I felt disturbed. That was clue enough to be vigilant.

2. Eating and sleep patterns – My sleep and food patterns would go haywire when I felt unable to cope with many things. Those hidden stresses had an impact on my meal timings and what I ate. I also noticed that I started sleeping more as I felt lethargic.

Keeping an eye on these helped me arrest the downward spiral.

3. Enough sunlight and exercise – Being outdoors works wonders for me. Being out in the natural light had a soothing effect on my dark moods. Even on the days I had no motivation to exercise, I made sure that I went for long walks. I felt calmer after a couple of days of doing this.

4. One positive thought – I would frequently catch myself repeating a thought or a narrative in my head. Telling oneself to not think negative is just not enough. I needed to replace that behaviour of being fearful with being joyful. So I put in one good thought in my head at a time and put that on repeat.

5. Associating places and situations with positive thoughts – Certain situations brought out the worst in me. When my hands were busy but my mind was free, I tended to slip towards negative thought patterns. I identified these places and events and made sure that I replaced those with enough positivity.

I hope these pointers help someone understand that it’s possible to take charge of so many little things that are really the big things in life.

This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter and I am talking about mental health in this series.

Community aids healing in mental health issues

Collective understanding has more impact than an individual’s understanding. This is so true in case of mental health.


Let us look at it in two ways.

Collective subconscious is often deep-rooted into our own value systems and behaviours. If there is an overwhelming belief that talking about mental health is wrong, taboo or just not worthy of the time and effort then that percolates into an individual’s behaviour. Result, in this case, of an indifference to how crucial it is to take care of oneself and one’s mental health.

The other aspect of community is that mental health issues are often recognised for what they are by people outside their own inner circle. The immediate family either cannot see the problem objectively or is not aware of the social behaviour that points to things being not right or balanced.

If is crucial to note that the role of community in supporting and resolving an individual’s mental health issues cannot be underrated.

Community services can play a role in spreading awareness and reducing stigma around mental health issues. Recovery and social inclusion are areas where the support of the community makes all the difference. Treatment and rehabilitation speeds up when the individual feels that he/she is still very much a part of the society, thereby reducing isolation.

This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter where I speak of mental health.

If not the spotlight, atleast some ambient light?

Toba Tek Singh, a short story written by Saadat Hasan Manto is considered one of his finest works and as with his other works, holds a mirror to the societal norms.

I read the story in school as part of the curriculum and came away unimpressed, a little disappointed and confused. What had it been about? It talks of a mental asylum and its inmates. After the partition of India, the two countries decided to exchange their people in the ‘madhouses’ based on their religion. The story features rants and incomprehensible (to my young mind) reactions from people living there.

Why was I confused? At 15 odd years, it was the first time I had encountered mental illness. Rather than a feeling of poignancy, all I felt was apathy and a mild repulsion. And this quite well sums up why mental health or illness is much misunderstood.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels



There are lack of conversations. No, I would go back and say we don’t ‘see’ enough mental issues around us just because we don’t talk about them. It’s not that they are not there; it’s that we don’t acknowledge them.

If we do hear of people who are depressed or suicidal or so affected by a mental illness that their daily lives are impacted, the condition is presented only in black or white. There are no greys. There’s no awareness on the spectrum of disorders or conditions one might have.

Let us atleast begin by speaking of these conditions in the same breath as nutritional deficiencies, infections and even lifestyle diseases. Sensitise children, have more chapters in textbooks, more movies, more songs about these debilitating illnesses that are as physiological in origin as the other physical ailments.

After all, how would we treat it if it’s not really visible?

This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter where I speak of mental health.

Moustache by S. Hareesh: Book Review

Moustache book cover

A crocodile that takes you on its back in the river and talks about people; a tree that’s fallen across water, making a bridge, recognising you and steeling itself to not break as you cross over it; turtles that meet over hundreds of years, wondering about people. Water that ebbs and flows with its own rules, snakes, fish with enchanting names and stories and the songs that people sing when the harvest is on. Folklore and tales for the sake of stories; hearsay that twists events and reputations. Braid these with human greed, inequity and neglect – of the land and water that feeds us and of other people.

‘Moustache’ is raw and atavistic and savage, with an honesty that makes you flinch but that you recognise as truth. Strip away the refinements and the pretensions that we have as a ‘civilised’ society and the veracity is reflected in these pages.

Stark poverty, hunger, caste privileges, abuse of people and of the environment, disease, despair, the narrative is a commentary on all this and more. It is shape-shifting, flitting between reality and magic realism, wandering from real events to folklore of fantastical men so that you are swept along the tide of stories here and there, as relentless as the expanse of water in Kuttanad, the place of below-sea level farming, spread across three districts in Kerala.

The story telling does not follow the conventional linearity, there is a sense of surreality as entire years seem to go by, seen through the lens of sowing to harvesting and yet the protagonists stay where they are, observing, hiding, held by spells.

It’s masculine in every way as a moustache is; the women are reduced to mere objects, harshly treated and seen only as bodies.

The forces of nature seem to be all-powerful, bringing men to their knees through floods, drought and disease, salinating land, reclaiming it till men destroy the ecosystem in an effort to triumph.

In all this, ‘Moustache’ is a giant of a narrative, as copious and wild as the moustache Vavachan sports, that refuses to be trimmed or tamed, with a life of its own.

The Book

S. Hareesh’s ‘Moustache’ has been described as ‘a novel of epic dimensions’, rooted in the regional history of the place, tracing it’s social transition over the years and transcending it to move to the realm of myth. (K. Satchidanandan in the foreword to the English translation). It was originally written in Malyalam as ‘Meesha’ and has been translated by Jayasree Kalathil.

The book is set in Kuttanad, a veritable waterscape of coastal backwaters and an intricate maze of canals, tributaries and rivers, where farmland is dredged up from lake bed, reclaimed and proscribed through bunds. The diversity of the aquatic flora and fauna is described in breathtaking detail; the land, the trees and the natural forces acquire a spirit of their own.

“Kuttanad is the only place in the world that is entirely made by human beings. God had only created swamp and water, but the vast paddy fields that you see today are really only around two hundred years old.”

Caste rules that governed nearly every aspect of a person’s daily life also intruded upon gender roles and where and whom women could marry. Vavachan, the protagonist, also known as ‘Moustache’ throughout the book dares to get facial hair in defiance of caste rules that leads him to a life of wandering and loneliness.

“Caste is still the primary signifier of worth, dignity and position of people…”

Ayyankali, Guruswamy, social reformists of those times make an appearance. There are allusion to the epic Ramayana, in the names and the situations of characters. These definitely would rile people who do not want to question or look beyond what has been fed them.

Moustache actually is a bunch of stories, from myths and folk tales and the songs sung in the countryside.

“Each of us is made of the stories that are told of us. If we look carefully, we can see a train of murmuring stories following each person like the royal mantle follows an advancing king.”

My View

‘Moustache’ is a textured narrative, layered with a rare awareness and depth of the place and time it is set in. It’s as much about the land as about the people.

Buy the book here.

This book review is part of Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Through the Mist: Collaborative Writing at its Best | Blogchatter Projects

It has been a year since my first Collaborative book, Through the Mist was published. The book is a collection of five stories, in different genres and each story is written jointly by all the authors.

It has been an exciting journey so far, right from the visualisation of the concept to making the writing seamless and the actual publishing of the book.

I have been fortunate to have the backing of an excellent team who made this unique project a reality.

As is the case in independent publishing, our first readers have been family and friends. We got a very positive response and that was what made us want to promote the book to a wider audience.

Read the book reviews of Through the Mist here and here.

How is Through the Mist Different?

The book has five authors. In contrast to an anthology, the book has stories which are jointly written by all the authors. It means that each story has five seamless parts and each story has five authors. Remarkably, the stories are a wonderful experience. The tone and the voice of the narrative is consistent despite the fact that each story has been written by five authors who have drawn from their varied perspectives and experiences. The genre of the stories is mixed. They range from humour to horror to laugh riots.

Promoting the Book

The uniqueness of the book is Collaborative Writing. It is possible to have a high quality work emerge from diverse voices.

And yet, promoting the book beyond family, friends and acquaintances requires a special set of skills. I realised that to get an audience interested in a book, it helps to have a community or an eager readership. It also helps to have a social media presence. A personal blog contributes immensely in brand building.

And this is where Blogchatter Projects comes into the picture.

What is Blogchatter Projects?

Firstly, let me introduce Blogchatter to you. Blogchatter is a community of bloggers and social media enthusiasts looking to sync their blogging and promoting their writing through social media.

Blogchatter Projects is a way to champion the cause you are passionate about. For me, it has been a dream to see my book talked about, read extensively and discussed. It is not enough that a book be written. The next logical step is that the world knows about your book.

I am taking this opportunity of Blogchatter Projects to talk about Through the Mist and offer people a chance to read it. For the next one month, I am going to tease my potential readers and tempt them to pick the book.

Come Along On This Journey

I invite all my readers to come along on this fascinating journey of book promotion.

Look for more on the book on the blog.

Follow #CollaborativeWriting #ThroughTheMist and #BlogchatterProjects on Twitter for excerpts, reader feedback, links to reviews and much more.

You can find the Kindle edition of Through the Mist on Amazon.

Buy the Paperback from the Publisher’s Website.

My Blog to Book Journey

This post about my eBook is part of Blogchatter EBook Post Chain.

I take on the Baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival from Lavanya whose ebook ‘The Cockatiel Confessions and Other Collected Works‘ is also part of the mix.

About Lavanya’s ebook: Do you know why the moon is blue? Or why the cockatiel complains? A poor little rich girl & another girl who likes to gamble away her life credits. A tribal warrior & a time traveler. A celestial journey and a missing damsel.

My EBook Journey: When Love takes You Places

I am a compulsive list maker, in my daily life. I love writing listicles, in my blogging life.

For my readers who have been with me for some time, this wouldn’t come as a surprise. Last year I started a weekly listicles feature called Friday Listicles. I talked of how and why I loved listicles. I talked of books, of quotes that inspired me and the learnings in my writing journey. It was a busy time for me, non-blog wise and I was struggling to write regularly.

Sometimes I would wonder how to keep my inspiration strong. At other times, I struggled with being productive, having to juggle various projects. I was also editing my first draft of the previous year’s NaNoWriMo. Editing can be a frustrating and prohibitive experience.

I was sure that there were other writers out there facing the same problems as I did. Sometimes, I would settle down to think deeply about the writing itself, not just the words I was writing but the entire process of coming up with something I wanted to write about, keeping at it and making a good thing out of it. I realised that writing is not just writing the words but also the thinking, the researching, the editing, the rewriting. If I wanted to be good at the entire spectrum, I must acknowledge the stumbling blocks and know how to work around them.

My musings on writing came to the blog in the form of listicles. I was also aware that this would benefit many others who were struggling with some or the other aspect of the writing.

I wanted to put my blog posts in the form of a book.

When I joined Blogchatter this year, my dream seemed to be getting wings. Blogchatter is a community of bloggers on Twitter. It is an amazing place, a wonderful group of dedicated people who give support, provide information and opportunities for bloggers to grow better.

For Blogchatter EBook Carnival, bloggers curated content from their blogs to publish as eBooks. And that is how my own eBook came into being.

About my eBook

Finding Your Writing Flow will inspire you to pick your pen and explore your authentic voice to become the writer you want to be.

Simple and profound at the same time, the book guides you through self doubt, offering tips on recognising your passion for writing, finding inspiration when you feel stuck, staying productive in your writing projects, getting better at your craft and renewing yourself as a writer.

Experience a sense of calm, unleash the writer within and stay motivated with this book.

You can download the book from here. It is free for a limited period of time.

I pass on the Baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival to Mayuri whose ebook ‘26 Favourite Foods & a Little Bit of Me‘ is also part of the mix.

About Mayuri’s ebook: Food and Memories – that is what her book is all about. Food has the power to keep you connected to your past, even as it evolves to fit the future. Come walk down memory lane with her as she shares with you her favourite foods, and memories.

Do click on the links and download these excellent books and support the authors.

Rains

Rains are always welcome after the scorching hot Indian summers. Usually, a fair amount of praying to the rain Gods is done. The first showers, called the premonsoonal showers bring much rejoicing.

When I moved to this city last year, my greatest excitement was that I was going to be near water. There are so many beaches here and I could live out my fantasy of spending hours near crashing waves, looking at the endless expanse of water.

The apartment we chose to live in was near a small lake, nearly a pond in dimension but to me it was the most magnificent water body I had ever seen. I could see the lake from the windows of my rooms. I would look at the changing colors of the water as the morning progressed. Most evenings were spent admiring the sunset and the shimmering water of the lake.

The Happier Times

And then, this summer they drained the lake. A lot of effluents were flowing into the water, the area around was smelling rotten, the mosquitoes bred faster. So, the water was drained and all that remained of a shimmering water body was dried up baked earth. It looked sad and I feverently prayed for rains.

Soon, the lake bed looked quite busy. Many people climbed down and measured something or the other. Earth moving equipment was used, some sort of digging was going on. When I asked the locals what was happening, I was told that the lake was being deepened so that the Ganapati Visarjan this year could be easier.

The Diggers

Hail the Lord! I think in Mumbai, everything revolves around the Elephant God. Now I can barely wait for the 10 day long Ganapati festival.

The rains are nearly here, we have had the refreshing first few showers and water is filling up the lake slowly.

Hope