One Part Woman

One Part Woman is an interesting read (I took close to a month only because I undertook a lot of travel during this time). A striking tale, it deals with the life of a couple – Kali and Ponna – and the tribulations they face for being childless. The jibes, the insinuations, the off the cuff remarks, the vituperative callousness of people – all shake the very foundations of their matrimony and push them to consider participating in the chariot festival of Ardhanareeswara ( Mathorubhangan in Tamil which translates in English to One Part Woman). The festival night is marked by a custom – childless women can engage in consensual sex with any stranger. What happens next is what the reader has to find out for I don’t want to be a spoiler!

One Part Woman

In olden days when there were no procedures like IVF, this probably was a sane way of overcoming the tag of being barren. Besides children born to such unions were called God’s children. Under this context one wonders why there should have been such a furore which eventually forced the writer Perumal Murugan to kill his Muse! Sad, it is not only Tamil’s loss but also to every Indian for there could have been more translations in English / regional languages to revel and regale in reading good books – for Perumal Murugan is a compelling writer.

The narrative technique used is perfect for the unravelling of the plot – it flits between the past and the present – as memories and realities of Kali and Ponna. It is striking that the novel begins and ends with the description of the Portia tree which seems to be the silent witness to the intricacies of the evocative yet suspenseful happenings that are narrated with urgency, poise and élan.

Am sure that reading the novel in Tamil would be a literary pleasure, thanks to the lyrical and intense nature of the theme. For me a Tamil read would be a struggle but not impossible – I could actually translate a lot of the conversations into Tamil and enjoy it better.

READING PERSEPOLIS

Cartoons and comic strips bring out the child in me. I enjoy reading them as well as have a good hearty laugh. But when I found Persepolis in my E-Library collection (I have collected many books over the last few years and was struggling to find time to read them) and started reading it, I realized I am reading a new genre – the graphic novel. A graphic novel presents the story in a comic strip format which is at the same time a long fictional work. What made Persepolis different is that it is not only graphic but is also autobiographical. This has made the narration in first person even more authentic and real. Besides her choice of opting for this format has aided her to use the graphics along with the text  – a powerful medium to convey the trials and tribulations, her struggles as well as tumultuous experiences.

Persepolis-books1and2-covers

I had read about the the pro-American stance of the Shah of Iran, the subsequent Islamic revolution, the deposition of the Shah of Iran and the coming into power of Ayatollah Khomeini who established Islamic rule with the interest of a History buff. However, that did not prepare me for what I read about being in Iran during those troubled times. Marjane Satrapi’s first hand experience of life in civil war torn Iran is heartbreaking and poignant.

The wild longing of a child to be free is curtailed and thwarted… The travails of a teenager growing up in a strife torn region is so alien to most of us… The aching pain of growing up as a child in a completely repressed society is something that those who have not experienced will ever understand. We take so much for granted, one of the starkest paradoxes of life, is brought to fore when we read accounts like Satrapi’s.

The throbbing agony of life in a war torn country is narrated with such stark vividness that it makes this beautiful graphic novel a most compelling read.

Five Stars to this awesome book! Do read it folks!!

The Legend of Khasaak

When one is ready to grasp, the book appears! So was it with me and the famed Khasaakinte Ithihaasam. Hailing from Palakkad, the places mentioned in the narrative, the charm of life in rustic villages, and the typical Palakkad dialect – that of Ezhavas and the Tamil laced Malayalam of Rowthers in particular – all were a veritable treat for the book lover in me and something I could connect with, being brought up in a sleepy Palakkad village.

Ravi, the protagonist in the novel, comes to Khasak (Thasrak is the actual name of the village which is in Kodumbu Panchayath in Palakkad) with an anarchist past to atone for the profanities committed. Such is his guilt that he drops out of an undergraduate honours course in spite of being chosen for higher studies in Princeton University, in a quest for a spiritual life. He starts a new life setting up a single teacher school and lives with the village folk, a multi religious community. Despite the new life, the dichotomies still drive his life. He instills the love of learning in students but also learns that there is no escape from the relentless dictates of Karma.

Khasaakinte Ithihaasam

Khasaakinte Ithihaasam

The rustic life portrayed is charming and magical. The characters are all drawn with such finesse – be it the retarded Appukili, the village Maulavi Alla Pitcha, the orphan Nizam Ali who later dons the garb of Khaliyar, the village beauty Maimuna, the Hindu fundamentalist Sivaraman Nair, the toddy tapper, Kuppuvachan, the village tailor Madhavan Nair and many others including the students at school.

Khasak beautifully interweaves myth and reality, the sacred and the profane. It is a peek into the web of life in a simple village. Its word play is replete with its lyrical intensity as well as black humour. No wonder then that this is a masterpiece in and literally divided Malayalam Literature into pre-Khasak and post-Khasak eras.

And The Mountains Echoed

“A story is like a moving train,” writes Nabi, one of Khaled Hosseini’s characters in And The Mountains Echoed. “No matter where you hop on board, you are bound to reach your destination.” 

Absolutely true. If you have been in a moving train you would have realized how it is a macrocosm of life. Observing people can be such a rewarding exercise to get an insight into human nature. Simple window gazing is also an interesting pursuit. Khaled Hosseni, the captivating writer that he is, is able to give each and every character quirks and traits, and make each one of them stand out in a particular way as he weaves his plot deftly and courses to the end. Having read his The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew his latest book, And The Mountains Echoed, could be also a wonderful read. 

And The Mountains Echoed

I was not disappointed. This book will tug at your heartstrings, for it did to mine. The story spanning from the fall of 1952 to the winter of 2010 takes us across continents and datelines, alternating between war torn Afghanistan, the US, the ‘chic and fashionable’ Paris and the picturesque Greek island of Tinos. Saboor, Abdullah & Pari’s father, narrates a charming yet haunting story – one begins to wonder what place does this story of a cruel ogre and a little boy have in the narrative; and soon it is laid threadbare before the reader. The endearing bond between ‘Abollah’ (that’s how little Pari calls him) and Pari is beautifully etched; yet it aches your heart to see that they go in two different ways in the beginning of the story and even more so when the eagerly awaited meeting takes place at the end.

Nila Wahdati is portrayed as a complex character much ahead of her times, shocking the Puritan sensibilities of many as she live life on her terms. I almost saw in her parallels to our own Indo-Anglian / Malayalam writer Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Das. May be because she too was an iconoclast who openly and freely treated hush and taboo subjects like sensuality and sexuality in a guilt free way and with remarkable ease. It is Nabi, her chauffeur and Abdullah’s uncle, who knows the secretively hidden sides of Nila. 

Hossein’s way with words casts a spell and makes the story come alive. Many a time while reading his books I have written down some of the lines that resonated with me.

“If an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.”

“If you were the poor, suffering was your currency.”

“It is important to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle.”

“It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.”

“She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you.” 

“Some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

“The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.”

“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.” 

“When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.” 

“You say you felt a presence, but I only sensed an absence. A vague pain without a source. I was like a patient who cannot tell the doctor where it hurts, only that it does.”

I would give full 5 stars to this book. Yes, a wonderful read.

The Time Keeper: A Review

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.
You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. 
Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are note late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. 
Man alone measures time. 
Man alone chimes the hour. 
And because of this, man alone suffers a paralysing fear that no other creature endures. 
A fear of time running out.”

So succinctly put across. Yes, everyone feels that Time is like a Damocles’ sword hanging above one’s head. Humans alone are afraid of time running out – of growing old, of falling ill, of dying – of loved ones and oneself… well, the fears are innumerous. In the Time Keeper Mitch Album explores the value of Time.

Dor, the first man to count the hours; Alli, his wife who he loves so very dearly and their 6000 year old love story…
Victor, who longs for eternity…
Sarah, who wants no time…
Both want to stop the clock for different reasons…
And their fates are intertwined in the web of the deftly crafted plot by Mitch Albom. And it is the tale of Time. Time that is often taken for granted and appreciated only when one has nothing more left or very less left of it.

The Time Keeper

Though I took a week to read this ‘unputdownable’ book, it was only because Time was at a premium. 🙂 Every night I would take the book to read in bed, read two or three lines and drift to sleep, thanks to hectic day time schedules. I vaguely remember waking up in the middle of the night and switching off the lights! So much so I had to read the rest of this inspirational book first thing over the weekend.

This book also reminded me of the enthralling tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge whose ghost journeys through Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future to realise the value of relationships, charity and compassion – in the perennial classic of Charles Dickens – The Christmas Carol.

I also loved the way how the author has weaved the tale around myths and history with masterful ease – the Tower of Babel for instance. Pick up the book and curl up on a bean bag and yes, Read!!! 🙂

The remarkable juxtaposition of the two threads interwoven with the third one – of Dor, Father Time, is a clever technique. Notwithstanding some improbable situations (it is a fable after all) one never fails to imbibe the strong message of the story. Take care of the moments and days and years will take care of themselves.

Some lines simply captivated me for their wealth of meaning.
“And when hope is gone, time is punishment.” 
“When we are almost alone is when we embrace another’s loneliness.” 
“You really loved her?” “I would have given my life.” “Would you have taken it? “No child,” he said. “That is not ours to do. ” 
“Time is not something you give back. The very next moment may be an answer to your prayer. To deny that is the most important part of the future.” 
“Ends are for yesterdays, not tomorrows.”
“With endless time, nothing is special. With no loss or sacrifice, we can’t appreciate what we have.” 
“… once we began to chime the hour, we lost the ability to be satisfied.” 
“Everything man does today to be efficient, to fill the hour?” Dor said. “It does not satisfy. It only makes him hungry to do more. Man wants to own his existence. But no one owns time.” 

I certainly feel that young people (many of whom get dejected about not getting what they want and for seemingly silly reasons contemplate taking their own life) must read this book. It is sure to teach them some valuable lessons. Nothing is worth killing onerself!