The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

Mitch Albom’s books have always interested me. That’s how I picked up his latest book, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, from the school library. And when I began, I kind of lost interest. I started listening to English music only in the 90s when my daughter was growing up listening to and singing English songs. And therefore my awareness about bands, musicians and songs is pretty pathetic.

I remember reading Markus Zusak’s book The Book Thief where the Narrator is none other than Death. The author here cleverly uses Music as the Narrator. Music says, “However well used, I am a loan, not a possession. You give me back upon departure.” (Page 4) It simply can’t be truer! And what a hypnotic pen picture Music paints about how talents are bestowed at birth. “Before newborns open their eyes, we circle them appearing as brilliant colours, and when they clench their tiny hands for the first time, they are actually grabbing the colours they find most appealing. Those talents are with them for life. The lucky ones choose me. Music. From that point on, I live inside your every hum and whistle, every pluck of a string or plink of a piano key.
I cannot keep you alive. I lack such power.
But I infuse you.” Magical indeed. Speaks volumes for the master story teller Mitch Albom is.

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The story is the life of a great guitarist, Frankie Presto. The narration alternates between Music and the reminiscences of the who’s who of music including singers, song writers, instrumentalists and others like Darlene Love, Burt Bacharach, Roger McGuinn, Lyle Lovett, Paul Stanley, Tony Bennett, John Pizzarelli, to mention a few, about Frankie Presto. It suffices to say that I thought Frankie Presto too was a real person. Only later did I realize that the central figure is completely fictional and his life is beautifully blended with real life events, giving it an authentic feel. Therein lies the success of the author and the book.

Some of the lines of Music are vintage Mitch Albom.
All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?
Everyone joins a band in this life. Sometimes, they are the wrong ones…
Everyone joins a band in this life. One way or another, the band breaks up…
Everyone joins a band in this life. Sometimes they reunite…
Everyone joins a band in this life. And what you play always affects someone. Sometimes, it affects the world…
Every loss leaves a hole in your heart…

Music’s chastisement of humans is so very apt. “You humans are always locking each other away. Cells. Dungeons. Some of your earliest jails were sewers, where men sloshed in their own waste. No other creature has this arrogance—to confine its own. Could you imagine a bird imprisoning another bird? A horse jailing a horse? As a free form of expression, I will never understand it. I can only say that some of my saddest sounds have been heard in such places. A song inside a cage is never a song. It is a plea.” Loved that last line!

Timeless wisdom from another very powerful character, El Maestro: “This is life. Things get taken away. You will learn to start over many times – or you will be useless.”

I am glad I persisted in reading. And my interest in the story gathered momentum. The lucid magic of Albom’s language is enchanting like the magical strings of Frankie’s guitar.

Loved the book and will give it 4 stars. This is only because I did not know many of the musicians. Aficionados of English music are likely to give it a 5-star rating. So if you are one, you will probably enjoy it.

The Four Agreements

It’s not every day that one reads a life-impacting book.
One that inspires. One that galvanizes you to reflect. Look within.
One that goads you to unlearn whatever you have learned so far in the journey of life.
One that exhorts you to take on a new trajectory by following a new set of agreements that will emancipate you from all self-limiting beliefs and fears.
One that helps you to be free from being a judge of oneself and others.

That is how The Four Agreements impacted me. Some books change lives. Forever.

Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of this book of timeless wisdom, is a nagual* from the Eagle Knight lineage. Toltec wisdom, is distilled and collected in the crucible of this amazing little book. Toltec philosophy is a path that teaches us to transcend our self limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behavior patterns so that we may live a fulfilling and authentic life.

It’s is seemingly simple to follow the four agreements.

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However it is when one starts practicing it that one realizes how deeply our self-limiting thoughts, fears, assumptions and beliefs are entrenched. No doubt it is a powerful code of conduct for anyone who aims to improve oneself day after day. If you want to live your own truth, Don Miguel suggests we align ourselves to these: being self aware, being receptive to change and to nurturing the intent to make that change happen.

On hindsight it is remarkable to notice that two of the most amazing books I have read are little ones!  One is The Alchemist. The other is this one.

5 stars for this book. I will go back to it again and again. Loved it.

P.S: Just because I loved it you don’t have to read it. If you are on that path of self-discovery, am sure that the book will find its way, for when the student is ready, the teacher appears!

* Naguals (pronounced “nah*wahl”), native American masters capable of transforming minds are people with knowledge of the higher realms.

When Breath Becomes Air

It is from Mohanlal’s blog, The Complete Actor¹, (which I follow regularly – he does write about some very thought-provoking matters) that I read first about Dr. Paul Kalanithi and his book When Breath Becomes Air. I had decided then to get the book and read it during summer holidays. Thanks to Amazon (I must say a ‘Jai ho’ to the e-commerce giant for their tempting offers for book aficionados like me.) I was able to get the hard bound Random House copy of this book priced at Rs. 669/- for Rs. 339/-! It’s an absolute pleasure to get the books that you want at discounted prices delivered at home. Ah, it’s bliss!!! 🙂

Imagine this: You are a brilliant neurosurgeon. You also are a post doctoral fellow in neuroscience. You dabbled in English Literature, Human Biology and Philosophy and then decided to go ahead doing medicine at the prestigious Yale. You have a flourishing career. You are a compassionate person, rooted in values with a deep calling for medicine. You have a young and equally brilliant wife. And when life and it’s dreams are aligned to fruition, you take ill. And the prognosis? Stage 4 lung metastases. How would you handle this cruel fate? That’s exactly the sum and substance of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s deeply moving, intensely disconcerting memoir about his journey towards Death.

When Breath becomes Air

The last 22 months of his life was spent in writing the memoir and undergoing cancer treatment. The prologue of the book that went on to be a best seller for 75 weeks, begins: “I flipped through the CT scan images….” and goes on to give graphic details. But it is the last line in the first paragraph that is a stunner that takes one’s breath away: “But this scan was different: it was my own.” From then onwards, the book moves on in a gripping fashion, laid threadbare with flowing prose, with references to many gifted writers and their works and dealing with the existential question – how meaningful can we make our life to be in the face of certain and fast approaching death. There are pages that will leave you choked and with a lump in your throat. It is poignant that he stops with a message to his young daughter, who was born at a time when his life was fading, wasting away and yet he was facing it bravely and with integrity. The last days of his life are written by his wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi in the form of an epilogue. Dr. Paul Kalanithi passed away on 9th March 2015 at a very young age of 37 and after that the book was published by Dr. Lucy, fulfilling the word she had given to her husband.

It was painful reading the book for it was heartbreaking; yet, it was enriching and inspiring. Death is considered morose, morbid and macabre  – people shy away from talking about palliative care, physician assisted dying and death. The openness with which he deals with the “other side” – that of death – shocks the reader. When Dr. Paul Kalanithi sent his best friend an email in May 2013 revealing that he had terminal cancer, he wrote: “The good news is that I’ve already outlived two Brontës, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything.” An ardent lover of Literature, he couldn’t have put it across more succinctly. When his carbon dioxide levels rise precariously, and vestiges of hope diminish, he even says to his wife, “I am ready.” In the epilogue, Dr. Lucy enciphers it: “Ready, he meant, to remove the breathing support, to start morphine, to die.” The camaraderie that the family displays when the icy hands of death strikes their beloved  ‘Pubby’ is paradoxically heartwarming.

This book will change your life. Read it. It will leave you with a lot of thoughts. Of living and of dying. At the same time, let me also tell you – it is not a tragedy, though it can be tragic when a brilliant doctor is lost to Cancer – he would have done a lot more to the living and dying, had he been alive.

  1. http://www.thecompleteactor.com/articles2/2016/03/gods-letter-2/

Dying to be Me

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) have fascinated me ever since I started reading books of Raymond Moody and Brian Weiss. The latter’s Many Lives, Many Masters, Message from the Masters and Only Love is Real were read with great interest and curiosity. I would like to believe that there are so many things that we do not know about. NDEs are of that realm. Besides, some of the accounts have been experienced and narrated by respected physicians that it is not only hard to ignore but is also scientifically intriguing.

Dying to be Me is another book that deals with the near death experience of Anita Moorjani. When diagnosed with Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, Anita underwent everything that a normal human being undergoes: denial, distress and then a gnawing, overpowering fear. She tried everything possible other than chemotherapy – many of which were conflicting practices that worsened her cancer. In the book she documents her journey through cancer, her near death experience and her miraculous cure which she attributes to the shifts within her that accelerated her cure. I found the book quite an interesting read.

Dying to be Me

What are the takeaways for me from this book and its reading?

1) Acceptance. Whatever you are faced with accept it and go with the flow. Yes, it is a tall order, especially when one faces trials and tribulations but it is good to cultivate the feeling that everything that happens is for one’s highest good.

2) Self-love. It is essential to be kind, compassionate and have empathy for oneself. This is most therapeutic – for, if we can’t love ourselves how can we love others? It is essential that we love ourselves unconditionally. Never be judgmental – of us or of others. Realize that each one of us is truly magnificent and never nurture feelings of inadequacy. No one is better than or worse than me. We are equal and there is an underlying connection amongst all of us in this universe. Yes, we are all connected.

3) Remove fears. Remove all kinds of fears that cripple and paralyze us for most of our fears are quite unfounded. They are limiting in nature and stand in the way of expressing our magnificent selves. It is essential that we just pay attention to whatever feels right at the moment and act accordingly. For this we have to train ourselves to listen to our intuition.

4) Change: To change ourselves, we have to start with our belief systems. A belief is an energy and when we allow our true spirit to shine through, we can create transformative shifts within us. And that opens ourselves to infinite possibilities.

5) Be authentic. Being a people’s pleaser or seeking approval from others at the cost of one’s own interests can have a disastrous effect on our authenticity. So is saying ‘yes’ when we actually want to say ‘no’.

5 stars for this book. I hope you read the book. 😀

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.

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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!!