Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review - All And Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

In my book, it’s a good sign if a book gets me engaged enough to finish it in one reading. It is not the only parameter of course and not necessary either for a book to be good. But if it has managed to make me finish it off in one reading, it’s a good sign.

All And Nothing did that. 6 hours and I kept flipping the pages. Every chance I could get in office and then at one stretch once back home. I could not put the book down! And what a worthwhile 6 hours they were! For more reasons than one.

Image Courtesy: rupapublications.com


Let’s give you the blurb just to warm things up here:

All and Nothing tells the tale of five individuals. Tina is a talented artist, desperately in love with Aditya. But he cannot let go of his past. Their marriage sours and Tina teeters on the edge. Kriya is a fashion designer, chic and successful – but tormented; Poorvi, is a socialite and feminist – but discontented; Manas is a struggling copy writer, besotted with Gayatri – but plagued; Upasna is a willing victim of domestic violence.

Then one day, Tina summons her friends to share their stories from the beginning.

All and Nothing is a story of relationships. And scorn as we may at the word and its complications as much as we like, we cannot deny that they are the core of our lives. The foundation that defines our personality, our character. Some relationships go to the extent of defining our dynamics in many other relationships. Such is their power and presence. And the way Raksha has used this premise to weave five beautiful stories together is commendable. The fabric of her book is just as complex yet beautiful as relationships themselves.

There are these five individuals with five different backgrounds and moving in five different directions. Yet there lives are tied somehow. And that knot is where Raksha’s book remains, giving us a glimpse of the universes that lie behind or beyond. But each of them stuck in the present and unable to move forward.

A man who’s most cherished relationship in life was destroyed and who walks with its shadow every minute, his wife who can never become the body that casts that shadow; how they will never meet in the middle. A woman walking in the shadow of her father’s fame and never being able to cast the same shadow due to a lack of talent that she, and worse her father, is painfully aware of; how it makes a monster out of her. A woman disillusioned with her wealth but unable to crossover the class divide, her struggle for status in her then chosen life and the issue of female foeticide. A relationship that is struggling with the threats that marriage brings along; how its strength is tested. A woman lying to herself that all’s well with her world even as she hides bruises and black eyes; how she has an epiphany and finds her voice. All and Nothing is a story of all these and more.

What is beautiful about the book is that despite having a few social issues as inseparable parts of some of her characters, the issues never ever become bigger than the story. The people remain real and the story immensely realistic and possible so that the reader’s primary concern is always the character – Will he be ok? Will she go through with this? Yet, the reader cannot but think about his stand on these issues, just so he can side better with the characters. That’s good storytelling at work.

The language used throughout remains simple. Notice the use of simple and not shabby/incorrect/callous like most books in the Indian Fiction sport these days. It was delightful to read an Indian author who’s managed to keep her book simple to read and yet one that upholds the dignity of the English language, and one with influence from Bengal at that! There is some use of vernacular (not restricted to Hindi) which I thought wasn’t exactly necessary to bring in a bigger connect. It doesn’t hurt exactly but somehow for me it didn’t flow either. But it doesn’t come in the way. I could continue with the pace I had picked up and get back right into the story. 

The characters have been sketched well and the structure adopted for narration was quite interesting. The back and forth between the past, present and the future is done without letting the reader feel the shift. If I were to draw an analogy I would pick the hourglass – the five seemingly individual stories, like scattered grains of sand, start to slide towards each other rapidly until they all reach a bottleneck of sorts and meet, almost stopping for a bit before picking pace again and going their own way, beginning to look disconnected again. Indeed, the pace of the book is rapid in the first two parts; you’re almost racing on until the third part when it comes to a standstill and only a day transpires. Medium pace resumes in the last part as the author sets out to provide appropriate closure to each person. But at no point does the book let you go.

Raksha has a gift for narration and good description, almost to the point of getting into so much detail that you start thinking she has forgotten the book and has started talking about that event alone; but she catches you at that exact moment, zooms right back out to the story and you see the relevance of it all. I really liked that about the book.

I can’t really point out too many negatives about the book except for one or two technical details here or there (...as the first light of the morning sun bathed the Gateway and the statelt façade of the Taj…I can’t imagine the façade of the Taj on the West Coast being bathed by morning sunlight…I could be wrong but that’s all I can think of when I read this and reading is all about imagination). Raksha seems to have chosen her settings very carefully - Kolkata, Mumbai, Kathak…things she is more than familiar with and hence cannot go wrong with. Overall the impression that this book leaves on the mind is very positive.

My only concern is that such a beautiful book that brings out the psychological ramifications of relationships so well as to seem the work of a psychologist or someone who’s observed people a lot, might just be lost in the high quantity-low quality Indian Fiction section (the mass category) and not get its due. God forbid if that happens, this will go down as one of the most underrated works of our times for sure.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dear Dude-On-A-Random-150cc-Bike-With-An-Ugly-Red-Skull-Cap-And-A-TN-License-Plate

Dear Dude-On-A-Random-150cc-Bike-With-An-Ugly-Red-Skull-Cap-And-A-TN-License-Plate,

First of all, get your goddamn helmet on and learn to stop at a red signal. I don’t usually talk to or waste my time on people who don’t even have respect for rules. It is because of you guys that the world is in chaos and honestly, you are almost a burden on this planet right now. 

Second of all, stop honking for no good reason and driving people crazy. What am I expected to do? Run into the guy crossing the street just when YOUR signal went green? I’m sorry it’s 10:30 pm and all that but we are all trying to get somewhere; in fact, you’re the one who’s not…the way you continue to amble down the road a while later. There are enough insane people on the roads and you’re just adding to the number. Get that right.

Image Courtesy: http://www.patsyclare.co.uk

What rank were you in class? 7th from the bottom or something? What is this desperate need to be first everywhere? Like you’re doing it to win your parents respect back. Get a life. Learn to wait. Accommodate (if you know what that means, with your poor academics).

Your status message (pardon the FB jargon) under your registration plate says ‘I’d rather walk alone’. You should. You should take that literally in fact and start walking instead of riding some random 150cc bike I couldn’t care less about and being an absolute jackass on the streets. Really. Do you even know what that means? Whatever it is that you’ve put on the behind of your bike?

TN37. Coimbatore. I’m sure you went to PSG. Please do yourself, your college, your city and your state some service by being nice to people rather than shouting at them in your defence. It makes me associate all those entities with people like you and you can be sure that is not a very positive thing. The next time I see a TN registration plate cut by rashly, I’m gonna go ‘Of course! TN!’ just like I do on seeing DL registration plates. And it’s all because of you. So please. Stop and start showing some respect for the legacy of the state you come from.

And please shave. The combination of that shabby look along with that ugly red skull cap makes you look like the hero of some cheap South Indian movie. The kind you watch in shady theatres…places where decent people would never bother to tread. And that’s why people like you in general should wear full face helmets at all points in time, not just while riding…so that people like me can keep from throwing up.

And you dare to talk back and defend your pathetic self to me after driving me so mad with all the above that all there is left is for me to kill you? You disgust me.

Not The Best Regards,
Me

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Friend In Need Catches The Worm

I bought a new hard disk today and was sorting stuff on my laptop before I could transfer it to the disk. And I found a weird little piece of writing.

There was once this debate at work, a block-and-tackle rather, with some very amusing topics. The rule was that each contestant had some specific time and was supposed to come with views both in favour and against the topic given. In the allotted time and when he would begin speaking, the judges could call out block or tackle whenever they pleased and the contestant was supposed to change his stand and start talking as called out immediately – against the topic to block it or in favour to tackle it. And my topic was ‘A Friend In Need Catches The Worm’!

Here is some of the material that I wrote down back then:

Block

A Chinese proverb goes – “With money you are a dragon; with no money, a worm”.
In today’s money-minded world, no matter how good a friend someone is, shelling out moolah for a friend who needs it has become a rare occurrence. He will remain your friend all the same. In that sense, a friend in need does not catch the worm.

Ambrose Bierce, American Short Story Writer, said – “Edible. Good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.” As you embark on that final journey of life, your body rests in the ground and becomes one with and nourishes the earth and all that lives in it – at that moment as worms get their share of nourishment from your mortal remains and your soul takes flight, a friend even if he feels that what’s left of you needs to be saved, does not catch the worm. He can’t…and as a duty towards the planet, maybe he shouldn’t.

“Time, as is well known, sometimes flies like a bird and sometimes crawls like a worm” said Russian Author Ivan Turgenev. There are occasions in life when you want time to fly by for example when you are having a really bad day…but time worms along. You need emotional and moral support and most of all for that time to pass. At such times, your friend can support you but he will not catch that worm of time and turn it into a bird as if by magic. He can’t and he won’t.

Immanuel Kant said, “If man makes himself a worm he must not complain when he is trodden on.” A worm also means ‘something that penetrates, injures, or consumes slowly or insidiously, like a gnawing worm’. Source? Dictionary.Com. When you have worms like self-doubt, low self-esteem, inferiority complex gnawing at your conscience despite the fact that you may be one of the most talented people around, and you refuse to let them go, nurture them and feed them the delicious bits of your confidence, your friend  - no matter how much he wants to help you in such times of need – will not be able to catch those worms.

Oh that feeling! Your stomach does somersaults, you feel weak in the knees, and your head swoons – either you are in love or you have worms in your guts. Your friend will not be able to catch those worms for sure!

Tackle

American Computer Scientist Alan Perlis said, “In software systems it is often the early bird that makes the worm.” While I am still figuring out what that means, I do know that in computer science jargon WORM stands for Write Once Read Many. In any class exam, we have seen the scenario – the brainy guy writes all the answers and becomes a friend in need for the others by letting them read his answers and copy, by catching the worm, by allowing Write Once Read Many. Indeed, a friend in need catches the worm!

Someone has said, “Even if you've been fishing for 3 hours and haven't gotten anything except poison ivy and sunburn, you're still better off than the worm.” Imagine you are out on a fishing trip with friends. Naturally, when you are out of bait it would only be a friend in need who would catch the worm with you.

A worm refers to ‘computer code planted illegally in a software program so as to destroy data in any system that downloads the program, as by reformatting the hard disk’. Source? Dictionary.Com. And in such cases isn’t it friends in need like IT-OPS who catch the worm and solve our problems?

Another interpretation of a worm is ‘A person regarded as pitiable or contemptible’. And yes, when you are hanging around with such a lot you need someone to warn you, it will be your friend who will catch the worm and guard your best interests even if it means the risk of getting you upset momentarily.

“A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm,” declared American Author Bill Vaughan. Remember the time when you were young and your mother absolutely forbade you from playing in the dirt and touching unidentified crawling objects? You were curious about those creepy crawlies yet could not muster the courage to catch them, and only your best pal accompanied you and caught the worm.

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How I miss my debating days! : (

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Less Is More

Too much hurt,
Too many bridges burnt.

All that pain.
In vain.

I want to erase
Every single phrase

Uttered without thought,
The misery it brought

Still makes me shiver.
Like arrows in a quiver

The words were shot,
With malice they were fraught.

They were angry at the world
But their fury unfurled

At this sitting duck.
Oh what luck!

To be part of their life
At that moment of strife.

Now they’ve embittered mine.
This is fate’s terrible design

To bring us all together
To hurt each other.

So when its about
Whom to trust and whom to doubt

With your well-being,
Your thoughts and your feelings

I’m increasingly sure,
That less is more.
Less is certainly more.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well, This One IS About The Bike

If Lance Armstrong doesn’t have a problem, I can look at writing a book ‘It’s About The Bike, My Journey Through Life’ and only hope that it won’t sound like a spoof of his book. But that’s too much of an assumption. So I’m just going to write a blog post about this and end the story. I won’t have to hunt for publishing houses yet I guess.

So this one’s about my bike, a Hero Honda Pleasure that I am in possession of since the 3rd of August 2006. For the record, and this is for each and every one of you who has said ‘Why should boys have all the fun eh?’ after hearing my bike’s make, I didn’t buy it for the tagline. Heck I wasn’t even aware of the tagline for a while until it was rubbed in my face. I bought it because Hero Honda was the one who promised delivery within 3 days unlike Honda who said there was a 2 months waiting time for the Activa back then…I mean yeah, if Honda can send a chauffer-driven car for my commute to office everyday for 2 months, why not? Plus I test rode the Activa, Pleasure, Bajaj Wave and Scooty Pep and frankly the Pleasure is what I liked. The Activa has too much power for its small head and the Scooty Pep just feels too small, almost 60 cc-ish. The Wave was okayish too. The Pleasure is perfect for the power and its size, and riding comfort too. 

It’s a separate story that the Hero Honda Pleasure is capable of letting a girl go beyond the boundaries of traditional city riding. So yeah, why should boys have all the fun?

My bike, any bike, represents a few important things to me. It stands for independence, which is necessary for any city girl to have these days. It’s nice to have a guy or friends pick you up or drop you off places but most cityfolks are not that nice, trust me. Plus its just inconvenient and a waste of time to depend on others all the time, which includes that race called the Autowallahs. So you’ve got to have your own ride!

A bike also represents the spirit of exploration. It’s incredible how many lanes and by-lanes I have discovered in Bangalore simply by virtue of riding around on my own, places autorickshaws (ugh, that word itself gives me nightmares these days) won’t go because they’ll take the same old routes to any place in town. It’s the one thing that’s enabled me to know Bangalore so well in just 4 years.

Having a bike lets you do more with life by virtue of the independence and flexibility that you have. So you can catch up with a friend for breakfast, go to work, meet friends or go for a play reading or whatever in the evening and maybe catch the late night movie too before you go home! If life must be lived, it must be lived fully and having a bike takes off at least one excuse to not do so.

In the four years that I’ve had my bike, I’ve made it do some crazy stuff. The first was when I rode it all the way to Doddamakali from Bangalore, 130 km away. What made it really crazy was the condition of the NH209 back then. Let’s just say any kacha road could put that National Highway to shame. To add to that, the last 4-5 km of the ride were down a spiralling gravely mountain path. And yet, my bike made it. And it made it all the way back on the Mysore Highway (the State Highway chosen over the National Highway because there was some tar on it) at 80 kmph without getting overheated or anything. (yeah snigger all you boys; on a 100 cc, 80 kmph falls in the red zone unlike the monsters you own and ride at 120 kmph or whatever). What a ride that was! Unforgettable.

Then there was the ride to the Big Banyan Tree. It’s not too far from Bangalore as such but the road beyond the Banyan Tree to the Manchinabele dam is quite gravely again. I had taken my mom on that ride and we rode on a nice June weekday on the NICE road. We spent some peaceful time at the Banyan Tree wondering at the ecosystem a single tree can support before attempting to reach the dam by a non-existent road. Good sense prevailed and we gave up before we could roll off the curves over the gravel. Anyway, my bike brought us back safely too.

I rode to Dobaspet from Bangalore last year to attend the Get Off Travellers Meet. This place is near Tumkur and by my odometer it was about 85 km odd from my house. The road was good for most part except for the last 2-3 km odd which were, again, an off-roading stretch. There were some folks who had come on their Enfields and the rest had brought their cars or taken the Tempo Traveller. It was a proud feeling to see my small (literally) bike parked amongst all of these vehicles and I think I generated quite a bit of amusement with my stunt. By way of a disclaimer, the bike rode perfectly well for the whole stretch and was probably a more comfortable ride than the other thumping machines. I came back all the way without so much as feeling tired of riding about 90 km!

And then there was yesterday. We were trying to figure out conveyance for Fireflies and frankly it was getting exasperating. For a fleeting moment I imagined myself riding to the venue but dismissed the thought when I thought about the 4.5 year-old bike that has not been serviced in 3-4 months. But when a friend suggested that he could bring his bike and we could ride together, there was no chance I was going to let that suggestion go! And so I brought out my little warrior and the 4 of us set out on two bikes (the other one a Pulsar for the record). At my own steady low speed, back again on the NH209 (this time with tar on it), I rode with the low beam illuminating the pitch darkness until Kaggalipura and then rode on the kacha village roads and gravel to reach the Fireflies Ashram. It was easier than I thought to get to the Ashram! With the bike resting on farmland for the night, we enjoyed the dusk to dawn music festival and had a pleasant ride back in the morning with spring punctuating the roads.

Even after 4.5 years of wear-and-tear, my bike continues to be an adventurer and remains a faithful companion for my crazy endeavours of the road. Life in this city would have been totally something else without this companion and I have my bike to thank for giving me such a memorable 4.5 years in Bangalore. Here’s to many more days of riding, exploration, adventure and independence! Cheers!