08 August 2014

friendships based on kids

a very long time ago a high school friend voiced her mom’s opinion that it was harder to make friends as you got older, and having kids was thus one way of making friends. what a surreal thought, my teenage self scoffed, sure that i would never be put in such a position. sigh. little did i know how true these words were, and how they would shine my later life path. since moving to india, friends have been pretty non-existent. without work or any other social ‘in’, i found it largely impossible to make friends. having kids to ease the loneliness was something i admit i thought of more than once. 

and now that i have the twins, i am suddenly part of an ‘in’. the entire past ramadan, i sat with other moms and kids in the masjid, and made more acquaintances and was included in more conversations than in my entire two-year-no-kids community life. i now have friends who i chat with regularly, even though scheduling playdates or adult dates is still a little difficult.. i have all the moms at the twins’ playgroup for random conversations and commiserations. in fact, now that the twins go to playgroup, i get out of the house everyday, i go shopping, i run errands, as opposed to just vegging at home. 

it’s like the twins gave me a whole new life. my new friendships are different from my old ones, my new ‘out and about’ routine is different to when i was working and single, but hey, i am so thankful to just feel alive, connected and useful again!! and i look forward to the blossoming of these new friendships, different and all :)

07 August 2014

books by authors of colour

so, my journey along the path of books-by-authors-of-colour is now three book old. the first was anita nair’s ‘lessons in forgetting’, totally wonderful. i had read her ‘ladies coupe’ a long long time ago, and although it impressed me, i totally forgot about nair. she is good. she writes well, her characters are real people you can identify with, and she combines that indian localness with global taste and experience very well. her india is not crass as that of chetan bahgat, and that is a relief! i am left wondering why she is not more well known.. will have to do some research into that. 

anyways, ‘lessons in forgetting’ was haunting. the plot and the characters are wonderful, and as you turn the last page, you are rooting for smriti, for jak, for meera. there is apparently a movie made out of the novel as well.. am not sure how i feel about that right now.. 

the second book was nadeem aslam’s ‘the wasted vigil’, and while i am tempted to say that reading the novel was also a ‘wasted vigil’, that would not be totally accurate.. the book has many redeeming factors, such as some of its prose, descriptions and some of its characters, such as marcus and dunia. one thing that really interested me was the perspective of those indoctrinated by ‘jihadis’; i would have enjoyed more conversations between casa and dunia, and seeing casa’s rigidly held beliefs crumble slowwwwly, as crumble they must, totally lacking in depth.. the end was hardly unexpected. my main problem with the novel was its slow pace.. and perhaps its cyclical nature. i want a story that goes from a to b, with characters that develop accordingly. i would not recommend this book, but i think i will try one other novel by aslam before deciding whether he is my cup of coffee or not.. 

i tried helen oyeyemi’s ‘the opposite house’, but really could not get into it. the symbolism is beyond me. i like her writing, but have no idea what she is writing about. that was a disappointment. 

to indulge my african craving, i am currently reading ‘we need new names’ by noviolet bulawayo, and it’s great. written in the voice of a child, food, parental/adult behaviour and childhood friendships and games are featured prominently, with little mention of politics or socio-economic factors. it is refreshing to understand a country, a time, and its people through these benchmarks (the games played by children are uncannily representative of the society they live in: ‘find bin laden’, ‘country-game’). bulawayo’s writing is striking and beautiful, and totally makes the zimbabwean/african experience come alive. 

my next read will be korean, which i am also eagerly looking forward to :) 

04 June 2014

different voices, different perspectives; authors of colour

some time ago, i read americanah by chimamanda adichie, and it blew my mind. the protagonist's take on racism in america was so sharp and awesome. also, the novel opened up nigeria to me. i have previously read nothing but 'things fall apart' (for a class, it doesn't count) from the african continent, and i know so very little about it. not only did americanah let me see a country and people that i was ignorant of, but it also showed me the common humanity that we share --and this is what i love about literature. when i read a book about people in different places, in different situations, speaking different languages, and yet i can still relate to them, i continue thinking of their stories after closing the book; that is just so enthralling, liberating, awakening!

i was so in awe of adichie that i recently finished her half of a yellow sun as well. and now i want more. i am suddenly hooked on nigeria and africa, the way i am with japan (haruki murakami, david mitchell). fiction from south asia holds a different level of interest for me, given that i am far more familiar with the places, culture and language.

seeing that many of my favourite authors, and those that i read a lot of, are not white (khaled hosseini, kamila shamsie, tan twan eng, isabelle allende, lisa see, mohammed hanif, kiran desai), and given my interest in world literature, diversity and cross cultural experiences, i was a little startled to read about the difficulties faced by authors of color. it comes as no surprise really, but it was just something that i had not thought about.

while reading up on this issue, i came across authors i had not heard of: aimee phan, bill cheng, nnedi okarofor and many others. so, i think i need to spend more time reading authors of color.

as lilit marcus said on reading women authors,
but opening myself up to a variety of female perspectives made me more aware of the female lives around me … Feminism, as bell hooks pointed out, is for everyone. And when we become more aware of the small injustices and tiny everyday tragedies around us, we become better people. Reading women’s voices helped me to hear them more loudly in my daily life. Our culture is getting better and better at encouraging women to speak, but it’s not doing enough to listen to what they say when they do.
i am excited to read different voices and stories, as well as play a tiny role in increasing their audience and publicity. recommendations are more than welcome.

[UPDATE] so, it is not all that easy to find these diverse books on kindle, or even in bookstores here. sigh. i am not giving up though..

03 June 2014

a child of the universe

i have been wanting to write forever, but time keeps eluding me. now that i am finally here, i will just let the words flow..

i met z in may, after EIGHT YEARS! it was only for one day, just some hours, but gosh, it was a wonderful day. it was time taken out of our usual routines, surreal, and yet totally real. i love you z!

on the same day, i attended a panel discussion of bohra women, which just opened my mind to the possibilities that surround me, to the world that is waiting outside my door.. as i have noted so many times, my world is quite quite narrow these days. as the twins grow, and as i get more confident, i can see the world widening however..

lisan-ud-dawat is such a beautiful language, and it was such a pleasure to hear it being so eloquently spoken that day. the ‘gujerati’ that surrounds me here has been such a sore to my ears and heart; this was the sweetest balm.

the past weekend was just lovely, and i am still riding its high.. may it last throughout the week!

Max Erhman

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, 
and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible without surrender 
be on good terms with all persons. 
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; 
and listen to others, 
even the dull and the ignorant; 
they too have their story. 

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, 
they are vexations to the spirit. 
If you compare yourself with others, 
you may become vain and bitter; 
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. 
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; 
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. 
Exercise caution in your business affairs; 
for the world is full of trickery. 
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; 
many persons strive for high ideals; 
and everywhere life is full of heroism. 

Be yourself. 
Especially, do not feign affection. 
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. 
Take kindly the counsel of the years, 
gracefully surrendering the things of youth. 
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. 
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. 
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. 
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, 
and whatever your labors and aspirations, 
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, 
it is still a beautiful world. 
Be cheerful. 
Strive to be happy. 

this poem is another ‘if’ by kipling.. :) and the last line is a gentle reminder that being happy requires work, it is far from effortless. just as loving also requires work..

07 May 2014

twins, family time and good books

twins april: 20 months! 
wow. you are big boys now! you run and play and love to ride bicycles -mostly pretend ones using cushions! (sorry, getting you your own bicycles is quite overdue, i promise this will be our next priority!) 

you love playing in the water -your inflatable tub was an instant hit, but getting the two of you out of there? tantrums galore and incessant wailing, phew. generally speaking, getting you out of the bathroom is now a headache for me..! 

you talk more, you remember things (like the road leading to the dr's clinic!), you know the words to many a nursery rhyme. your favourites by far are 'hickory dickory dock', 'wheels on the bus', 'engine engine' and 'baa baa black sheep'. listening to you sing them at random moments (in words that are strangely not recognizable to all) makes me smile smile smile! you know most of your picture books inside out, and are pretty familiar with all your stories too. it is adorable watching you anticipate what i will read next, mimic my actions, or beat me to it with your own version. may you always be fascinated by stories and books!

both of you love talking on the phone. with a french accented 'allo?' that totally cracks everyone up! strangely, you will only speak to a dial tone. if someone is in fact on the line, well then, it is your silent time. you get very excited to skype-video your grandparents though :)

we visited your cousins last weekend, and m had a ball playing and following his younger cousin around. he now periodically asks to see her pic on my phone, and then carries the phone around with the silliest grin on his face. i am so happy to see you happy in the company of your family and loved ones. 

family time 
it was wonderful for me to be with family and friends as well. i love my nieces, but seeing them interact with the twins made me love them more. it was nice to shed some responsibility for their entertainment too :p not having to do any housework also rocked :p and having adults to hang out with, talk to, also rocked. i don’t get out and socialize enough here.. it feels good :) 

being a parent amidst other parents, watching all our kids be kids; this is all a novel experience. and yet, i wonder, will it really become old at some point? i hope not. i hope i am always in awe :)  

i read two great books recently, flight behaviour by barbara kingsolver, and a god in every stone by kamila shamsie. i don’t have quotes to share (and i blame this on the kindle), but i definitely recommend the books, particularly flight behaviour. have just started reading orphan train, which is promising to be an awesome read too. yay for great books :) 

21 April 2014

politics and literature

i came across this wonderful conversation between kamila shamsie, whose work i love (burnt shadows was absolutely beautiful) and pankaj mishra, whose work i know. they discussed political anger in contemporary literature, sparked off from the controversy surrounding chinese novelist mo yan’s winning of the pulitzer in 2012. it covers a lot of ground (and authors), and brings up great points for discussion: 

Do we ever expose the political preferences of Mo Yan’s counterparts in the West to such harsh scrutiny?...
[What i objected to] was the attempt to delegitimize [Mo Yan's] literary achievement through some selective reference to his political choices, like his refusal to sign a petition. If we were to take that narrow measure to many of the canonical figures of Western literature—from Dickens with his bloodthirsty writings during the Indian Mutiny, to Nabokov, who adored the war in Vietnam—those writers would have to be dismissed as worthless. 
...we need a more complex understanding of writers working under authoritarian or repressive regimes. Something to replace this simpleminded, Cold War-ish equation in which the dissident in exile is seen as a bold figure, and those who choose to work with restrictions on their freedom are considered patsies for repressive governments. Let’s not forget that most writers in history have lived under nondemocratic regimes: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Goethe didn’t actually enjoy constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech. And let’s not forget also, alas, that freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee great literature. 

...You have to ask: How many writers in Anglo-America who, unlike Mo Yan, enjoy untrammeled liberty to say whatever they want on political issues, have actually made use of their privileges during the last decade of violence and mayhem unleashed by their governments? 

...The fact is that the patron saint of modern liberalism, John Stuart Mill, thought that barbarian peoples like the Indians were unfit for self-rule. 

...Where is the rage? It’s one thing to say writers don’t get worked up about what their nation is doing in the Middle East, but here we have writers not getting worked up about what the state is doing to their ability to write without constraint. 
I have been wanting to write up something regarding literature and human rights, and this is the perfect encouragement. in fact, it was nice to read one of my fav authors on a topic close to my heart. isabelle allende, barbara kingsolver, kamila shamsie, gabriel garcia marquez, mohammed hanif; they all write political, social fiction, and i love them all. i have been too busy engorging on the prose lately, and not paying enough attention/homage to the content. this article was a pleasant knock on the head. 

09 April 2014

children's characters grown up, and love versus duty

for all of you who compulsively read the famous five, malory towers and other wonderful children's series, you may want to check out their lives some decades later. compulsive confessions's take on these characters grown up is.. deliciously dark, not what you would expect perhaps, but fun to read! why didn't anyone do this ages ago? (or did they, and i just don't know about it..?) the posts brought back so many memories.. ahh, enid blyton!

100paths wrote a post some time ago on 'our duty to be happy', that has lots of nuggets to savor. such as "happiness comes and goes. but love? of all the things precious to man and god, it is love that goes on." and, "marriage is a dance with a mirror; we only receive the expression we make, we only swirl in the direction we move ourselves, we only reap what we sow into our own souls". totally worth reading, for these awesome nuggets, and for much food for thought. her conclusion, that living a life of love is more rewarding than striving for a life of happiness, is something that i came across on another blog (albeit in a different manner of expression).. and it is one that islam also preaches.. on a very very tiny scale, i am noticing the fruits of my tiny acts of love at home.. love is also not always easy though; my very first lesson after marriage was that love is a verb.. but that is all for another post!