Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Best Book Quotes of 2017

Now that the year is coming to an end, I would like to share the quotes from different books that had an effect on me, made me think and just stayed with me in the year 2017. I have had this habit for years now - of noting down the book quotes that touch me in some way. These are my selected ten for this year, with little notes on what I think of them. 

1.) “My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter.”

― Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Note: I remember as I was reading this, I felt a strange sensation coursing through me. I wanted to shut the book down, get up and begin applauding even as tears rolled down my cheeks. It was powerful. It was moving. And it was inspiring.

2.) “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

― R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Note: I have repeated this quote in my mind so often in the past six months. It made me think. It made me look back at a few moments and people of my life. It made me think about my mother. I thought she deserved a standing ovation, too.

3.) “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

― Roald Dahl, Matilda

Note: Ah, don’t all book lovers relate to these words? I certainly do. The “you are not alone” bit stands so true for my childhood, as I am sure it does for most of you here. My books were my companion in my childhood days. And I remember sleeping with my favourite titles tucked under my pillow every night. They made me feel safe. They made me feel not alone.

4.) “The mother in her believed that the love she had for her daughter was safe from the
mayhem of her mind, because it lived in her heart.”

― Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Note: Again, words from this book that tore at my heart. Alice’s pain as a mother was heartbreaking to witness in the story. And yet, these words gave me hope. The love of a mother, after all, cannot be touched by any disease in the world.

5.) “They had grown up to believe that the natural order of things was for one’s home to be a place of freedom and space far removed from the complexities and restrictions of human societies. We”

― Kobie Kr├╝ger, The Wilderness Family

Note: Kobie Kruger’s eighteen years with her family in the southern African wilderness is inspiring and enlightening. These are her proud words for doing a fine job as a mother trying to bring up three little children while being surrounded by wildlife. Ah. And how true! By being in the wilderness and among animals, her children learned the most valuable life lessons.

6.) "It’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn't. It takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can't see. like with parents who adore you blindly. And a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. And a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. Maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. The universe takes care of all its birds.”

― R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Note: Of course, it’s fictional. But in this lonely little world, these words kind of make me feel good. They make me believe, even if it’s ever so little. Because it’s just nice to think that someone is watching over us…Taking care of us…Isn't it?

7.) “The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

― Roald Dahl, Matilda

Note: I guarantee that those of you who are reading this for the first time will have an instant connect to it. After all, this is what connects us most to the world of book, perhaps. The fact that they have the ability to transport to so many new worlds.

8.) “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”

― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Note: Ah… This poem (sung boisterously by the Oompa Loompas) really stayed with me. I just felt that most of the words of this thought-provoking poem stand true for the present generation of our smart-phone obsessed children as well (as well as us).

9.) "On reaching the spot where the body had been devoured, a dreadful spectacle presented itself. The ground all round was covered with blood and morsels of flesh and bones, but the unfortunate jemadar's head had been left intact, save for the holes made by the lion's tusks on seizing him, and lay a short distance away from the other remains, the eyes staring wide open with a startled, horrified look in them.”

- J.H. Patterson, The Man-eaters of Tsavo

Note: I can’t explain how these words affected me. I mean, they aren’t exactly moving or inspiring. But they certainly held my attention. And I never forgot them. It was disturbing, and at the same time, gripping to read this. The legend of the man-eaters of Tsavo has really fascinated me since I was a boy. And to finally have read that story in its rawest and truest form was a chilling experience. This part, the most as they reflected the extent of terror those two lions had managed to induce.

10.) “I don’t mean to imply that I value the life of a fish or a bird the same way I value a human life, but their presence in the world has as much validity as does our presence. Perhaps more: they were here first; they are foundational to us. They take only what they need. They are compatible with the life around them.”

― Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Note: I have a deep love for animals and have always believed that we humans do not deserve to stay in the same word as they. Animals are pure, unlike us. “Beyond Words” is an exemplary book that makes one empathize with animals and respect them much more. Often we take them from granted, as a mere presence. But they are more than that. And this quote reaffirms that belief.

Please do share your best book quotes of the year below.

Sachin Tendulkar's Playing It My Way: Book Review

Some thoughts on Sachin Tendulkar's autobiography, 'Playing It My Way' that I have been wanting to share. I will try to keep this short.

Rarely have I been so thrilled about a book as I had been for this one. I had pre-ordered it the day it was announced and had waited impatiently for it to arrive for weeks.

Sachin Tendulkar, as most of you I am sure would know, is one of India's greatest ever sportspersons and one of the finest ever cricketers to have played the game. Sachin was not just a cricketer in India; he was an emotion, a hope, a faith of countless cricket fans. He was the reason I began watching cricket actively. He has been one of my biggest heroes. And hence, my expectations from this book were monumental. I mean, knowing about the life of my favourite cricketer in his own words! That was simply too exciting. In the end, however, I was left underwhelmed. Severely underwhelmed.

I checked out a lot of reviews of the book and was surprised to see such glowing praises for it everywhere. Perhaps I looked at the book differently than most did. But my experience with this one was starkly different from the majority.

Save for the first three-four chapters, where Sachin narrates his childhood lovingly and explains how his love for cricket commenced, the book turned out to be a summary-of-sorts of all his pivotal matches. I was quite enjoying Sachin’s descriptions of his boyhood days, his relationship with his coach, Ramakant Achrekar, and how he used to slog it out at Shivaji Park in Dadar, Mumbai. But the moment the narrative shifts to Sachin’s international career, it became clear to me that those chapters had not been written by Sachin but the book's co-author, Boria Majumdar (a senior sports historian).

So we had chapters after chapters breezing through some of Sachin's memorable knocks and milestones. None of them, however, delve deep into what Sachin was going through while achieving them. They read like short essays of his performances. It was like, "I scored this much and it was an important knock. India won and I was happy." Seriously! And there are hardly any fascinating tidbits on the goings-on inside the dressing room. I do not mean to say that we should get something scandalous, but I would have enjoyed some more humorous anecdotes and colour about Sachin's fellow mates' lives.

Sachin also steers clear of the many controversial episodes during his tenure of which he was a part of. The match-fixing saga is again a ‘summary’ of what we all already know and his troubled friendship with Vinod Kambli is ignored completely. Sachin does mention the infamous Dravid episode - when during India’s tour to Pakistan in 2003, stand-in captain Rahul Dravid declared India’s innings with Sachin stranded on 194. That bit is actually captivating and one wishes there were more such instances he had explored.

The best chapter in the book is titled ‘Anjali’. Sachin has really poured his heart out here and it was absolutely delightful to know how Anjali actually pursued the shy Sachin and how vital a role she went on to play in the making of this legend. My respect for Anjali Tendulkar grew manifold after reading this chapter. Sachin truly was blessed to have found such a devoted partner who sacrificed such a prosperous career and focused on building her family with him. I salute this remarkable lady once again!

Sadly, chapters like those are rare in the book. I began to lose patience and was frustrated by the end as significant events were just being skimmed through and no extra insights were being given. Most chapters are like extended Wikipedia entries of Sachin’s career that we are already well aware of. Even the chapter on the World Cup 2011 triumph does not add much value beyond the mundane and almost read like an essay. “We won the World Cup and it was a great moment in our lives” this is how I would sum up what Sachin says in the chapter.

Overall, ‘Playing It My Way’ by Sachin Tendulkar was a huge disappointment for me. I have grown up loving the game because of him and had expected much, much more than what I got to read in the book. I wish more thought was put into making it a much better experience for the readers than giving them stuff that they already know so well about.
I am sorry to say this, but I seriously feel the book was a rushed up job and was released to cash in on Sachin’s immense popularity. The book had released just a year post Sachin’s retirement in late 2013 and the publishers clearly wanted to make the most that memory that had left a tremendous impact on countless Indians. Hence, the praises for the book became automatic. It was almost like it would be sacrilegious to say anything negative about it. It was Sachin, after all.

I, however, will only take back the chapter ‘Anjali’ with me from ‘Playing It My Way’. Save for that, the rest of the book is forgettable. It does not do justice to the man, the legend. If you really want a decent look into Sachin’s life, I will suggest you read ‘Sachin: The Story of the World's Greatest Batsman’ by Gulu Ezekiel. It does a much better job at presenting Sachin’s life than Sachin himself.

I was looking forward to a glorious Sachin Tendulkar straight-drive during a live match and what I got was a blurry replay of that stroke from an old YouTube video that I had watched several times before.

Raka - Remembering the biggest villain of the Chacha Chudhary comics

Remember this guy? I am guessing anyone who is familiar with the world of Chacha Chaudhary would know him pretty well.

This is Raka - the giant of a dacoit who is Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu's mortal enemy. I wanted to talk a bit about him today Just a bit.

The thing with the Raka series was that it took the Chacha Chaudhary comics to a different zone. Generally, these comics were light-hearted and simple fun. But with the Raka series, they became dark and gory. Heads and limbs were chopped off with absolute nonchalance and slangs were used repeatedly as well. But they gave the series a different edge that I definitely relished.

When I had interviewed Pran Kumar Sharma (the creator of the Chacha Chaudhary comics) in 2013, I had asked him about Raka. Here is what he had to say about him:

"I wanted to create a completely different character that would take everyone by surprise. Hence Raka the dacoit was formed. He is unabashedly violent and kills for power and pleasure. When he grew immortal, there was no stopping him except Chachaji and Sabu. People fear him, but in the end, he is always packed off in some far off and desolate place. The idea was to be innovative and not get repetitive with the stories that I came out with. Raaka’s stories take my comics to a different genre; while certain sensibilities about good and evil remain the same."

I remember when the first comic of the series - 'Chacha Chaudhary aur Raka' - was released. It was so different in mood and setting; even the artwork felt distinctly separate from the norm. There were real dacoits in here and not the loony ones like Dhamaka Singh and Gobar Singh that we were used thus far. Raka was brutal and ruthless; a real baddie. And when Raka accidentally consumed a special Ayurvedic medicine by a Vaidhya (doctor) named Chakramacharya, he became abnormally large and immortal.

That was a real 'wow' moment for me. I mean, a merciless criminal has become a giant and is immortal. Talk about a true challenge to Chacha Chaudhary! Like Pranji says, the Raka series generally followed a set pattern: Raka somehow finds a way out of the place he has been dispatched to. He comes in and wrecks complete havoc everywhere. And after a climatic showdown with Chacha ji and Sabu, he is again sent off packing.

Initially, I would be so pumped about the Raka series. I mean, this was such a novel concept in Indian comics (for me, anyway). I would eagerly wait for each sequel. And each of them had such catchy titles: :"Raka Ka Inteqam", "Raka Ka Jawab", "Raka Ki Wapasi", "Raka Se Muthbhedd ,"Raka Ka Hamla ", "Raka ki Tabahi". Man, I loved those titles.

And I would also be fascinated with the cover art of the Raka series. Pran Ji was simply awesome with them. Initially, we had a muscular and menacing-looking Raka with a sword or a gun. Then he made him stout and gruff-looking with bigger guns. The covers would generally have scenes that would not be on the inside pages, but they were still incredibly awesome. I remember one cover where Raka and Sabu are arm-wrestling; that really blew my mind as a child even though the scene was not in the story inside.

The Raka series deteriorated a bit later on. I think the last one I read was "Raka aur Hydrogen Bomb" back in 2015. It was just okayish. And I can understand. I mean, how long can you drag a storyline about a giant, immortal dacoit on the rampage, after all? The stories had to become repetitive at some point and they did.

With Pran ji no more in this world, we will not get another episode of the Raka series by him. But I am ever so thankful to the man for creating a character, a series, that had me so captivated. I remember imagining myself to be Sabu and would have those 'shadow fights' where I would wrestle Raka and would beat him to pulp.  (In my defense, they called me Sabu in my early teens and that went a bit to my head).

I still have most of the Raka series with me and I read them from time to time. I always will. They had a great impact on me. I do feel sad, however, that I would never be able to feel the excitement, the thrill, I used to have for every new Raka comic. Those were some good comics. Those were good times.

Sunny Days (Sunil Gavaskar's autobiography) - A Book Memory

Not a Book Review. A book memory, rather.

You see this picture? This is one of the early covers of Sunil Gavaskar’s – one of India’s finest Test batsmen – autobiography, ‘Sunny Days’. This cover is special to me. Very special.

Let me tell you why.

I began actively watching cricket at the age of 9-10. But long before I had actually begun doting on the game, I had developed the habit of reading. So, I remember we had a chapter in our 5th standard English course book titled, ‘First Step’. Narrated in first person, it presented a brief account of Sunil Gavaskar’s growth in cricket and his childhood days of playing the sport. Two particular anecdotes from that chapter really fascinated me. One was on how Gavaskar was almost exchanged with the baby of a fisherwoman accidentally the day he was born and the other was on how he broke his mother’s nose once while playing cricket with her inside their house.

I remember really loving this particular passage:

“My most vivid recollection of my childhood cricket-playing days is the time I almost broke my mother's nose. She used to bowl to me in the small gallery of our house where we played our 'daily match' with a tennis ball. Since the area was small, she would kneel to bowl, or rather lob the ball to me. I hit one straight back and caught her bang on the nose which started bleeding. Although it was a tennis ball, the distance between the two of us was very short, which accounted for the force with which the ball hit her. I was frightened but she shrugged it off, washed her face and, as the bleeding stopped, we continued the game. But for the rest of the day it was only forward defence for me. I restrained myself and played no attacking shot.”

Although I hadn’t ever watched Gavaskar play, I knew him well as he was a household name back then. This chapter got me so captivated that I would read it out aloud several times over. A part of this habit was also deliberate. I wanted my brother – who would usually be studying at a few feet’s distance from me – to read about this as well. Being the awkward and diffident boy I was, instead of sharing this chapter directly with him, I would read it aloud in the hope that my brother would listen to me and enjoy the content. This trick finally worked one day, when I caught him smiling at the end of my narration.

Then, one morning, when I was re-reading a passage from this chapter aloud in my room, my uncle – a humongous cricket fan – who was passing by, stepped inside. He asked me, “What are you reading? Isn’t this from Sunny Days?”

“What is Sunny Days?” I asked him.

He informed me then that this was the first chapter from Sunil Gavaskar’s autobiography. I was surprised and on looking closer, I found that there was a note at the end of the chapter which mentioned the very same.

My uncle then told me that he had the book. “Would you like to read it?” he asked me.

“Yes, please,” I answered instantly.

That evening, my uncle took me to his room, and from his dusty old bookshelf, he took out the book titled ‘Sunny Days’. It had the same cover that you see here. And I was immediately hooked. Although my knowledge on cricket was limited back then, I had known about Gavaskar’s famous exploits in his debut series against the West Indies on countless occasions from my uncle.

“Do you know Gavaskar faced those fast bowlers without wearing any helmet?” he would often tell me.

With those little anecdotes about Gavaskar already ingrained in my mind, and having read that first chapter in my school text book, I dove into Sunny Days excitedly. In the next two days flat, I finished the book and was absolutely blown over. The book was written in 1976 – when Gavaskar was in the 6th year of his international career – and missed out on covering a lot of famous incidents that followed; especially the 1983 World Cup triumph. However, I did not care. I had thoroughly enjoyed reading about Gavaskar's growth as one of the world's greatest batsmen and primarily his memoirs of the 1970-71 Caribbean tour which was his debut tour as the member of the Indian team. I also loved the ‘calypso’ that Gavaskar shares in the 9th chapter – a little poem that was prepared lovingly on his name by the boisterous West Indian public for the batsman’s heroics in the islands.

"It was Gavaskar
The real master
Just like a wall
We couldn't out Gavaskar at all
Not at all
You know the West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all."

I remember discussing various aspects of the book with my uncle while he would be seated at his usual place at the extreme end of our house’s verandah. He would quietly munch on biscuits and sip tea while I would excitedly narrate portions of the book that I really loved.

Thus, Sunny Days became the first ever cricket book I read. It played a small yet significant part in kindling my love for cricket and has always had a special place in my heart.

Much later in life, I and my uncle parted and moved to different locations in the city. Since my uncle had taken Sunny Days along with him, I went on to purchase a ‘Sunil Gavaskar Omnibus’ a few years back that had all his books including Sunny Days. I have stayed in touch with my uncle and meet him often, discussing cricket over a host of other things.

Last evening, I visited him at his new place where he has just moved in. As we were having tea, my eyes fell on the bookshelf behind him. I noticed the title ‘Sunny Days’ protruding out among the other books and immediately picked it up. I hadn't seen it in years. Just looking at the cover invoked a flutter of emotions inside.

My uncle, who was eyeing me, said, “This is Sunil Gavaskar’s autobiography.”

Apparently, he had forgotten all about lending the very same book to me 20 years back.

“I see,” I mumbled quietly. I was too overwhelmed at having found a little piece of my childhood out of the blue.

“Would you like to read it?” he asked me.

I suppressed a smile, and said instantly, “Yes, please.”

As I was leafing through the book and letting the memories of reading it for the first time wash me over, my uncle went on rambling.

“Do you know Gavaskar played without any helmet even as an opener?”

I nodded, my eyes still fixed on the book.

“Do you know he scored over 700 runs against the lethal West Indian pace attack in his debut series?”

“774 runs, yes…” I replied.

I didn't look at him (there was something in my eyes, you see) but I could feel my uncle was impressed.

I brought the book back home and have accorded it a prized position on my bookshelf.

You know, we all seek a time machine at times, don’t we? But we fail to realize that the time machine is right there around us; sometimes in the form of a piece of clothing, a toy, a game, a photograph or sometimes a book that you had read as a child. I keep searching for my time machines from time to time and happened to find one last evening. And although it makes me sad and yearn for those days gone by, it makes me smile as well.

I will read this Sunny Days now. It feels good to reunite with the book after such a long time. I wish, though, that I could detach the sports writer in me for a bit as I re-read this and just experience it like a wide-eyed 10-year-old again. A part of me also wishes to read the first chapter, ‘First Steps’ aloud; hoping that perhaps I would see my brother smiling at my narration, sitting just a few feet away from me, or perhaps see my uncle strolling into my room once again, his eyes sparkling in curiosity at the name of Gavaskar...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

“... just because [butterflies'] lives were short didn't mean they were tragic... See, they have a beautiful life.”

Our memories are what make us. They mold us, shape us, break us and ultimately form the person we go on to become.

Like everyone, I have had my fair share of memories – both good and bad. There is a lot of good in there that I look fondly at. And then there are those bad memories, too. Memories I am too scared to even scratch the surface of.

I lost my mother to cancer ten years back; first, it was in the breast and then it progressed to the liver. This is the first time in my life I am typing this sentence. It felt odd doing so.

I have stayed away from that part of my mother’s life – the one that had been ravaged by cancer – for as much as I can. I keep those dark memories locked inside. I don’t like to talk about them with anyone. They make me uncomfortable. And, like many say, they hold me down. But, despite my best efforts, they keep eating at me. They gnaw at my insides from time to time. But still, I try to shove them down. Deep inside. I let them simmer. I let them stay buried.

Last week I read the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova and that part of my memory bank – the one that I had forcibly kept locked – was pried open again.


Over the last few years, I had consciously stayed away from books that are dark, depressing or morbid. Instead, I have surrounded myself with warm and happy books. They keep me safe and comfortable. But sometimes, I guess, you need to step out of that zone. Sometimes you need to shake yourself up. Sometimes…

I remember watching a part of the movie ‘Still Alice’ starring Julianne Moore last year and had been fascinated by it. On researching further, I came to know the movie was an adaptation of a novel by the same name. So, even though I knew the book would distress me, I went ahead and bought it the very next week. The plot had me genuinely intrigued. However, I never quite gathered the courage to read it. It remained on my shelf, staring at me for months. Until, just like that, I decided to finally give it a chance last week.

Once I dived in, there was no turning back.

Still Alice is the story of Alice Howland - a 50-year-old Harvard professor of cognitive psychology who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. At the beginning of the book, we meet Alice who is an extremely bright and successful woman and lives with her husband, John, a scientist. Alice loves her life, her career and her and has tremendous respect everywhere. She has three grown children - two of whom are professionals and one who is a struggling actor. Her family functions around her. Until the Alzheimer begins to rip her life apart.

As the story progresses we come to know how Alice struggles to cope with the effects of this dreaded disease and how it begins to corrode not just her brain but everything that is dear to her. Bit by bit, Alice begins to lose her memories, her perception of sense and her very self. She loses her job at the university and her relationship with her family begins to get strained as well.

The story is beautiful and frightening. Its language is simple and gripping.  It is not an amazing piece of literature but it sure is important. The author does a wonderful job of portraying the biological and psychological effects of this disease and Alice’s memoir-of-sorts of Alzheimer's forces us to think. It forces us to be uncomfortable. It is raw and real.

The reader is thrust alongside Alice’s heartbreaking and terrifying journey and you cry along with her frustrations and despair as she keeps losing pieces of her self. Lisa Genova offers some moving scenes to show us Alice’s loss. She forgets her daughter, her husband, the layout of her house and even how to lick an ice-cream - things that were part of her day-to-day life. She feels embarrassed and her self-confidence is completely shattered. Who once was an intelligent and confident woman now suddenly finds that she can no longer rely on her strongest tool – her mind – and every day she tries desperately to hold on to her falling memories.

“She wished she had cancer instead. She'd trade Alzheimer's for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted herself the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she'd have something to fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if it defeated her in the end, she'd be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.”

What works for the book is that it isn't melodramatic or emotionally manipulative. The characters are real. The situations they deal with are real. Uncomfortably real. Why this book connects is that Alice could be anybody. It could be you, me or anyone else you know or hold dear. And that is why it is scary.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, our memories are what make us. If we begin losing those memories, we lose ourselves. Good or bad, those memories are essential to every being. And that is where Still Alice is chilling. Because you realize while reading it that Alzheimer's doesn't simply make you forget memories, it goes in and completely destroys them. What it also does is deeply affect the person’s family. At times, I felt really angry at John, Alice’s husband, for being selfish and inconsiderate. But then realized how difficult it must have been for him to see his partner transform before his very eyes into a person he did not recognize.

Despite the overarching Alzheimer’s narrative and its effects on a person, the book isn’t all depressing and sad. I liked how Alice finds meaning even in her degrading state. One of the highlights of the book for me was how her tumultuous relationship with her actress daughter, Lydia, improves as the story moves along. At the beginning of the story, Alice doesn’t approve of 21-year-old Lydia’s passion for acting in plays and wants her to get a college degree instead, much to the chagrin of her daughter. As she begins to grapple with Alzheimer's, however, it is Lydia who adapts to her the most and begins to repair the ground she had lost with her mother. It is beautiful and touching and I wish there was more to it there.

The best part of the book comes towards the end when Alice gives a heartfelt speech at the Dementia Care conference. As I was reading Alice’s speech, I felt a strange sensation coursing through me. I wanted to shut the book down, get up and begin applauding even as tears rolled down my cheeks. It was powerful. It was moving. And it was inspiring.

I am sharing a little extract from that part. 

“...My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today doesn't matter.”

And that, I feel, is my best take away from this story. That even though you might be falling. Even though there might be darkness ahead. You can still make this moment, the one that you are living in, count. You might have heard such messages – those which talk about living in the moment – in so many different and cliched ways. But this story actually makes you appreciate what you have; your loved ones, your life, and most importantly, your memories.

If I had to sum up, I would say Still Alice is a poignant psychological narrative of a woman’s decaying mind and how, despite all odds against her, she tries to keep pieces of her alive. She tries to be still Alice.

I will not be picking up a similar book for some time now. It's back to my happy, little space. Still Alice has left me mentally exhausted. It has been difficult for many reasons. I can’t stop thinking about Alzheimer's and how do the people affected by the disease deal with it. I am currently working towards visiting the dementia care center in my city to understand this disease more. I think I would need to do that.

I would recommend Still Alice to everyone. It is frightening and disturbing, yes. But it is also very important. The story makes you uncomfortable. It forces you to think about your life and about everything you hold dear. And, in many ways, value it more.

It has real characters, dealing with a real situation. And despite the heaviness of the narrative, I found reading this to be an engrossing experience. One that I shall remember for a very long time.


Now that I am done with the review,  I would like to add a little personal rant here - on why Still Alice affected me deeply on a personal level.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, I lost my mother to cancer. The last six-seven months of her life, especially, were extremely tough on her, the family and me. It has been ten years, but images from those last months of her life still haunt me; they come tumbling out of the darkness without warning and slap me right across the face. I have tried very hard to shove those memories down. To throttle them. But it hasn’t really worked.

As I was reading Still Alice, those memories came crawling back again. Alice’s transformation from a strong and smart woman to one where she literally couldn't look at herself in the mirror was extremely heart-rending. Reading this reminded me of how my mother – a bubbly, vivacious, warm and kind woman – completely degenerated because of the disease she had been inflicted with. Her beautiful, flowing hair was gone. She became bloated all over. Her skin became pale with cracks everywhere. Her lips became dark and patchy, and the twinkling smile on her face slowly faded as well. That cruel metamorphosis of hers has ripped me apart so badly, so viciously, from inside that a part of me is now beyond mending. 

I often questioned why the life of such a beautiful and kind person was cut brutally short. But there weren't any answers. 

The thing with my mother, though, was that she never stopped fighting. Until the very end. She lost. But I will always remember that spirited fight. That will to live. That twinkle in the eyes. 

And like Alice’s mother tells her once:

“... just because [butterflies'] lives were short didn't mean they were tragic... See, they have a beautiful life.”

Yes, my mother’s life was short. But it was a beautiful life. It had meaning. And as I will step away from this book now, I will hold these lines close to my heart to battle those demons of my former life.

If I could, I would like to forget those horrific memories. But, perhaps, they are essential to my being – especially to my creative self. Perhaps that is how it was meant to be. With that in mind, I end this. In the hope that I would one day find a way to cope with the horror of my past and ensure that I always cherish the beautiful butterfly of my life... And the color it had spread in it with its little wings.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Of those Diwali home cleaning days

There‘s just so much to love about Diwali, isn’t there? The lights, the colors, the sweets (oh, yeah!) and the overall feel-good ambiance. And while I don’t necessarily participate in all the intricate festivities of this beautiful tradition these days, I simply love the cheerful atmosphere this festival brings with it.

However, there is a little-appreciated practice within this lovely tradition that I reminisce about with great affection these days whenever the festival is round the corner – the Diwali home cleaning. Yes, back in the day it was one of those festival activities that I would really dread initially but then, somehow, I would find myself relishing it they moment it would commence.  

Our old Shovabazar home wasn’t massive, but it sure did have a lot of rooms in it. And, unfortunately, my mother was a stickler for cleanliness. This meant that almost a fortnight prior to Diwali she would begin pestering the children of the house to prepare themselves for the strenuous task of cleansing the home. And this wasn’t just simple cleaning, mind you. My mother ensured that each and every little nook and cranny of our house was tidied up by our poor hands.

We would grumble in displeasure, of course. Because who wanted to spend their precious Diwali holidays devoting hours on cleaning the house? We could have whiled away our time in reading comic books or watching cartoons, instead. But maa would have none of it.

“This is an important aspect of Diwali,” she would exclaim sagely. “Before Maa Laxmi arrives at our place, we need to keep it immaculately clean for her.”

So, against our wishes, we would have to succumb to the laborious task in front of us. And thus would begin the Diwali home cleaning spree.

My mother would meticulously plan the cleaning schedule; one day would be allotted to each room and a rest day would be given in between so that we could recharge ourselves. The children would primarily be deployed for the following: the two main rooms of the house, the massive living room and the temple room in the verandah.

The Diwali cleaning would commence from our main room. The thing with our room was that it didn’t require much cleaning as my mother would usually keep it spick and span all through the year. Regardless, she would still make us do the job. Buckets filled with soapy water along with two separate ragged banyan tees – one for mixing in the water before applying on the cleaning area and the other for dusting – would be handed out to each child and we would then launch on our cleaning mission; with my mother carefully supervising the proceedings.

I was always assigned the loft of our room while my elder brother and the other cousins would take the walls and the cupboards respectively. I loved our loft during this time – it was about ten feet wide and four feet in length – and for the Diwali cleaning most of the space would be cleared out. Things like old rugs, handbags, and suitcases – which usually took up most of the space in the loft –  were removed and only a solitary black metal trunk would remain. Since this trunk was too heavy to be brought down, we usually left it there and I had to maneuver my body deftly around it in that little loft to make sure I reached every spot.

And that trunk, meanwhile, was a treasure trove of memories. It was enormous and contained the various toys and board games I and my brother had used growing up but had not discarded for some reason. So every year, as I would be tucked up on the loft, I would inadvertently find myself with my nose buried deep inside the trunk, trying to dig out all the toys and games we had become too old to play with. There would usually be my little green scooter, a red James Bond car (this one has a special history and I have planned a separate write-up on it soon), a basketball game, my old snakes and ladder board game (that had rockets instead of snakes), some old pencil boxes, along with countless other similar items in that trunk. Every year, as I would observe my old games and toys with great interest, it would bring back a sea of memories and I would wonder why I had ceased playing with these in the first place.

I would be forced out of my reverie with my mother’s stern voice from down below: “Stop wasting time, Chiku! Stop wasting time!”

The toughest challenge of our Diwali cleaning ritual was taking on our living room or, as we used to call it, ‘Dadu ka room’ (it used be my late grandfather’s room). That was one massive place with five walls and it required the diligent dedication of each household member to get it spotlessly clean. The color of its walls was light purple and it was bone-crunching stuff, getting them clean. But, for some reason, it gave me great satisfaction in putting all my effort to scrub the area that had been designated to me and then bask in glory after I would ensure that it had been made spotless in every way possible.

Exhausting though it was, cleaning ‘Dadu ka room’ would be quite a joyous experience as almost every member of the family would be involved in it. Some Hindi songs would be played on our old cassette player to help ease the strain on our minds and someone would often break into an impromptu jig every once in a while. The children also indulged in sprinkling dirty soap water every now and then around much to the chagrin of my mother. Then, late afternoon, some snacks would be brought as no one would have the energy to cook anything and all of us would devour on them like ravenous wolves; relishing each morsel as a reward for our hard work.

The last day of the Diwali home cleaning would be reserved for the temple room of our house. It was a tiny room, but the most precious space for my mother. Hence, it required extra caution from all us while dusting anything inside it. The temple room was located at the right end corner of our verandah and the walls inside were coated plastered yellow. All we could do, hence, was dust it with brooms as water could damage the color. That wouldn’t take much time as the room was so small. But I found it fascinating observing my mother who would take added caution to cleanse every little part of the huge temple inside. The little idols of the deities, especially, would be washed and tended to with utmost love and care with Diwali round the corner.

The best time of the Diwali home cleaning days, though, would always be dusk. We cousins would slouch down on the pile of mattresses kept on the verandah - taken out from the respective rooms because of the cleaning that would be going on inside - and give our aching bones some well-deserved rest. We wouldn’t speak much. But just lying there comfortably on the soft mattresses and watching the skies turn red with the hope of a pleasant dinner to placate our tired souls would be quite satisfying.

Every year, once the Diwali home cleaning spree would be over, I would feel a tad empty. It was a tradition that I refused to accept I liked – forcing myself to believe I hated it – and yet it was something that I secretly wished could last longer. I didn’t exactly know why, but I loved how it brought almost all the members of the family together, albeit forcibly, for the same toilsome purpose and how we bonded over the back-breaking work. Then there were those memories of the past that would inevitably be discovered hidden in some nook of the house and in different shapes and sizes – a book, a toy or even a ball – courtesy this activity.

While Diwali was obviously a big event, the entire day, though, would whizz past in so much commotion and extravagance and in such haste that I wouldn’t really have time to sit back and savour things the way I wanted to. The days preceding it, however, with the cleaning activities, were much simpler. Much more fun.

Later in life, I parted with my cousins and moved to a different home. These days, I celebrate Diwali more as a formality than out of genuine happiness. And the Diwali home cleaning ritual is hardly performed. I simply dust my working table and bookshelves and leave it at that. I just don’t have the motivation for doing it with great passion at present. My old house is gone and most of the people I used to carry out those activities with are long gone from my life, too. Someday, perhaps, I will find the drive to celebrate Diwali with aplomb again. And, hopefully, also find the people to fulfill the Diwali home cleaning tradition with.

For now, all that remains are the memories. And a part of me will always cling on to them dearly. A part of me will always remain on the loft of my old Shovabazar home; eagerly scouring that huge metal trunk for his toys. A part of me will always be giving it his all while cleaning the walls of my ‘Dadu ka room’. A part of me will always be found relaxing on the heap of fluffy mattresses on the verandah of that home at dusk.

And even as I will be flipping through a few pages of a long-forgotten book while dusting my bookshelf this year before Diwali, a part of me shall be hoping to hear a female voice waft in through the windows, call out to me again and say, “Stop wasting time, Chiku! Stop wasting time!”