Panting

The moon, heavy
as I drive down the silent highway
races with me
dragging its weight
over the neems and tamarinds
torn by the scraggy branches of eucalyptus
briefly disappears behind a dark house
exhausted I pull up my car
hear the heavy breath of the earth around me
as the night swells in the pearly softness of moonlight.

Timeless

gentle breeze wraps me

I break away from the smell of food
that crouches like a frightened sparrow
in the corners of the room

the sky is lit by an invisible moon

I shudder to think
time hasn’t moved
the deception I play up to
every night as I look
at the clouds racing in the sky


image of a young girl
watching from the terrace
a moon teasing between the branches

Books Of 2009

I do not recall in what order I read my books through 2009. But there had been some reason why I read certain books together, sometimes there was a link that lead me from one book to another though they were of different genres, reading of certain books had been prompted by my state of mind, while a few others were because I had read reviews of them.  I had undertaken to read Conrad after reading the inspiring blog of Beth, I read Amitav Ghosh’ s Sea of Poppies as a counterpoint to Conrad’s Lord Jim. I know I still haven’t cleared the best books of Conrad, shall continue to read Conrad through 2010. I want to begin rereading alongside Conrad either Dostoevsky or Thomas Hardy.

Here is the list of books I read in 2009
Stranger to History  Aatish Taseer
Empires of the Indus : The Story of a  River  Alice Albinia
The Immortals  Amit Chaudhuri
Sea of Poppies  Amitav Ghosh
Hotel du Lac  Anita Brookner
Providence  Anita Brookner
The Prodigal Summer   Barbara Kingsolver
Curfewed Night   Basharat Peer
The Art of Happiness   Dalai Lama
In Other Rooms , Other Wonders  Daniyal Mueenuddin
Somewhere Toward The End  Diana Athill
Atonement  Ian McEwan
On Chesil Beach  Ian McEwan
Enduring Love   Ian Mcewan
Saturday Ian McEwan
Nostromo   Joseph Conrad
Chance   Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim  Joseph Conrad
Victory   Joseph Conrad
Burnt Shadows  Kamilia Shamsie
My Family and Other Saints  Kirin Narayan
A Pedagogue’s Romance  Krishna Kumar
The Japanese Wife  Kunal Basu
Authentic Happiness  Martin E. Seligman
 Happiness  Mathieu Ricard
The Wasted Vigil  Nadeem Aslam
The Private patient  PD James
Snow Leopard  Peter Matthiessen
Abandon  Pico Iyer
The Open Road  Pico Iyer
If You Don’t Know Me By Now  Satham Sanghera
Q & A  Vikas Swarup
On Beauty  Zadie Smith

Books that I read soon after they were published were Immortals, Stranger to History, The Wasted Vigil, Curfewed Night, Empires of the Indus,  In Other Rooms, , Private Patient and Burnt Shadows .

Amit Chaudhuri’s novels are remarkable for their minimalism, the bulky 300 odd paged novel The Immortals  feels in spirit like a haiku.

PD James crime novels read like a piece of literature, her readers savour her beautiful turn of phrases, her ponderings on life and follow the psychological motives that drive her characters. PD James was 88 when she published Private Patient in 2008, the novel can be bracketed as one of her best along with In the Holy Orders and Taste of Death.

Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil is as beautifully written as his earlier novel Map of Lost Lovers. The Wasted Vigil set in Afghanistan spins a dark tapestry of violence, repression, betrayal.  The novel at a level communicates that history forcefully buried as in the Taliban Afghanistan, breathes through the pores of the earth – an ancient stone Buddha lying buried keeps a vigil over the wasted land.

I read Curfewed Night, Burnt Shadows, In Other Rooms, Stranger to History  and Empires Of the Indus  because I was impressed by the reviews they received.

Curfewed Night is an inside story of a Kashmir that the rest of India does not know, it is a disturbing picture of the India that we do not want to acknowledge – an India that initiates crackdown on innocent civilians and keeps them indefinitely in custody, an India that uses its power to hold the valley in terror through military brutality and blood curdling tortures. 

Burnt  Shadows is a beautiful novel spanning six decades and five countries – from the U S  bombing of Nagasaki  to the post 29/11 bombing where history appears to come a full circle. The story travels ambitiously from Japan to post British era India to Pakistan smoldering from partition, the Pakistan in the 70s & 80s, to Afghanistan where CIA backs Mujahideen to resist the Soviet power and to the USA paranoid after the 29/11 bombing. At the centre of the novel is Hiroko, a survivor and in its truest sense a world citizen. She is a Japanese who falls in love with a German translator, at his death she travels to India where she marries a Muslim, she chooses Pakistan as her home and lives there as a second class citizen, she mothers a son who is trained by the Mujahideen, she finally moves to America where she follows the fate of her son who is waiting to be shipped to Guatanamo Bay.

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s debut collection of stories , In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, is undoubtedly the best of the books I read last year. Set in modern Pakistan Mueenuddin is as adept at representing the urbane upper middle class  as he is in sketching a Pakistani landlord from Punjab or a poor labourer from that region. There is a distinct ring of Chekov’s pathos in his stories.

Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia serves more than a travel narrative. Alice starts her journey from the delta of River Indus and travels upstream in search of its origin across Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern India to Tibet. She travels back in time to trace the histories of the cultures that this river has birthed, she tarries along sunken tributaries to document the history of forgotten communities. Her narrative is not linear as she moves across times and places and her erudition comes through the densely written book.

Stranger to History – Aatish Taseer, son of an Indian journalist and a Pakistani politician, uses his embattled position to search his roots and construct his identity.

I had read Anita Brookner in my college days, and I chose to reread her two novels to see what I feel about her books now. The female protagonists in the two novels are middle aged like me, still I could not relate to their angst. I wonder if her books lack the timeless quality that you find in Conrad, Hardy, George Eliot, Jane Austen.

I was struggling with Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, my friend suggested that I read On Beauty. I liked the book, and without regret a
bandoned White Teeth (I hate pulling out of books, I generally plod through them with grit). On Beauty is such a beautiful book that I felt I had to drop White Teeth.

Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam had such an impact on me that I had been meaning to read his other novels, I managed to read four of his novels last year. I began with On Chesil Beach and followed it with Atonement, Saturday and Enduring Love.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favourite writers, I have read many of her works. I felt inclined to re read Prodigal Summer  last year, will re read her Poisonwood Apple sometime this year.

I read Vikas Swarup Q & A after all the hullaballoo over the Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire that was an adaptation of the novel.

My friend who owns a bookshop recommended If You Don’t Know Me By Now. She kept calling me repeatedly to go over to look up the top-knot guy’s book. If I had refused to buy the book, she would have lent the book for me to read, she was so taken in by the book. A few months later she called again to tell me about Somewhere Toward the End. I went over and picked the book, and at both instances I have not been disappointed.

I read Kunal Basu when I was in between two books, I did not complete all the stories at one go, but stretched it across a couple of months. I chanced on My Family & Other Saints by serendipity, I was searching for some other book in a bookshop. Kirin Narayan has penned a beautiful memoir that makes you roll with laughter and moves you to tears all at once. 

As Director of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Prof Krishna Kumar’s views on education in India is perceptive. I enjoyed Pedagogue’s Romance, and have begun reading Prejudice and Pride that compares the way a period in history is presented for school children in Pakistan and India.

One morning, feeling very low, I began reading Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness. I opened the book at random and read a page here and one there. Very soon I started the book from the beginning and found myself reading while traveling to work, while waiting for my computer to boot, while sipping my tea.

Soon after that book I read Pico Iyer’s The Open Read which is an interesting biography of Dalai Lama. Back to back I read books which I feel in spirit were a take off from Dalai Lama – Happiness, Authentic Happiness, The Snow Leopard. The only digression at that time was Pico Iyer’s Abandon, a beautiful novel of romance. In spirit, this book which is about the sufi poet Rumi, is very restive that it went with the temper of Dalai Lama.

Poem At Forty

This is how my mother looked
when I was as old as my son is now
I am the same age as my mother then
I have drawn even with her.

I hold her photo
I look at her soft flab
the workouts I have fiercely found time for 
has kept me slim.

My mother never massaged almond oil around her eyes
never firmed her skin with lotions
never included nuts and sprouts in her diet
never hennaed her hair

sari hastily clad
she ran a comb through her jet black hair 
collected her bag and
went for work

sudden calls came from her old distressed father
to manage her violent brother
she bonded with another brother
who shut himself up for days in depression

then, starving he came home
she fed him and they both silently sat together
she thrust money in his palms
when he rose to leave

she was the axle for the family
her brothers and sisters
so diverse and with differences
looked to her to string them together

the smile that she carried
toned her muscles
the compassion that filled her eyes
galvanized her with undying energy.

I nudge time for myself
scoop it away greedily
hate taking calls on a weekend
for fear of committing time to someone.

I close the door to the world
when I get back from work
settle in my large chair with a book
tea steeped in the kettle.

I walk contently around the silent house
the quietness loosens my limbs
cooking meal for the family
stirring soup for myself.

When it is time for a face mask
I get ready to meet a stranger in the mirror
hair thinning at the temple,
henna paling to reveal grey squiggles.

The face toned with massages and masks
can’t hide the anxiety around the eyes
mouth that seldom sees a smile
is drawn tight with stiffness.

By shoring energy for myself
I hoped to appear young
my mother burnt herself out
and stayed radiantly timeless.