On books and realness

Optimized-shelf copy

The books on the bookshelf. Each with a story to tell – when I bought them, where, and why. Some of them are gifts. There is a tangible sense of our history (theirs and mine) and collective mortality when I run my hand across their spines, and flip through their pages. Sometimes they also contain the stories of unknown others. Many of my earliest memories are book -related – trips to Paico, Amar Chitra Katha purchased at railway stations, and so on. Some of the reasons why, despite not being the calibre of reader (and collector) JP Rangaswami is, I can still easily relate to why he is not buying a Kindle. Because I’ve had a love affair with books ever since I can remember as well.  More

An idea called home – 2

Anjum Hasan’s “Difficult Pleasures” is borderline surreal, the jacket told me. She would be in my top 3 favourite authors list, and I am completely awed by her writing (check the last para here) but I wonder if even that can explain the surreal thought I had as I read the first few pages. Can a book be called a home? What is a home after all? Isn’t it just an idea that is sometimes real and tangible and exists physically?

And that was the surreal thought – every time I read this author’s books, it’s like going home, as though I could reach inside, get into the story and talk to the characters and they wouldn’t consider me out of place at all. I could belong. Yes, it’s surreal, and I haven’t been smoking, but I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head.

until next time, home away from home

Travel Gems

Paul Theroux’s “The Tao of Travel” was a goldmine of perspectives on the subject. While I did write a review on GoodReads, I really didn’t stuff it with quotes as I would have liked. :) But since this is more of a chronicle, I can afford the liberty here.

“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” Paul Theroux

“Travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts.” Paul Theroux

“I think I spend more time thinking about what I don’t want to take with me: assumptions, iPods, cameras, plans, friends, (in most cases) laptops…… expectations.” Pico Iyer

“Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually coms up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die.” Jon Krakauer

“My own feeling is that city dwellers invent the cities they dwell in. The great cities are just too big to be comprehended as a whole, so they are invisible, or imaginary, existing mainly in the mind.” Paul Theroux

“Travel is one of the saddest pleasures of life.” Madame de Staël

“I tend to think that happiness is a particular time in a particular place..” Paul Theroux

“It sometimes seems to me that if there is a fundamental quest in travel, it is the search for the unexpected.” Paul Theroux

until next time, wanderlust

Book values

Sometime back, a colleague excitedly pointed me to Bookshelf P0rn, and I remembered bookmarking it a year back. The room with massive bookshelves has been one of the key attractions of the ‘when we buy our final home’ thoughts. (‘buying homes for life stages’ is another post :) )

Yes, I’m still one of those who religiously visit Blossoms on Church Street, and get a high when I walk around shelves that house a musty smell of old books, when I run my hand through ridges and pages and discover stories within stories, when I read words that reach out to me from across time and space. And yet, with the reader and tablet explosion, I wonder how long these books will be around. Even if I stubbornly resisted e-books, would there be a market to support it? The economics just might not work out. These thoughts crossed my mind when I read this wonderful article on the process of book publishing – its past, present and future.

On Brain Pickings, one of my favourite sites, I caught these words from Carl Sagan that completely resonate with me

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

I’m just getting familiar with the idea of a book community thanks to Goodreads. The idea of reading books and seeing annotations left by those who have read it before me, ‘browsing their thoughts’, including, probably the author’s, and thus ‘traveling’ across time and space does seem fascinating, something that is provided by the current form of reading only to some measure.

In the interim, I wish someone would build a white label e-book, that looks and feels just like a real book, one which I can really bookmark, flip pages etc, but one in which I can download a book and it would automatically change the cover, re-paginate and bring in all the benefits of technology. Best of both worlds to help me evolve! Maybe it already exists. :)

until next time, booking the future

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” (Bill Gates)

Teary I

I’ve been told that I used to bawl when I was very young. One oft told story is how I used to be especially crabby during powercuts, which, before television serials, was how Kerala got its families to sit together. But, back to my serial rage. Apparently, hand held fans were beneath me, and to shut me up, dad had to take a room in the nearby hotel, which had a generator!!

I think I redeemed myself fairly well in later childhood by becoming non-fussy and reducing the volume (in terms of sound) of my teary escapades, until I had a silent sobbing mechanism. Pain was the only thing that overrode this, but I remember that in college, during a particularly painful accident, with a half broken jaw and a doctor literally pushing back four of my front teeth  into the gums, I figuratively gritted my teeth and didn’t cry out loud. But I think, instinctively I might still cry out if I am not prepared.

What made me think of all this? My observations of how adults and children had different crying habits. My recent trips to Kerala mostly meant a lot of time in hospitals, which, because of an atmosphere of fear and pain, are unfortunately ‘crying catalysts’. I thought of the last time that I had cried, not counting the random poignant moments (music, movies, books, thoughts) that bring unconscious tears. It was about a year back, when one rain induced skid at night was the last straw in making me feel that the cosmos was playing out a terrible conspiracy against me. The tears would have fallen for less than a minute, mixing freely with the rain pouring down my face. Maybe I was giving myself the option of believing that I really hadn’t cried at all. Heh. :)

But what actually sparked even those observations were the words I read in Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver

Some say that crying is childish…. Crying loudly is childish, in that it reflects a belief, on the cryer’s part, that someone is around to hear the noise, and come a-running to make it all better. Crying in absolute the mark of a mature sufferer who no longer nurses, nor is nursed by any such comfortable delusions.

Do you still cry, silently, when no one’s watching? What’s your delusion? :)

until next time, the blog’s name has a ‘cry’ in it. sigh.

Creature Comforts

By sheer coincidence, the only two Stephen King books I’ve read are “Under the Dome” and Needful Things. They’re separated by a decade and a half (publication) and so, I was surprised to see a massive similarity in the themes – strange things happening in a town and then the focus shifts to human transactions, motivations and the good/evil within us. In the earlier book, it was a new shop and its proprietor  that played havoc, in the later one, it’s an indestructible dome.

When I discussed this with a few friends, I was told that this was not surprising and there were more books with that broad theme, and many authors repeated their themes regularly. These authors and their books are bestsellers too, which means a lot of people like this arrangement?

I have vaguely sensed this in music too – from MLTR to Bon Jovi to Bryan Adams to (even sometimes) Rahman, there seems to be a basic tune which is rendered differently at different times and released as a new track, and it sells. Which does make me wonder if even in these so-called hobbies, many of us have become creatures of habit, just like most other spheres of life – including food, people and so on. Comforts are easy that way, keeps the mind away from thinking. Of course, it could be subjective, and you could be on autopilot on some things, and not on others.

Meanwhile, all this is not to say that others, who are always pushing themselves out of the zone, can get all judgmental about it, but I do wonder whether its a conscious decision to stick to a comfort zone, an inability to break out of it, or not even realising you’re in one. Etymologically, ‘comfort’ means ‘make someone stronger’, but by building that fort around the self, do we become stronger or weaker in the face of life?

until next time, comfort knocks

Destination Nowhere

My reading habits are quite predictable, and as with most of my habits, they become more concrete over a period of time. I pessimistically call it building my own prison walls, and the statement works across contexts. :)

But sometimes I rebel against this. In the case of reading, one of the things I do while shopping is to consciously choose a book that I wouldn’t normally read, or better still, I let D choose a few books. But a better disruption happens during Kerala trips. At D’s parents’ home, I pick up a random book which I normally wouldn’t go anywhere near, and finish it. This time it happened to be Randy Pausch‘s ‘The Last Lecture‘. To give you a quick perspective, the book is based on the last lecture given by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon, and adding to the University’s aim of “what wisdom would you share with the world if it was your last chance?”, he also makes it a message to his young children, since he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In many ways, though personal, it’s the typical inspirational book, but several parts interested me. At one level, the author’s penchant for following childhood dreams struck a chord with me, for I have always entertained a notion that our childhood aspirations are instinctive and free of the baggage of later life. In that sense, it’s perhaps closest to what we’re really meant to do. Debatable, but it’s a belief nevertheless. :) The professor also gives perspectives on following dreams, and the roadblocks one might encounter. He believes that ‘brick walls’ are there for a reason – to see if you really want something bad enough.

Later in the trip, we visited Cochin’s contribution to the country’s ever growing mall list – Oberon Mall, to catch a movie at Cinemax – Mammootty’s ‘Best Actor’. The story of a man who while working as a Hindi teacher to fulfill his familial responsibilities, believes that he is destined to be an actor, despite his age and the mocking attitude of several around him. (slight spoiler) In a desperate last ditch attempt, he takes the unintentional advice of a film crew (how Vivek Oberoi landed a role in Company) and becomes part of a street gang to ‘learn’ his role the real way. As is his wont these days, Mammootty excels in a role and the script gives him enough ammunition. Ranjith, playing himself, advises Mammootty’s character, and tells him that if he has decided to become an actor, then actor he will be.

I’m a sucker for cosmic message theories and two random works seemed to be giving me the same message. My problem though, is a step behind. I am yet to find what I really want from life – the one thing that will drive me, the thing I am born to do. Almost everything I do these days is an attempt to crack that question. I am also constantly seeking out Dutch uncles (another term learned from the book) to give me perspectives on brick walls and a kind of laziness I blame myself for.

Funnily, I also received contradictory messages – a random link shared by someone – Osho’s talk on anger and not desiring (so) intensely and later (via Surekha, who now believes that irrespective of destiny, my destination is the Himalayas 😀 ) Chinmayananda’s talk on the journey being the goal.

As always, this Kerala journey too gave me much food for thought. But Randy Pausch’s poignant line reminds me “Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think”

until next time, time tableau


The best thing about buying second hand books is that they might contain stories. No, I haven’t completely lost it, I meant additional stories. Messages, notes on the side, bookmarks from previous owners – they’re all stories. Stories that give you a tiny glimpse of the person who wrote it, or the person it was meant for. The last one I saw – in Pico Iyer’s ‘Abandon’, was very interesting. It said

Dearest A****,

Though this seems, and is the last day at C-72, I promise that its the first day and a nev be start to the best days of our life together.




I thought there was an amazing sense of romance in that little note. A story from almost seven years back. I wonder why A sold the book. Did they break up? Maybe she didn’t like this genre? Maybe they shifted, and there was no way to carry this. It was an empty page, A could’ve torn it off, she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t have time, maybe she didn’t care.  Maybe she didn’t remember. Maybe, God forbid, something happened, and S didn’t want any memories? Maybe  she returned it to S after they split, and he sold it. Maybe S never gave it to A, and instead sold it because some memory was too painful? Now you see the possibilities? But, to quote from the book itself “We are no greater than the height of our perceptions”.

I’d only started on the book, but it had already given me a thought. “The death of the author is a way of talking about the death of God. The world itself becomes a poem whose author disappeared long ago.” So the poet dies, the poem remains, the artist dies, the art remains, the author dies, the book remains, God dies, his creation remains, to be interpreted and shaped by us, the ones who see and experience it, limited by the ‘height of their perception’. Maybe the creation was never completed? Like the stories that remain in the head, never to be told. Like the pages that fill the waste baskets. Like the blog’s draft folder? :)

Meanwhile, on the next page of the book, there is a signature now, dated 10/04/10. He thinks he won’t sell any of his books.. ever. But then, stories have a way of twisting themselves in time. :)

until next time, home pages :)

Book Values

Three mails in my inbox, all relating to an interest of mine – reading, but at three levels of engaging me. The easiest one to discuss is Rediff Books, which in a very matter of fact way gave me a list of books, including a 10 day MBA, how to save Income Tax, and ‘The Chronicles of Narnai’ (sic). It informed me that I had expressed an interest in receiving such information. I did? Reading, I’d say is a great vertical for a social network, but Rediff Books doesn’t seem to think so.

The second mail was from Shelfari, which gives me a status on what people in my network are doing. Now, I had signed up on Shelfari a while back, and had updated it for quite a while. My old blog even had a shelf I’d found cute. But somewhere down the line, its interface and utility ceased to interest me. I got quite irritated with their search which never managed to find my friends for me, only for me to get a mail from them later, not by them finding me, but on how they found this an interesting site, and wanted me to join. That was around the time that i became a Facebook fan, and found Visual Bookshelf. And why was that? Because Shelfari’s app on Facebook refused to work for me inspite of several tries. Now, to be fair, I might have been a rare case since I see a lot of people using it.

The interesting news last week, was Amazon’s acquisition of Shelfari, which leads to a strange relationship with its competitor, Library Thing. I noticed from the second link that the UI has been improved considerably, but they’d lost me way before I could experience that.The effects of such a partnership would be beneficial to both parties, as Shelfari gains from the scale of Amazon and its users, and Amazon gains a community that it couls scale up and synergise very effectively with its current services. Amazon is doing some interesting stuff, most prominent of which would be Kindle.

And that brings me to my favourite utility in this vertical – Visual Bookshelf. The biggest advantage I have is that I get to share it with all my friends on Facebook, and it automatically adds the friends who use the same app. It also means that I get to share a review on my newsfeed, so even those who don’t use the app can read it. VB’s mails to me are pretty simple – it tells me the status of the books I have added, and gives me an option to change it, it lets me know what my friends have added, and in a way I found very appealing, lets me know what the team is working on, and that’s some pretty interesting stuff.

But there is another app I’m considering to give a spin, and that’s ‘Books iRead’, from weRead, a team based in Bangalore. Its page on FB informs me that it has more than 6.5 lakh users, 25 of whom are friends. I read recently that it had been acquired by Lulu. Not exactly the Amazon kind of deal, although I couldn’t help but wonder whether the guys who should’ve actually done a tie up with weRead long ago should’ve been another Bangalore based online bookstore start up – Flipkart. It could’ve been perhaps as simple as me reviewing a book on Books iRead, a friend reading it and deciding to buy it, and Flipkart offering an option to buy. Now, Flipkart is doing some reasonably good work, and I loved the way they  first caught my attention, but this would be a good context to remind them that they haven’t gotten back to me on Dublin, a book I’d asked for! But don’t worry, none of the online guys in India have, so there’s reason to cheer. Sigh!! 😐

until next time, Read India

Prisoners of birth?

“They’re both oaks, even if they were planted in different forests. But then, m’lord, we all suffer in our different ways from being prisoners of birth.”, thus spoke a wonderful character called Mr. Munro in Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A Prisoner of Birth’. Profundity !
I wonder how many of us are able to grow into oaks, irrespective of which forest we’re planted in. No doubt, a few do manage, but the majority live a life that derives a lot from the forest it grew up in. Getting set into patterns and stereotypes that somehow define us irrespective of what we are and what we attempt to be. From the name that reveals your nationality, religion, to the tags that make you middle class/ cosmopolitan/ south indian and everything in between.
And by the time we pause for breath, and care to reflect on where we have reached, we can only wonder how life might have been different, if the settings chosen had been different. And sometimes we look around and end up thanking the higher power for the setting. The place, the time, the parents, the economic conditions which perhaps make up the where, when, who and what, but leaves us holding the one question that we’d love the answer to – why?

until next time, the path to freedom…