Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Reading List- 2012

Time really does fly. I had my summer reading list and now I have my winter's list. So these are the books I read this season:

1. Beautiful Creatures

Here's the story- Ethan Wate lives in a sleepy Southern town where every morning is the same. His life includes memories of his dead mother, his reclusive father, his eccentric believer governess-of-sorts and a wannabe rockstar best friend. He can't wait to get out of his boring life till Lena Duchannes, neice of the town shut-in Macon Ravenwood, comes to his school. The two fall in love, but there's one problem- Lena is a Caster. And not just any Caster. Due to a curse upon her family, every female of her family is claimed on her sixteenth birthday by either the Light or the Dark. And Lena's birthday ddraws closer with every passing day.

The only bad thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it's about a boy who falls in love with a supernatural creature, a Caster to be specific. I mean, we get that a lot these days, right? But the good part is the way it's handled. First of all, I love the male voice. It's so adorable, without being too mushy. Second, there's a sweet Southern USA setting and you can feel the monotony of the place, the way it's somehow stuck in the past and nobody new or different is ever really welcomed. Also, in these books, being a Caster is not always shown as a good thing, as Lena yearns to be a normal girl. It's a fun read for young adults and I just might pick up the sequel.

2. The Catcher In The Rye

This one's a classic. Holden Caulfield, a cynical sixteen-year-old, is kicked out of school. The novel follows his adventures in New York streets after he leaves school without telling his parents. There is less story than you would expect because this story is character-driven, with Holden's cynical commentary and descriptions explaining everything that happens around him.

This is a great book, very 'my taste'. Holden is obviously grieving the death f his brother, but he won't let that show. He's also in love with his old friend Jean, but doesn't know it. These are the things that make Holden likeable, even though he mostly just criticizes everyone he meets.

What I also love is how Holden sees the 'bad' in grown-ups, things people seem to attain in the process of growing up, things that children don't have. For example, he talks about smart people and says they never want anyone to say anything smarter than them. When talking about his sort-of girlfriend Sally, he says she is actually very vain. He observes how she can carry on a meaningless conversation with people she barely knows and is repulsed by this. He sees the world as a mature child. He sees that adults are often self-absorbed and act according to social convention, things that children would never do. What's best is that even though he can be very irritating because he hates everything, you can tell that he's actually right in hating them. But then there's nothing that can be done, because after all, the grown-up world just is very 'crummy' sometimes.

The novel ends with Holden in a psychiatric facility, with no explanation as to how he got there. He says he's ready to move on because he's actually missing some of the people he brutally criticized throughout the novel. This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful emotion in the book.

3. Why We Broke Up

This book is written by Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket who wrote 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'. First of, I salute Handler for writing something that is such a departure from Series of Unfortunate Events. Second, this book is not just for young adults, but for all those who've ever liked the popular guy/girl and then experienced disappointment (that means everybody)

The story is about a box that Min gives to her ex-boyfriend Ed. In the box are things that they had or shared or gave each other during their short-lived relationship. Min uses these things to tell Ed why they broke up.

The beauty of this is that from the very beginning, Min knows her relationship with Ed won't last. It's the same old story- girl meets gorgeous guy, falls in love instantly, hopes it stays that way. But Min's no cookie-cutter girlfriend- she realizes this is not going to work from the very beginning. She doesn't enjoy Ed's basketball games, doesn't like the bonfire parties he goes to, likes old movies that Ed will never understand. But she still hangs on to hope because she loves him, but that really doesn't count for anything sometimes.

The book can get a bit hard to read sometimes, with sentences being very long and running into each other on several occasions. But there's lots of dialogues to make up for it. Extra points for the great illustrations of all the things in the box.

Min is very insightful. She mostly realizes that little things can be signs of incompatibility. For example, Ed carelessly tears a flier Min pastes for her best friend so he can write his number on it. It's a small thing that she can't complain about, but she understands that Ed never really got that the flier was important to her and that's one of the reasons they broke up. Also, Ed is a basketball playing dude, but he's shown as more than that- a guy looking for an interesting girlfriend, a guy who's good at math.

It's a very beautiful book. Incidentally, I wrote something like this last year but romance was never my thing, so I stopped writing it midway. I don't think I could have done as good a job as Daniel Handler, but maybe I'll post some excerpts sometime.

4. Mortal Instruments- City of Bones
I didn't like this one. I actually stopped reading it mid-way. It's about Clary Fray who discovers she's a Shadow-Hunter like her mother. It's the same old story- girl finds out she's not normal or mortal and she has to defeat someone or fight something because something/someone dear to her is at stake. This was not for me. But I will recommend it to those who like YA supernatural.

5. Ella Minnow Pea
See how the title-cum-protagonist's name sounds like L-M-N-O-P? This is the story of Ella, a girl living in the fictional island of Nollop, an island named after the creator of the infamous 'The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog'. The Island's Council has a statue of Nollop with the pangram under it. As each letter of the pangram falls off from under the statue, the letters are outlawed from the island, that is, nobody is allowed to say or write these letters. By the end, only the letters L, M, N, O and P remain. Ella finds herself fighting for her freedom of expression against a totalitarian government. The challenge? To find a pangram of 32 letters containing all the letters of the alphabet, something which seems impossible with only a few letters in her disposal.

Idea and concept wise, this was the best book of my winter. It's a light-hearted take on totalitarianism, freedom of expression, freedom and good expression. The only downside I can think of that Nollop is shown as an island where language is an art, so everybody, from teenagers to the elderly, speak and write in an overly formal, highly articulate manner, something that might be hard to digest for a lot of people out there who are looking for a quick read. Also, there is very little dialogue. Also, an American character, Nate Warren, uses the same language as the Nollopians, something I thought qualified as an discrepancy. However, if you're looking for a read which is both fun and serious, this is definitely the book for you.

If Ella Minnow Pea is ever made into a movie, I hope the makers keep it simple and funny, instead of trying to go all serious and revolutionary, because that's the beauty of this work- it's a very funny situation alluding to more serious situations.

6. The Book Thief
In Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger is orphaned and left in the care of foster parents. One day, she discovers a book, 'The Gravedigger's Handbook', and with the help of her foster father, she learns to read and write. Thus begins her journey as a book thief, as she steals books from the most dangerous of places in the most dangerous of times.

This book doesn't have much plot. It is more of an account of life in Nazi Germany. It's a lovely book. It doesn't try to judge what's good or what's bad, doesn't make any political statements. It tells about different people whose lives are interconnected by the time they live in. There are instances which make the characters seems so full of life. For example, Liesel's best friend, Rudy, is a big fan of Jesse Owens, so he paints his face black and goes for a run. But his father says he's blessed to have "safe" blue eyes, blonde hair and skin, and he must never try to have anything else.

A lovely book. I think everybody should read it at least once.

So that's my list for now, but I read a lot of books these days and could have missed some out. If I remember any more names, I'll do another post. Till then, keep on reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I knew a boy when he was a child
And had no teeth or hair and couldn't speak
And had bright eyes that got brighter whenever he saw something new
And held someone's hand whenever he wanted to
He grew up to be six feet tall
Thin and lanky, with a beard and all
And started thinking more about
What he really wanted in life
For himself and the people around him.
At first he thought he wanted to be
Like those people they show on TV
So he dressed well and learnt to play the guitar
And found himself a very good-looking girlfriend.
But the clothes were always black
And he left his guitar on the train
And nobody bought him a new one because he wasn't all that good with it
And the girl said she met someone new.
He let it all slide and lived on
But only because that was all he could do.
He didn't completely give up, though
And went on asking what he really wanted.
He got a little older
Things changed and he thought
That he just wanted to get a good job
And wanted that prices stay down,
Tragic jams vanish and his boss not he so mean.
But prices went up every year
And they made a new car that everyone could afford
So now traffic jams would never go
Because more people had cars out on the road.
Then came the year when people lost their jobs
And his boss said, "This company can't afford you anymore"
So he spent months looking for another job
And eventually found one that had very long working hours but didn't pay much.
He got by all this but it took away a part of him
And now the grass wasn't so green anymore to him
And the sky wasn't wo blue
Because his world had just lost a bit of its color.
He did what everyone does
Found a lady who wasn't quite like the first girl who found someone new
But he still liked her very much.
So he married her and they had a son.
That was when he finally realized hat he wanted in life.
He just wanted his bright eyes back
The ones that brightened up every time he saw something new
So that the world wouldn't be so ordinary and colorless anymore
And he wanted to hold anyone's hand he chose to hold
Anywhere and anytime he felt like it.
But he couldn't anymore because he was grown up
And everyone expected him to be mature.
So he looked at his son and saw that the baby
Had no teeth and no hair and couldn't speak
And the baby's eyes brightened up whenever he saw something new
And that was how use realized that
Marvel and wonder weren't yet lost in the world.

Straight-Out Truth

A few years ago, I met a boy who was from the North-East. Man, was he handsome! He was tall, unlike most of his north-east Indian friends. And he looked like one of those hunks from manga books. If you don't know what 'manga' is, let's just say he looked a bit like this:

You should have seen his girlfriend. Soft features, long straight hair, doe eyes- she looked like a Korean movie star. Now, my skin would never be that soft and there's nothing I could do with my eyes, but since I was very drawn to this boy, I thought maybe having the same hair (straight hair, that is) might get me noticed. It all sounds very pathetic now, but we all do stupid things when we are young right?

The boy left my school and went away but my desire for straight hair remained. You see, it sounds very nice to say 'thick, wavy hair', but somehow, in real life, having long straight hair you can run your fingers through is just so much more attractive. The way straight hair always seems easier to manage. The way it falls on your eyes ever so gracefully. The way it fans out over your shoulders like silk. I could go on and on.

Plus, for all us wavy haired damsels out here, seeing people on TV and films and magazines flaunting straight hair can cause a lot of distress.

So, I twisted my curls around my finger for what I swore would be the last time and set out to set my hair straight.

The first idea was to use a product. I used a shampoo that made half my hair fall out but didn't straighten it. Then there was a serum which made my hair look a bit silkier but even that didn't give me straight locks. My mom wouldn't let me go to a parlour or blow-dry my hair. I was getting really frustrated, but I'm no quitter. I decided to pull out the big guns.

(Disclaimer: Do not try this at home. No, really.)

I did what a lot of women in the last century did- I used a clothing iron. Suddenly, the word fire hazard took on a whole new meaning, but it was working. My hair actually did straighten out. But do you see how risky this was? Well, I saw the risk when one day I overheated the iron and it burnt my hair. The strands became papery and fell off in tiny shards, as if my hair was falling in pieces. I couldn't help but picture what would happen if a slip of my hand caused me to touch the iron to my skin. And that was the end of the clothing iron.

So now I just wait for the perfect product to rid me off the frizz. And maybe the wait's going to end soon. Sunsilk is launching a new product and guess what it does! It straightens hair. See, miracles do happen with brands like Sunsilk around. You just have to wait and try some crazy alternatives before they come your way.

(This post is an entry for the Straight Hair Experiment blogging contest. For more, go here.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rest In Peace

Shreeram Radhakrishnan died on 3rd December. Now, just because I am writing this, doesn't mean we were the best of friends. I knew him in a very limited way because we participated in the same extra-curricular activities sometimes. But I know what he was like because, well, he was the guy who needed no introduction. That was was said about him on his school farewell. And now that we are all being forced to bid farewell to him one last time, we realize that he is still the guy who needs no introduction because even though we haven't met him in a while, we're all crying for him.

Shreeram was a very brilliant student. Not the I'm-getting-the-highest-marks-in-all-my-subjects type off brilliant, but the true prodigy type. He was the state ripper in the boards and got into IIT- Mumbai with a rank of 224. He was also in a lot of extra-curricular activities and that's how I knew him. Whenever I saw him, he was smiling. Nobody had anything bad to say about him. My teacher once told me that one day, during the afternoon prayer, his classmates started chanting his name instead of the prayer. That's not something that happens to everyone. Poor Shreeram was mortified that day, but that's just because he was so humble.

I found out that Shreeram was sick early this year. When I received no further news about him, I thought he must have recovered. Then my friend called yesterday and said, 'Did you hear about Shreeram?' I couldn't bring myself to say anything for a few moments and my friend, who is normally so impatient on the phone, didn't urge me to talk. And that's when I just knew. But still, I asked, "What happened?" and my friend told me. All of a sudden there was no hope to cling to anymore.

I babbled on the phone for a while, because that's just what I do when I don't know what I'm feeling. Then I called my mother and she told me she already knew. She was very sad because Shreeram died of MDR-tuberculosis and someone very close to both of us once had the disease and so we know what it's like to go through it, both for the patient and the family. That person made it, Shreeram Radhakrishnan did not.

I went online and searched his name and saw all the articles reporting his death. In all the pictures accompanying the articles, get was smiling so brightly, just like he did when he was with us.

Just like I said before, my personal interaction with Shreeram was very limited and I don't want to insult anything by saying this is a huge personal loss. What this is, is a huge loss of faith. Out of all of us, he was the one who seemed so gifted and lucky and happy with his life. He wad the one whit really had a chance. So how could this happen to him of all people? And how come he had to spend months in a coma when people who don't deserve to live walk freely? And if it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody and there really is no justice in the world.

In the wake of this terrible loss, all I have learnt is that there's really no point trying too hard because it doesn't guarantee us a long or happy life. Justt when it seems like we're about to step out in the world and start our lives, we can have something really bad happen to us or even die. But that doesn't mean we get to throw our lives away and waste time over stupid problems and boys/ girls who actually don't care about us and throw tantrums all the time, because we have to make the most of our lives and there really isn't enough time. Shreeram had a lot of things we didn't, but we still have our lives and we have to live it to the fullest.

I hope Shreeram's soul rests in peace and that heaven really exists because if it does, Shreeram would definitely go there and we can all see him once we join him there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Found In Translation

Ever been to a place where nobody speaks your language? Where all you do is sign and mime all day to get the simplest messages across? If you haven't, you would be surprised to know how many spend their lives away from their homeland in places whose words they neither speak nor understand.

I grew up in Delhi, so I can speak Hindi very well. I am Bengali, so I have no problems getting around in West Bengal and other Bengali speaking areas. Plus, I'm perfectly fluent in English and that's useful everywhere these days. So far I haven't had too many problems with language, but I see people who do.

Take for example these twig boys in my class. In my college, people (including some teachers) speak in Bengali most of the time. One of these boys is front Bhutan and his mothertongue is Zonka. The other is from Darjeeling and speaks Nepali back home. Sometimes, they don't understand when the rest of us are saying. Then there are my neighbours in Mumbai who just migrated from Pakistan and only speak Sindhi. And there's my mother who says she gets nervous in Mumbai sometimes when everybody around her speaks Marathi. Even I've seen that she acts notably more confident in Kolkata, because she is very fluent in Bengali.

I belong to a country which was divided into linguistic states. People speaking Hindi shoved into one part of the country. A separate land for those who speak Tamil. Another one for the Oriyas. And a number of more states separated on the basis of language. I see that language can really become a social issue sometimes, because my mother witnessed the anti-Bengali movement in Assam. And I know it can be hopelessly irritating if someone just doesn't understand what you're saying. But at the same time, if you really look on the bright side, you'll see that language doesn't always become a communication barrier.

Now consider this- my aged Sindhi neighbour conversed easily with my grandmother who only speaks Bengali. They don't share the same language but they but there are lots of other things they share and so they can connect without speaking the same words. My mom actually likes Mumbai very much and wouldn't want to move away just because she doesn't speak Marathi. And the two boys in my class got by just fine last semester, and now they even speak some words in Bengali sometimes.

If we want to understand each other, we will. It doesn't matter what we speak as long as we really want to express ourselves. So here's some advice- Don't lose patience with those who don't speak your language and don't close yourself off to learning new tongues. Language is an imaginary wall, which means it doesn't exist at all, and so we can all help bring it down.