8 Books For When You Are Down and Out!

2019 is well and truly done now. Post party blues are bound to set in. In a world where even the tiniest thing we do winds its way online and creates an online image, comparing ourselves to other people’s lives on social media platforms becomes second nature to all of us. Studies have shown a correlation between anxiety, self esteem, and social media.

As a whole, mental health issues are not very often talked about in India. Depression is simply shrugged off as a mood and not recognized as a prolonged state of mind that needs to be addressed. There are many ways in which anxiety and issues associated with depression can manifest themselves. Anxieties over festivities or self image issues due to long social media exposure are only two examples.

Seeking help should not be considered a taboo or looked down upon.

One more way to feel better is to engage yourself in reading relevant books; books that can motivate you and help you tackle your situation. The Book Cafe presents a list of eight such meaningful books that can help you get through the worst of times.

THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY BY SUN MI-HANG

That’s all there is to it. We look different, so we don’t understand each other’s inner thoughts, but we cherish each other in our own way. I respect you.

This short South Korean novella possesses a beautiful fable like quality and narrates the gutsy story of a hen, Sprout, who refuses to do what she is forced to do – lay eggs for humans – and dares to set her own path. For once, she wants to be able to hatch the egg and not let it be snatched away. She decides to break free from her coop and face the world which is full of uncertainty. The novella cum fable deals with several relevant abstract issues of our times with the utmost simplicity. One important theme of the story is the need to be comfortable with your own identity and not try to fit in constantly with the majority. This is an important lesson in our world of idealized social media presence that we may or may not live up to.

Read my complete review here.

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Looking Back and Ahead: 2019 Highlights!

Doesn’t 2020 sound exciting? Just the sense of symmetry and the roundness of the number makes me believe that it would be a great year! Pretty odd huh? Turns out I do show favouritism to even numbers!

Though of course Climate Change is truly upon us and we do stare at a bleak future, which many politicians refuse to see. The Oxford Word of the Year for 2019 was also Climate Emergency. I think I will also remember 2019 for its freak weather show, particularly rain and snow in India along with some strange, contradictory decisions I made.

Yet I do think we all can do out bits even though our politicians and policymakers let us down.

For starters, let us reduce our plastic usage and be conscientious about it. Why use something for just 15 minutes, that which is going to last on this planet for about 50 more years?

But there are many more things one can do as well!

But on to books for now!

So what was new on The Book Cafe in 2019?

Several new series!

  • This included the very cool: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly which is a great way to clearly recommend books.
  • The very cool The Reading Spree series where I showcase the books that I read in a particular month!
  • Another nascent one was the Pick it Up, which I plan to do monthly on the books recommended by The Book Cafe!
  • The blog also started two very ambitious series, Poem and Short Short Story of the Month. Poem of the Month is my way to share some of my favourite poems to increase a love for poetry. Short Story of the Month is for those hard pressed on time and money but still want to read. Short stories are here to rescue you. I will only pick those that one can read online. This way it helps you read without spending too much time and money. Hopefully can continue Short Story of the Month and Poem of the Month diligently.

Books I did read from 2018’s wish list:

  • I did manage to read A Strangeness in My Mind from my wish list last year! It was biggest book I have read this year and after a long time had enough time on my hands to commit to a lengthy book! Yay to me!
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  • I also did strike off Touching Earth by Rani Manicka and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from my to read list that I made in December 2018. Though to be honest, I do need to reread The Bloody Chamber as I did not fully absorb it that well, except the hilariously retold, Puss in the Boots.

My Favourite Reads of 2019:
The Oscars 2019 for my Favourite Books go to:

The Best Character: Aliya in The Women’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur.

The Best Setting: Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna. The novel is set in the beautiful Coorg. It was my first book of the year 2019!

The Best Book to Make you Emotional/Cry: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.

The Best Parallel Time Lines: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

The Best Style: Daura by Anukriti Upadhyay concocts a mesmerising tale within the form of a utterly disparate and mundane government report.

The Best Poetry: It is a tie between The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, The Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho and Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova.

The Best YA novel: Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar.

The Best Bildungsroman: The Patiala Quartet by Neel Kamal Puri.

The Best Children’s Novel: It is again a tie between Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and Vinod Kumar Shukla’s fantastical, Hari Ghaas ki Chhappar Waali Jhopdi Aur Bona Pahad.

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The Reading Spree: Indian Women Writing in English

November is done. Unseasonal rains are behind us. Hopefully some coolness and not smog will descend over the city.

As mentioned last month in my October Yellow Book Cover Month Reading Spree post, I had decided to read Indian Women Writers in English.

It was absolute fun to be vicariously traveling from one place to the other through these books, to exploring thoughts and mindsets of varying female protagonists as they face their everyday battles.

So here are the books that made it to my list:

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Top 10: Mumbai Reads

So you think that Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts defines Mumbai? Got what you need to know about Mumbai from the novel?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but that novel is only one adventurous aspect of Mumbai.

Mumbai has many layers. It is definitely more than Marine Drive or famed iconic restaurants. Mumbai may have been all about the town till about the 1980s but believe me it has mushroomed and mushroomed since then.

Yet, mostly Mumbai novels are centred around the town and do not speak of suburbs. While, recently, there have been newer novels that go beyond South Mumbai and explore other neighbourhoods, there is still a dearth of novels about the city from a suburban point of view.

There should be stories written about the constant monsoon flooding, about Aarey Colony, about SGNP trips, about picnics to Elephanta Island, about architecture other than the Art Deco, about leopard attacks, about the migrants, the dabbawallas, the overflowing markets, about the fishermen, about the Worli Sea Link, about the new metro travels, about communities other than Parsis and so much more.

Why limit your idea of Mumbai to only one single stretch of sea facing pavement? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Marine Drive and have spent good fun and thoughtful times there! But still there is more to Mumbai than that!)

Nonetheless, let us wait till such a novel is written, found and published.

For now let us look at books that go beyond the Taj Hotel, Gateway of India and other such symbols that stereotype the city!

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Poeisie: 8 Love Poems for a Rainy Day

The monsoon has made a comeback with a bang and rain can be so inspiring for writers and to pen down immortal verses of love. To get you into the romantic mode for the season, the post has a selection of 8 love poems to get you to open up your heart to that special someone. Don’t expect to find in the list the oft repeated ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ (which though beautiful is too often listed in almost all collections and one should give other poems a chance as well, don’t you think so?) or  ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” (Again, the same argument).

The list will obviously be woefully incomplete. You can comment your favourite lines or favourite poems and add to the list. Feel free to share!

1) Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river
   And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
   With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
   All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
   Why not I with thine?—
See the mountains kiss high heaven
   And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
   If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
   If thou kiss not me?

-P.B. Shelley

This is a short and succinct and clever poem arguing for the meeting of two loves.

2) Valentine

My heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.

Whatever you’ve got lined up,

My heart has made its mind up

And if you can’t be signed up

This year, next year will do.

heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.

-Wendy Cope

From her collection,Two Cures For Love:Selected Poems, it is one of the many poems is deals with love in her best comic way possible. Try and read her other comic, sarcastic takes on love as well.

3) The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
         A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
         Sat we two, one another’s best.
Our hands were firmly cemented
         With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
         Our eyes upon one double string;
So to’intergraft our hands, as yet
         Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
         Was all our propagation.
As ‘twixt two equal armies fate
         Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
         Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her and me.
And whilst our souls negotiate there,
         We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
         And we said nothing, all the day.
If any, so by love refin’d
         That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
         Within convenient distance stood,
He (though he knew not which soul spake,
         Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
         And part far purer than he came.
This ecstasy doth unperplex,
         We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
         We see we saw not what did move;
But as all several souls contain
         Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
         And makes both one, each this and that.
A single violet transplant,
         The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
         Redoubles still, and multiplies.
When love with one another so
         Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
         Defects of loneliness controls.
We then, who are this new soul, know
         Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
         Are souls, whom no change can invade.
But oh alas, so long, so far,
         Our bodies why do we forbear?
They’are ours, though they’are not we; we are
         The intelligences, they the spheres.
We owe them thanks, because they thus
         Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
         Nor are dross to us, but allay.
On man heaven’s influence works not so,
         But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
            Though it to body first repair.
As our blood labors to beget
         Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
         That subtle knot which makes us man,
So must pure lovers’ souls descend
         T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
         Else a great prince in prison lies.
To’our bodies turn we then, that so
         Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
         But yet the body is his book.
And if some lover, such as we,
         Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
         Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.
-John Donne

No one can argue as well as Donne about the importance of spiritual and physical love between a pair of lovers. More of our contemporary Indian religious folks would do good if they thought like this as well. Suffused with sensual imagery, its one of my favourite poems

4)Love

Until I found you,

I wrote verse, drew pictures,

And, went out with friends

For walks…

Now that I love you,

Curled like an old mongrel

My life lies, content, In you….

-Kamala Das

Mostly known for writing about the hollowness of relationships between man and woman, this one is a gem: sweet, simple, and content.

5) As A Perfume

As a perfume doth remain

In the folds where it hath lain,

So the thought of you, remaining

Deeply folded in my brain,

Will not leave me: all things leave me:

You remain.

Other thoughts may come and go,

Other moments I may know

That shall waft me, in their going,

As a breath blown to and fro,

Fragrant memories: fragrant memories

Come and go.

Only thoughts of you remain

In my heart where they have lain,

Perfumed thoughts of you, remaining,

A hid sweetness, in my brain.

Others leave me: all things leave me:

You remain.

– Arthur Symons

Influences by the Symbolism movement in France and the Decadence Era of the 1890s, Symons in this poem has also vividly used the effect of senses-memories, smell etc to say how his love will always remain.

6)Marriages Are Made

My cousin Elena is to be married

The formalities have been completed:

her family history examined for T.B.

and madness her father declared solvent

her eyes examined for squints her teeth for cavities

her stools for the possible

non-Brahmin worm.

She’s not quite tall enough

and not quite full enough

(children will take care of that)

Her complexion it was decided would compensate,

being just about the right shade

of rightness to do justice

to Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu

good son of Mother Church.

Eunice de Souza

 And this is sadly how love is usually accepted in India: through the anachronistic mechanism of arranged marriage and as the poem rightly shows it is a system that treats the girl as nothing but a product having certain materialistic characteristics. Eunice de Souza is the one writer in India who like, Wendy Cope, uses sarcasm and dark humour to showcase the irony of things we often take for granted.

7) A Statue of Eros (Zenodotus)

Who carved Love
and placed him
by this fountain,
thinking he could control
such fire with water?
-(translated from Greek byPeter Jay) 
A concise, precise sharp poem.
8)Bedtime
We are a meadow where the bees hum,
mind and body are almost one
as the fire snaps in the stove
and our eyes close,
and mouth to mouth,
the covers pulled over our shoulders,
we drowse as horses drowse afield, in accord;
though the fall cold surrounds our warm bed,
and though by day we are singular and often lonely.

– Denise Levertov

Not many know about this writer but she has some of the empathetic, sensitive poems that deal with a range of topics from love, marriage, Vietnam war etc. I love this poem as it closely marks the intimacy of lovers at night, in bed.

Well if this is not enough, then here are some other poems you can take a look at:

1) Resignation by Nikki Giovanni (it is an unabashed declaration of love)

2) The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake (Again, a succinct and precise argument in favour of love)

3) Delight in Disorder by Robbert Herrick (depicts the physical passion of love) (The cavalier poets are a delight to read because of their open way of dealing with love with none of the shyness of the previous poets)

4)Lover’s Infiniteness by John Donne

5)You by Carol Ann Duffy

6) Pablo Neruda poems

7) Shakespeare sonnets

8)Unclaimed by Vikram Seth

This list can go on and on and on…so add some more poems you like/love/detest. Comment away and make the list even longer. Hope you enjoyed this post!