Tahmima Anam’s The Bones of Grace is a Haunting Tale of Incompleteness of Our Being

The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam carries a deeply profound sadness that is difficult to escape. It speaks of such absolute raw and bare emotions that it is hard to keep yourself distanced from them. The second person point of view used in the novel adds to this devastating feeling of the inescapable. The narrative pulls the reader deeper, forcing to confront some of the inevitable realities of human life.

IMG_20200712_155107266.jpg

One such reality that shapes the novel as well as human relationships is a sense that we are incomplete and we will not be able to overcome it. We just have to live with it.

As Elijah Strong says at the very start of the novel,

“Loneliness is just part of being a person. We long for togetherness, for connection, and yet we’re trapped in our own bodies. We want to know the other fully, but we can’t. We can only stretch out our hands and reach.” 

This crushing truth permeates The Bones of Grace from the very beginning. Each character is endowed with different shades of incompleteness or a loneliness that haunts all human existence.

Elijah Strong is the character to whom the entire novel is addressed. Zubaida Haque is the narrator. She is from Bangladesh and is a paleontologist studying at Harvard University. Zubaida met Elijah because of a serendipitous coincidence at a concert at Sanders Theatre. Their conversation started on an odd note that is perhaps possible only among complete strangers. Zubaida, submerged in Shostakovich’s Symphony 5, recalls a vivid childhood memory she had suppressed and reveals to Elijah, the complete stranger, about her being adopted. This strange introduction led to the two getting to slowly know and understand each other.

Zubaida has a seemingly well planned life. She has supportive roommates in America. She is selected to go to Dera Bugti in Pakistan to dig out the fossils of the walking whale, Ambulocetus natans. She is betrothed to her childhood friend and sweetheart, Rashid. However, her world collapses when her dig comes to an abrupt end and she returns to Dhaka. She is tormented with the nagging thought that she has lost an opportunity to make a dent in the world.

Continue reading

Feminism of Amrita Pritam’s Short Stories

2019 marked 100 years of Amrita Pritam’s birth. In 2020, on her birthday today, let us pay a small tribute to Amrita Pritam’s stories in the one hundredth and one year of her birth anniversary. Amrita Pritam was born on 31st August in 1919 in Gujranwala, Punjab (which is in present day Pakistan). Earlier in August 2019, Google commemorated her 100th birth anniversary with a beautiful doodle. 

She wrote several poems, short stories and novels in her lifetime. Amrita is most famous for her melancholic poem, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I Invoke Waris Shah). The poem addresses the 18th century Sufi poet, Waris Shah, to look at Punjab that was bleeding due to Partition.

Her other works include Pinjar, which was her first novel. The story portrays Partition’s aftermath. Her autobiography, Raseedi Ticket (1976) recounts her experiences of the Partition and also her relationship with poet, Sudhir Ludhianvi, among other things.  In the Times of Love and Longing is a collection of soulful love letters exchanged between Amrita Pritam and Imroz. One of her other famous poems is Main Tenun Phir Milangi (I Will Meet You Again), a beautiful love letter to Imroz.

Continue reading

Zoon by Selina Sen

It has been a year since the abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir. If any change has happened, it hasn’t been serenaded on mainstream news channel. Sadly, neither has been the fact that internet services still remain affected in the state. This is the case even during lock down: when internet is an essential service much needed to carry on with our everyday lives.

The state of Kashmir has been a contentious political issue both nationally and internationally. Political rhetoric about the state has been based on taking sides be it political or religious or unfortunately, one that combines both.

Yet, what is lost amidst the political grandstanding is the human experience of the people. This is when one must turn to books to experience a more layered understanding of the problems.

Zoon by Selina Sen is one novel that gives a unique insider/outsider view of Kashmir spanning from before the 1990s to after the Kargil War.

IMG_20200630_190013479.jpg

Joya, an aspiring filmmaker student, lands herself a deal of a lifetime when she gets the chance to be the assistant director for Shantanu Rai, a famous Bollywood director.

Joya assists Shantanu in his latest film project centred on Habba Khatoon or Zoon. Zoon was the 16th century Kashmiri poet and musician whose verses of love and separation are still widely revered within the state. They shoot portions of the film in Kashmir with the guidance of the historian Rashid, who teaches at Srinagar’s Kashmir University.

Continue reading

The Reading Spree: South Asian Fiction

After experimenting with Kindle and finding it good but also lacking, I turned to physical copies of books again! I think will embrace Kindle perhaps only when I get to spend some time away from my laptop!

The theme for July was reading South Asian fiction! And all the three books I had from South Asia were written by women! Wohooo!

The three books I read in July were:

1. The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam: This novel is the last in her famous Bengal trilogy but you needn’t have read the first two books to fully understand the story of the last. The Bones of Grace is a beautiful and surreal story about love and the courage to follow your heart. It is written in a second person point of view where the narrator, Zubaida Haque, who studies paleontology in Harvard, addresses the novel to Elijah Strong. Their paths intertwined at a concert in Sanders Theatre, Harvard. But Zubaida continued to hold on to the path already laid out for her when she went back to her home country, Bangladesh. Strangely, in doing exactly what she was expected too, Zubaida also did so much more.

Continue reading

Short Story of the Month: Wild Flower

Welcome to the ninth short story of the month.

This month, Short Story of the Month, celebrates Amrita Pritam’s birthday! It falls on 31st August! Last year, 2019, marked her 100th birth anniversary.  Google Doodles also paid her a tribute last year with a beautiful doodle.

Although Amrita Pritam is more well known for her poems and love letters to Imroz, her stories are equally critical and eye opening particularly about the pitfalls of patriarchy. The story in focus in Wild Flower. I read this short story in Hindi and it was titled, Jangli Booti. Reading this short story by Amrita Pritam is also a great way to kick off August which is the WomenInTranslation Month!

Amrita Pritam wrote in Punjabi and several of her writings have been translated into English and Hindi.

What is the story about?

Wild Flower‘s opening is deceptively funny. The narrator introduces the protagonist Angoori through a connection that can only be found in India. Angoori is the narrator’s neigbour’s neigbour’s house’s servant’s new wife.

The entire story is based on conversations between the narrator and Angoori.

The narrator and Angoori live in the city. Angoori is from a village and is married to Parbhati. Angoori meets the narrator reading under a neem tree in front of the latter’s house.

This is where their conversations begin and soon their values and beliefs come to light. Angoori believes that it is sin for women to read. Angoori also believes that only women who ate a magical and mysterious wild flower fell in love with men.

Continue reading

The Top 5: Ernest Hemingway Short Stories

On 21st July falls Ernest Hemingway’s birthday.

Hemingway’s short stories are known for their terse and ambiguous style that can lead to myriad interpretations. They are rich in symbols and show us just the tip, allowing the readers to interpret from just the dialogues or the descriptions.

Hemingway’s iceberg theory is a style of writing that is well read and well taught across schools. Hemingway’s famous and almost legendary six word story, ‘For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn’ is often used to teach how profound stories can be told using the barest minimum.

The six words are only the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath is what is left to the reader. This is what makes his stories so personal and so confounding at the same time. You interpret it one way in the way you think but others might see it differently.

His stories often portray the perils of war and of relationships. They are set all across the world, reflecting Hemingway’s own journalistic experiences and travels in many countries.

Let’s celebrate the writer’s birthday by diving into five of Hemingway’s best short stories:

5. Hills Like White Elephants: This story is replete with imagery and symbolism that show the undercurrents of tension among the young couple holidaying in the valley of Ebro. The hills of Ebro as well as the elephants of the title symbolize something unwanted in their relationship. The dialogue is clipped and sparse which creates a brittleness to their relationship that slowly cracks as the story progresses.
Read the story here.

Continue reading

Poesie: Method To My Madness by Rohini Kottu

Method to My Madness by Rohini Kottu is a collection of 32 poems.

The poems portray several daily aspects of our lives which we might miss to observe and gaze at in wonder.

IMG_20200527_102659_559

For example, the opening poem, ‘Time,’ personifies Time through an old man selling clocks. It evokes a watch shop from a bygone era given that now in our digital era, we hardly ever bother with buying clocks or appreciating them!

‘Not Just Numbers’ is another poem that uses personification but this time it gives the poem the comic touch with numbers depicted as having personalities!

Kottu gives voice to numerous momentary emotions from the need to remember a vivid travel memory (‘Travel For the Soul’) to a sudden realisation of the ephemeral nature of one’s existence (‘Not Here Forever’).

She also writes about more permanent emotions such as falling in love, heartbreak or jealousy using fresh yet relatable metaphors.

For example, ‘Love is a Swamp’ carries a powerful metaphor. Love’s force is compared to a swamp that pulls you in completely. The pull could be a good or a bad thing. This ambivalence and the unlikely metaphor is the charm of the poem.

Continue reading

Short Story Of The Month: Cat in the Rain

Welcome to the eighth short story of the month!

Books, cats, rain, and a steaming hot cup of tea are a few of my favourite things.

Come July, it is also Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. It falls on 21st July and one of his short stories beautifully combines two of my favourite things: rain and cats.

Cat in the Rain is a perfect, short read for a rainy day.

What is the story about?

Oh where do I even begin summarising this story? Hemingway’s use of the iceberg theory is well known and perhaps the most widely taught writing theory in creative writing classes.  So, it is hard to summarise or pin point what any of Hemingway’s story is about since there can be infinite interpretations.  Layers and layers are stitched together in all his stories’ clipped and succinct sentences.

But essentially the story is about an American couple staying in a hotel somewhere in Italy. One day, it begins to rain and the wife, who is simply known as ‘American wife’ spots a cat trying to hide from the rain under a green table.

The woman is then seized with a sudden need to save the cat and also own one. She expresses her desire to get a kitty so that she can have one sitting on her lap purring while she strokes its fur.
Continue reading

The Top 5: Pride Month Reads From India

The Book Cafe had done a post earlier this month on Pride Month Reads talking about five queer literature books from around the world. 

Today, for Pride Month we highlight books from India that talk about diverse queer experiences.

Here are Top 5 LGBTQIA+ Indian books to read and understand different facets of love.

  1. Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar: Translated from Marathi to English by Jerry Pinto, this novel is divided into two parts and set in Pune, Maharashtra. The novel portrays the fluidity of sexuality through two different’s character’s relationship with the same person.
    IMG_20200628_150657288.jpg
  2. Kari by Amruta Patil: This dark and gritty graphic novel is about Kari’s relationship with Mumbai and with Ruth.
    Check out more such books set in Mumbai here.
  3. Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar:  This YA novel sensitively portrays the stress, trauma and bullying that a school girl goes through because she is not attracted to boys. It is an excellent read for both parents and teens to broach and understand the issues around homosexuality and Article 377.
    IMG_20191111_114137630.jpg
  4. The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree: Chachcho and Lalna’s budding relationship on the vast, connected and common terrace of Laburnum House is a beautiful story of female friendship and more.
  5. Mitrachi Gosht by Vijay Tendulkar: Translated from Marathi as A Friend’s Story, is a play, also set n Pune, during the pre-Independence era. It is about a love triangle in a college campus. Like Cobalt Blue, it comments on both the heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Do you have any other queer literature recommendations? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

 

 

The Top 5: Pride Month Reads

June is celebrated as Pride Month. This particular month was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. While the origins of Pride Month definitely lie in America, it is celebrated globally. And this year, it has gotten an online flavour to it because of the COVID 19 pandemic. Several pride parades and celebrations had to be cancelled and go virtual. Instagram, in collaboration with The Queer Muslim Project, has developed a Well Being Guide to help cope during these trying times.

Literature has always provided a space for expression for all communities and LGBTQIA+ is no exception.

So, let’s celebrate Pride Month with The Book Cafe’s The Top 5 Pride Month Reads!

  1. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi: This moving manga portrays a protagonist’s struggle with her own demons, societal norms and expectations as well as depression. In the course of the story, the protagonist also explores her sexuality, breaking away from her own conditioned notions around sex.  Read my complete review here.
  2. One Last Drink at Guapa by Saleem Haddad: The novel opens on an explosive note. The protagonist, Rasa is caught in bed with his lover, Taymour by Rasa’s grandmother. You might think all hell may break loose now. But the story then unfolds slowly depicting Rasa’s growth and love for Taymour. Intertwined within the story is not just Rasa grappling with his homosexuality but also with the idea of his Arab identity. This is  a must read.
    Read my complete review here.
  3. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai: Set in Sri Lanka, this coming of age novel is about Arije and his different experiences around ideas of masculinity and sexuality are portrayed against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
    Read my complete review here.
  4. Zami by Audre Lorde: This biomythography traces Lorde’s own life experiences right from her childhood. The debilitating poverty she faces later as a black lesbian woman is highlighted along with her political sensibilities. It is a heartfelt and deeply moving memoir of sorts of her life, her community and country. It is also a must read to perceive the challenges and threats faced by the black community.
    Read my complete review here.
  5. Seahorse by Janice Pariat: Inspired or rather a retelling of the Neptune and Pelops relationship, this novel creates nothing less than pure beauty through Nem and Nicholas’ tender, fleeting love affair in Delhi, India. The watery metaphors it elicits as well as the literary and art references are a delight to indulge in. This novel gives one pure, aching bliss.IMG_20200604_193240129.jpg

If you are hungering for more books to read, here are three more recommendations:
Continue reading

Poem of the Month: Wendy Cope

Welcome to the sixth poem of the month!

Spring has long gone in most parts of India and now most of the country is in both lock down as well as in the throes of summer.

Still hope is a rare thing we must celebrate. Wendy Cope’s lovely, refreshing lyrics give us just that.

Wendy Cope has been one of my favourite poets because of her witty poems. I like her poems for two reasons: her use of parody (which is rare to see in poets) and her humourous treatment of the emotion of love and all its irrationality.  I fell in love with her down to earth and realistic representation of love as well as her parody of The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot! The parody is called The Wasteland: Five Limericks. You can read the poem here. The fact that she could condense Eliot’s masterpiece so succinctly shows her skill and humour as well. It also makes this rather dense, literary and canonical text easily understandable!

Continue reading

Pardesi: Salt Houses

Salma Yacoub looked at the coffee cup and knew that something is amiss about the fate of her youngest daughter, Alia. She never read the coffee dregs of her own kin but made an exception here because it was Alia’s wedding day. So what did she do? She decided to tell a lie, to give away only the positive foretelling. 

This paraphrasing is how the novel, Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan, begins. With a lie.

It is also her decision to tell this lie that captivates the reader immediately. As Salma waited for her daughter, she reminisced about her life, about how she ended up in Nablus, fleeing from Jaffa; about her husband’s death and about her three children, Widad, Mustafa, and Alia. Widad was already married and settled in Kuwait and now the youngest was getting married to Atef. Salma spared no expenses. Interestingly, the wedding itself is not described in the story but only the events leading up to it.

IMG_20191111_221341497.jpg

The entire novel is narrated through the perspectives of Salma’s family. Initially, it is her children’s viewpoints that are portrayed and later on her grandchildren and great grandchildren as well.

The novel begins in the 1960s and ends in around 2014. It narrates the history and growth of Salma’s family over 60 years. The one constant in all their perspectives is war, the act of fleeing and resettling. Movement is constant. Each generation has seen war. Salma was the first. Her children were victims of The Six Day War in 1967 which forced Atef and Alia to settle in Kuwait along with her sister, Widad. They had to flee again from Kuwait, when it was invaded by Iraq in August 1990.

Continue reading

The Reading Spree: Vicarious Travels in India

This is a very very late post!

I usually upload The Reading Spree blog posts by end of the month. But I this time I forgot that it was February and it has fewer days! From then I just spiraled into procrastination and never got to writing this post!

So in February, I managed to armchair travel to different parts of India through books!

These are the four books I read in February:

  1. The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai: This is a short novel about folk tales and family stories mingling together and creating unique histories. The stories revolve around the erstwhile and modern day lives of the Adi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh
  2. Seahorse by Janice Pariat: This was by far the best novel of the last month. The soul stirring and palpable descriptions of the relationship between the protagonist, Nem and Nicholas. This book not only takes you through the university lanes of Delhi but also through the mysterious moors of England. It also takes you on a thoughtful literary and musical ride, leaving you with ideas of how both love and gender are fluid. The rich tapestry Pariat creates around two main relationships through motifs of water, seahorse and aquarium as well as through intricately interspersed music and literary inter textual references are bound to captivate you. It is especially delightful for lovers of literature and classical music. Continue reading

Please Look After Mom

“It’s been one week since mom went missing.”

This is how Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin begins, plunging the reader headlong into the plot.

It’s a chilling start, one that no one would want to experience.

Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, Please Look After Mom, tells the harrowing aftermath that the family deals with when their mother, Park So-nyo, goes missing after she was unable to board a train with her husband at Seoul Station.

The story is told through different perspectives: first the elder daughter, Chi-hon; then the eldest child, Hyong Chol, and then her husband and finally the mother (who seems to be flitting between this world and the next).

Each perspective is steeped in regretful reflections and replete with poignant memories about Park So-nyo.

IMG_20190927_123618693.jpg

The daughter recalls her mother always working, and in her mind she is synonymous with the kitchen. Only when her younger sister, who herself now has three kids, asks her, “Do you think mom liked being in the kitchen?” does she even weigh in the enormity of her mother’s difficult and sacrificing life.

Hyong Chol, on the other hand, regrets not fulfilling his mother’s dreams and the promises he had made her, particularly of being a prosecutor.

Whereas the husband now regrets taking his wife for granted, not being able to help her even during her illness and how he had automatically assumed that she would be the one to take care of him.

Continue reading

The Gospel of Yudas

Watch out: Spoilers Ahead: 

Set amidst the Naxalite movement during the Emergency in the 1980s’ in Kerala, The Gospel of Yudas by K.R. Meera is a story that revolves around the two lovelorn protagonists, Yudas who is lost in love in the past and Prema who is deeply affected by the Naxalite ideology and falls head over heels in love with Yudas, whom she in her youthfulness dreams of as an ideal Naxalite who will save her.

Yudas’ past looms large in his psyche, affects his movements and his mindset. To try and run away from his past, he moves from place to place and dredges corpses drowned in different water bodies close by to eke out a living. He lives frugally and through his nomadic life attempts to wander away from his past – a past that is marred by betrayal, vicious torture and loss of his beloved. Yudas was tortured for participating in the Naxal movement and his betrayal haunts him much like his Christian namesake, Judas. It is this betrayal that does not allow him to accept Prema’s infatuation. He runs away from her while she keeps searching for him far and wide, trying to uncover the secret that lurks in his eyes and shapes his rejections.

img_20190130_205616222.jpg

Translated into English from Malayalam by Rajesh Rajamohan, The Gospel of Yudas is a short and quick read that is flush with depth and metaphors.

Continue reading

Tiger Hills

So I began the new year, 2019 with Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna! This was a book I knew about a long time ago and only recently was I able to get my hands on it.

And what a perfectly divine choice! The novel whisks you back in time and takes you on a flavourful albeit bitter journey across Coorg in the Indian state of Karnataka!

Replete with rich symbolism such as herons, and once in a blue moon blooming bamboo flowers, Tiger Hills, begins in 1878, when Mutthava reminisces about the birth of her daughter, Devi, in Coorg.

IMG_20200118_095436655_HDR.jpg

 

Devi is the only daughter of Mutthava and Nachimanda Thimmaya. She is pampered by all, including her parents and her grandmother, Tayi. She becomes bold and feisty and soon her life is intertwined with the orphaned son, Devanna. They become the best of childhood friends. The story then turns to how Devanna is lauded for his intelligence by Reverend Gundert, who was in charge of the mission there. He develops a fondness for the boy and wants to cultivate in him a deep well of learning. Devanna grows to love this attention. The Reverend also slowly cultivates Devanna’s love for botany and education. Simultaneously, Devanna falls in love with Devi. But he aspires to become a doctor and then confess his love for her when he completes his studies. Devi, however, gets smitten by the famous tiger killer, Machu and has eyes only for him.

And alas, like all love stories, tragedy befalls on Devanna and due to that on Devi as well.

The novel, however, does not simply capture the love that Devanna has for Devi because it is so much more. Sarita Mandanna’s writing is quick yet descriptive and gives a sweeping view of so many aspects of the various events that were occurring alongside the main story. She richly etches out the beauty of Coorg of those days, takes in the historical events that intertwined with the main plot as well such as the British Afghan War and the two World Wars etc.

Continue reading

Carry On

When the author’s name itself reminds me of something inexplicably happy and definitely of unicorns, how can Rainbow Rowell disappoint with her book, Carry On.

“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home,” said J.K.Rowling famously at the premiere of the last film of the Harry Potter series.

While Watford may not be Hogwarts and may not be the home most hardcore Harry Potter fans would prefer, it is faintly reminiscent of it with its castle like structure and the choosing of roommates procedure. The characters such as the Mage and even that goatherd could have easily been inspired by the HP series.

Carry on may smell like a fan fiction but also manages to weave its own enganging story revolving around Simon Snow, an orphan who is prophesized to be the Chosen One to destroy the most oddly named villain, Humdrum.

He is surrounded by the usual cast of friends, who help him in his trials, and enemies. But there is a catch, his nemesis, Baz, is his roommate and they are both hopelessly in love with each other.

Do I smell a Draco Harry fan fiction?

Probably not. Though I never shipped those two and do not think they could have really fallen for each other, the two in Carry On are quite a contradictory fit. One sassy and sharp while the other clumsy and caring. Take a guess who is who!

They both hate each other but one cannot exist without the other’s constant opposition.

Apart from their secretive romance, most of the novel takes us through Simon Snow’s other friends such as Penelope and Agatha, how he and Baz come together to sort the mystery of Baz’s kidnapping and eventually the gang fights the Humdrum.

So do they come together romantically though or does their mutual hatred overcome them, would be your question I suppose?

Well read and find out!!!

Carry On is definitely a great book to pick if you love fantasy and are in a desperate need to read something that is not mind bogglingly dense and difficult. It is quite a fun and light read.

And by the end of it you will be humming to yourself these lines from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody:

Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Which actually resonates quite well with the title and the meaning through that title emphasised in the book at the end.

Happy reading!!

If you have read this one, let me know in the comments below what you thought of it!

P.S. Have you read any of her other novels? What did you think about them? Comment below!

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!

The Quirks Of Memory

“…our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but-mainly-to ourselves-” Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. 

So says the protagonist, Tony Webster,of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. In a nutshell, the novel is precisely just that-A man in his 60s looking back, retelling and re-examining his life’s story and certain events in them.  However, it isn’t a Charles Dickenish kind of a novel where Copperfield will look at each and every event of his life and bore us to death. The story of his life that Tony tells us and perhaps to himself too is quite a succinct, precise one with frequent ramblings on the importance and unreliability of memory and passing of time and life in general. And that is how Barnes’ prose also works: clean and full of precision-a kind of no nonsense, no frills, not too overtly nostalgic look at one’s life.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first part is a quick look at the Tony’s life in school with his group of friends and how they meet the intellectual and seemingly serious Adrian Finn. He talks of his college life, his girlfriend Veronica and how things get complicated in that relationship. With a witty and engaging narration, Tony gives in a good, tongue-in-cheek manner all that there is to school and teenage life-friends, love, college, partying, being together and promising a sincere lifelong contact and a kind of innocent idealism about everything. But this not in a cliched style that will make you retch and cringe with the nostalgia usually associated with those times but will make you say, “yes even I had those very same thoughts when I was a kid.” In the second part, Tony looks at back at some of those events and when unexpectedly a will bequeaths Adrian’s diary to him, he is forced to look at his break up with Veronica and his relationship with Adrian in a fresh light and come to turns with what had happened then despite his memory’s unwillingness to do so. This quest turns the story into a quasi-suspense novel without letting go of its quasi-philosophical ramblings about re looking at life.

The narration is very conversational and Tony tells his story as if he were orally narrating it to some listeners which is exactly what makes the text engaging. The reader is constantly acknowledged and addresses to and thus we feel drawn into the story and relate to it easily-who doesn’t nostalgically look back at their good times in life, who doesn’t invent memories, who doesn’t read into the past and reasons it out-aren’t we all guilty of that, of pruning the bad parts and remembering only the good aspects, of inventing our life’s story for ourselves? There is therefore a kind of universalism in his pondering about life but without making it stereotypical and without imposing it on the reader.

With many quotable quotes and witty phrases and one liners that may or may not hit you with a profound realisation, The Sense of an Ending is a brisk, powerful and moving tale of the uncertainties of life.  The end is completely surprising and revelation of a bitter truth does somehow communicate ‘the sense of an ending’ in a way. Cannot reveal more, would be quite a spoiler and would simply ruin the fun of finding out on your own. All I can say is highly recommended. But do not read it just because it won some fancy prize but because it can say a lot about the vagaries of life-more than those silly philosophical books anyhow and more importantly read it because well what could be more joyful than picking up a book and immersing yourself in it and falling in love with another author’s works?