Sunday, June 30, 2013

Karma by Cathy Ostlere: Impressions

There are good books, there are great books and then there are once-in-a-lifetime books. Cathy Ostlere's 'Karma', which is a novel in verse, falls in the third category for more reasons than one. It hit all the right spots even before I had read the award-winning book. It was as if Karma was meant for me. The title, the cover design, the concept and the style of the book - everything called out to me.

Written in a diary format, the story is told through  Maya and Sandeep's poetic entries. Maya is a Indian-origin Canadian teenager who straddles the two worlds of Indian values and her Canadian life on the one hand and her mother's Hindu beliefs and father's Sikh pride on the other. She also has bestfriend-boyfriend issues like any regular teenager and struggles to stay afloat in a sea of identity crises. But Maya's already fragile world crumbles when she loses her mother to depression and is taken to India by her father to be married off. Maya and her bapu land at the time of modern India's worst political crises - the assassination of  Indira Gandhi. Maya is separated from her father in Delhi's riotous atmosphere and she escapes to Jodhpur leaving behind her life and her voice.

Enter Sandeep. Child of the desert, an orphan adopted, maverick and Maya's unlikely hero. When Maya is rescued by Sandeep's sister, she is no more than a frightened creature, rendered mute by her grief. Sandeep's family take Maya in for a while and through his words, Sandeep must coax back Maya's spirit and words. Several adventures follow and the seeds of friendship and young love are sown. Sandeep helps reunite Maya with her father, but they must pay the price with separation.

You see how the plot is so thick with action and emotion. Now multiply it many times over with Ostlere's poignant poetry. The poet-novelist writes striking free verse, which is laden with powerful imagery. I am hard pressed to pick a favourite (every line in the book is, really), but I don't think I'll ever forget these lines from Sandeep's diary on page 422.

Sandeep's answer

I hear him arguing

We are made of love. Love! Do you hear me, old
man! We are made of the love that finds us. The
love we make. And even the love we are fated to

Otslere strikes you down, lifts you up, makes you cry and moves you irrevocably with her poignant poetry. There may be only 15 words on a page, but you are never left wanting, so evocative are the images she paints. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about poetry but thinks they do not have the patience for it.  Let not its 500 plus pages scare you. For once you've dipped your toes in its first few lines, you'll want to swim and drown in it and never come back again.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

There was no one at the Bus Stop by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay: Impressions

Thanks to prolific translator, Arunava Sinha, I am learning to be a Bengali all over again. Sinha has translated a number of books by some of the most famous names in contemporary Bengali literature. Thanks to him, 'probashi' (expat) Bengalis like me are getting to savour the wonderful literature Bengal has had to offer in the last few decades. I grew up hearing my mother wax eloquent about writers like Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Sunil Ganguly, Bani Basu, Sankar and others and they were always a world away... until now. Sinha's long list of translations include wildly popular novels, short stories, young adult fiction, and children's stories so far.  I also hear he's also translating some poetry. He has opened many wonderful doors to my mother tongue, one of which is this novella 'There was no one at the Bus Stop' by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay.

In the middle of a fact-heavy sociological book that I'm dragging my feet, I needed to read something light. So I picked up the slimmest volume from my to-be-read pile of books on my flight to Goa. I didn't realise just how much weight the pages of a book can bear. Although I finished the book in less than two hours, 'Bus Stop' was anything but light.

Set in Kolkata the 70s, 'Bus Stop' is a simple enough story of an extra marital affair. However, it is the sea of emotions that the protagonists experience that drowns you with them. Debashish, a impudent man in his middle age is in love with Trina, a woman he knew as a girl. Freshly widowed, Debashish feels little or nothing about his late wife, but his young son, Robi has many of his heartstrings. Trina is ageing gracefully, with two adolescent children and a husband who cares more about his garden than his wife. A chance meeting brings them together and sows the seeds of desire in Debashish's heart. A melancholy Trina, squarely ignored by her family, gets drawn to him too.

The plot unfolds in a single day marked by two momentous decisions taken by the protagonists. Debashish is compelled to leave his son with his sister for a 'better' upbringing, while Trina, spurned by her family, leaves her home and goes to Debashish, hoping to reach some conclusion about her life. However, they are unable to savour their togetherness plagued by guilt and wrongdoing. It's a love that never will be.

 It is in portraying these evocative feelings that Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay's genius lies. The author's language is shorn of frills, yet amazingly lyrical in places. There are clever suggestions and plenty to read between the lines. There is none of the melodrama to express overwhelming emotions, nor explicitness to express intimacy that we see so much of in today's 'literature'. Understated, yet hard-hitting are adjectives that best describe the author's style. All I can say is that I flew through the book with lumps in my throat. Read it for Bangla literature. Read it for an insight on the beautiful and complex nature of human relationships.

Monday, June 24, 2013


There is a drop of longing everyday
that falls from the sky of your being
Small and sharp and brilliant
It catches the light and shines
defiantly, brightly,
searing the grey of every-dreary-day
shamelessly calling attention to itself.

There is a drop of longing everyday
that I must hide in a jar
in a cool-dark place (like forbidden candy)
There is a drop of longing everyday
that no one must see.

The jar in the cool-dark place
is almost full
It blinds my eyes each time I look
A million little drops of brilliance
that have morphed into a sea of desire.
Viscous, iridescent, proud.

There is a drop of longing everyday
that I must furtively add to the jar
Fuel to fire
And close a hurried lid, afraid
my home will go down in flames.

There is a drop of longing everyday
that refuses to be quietened, diffused.
Small and sharp and brilliant.
Unchanged, since I felt it first,
A drop from the sky of your being
Right into my barren heart.
'Plop', it fell, I remember
Catching me, drenching me, unawares.
I stepped away from my body,
To stare at that brazen drop.
Catching light, so much light,
shamelessly calling attention to itself.
Scared, fascinated, I hid it in a jar
in a cool-dark place.

Since then, every day,
there falls a drop of longing
from the sky of your being
small and sharp and brilliant.
Diamonds from a heaven
where you are.

I'm running out of space,
I'm running out of time.
The jar won't hold much longer
There are cracks, and light shines through
even in that cool-dark place.

There is a drop of longing everyday
Bigger than the drop of yesterday
Drowning me, drowning all.

I will need you soon,
and your mouth and your hands,
to swallow this luminous sea
so the game can start over.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nude 5

I started this Nude series a while ago, intending to do 10. Here's the fifth one of the series and I hope I get around to finishing all.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


I haven't painted in a long time and few things seem to inspire me these days. But a colleague introduced me to this song a few days ago and it became more than a earworm. Sanam Puri's voice made my heart leap with pure ecstasy and I wanted to dance with joy - or paint it. I made this quick watercolor work in not more than an hour and was quite pleased with it. My long-standing fear of watercolour seems to have gone, at least some of it. I thought it came out quite okay. And you?