Life in Gaborone

Image courtesy - stockvault
Image courtesy – stockvault

There are some writers who can mentally transform you to a time and place with their vivid descriptions, while physically you may be sitting on your comfortable couch, reading the book. Probably some part of that journey also depends on the imagination of the reader too. A saying goes that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and therefore, I believe it is indeed an accomplishment to be able to create a picture just with words.

I am getting these philosophical thoughts reading the books by Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Finished two books in two days. So you can imagine how captivating the writing must be.

My friend Y loaned me the books on Friday and I am so grateful that she did. I have not been to Africa so far but the books describe Botswana in so much detail that I feel like seeing those sights as if I am travelling myself.

The series is about a woman Mma Precious Ramotswe, opening a detective agency in Botswana, and through her, the author has shown the day to day life of people in Botswana. Their simple ways, sense of right and wrong, beliefs, social norms, relationships with one another and with neighboring countries, struggles – everything has been so well written that sitting in your living room, you can get the feel of living in Botswana. What I like about the book is that you are not made to feel right or wrong or wretched about the hardships. It’s like a matter of fact – the way one lives in his/her own country.

I have started the third one now (there are 13 in the series). Hoping to get my hands on the other ones too. So if you are looking for what to read next, give this series a try!

World Without End

I think I can be quite proud of myself – I finished a 1111 pages book in a total of less than 24 hours (summing up the hours spent on it from Friday to Sunday). Well, for one – the story was interesting and second, I wanted to finish it so that I could do something else.
              The book is Ken Follet’s “World Without End” and is a sequel to his other famous novel “Pillars of Earth” which I haven’t read. That said, I didn’t have any problem while reading this story set in 14th century England despite not having read the first book. There were only some references to some characters from the first book and that didn’t affect the story.
                   Reading the book, my belief was reinforced that we live in a much much better world as compared to those times, but also that the basic human fibre is still the same. The politics, the passions, the fears, the weaknesses, the intelligence, the creativity, the craftiness – every possible goodness and badness of human mind, which has existed since probably when man first started roaming the earth, existed then as well as now. But that doesn’t matter for this book review :-).
                     So the story is of four children whose lives get intertwined with each other’s due to circumstances. And that intertwining also then connects the lives of their relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances in a variety of positive and negative ways. It’s quite interesting to read their stories – which I didn’t think for one moment to be imaginary – after all stories are inspired from real life only – isn’t it?  The plot also brings in the horror of the black plague which was at it’s peak in Europe from 1348 to 1351. It was interesting to read about the the effect that event had on the common people. Made me feel that there are only two type of people in the end – those who fear death and those who don’t. The ones who are afraid of death, are also afraid of more or less everything else in life while those who aren’t, have a strength of character which is quite a rarity.
                      I feel reading such books is a good way to get acquainted with history – there is no tediousness of learning the events and dates of those events – they are part of the narrative. And what’s best is – you also get to know the daily life of people and how the cities looked in those times – simply through the cleverly described situations in the story! I stumbled upon the reviews of the book while adding it to my Shelfari list on Saturday, and many readers compared it with the prequel and thought that it was repetitive – but for me, that wasn’t a concern because I had no reference to compare it with :-).
                             So I’d recommend it but only if you have an interest in history and anthropology (and also probably the human psyche). Let’s see when do I next get such a good book.

Stories from Old Masters

Alright..now coming back to the second thing that I wanted to write about. I got this book at the nearby bookstore, from where I have often dug out interesting stuff. This time it was – “Lajwanti and Other Stories” by Mulk Raj Anand. I’d never read anything from him before but of course knew the name! So got the book by the appeal of the author’s name. On reading the book, I could immediately place him in the same genre as Premchand. Now I have read a lot of literature from Premchand and that is really “earthy” – so much that you can smell the soil of Indian villages from the words! But..Premchand wrote in Hindi – so you need to know the language to be able to understand the nuances. Now there comes Mulk Raj Anand – who pens down the day to day lives of the Indian people – with the same sensitivity as that of Premchand – but in English! And I must say that I could feel the same vibes in his stories as those in Premchand’s – despite them not being in the language of the people about whom the stories were!
          It’s quite interesting to know that he saw the India over a period of almost 100 years! He was born in 1905 and departed in 2004. So I believe he must have seen everything imaginable and unimaginable, for looking back, this century appears to be the going forward so rapidly that it almost seems like warp speed!
I think I should read his books in the chronological sequence – to see history through the eyes of someone who has lived through it!

The Knitting Circle

Yesterday I had gone to buy some grocery – there were no fresh vegetables and I get a bit nervous on seeing the refrigerator without them. I got carried away seeing the fresh produce and later the heavy bag made me contemplate if I really needed that much!  During this “self-reflection” time my eyes wandered to a book shop and my feet took me there. I browsed through some books and a book came into my hand titled “The Knitting Circle”. I sat down and browsed through the first few pages – got hooked and bought it. Finished the whole book yesterday itself – so moving was the story. I seemed to be seeing the story instead of reading it – that’s how nicely it was written!
           It’s a story of a woman Mary who loses her five year old daughter and goes into so much grief that it seems she wouldn’t be able to get out of it. But then like a rescue angel comes Alice who owns a knitting materials shop and also teaches knitting. There is a circle of women (and a man) who knit and they meet every Wednesday at her shop. They don’t talk much but everyone has a tragedy or a struggle and knitting gives them something else to concentrate on and thus, to take them out of their miseries. The book has the story of each one of them and how they become each other’s comfort.
             A quote was written – I guess somewhere in the book – “Grief brings people together more than happiness.” I guess that might be true as they say in hindi “जाके पैर ना फटे बिवाई, ऊ का जाने पीर पराई” –   roughly translated which means “one who hasn’t seen pain himself, he wouldn’t understand someone else’s pain”. And I guess it’s also true that one gets strength from seeing someone else being strong in the face of adversity. It’s kind of infectious – in a good way.
                 Later I read the back cover of the book and it seems it’s more of an autobiographical novel by the author Ann Hood who had lost her own five year old child. 
All in all, it’s a good book and I would specially recommend it for anyone who is going through the pain of loss of someone. 

Before the French revolution

I’ve started reading a book “Passionate Minds”, which tells a story (real life) set in the time before the French revolution – that of the life of the famous Voltaire and a remarkable but forgotten woman Emilie Du Chatelet. Whatever I’ve read so far tells me that it was a very strange time – Paris was not as we know it today. The French society was rife with corruption – both moral and official. Men from the elite class was supposed to have as many affairs as they wanted (despite being married) but would be looked down upon with contempt if they worked for a living, women were mere things of convenience (married women could also have affairs, as long as they didn’t display their affections in  public), the river Seine was polluted with everything from the city, protestants could be burned alive at stake and as can be expected, there was no real scientific progress. It was unthinkable for women to be educated, most of them couldn’t even write their names. It all seems so unbelievable today but that’s how it was!
              The book tells the story of Emilie who had a mind of her own – which was quite a hateful characteristic for a woman to possess, and then if she was brighter then most men of her times – that was absolutely unacceptable! Therefore, most of the current world knows of her as the mistress of Voltaire and not as someone who postulated scientific theories, which were experimented on by other scientists much later (almost seventy years after her). It is quite interesting to learn about the times when scientific theories were being formed and people were experimenting, yet the ruling class wanted people to believe only what had been passed on from centuries.
                When people’s minds were ignited with new thoughts, then the cinders which must have been smouldering since long, finally could not be contained any more and resulted in the French revolution.
I have yet to finish the book but needed to pen down the thoughts so far. Will update this post when I finish the book.

10/03/2012
I finished the book. It surprises me that she was simply removed from any historically important credit despite having written an important book giving the explanation of Newton’s book “Principia Mathematica”. Most of the people I talked with about her, either didn’t know about her or knew her only as the mistress of Voltaire!
I’m glad that I came to know about her through this book only and not through any other passing reference otherwise I’d also have not known her full story. She was an extraordinary person who thought ahead of the times in which she was tied to live. Sometimes I wonder how would it be – to be given a choice to live in a time in which your thoughts would fit? One may not be called extraordinary then but at least there wouldn’t be any anguish – which brings another thought that probably without the stimulus that comes from suppression, probably there won’t be any higher thoughts! Oh it’s really confusing – I wish there was someone to bounce back these thoughts with! Ah now I get it – that’s the nutshell of “Passionate Minds” – two people who found one another, with whom they could discuss their thoughts!

Sita’s Ramayana

Just came across one book which has been written in a very interesting style – “Patua” drawings by the artist Moyna Chitrakar of West Bengal, interspersed with texts by a new age author Samhita Arni from Bangalore. The book is called “Sita’s Ramayana” which retells the story of Ramayana through the voice of Sita – one of the main protagonists of the oldest Indian epic.
           It’s a highly graphic book with texts being there just to let the readers not familiar with the Ramayana understand what the painting depicts.I’d rather have called the book “Sitaayana” – meaning the journey of Sita,  instead of “Sita’s Ramayana”!
                 The story of Ramyana originally was spread through storytellers. Valmiki was the first person to write down the complete story in Sanskrit – so he could be the original author – or not, nobody knows.
But what’s wonderful is that this story has been part of the Indian conscience since more than 2000 years! One can only wonder at the appeal of the narrative. Some read it as a sacred book like the Bible is read by devout Christians, some read it as one would read Homer’s Odyssey while some read it as an anthropological journal, to try and understand the structure of the society when the story would have been first written (and its present day influence). Whatever be the reason for reading it, I am doubtful if there would be anyone from India, who wouldn’t know the Ramayana – more so after there having been at least two television-serials on the epic and a few movies – one of them being a hi-tech animation movie!
                    However, nobody really attempted to tell it the way it’s told in this book. It has a local flavor of the way the story is narrated by local storytellers in West Bengal whilst keeping the main story as it is. But the most important thing is that it makes you see what Sita might have thought and felt about the various events of the story. It’s a beautifully painted and wonderfully narrated book; a perfect example of the saying – “a picture is worth a thousand words”! I could go on writing on what I have always felt and thought about the Ramayana myself, but I guess the blog would be too small a medium for that. So may be I will start writing about it in a journal. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the authors and the making of the book, you can look here:
Making of the book

Subaranalata

I just finished reading the story of Subaranalata. It is written by Ashapurna Debi, a renowned author of Bengali literature. I got this book quite “serendipitiously” – I’d gone to check out the book sale and suddenly this book came into my hands. The series consists of the life-stories of three women – a woman – Satyavati, her daughter – Subarnalata and granddaughter – Bakul. I just remember that a very long time ago, there was this teleserial on the Indian television (Doordarshan – DD) called Pratham Pratishruti. It was based on the first book – the story of Satyavati.
I was too small at that time to understand that story. Now after finishing the story of Subarnalata, my curiosity has been piqued to know about the lives of Satyavati and Bakul as well. Let’s see when I find those two books.

The story of Subarnalata is a representation of the social & political conditions of India in the pre-independence era (somewhere in the 1920s). Ashapurna Debi has portrayed the feelings of a woman who has a mind of her own with rational thoughts (which was not encouraged in those times). How her life is decided by those around her, how she feels like a caged bird fluttering to get away from all the shackles of being a woman in those times, is very well explained. You can almost see it! All her life, she tries to do what she thinks is right and thus, gets alienated by everyone (except a few, who understand her but can’t do anything much to help her). She finally gets freedom “mukti” only by her death, which leaves her youngest daughter Bakul wondering how different her mother’s life would have been had she received whatever small things she had wished for.
A good book which gives you some food for thought…