Saturday, 16 September 2017

Book Review : The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, according to me, is a fascinating mess. A mixed bag, which is tiring yet exhilarating, enraging yet engaging, humorous yet horrifying, and formidable, yet memorable.

It’s a sprawling, ambitious novel with no specific plot. 

And I'm fine with that. 

Because I'm a self-confessed sucker for intricate and layered writing. Whenever asked to choose between alluring, compelling prose or an interesting storyline, I root for the former. To me HOW a story is told is infinitely more imp than what that story is about. 

The Ministry might be a letdown for those looking for a typical form-studded fiction with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Ministry is a book written by a writer but dictated by an activist.The approach seeks to create fiction by layering actual history with news headlines to form a defensive alliance with reality.
The activist in Arundhati Roy has almost hijacked the writing of this novel. Many a political feather has been ruffled in the bargain – with far-right patriots and nationalists yelling bloody blasphemy.

Just like a train slowly fills itself with passengers, the Ministry gets embroiled in all political and social problems of India – Kashmir (the main plot), Naxalism, capitalism, casteism, Gujarat riots, 1984 riots, the rise of Hindu nationalism.

To me, the book brings about the metaphoric irony of a paradise (Kashmir) turning into a graveyard at one end, and a graveyard morphing into a paradise, at the other.

Every chapter of the Ministry is embellished with distinct story-telling skills.The book covers all forms of Roy's writing finesse from poetry and prose to composition, dialogue, and letters. The writing swirls.... like ink in water, not words on paper. Some sentences enthrall your senses (at least mine) so deeply that you stop dead in your track; gulp; reread; assimilate; ingest, and then proceed.

I would give it 5 stars for writing, and 2 for the story/plot... so maybe 4 stars on the whole. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Meaning of Life

It’s the Song that Swans Sing
It’s the Joy that Daffodils Bring
It’s the First Lily of Spring
It's the Heartbeat of an Offspring
It’s the Flight in a Sparrow's Wing
It's the Effervescence of a Fresh Water Spring
It’s the Beauty of the Words We String
It’s the Nuances to Life we Bring
It’s a Heart that Shuns Confining
It’s a Cloud with a Silver Lining
It’s a Definition that Shuns Defining
It’s Self-discovery through Re-aligning
It’s the Opposite of Dying
It is a Synonym for Trying
It is the Passion of Longing
It is the Bliss of Belonging
It’s the Trust of the Trusting
It’s an Antidote to Rusting
It’s an Expansion of Learning
It’s the Point of Turning
It’s a Canvas that Thirsts Coloring
It’s a Brush that Erases Suffering

It’s an Artwork Pregnant with Meaning
It's a Reflection of Our Innermost Feeling
It’s the Innocence of a Nubile Sapling
It’s the Unknown Answers we are Grappling
It is the Virginity of a Fresh Morn
It’s the Fragility of a New Born
It’s a Boon, it’s a Blessing
It’s a Riddle that Keeps Us Guessing
It's the Joy of Entertaining
It's the Art of Self-restraining
It’s the Pleasure of Giving
It’s the Ecstasy of Living
It’s Intense, it’s Compelling
It’s Vulnerable, it’s Rebelling
It’s Reckless, it’s Daring
It’s Demanding, Unsparing
It’s a Fire that defies Quelling
It’s a Story that needs Telling
It’s an Old Mould that’s Breaking
It’s a New One in the Making
It’s the Precious Lessons we are Learning
It is the Goodwill that We are Earning
It’s the Positivity of Believing
It’s the Abundance of Receiving
To Each One, it means Something
The Meaning of Life is Everything

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

British Humor, and Three Men in a Boat

Wit, they say, is educated insolence. I like such definitions. No frills. No flab. Two words – and the gist is yours.

In a developing country like India, fodder for dark humor abounds in every abyss of irony, every crevice of poverty.

Being born in an environment where life itself is a joke for many, we Indians tend to inherit a wider gag palate. It makes us at home with both tongue-in-cheek and slapstick. Still, my choice of wit is Brit.

Yes, Brit wit with its elegant, understated, and delicately piercing self-deprecation fascinates me. Like a sip of the bubbly, it tickles my mind’s palate. behold it on my tongue, swirl with an indulgent flourish and soak in the beveled stingPlayful thought bubbles ignite every nook of my senses like glow worms lighting up a misty jar. 

These thought bubbles set off a chain reaction: the words turn into chaff and meander down my gut; the thought cosseted within those words breaks loose and flirts its way up my cerebrum; a delicious assault unleashes on my anterior lobe; a seductive caress on the dorsal follows; the humor morphs into a flush of inspiration and impregnates a virgin pocket of intellect in my mind; the mind, in turn, sputters with warm, creative rejoinders. I heave the contented sigh of a satiated puppy who has just lapped up a bowl of porridge and is now ready to curl up in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Speaking of humor, I’ve just put down Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K.Jerome (JKJ – a book that’s peppered with generous doses of the famed Brit wit. It’s a book, which snob-schoolers apparently studied in their fifteens, but I’ve got down to reading only now, in my fifty'eens (as a commitment to my book club).

Reviewed by millions of online readers, Three Men on a Boat has mostly been described as 'humongously humorous.'

Well, humorous it is –– if you brush aside the occasional PJ that blobs up like a soggy biscuit sailing woefully in an unfinished cup of lukewarm tea.

Unfortunately, despite my soft spot for Brit wit, we didn’t quite hit it off, in the beginning, the book and I.

The culprit? Uncle Podger.

Remember the chapter Uncle Podger hangs a Picture which was part of the English syllabus in lowly high schools? I found the chapter horribly unfunny back then. My mind clearly had not been pollinated with Brit humor yet. 

Uncle Podger may have managed to hang the ‘picture’ in the story but he, unwittingly, also hung my class-VIII result. I scored a duck in literature that year and NEVER forgave the podgy Uncle Podger for the fiasco. 

Now suddenly, an initial chapter of Three Men on a Boat brought my bête noire and I face to face again (I had no idea my school chapter was an excerpt from this book). This unexpected confrontation brought back memories of being bludgeoned by my English teacher for drawing up a clumsy character-sketch of an apparently ‘clumsy character.’ I instantly took a vicarious dislike for JKJ – blaming him for the dressing down that I was given by my principal in front of my mom, some four decades back.

So my acrimony with the author was established even before his Three Men could climb into the Boat.

I got into earnest revenge-mode right from the initial chapters. Wearing shades (pre-coloured with judgment) over my reader’s eye I jumped paragraphs, chided narrative, scoffed the content and accused JKJ’s jokes as lacking rib-tickle.

Brit humor? My foot, Brit humor!

The Three pore Men meanwhile scrambled for life jackets, not knowing why I was so hell-bent on rocking AND sinking their boat.

Finally, almost forty percent into the book, my anger was spent. So was I. As dissipated the fog of hatred, so resurfaced my love for Brit humor. I became kind, forgiving, and receptive. The jokes thereon became smile-worthy; the content time-worthy.

My sense of humor gradually aligned itself with the author’s, and my mind started sailing in the same boat as the Three Men. The bubbly started tingling afresh my mind's palate.

So my review (if you can call it one) of Three Men in a Boat is essentially based on the second half of the book.

Well, comedy is clearly the raft on which the book's characters sail. It is also the anchor on which JKJ’s forte hangs. Parts of the story throb with authentic Brit wit where JKJ seems in full control of the winds that direct the boat into humorous waters, caressing comical coasts. He lets loose air-brushed anecdotes into the narrative, with relish – and flourish. Then suddenly the boat hits choppy waters and seems to sink into slumber. 

Inconsistent narrative mars the parts where JKJ seems to recall his mission of writing a travelogue, not a joke book. Abruptly, almost as if guilty of enjoying himself too much, he switches to a 'laden-with-meaning' poetic discourse. This switch is a bait to keep the literati hooked on to the boat, I suspect. Exhibiting the sheepishness of an adolescent who has overshot his share of chocolate pudding, he gives us a nondescript, somnolence-inducing account of his visit to some nondescript island. Here, JKJ seems to virtually struggle to inject some STORY into the story. The narrative changes gears abruptly. You are yanked out of one thought flow and thrown into another. No caveat. No warning. Such switches are jarring. A little rude too. Sometimes an overkill with tale after tale after tale, steps on the tail of the narrative and smothers movement. 

So in the end, Three Men on a Boat  IS worth a read, though it ain’t ‘humongously humorous,’ I'd say. Your liking the book also depends on whether Brit wit is your cuppa, or not. If it is, raise a toast. If it isn’t, well, raise your standard.

And now before I start reading the next book on my bucket list, a short bookworm prayer to the Lord of semantics:

"Give me a Good Book, O Lord, or Give me Death."

For those of you who would like to read up more on Brit humor, here are a few links:

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Brother Are Like That...


They Pin You to Your Roots
...If Your Ego Goes to Bat
Your Reality Check
– Brothers Are Like That

They Bully, They Trouble 
They Steal Your Cakes
But They Also Cover Up 
Your Silly Mistakes

They Tease You to Tears
Even Snatch Your Toys
But Then, They 'protect' You 
From all the Bad Boys

When Mom Dad Listen
But Cannot Understand 
They're by Your Side
To Take a Stand

If Dreams Ever Crumble
To a Heap of Sand
They Rebuild your Castles
With a Helping Hand

Your Happiness
Lights Up Their Eyes
In Your Sadness
Their Heart Cries

They Grieve Your Lows
They Cheer Your Highs
In Your Achievement 
They Scale the Skies

Your Bodies Share 
A Common Clay
Different, Yet Similar
In An Uncanny Way

Your Hearts, Your Souls
Woven Together
Your Childhood Memories
Made up of Each Other

You Grow and Part
Never 'Grow Apart'
Two Souls Share
A Singular Heart

No Room for Envy
Or Place for Petty
A Selfless Connect
Spans Eternity

Parting Only Bestows
Your Bond More Heft
Threads Seamlessly Pick up 
From Where You'd Left

Angel One Moment
The Next, a Brat
Bundles of Nostalgia
– Brothers Are Like That

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Facebook - It's a Jungle Out There

It was 2013 when I first came face-to-face with Facebook.

Joining the FB bandwagon wasn't exactly out of a need to widen my social horizons or a result of any techno-fascination. 

It was more on account of peer pressure. 

What? You AREN'T on FB? 

My friends looked down on me as if being a Facebook virgin equaled being a maladjusted sociopath. 

Actually, I'm a little shy… I fumbled in a lame bid to justify this blasphemy.

Right since my salad days, I have lacked the channel capacity for overt social interaction. Kitty parties, girlie lunches, and coffee dates were all untried dishes on life's to-do menu till I hit a half-century.

Maybe this anomaly has something to do with my sun sign: Gemini. 

We Geminians don't really need to look outwards for company – because we are born with an inbuilt zodiac twin. Mine even has a name: Ajup (Puja spelled backward). 

Ajup is everything I'm NOT. She's fun-loving; I am boring. She's gregarious; I am reticent. She loves Salman Khan; I despise the guy. 

But Ajup is great company. Together we both can spend hours... days... years... happily immersed in hobbylandWhenever a social situation 'befalls' us, we reluctantly put our rendezvous on hold. 

Our relationship leaves me with scant vacant hours. Social media, therefore, has always seemed dispensable – which brings me back to my story about how I joined Facebook under peer pressure when all my rants about being in a 'happy zone on my own' failed to cut ice with my friends. 

Apparently, only smugglers, history-sheeters and the like, avoid social platforms I am told. That did it. Not wanting to be a blot on the family name, I decided to join the FB fraternity and urged my daughter – an FB virtuoso – to brief me on the ropes.

Her tips were pretty straightforward: 

Go friend-scavenging on the net. Dig up old contacts (never mind if you haven't met them since World War-II). If someone says... 'you weren't my friend in playschool... you looked through me in high school... you hated me in college... why on earth do you want to be my Facebook friend NOW' ...well, tell 'em you were away on a secret mission to Mars or that you've just recovered from an extended bout of Alzheimer's.

Make sure you rope in as many FaceMates as possible. Remember, the longer your friend list, the more your 'clout'; and the higher your 'perch' on the 'like ladder'.

Like a friend's post? Press 'like'. Love the post? Press 'like'. 
Hate the post? Press like.' Basically, 'like' is all there is, and 'like' is all you get whether you like it or not!.

Haha... seriously? 

That seems pretty simple – with a serious tilt towards senseless. 

I wondered mildly how Mr.Iceberg (or is that Zuckerberg) expected ONE insipid like to compress and express a multitude of human emotions, reactions, and upheavals. Like is so meh. So limp. So dry. It tastes like dandruff! 

Anyway, baptism over, FB flung open its wanton gates to Ajup and me. 

The FB social waters are swirling with action – beckoning and threatening in equal proportion. I entered gingerly – like a gawky sophomore anticipating ragging on her first day at college. 

'Hey... think of FB as a cruise; you are Columbus', Ajup tried pepping me up. 

'Naw it's more like a jungle and I'm Goldilocks' I murmured.

Taking a deep cautious breath, I dived in. 30 minutes of tinkering passed. The creases on my forehead started unfurling. The butterflies in my tummy stopped flapping their wings. I even managed a stilted smile. Ajup was happy to see me get into the groove.

And then, suddenly, the corner of my eyes caught those little green dots that show up against your friends' names and tell you who all are online. Well, everybody seemed to be online. It was a jungle out there! Realization dawned – if I could see who all were online, did that mean 'who all' could also see that I was online? 

Holy Jesus! Mr. Iceberg? No privacy, you give us! Was I expected to say something? Acknowledge with a hi, perhaps? The thought of getting embroiled in a communication ping pong unnerved me – giving me goosebumps the size of melons. 

My daughter hadn't told me anything about those green dots!  

Before Ajup could try and salvage the situation, I went scuttling to the 'deactivate' button.

That was my first encounter with FB. 

A 30-minute fling that set a new record - making Britney Spear's two days long marriage seem like a decade.

The second time I joined Facebook, I lasted 10 hours.

The third time, a week.

HELLO... something wasn't quite right here. I was behaving like a psycho. 

And then realization dawned. My friends' suspicion was spot on. I was INDEED a maladjusted sociopath. 

Yikes... that didn't feel good at all. In fact, it tastes worse than dandruff!

Then and there, I decided to change the lens through which I had been looking at the world.

A fat portion of my 27 years of work life was spent having silent albeit happy tête-à-têtes with my square-headed boyfriend - the half-eaten Apple. 

My office cabin was my sanctuary; and Ajup, my sole mate (much to the chagrin of my soul mate).

Decades of languishing in a 'cube farm' seemed to have taken their toll and turned me into a Spartan from Laconia. No wonder I had become a social misfit.

Well, I wasn't going to let this happen. I was going to Retire. Rewire. Reconfigure.... whatever. 

I was henceforth going to do all the stuff I hadn't done so far - including working on my underdeveloped faculties in areas such as socializing, chatting, making friends, joining girlie groups. 

And what better way to hone my social skills than to rejoin the Big Daddy of all social communication... Facebook?

So in 2014, after finally hanging my boots, I urged my daughter to re-open my Facebook account (one last time puhleez), pledging, this time, to take the social media bull by the horns, and hang on. 

And stick I did. 

In fact, in an overzealous attempt to make good my pledge, I looked up the 'people you may know' column on FB and invited every Jill, Jane, and Mary to be my friend. 

Any name or face that even remotely tinkered my memory bank, qualified for a friend request. 

The week-long exercise earned me 250 'friends.' Not bad, eh, for someone who had led such a lonely social life.

2016 is now my third running year on Facebook. 

After months of a now on/now gone fling, I  have finally managed to stave off the 'off' and become a true blue, bonafide Facebooker. 

During the course of these three years, I've discovered that FB is the only place where it's perfectly acceptable to talk to a wall. 

It's starting to be a little like my fridge: I know there's nothing in there, but I keep checking it anyway…

Drawing my own inferences from this 3yr tryst with social media, I can say that the ancient Indian Caste System has now donned a new online avatar. It's alive and kicking in the FB echelons.

Here are FB's four 'social castes' in no particular sequence: 

The Candy Floss Socialites, or the FB Vaisyas
The bro's, the babe's, the aunty ji's and their beta ji's – those who incessantly post pictures of their buzzing social parties, and jet set phoren trips – template destinations, template postures, template smiles. 

Like the Vaisyas, they promote trade. Because they inspire me to throw parties to amplify my social bandwidth. They are the Joneses who keep my envy meter ticking. They goad me to goad my husband for another holiday. They inject the excitement of domestic fights into an otherwise boringly peaceful married life. 

On the downside, their weeds threaten to spread out and swallow my precious time and smother my intellectual growth. So I try and limit this number to one or two – small enough to save my cerebrum from the tentacles of hedonism, big enough for a healthy dose of envy.

The Social Media Rockstars, or the FB Kshatriyas
The Social Media rock stars are the ones who are totally tuned in with the pulse of the audience. 

They are the warriors who excavate quotes from the womb of the net and share them on their timeline. 

Such is their command over their circle that they can garner 200 sycophantic likes even if they talk about their morning ablutions. (How come I share something apparently sensible and get just 10-15 likes?)

They are like MF Hussein whose paintings were alleged to command a fortune even if he rhythmically moved his brush to whatever music was being played. 

The social warriors can argue their hypothalamus out over every social/political opinion expressed by their friends. 

Definitely, the Kshatriyas.

The Fence Sitters, or the FB Shudras
These are the ones who watch all the action from the sidelines pitching in only once in a blue moon with some input. They are the fillers which help you climb the like ladder. 

Like the Shudras, their primary duty is to serve the other three castes. They usually open their newsfeed and randomly start spraying it with likes

The last time I posted about my grandmother's demise, I got 30 likes! Back rubbing is the name of the game. You scratch mine; I scratch yours. 

On a positive note, the fence sitters are also the vicarious intellectuals who may not have the gift of expression, but they know a gem when they see one.

The True Blue Intellectuals, or the FB Brahmins
The true blue or organic intellectuals go by the commandment: have opinion, will express. Like the Brahmins, they are the conduit between God and us mortals. 

They spend their lives in the pursuit of knowledge and then pour it all out into the archives of Facebook. 

They treat social media as a channel to spread light, awareness, and knowledge for the upliftment of society. They are well worth a follow because they can pollinate your shriveled mind with the gold dust of their perspective. 

But they can also be polarizing. So you just have to cross your fingers and hope that their opinion is the RIGHT opinion. 

There are about 7 billion people on Earth. Over 864 million of them check the $200 billion worth Facebook every day. 

So what is it that makes the social network so addictive?

Apparently, an individual's Nucleus Accumbens (NA) - the brain region that lights up when someone takes drugs, becomes more active when receiving self-relevant feedback. So the more active your NA, the more likely you are to spend time on Facebook! 

FB offers a whole bunch of self-promoting features such as posting what you are thinking, sharing pictures of yourself, giving your opinion on what others post, etc. 

A dash of suspense riding on an element of unpredictability (similar to the reinforcement schedule used by casinos) further adds to its aura and addictiveness.

Social media provides a forum for our ego's quest for self-expression - especially followed by feedback from others. 

The small effort of posting a picture can provide a large investment return in the form of comments, or even better, compliments. 

This system of reinforcement is very seductive and may help to explain why some people become addicted to Facebook.

The smartness of the product lies in the fact that it keeps you coming back. 

Every time you message/like/comment on Facebook, you prompt a trigger from FB in the form of an external notification which brings you back.

Facebook is uncharitably called a 'vanity parade' by the cynic brigade - a ‘compare and despair’ platform that feeds our innate voyeuristic streak. 

It is also panned as the emotional equivalent of eating a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. But to a majority, the shares, the likes and the metrics feel good. They’re fun. Even sesky

One quick status update, comment or picture is all it takes to reach out to the whole jingbang. A single word message on someone's wall is enough to rekindle dying relations, and resuscitate dead contacts.

They do a great job of bringing a fragmented world together.  Friends and family divided by geography, are united by Facebook. Having online friends makes us feel appreciated. It validates our sense of self-worth; boosts our self-esteem; appeals to the Info Junkie in us and makes us feel part of an expansive, exciting world.

There's another upside to Facebook. 

It's a zero calorie, eco-chummy way to socialize. It allows you to hold parties, have discussions, bitch, gossip, admire, without spending a penny on booze, snacks or fuel. No wastage, no traffic jams, no pollution. How's that for eco-friendliness? 

New technology, almost always, comes with the goods, the bads, and the uglies. 

Every single medium of communication can be used positively. 
Or negatively - depending on which side of the thinking pool you are. 

If it's the shallow end, FB will make you do what you do anyway- squander away precious time in meaningless pursuits. 

Just like television; you can watch channels that only entertain you or those that also educate you. 

If you’re doing Facebook right - reading articles, watching videos, sharing opinions - and not just stalking your friends, it can prove to be a hub of knowledge and infotainment, and of course a great boredom-buster. The trick is to seek a balance. 

Reign in your empty hours. Don't get reigned in by them.

Yes, some people are annoying on Facebook. But people are annoying in real life too. 

At least on Facebook, you have the liberty to sigh when your friend posts another self-congratulatory reference. It’s much more tiring to hear the same in person.

The BEST part about Facebook is that you can even make money from it. 

All you need to do is:

Go to your Account Setting, Deactivate your account, and Go To Work!