Flying High

Be bold. Be different. Be amazing. And just know ahead of time that some people will think you’re crazy. People will feel jealous. People may try to sabotage your efforts. They don’t really hate you. They hate themselves because they don’t have the guts to do what you’re doing, and they direct that frustration at you. Love them and let them grow. Just don’t spend too much time with them or you will start to think like they do. Feel free to be yourself. Freedom from what others think of you and expect you to be. Sometimes standing out is better than blending in. The freedom to be who you are and what you want to be. Freedom from indecisiveness, fear, insecurity, negativity, laziness. What would you do if there was nothing to stop you? Let go of what holds you back, so you can soar higher.

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If A River – Book Review

Title – If A River

Author – Kula Saikia

Genre – Fiction, Short story collection

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The Birthday Bookathon progresses steadily. For the uninitiated, my reading goals for the year have been regional books from India – one (at least) from each of the twenty nine states and seven union territories. I started on my birthday in November last year and have three more months to go. I just finished one from the northeastern state of Assam. “If A River” is a collection of short stories by Kula Saikia originally written in Assamese and translated into Hindi, Bangla, Odia, Marathi and Telugu languages over the years. This is the first English translation which came out in February this year, comprising twenty short stories, translated into English by six writers.

Saikia’s storytelling is thought provoking, his writing simplistic, with stories inspired from day-to-day life. He transports the reader into the minds of his characters, whereby one feels one isn’t merely reading, but thinking and feeling like his characters do. Some of the stories end with a twist, some twist your thinking throughout, but every one of them causes you to reflect on seemingly mundane issues. From the pathos in ‘Well-wishers‘, to the charming ‘Gift‘, the child-like exuberance of ‘If A River‘, to the horror of ‘Birthmark‘, every story invokes myriad emotions that go beyond the actual story and make you live the character’s life, and experience like he does.

Saikia touches on prosaic themes – waiting at a bus stop, attending a school reunion, going for a run, preparing a will, wanting to play a game of football, making new friends. His narrative, however, leaves a deep impact – causing you to reflect long after each story has ended. I read at the rate of two or three stories a day – in spite of being short reads, the author has the knack of making you read and reflect, and take your time through them. Some of my favorites were, ‘In The Rain‘ – about an elderly couple waiting for the rain on noticing their flower bed wilting, ‘Whispers‘ – set at a funeral, where the death of a house owner results in a maid losing the job she was dependent on for her dying child, ‘The Game‘ – featuring a sports coach and his emphasis on the importance of sports, ‘The Final Hour‘ – the difference between what is thought, what is said, and what is done when doomsday arrives, ‘The Will‘ – about a man with dementia pondering over preparing a will, before he forgets the things he owns, and the people he knows.

I loved Saikia’s usage of figures of speech, and was astounded at his seamless weaving of alliterations, metaphors and personifications in a work of prose, which makes it seem almost poetic. Some beautiful lines:

~”Look at this candle. We simply look at its flame that gives light, the molten wax remains unseen to the eyes. The burning candle does not weep for the molten wax.”

~”Tell me about your long journey. Was it the same old countries, same old oceans, same old mountains, or something new? Did you notice any new clusters of stars to show you the way?” (A bedridden old man talking to birds at his window.)

~”Sometimes poems, as yet unwritten, are created in a hidden, secret chamber of the mind.”

~”An annoying boredom gnaws at her in the silence. Noise could become her friend now.”

~”The doors of his mind are open for the winds of knowledge to enter from all directions.”

~”The pleasure of a journey encompasses much more than the mere satisfaction of arriving at your destination. You may assume that the journey always continues, and it will continue till the last step.”

~”Memories stay with us. They cannot be bequeathed through a will.”

~”Every object has a specific use, and is created for a definite purpose. Yet the significance of that purpose may vary from person to person.”

~”Smiles sweep across their faces like barges on a river, and he stands on its side, unmoved as a rock.”

I marked a lot of quotes and excerpts throughout the book, and this collection will stay cherished among my shelves to flip through occasionally. A mention needs to be made of the translators who have done a fabulous job in bringing Saikia’s works to a wider audience of readers worldwide. The “painting” on the cover is beautiful – simplistic and connects with the reader, just like a river connects its banks. The first page of the book is also printed in the Assamese language – providing a connect with the original writer and his writings – something I have not seen in many translated books. I attempted the script on the origami paper boat I crafted to go with the picture. The words are the title of the book, followed by the name of the author. If you like books that make you think, give this one a read. “If A River” is the only collection of Kula Saikia’s works available for English readers.

Rating – 5/5

 

Round And Round We Go Again

Spirals exist everywhere – in nature and man-made – and can be interpreted in so many ways.

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Such an intricate home.
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In the galaxy too.
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A poem by Jesi Scott. Read it from the inside out.
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Spiral Dynamics – A management and behavioral tool by Clare Graves.
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Genuwine Cellars
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An aloe plant
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Care to read some more spirals?
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A spiral staircase
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If a puzzle interests you, the questions can be accessed here.

Dare To Read?

So, there’s this Seven Day Book Challenge that has been doing the rounds lately. I have no idea where it started from or by whom, but people have been challenging fellow readers around the world to click and share pictures of seven of their favorite books. You need to be challenged by a friend, and in turn challenge another bibliophile to continue the game of tag. (The terms ‘nomination’ and ‘invitation’ have also been thrown around.) The criteria involves taking a photograph of only the book cover – no blurbs, quotes, excerpts, reviews, narratives of how you came across the book, who gave it to you, where you picked it up from, or any sort of explanation related to why that particular book is one among your favorites. All one needs to share is a picture of the book cover.

Now as avid readers, we always have a lot to say about our books. We would read anyways, even without being challenged. And for someone who reads about seven books in two months, identifying seven books from those read over a lifetime is quite a task. I personally don’t follow any of these “challenges” that do the rounds on social media – It means having to take out time to perform the activity, and log in daily to share updates of the same; something I don’t usually have the time for. Even when it comes to “Reading Challenges” which set themes for books to be read, I prefer setting my own reading goals. Books are always handy, though, and bookworms love showing them off – new books bought, visits to bookstores, thrift scores from second-hand shops, gifts from friends – we love sharing and seeing what others are reading which can be discussed at length if read, or added to the list if not.

Here’s what I came up with for the Seven Day Book Challenge. I read just about anything – across genres and languages – and I’m usually intuitively good at picking great reads, so most of what I read is highly recommended. I could come up with these “seven day” lists everyday! For those of you who haven’t come across this book challenge yet, the pupper above challenges you – Which seven books would you list, if you had to recommend a book for each day of the week? Here’s my list, or rather pictures since that was the requirement of the challenge.

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A New Day, A New Lesson

The beauty of the Ragtag Daily Prompt (RDP) is that it not only encourages you to think daily about something to write on and hone your writing skills, but also connects you with fellow bloggers from around the globe. With everyone submitting their own interpretation of the myriad ways a prompt can be elaborated on, there is so much sharing and learning within the community – always something new to look forward to. A few days ago I learnt about pantoum – a form of poetry from a submission by Kristian,  a regular participant on the RDP forum. I have never been much of a poetry person, and make a conscious effort to look up something new I come across.

So, I’ve been reading up pantoum lately and found it really interesting and creative. Pantoum is a poetic form derived from pantun – a form of Malay verse, specifically the pantun berkait (a series of interwoven stanzas). The poem can be of any length, but needs to be composed of four-line stanzas. The poetry is characterized by repeating lines throughout the poem, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza repeated as the first and third lines of the following stanza. The first line of the poem is the last line of the final stanza, and the third line of the first stanza is the second line of the last stanza. The meaning of the lines shifts as they are repeated, although the words remain exactly the same – this can be done by shifting punctuation, recontextualizing, or punning (also known as “paronomasia” – another new word I learnt). I’m sharing a pantoum here by Anne Johnson titled “Desert Dawning” .

The desert awakes with a whispered sigh.

A jackrabbit scurries through the brush

while far above a raven cries.

Dawn breaks from a frozen hush.

 

A jackrabbit scurries through the brush

bent on finding food to eat.

Dawn breaks from a frozen hush,

The cold chill of the night retreats.

 

Bent on finding food to eat,

a roadrunner darts across the sand.

The cold chill of the night retreats,

as fiery warmth fills the land.

 

A roadrunner darts across the sand,

in the shadow of a towering sanguaro.

As fiery warmth fills the land

The cactus wren peers at a beetle below.

 

In the shadow of a towering sanguaro

a bevy of quail march by in a line.

The cactus wren peers at a beetle below.

On a sunny rock the lizard reclines.

 

A bevy of quail march by in a line

while far above a raven cries.

On a sunny rock the lizard reclines.

The desert awakes with a whispered sigh.

desert

 

 

 

 

 

Warm Bodies – Movie Review

Some casual browsing on Netflix led to a movie titled “Warm Bodies” , described as a horror comedy, featuring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich. Surprisingly, this was a 2013 release and I had never heard of it before. The presence of well known actors egged me on to give it a shot, even though I didn’t expect much beyond the regular zombie fare.

“What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. My posture is terrible. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.”

The story starts off with “R” (Nicholas Hoult) – introduced as a highly introspective zombie. He has no memories of his past life, his family or friends, how he landed up at an airport, or even his name. Zombies don’t talk; then only grunt. And “rrrrr” is all he can come up with if he tries to speak – hence the default “name”. Narrated in the first person, R is part of an undead horde living at an airport, and has himself taken over an entire plane as his personal space. R considers himself an unusual zombie – he has thoughts but no memories of his former life. And when he feeds on humans, he doesn’t turn them into fellow zombies – preferring rather to consume their brains as well, which leaves them completely dead. In turn, he receives their memories on devouring their brains, an act he considers his only connection to being human – by feeling vicariously through the memories in the brains he consumes.

While scavenging for living humans to feed on one day, the undead face off with Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a group of humans searching for medical supplies to take back to the living. R kills a member from the party who was about to shoot him in the head, and on eating his brains realizes the man, Perry, is/was Julie’s boyfriend – memories of Perry and Julie come rushing into R as he eats. This causes him to share Perry’s feelings for Julie and in turn protect her from the other zombies. He promptly takes her along with him, sharing his airplane “home” and all the items he has scavenged – music records, books, canned food and beverages, showpieces. Julie is his only link to humanity, and R realizes he is getting warmer. Is there hope for a corpse to become alive again? This change also seems to be spreading among the local undead population like a virus – they start to remember and feel, and speak with some effort.

R and Julie have larger issues to face when their friendship is threatened from two opposing parties. Some of the zombies are too far gone – having been undead for a very long time their skin starts too shed, turning them into skeletons called “bonies” , and they are a threat to both other zombies and humans, devouring anything in sight. At the same time Julie’s father, General Grigio (John Malkovich), is the leader of an army of humans out to kill all zombies. The human-zombie duo is consequently caught in a crossfire – unless the humans can be convinced that the zombies are indeed getting warmer, and are not corpses anymore.

A unique take on the possibility of zombies turning into humans again, of the living and the undead sharing space and mutual understanding and acceptance. The story is fresh, fast paced, and an original delight. The movie can be described as a mix of genres with humor, horror, romance, sci-fi and drama all thrown in – and it never seems too chaotic. Nicholas Hoult is hilarious with an understated performance – he is stone faced as a zombie, but his thoughts and introspection reveal a lot of emotions, and his monologues are the highlight of the movie. The scenes of R pretending to be human, and Julie pretending to be a zombie – to blend in with each other’s coterie – are absolutely laugh-out-loud. All of the supporting actors do a tremendous job, including the actors playing the zombies – it is never over the top and the humor comes in at just the right places. The movie is funny without trying too hard, the romance doesn’t come across as clichéd, the popular actors don’t ham their way through (as often happens in these off-beat movies), the effects are well presented (especially the characters of the bonies). “Warm Bodies” definitely brings something original to the zombie genre and deserves to be watched.

From the credits, I also found out that the movie is based on a book by the same name. Isaac Marion’s novel came out in 2010 – described as a zombie romance alluding to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, hence the lead characters of R and Julie pulled apart from both sides by their people. I just downloaded the book on Kindle and will read it over the weekend. If one goes by routine experiences of movie adaptations from books, a movie this good would make the book an obvious must-read. Give the movie a watch too; it’s well worth the time.

My rating – 7/10

Some of the many creative movie posters I found:

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Footsteps To Follow

Guru Purnima is celebrated today. An eastern spiritual tradition dedicated to teachers (or gurus) – considered as enlightened human beings who share their knowledge and wisdom with others. The occasion is often considered a festival, traditionally observed to revere an individual’s chosen mentors and to express one’s gratitude.

Guru Purnima is observed on a full moon day (purnima) in the month of Ashadha (June-July) as per the Hindu calendar – the day on which Maharshi Sri Veda Vyasa was born. Hence, the day is also known as “Vyasa Purnima“. Vyasa was the one who completed the codification of the four vedas and wrote the eighteen puranas. The day marks the peak of the lunar cycle after the end of the solar cycle. Hence, the specific date varies every year. The Guru Purnima of 2018 is special due to the occurrence of the total lunar eclipse or the blood moon. Hindus refrain from performing any puja or ceremony on the day of the lunar eclipse, since no auspicious practices are undertaken during the period of the eclipse. For this reason, my dance class has scheduled the Guru Purnima ceremony for tomorrow, and my drumming school will be celebrating the occasion on Monday.

I don’t follow the rituals much since I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I try and participate in the activities. My dance form is the Indian classical style of Odissi. On Guru Purnima, our ghunghroos or ankle bells are blessed by the teacher, an offertory of fruits and flowers is made to the gods (Lord Jagannath in the case of Odissi), and the guru ties a cord on the wrist of every student, symbolic of his/her blessings. The student in turn delivers Guru Dakshina – the tradition of repaying a teacher for everything one has learnt in the course of the year. This could be monetary or non-monetary – in a dance class, students can even offer a dance performance as guru dakshina. In my drumming school, students play various percussion instruments as guru dakshina, and homage is paid to the founder of the institute. I play the doumbek, but students can select from an array of instruments – from the djembe to the tabla, the timpani, bongo or the drum kit. Thus, the ceremonies vary depending on what the teacher deems fit for his/her school and students.

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All set for tomorrow.

At Seeing Nothing Is Lost

SALVAGE

~Liam McKinnon

 

It was a shipwreck at the edge

of the world

on a shore of mud and stones

where the tide pulled out so far,

we thought it would slip off into space

like a rolling sheet slipping from the bed

you never made.

 

We spotted it one summer day

as we climbed the grassy dunes,

tilted on its side like

a decaying whale with

bones of wood and mold

betrayed by the ocean’s unspoken spleen.

 

You called out “Race you there”

and darted down the slopes,

surprising a procession of

mourning gulls who had gathered

in musical lament.

 

I watched you go, moving like unchained passion

in a wild dance with the world

as indigo clouds ballooned on the horizon

and the sea birds you had chased

formed white haloes for you.

 

When the faraway sky split in two and

unleashed a thousand winds

upon us,

you threw your arms up in welcome.

With the rain matting your hair

you flashed a smile at me that

made me wonder

if I could ever make you feel

so alive.

 

In the ship’s rounded hull

the wood had splintered away

to offer a doorway within.

You took a step before taking my hand

and led me into the damp

tunnels of the whale.

 

 

We ascended rotting ladders into

a slanted room with broken

windows that let in sea air and

the sigh of breaking waves.

 

You searched for discarded treasure.

I , for forgotten letters

in hidden drawers

from a stranded sailor to his wife,

who would learn the meaning of forever

waiting on a distant shore.

 

But all we found was sand and feathers,

ruined books and crabs

hiding along the shelves.

You said the jewels and gold

had all been pillaged,

and though the secrets had been erased

it did not mean they were never written.

 

In that room I got to taste salt on your lips

and feel the fragility of your bones

Rock against mine.

To look in your eyes and find a storm

and to learn the love a heart

as free and untamed as yours

had to give.

 

Finally at night, when the rain

settled and the tide returned

to caress our lonely ship and make of us an island,

we climbed up onto deck

to find a map of stars stretched out above us

and swirling galaxies in the mirror below.

 

As you looked up I turned to

watch you

being held in silence,

the pools of your eyes

filling up with that immensity.

 

How many times I tried to

reach you through that space

but your mind remained a sea

of constellations

only you could sail.

 

Way back then, I never thought I

would one day look upon you

like that shipwreck at the edge of the world,

lying on your side, on the shore of existence.

I never prepared myself for the strength it would take to

hold your absence in my arms.

 

How I wish I could so easily

step through your broken hull and

climb ladders into the chamber that held

your soul, to open the drawers

you never showed.

 

Maybe there I’d find a letter

or a scribbled note in a Cola bottle

you had thrown into the sea

to tell her about us and the lives we drew.

 

If I could salvage the thoughts you once had

like untold fables of wonder,

would I ever come across

my name

pressed between the lines?

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Perception vs Reflection – Points Of View

‘Mirror’ is a short, two-stanza poem written by Sylvia Plath in 1961. Composed in the first person, it can be described as free verse, because there is no rhyme, scheme or meter. The personification figure of speech follows throughout, as the mirror takes on human-like qualities by becoming the speaker of the poem. Plath’s composition describes the mirror’s point of view, as it addresses themes of ageing and time, with a woman looking at her reflection in the ‘protagonist’ of the poem.

“I am silver and exact, I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful –

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long.

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

 

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.”

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Plath’s writing is a reflection of her emotions at the time she composed ‘Mirror’. She was living with her fellow poet and husband Ted Hughes, and had given birth to their first child. This was a stressful time for her as a new mother and she dreaded the idea of growing old and settling down. As she wrote, “I am afraid of getting older. I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from the relentless cage of routine and rote.” ‘Mirror’ is an exploration of her uncertain self, with her hallmark stamp of powerful language, sharp imagery, dark undertones, and great depth.

By using a mirror and lake to highlight the significance of one’s reflection, Plath brings to attention the obsession with one’s physical features, and the inner turmoil caused as the ageing process picks up it’s pace. Plath’s own struggle with retaining her youth, reflects in her writing which implies the face in the mirror must always stay young – that youth symbolizes beauty and perfection.

Written just two years before the poet’s suicide, ‘Mirror’ contains many autobiographical elements reflective of her state of mind. Though written in 1961, ‘Mirror’ was published ten years after Plath’s death, when it appeared in the book ‘Crossing The River’ which Ted Hughes posthumously got published.

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Photography – Making Time Stand Still

Photography is one of my hobbies, and I love clicking pictures and preserving memories. When I am not creating images myself, I admire the works of other photographers and their interpretations of a subject. This is a picture I came across online – featuring the Gateway of India in Mumbai, by photographer Rahul Vangani. With the monsoons in full swing and the Arabian sea in the backdrop splashing water onto the roads during high tide, the reflection of such architectural delights can be beautifully captured.

Some trivia about the arch monument – It was erected in the early 20th century to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary at Apollo Bunder in 1911. The Gateway is located on the waterfront in the Apollo Bunder area in South Mumbai, and overlooks the Arabian Sea. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the foundation stone for the Gateway of India was laid on 30th March 1911. The final design of George Wittet was sanctioned in 1914, and the construction of the monument was completed in 1924. The Gateway was used as a symbolic ceremonial entrance to India for Viceroys and Governors of (then) Bombay (now Mumbai).

Such a photographer’s delight to capture the reflection of this historic structure in it’s entirety.

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