Happy World Post Day

Today is World Post Day. 9th October is the anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which started in 1874 in Switzerland. The UPU signified the start of the global communications revolution, which introduced the ability to write to people all around the world. World Post Day was launched in 1969, to highlight the importance of the postal service, where the 9th of October was first declared as a day of celebration at the UPU Congress in Tokyo that year. The proposal was made by Anand Mohan Narula, a member of the Indian delegation. As we get nostalgic about a time when the world was devoid of email exchanges and WhatsApp messages, I commemorated the day by sending out these postcards for Postcrossing – a postcard exchange community I have been part of since the last four years.

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Sea Prayer – Book Review

Title – Sea Prayer

Author – Khaled Hosseini

Illustrator – Dan Williams

Genre – Fiction

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Finally got my hands on Khaled Hosseini’s long-awaited book – a combined creation with illustrator Dan Williams, to bring to life a story about Syrian refugees. The epistolary book is written in the form of a letter from a father to his child on the eve of their journey out at sea. Rather, it can be called more of a poem or letter, instead of story. The narrator is a father cradling his child, as they wait for the break of dawn when a boat will arrive to take them to a new home. As they stand waiting in the dark night, the father reminisces about the summers of his childhood at his own grandfather’s house in the city of Homs. He speaks to his son, Marwan, about the time when he was a young boy himself, the same age as Marwan. “The stirring of olive trees in the breeze, the bleating of goats, the clanking of cooking pots” seem like another life altogether; a life before the skies started “spitting bombs”. That life is now a dream, a long-dissolved rumor. All Marwan and children his age know now are protests, sieges, starvation, burials. They can identify shades of blood and sizes of bomb craters. They will never know the country of their birth as a place without bombings or ruin.

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As they wait, impatient for sunrise, and dreading the uncertainty of a world that might not invite them in, they still hope to find home. The father assures his child that nothing bad will happen if he holds his hand, but he knows these are only words. The sea is deep and vast and indifferent, and he knows he is powerless in contrast. And that is why he prays. That is the essence of his “Sea Prayer” – that his most precious cargo is protected, and the sea delivers them safely to a new land.

Sea Prayer” was inspired by the incident of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and whose body was washed ashore on a beach in Turkey in 2015. In the years after Alan’s death, thousands more died or went missing at sea while attempting to flee their torn country. Hosseini’s response to the current refugee crisis is an attempt to remind us that an incident is not isolated. This is not the story of one child or one parent, but the lives of many more – names and faces we might not always be told about in our corners of the world. The watercolor illustrations are fabulous and stay true to the text – beginning with bright colors as the father thinks fondly of a time long gone by, to dark and dreary shades of greys and browns reflective of the current situation in the country. The transformation from home to war zone is powerfully depicted in both words and sketches, and heartbreaking as you flip through the few pages of this slim volume. A light book which weighs heavily on the reader.

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Sea Prayer” was created as an effort to raise funds to help refugees around the world who are fleeing war and persecution. Proceeds from the sales of this book are said to be donated to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. A short but powerful book – the text says a little, the illustrations show a lot, and much more is conveyed in the background, beyond what one is reading. Having read Hosseini’s other works, I had hoped for this one to continue for longer. Nevertheless, it is impactful and evocative in it’s own way.

Rating – 5/5

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This photograph of September 2015 made global headlines. Taken by Nilüfer Demir, a Turkish photojournalist based in Bodrum, Turkey, three-year-old Alan Kurdi became a symbol of the plight of those fleeing conflict in Syria. This haunting image compelled Hosseini to write “Sea Prayer” .

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Bewitching Book Bonanza

“Shadows mutter,

mist replies;

darkness purrs,

as midnight sighs.”

~Rusty Fischer

Brace yourselves for the spook fest! When October is here, you know Halloween won’t be too far behind. Here’s my stash for the upcoming days – from classic horror to contemporary thrillers, my Halloween reading pile is ready. The bookstore even sent Halloween-themed bookmarks. So cool! I’m currently reading Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived In The Castle” on Kindle. Will move on to these paperbacks soon enough.

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Come Back Stronger Than The Setback

“It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, and you’re never too old or sick to start from scratch once again.”

Post-accident racing mode on! 

The week took off with a spectacular start. I ran my first timed race on Sunday, since the accident last year. For those who are unfamiliar or have recently begun following this blog, I had an accident last August and suffered from nerve damage with subsequent paralysis of the right leg – from hip to foot. I had resumed running earlier but wasn’t yet racing. Sunday’s event marked a comeback to racing. A measly distance compared to the marathon distance I am usually accustomed to, but some start is better than no improvement at all.

The race was tricky, as expected. I had practiced the distance in training runs, but in events one needs to be aware of other racers as well. Some runners overtake you and suddenly stop right in front of you, others sway from one side of the road to the other when they spot photographers, not to forget those who throw disposable water bottles in the middle of the road. Racing throws its own set of challenges, besides the training the body and mind undergo. The weather on Sunday was 34°C, with a humidity of 59% – the monsoons began waning a few weeks ago with some abrupt showers in between, but overall the weather was hot and humid. I did take several walk breaks through the course – the race strategy being more of a walk-jog rather than high speed running. The goal here was to return to race mode and finish injury free. I’m working with distances at the moment instead of speed, having being warned of a possible nerve compression recurring.

Each medal comes with it’s own story, and means much more than merely the name of the place or date of the race. A medal is a reminder of how the run was, the people you met, the challenges you overcame, and your entire journey to get to that place and pace. Another cherished one added to the seven year old collection.

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And of course, one can’t fail to mention the support of the running community, where friends are almost like family. Long distance runners have their own training routes, and events bring everyone on the road together. I had met many people on practice runs, but had missed many others who would usually connect through races. It was great catching up with all. The official race pictures are not yet out – I’ll post some running ones when I get my hands on them. Just a few friendly ones for now.

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Kudos – Book Review

Title – Kudos

Author – Rachel Cusk

Genre – Fiction

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Sometimes, books find their readers in the oddest of ways. “Kudos” by Rachel Cusk came as a recommendation from someone who said he took over two weeks to read it – while on holiday. Just one book finished on a two-week road trip? He said there were also dance sessions in two towns, over 110 miles biking in various locations, 26 miles spent running on the beach, and riding many many waves on his Hobie. He likes his life well-rounded, he said. At the time, it was the reader himself who stood out, rather than his  book. I love reading, but I also love running, dancing, baking, clicking photographs – in short, indulging in a wide variety of activities, unlike many bookworms who might only read. And when you meet someone from your tribe, you can’t help not paying heed to their recommendations. Rachel Cusk makes words go magic, he said.

Kudos” is the third book from Canadian writer Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy, after “Outline” and “Transit” . It is not necessary to read them in sequence, and they work as standalone reads too. Cusk is renowned for her “shape-shifting” style of writing. There’s no story and no specific narrator or character flow. Imagine someone narrating an incident about somebody else, which was about another person, who in turn was talking about some other experience with something else. The writing is layered, and like peeling an onion, Cusk takes you deeper in – until you no longer recognize what, where or with whom you originally started off. Kudos is one story, and it is many stories. And in each of those stories, people are telling you more stories. These stories are experiences around which the entire novel takes shape. “Respect for literature was skin deep” goes one of the lines in the book, and that’s exactly what Cusk’s writing does.

So, you have a storyteller telling a story about a storyteller. On its surface, Kudos is about a writer travelling to Europe to attend a literary event for promoting her book – taking the reader through her journey right from the time she boards the airplane to get there, till the end of the conference. The stories within this framework could be described as experiences – from generalized ones like striking up a conversation with a co-passenger while flying, chatting with a car driver, listening to gossip about famous personalities, to more specific ones for our writer of the main story like meeting translators, speaking to journalists, interacting with fellow writers and poets. Cusk makes the book seem almost autobiographical, and at the same time something that anyone of us could be going through. These are conversations – about family, friends, love, art, politics, law – questions human beings ask and the discourses which ensue. Out there in the world of strangers, friends, colleagues, family – details are everywhere, and it takes a writer of Cusk’s brilliance to pen all those revelations by being deeply tuned into one’s everyday interactions. Cusk writes with intelligence and wit – numerous passages reveal an author who has gone beyond narrating a story and made the reader stop and think, while you burst out laughing when hilarity shines through in other scenes. On some level, her writing reminds you on Italo Calvino – who made the seemingly mundane so thought provoking.

A difficult book to describe because there’s nothing and there’s everything – depending on what one deciphers as a reader. I might not do enough justice to Cusk’s masterpiece with my review, but I do hope you give it a read. A must-read if you appreciate cerebral books. Those looking for a straightforward storyline might be disappointed, because this book makes you pause to ponder at every step of the way. A short read but not a quick one.

Rating – 5/5

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Every story provides you a window into a new world.

If you haven’t read anything from Rachel Cusk yet, I had written a feature on the author. Here’s the link for those who missed it.

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/29/writer-wednesday-rachel-cusk/

Sculpture and Literature

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence”, said Pablo Picasso. Books lend themselves to more than just reading. The Walk of Ideas was conceptualized as part of a campaign called Deutschland – Land der Ideen (Welcome to Germany – the Land of Ideas). It comprised a set of six sculptures in Berlin, designed by Scholz & Friends, one of Europe’s largest advertising agencies, for the 2006 FIFA World Cup football event in Germany. The sculptures were  were put up between 10th March and 19th May 2006, and were on display until September 2006. They were placed on central squares in Berlin’s city center.

The six sculptures included Modern Book Printing, Milestones of Medicine, Masterpieces of Music, The Automobile, The Modern Football Boot, and The Theory of Relativity. The sculptures were built using neopor – a graphite polysterene foam for construction materials, and coated with a white varnish. The production time for each sculpture was about two months, with on-site assembly spanning three days. Plaques were created in both German and English, with details on the symbolism of each object.

Der Moderne Buchdruck (Modern Book Printing) was installed on 21st April 2006 at Bebelplatz, opposite the Humboldt University of Berlin. The 12.2 meter structure took three days to assemble on the Unter den Linden street. The steel structure held seventeen “book” segments of different sizes, each representing a different author’s name. Inclusive of the stabilizing ballast weight, the overall weight of the “book tower” amounted to thirty-five tons. The seventeen books were stacked, with their spines prominently displaying the names of German poets and writers. The sculpture was said to be erected in memory of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press in Mainz around 1450 and introduced printing to Europe. Gutenberg had even created the first bestseller in history – the Gutenberg Bible – the first major book printed in Europe using mass-produced movable metal. It marked the age of the printed book in the West.

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Here are the author names displayed on the spines, starting from the topmost:

Günter Grass

Hannah Arendt

Heinrich Heine

Martin Luther

Immanuel Kant

Anna Seghers

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The Brothers Grimm

Karl Marx

Heinrich Böll

Friedrich Schiller

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Hermann Hesse

Theodor Fontane

Thomas Mann and Heinrich Mann

Bertolt Brecht

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

I will be covering the remaining five sculptures in subsequent blog-posts.

Breaking Barriers In Marathon Running

“I lack the words to describe how I feel. It was really hard, but I was truly prepared to run my own race.”

~Eliud Kipchoge

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Yesterday was a great day for the long-distance running community. For those unable to fathom our excitement, a new world record was set at the Berlin Marathon. Imagine stepping on a treadmill, setting it to 13 mph, and running at that pace for over two hours. Or let’s use the analogy given by BBC Sports – imagine running 100 mts in 17.2 seconds; or if that’s feels slow, try it and repeat for 420 times without a pause. That’s just what Eliud Kipchoge accomplished at Berlin yesterday – setting a new world record by completing the marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a timing of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds.

The first time a marathon was run as an official race, was at the London Olympics in 1908, where American Johnny Hayes emerged victorious with a timing of 2:55:18. Of course, a lot has changed since then in terms of training and technology. Four years ago, Dennis Kimetto from Kenya had created a new record of 2:02:57 in Berlin. Fellow Kenyan Kipchoge broke this record on Sunday by 78 seconds – recorded to be the largest single improvement in a world record marathon timing in over fifty years. Australian Derek Clayton had knocked down 2 minutes 37 seconds way back in 1967.

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Reductions in marathon timings over the years.

Kipchoge, 33, has competed in eleven marathons, out of which he has won ten and finished second in one. He has won both, the Berlin and London marathons three times each, and holds course records at both places. His split times astonished viewers and runners, both amateur and elite, the world over. Kipchoge’s average speed on Sunday was 13 mph, an average pace of 2.52 mins/km for each kilometer of the 42.195 km race, or every 400 mts in 68.8 seconds. He clocked the first 10 kms in world record pace, as led by three pacers from the start.

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With pacers, early on in the race.

Shortly after the halfway mark, all three pacers dropped out, leaving Kipchoge to run the remaining 21 kms alone. Rather than struggling or falling off the pace, he defied the odds and rather sped up, covering 30 kms of the race in 1:26:45, which is the fastest time ever recorded for that distance. He ran the first half of the race in 1 hour, 1 minute, 6 seconds, and went 30 seconds quicker in the second half. He ran from the 40k mark to the finish in 6 minutes, 8 seconds – the fastest known in any major marathon, without any obvious sprint. His overall pace was 4 minutes, 37 seconds per mile – for 26.2 miles. Jon Mulkeen from the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) pointed out, “imagine running 200m reps in 34.60 seconds, and repeating that for 211 times with no rest in between”. That’s what Eliud Kipchoge did in Berlin yesterday.

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His splits up to the halfway mark

Long-distance runners might remember the “Breaking 2 Project” of Nike last year – an unofficial race to break the sub-2 hour marathon, on a track at Monza. Kipchoge had created a world record of 2:00:25 at the time, guided by a team of pacers. The race did not qualify as an official time, and was seen as more of a project. Kipchoge, however, did show his frightening potential as a long-distance runner, which manifested itself as he obliterated the competition on Berlin’s streets on Sunday. “I believed he was capable of smashing the World Record. He delivered in outstanding fashion and rewrote history”, said Paula Radcliffe – former record holder of the women’s marathon. Roger Robinson from Runners’ World added, “I have watched great runners for seventy years, from Emil Zapotek to Haile Gebrselassie, and not since Abebe Bikila in 1964 have I witnessed a world marathon record set with such focused mastery”. “I felt very confident. I am grateful to those who worked with me”, Kipchoge said after the race. Impeccable pacing and the focus of a Zen master have sealed Eliud Kipchoge’s place as the greatest marathoner of all time.

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“The lesson of running is to train well, and then have full faith in your training and show the proof in the race.”

 

 

 

Sources:

~www.bbc.com

~www.edition.cnn.com

~www.runnersworld.com

Tell Me Your Real Story – Book Review

Title – Tell Me Your Real Story

Author – Savita Nair

Genre – Poetry

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Savita Nair had featured as a guest author at our book meet last month. Poetry is not one of the genres I frequently visit, but the writer’s description of her writing journey and her love for composing poems based on her observations of the world, intrigued me to give this one a go. Nair had read out three poems from this book at the meet, along with the backstory of what led her to writing them. Her thoughts and usage of language compelled me to order the book when I reached home – and Amazon delivered it soon enough.

So, I have spent the better part of the last three weeks pouring over some poetry. That’s the thing with poetry – you can’t review it the same way like you would for prose (fiction or non-fiction); it would just end up being slapdash if you don’t take your time through it. “Tell Me Your Story” is a collection of fifty-seven poems – a mixture of heartbreak, celebration, romance, skepticism, sarcasm, fun, disbelief. Nair describes her book as “urban and chic, cynical and syrupy”, and the reader is taken on a ride on the poetry bandwagon. Some of my favorites from the collection include “Mid-way Musings” , “Our Failings” , “The Freak and the Faulty” , “Leaving Things Unsaid” , “To The Heroes” , “Take Control” – each of the poems strikes a different chord. As Nair rightly points out in the blurb, the poetic journey helps you discover a little about yourself, as well as the poet.

“There was a slot called Mediocre, and happily I settled in. Some run the race, others admit with grace, that mediocre lies Within” , go a few lines from “Mediocre” , “Mid-way between Home and Nowhere, we got off at a stop called Stranded”, begins “Mid-way Musings” , “Slow Burn” tells us about a kettle simmering with anticipation – Nair’s brilliance shines through in her incorporation of figures of speech. Rhyming appears to be her forte and many of the poems follow this format. Personally, rhyming gets to me after a point, so I didn’t read the book in sequence. Cover to cover doesn’t always work for poetry. Phrases like “finding solace in the din” , “being optimistic isn’t a remedy, but being morbid is a crime” , “settle for nothing but restless” , “choose to stay silent, than make empty noise” – show you the writer’s exceptional talent in keenly observing the happenings in the world, reflecting on those observations, and putting thoughts into words. From the hilarity of “An Ode To The Common Cold” , to the difficulties of a working woman managing home and career in “A Lady’s Got To Do Some Straight Talking” , the tribute to the armed forces in “To The Heroes”,  and the melancholic “Falling In Love With The Rain”, the collection covers a multitude of emotions that anyone can relate to, at varying frames of mind.

And having had the opportunity of meeting Nair in person, the vividness with which she describes herself and her writings is displayed in her book as well. It is difficult to review books like these because each poem affects you in a different way – sometimes you might not be in the frame of mind to read one, but another one feels so much at home. Then you go back to the first one a few days later, and appreciate the sarcasm or disbelief it portrays. And this can be said for good poetry in general – it makes you go back to what you have chewed earlier, and digest it properly in the second visit. I re-read many of the poems and came back with something new each time. The poems are short and leave a lot to dwell on. The collection is lovely, and while retaining and showcasing her individuality, Nair still manages to relate with the reader. The collection is heartfelt, thought-provoking, charming, fun. A must-have in any book collection. I had initially purchased this copy as a gift, but later decided to procure one for my own collection as well – to keep reading and relishing one’s changing state of mind. For those interested in audio books, Savita Nair has herself read the poems aloud – and having heard her recitation at the book meet, I can vouch for the fact that the audio book will also be a treat.

The one single grouse I had was that the poems are numbered in the index page, but not in the rest of the book. And with a collection numbering fifty-seven of them, it becomes difficult to search for a particular poem.

Rating – 4/5

Sassy Spoon – Food Photography

When friends visit from out of town, it’s a wonderful time for catching up. And food can never be far from the occasion. The day was spent meeting an old friend over lunch. (I had to create a ragtag prompt in advance yesterday, since I was scheduled to be out the entire time today.) The restaurant chosen to feast at was a place called Sassy Spoon, which serves mixed cuisines – Mediterranean, European, Asian. I had heard good reviews of the place that is known for its decor, food presentation, and courteous staff. Sharing a few pictures to feast your eyes on.

We started off with the beverages – a Fizzy Meloni – muddled fresh watermelon, with basil, lime and fizz, and Very Berry Khata comprising mulberries, orange, pomegranate and grape with kala khatta (jamun/jambolan syrup).

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Starters comprised garlic bread with cheese.

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From here we proceeded to the main course – grilled chicken in their house soaked BBQ sauce, grilled veggies and mashed potatoes.

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This was followed by dessert – a signature dessert titled “Seven textured hazelnut and chocolate”, comprising numerous layers of brownies, chocolate chips, mousse, and both solidified and dripping chocolate.

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All in all, a very enjoyable meal in one of the sassiest places around. The decor and ambiance are fabulous, with the rustic lighting adding a homely touch. Having visited during lunch hours, the place was packed, but never noisy.

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The sedate lighting.
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The wall covered with these trunk prints, providing a very old school vibe.
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A close-up of the wall featured above. See that palm print? It signifies a door that leads to the restroom. But the door is so ingeniously hidden in the wall.