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

 

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Every Day Is A Purr-fect Day

“Kittens are born with their eyes shut. They open them in about six days, take a look around, then close them again for the better part of their lives.”

~Stephen Baker

Today is “International Cat Day”. Created in 2002 by the ‘International Fund For Animal Welfare’, the celebration on 8th August is an ode to the cat community everywhere. Rosa Silva has composed some poetry which is as cute and cuddly as the cats themselves. Have a look at what she has to say about our feline friends.

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Tribe Of Reader-Runners

As the book collection spirals out of control with frequent bookstore visits, buying new books, scouring second-hand shops for thrift sales, and keeping an eye out for books in general, book gifts by friends helpfully aid that spiral – a progressive spiral to add to one’s home library, and a downward spiral as far as space to accommodate, and time to read them all is concerned.

I was at a running event yesterday, and received this book by ultrarunner Dean Karnanzes from a fellow marathoner. The newest addition to the running shelf. A book for a runner, about a runner, from a runner. 🙂

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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.

Wrap Your Friends In A Hug Today

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”  ~Ernest Hemingway

“My books are friends that never fail me.”  ~Thomas Carlyle

“It was books that made me feel that perhaps I wasn’t completely alone.”  ~William Herondale

“Books are my companions. They make me laugh and cry and find meaning in life.” ~Christopher Paolini

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”  ~Groucho Marx

The first Sunday of August is celebrated as Friendship Day. For avid readers, books have always been constant companions. They transport us to new worlds, open doors to imagination, help us explore the lives of legendary icons, take us across canvasses of music, philosophy, art, history, and share their wealth of knowledge with us. A writer’s interplay of words teaches the reader to empathize with characters and learn about the world, it’s places and people one might not know personally. Books offer relationships not just with others, but with ourselves. A reader can span the expanse of genres and languages –  fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, drama, memoirs, novels, anthologies, short stories, poems, essays – the many letters of the alphabet take form and shape and present before us a whole new world of literature.

Who/what is a friend and what constitutes a friendship? Aristotle referred to this bond as “eudaimonia” – the sense of what causes one to flourish as a human. C.S Lewis quoted, “Friendship is born of the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”  Eudaimonia can be encountered in myriad ways. Books too take up the role as a bulwark against loneliness – Reading as an act is performed in solitude, but we learn concern, love, understanding, to engage in a conversation with the author, critique what has been read; the reader need not always abide with what the writer has presented. Books do not talk back (as human friends would), but they stimulate the imagination, and teach us to accommodate mysteries we do not know and thrive on thought processes. Books teach us persistence – How many times have you picked up tomes from second-hand/thrift shops? Old copies might be dog-eared, bear stains, yellowed with age, and almost crumbling, but the contents of the books don’t change – one can still read and learn as much as from a brand new copy. The unchangeability of books is a profile in tenacity.

How often have you lost a book or lent one and never had it returned? Replacing the missing one is usually not at simple as buying a fresh copy. In the same way as true friends are irreplaceable, we miss the books themselves – our books, the ones we highlighted quotes or bracketed excerpts or doodled in, the lessons we learned, and the distinctive past we share with that particular book. Self-help books are a genre by themselves, but any book can help us in any amount of ways. It all depends on the reader, their state of mind, current situation in life, what one is looking for at a particular moment.

My reading choices are quite eclectic, but at any point in time books have always stood by me. There is a piece of literature available for any mood or occasion. These are some of the categories I choose books from, listed according to the authors, with many more books within each author’s repertoire.

~For a few (or maybe a lot) laughs – P.L.Deshpande, P.G.Wodehouse, Erma Bombeck, Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry, Jenny Lawson, Andrea Camilleri.
~To curl up with on rainy days – Agatha Christie, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Jim Corbett, Raymond Chandler, Tess Gerritsen.
~To philosophise/internalize – Italo Calvino, Thich Nhat Hanh, Will Durant, Daniel Dennett, Julian Baggini .
~A quick dive (for their essays/short stories) – Ruskin Bond, Somerset Maugham, Sudha Murty, O. Henry, Shanta Shelke, Satyajit Ray, Premchand.
~For sports – Dean Karnanzes, Amby Burfoot, Christopher McDougall, Sam Sheridan, Alexandra Heminsley, Scott Jurek, Larry Shapiro.
~To stay up late with – Stephen King, Adam Nevill, Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allen Poe.
~For my dose of poetry – Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Maya Angelou, Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Tagore.

Who are your go-to friends when you need a literary companion? Any particular books or authors you instinctively reach out for? Spare a moment of thought for our loyal friends on this Friendship Day and how they have been guiding lights over the years.

14th Nov 2017 (5)

When Your Mouth Isn’t Doing The Talking…

Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum came out with a book in 2009 titled “The Whatchamacallit” – a fun and witty compilation of “everyday objects you just can’t name, and things you think you know about but don’t. ”  According to the author duo, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. In continuation with our effort to add to one’s ever expanding vocabulary in the Ragtag Daily Prompt, MNL from Cactus Haiku has prompted us with borborygmus as the word for the day.

Borborygmus can be described as a stomach rumble or peristaltic sound, also referred to as ‘bubble gut‘ due to the rumbling, growling or gurgling noises produced by the movement of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract as they are propelled through the small intestine by a series of muscle contractions known as ‘peristalsis‘. The rumbles and grumbles are produced in the stomach as fluid and gas move forward in the intestines. The scientific name ‘borborygmus‘ is derived from the 16th century French word ‘borborygme‘, which in turn was related to the ancient Greek  βορβορυγμός (borborygmós – which the Greeks coined onomatopoetically).

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Incomplete digestion of food can lead to excess gas in the intestine. Hunger can also trigger peristalsis through the ‘migrating motor complex‘. After the stomach has emptied, it signals the brain to restart peristalsis via the digestive muscles. The rumblings can also be caused when air is swallowed if one is sipping beverages through a straw, or constantly talking while eating.

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As a marathon runner, borborygmus is something we often deal with. The medical terminology makes it sound a lot more threatening than it actually is, but something as innocuous as sipping an energy drink through the straw of a tetrapack while in the middle of a run can trigger fluid and gas movement, creating rumbles. If one’s meals and races or training sessions are not timed properly, it can cause discomfort while running. An athlete is often advised to not try anything new on race day – whether the pre-race meals, energy aids during the race, or nutrient replacements post the event, one should consume foods the digestive system is accustomed to. Any sort of experimentation can be left for training days.

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A variation of the word has been found in literature, used to describe noise in general. ‘Borborygmic’ featured in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Ada” where noisy plumbing was referred to as “waterpipes seized with borborygmic convulsions”. In “A Long way Down” Elizabeth Fenwick described a room as being “very quiet, except for it’s borborygmic old radiator”. Graham Greene’s “Alas, Poor Maling” was a short story featuring a character who found “irritating noises taking the shape of borborygmus”.

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Have you ever wondered what your body is trying to communicate with you? Maybe you will pay closer attention to all those creaks and groans from now on. Aside of the noises inside, do you think you could identify some borborygmic sounds in the vicinity? Now you know the word for them!

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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Weekend Reading Plans

These are the books that will keep my weekend occupied – a novel, a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction book. The first two are English translations of Czech and Assamese language works. Has anyone read these? Feedback is always appreciated. What are your bookish plans for the weekend?

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Touring The World Through Races

Running season resumed here last month, post the scorching summers, and the next couple of months are going to be busy with race strategies, nutrition regimes, schedules for running and cross training – all in preparation for the upcoming races. Our running events here cater to various distance categories – 10k races, half marathons, 25k races, full marathons, 12-hr ultrathons, 24-hr ultrathons. In keeping with the race mood of the season, I have been looking up race scenarios around the world, and the escapades of long distance runners who spend hours on the road, trail or hills. Nothing like a little fun read to tide over all the serious training. In yesterday’s blog-post I wrote about canines who unwittingly entered races in the US and Australia – making themselves at home on the route, running side-by-side with human participants. Today, I came across a parody on the Mumbai Marathon (scheduled for January 2019). Marathoner and author Cdr. (Retd.) Bijay Nair presented a novel take on the marathon race, the route of which covers prominent landmarks in the city of Mumbai, enabling runners from around the world to breathe in the city as they run the distance.

Now the full marathon distance in the Tata Mumbai Marathon begins in South Mumbai, reaches up to the Western Suburbs till the half way mark at Bandra, from where there is a turnaround to return back to South Mumbai – the start and finish points are the same, thereby taking runners on a tour of the city. To avoid overcrowding at the start line and ensure participants are spaced out, registered runners are allotted race categories. Amateur runners begin at 5:40 am, while the elite start the race at 7:20 am. Unsurprisingly, the elite runners overtake the amateurs at certain points on the route (in spite of starting after them.)

Cdr. Nair has composed a hilariously novel approach to estimate one’s timing in the full marathon category based on where the elite athletes overtake you on the route – usually the Kenyans and Ethiopians who win the race. Using prominent city landmarks as indicators, one can calculate what the finish time would be depending on where you were on the route when you got overtaken. Below is his esteemed analysis from years of racing at the same event, and having the elite overtake him at various points of the city landmarks as he edges closer to the finish line. Cdr. Nair has humorously added emojis to aid this “serious” analysis from years of racing experience on the same route. The race literally takes you around the city, as evident from each of the landmarks on the route.

“The Amateur Full Marathon kicks off at 5.40 am and the Elite begin at 7.20 am, thereby providing a difference of one hour and forty minutes.  

If the Kenyans cross you at Worli Seaface while they race towards Bandra, then you rather stop running and play kabaddi. 

If they cross you at the start of the Bandra Worli Sea Link, then your finish time will be 
6.40 hrs. 

If they cross you at the Bandra toll point, you will finish in 6.10. 

If they cross you at Mahim Junction, it will take you 5.45 hrs to complete. 

If they cross you at Hinduja Hospital, then your finish time will be around 5.20. 

If it’s at Shivaji Park, it will be 5.05. 

If it’s at Siddhi Vinayak Mandir, then it will be 4.50. 

If it’s at the Passport Office, it will be around 4.39. 

If it’s on the return of Worli Seaface near INS Trata, it will be a 4.37 finish. 

If it’s near Worli Dairy, it will be 4.33. 

If it’s at Mela restaurant, it will be 4.30. 

If it’s at Mahalaxmi Race Course, it’s 4.28. 

If it’s at the Haji Ali Seafront, then it’s 4.26. 

If it’s on the Peddar Road flyover, it’s 4.23. 

If it’s at the Antilia building, then it’s 4.21. 

If it’s at the Babulnath temple, it’s 4.18. 

If it’s on the Marine Drive Seafront near Wilson College, then it’s 4.12. 

If it’s near Taraporewala Aquarium, then it’s 4.06. 

If it’s near Jazz By The Bay, then it’s 4.00. 🍸🍷

If it’s near Flora Fountain, it’s 3.55. 

If you find yourself crossing the finish line before the elite runners, congratulations!!! You win two nights and three days at Nairobi or Addis Ababa. 

~Copyright@BijayNair-2ndAug2018

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The Full Marathon route map for a glimpse of the city.

*kabaddi – a team sport from South Asia, played on a field

*Bandra Worli Sea Link – a cable-stayed bridge which literally connects the city from South Mumbai to North Mumbai, and is only accessible to pedestrians on the day of this marathon.

*Antilia building – a twenty-seven storied skyscraper in South Mumbai which is a private home in it’s entirety.

Some pictures I found online of different sections of the route.

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Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018

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If you ever find yourself racing at the Bay, now you know how to pace yourself!