“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”, wrote Edward Abbey. Seeing how nature has been thriving since humans have been confined in a lockdown, maybe the wilderness could do without us. In these isolated times with restricted movements to the outdoors, here’s a lighthearted post for the weekend.
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
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.
When your mind appears grubby and you can’t seem to think clearly, a little introspection helps. And insights present themselves from the unlikeliest of places. A friend from my book club – a fellow bibliophile and runner – jotted down these lines a few hours ago, and I thought of sharing them here.
“I thought over daily
I didn’t get a clue…
Did scratch my head
And massaged my forehead too!
Everything was hazy,
Could not see the picture clearly
Even after a futile hand run over chin and neck
Even after getting into the depths of my grey matter, if any…
Every day I bathed in hot water
Every day I dressed up in my room
The mirror inside the bathroom was always steamy
The mirror in the bedroom was crystal clear
Suddenly it struck me!
I took a bath in cold water
I saw the mirror – no steam!
I poured more cold water on my head
The mirror was mirroring clearly
When the head is hot, I don’t see anything
When it turns cold, everything is perfect
Yes! I got the idea
You can’t blame the mirror
It just reflected your mind
Keep your head cool
The picture, big or small, will be as clear as it can be.”
Another well spent Sunday morning in the company of fellow runners from around the city.
And then I came across this picture in today’s news, featuring people practicing yoga as part of the La Parisienne event in front of the Eiffel Tower.
What is it about community events like these that bring people together? They are extremely beneficial for recreational athletes and fitness enthusiasts who might not be professionally trained in a sport or particular activity, but look forward to being active as a form of healthy living and fitness. One doesn’t need to be engaged competitively in order to practice an athletic endeavor. In such situations, people seek to connect with other kindred spirits who share the same interests.
Our run this weekend, comprised people running across varied distances. The route was the same, but some ran the half marathon distance, some did a 10k, while others completed any chosen distance on the route. It is the friendships that people forge with like-minded individuals, and the camaraderie they share that make community events fun and fruitful affairs.
The weekend was busy, and a few spare moments of wanting to create something led to some sequacious cooking from readily available ingredients. Rasmalai is a dessert which finds it’s origins in the Indian subcontinent. Also known as “rossomolai” due to it’s genesis in the state of West Bengal in India, derived from the words “rosh” meaning “juice” and “molai” meaning “cream”. It can be described as a rich cheesecake without crust. It was invented by Krishna Chandra Das – a confectioner, entrepreneur, businessman, and cultural icon in the early 20th century Bengal.
The preparation consists of a mixture of curd and cream, kneaded with milk and butter, and shaped into small dough balls which are then flattened into discs. I made bite-sized discs; you can make them as small or large as you want. These discs are subsequently immersed into boiling water, the utensil is partially covered, and the discs continue to boil along with the water, for about ten minutes on medium heat. A point to be noted here is that the discs swell in water, so place them at a fair distance from each other. I had dipped them too close, and an attempt to shift them while they were inside resulted in some of them cracking and crumbling.
A sugar syrup is prepared simultaneously as the water boils. I used 200 grams of sugar with 200 ml of water, suitable for about 200 grams of the dough I had started with in the beginning. Once the sugar dissolves, the discs are transferred from the water into the sugar syrup, and left to soak for about five minutes. Make sure the syrup isn’t too thick, or the discs won’t soak in the milk from the steps that follow. Transfer them gently with a huge spoon, as they are quite delicate and can crumble easily. There is an alternate method of boiling the discs directly in sugar syrup, but I didn’t want them overly sweetened with all the extra syrup soaked in, so I preferred the method of cooking in boiling water and then soaking in the syrup for a little while.
In addition to the water and sugar syrup, about half a liter of milk is boiled simultaneously as well, with sugar, finely chopped almonds and pistachios, and ground cardamon and a few strands of saffron. Stir constantly till the milk thickens, the sugar dissolves and all the ingredients are mixed properly. The discs that are removed from the sugar syrup are placed in a bowl (or two, depending on how many you have), and the milk mix (called the “ras“) is poured on top of the discs (the “malai“). This can be served warm or chilled.
A yummy Sunday treat that is almost melt-in-the-mouth. You can regulate the sugar content in the syrup and the milk mixture, to avoid making it too sweet. I preferred adding more nuts and seasoning for stronger flavors.
Author – Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen)
Genre – Fiction, Short story
“The scene seemed divorced from reality, although reality he knew, could at time be terribly unreal.”
A short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami which narrates the days of one of it’s primary characters, Nobutaka Habara, who for some undisclosed reason is home bound. Habara has been shifted to his new accommodation since a few months, and a woman who serves as his caretaker, entrusted to him by an unnamed company, is his only contact with the world. The woman never tells him her name, and never refers to Habara by his name either. She visits twice a week with all the groceries, books, DVDs, and other supplies he needs, even offering sex and narrating stories. Habara assumes everything is part of the deal with his new lodging and doesn’t ask or protest. He names her Scheherazade, after Queen Scheherazade from “A Thousand And One Nights”, due to her penchant for telling stories after sex.
“Her voice, timing, pacing were all flawless. She captured her listener’s attention, tantalized him, drove him to ponder and speculate.”
They have almost no other conversation in the few hours they spend together during her biweekly visits. Her stories begin and end abruptly, and the narrative takes us through how Habara has to wait for the next visit to know what happens. Whether narrating about her past life as a lamprey, or disclosing her routine break-ins at a former classmate’s house, Habara has no idea whether her stories are fact or fiction.
“Reality and supposition, observation and pure fancy seemed jumbled together in her narratives.”
In typical Murakami style, the reader is never told who Scheherazade really is, why Habara cannot leave the house, or what is the significance of the stories. The narrative is unique, with the backstory forming the main story as Scheherazade’s reminiscences of her past take you along for the ride. She begins abruptly and leaves the endings for the next visit, and every visit ends with something else pending. The reader experiences the same feelings with Murakami as Habara does with Scheherazade – the story doesn’t get anywhere, but the ride is thrilling.
At it’s core, the story is about companionship. Habara cannot move outside his abode and Scheherazade is his only link to the outside world. Scheherazade is a licensed nurse and a mother of two, but offers her storytelling to Habara who seems to be the only one eager to listen to them. With only two characters and an average plot, Murakami leaves us with beautiful imagery and brilliant storytelling, as reflected in the life of a lamprey or a house breaker who is not a thief. Just like Habara, the reader is left puzzled with many questions during and at the end of the story. But read this for your dose of Murakami’s writing, just as Habara cherishes Scheherazade’s stories for her storytelling skills.