A Legend in 4 hours

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You know you’ve read a good book if you would rather think about it for the 10 hours left in the day than pick up a new one. And that’s what happened to me—still is happening to me—after ending ‘The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’.

It started as an innocuous read to satisfy my curiosity regarding the author’s popularity. But it ended up with the sensation of… let me explain it better with an analogy.

You know that feeling when you are hungry, and then eat a delicious meal—simple, home-made, down-to-earth but wholesome. That feeling when it seems like your entire being starting with heart—and not just your stomach—is full and ‘complete’. That’s the feeling I relished after finishing the book. So much that I ‘had’ to put down my thoughts in the form of words. Mind you, I’ve never given reviews about books—especially in the form of a blog post.

About the book

For reasons unclear to me, what I felt about the book comes across as a string of jagged adjectives and words. If I attempt to weave sentences out of them, they seem to lose their value and meaning. It’s like they refuse to let go of their individual characteristics amidst the other words forming the sentence. So here we go:

  • Subtle
  • Empathetic
  • Realistic
  • Whacky
  • Feminist
  • Flawed characters but perfect in a sense
  • Real India
  • Diverse—you had people from different backgrounds, upbringing, castes, and religions
  • Rich in culture
  • Observant
  • Wise
  • Ordinary yet extraordinary
  • Heartening
  • Heartfelt

Some of my favourite sentences and paragraphs:

(Note: Potential spoilers ahead if you haven’t read this book yet)

  • Till the day it wasn’t and a sunken-eyed Sukriti, her skin stretched like paper over each protruding rib, returned home, holding the gifts her in-laws had given her in return – burns on her back, from boiling water and hot pans.
  • The thoughts that had been locked inside her, and had probably been rattling in her subconscious mind for years, had finally been set free. Words falling, tripping, stumbling over each, till she finally ran out of air.
  • It is an old song, passed down through generations and the women singing are unaware that the song is not about Goddess Lakshmi who resides in the heaves above, but alludes to a gangly girl who once walked among the mango groves. (Can even be considered to the other gods and myths we worship. Especially if you connect it to another character in another story who speaks about how the lemon and chilly is a superstition based in science)
  • By the time the W had been reported missing by Mrs Mastan, who had been sitting right next to Binni, she had lost all interest in embroidery and was looking at Noni Appa across the table, signaling her that it was time to leave.
  • ‘I feel good, Binni, my muscles feel all pulled and stretched, like a ball of dough smoothened out into a nice flat chapatti’.
  • Hai Allah, the mind is also a strange thing, the minute someone asks you to keep the slate clean, squiggly lines of white chalk begin to appear, one line running into another in chaotic whirls.
  • For Anand ji, sitting by himself in the bedroom with a game of solitaire spread over the printed bed sheet, headphones plugged into his Walkman that invariably played Indian classical music as he hummed along, seemed the only way he could find refuge in his own home.
  • Why do people have to define relationships, underline each word till the paper gives way beneath, she wondered.
  • Elisa decided to leave yesterday where she felt it belonged, a hundred kilometres behind her.

Story 1: The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad

At once realistic, believable but with a tint of fable, the story revolves around Lakshmi Prasad (duh, as the name duly suggests). What’s remarkable about the story is the writing—the mini observations about day-to-day lives, human behavior (a sister’s jealousy about friends and how she tries to prove that she is the ‘closest’), how thoughts germinate, and how strength of character is often in subtle and small actions. More importantly, the writing is so rich that it paints the backdrop of the story easily. Reading it is like starting an old-school projector in your mind and resting back to watch the story unfold.

Story 2: Salaam, Noni Appa

This was by far my favourite in the whole lot.

Two widowed sisters, well in their sixties, and yet living a life full of unique idiosyncrasies and whacky behavior. Some of my key learnings from the story are this:

  • Life does not end in your 60s.
  • There have been ‘modern, broad-minded’ people well before the current generation—way back when Fiats, Walkmans and Cassettes were in fashion. And this includes women who chose not to marry, even in their 40s.
  • Just because two people are a study in contrast does not mean they can’t live together with love filling their hearts and understanding ruling their daily activities.
  • You come across all kinds of love—even the common ground variety of love in the form of a romantic relationship can be unique and different.
  • Just because you love someone does not mean you need to tolerate all their behavior. It’s ok to switch off your hearing aid once in a while.
  • Just because you love someone today does not mean you stopped loving the person you were with yesterday. And it’s ok. You can love more than one person at the same time.

Story 3: If the Weather permits

An eccentric character, whose whole life is one continuous search—one for a life partner, and the other, an escape from her parents’ pressures. And the search continues until death gives her the much-needed opportunity to escape. Who says life has to be perfect or make sense. And more importantly, who says parents do everything right? They are flawed humans too who bow to societal pressure and their own idiosyncrasies.

My favourite line? So so so many, but I will take with me the epitaph my entire life. “Here lies Elisa, she briefly belonged to many, but truly to herself.”

Story 4: The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land

Wow. While story spoke about ‘what happened’, I could not often go beyond what the characters ‘thought’ or ‘felt’. It’s a story that completely does justice to the real-life character that Twinkle Khanna borrowed from. In fact, it is a dutiful homage to that courageous individual full of his quirks and innocence, and at the end of the day—a flawed imperfect human! Wow.

(To be updated pretty soon)

Why I want to be like the ten-headed Ravana

The book, ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’, says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness. He was called Dasamukha or ‘Ten-headed’ for embracing all aspects of humanity and its emotions.

Source: ReviewLeaf.com

I love to know the other side of the coin. Whenever anyone narrates any story, whether real, reel or mythological, I itch to know the point of views of the other characters involved. Sometimes I ask point blank if the other point of view tallies; sometimes though I keep my trap shut and leave things to imagination. After all, there is not just one truth. There are many truths—depending on the perspectives. (Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon or Gillian Flyn’s Gone Girl, anyone?)

Anyway, the point is I love reading about alternative view-points – especially when it comes to mythology. Currently, I am reading this book called ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’ by Anand Neelakantan. It tells the tale of Ramayana through Ravana’s point of view. Essentially, it is ‘Ravanayana’.

Almost every child in India knows that Ravana is the ten-headed villain from the Epic. Why he is ten-headed is not a question many thought of asking. I didn’t either. Until, that is, I started reading this book, which has a wonderful explanation.

The book says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness.

Ravana’s gurus tried to teach him how to shun all these emotions except one – intelligence or logic. They said this will help him achieve greatness. The rest of the emotions, the Gurus said, will only serve to distract him in one way or the other. By suppressing all the other ‘heads’ or ‘emotions’, Ravana will be able to achieve balance in his mind and thus achieve greatness.

“The only thing worth preserving is your mind. Your mind absorbs the knowledge you gain from your Gurus, your books and your life, and refines it to great wisdom. It is what you have to develop. Every living minute, you have to strive to feed your mind with fresh and positive inputs. This will give clarity to your vision and immense power to your action. You will make fewer mistakes and also learn faster from them.”

This is what his Guru taught him.

Ravana, of course, refuses to do so. And then he proceeds to give a beautiful explanation for the need for each and every single emotion, even if it is negative like selfishness. Here’s an excerpt below:

“The amazing speed of progress man has achieved in the past few years would have not been achieved without that small flame of ambition in the minds of a few men, which was fanned to become a huge fire by the other emotions you have urged me to shun. Pride in one’s capability gave men the confidence and ambition to grow; jealousy that someone else would achieve more prodded him to work hard and more efficiently; the quest for happiness resulted in ever-expanding ambition; the fear of sadness kept him awake at night and pushed him further; the fear of failure made him more careful and God-fearing; selfishness glued his family, city, clan, tribe and country together and made him strive even harder. Love for life and the things which made life precious, made him protect his achievements. And I am sure an undying ambition for more will lead mankind to progress. Progress, which we cannot even imagine, can never understand in our short lifetime.”

In the end, he says that he wishes to neither be a God nor achieve Moksha. All he wants is to live a fulfilling life as a human, and exactly as his emotions tell him to do. Otherwise, he would be but an empty skeleton. This is why he is called ‘Ten-headed’ or ‘Dasamukha’, according to the book.

I could not agree more. For years I have contemplated about the need to sacrifice or supress some parts of our persona for the sake of betterment. As a Brahmin, I’ve often been told to not do many things, because it apparently takes me one step closer to the perfection that is God. But over the years I have realised that life is empty without these imperfections. There are so many aspects of life which are harmful. That said, they do add some colour to life. I would rather live a fulfilling life when I am alive than worry about life after death, or worse, how I would be reborn – as an animal or human or Brahmin (believe it or not, these are some legitimate threats I’ve heard)

Agreed it is important to constantly aim to improve over time; the goal should be to do away with your imperfections, but that doesn’t mean you supress it altogether. There will always be times when you will give into your natural instincts like anger or fear.

This brings me to the conclusion that it is moderation that is important, not complete suppression. Everything is better in the right quantities. Even complete suppression could backfire – like a volcano that bursts suddenly after gaining steam for hundreds of years.

At the end of the day, I appreciate and accept my humanity. More so, I want to embrace it whole-heartedly. There will be days when I get angry, afraid, jealous, over-ambitious, proud, happy or sad. Otherwise I would be like the stone which sits in silence and observes the world, wouldn’t I?

I think the key point here is ‘limit’ and ‘objectivity’. It is ‘not getting carried away’. Any of the base emotions, when in excess, can wreak havoc; even love or happiness. The question, then, is – where to draw the line? And most importantly, who decides whether the line is correct or wrong? And that is something I have always struggled with – limiting myself and walking on the thin line that separates the right from the wrong!

Too many cooks spoil the broth; too many words spoil the line

I love the sound of literature. I absolutely love how it feels when words roll off your tongue, the music it makes. I read for this sake. The stories only come second. I need my language to be mellifluous—as per my tastes. When too many big, hard-to-understand words are used in copious amounts, it sounds like a fish market in my head. Absolutely jarring!

Have you ever attended a music concert? Or even any band or musician playing, for that matter?

You may have noticed that of the multiple instruments playing, some have higher volumes while some have lower. In some cases it could be the guitar, while some other cases the base instrument. The vocals almost always have the highest volumes.

You see, every song needs the perfect symphony. It is not just about the lyrics and tune, but also how they are mixed—the proportions. It is like cooking too—you absolutely need to get the proportions right.

It is exactly the same with literature too, I believe.

There are many who advocate the use of simple language in literature. And then there are those who use copious amounts of ‘big’ words. They need these to enjoy literature. It is a personal choice, after all.

I belong to the former clan. There was a time when I loved the use of complex words. I still do, but I like them to be used minimally.

You see, I love the sound of literature. I absolutely love how it feels when words roll off your tongue, the music it makes. I read for this sake. The stories only come second. I need my language to be mellifluous—as per my tastes.

So using the analogy, I can say that literature is like music; the story or plot is akin to the song’s lyrics, while the writing is the tune. Every part of the sentence structures are equivalent to different aspects of the tune. The verbs could be the base; the subject could be the vocals; the prepositions or punctuation could be the drum beats, so on and so forth. The simplicity or complexity of the words could be equivalent to the emphasis given to the different parts of the song. Or maybe the pitch. Every time a complex word or clause is used, the pitch rises suddenly.

Now imagine if I use a complex word for all aspects of the sentence, then every instrument used would suddenly start playing at a higher pitch and volume. To me, it sounds jarring. To another, it may sound lovely. Like the distinction between classical and heavy metal music—music to one, noise to another.

At the end of the day, though, I only like to listen to the kind of music I want. Similarly, I only want to read the kind of literature I like. And that happens to be simple writing, its music quaint and lyrical.

Oh what would I be without books?

I have learnt so much from what I have read. Even a simple story can teach us so many life lessons. Most importantly, it teaches us how to get into another’s shoes, keep our thoughts aside and look at life from their perspective. It opens up so many new horizons that our individual experience would have never offered us otherwise. Here is a list of some of the books that have left a mark.

My stack of books!
My stack of books!
In the last few days (weeks, maybe?), challenges have sprung up on Facebook on the top 10 books, movies, songs, etc., that have left a mark. Once you fulfil the challenge, you nominate a few more people to pass on the challenge.

My newsfeed is cluttered with this – especially the books’ challenge. A friend of mine nominated me too. And until now, I haven’t taken up the challenge.

I used to consider myself an avid reader. However, as a result of reading full-time at work on various topics – usually business, economy and finance-related – I seem to have lost the nerve to take up casual reading. My eyes are strained enough for me to put those poor things to further task.

I must confess, I am an avid book-reader no more. I never thought I would say these words one day. Work life has indeed taken its toll on me.

Yet, my love for books remains unabated. My bucket list for reading only seems to expand with time. All kinds of books now find their way onto my list, only to sit there gathering figurative dust. My book shelf, which I proudly display in my living room, gathers dust literally.

It is perhaps because of these latest developments and the ensuing guilt that I have avoided the challenge as well as the multiple posts on the same. I was afraid and intimidated by some of the books in the lists that caught my eye while scrolling down. My book list would pale in comparison and seem childish, I convinced myself. I certainly did not want to look stupid.

As shallow as these thoughts seemed to me, it reflected the guilt for the lack of reading. It also reflected my deep-seated insecurity of not being well-read, literate, and well… unintelligent.

Finally, after much encouragement from my friend, I decided to pen down my list. It certainly is not limited to 10 names. It goes well into the 40s. I can’t select the top 10. It changes every minute. (EDIT: It has now reached the half-century mark.)

After all, I have learnt so much from all the books I have read. Even a simple story can teach us so many life lessons. Most importantly, it teaches us how to get into another’s shoes, keep our thoughts aside and look at life from their perspective. It opens up so many new horizons that our individual experience would have never offered us otherwise.

I am not good with non-fiction. I learn my lessons – both in life and in books – through stories and action-filled experiences. Heck, sometimes I look at my own life as an author and not as the leading character.

Anyway, before I get caught up with philosophical (maybe not?!) observations, I list some of the books that remain in my memory. I am sure I am not doing justice to the many more I have read, but hey, something better than nothing, right?

Here they are:

  1. When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman
  2. God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
  3. Pride and Prejudice, and other Jane Austen works
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
  5. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series– multiple authors
  6. Angels and Demons – Dan Brown
  7. The Last Symbol – Dan Brown
  8. A Child Called ‘It’ – Dave Pelzer
  9. The Queen of Genes – GK Pillai
  10. The Kite Runner – Khalid Hosseini
  11. Thousand Splendid Suns – Khalid Hosseine
  12. Kane and Able, and many other Jeffery Archer books
  13. PS I Love You – Cecelia Ahern
  14. Where Rainbows End (a.k.a. Love, Rosia) – Cecelia Ahern
  15. The Book of Tomorrow – Cecelia Ahern
  16. If You Could See Me Now – Cecelia Ahern
  17. Circle of friends – Maeve Binchy
  18. The Courtesan – Julia Justiss
  19. Perfect – Judith McNaught
  20. Paradise – Judith McNaught
  21. Whitney, my love – Judith McNaught
  22. Princess, True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia – Jean Sasson
  23. Acts of Faith – Eric Segal
  24. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D H Lawrence
  25. Cry, my beloved country– Alan Paton
  26. Conversations With God – Neale Donald Walsch
  27. A Fine Balance – Rohington Mistry
  28. The Sword of Truth series – Terry Goodkind
  29. The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  30. The Inheritance series (Eragon, Brisingr, etc) – Christopher Paolini
  31. 1984 – George Orwell
  32. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  33. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
  34. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
  35. The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins
  36. Timeline and other works of Michael Crichton
  37. Jeff Resnick series by LL Bartlett
  38. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  39. A Walk to Remember – Nicholas Sparks
  40. A Message in a Bottle – Nicholas Sparks
  41. The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks
  42. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  43. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
  44. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  45. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  46. Passion’s Promise – Danielle Steel
  47. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  48. Look At Me – Jennifer Egan
  49. Father Unknown – Lesley Pearse
  50. The Godfather – Mario Puzo

P.S.: Don’t mind the order. It is random, as my thoughts often are. 🙂