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)

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Loneliness lies between your fingers

The loneliness lies in the invisible nooks and crevices of your life. An inevitable stamp that coats every fibre of your being, separating you from the world.

Loneliness lies in the crevices between your fingers that were once filled. It’s like the skin there is marked with the knowledge and remembrance. And it now calls to relive the experience of another skin. Of your friend, your child or your parent. Or maybe even the distant lover who refuses to leave that deep set corner of your mind.

Loneliness, it sometimes is in the invisible outline of a hand at the small of your back. It’s in the memory of a time in another lifetime of being held and maybe even loved. And sometimes, it’s in the caresses showered on your body, when your thighs rested against his. When your chest lined her back as support. Or in the nape where their shoulder met their neck, the place where your cheeks and nose rested in love. And in the laugh-lined crinkle of your eyes that were once alive with joy. Or in the fullness of your lips that their tongue once explored.

Loneliness lies in the warmth that once coated your body, and has now seeped into your soul. A warmth that oddly now leaves you cold and shivering on a balmy night.

And sometimes, loneliness stares back at you from the dark ceiling of your room, on a starry sleepless night. And if you decide to go for a stroll, it reflects in the night’s moon and the stars, which once held all the hopes and dreams of a happy future, but now seem distant and lifeless. And when the day’s tiredness slowly pulls your lids shut, the loneliness falls from the ceiling to softly drape over you and the empty space next to you. It’s the thick warm quilt you snuggle under.

Loneliness, my friend, is not in the solitude. It’s in the company, or lack thereof. It’s in the outside world. And in the memories that line the inside of your mind, like a million movies playing continuously non-stop. Or in the gaps and spaces in your heart.

Loneliness lies in the very nerve endings of your skin, that’s now exposed to their absence, perhaps for ever.

The observer, the observed

Today, I saw a line of Chawls spread along the road. I was in the rickshaw, aloof, at a distance, observing.

All along, I could see one story after another passing me by. Hopes, dreams and insecurities littered the street in great numbers.

A few sat on their doorsteps, staring into nothing. Wonder what they were thinking. A few were occupied by human actions. A few kids played with rubber tires. I saw a well-dressed lady amongst the kids, carrying a purse. A social worker? I turned back to check if my sight was right. I missed it as the rickshaw zipped past, with a single focus on its destination.

And then came a new set of crowd, middle-class men and women going about their business of buying plants and flowers from the roadside. A different set of dreams, aspirations, worries and insecurities altogether.

Only a twist of fate placed them in either class. The same fate could’ve swapped their places. The dreams and insecurities, though, would’ve remained the same.

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!