January End Notes…

And just like that the first month of 2022 is at it’s end. This is what I love about time, it passes; it is also what I abhor about time, it passes. But I am glad to see the end of this month; I have some personal aspirations that are targeted to happen in March 2023, and now I am literally counting months and days! Besides January has never been a favorite of mine, but it usually treats me better than February , March and the lot until atleast August. So I am happy it is over and saddened that it is over!

Regardless of my sentiments, the fact remains that on ground, I did have a practical and productive month, despite being sick ( Chemo side effects now kicking in right and proper and expected to last until the end of the year!) where I accomplished plenty of reading and writing and cooking and managed to stay afloat at a work place increasingly going crazy! Thus, I thought it would be a good idea to note some of these things down, to remember the good instead of everything that is mundane or even irritating.

As I had mentioned in one my previous posts, I am not doing any kind of GoodReads Goal set reading, but I did think it was kind of important to track what genre I am writing, what century, language etc. so I started maintaining a simple everyday Excel tracker ( Yes! The Project Managers never die, they just find new use for MS Excel! ) And this is what January reading adventures looks like –

It is so evident that I am reading only English and mostly fiction, that I need to branch out more and soon. Good part is that I have few non-fiction which are all work in progress, including Humankind by Rutger Bergman, Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard (though I do not think I will finish this soon or at times ever!) and Bullshit Jobs – A Theory by David Graeber. Hopefully February should look a bit more varied! Of all the books I read this month, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy easily my most outstanding reads of January; though I will always love this little known but wonderful novel called Welcome To The Great Mysterious by Lorna Landvik that always makes me cry in a good way! Which Way by Theodora Benson was also a very interesting read, especially considering it was written in 1931 and I should write a review soon. As is obvious, I had very good reading month and that I hope that sets the tone of my reading for rest of the year!

After all the torpedoes I have been dodging the last few years, I am also eternally grateful for my simple, everyday things that give me joy even if they are nothing to write home about. Below I share some of those moments, that gave me great comfort and pleasure, all through this month!

The new JBL Speaker that my Sister bought & on which we have been listening to Hindustani Classical, Jazz and good old Bollywood songs through the day!
This calendar which consists of selection of hand painted pictures by my very talented Cousin, depicting scenes from the places she visited, including our combined trips! This first one is of Nako Village in Spiti, India, in the deep Himalayas, which she, my sister and I spent exploring a few years ago over 2 long glorious weeks!
My best meals this month have all been home cooked and all incredibly delicious and many shared with friends and family making them even more special
The Winter Sun in my part of India is just wonderful – healing and warming! Soaking up the sun while reading some of my favorites has been one of the most memorable moments of this month!

In terms of viewing, I am not much of Netflixing type of an individual. But one Sunday evening, I had great fun binge watching “Kaun Banega Shikharawati” with my sister. A 10 part series exploring the relationship between 4 royal sisters and their father, set in modern day India was funny, sensitive and thoroughly zany! It included some of the best actors of the country with a laugh out loud script and some memorable characters!

That then is how my January looked like; and while work continues to be WORK and health indifferent, some good food, some good books and things like the sun and the music has seen me through it all! So to end, a short poem on the month –

For January I give you vests of skins,

And mighty fires in hall, and torches lit;

Chambers and happy beds with all things fit;

Smooth silken sheets, rough furry counterpanes;

And sweetmeats baked; and one that deftly spins

Warm arras; and Douay cloth, and store of it;

And on this merry manner still to twit

The wind, when most his mastery the wind wins.

Or issuing forth at seasons in the day,

Ye’ll fling soft handfuls of the fair white snow

Among the damsels standing round, in play:

And when you all are tired and all aglow,

Indoors again the court shall hold its sway,

And the free Fellowship continue so.

January by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In March …..

 “March came in that winter like the meekest and mildest of lambs, bringing days that were crisp and golden and tingling, each followed by a frosty pink twilight which gradually lost itself in an elfland of moonshine.”

-L.M. Montgomery

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

-Charles Dickens

March days return with their covert light,
and huge fish swim through the sky,
vague earthly vapours progress in secret,
things slip to silence one by one.
Through fortuity, at this crisis of errant skies,
you reunite the lives of the sea to that of fire,
grey lurchings of the ship of winter
to the form that love carved in the guitar.
O love, O rose soaked by mermaids and spume,
dancing flame that climbs the invisible stairway,
to waken the blood in insomnia’s labyrinth,
so that the waves can complete themselves in the sky,
the sea forget its cargoes and rages,
and the world fall into darkness’s nets

-Pablo Neruda

“The almond blossom from the tree has gone, to be replaced by new green shoots. It smells of spring, and mown grass, and tilled earth from the fields beyond. Now is the month of Germinal in the Republican calendar: the month of hyacinth, and bees, and violet, and primrose. It is also the windy month; the month of new beginnings, and I have never felt it so strongly as I feel it now: that sense of possibility; that irresistible lightness.”

-Joanne Harris

Let the old snow be covered with the new:
The trampled snow, so soiled, and stained, and sodden.
Let it be hidden wholly from our view
By pure white flakes, all trackless and untrodden.
When Winter dies, low at the sweet Spring’s feet
Let him be mantled in a clean, white sheet.

Let the old life be covered by the new:
The old past life so full of sad mistakes,
Let it be wholly hidden from the view
By deeds as white and silent as snow-flakes.

Ere this earth life melts in the eternal Spring
Let the white mantle of repentance fling
Soft drapery about it, fold on fold,
Even as the new snow covers up the old.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Artist Unknown; Creation Date: ca. 1840 Collection: The San Diego Museum of Art

The sun is hotter than the top ledge in a steam bath;
The ravine, crazed, is rampaging below.
Spring — that corn-fed, husky milkmaid —
Is busy at her chores with never a letup.

The snow is wasting (pernicious anemia —
See those branching veinlets of impotent blue?)
Yet in the cowbarn life is burbling, steaming,
And the tines of pitchforks simply glow with health.

These days — these days, and these nights also!
With eavesdrop thrumming its tattoos at noon,
With icicles (cachectic!) hanging on to gables,
And with the chattering of rills that never sleep!

All doors are flung open — in stable and in cowbarn;
Pigeons peck at oats fallen in the snow;
And the culprit of all this and its life-begetter–
The pile of manure — is pungent with ozone.

-Boris Pasternak

To end with, I am sharing this song; actually a poem by India’s literary giant, polymath, educationist, humanitarian Rabindranath Tagore. Originally written in late 19th century – early 20th century , it has since been adapted into many plays and films. I share this version for several reasons; the singer has done a beautiful rendition of the original, it has subtitles in English for some of my readers & finally since this has excerpt is from a film and gives a glimpse of an Indian village setting.

February Delights…..

And suddenly, February is upon us. The New Year is not so new more, a few more resolutions have been left off, and there is hope of a Spring! February, the most unique month of them all, standing away from the others, one foot in white and other in green!

“February is the uncertain month, neither black nor white but all shades between by turns. Nothing is sure.” ―Gladys Hasty Carroll

February, Sunrise, Bazincourt, Camille Pissarro, 1893, Public Domain

February

Helen Maria [Fiske] [Hunt] Jackson

Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter’s pregnant silence, still:
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are the days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year’s ill,
And prayer to purify the new year’s will:
Fit days,—ere yet the spring rains blur the sight,
Ere yet the bounding blood grows hot with haste
And dreaming thoughts grow heavy with a greed
The ardent summer’s joy to have and taste:
Fit days—to take to last year’s losses heed,
To reckon clear the new life’s sterner need;
Fit days—for Feast of Expiation placed!

“Though, February is short, it is filled with lots of love and sweet surprises” ― Charmaine J Forde

A February Morning at Moret Sur Loing , Alfred Sisley, 1881, Public Domain

February

Sara Teasdale

I stood beside a hill
Smooth with new-laid snow,
A single star looked out
From the cold evening glow.

There was no other creature
That saw what I could see–
I stood and watched the evening star
As long as it watched me.

“In the small hours of a cold February dawn, Justin and I walked to the Pacific, high cliffs eroding over the ocean, crashed and crashed by lapping salty waves. Their spray misted us in day’s young purple air, exhilarating. Walking the Golden Gate Bridge, our world receding, pale gold sunrise lit thin fog, morning coloring us like a faded fairy tale.” ― Aspen Matis, Your Blue Is Not My Blue: A Missing Person Memoir

In February

John Addington Symonds

The birds have been singing to-day
And saying: “The spring is near!
The sun is as warm as in May,
And the deep blue heavens are clear.”

The little bird on the boughs
Of the sombre snow-laden pine
Thinks: “Where shall I build me my house,
And how shall I make it fine?

“For the season of snow is past;
The mild south wind is on high;
And the scent of the spring is cast
From his wing as he hurries by.”

The little birds twitter and cheep
To their loves on the leafless larch:
But seven foot deep the snow-wreaths sleep,
And the year hath not worn to March.

“Though it was the end of February, the day was a lazy sort of cold. The sun slipped through the cloud in bursts, reminding the landscape that it was still there, prodding snow piles to relax into puddles and stirring sleeping seeds under the ground.”― Erika Robuck, Call Me Zelda

“In February there is everything to hope for and nothing to regret.” ―Patience Strong

And to end, l leave you with this wonderful number!

Picture Story….

There are times when you read a book that takes your breath away…you sit for hours on end trying to internalize what you have just read…. trying to piece together the storm of emotions as your brain tries to re-direct itself to the more practical and realistic matters at hand, but for all its effort, neither the brain nor your heart can process the catharsis that you have gone through!! It’s an emotional trauma, not necessarily bad, but definitely something you cannot ignore nor can you afford to overlook, because you stay completely stunned and mesmerized by what you have just read.

As usual one may wonder exactly what am I blubbering about?

I am talking about “The People in the Photo” by Hélène Gestern (Translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz). Now on the face of it, it may not be a book I usually pick up – I mean its French (can’t abide by it!! I love France and its people and its food, but I somehow cannot make up my mind about their literature – I think the tragedies of Madame Bovary and Les Miserables hangs over me!!) its set in present day and as everyone knows I am most comfortable in 19th century and a brief synopsis looked suspiciously of a Kate Morton novel married to a romance chick lit. (I like Kate Morton and like all chicks I do dig into romance once in a while, but somehow put them together and it seems like a Rebecca wanna be!) But the cliché of never judging a book by its cover came absolutely true in this instance.

The book opens with a description of a picture and “the people’ in the picture and this unique start to the narrative is in itself a wonderful beginning. Hélène an archivist is looking for some answers – she wants to know who the two people are in the picture and if they had any information about her mother, the third person in the picture. Hélène’s mother Natasha died when she was very young and was brought up by her father and her step mother Sylvie. Now Sylvie is the last stage of Alzheimer disease and her father has already died couple of years ago. In an effort to understand her roots before it completely slips away, Hélène puts out an advertisement in the paper seeking more information about the other two people in the photograph. Stéphane, a Swiss biologist settled in England responds to the advertisement stating the two men in the picture are known to him – his father and his Godfather. However he has no idea how the two men knew Hélène’s mother! As they begin to communicate more often they delve into the past of Natasha and Pierre and Jean and Sylvia and how they all were connected and how each of their lives were shaped by the actions of the past!

It’s a beautiful work narrated through letters, emails and texts; the only descriptive chapters are the ones a photograph is explained. The details of these photographs are richly drawn and one can practically see those pictures in one’s mind, so vivid are the imagery of the words. The characters are rich and more importantly, they are all human – there is good, bad and ugly and the ability to repent and to forgive, the wide array of emotions that make a human, humane. Most importantly, what could have been a clichéd story, has been very cleverly crafted into a lovely heart searing sometimes tragic and sometimes optimistic tale. This novel is a testimony to the fact that while the stories of mankind are more or less the same, how you choose to tell those stories, proves your worth as a storyteller. Ms. Gestern has definitely proved she is worthy and so much more – an awesome debut!!

A last word of Thanks to Jane; it was her wonderful review of this book that prompted me to read it. Like her I am not particularly very modern in reading tastes, and this book smacked of it!! But her tastes in books are excellent and I have been introduced to many great authors thanks to her. So I plunged in and as always, it was a great experience!!

At-tempting Madam Bovary…….

It’s always difficult to start when you have come to a halting skating stop. But you have to start again, especially if it is important to you! No, I am not in for a philosophical debate, so do not stop reading as yet! What I referring to was the two weeks hiatus that I took from blogging and the lethargy that as result set in and prevented me from taking up the pen again….in  this case, typing keys again! I did plan the hiatus; come to think of it, I did not even want one, but what with another weekend spent being sick and the next weekend going away for a long-planned getaway and then coming back to work with three business reviews in a row….let’s just say, there has been no time for any writing. Unless you consider making PowerPoint presentation on business strategy as creative writing and considering some strategies, well truth is stranger than fiction!!

Anyway, I am back in driving seat and I am going to write about a subject that was long overdue. The Classic Club’s Spin April 1 deadline for a classic was completed by me well before the required deadline – I in fact finished reading it by about 15th March but for reasons aforementioned, could not get around to writing about the same. Some would argue about the futility of blogging about something well past its deadline, but then for me it’s always the journey that matters and not the end, though the end does decide the journey! (Don’t give up on me yet – I promise this is the last of prosaic philosophy for this day!)

After all the ado, I present to you my review of Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Flaubert published Madame Bovary was published as a serialized novel between October 1856 and December 1856. The plot was fairly simple, focusing on the adulterous affairs of Emma Bovary, who seeks romance and adventure away from the provincial life. Apparently, after the publishing of the last episode, Flaubert was brought to trial for the eroticism of the novel, but was acquitted soon after. The book became an instant bestseller and is considered one of the most influential literature of 19th century.

Now many are already aware that I was not particularly overjoyed on getting this book as my Spin read. I had read it in my late teens and quite disliked it. However many of you and my sister insisted that I give the book a second chance in my more “advanced” years and my sister had spent one good lunch explaining to me how the beauty of the novel lay in its details and descriptions.

madame-bovary-coverThus with such encouragement and support, I valiantly ventured forth in the Bovary land! I must admit that there was a lot of truth in what all discerning readers of the novel were trying to tell me – there is enormous beauty and poetry in the description. The French countryside comes alive under the word images of Gustav Flaubert – the land, the flora, the rivers and countryside are wonderfully captivated and described that in your mind eye, you can see this part of France come alive all over again.

There is again so much originality in life and habits of a provincial 18th century French town and its habitants. The book throbs and brings to life all the characters of a typical French town – Monsieur Homais, the self-aggrandizing town chemist, Leon Dupuis, the petty town clerk whose pretense for sophistication leads to endless ruin and Monsieur Lheureux, the sly merchant and moneylender. The descriptions are correct and bring to light the frailties of human nature. Towering above all of this are the characters of Emma Bovary and her ordinary husband, Dr Charles Bovary and it is around then that the novel really develops.

My only ire was that I could not once again warm up to Emma Bovary’s character. I could not bring myself to empathize with her nor could I relate to her feelings of misery and discontentment. True, it was stated in the novel, that she was a woman of great accomplishment and education, but there was no evidence of her accomplishment in the book, unless one counts playing piano, decorating the house and reading novels as great achievement. I could not understand how a woman who had apparently been so well-educated could be so vacuous or frivolous – so frivolous that she sees herself getting more and more entangled in emotional and financial quagmire , but is unable to manage or improve her state of being. I mean she just does not seem to get the point, despite being unceremoniously abandoned by Rodolphe Boulanger, she again engages in a disastrous affair with Leon Dupuis. And all this, because she had married what she believed was an ordinary man???? A man whom she choose to marry to get out of the daily grind of running her father’s farm…I mean this woman needed professional help and instead the reader is supposed to feel empathy for her through 300 pages!!!

Dr Charles Bovary was also difficult to digest – he starts off as competent doctor and seems to disintegrate into this mass of low self-esteem and ridiculousness. How can a man be so completely be oblivious in a small town of his wife’s adulterous propensities is beyond me! And on finally discovering her affair,  and giving oneself up to complete despondency, when you still have a daughter to care for is again something I could not fathom or understand.

In the end, it’s all so depressing – Emma Bovary’s painfully self-inflicted death; Charles Bovary dying and their daughter being left destitute! I need a glass of wine and couple of Saki stories to restore a more tranquil phase of mind!

I know there are some wonderful tragedies that have been written, but Madame Bovary is just plain painful. I do not like it….not even in my advanced years!