So I Have Been Reading …..

September is here and thank goodness the cooler weather has began to set in my part of the world! Things are so much better in Autumn and Winter, atleast in northern Indian plains. September also means that the RIP ( Reader’s Imbibing Peril) reading event is underway with RIPVII hosted by Heather @capriousreader and Andi Miller-Dunn @estellasrevenge, taking over from Carl V Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings, the original mastermind of this event. The idea is get in the groove of the fall season & all ghosty, witchy spirit by reading/listening/watching everything that is scary, gothic, mystery, thrilling, horrific and ghostly. The event is running from September 1st to October 31st with some amazing channel discussions on Discord, a Bingo event and a Shirley Jackson’s (The Sundial) read along in October.

I have always participated in this event, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. But this year, despite everything, has been a great reading year and I have great hopes of reading quite a bit through this event. In this month so far, I have managed to read the following –

Sovereign by CJ Sansome – A Matthew Shardlake mystery, from an author and series that I totally love. Set in Tudor England, after the suppression of the Pilgrim of Grace rebellion, Henry VIII is visiting Yorkshire, the center of the revolt, to seek submission from the people. Among his vast retinue, is Master Shardlake with Jack Barak by the request of Archbishop Crammer to support petitions to the King and other legal matters that are being put forward by Yorkshire people for King’s review. He is also expected to undertake a secret mission of ensuring the safe transportation of a prisoner from Yorkshire to the Tower in London. Things however do not go as planned and a murder leads to revelation of certain documents that may plunge the country again in civil unrest as it questions the very legitimacy of the Tudor rulers and their birth. This book is as always with all the books in the series, replete with details of history that are either overlooked or widely unknown. The author captures the the 16th century England will all it’s luxury and all its poverty beautifully. Despite being a 600 plus page novel, the narrative keeps the reader engaged with knotty plot twists and interesting characters. An excellent read from beginning to end.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I guess with Fairies and magic, this book is a bit stretch into the RIP collection, but I went with it anyway. There has already been so much said about this novel, about the conflict between two magicians in 19th century England that traverses through Napoleonic Wars and other such historic events, that I will only share my views. The plot while simplistic, has been wedded with a lot of imagination and creative writing to make the reading complex and rich. There is a lot of wit and the old world charm that comes alive in the presentation style. The slightly academic way of writing with footnotes and stand alone stories of magical past in England brings an additional depth to reading and reflects the love of the artist for the art. However for all the details and crafty telling of the story, I still felt that it did not merit 1000 pages; the characters were thin and it was difficult to understand some of their motivation. There seems to be on the part of the author an effort to leave some sub plot & character futures unanswered ( in hope of sequel?) but they just do not bring that effect & does not make one intrigued about what happened next. It is a good read, but hardly one which would merit a re-read

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights , Museo del Prado, Madrid (Public Domain)

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu – This was my second reading of this novella and I must say that this time I enjoyed it far more than my first attempt. Young Laura, the daughter of an Englishman and an Austrian lady, leads a happy but lonely life in the remote village in Austria. Their peaceful everyday existence is interrupted when a carriage meets with an accident, and Laura’s father is left in charge of a young woman, Carmilla, who seems to be hurt, while her “mother” continues the journey in the carriage. Soon there are people dying in the village and Laura becomes aware of certain strange and embarrassing emotions that Carmilla beings to express. The original vampire story ( Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more than 2 decades away) the narrative is unconventional, filled with eerie scenes and tensions with an element of feminine sexuality, which must have made for an adventurous creative writing in early 19th century. Its a brilliant piece of fiction, gripping and unnerving.

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell – This is my very first reading of a Ruth Rendell and it also happens to be the first book in the Inspector Wexford series. An ordinary housewife Margaret Parson is reported missing by her husband and a day later, her dead body near the woods around a farm, someway from the town where she lives. Inspector Wexford and his team start investigating the crime which seems to have no motivation until, he discovers some expensive edition of classical poetry in the attic of the dead woman, all signed by a person named Doon. After all the swinging adventures of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this very British, very practical, very classical detective story made for wonderful read with interesting changes in the plot and a sharp, edgy narrative. My book carried an afterword by Ms. Rendell herself, and the key to enjoying this mystery written in 1964 is like the author herself says, to read it as a historical fictions instead of a contemporary writing. A completely enjoyable book!

White Magic – Russian Emigre Tales of Mystery and Terror edited & translated by Muireann Maguire. The book contains a wide variety of tales from the first three decades of 20th century, capturing the urban as well rural stories set in the backdrop of both the pre revolution and post revolution Russia. The short stories are eerie, gothic and some extremely strange. The Russian landscape that brings with it not only awe inspiring magnificence, along with deep fore brooding and sad beauty is wonderfully captured through all the short stories all while retaining a certain sentimentality and sensitivity despite the running theme of horror.

This is what I have been reading lately! I have a few more CJ Sansom’s lined up for this event, as well a re-reading of the brilliantly written The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I found this amazing anthology (thanks to a great review by Ali) of Murder Mysteries with the theme of books, Murder by the Book edited by Martin Edward that is also in my next reading queue. Outside of the RIP books, I am reading a powerful novel, based on true events in 1940s Germany, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Also based on an excellent review by Karen, I am reading the gorgeously written, part biography, part travelogue, Footsteps by Richard Holmes. In October I plan to participate in the 1976 Club hosted by Karen & Simon (yet to decide a book), besides reading And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov as part of Classical Club’s October reading event ( scary books or books that you are scared to read; I went with the latter). In November, among other things I will join Brona’s AusReading Month, though again I am not yet sure of what I will read,

This year so far has been a year of reading through everything that comes my way – fiction, history, travelogues, politics and I have enjoyed the journey immensely. As the holiday season comes closer, I hope to make the reading journey more interesting, reading more variety and more unusual voices, atleast that is the plan! What are your reading plans for the remaining year?

Some Thoughts on Books….

It seems strange that grief or illness makes one read more! Till 2019 I was struggling to find time to read books, though I was participating in a lot of Reading Events and was generally in good place emotionally and physically! Cut to 2020, there was Dad’s passing away and not to mention this small event called COVID-19 and I was reading like I used to, like pre 2015. And now in 2021 with so much of lying down quietly because there are days when I simply cannot do anything, I am reading like I always wanted and have never been able once I started adulting with a job! Cancer brought some unexpected pleasures, like time to read!

I wonder what people, who are diagnosed with such kind of prolonged aliments do, if they do not read? I understand there is television and now several OTT platforms; but can you really watch as much as you can read? Can your mind be really sustained with the sameness that sets in after a point when it comes to audio-visual entertainment? Can you make your mind cogitate through some of the inane stuff that is there on these shows ( that is not to say books cannot be inane; as we know there are several such written material out there ) while already struggling with a slow working chemo addled brain? How does one spend time without books? How does one keep oneself occupied and engaged when physically, everything is falling apart, without the golden words, written by someone, which takes you away atleast for a while , some place else? I know of some extremely hardy patients who knit or crochet during the time of covalence; I do admire their ability to make something good out of the forced time away from everyday life, but this population I know is far and few and most turn to either viewing or gaming to while away the time, that has been granted to us, but which really does stand still.

I have always maintained that books have rescued me from all circumstances which have been painful & beyond my control. As an adolescent when my father became bankrupt and we lived out our lives in halfway homes & sometimes without meals, Sir Author Conon Doyle, Saki and Sir Terry Pratchet, along with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck, made everyday bearable. It took me away from the harsher facts of life that the glories of being the daughter of a very successful man were now over and the struggle of a single meal was an everyday occurrence, to places and people which continued to serve as not only an escape but also showed a way of how one should act, no matter what the circumstances. While we lost everything, I am grateful that we could hold on to those precious volumes and they helped me get through those formidable days. Through career challenges and heartbreaks, Amor Towles, MM Kaye, Katherine Mansfield, EM Delafield, Margaret Kennedy helped me cope, gave me inspirations and made me get up , get dressed and show up. Through my parent’s death, EM Foster, Margery Sharpe, Mikhail Bulgakov & Freydor Dostoyevsky ( the last two being my parent’s favorites ) took the edge off the pain as I immersed myself in complex , bittersweet narratives, that were so far away from my own reality and still spoke to me in some quiet imperceptible way. Now with this fun diseases, I have reading haphazardly through everything and anything I can lay my hands own – British Library Crime Classics, Virago Collections, Modern Fiction, Political and Social Commentaries. Essays and poetry. I have not yet reached the place where I can stand back and elucidate on the exact or nuanced nature of support these books are giving me, however I do know that without them, at this point in my life I would be lost.

How do people live without the written word? How does anyone exist being immune to the absolute & all encompassing love, for what is it but love, of books? I would have been bereft of such unmitigated joy, had I not had this one “superpower” ie, the ability to read and appreciate the written word. In lives with so many things spinning madly out of control, how does one find comfort, some sense of sanity and hope without books. Books gave me solace, comfort and in the words of William Nicholson, they made me feel that I am not alone. They sat up with me when I could not sleep, they gave me courage when I thought I was done, they entertained me when I was bored and just generally kept me going! And while Cancer is not something to be desired in anyway, I would want to say, that it did give me the time to just put my legs up, with a cup of tea and read to my heart’s content, without guilt, without interruptions and with complete and utter pleasure!

The Big C

I know another huge disappearing act; but what can I say? Life just keeps throwing lemons and I am trying to make the best lemonade I can. To start with the months of March and April left India reeling with a devastating second wave of COVID 19. While I and my my immediate family were saved from direct impact, I have lost too many friends and relatives and sound of the ambulance through all hours on the main road next to my apartment block still makes me break into cold sweat. Things are better now but we have a long way to go and experts warn of a Third Wave in the country and I cannot even begin to fathom what that will bring.

While I was not impacted by COVID, I have been very unwell for more than 2 months. I have intermittent fever, severe weakness and a feeling of bloating and something not right inside me. I went through a round robin of doctors and pointless tests and I was told I am suffering from Calcium deficiency to IBS. But no medicines that prescribed worked and I continue to grow week, losing 12 kgs in 2 months. Finally in a fit of inspiration I reached out my gynecologist who recommended an Ultrasound test and then life began to unravel.

I am 38 years old and I have been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.

It took me a few days to let that sink in. I have never smoked in my life, never drank, let alone smoking up other substances. I ate good home cooked food, did hikes and generally faced life head on and with a lot of optimism, and this is my reward for playing by the rules No one in my family has a history of the big C. This was one curve ball I just did not see coming my way!

But life is what it is and we have to fight what comes our way. Good part is Ovarian Cancer treatment is highly advanced and this was caught well in time . My doctors are convinced of my full recovery and it still very much contained. Most importantly, like everything else in my life I shall fight and conquer this, come what may. This shall not destroy me; I shall conquer. I am blessed to have an older sister who has rolled up her sleeves and decided to throw it all to get me through this and friends who take up my fight on those days that I cannot bother to get out of bed. They have left no stone unturned; they are getting doctor appointments, ferrying me to and fro from tests and hospitals, getting second opinion. All I do no is rest and read; while everyone takes care of me with their own lives on hold. With so much love, how can I not come through this? How can I not win. I will win!

One help that I do seek from you is book recommendation – I have long hospital hours mapped out infront of me and I really need good engrossing reads . I am not picky – Classics, History, Non Fiction, Virago Collection, British Mysteries, Historical Fiction; anything will do as long as you all feel, they are good reads. So please humble request, please please share book recco!

I promise to stay in touch and keep you all posted.

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.

9 Years Ago,

So here we are – February 14th 2021 and it is a BIG day! Atleast for me it is a BIG day. 9 years ago, without a clue as to what Blogging entailed or even why I was trying to do this, I started this page; I had no idea if I would write about books or other things or even if I would last out a month. But now standing here after 9 years, I am immensely glad that I started on this journey. I have so much to be grateful for and they are all linked to this blog – I have read books I never thought were my genre, I have opened up to new ideas and became aware of a bigger world and I have developed a strong network of friends, who come from varied parts of the world and I have never met them personally and maybe do not know their dog’s name. But they have stood by me through some rough times, shared experiences which helped understand life a little better and made me smile when there was really nothing much to feel cheerful about.

This virtual family is my biggest gain and today, I want to share a shoutout to all these people who enriched my life in so many ways –

Stefanie – In India, we end up tagging those close to us with a relationship, like an extended family; going by that tradition, I think of you as a wiser sister, showing me how life can be made better. Thank You for introducing me to Science Fiction and Carrot Ginger soup, gardening and inspiring me to adopt a more sustainable living lifestyle

Brona – Thank You for introducing me to Australia all over again, thank you for some amazing books and most importantly for sharing your life and insights and giving me the confidence always, that I am doing ok!

Mudpuddle – When I grow up, I want to be you. Erudite, generous, thoughtful and an expert of rare old books, I look upon you as my virtual mentor, sharing your wisdom and experience that helps me navigate life a lot better!

Jane – Thank You for introducing for the English Literature beyond Victorian era. Many troubled times have been smoothed over because you told me to go make friends with EM Delafield, Margaret Kennedy and Margery Sharp. I would have had a very incomplete reading of England and her writings in the absence of these women!

Karen – My TBR over the years has lost all semblance of control or sanity thanks so much to your wonderful reviews. But you have opened me up to a world of books, outside of mainstream publication and fiction and made me aware of the bigger world and global history and heritage.

Helen – My historical fiction reading would have been so tame had I not known all the good stuff from different periods and genres that you showed me. From obscure to more well known, you opened up a vista of books for me and I am so grateful for your companionship in this adventure

Marian – My inspiration to read classics, my cheerleader when I take on a book, I am not entirely sure about and my tag team for all insta fun. Social media is a happy place for me largely thanks to you!

Ruth – There are so many many things I can say about you and still not do you justice, so I will keep it simple, you inspire me every day with your courage and your belief. Also, I love your perseverance; for those uninitiated, just take a look at her Educated Mind Project, you will know what I mean

The Classic Club – How would I have known literature with you all???? Thanks to your spins and letterheads and so many other activities! The best club ever!

Cleo – I think some things are fated and I was supposed to join the blogging world because I was supposed to find my soul sister all the way across an ocean and 13000 km (we of the commonwealth shall use kms!) Thank You for all the bookish adventures, all the recipes, all the candid discussions and for holding my hand virtually through some of my darkest days! Who says you need someone in person to form a bond; we defy that and shall continue to do that!

Thank You you all, for making these 9 years brighter and better!

Writings From The East….

Karen over at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life are celebrating February as Reading Independent Publishers Month. There are of course several reasons to join this event, especially in a COVID 19 world, in which most such organizations are just keeping their head above water. My reasons for joining this event besides the usual support small organizations is that these publishers allow me to read a lot of Indian as well as other language literature, the ones that usually get overlooked in the more mainstream selections which are of course advertised more, available more easily and maybe easier on the budget. But reading events like these allow us to focus on alternatives and help us in inching along to becoming a little more wholistic in our approach and maybe consequently a little more aware and empathetic.

My selection for this month are two women authored books, writing under the shadow of two very different literary cultures and history, focusing of two different eras, yet managing to convey the same message.

The Many that I am is an edited anthology by Anungla Zoe Longkumer  and is a collection of fiction, non-fiction, paintings, graphic art and poems from Nagaland, one of the eastern most states of India. Published by the independent publishers Zubaan (literally meaning tongue or voice), it is spear headed by the iconic scholar and historian Urvashi Butalia, whose work I reviewed a few months back and seeks to tell the stories of the woman in this easternmost wing of India. The uniqueness of this book and the Naga culture generally is that it has always been an oral culture; there was no script until the Baptist missionaries came along in 20th century, and introduced to the tribes of this region Christianity and the alphabet. The writing therefore is a relatively new phenomenon and these authors/ poets are perhaps the earliest forerunner of the written art in their geography, slowly building a history from a language not their own, trying to discover words, that describe their lives and reflect their feelings.

The book consists of several short stories and a few essays and several poems, some of them are English renditions of traditional songs passed down from one generation to another. The stories are mostly set in the present time, reflecting the difficult integration into global world, where some things simply may get lost or makes no sense. The narratives are primarily woven around the Naga women and the many facets of their lives. Among this hill tribe, in a traditionally patriarchal society, women are subjected to many kinds of torture, including rape and domestic violence. Yet, what comes across in most of the stories is the rebellion, resilience and the sheer audacity of the women in these tribes, to live, thrive and build a life of their own. Cut Off by Vishu Rita Krocha succinctly captures the history of the land and how intervention by women always leads to a more peaceful, amicable resolution. Old Man’s Story by Jungmayangla Longkumer describes the life of an unorthodox village woman who married a man 5 years younger to her and dedicated her life to making clay pots that would enable them to pay for the expensive education for their children. The stories of Martha’s Mother by Hekali Zhimomi and Vili’s Runaway Son by Abokali Jimomi, bring to the front the ingenuity and sheer unwavering faith of mothers, with limited resources, trying to map out better and safer lives for their children. The essay When Doors Open by Eyinbeni Humtsoe -Nienu talks about the small rebellion by the grandmother of the author, who would let her daughter, sneak out in the middle of the night to attend night school. This in turn allowed, the daughter, the author’s mother to get a clerical job with the government which paid for the author and her sibling’s education. Today the author is prolific writer as well a professor at one of the Indian universities. There are some wonderful poems that focus on identity and meaning of being a woman in a Naga society, like a No No No Woman by Rozumari Samsara and Self Portrait by Beni Sumer Yanthan.

British Survey Party in Naga Hills by R.G. Woodthorpe , 1874-75
Source -Royal Anthropological Institute archives

The book needless to say was an eyeopener to me even though I belong the same country as the writers; but India is such a vast melting pot that we sometimes miss the very thing which is our own and such an integral part of the Indian identity and heritage. For this fact alone, I am so glad that works like these are being published by these spirited independent organizations.  The glimpse of the culture and history that this collection brought of this remote eastern region of my country was both intriguing, increasing my curiosity to learn more and also more importantly, a reality check on how isolated is my understanding of my own land, living in urban metro with all the comforts of life home delivered. Infact among the many wonderful things about the book, the deep insights into the culture of the tribes that make up Nagaland is one of the strongest features of this book. All the writers have in their own way conveyed the cultural heritage that has been part of the fabric of this land, the coming of Christianity which after initial conflict with local tribal practises was integrated into the Naga society and the lure of modern city life that is taking people away from the traditional structures are poignantly brought out through this book. The selection is very comprehensive, covering a host of genres from fiction to poetry to essay to graphic art and explores a vast range of subjects from World War II, the separatist movement, the Christian missionary work and the domestic lives of the people. Each tale is very different from the other and yet held together by the running theme that underlies this collection – women narratives and their perspectives. What stood out to me more than anything else, is how these authors have taken the English language and crafted it into their own style; so, the writings are all in excellent comprehensible English, and yet it brings the flavour of Nagaland and her people; making it a very unique reading experience.

This book is a must read for anyone trying to understand cultures and conflict among cultures and the role women play in such a society, despite the patriarchal roots. It’s a brilliant and bold attempt by Zuban Publishers & Anungala Zoe Longkumer

I will follow up on the second book as part of this project in my next post.

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!

Those Women….

I am exceedingly aware of my immense good fortune in being born into an erudite and liberal Hindu family that not only did not believe in discriminating between a boy and girl, but were positively feminists, even before the term became mainstream. I know just how easily I could have been born into a traditional Hindu household where the woman is deprived of basic Human Rights and lacks even elementary empowerment; however, growing up as a young girl and an adolescent, I did not think in those lines. I was aware of my entitlement but my peers and I all had an idea of how our lives were mapped out – education (graduate school being the very minimum), career, and then inevitably marriage and its addendums. What however happened was that woman of my generation or slightly older and a younger age groups, got that primer education, powerful jobs in corporate, government and other key areas and ended up NOT getting married. Many did of course, but many did not. In my graduate school class, we were a student body of 60 students in our particular degree; of which about 35 were women, of which 7 or so remain unmarried in the age bracket of 37 -39. It may not seem a lot, but seen from the lens of a traditional Indian society where marriage and motherhood are considered the epitome of womanhood, this figure is startling and interesting. And it’s just not my graduate school class; I have colleagues, friends, acquaintances, very educated, very successful, either remining to chose single or even becoming mother via adoption rather than embrace marriage. It is a unique phenomenon among the urban educated high middle-class population of India and someone somewhere needs to look into socio-economic moorings of this development.

The Letter by Haynes King

It was thus an interesting surprise when I stumbled upon a work of non-fiction that seemed to address this, albeit in United States.  All the Single Ladies – Unmarried Women and The Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. Ms. Traister is a well-known writer for New York magazine besides being a published author on several books about feminism and politics. Also Ms. Traister herself married later than her peers, I believe at the age of 35 and therefore from my perspective, she should know what she is talking about and with greatest curiosity I began to read this work. The book is divided into 10 Chapters along with a prologue and a conclusion. The author begins with explaining how her own experience and those of her friends coming of age as young adults in the shadow of Sex and the City and their subsequent lives, led her to study this group of young to middle age educated working women, who have not married and chosen to lead lives free of any such long term civil  or religious commitment, with or without a child. She begins by introducing the powerful phenomena that is the new age single unmarried woman. She then takes a look at history including events like Civil war and works of such feminists like Susan B Anthony that set the ball rolling for creating environments that fostered the growth of this group of women. She then studied this group through comprehensive lenses as urban single woman with financial independence as we well as women who came from economically weaker sections. She studied the process of female friendships as one of strongest support system among this group as well the support structures like grocery delivery, take out food and help from neighbors that is not only allowing this group to thrive but also take up single parenthood. She delves into the issues of violence and security as well as the emotion turmoil that these women face as single women in a culture that is still wary, suspicious and not completely bought in to this choice. She does not shy away from mentioning the positives that come from healthy happy partnerships including better home environments for kids as well as more secure economic status; but she also provides comprehensive data to show that such partnerships are not common and many make a compromise that ends in more unhappiness in the expectation of better lives.

Woman, Reading by Albert Bartholomew, 1883

There are simply not enough good things that I can say about this book! To start with the research is meticulous and deep; it is hard to believe that Ms. Traister is not a trained academic but a journalist and a writer. And yet despite all this research, the language is crisp and succinct and the message is clear! The balanced approach is yet another factor that is to be appreciated in the book – she celebrates the rise of single women, their success and empowerment; however, the author does not shy away from factors like security or even better home conditions for children when both parents are available. Even in the vast range of people she interviews, her epilogue comments, clearly call out that while many are doing well, some are not and that is life. There is no unrealistic expectation of happily ever after, only a promise that there are opportunities more than ever of a better life. The inclusiveness of the book makes it a major departure from books of other such genre; Ms. Traister tries to include all spectrum of women in her study and interviews – financially independent, those living on some state support, single women, single women with kids, Asians, African Americans, Whites, academics, clerks, writers – they are all there. Her narrative tries to include every kind of single woman and largely succeeds. The most interesting thing about the book is though it focuses on the rise of Single Women in US, barring certain regulations and political events, her story can be replicated to almost all single women across the world, who have some modicum of independence. Her story telling is universal and resonates across many cultures, with some caveats of course. Finally, despite being a serious study on women, the book is replete with wry humor, which makes for wonderful change of pace from a very thoughtful reading.  For instance, while speaking of financial independence of women, she quotes Susan B Anthony, to make a point of why women who earn their own money and buy things with that money, signals an epoch moment of liberation and empowerment – “When Susan B. Anthony began earning a salary as an elementary school teacher, at twenty-six, she had already turned down two marriage proposals in her quest to remain unmarried. She purchased for herself a fox-fur muff, a white silk hat, and a purple wool dress and wrote home, wondering if her peers might not “feel rather sad because they are married and cannot have nice clothes.” To end the book, nowhere is an anti-marriage or anti -men; the only thing Ms. Traister tries to do is de-stigmatize the notion of single women who in Mitt Rommey’s words “miss out on so much of life” and instead not missing out on life; she tries to showcase that such women with independent finances and support structures are making for good life for themselves, throwing over the yokel of the term of “spinsters”.

January Notes….

There was a time when I would bemoan the onset of January because that meant, all festivals and holidays were over and we would have to wait atleast another 9 months for the next set of celebrations. However with time comes perspective and January, I realize need not necessarily equate to end of joy; for joy is where you find it and you do not need much to to find it either! So here we are, on the first day of the year, celebrating January

“January is here, with eyes that keenly glow,
A frost-mailed warrior
striding a shadowy steed of snow.”
―  Edgar Fawcett

“Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday’s dusting of snow.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow.”
―  Nelda Hartmann, January Morn  

Hendrick Averkamp, Winter Landscape with Skaters (1608)

“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

“The first day of January always presents to my mind a train of very solemn and important reflections and a question more easily asked than answered frequently occurs viz: How have I improved the past year and with [what] good intentions do I view the dawn of its successor?” ―Charlotte Brontë

“I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.” ―Jerry Spinelli

“Leaving any bookstore is hard . . . especially on a day in January, when the wind is blowing, the ice is treacherous, and the books inside seem to gather together in colorful warmth.” ―Jane Smiley

 Paul Gauguin, Breton Village in the Snow (1894)

“Little January
Tapped at my door today.
And said, “Put on your winter wraps,
And come outdoors to play.”
Little January
Is always full of fun;
Until the set of sun.
Little January
Will stay a month with me
And we will have such jolly times –
Just come along and see.”
–  Winifred C. Marshall, January

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
  Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
  The years that through my portals come and go.
I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
  I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
  My fires light up the hearths and hearts of me

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Poet’s Calendar

So what does January mean to you?

About the Year….

What a year 2020 has been!! Truly a watershed year, an epoch-making year, a year about which future generations would say, “during the year of the COVID -19 my mum/dad/grandpa/grandma”, etc. etc. Needless to say, this has been an unprecedented year, quite unlike anything we have seen in recent history and from what I read in the papers, with the new UK and South African strain, it’s far from over. For me personally, it was a year, where I developed more resilience, faced more realities and understood that things are not always what they seem, but that need not necessarily be all bad! I also learnt, that despite losing both my parents, I am surrounded by a lot of love and affection and few people can claim to be as fortunate as I am in such matters! Yet another great aspect of this year for me was that after a very very long while, I was able to not only complete the GoodReads reading challenge but exceed it! It was indeed a great year in terms of reading and writing and that is another factor I am very grateful for in this year! Despite the exhausting emotional and then professional requirements, I was able to read some brilliant literature and as a parting note for the year, I decided to list 10 of my most favored reads this year. So here we go –

  1. Delight by J.B. Priestly – This book was without doubt my “find” of the year! Thanks to Karen, I had the joy of reading this wonderful piece of non-fiction writing by Priestley (not his usual genre) about simple everyday joys of life!
  2. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit – I have no idea why I waited so long to read this brilliant work by Ms. Solnit tackling the conversations of between men and women and other amazing essays like one on Virginia Wolfe and violence against women.
  3. A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck and Robert Capa – Yet another book that I came across thanks to Karen. This 1948 publication by the two giants of modern art & literature, tries to capture what life of the common man in Soviet Union looks like – what do they eat, how do they party, what do their farmers do before the iron curtain fell remains one of the most humorous and insightful reading of mankind beyond politics!
  4. Travels with Charley; In Search of America by John Steinbeck – This was my Steinbeck year and this book came up in my Classic Club Spin. In 1960, Steinbeck set off to re-discover America again in a exhaustive road trip covering coast to coast, and finding the bitter sweet travesty of a country trying to find it’s identity, in the shadow of it’s troubling past!
  5. Provincial Daughters by RM Dashwood – Written by the daughter of EM Delafield of the Provincial Ladies series, Ms. Dashwood takes a look at the sometimes silly, sometimes tragi-comic life of an educated young English woman trying to be an expert homemaker and efficient mother in 1950’s England
  6. The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator) – A wonderful review by Helen made me try this Japanese classic murder mystery & and to say it blew my breathe away is an understatement! Set in 1937, a tragedy is visited on the night of the wedding of the eldest son of the Ichyanagi family and only detective Kosuke Kindaichi is able to find the why’s and how’s leading up the tragedy!
  7. Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold – Many many moon’s ago, Jane had reviewed this Golden Age Mystery and based on her high praise, I had added it to my TBR. However, until recently I had not read it and after reading, I kept wondering, why did I wait for so long??? A cycling holiday that is disrupted by a murder of a comrade and an amateur detective, a chance stranger, John Christmas is drawn into the events that lead to a surprising discovery.
  8. Not at Home by Doris Langley – At the end of World War II, to improve her financial position, Elinor MacFarren—middle-aged botanical writer rents part of her beautiful home to American Anotonia Banks which leads to complete mayhem and now Ms. Mcfarren must seek help of her nephew and his friends to solve for the confusion, with some unexpected assistance from her rival! Shout Out to Ali for helping me find this little-known gem!
  9. Reveries of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Russell Goulbourne (Translator) – I always need support when tacking what can be considered a “difficult” or “Challenging” read! This being one of them, I had infinite support and read along help from my soul sister Cleo (Where would I be without, thou??!) Written in exile a few months before his death, Rousseau reflects on his life and abandonment by his friends and supporters and how he draws strength from nature and solitude and draws contentment from self-awareness and knowledge.
  10. The Other Side of Silence by Urvashi Butalia – This sensitive, insightful and important work of history looked at the tragic events in wake of partition of India in 1947 from the perspective of those whose voices are often neglected by History like women, children and backward classes. This book remains a modern historical classic for all those interested in India and her troubled past.

These are my best books of the year! These do not include my re-reads which always bring me such infinite joy like Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye, The Dairy of the Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, High Rising by Angela Thirkell and of course, Pride and Prejudice by one and only Ms. Austen! As always, my reading year has been enriched by the suggestions, recommendations and discussions with many of my blogging friends and yet again it is brought home to me that I would never have read so widely had I not stumbled upon this wonderful community of fellow readers/bloggers and most importantly friends!

To end, I would like to leave you all with this short poem! Wishing you and all your loved ones a Happy, joyous, healthy and bookish 2021! Cheers Everyone!

Wilhelm Gause – Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=984078

Poem for a New Year

-By Matt Goodfellow

Something’s moving in,
I hear the weather in the wind,
sense the tension of a sheep-field
and the pilgrimage of fins. 
Something’s not the same,
I taste the sap and feel the grain,
hear the rolling of the rowan
ringing, singing in a change.
Something’s set to start,
there’s meadow-music in the dark
and the clouds that shroud the mountain
slowly, softly start to part.