Saturday, November 10, 2018

My music

I have been training in Hindustani classical vocal for last 6 years. Let me confess without modesty that my voice is good and I sing well (that is film songs , not classical ) but that's it ! I am no closer to understanding music than I was 6 years back.

My teacher has been urging me to give these Gandharva Mahavidyalaya exams , but I don't want to. One reason is my exam phobia , and the other is this feeling that I am an imposter.

I am learning music with my left, logical brain. She teaches a song , a bandish , a raag aaroh-avroh-pakad and I learn it as a challenge….a new thing to be learnt. My right brain does not participate in this process and I don't see the whole raag as a complete picture.

Perhaps I don't have the musical intelligence.

This was written 2 years back. Since then ,the update is that ,I have stopped learning altogether. I have also stopped bathroom singing and listening to music. I have started feeling that music has left me...I have no real interest left in learning or listening to music, singing is strenuous and listening to songs does not give me any joy. Does this reflect my inner depression or it is just that my attention is taken up by myriad of other things, such as whatsapp and youtube which are much easier as they are passive and provide a highly satisfying diversion to any activity which needs active participation and engagement ? Am I running away from things ? I will probably regret this in my after-life or even at the end of my life : I did not use my God-given gifts, I simply chose to ignore them and prefer time-wasting passive diversions.

But I do not want give up hope ...one day the whole picture would be revealed to my inner eye or rather ear. Till then , I must preserve my voice...

Readathons or rid-(of reading)-a-thons ?

Readathons and my inability to participate in one: (readathons or rid-(of reading)-a-thons ?

Readathon no 1 : The autumn readathon( #autumnreadathon)

We don't really have autumn in India- Mumbai. It is summer,rainy season and winter. In reality, it is the summer most of the time, hot,humid and uncomfortable. A couple of months of cold weather where we don't even need sweaters.Hence the concept of autumn readathon for India is a little far fetched.

But on thinking again,it is not so far fetched after all ! May be ,by reading about cold, I will feel a bit comfortable in this bad October weather. A much needed respite from heat?

Or I can read autumn readathon books in my cabin at work,where it is winter all the time … The only place in Mumbai where I need a sweater all round the year …

Enough of introduction and small talk…

On to the books…

The first book that I have chosen and already start reading is ‘ Winter evenings’ by Navtej Sarna. The name and the cover is wintry,icy.I have read first two stories and they are equally wintry. And...surprise,surprise ….beautiful too… I am not much of a short story reader.I also avoid Indian fiction whenever possible. That is the reason I wanted to read this book in first place, to read something which I don't usually read.I will come back with more on this book when I finish.For now I will only say that I will read this book slowly ,over next week or so. That is how short stories are supposed to be read , as I have learnt recently. I never did that, I started reading at the beginning and went non-stop.

I read many stories from that book but not all. I loved the Maugham style stories but when author started describing the poverty and oppression in India,I gave up. That is the precise reason I dont want to read Indian fiction. They are either very realistic and describe the issues which as a upper middle class background ,I will never experience in reality and have no interest in them. I prefer reading good stories or something about my inner turmoils. Even though we are financially comfortable,it doesnt mean we are happy,satisfied.

The other book which I borrowed from the library was a short story collection of christmas murder mysteries which I enjoyed immensly.

That was all for my #autumn readathon !

Readathon no 2 : non fiction November : #nonfictionnovember

Since I failed spectacularly in ‘really’ participating in autumn readathon , I thought I will make it up by participating in #NonfictionNovember.

This is a month long readathon and we are supposed to read non-fiction books based on the prompts provided. The prompts are certainly interesting - 4 pairs of similar sounding words which can encompass literally any book in the world by stretching your imagination.

They are

1.wander/wonder

2.self/shelf

3. Past time/Past-time

4.Macro/micro

I had an ambitious reading list for this.

1.wander/wonder - diary of a bookseller -  I am “wonder”ing about this profession

2.self/shelf- scribbles in the margin - something on my kindlebook”shelf” and a book about books which again suggests “shelf”

3.past time/past-time- Did she kill him-  a book set in the past

4.Macro/micro-Gene: an intimate history-nothing can be more micro than a gene and its manifestations are really huge”macro”

I am proud of my list !

But ...but ...but ... I know I will not read any of these ...

I have reached my annual “I have no wish to read” state !

Still, the readathon says ,you have to read at least 1 non-fiction book more than you usually do. I have read 1 non fiction book,rather one half,which is definitely more than my usual number,which is zero ! I read “ penguin non-fiction collection: volume 3” ,that is at least fifty percent of its essays.

I feel it is the turning of pleasurable activity into a to-do list that has killed the reading pleasure or it may be just that I overdid the whole “ I love books and reading and nothing else matters” thing. Or may be the underlying thought was “Reading is a happy ,pleasurable thing , why should I follow somebody’s dictates ? Rebel !!!!!”

In short , my readathon participation has resulted in my giving up reading altogether ! Last straw , cause-and-effect or coincidence remains to be seen !!

Here and now


I read a short short story a few days back -

After you die, you meet God and what if he asks you ,”So,how was heaven ?”

People think heaven is another dimension. It is some time in future you are waiting for. The perfect time. When everything will be just right. When you will be perfectly happy. You always think that this will happen in future.

We look for joys in things. Things when bought, bring momentary surge of happiness. Which evaporates as soon as the novelty wears of. Or sometimes even before that. Especially for online shopping , the anticipation of things that are going to arrive make you ecstatic.

Or we look for joy in food. If not joy ,then at least comfort. But all that it brings is misery ,guilt and weight.Hard to lose flab.

Everyday you feel unhappy and  you find reasons for it . You prepare lists of what you need in order to be happy.When you will have the perfect job, you will find the love of your life,you will have so much money,when you will retire or lose weight. How can you be happy now,when so many pieces are missing from your life ?

Some say the joy lies in learning something new. The activities that involve your brain and make you feel alive.

Some say it is the new experiences , something which you have not done before : watching movies , plays ,reading , travel & vacations form part of the same Novelty spectrum.

Some say that creating something new gives you joy . Writing,painting , singing comes under this.

Some say that real happiness lies in connecting with other individuals : friends, family, community

And there is this school of thought which says that doing whatever you do with your full attention brings you joy.” learning to be in the flow”

But the real question : Is it really possible to be happy and satisfied all the time ? is it even necessary ? Are our expectations are unrealistic ? Isn’t the drive to be constantly happy and avoid any kind of uncomfortable things give rise to addictions ? The need to have constant adrenaline surges - shopping,food,adventure sports,even working and learning multiple things can be addictive ? Isn’t everything just ephemeral ?

We assume that whatever things give us joy will be constant. But things disappear , people evolve,and viceversa too - people disappear , things change-evolve !

There are multiple small things in life which can bring you joy ...if you allow them - which can mean something as mundane as a sip of cold water when you are thirsty to feeling the presence of God when you are feeling depressed.

Permanent and lasting joy or happiness  is a journey ,not destination.

Changes in the attitude , not circumstances. Everyday living life deliberately and finding joy in small everyday situations.. Acceptance of what is and gratitude for what you have.Learning to enjoy your own company . Feeling the presence of a higher power within yourself .

That and only that can make you or me happy. Nothing else.

Heaven is here and now.Within you and me, right now,at this very moment. Close your eyes and feel it….

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Currently reading 9-9-18

After finishing the ‘Ghostwritten’(though beautiful, I can't say I really understood it. I will re read it at some point of time. For now I will say, I was lost in last two chapters. Where a lot of technology comes, I don't usually understand everything.) , I read 2 small books of around 150 pages each.
One was a murder mystery by M.C. Beaton. ‘Agatha Raisin and the walkers of Dembley’ This was the first M.C. Beaton book I read, but I liked it. The mystery was good, the execution was also good. I like the characters too. Side characters more than main two. Agatha Raisin was too fierce for my liking and even after being so, she hasn't really solved the mystery though she definitely helped . Lacey was just okay, his character did not really stand out in this book. While like books with a good backstory on the detectives this looks primarily like Agatha’s life story. I am not sure whether I would like to read any more of her books.
The other was an epistolary novel.’The ladies of letters’. The first half of this novel was good. Loved the way these friends/enemies write letters to each other. Many hilarious situations in the book. But the second half was unrealistic , it  was like the authors were trying too hard to make it funny but it did not work for me.
Now I have started another book called Major Pettigrew's last stand. But not enjoying it. Too many cliched situations, too many stereotypic characters, prose uninspiring and boring. Let's see how it goes. I have become much better at DNFing books now.
After some 10 minutes...
Why it has to be always ungrateful relatives and insensitive offsprings ? After reading some good books, I don't wish to read this nonsense.I have really developed a hatred for this book after reading the first chapter. As I have decided that I have too many books and I don't have time to spend it on something which I don't like.

I thought I will read some books that I have recently bought and speed up my minimalism project by discarding some books. Fortunately or unfortunately , all the three books have to go.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay

As a rule , I don't like books about medicine. I never read them. No Robin Cook , no Atul Gawande. I was not going to read this book as well. I knew everybody was saying a lot of good things about this one on book tube. Still I didn't want to read it. But then this book was available at a low price on Amazon sale. And I bought it.

I was in a bit of a book slump yesterday. I couldn't think of a book to read. I tried many books of different genres. But nothing was clicking. This was my last try before I decided to give up for the day and went to bed. Luckily it clicked.

Adam Kay is now a comedian. But in his previous avatar, he was a doctor in NHS. This book is about his experience of working as a junior doctor in NHS.

As I started reading this book, I realised the similarities between lives of doctors across the world. The decision to be a doctor is taken at the age of 16(In India ,you start preparing for your entrance examination, sometimes much earlier than that), when you are hardly adult enough to make decisions about your own life. The decision is taken more often than not for wrong reasons, not realizing the long years of training, hard work or hardships involved. (I remember telling someone that I want  to become a cardiac surgeon, not realizing that first I have to become a MBBS doctor, then specialize and then super specialise in cardiac surgery.12 years minimum. Impossible to visualise at that age. Thankfully, by the time,I took up medicine, this dream had evaporated.) Most of us do not have a clear picture of what we would do after we finish our education.

The MBBS years are comparatively easy, they just involve a lot of hard work in form reading and memorizing. You don't make decisions about somebody's life.But when you decide to do a specialisation in a clinical branch, the real challenge starts. The long work hours, lack of sleep, pathetic salaries, even worse food & accommodation, facing wrath of patients, delivering difficult diagnoses and bad news…..Only tough minded people survive in this field. Our major problem is that this is a one way street, after spending 12 long years in acquiring this education, you have no energy to start all over again. You are stuck here for better or worse.

I finished the book inbonebday. It is written very well,  I laughed aloud at many places. But I hurried through last few pages. Hurried even through the last chapter of the narrative… didn’t want to experience his pain…

He has left medicine for good now. It is sad in a way, all these years of hard work came to nothing. His story reminded me of a friend of mine, who was also a gynaec and left that branch for good, after a similar episode (less severe in implications but as traumatising as this one).

Should I think of his as a weak minded person who could not digest his mistake or a strong minded person who dared to change his profession after putting in so much efforts ? If this ( loss of a baby and the fact that the patient would never be a mother after this) event would have happened after 10 years of practice, would his decision remain the same ? The sad thing was that he put up through years of hard work,low pay, zero social life for a profession he genuinely loved and gave it up after one heartbreaking incident.

I know that I have not suffered severely in my 19 years of practice. I have faced lot of frustrations though, chiefly about the money and corporate politics. There are days ,when I think , that it is enough ,and I should retire, at the (tender)age of 46. But I do not. I know I love my job and I do it well.

But who am I to judge him so ? I have not walked in his shoes , have not suffered his pain. It is easy for me to pass judgement on somebody . May be I would have done a similar thing too…

The important thing is that he is happy now and he has written a good book which I liked...

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Book hangovers and ghostly presences(in books)


Book hangover is a very common thing for me and  it has nothing to do with the contents of the book.

I have seen a lot of people describe their book hangovers.( in book tube videos) They generally have it when they finish a very good book or a very bad book . The book,the plot, the writing ,the characters - stay in their mind. They can not start another book , or if they start, they will not be able to do justice to the new book.

My case is slightly different. I have a book hangover after every book I finish. I can not start a new book , unless I have a good 6-7 hours of sleep in between, therby giving my brsin time to switch off and start again. So, the new book starts only on the next day. It is particularly bad when I finish a book on a Sunday morning. Then I have nothing to do the whole day. (A desirable side effect of this is that I start writing ,like today.)

When I think over it , I conclude this :  when I read a book , I get into the plot and adapt my reading pace and my attention for that book. In literary fiction , I read slowly, savouring every word,rereading a few lines,paragraphs,or pages if required. In detective fiction & fantasies I go fast , because plot is more important than the words. Hence I find it difficult to start another book of different genre because my reading style is a little slow to adapt. You may ask, why not start a book of the same genre. Availability may be a problem sometimes , but most of the time, the variety seeking mind  is the real culprit.

So, here I am. Stuck with hundreds of books but nothing to read on a fine Sunday morning. A book hangover or a haunting ?

Speaking of haunting , I have been reading a lot of books with ghostly presences in them. They are not out and out fantasies or horror stories. Some of them are literary fiction and some (murder ) mysteries.

This started with Sarah Waters’ ‘ The little stranger’ a few months back. Sarah Waters is a favourite in the book tube and blogging community. When I bought the book, I knew that I was getting into a real ghost story. I did not mind that the ghost was evil and tried destroying people. My problem was that there was no motive for its evil intentions. I need motive for every occurence. It could be revenge, greed,lust or even a psychopathic delusions. But this ghost had none. It was evil purely for the sake of it.

Same with the book’ Dark matter’ by Michelle Paver. I abandoned this beautifully written book because of the unreasonable and evil ghost. (The beautiful writing may bring me back to this one someday.) 

My chief problem with ghosts in these two books was that there were no rules for ghosts , there was no motive for their actions and hence there was no solution.( I know that this is my problem and there are people out there who love these kinds of books. ) I prefer ghosts in fantasies where all these problems are taken care of and I prefer to think that I can handle them(if needed). But my favourite ghosts are those which are helpful, have a purpose and  a sense of humor.

‘‘The hoarder’by Jess Kidd fits the bill perfectly. This is a story of a very old man, Cathal Flood who stays in this big house which is full of things , memories and ghosts. His latest caretaker Maud is a clairvoyant and she can also see and talk to saints. That made it a very interesting book. The ghost in the book had a motive and sense of purpose. Though it never had a narrative voice ,it had a good, solid backstory and the story reached a satisfactory conclusion. I really liked this book and how the ghost was cleverly used to move the story forward.

Elated by the way this book concluded, I tried reading her second book ‘Himself’. ( I think I am wrong chronologically but I am rating and ranting in order that I read them. Himself was her first book.) I was disppointed by the story but the ghosts were perfect. There were multiple ghosts and some of them helped the story move forward. Numerous peripheral presences created the atmosphere. They could have been used more efficiently, multiple ghosts probably competed for the available space.

Will I be reading any more ghost stories ? Not pure ghost stories of 'evil without reason' ghosts , but if the ghost has a character,a good back story and an arc , then why not ? Bring it on, I say...

Himself by Jess Kidd

Okay, I have finished the book ‘Himself ‘ and I am disappointed. I had very high expectations because the other book by Jess Kidd( The horder) was excellent. But I felt that, this book had lot of beating around the bush and pointless supernatural activity.

Let me begin at the beginning :  Mahoney is an orphan. At the age of 26 ,he recieves an envelope that has photograph of his mother and a cryptic note informing him about his name,his place of birth and a veiled directive to find out more about his mammie. He arrives in the village to find that he has once again started seeing dead people, as he used to,many years back,in orphanage.

With the help of old,eccentric but sharp Mrs.Cauley,he decides to unravel the mystery of his mother.

So,why didnt I like this book ? Well, firstly, I felt cheated. I felt that a lot of answers were not provided for eg the killer’s motive. Secondly, there was a false alarm regarding the climax,where I waited with pounding heart for something to happen and it didn’t. So all that heart attack tension was wasted.Thirdly, the ghosts were not utilised properly. Fourth, there were some unnecessary threads of adultery amongst other things. Also, I didn’t like the form of narrative,I would have liked the entire solution at the end, not the shadowy figures committing murders in the first chapter.( I know ,this one is my personal preference but still … when I am listing grievances, I can list all.) My biggest problem was ,I didn't have a sense of completion at the end,when you get all the answers and even if you don’t ,there are at least hints about whys and hows. Some characters were not developed at all.I agree,that they were shadowy characters and probably they were meant to be like that , but I still felt cheated. Another problem was unnecessary delays due to descriptions, in getting to the point where something is happening. This is acceptable in literary fiction but not in a mystery. A mystery can be literary and slow moving but then ,when it is time for palpitations ,it should stay true to its form.

So,on the whole, not a great book. I still gave it 3 stars for the central idea of the plot but it was a probably a mismatch in expectations and reality on my part.