Top 11 Books That Will Change Your Life

I am a bookaholic, I swear I am. That being said it’s nearly shameful that I hardly wrote any posts about books!! Inspired by today’s Daily Prompt I have decided to turn over a new leaf, and start writing about books, as I had originally intended to, when I first started my blog. I, however, was afraid that my blog would revolve too much around books, and that might make it boring. So, in attempting to evade a possible error, I over-corrected myself.
Enough time spent repenting, time to start writing. What better place to start than with classics. Here are some classic books that changed my life, and that I would recommend to every young-adult out there:

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: No book helped me more through puberty than this poignant tale of the 4 March sisters. I must have read it a thousand times over the years, fingering through the familiar yellow pages and finding solace, comfort and advice, that I sourly craved for. I empathized with the March sisters, wept at their sorrows, and rejoiced at their joys. I revered Mrs. March as a mentor. I turned to her for advice on those petty issues (read: boys and fashion) that I couldn’t confide to my mother.

Little Women

2. To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee: 
One of my favourite literary quotes are from this book:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

I love it for its sheer simplicity and also the its veracity. To really understand a person you need to understand HIM – his background, his past experiences and his frame of reference. Put yourself for one minute in the shoes of the worst person you know, and see how your opinion about him, mitigates (if not change).

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3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: I recently read thisbook for an Economics project and was touched to the core by the story. Though the novel is set in the Great Depression in the United States of America, a country I have never even been in, it somehow manages to give voice to the exploited and the homeless across the globe, including in my country. My favourite quote from the book is Tom’s farewell speech to Ma Joad. It echoes my belief in the fact that one should always, always fight for one’s right, if only in the hope that someone else like me, in the future, won’t have to go through what I went through. 

Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.graors of wrath

4. The Chronicles ofNarnia by C.S. Lewis: I love this book. I love how simple it makes the eternal struggle between good and bad seem. You have to support the good, just because it is right. There can be no excuses. Especially, I love the portrayal of paradise in the last book, as a place with all the good things and all the good people of Earth. Earth is, according to the book, simply like a trial round for all creatures to see who deserves Paradise:

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different – deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.

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5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: I read this book as part of my fifth-grade reading list, and I have been in love with it ever since. It is a thrilling tale of vengeance, but my favourite scene is when the Count asks forgiveness from Mercedes, and bades her farewell. He asks her where shall they meet again, and she tells him they will meet in heaven.

the count of monte christo

 

6. Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde: Oscar Wilde is easily my favourite playwright. This play, highlighting the hypocrisy of society, especially the concept of ‘a good woman’ seems as relevant to me, in today’s age of feminism, as in the Victorian Society.

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7. Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle: Do I even need to explain this?! The adventures of this great detective will help you happily spend many a rainy day. It might also increase your skills of deductive reasoning.

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8. And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie: As we are on the topic of mysteries, I must of course name my favourite lone-standing mystery novel. This one is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will keep you guessing till the end.
and then there were none
9. Jeeves by P.G. Woodehouse: When I first read this book I kept a dictionary beside me, and I will frankly confess that I had to turn to it more than a dozen times, to get through a single page. But I am glad I persevered, because this is undoubtedly one of the wittiest and most humorous books I have ever read!
Jeeves
10. Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan: Not sure if this counts as a classic, but R.K. Narayan’s beautifully described plot with its vivid imagery will transport you to the idyllic villages of India. It is indeed awe-inspiring the way he managed to weave such poignant tales out of the petty problems and daily obstacles of the average middle-class man.
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11. Nirmala by Munshi Premchand: Premchand does a wonderful job in this novel at giving voice to the subaltern masses and highlighting the social evils of pre-independent Indian society. I love it for its boldness. His protagonist is a woman, and not a rich princess, but a common everyday housewife – the one, who was in this era, usually secluded behind the curtain.
nirmala
…I could go on forever on this topic, but the old doubts are returning now. I don’t wanna bore you, and hope I haven’t. Try reading some of these books. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Fussy Writer

I am a fussy writer. One of the fussiest you may ever have the bad fortune of meeting.

For one, I can’t write if there are people around me. I am paranoid about people looking at my works, before they are done. The unedited, raw first draft contains too much of me — it contains raw emotions, disjointed words, melodramatic and verbose phrases, and loads of scribbled over lines. Letting someone see it is like letting them see me naked. Confession: It makes me feel vulnerable.

So, writing with anyone in a two-hand distance of me is out. I spend too much time looking over my shoulder, making sure they are not peeping (even if they are not remotely interested in my work, and would really appreciate it if the constant drone of the keyboard or the scribbling, scratching nib stopped). Though I am trying to get over this pet aversion of mine, there is another fussy habit of mine that probably causes more annoyance to people, especially my family.

I can’t write with the T.V. on. I can’t write if someone is talking on the phone near me. I can’t write if someone is listening to music near me. I can’t write if there is any kind of noise around me. I need a perfectly quiet, serene environment, that is nearly impossible to achieve in a suburban family apartment.

After years of tantrums, tears and me acting the misunderstood creative genius — my family lost patience.

They bought me a laptop, and locked me in my bedroom, where I can scribble in peace, and type away to glory. 

 

Humanity: It is all Grey

Today’s Daily Prompt:The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick? 

One of my favourite poems, especially for its illuminating perspective about humans ins ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake. The poem runs like this:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
 
In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

 

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

 

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
 
Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
 
The poem talks about Blake’s admiration for the tiger that stands for might. But then he raises questions as to the Creator of the Tiger. Which divine entity, Blake asks, dared to create such a magnificent beast? Was it God or the Devil? If it was God then how could someone who is supposed to be kind and benevolent create a violent creature like the Tiger, after creating the meek lamb. The Tiger would in course of time attack the lamb and cause it distress. How then can God be benevolent and omniscient if it does nothing to prevent the Lamb’s suffering, instead gives rise to it? 
I think the poem presents a perfect representation of the dichotomy of Good and Evil, of Happiness and Misery, that so characterizes human life. It is only through Misery that one can appreciate Happiness. Evil is needed to illuminate all that is pure in Good. Without Evil, Goodness loses its sanctity. This is the truth of human life, I feel. It is hard to divide the world into the black and white, the good and bad. They are too closely inter-linked to be separated. It is all grey.  

Generation Gap: Daily Prompt

Today’s Daily Prompt: If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?

Disclaimer: I greatly respect my family’s heritage and stock of traditions. This post is written with tongue-of-cheek, self-deprecating humour, and to be read from the same point of view.

Now that I have safeguarded myself from any angry relatives who might accidentally stumble across my blog, let me start the post – I will be truthful. On reading this the first thing that came to my mind was my grandfather hitching a ride with ‘Doc’ and ‘Marty’ (from the ‘Back to the Future’ Trilogy) and ringing our house doorbell, and jovially asking my mom – what’s for dinner? And asking me to go get him some of his favourite samosas from the store. My grandfather was a pretty cool guy. I don’t think he would be shocked by anything if he came over to dinner. But anyone a generation before would probably have a mini-heart attack, and die again! Assuming that they condescend to enter an apartment building, smaller than the servants’ quarters in their ancestral home, here are some things that I think they will find shocking:

  1. Coming from an aristocratic lineage where women were considered the ‘pride and honour’ of the family, I guess my ancestor would be more than a little shocked to find my wardrobe stocked up with jeans and t-shirts, and heaven forbid, my precious dresses. For all I know they might just hold a bonfire for all my clothes.Also the fact that I am unable to wear or manage a sari without my mother’s expert help might be a source of consternation to some of my late family members.
  2. The Biggest Shock would obviously be the fact that all my father’s brothers and my grandfather’s brothers no longer reside together even in the same country, much less the same house. Some are known to me and my sister only by names; the black telephone cord substitute blood line in case of others; some are just glossy photographs in a yellowed photo album, others are buried deep within the hard drive containing pictures of the last family wedding, ten years ago.Over time, one of the changes for the worse (at least in my opinion) is the widening gap between relatives, even primary ones. I talk to my first cousins over the phone maybe three-four times a year. I meet them in formal settings maybe once after two years. The camaraderie and mutual love shared by cousins once upon a time is as good as a fictional myth now. Once upon a time, in India (doesn’t it sound like the beginning of a fairy tale) the concept of ‘single child’ never existed, because even if you didn’t have your own siblings, you always had your cousins, and they were as good as.
  3. The fact that I can’t recite any Sanskrit hymns or sholkas, and am mostly ignorant about the rituals associated with worship will immediately earn me the trophy of the ‘Worst Daughter Ever’. Also seeing me mingle quite freely with guys, and girls from all castes and religions, would definitely be a shock to all my ancestors born before the mid nineteenth-century.
  4. The fact that both me and my sister can neither write nor read our mother tongue, Bengali, would be as great a source of shame for my ancestors as my parents, if not greater. To our defence we were brought up away from the region, and never felt the need to learn a language we did not use in our daily interactions.
  5. Once upon a time dinner used to be served in huge golden dishes with at least seven courses. Now it comprises of take-out pizza on microwave-safe dishes. I don’t think my ancestors would be staying for dinner after all!
  6. The apartment we currently reside in would probably give claustrophobia to any ancestor kind enough to drop by for dinner. Our apartment, situated right in the middle of the urban concrete jungle, lacks the open air, free space and outdoor gardens, our ancestral home in the village undoubtedly had. We can’t even see the sky from our windows, unless you try, really, really hard. The only greenery comes from the potted plants and flower boxes on the balconies.
  7. If my ancestors were to come over for dinner on a Sunday there is a good chance they would partake of a meal prepared by my father. Which would indeed be a radically shocking, socially upsetting and paradigm changing sight for even my great-grandparents. On most Sundays, to give my mother a well-deserved break, my father takes over the kitchen. He is a great chef, and a standing joke in our family is that after retirement he should open up a restaurant. An idea that would undoubtedly be seriously frowned upon by my ancestors, no matter how good his chicken biryani is.

Chocolate – The Ultimate Sin

chocolate cake

A bowl of chocolate ice-cream beside me, and a nearly fully-charged laptop, and I am ready to write this post….

11506_guinness_milk_chocolate_ice_cream_3_620Now at the risk of sounding like the label behind a cereal box, this product (the blog post) is best enjoyed with a cup of chocolate ice-cream or milkshake or any form of chocolate really. Now take a spoon of chocolate, close your eyes and slide it into your mouth – can you feel the silky smoothness of the texture, the heavenly taste as the chocolate melts onto your tongue. If you are having an ice-cream like me, the cool pleasant images (1)almost erotic sensation of the cold, melting dollop that spreads across your tongue to your entire body. You will see gorgeous splashes of colour in the dark, and…..well this is bordering a little too much on food porn now and so I will stop – but seriously this is what makes chocolate a sin. I mean, it would probably have been prohibited by some religious leader or other at some point of time, except that they too were probably bribed by its lustful taste. I read on a T-shirt, once, If there is no chocolate in heaven, I ain’t going. Now I don’t know who the author of these words are but I have a feeling that we would get along well. You can keep all your manna, honey and dew – just give me chocolates.

cupcakeAs you would know if you have read my earlier posts (which I hope you have) I am trying to lose weight, and thus on a diet. And now I must confess that I have been cheating on my diet…with chocolate. I am completely helpless next to its sensuous appeal; and now am seriously considering a divorce from my diet. But chocolate is an old mistress of mine. It is my first love.

I remember the long summer days at school when everything went wrong, when I had been used and thrown away by those I thought were my friends, when I had been trampled on, lost and confused, or just merely sad, chocolate was my only saviour. It was a ritual among me and my friends  – after a bad day at school, we would go and have a chocolate ice-cream. And, just like that, by magic, all would be right in the world again.

22 months ice cream with friends 2

images (2)I haven’t lost that practice till date. Even today when I have a bad day at college or at work, or am just generally depressed, I go and have something chocolate – a gooey chocolate brownie, a soft chocolate pastry that falls apart at one touch, a cold chocolate ice-cream, a slurpy delicious chocolate milkshake, a chocolate doughnut with a molten gooey centre (yum!), and if nothing else, then at the least a measly chocolate bar, or a cookie at least. Just a few days ago, I had an intense desire to meet the love of my life, and entered this really expensive patisserie. If I had been in my senses, I should have walked away. If I ever tell my parents the cost of a single item there, they would faint with shock. It was way images (3)beyond my usual expenditure, and my course of action should have been an immediate tactical retreat, and then maybe fulfilling my craving from a cheaper bakery. But have I recently mentioned that chocolates are my undoing? Well they are. As if a magnet was pulling me I went to the counter and ordered their most expensive pastry – a hazelnut crunchy pastry. It was minuscule when it arrived on a little paper plate, with a folded napkin. My heart was already in pieces by guilt. Guilt was hollowing a pit in the depths of my stomach. Mournfully I lifted the spoon, cut a piece, and put it in my mouth. Immediately I forgot all my guilt. It would have been a sin for me to walk away from that patisserie without tasting this divine piece of pastry. It was loaded with nuts and chocolates – and it was my most expensive edible purchase in history.

download (3)But I was past caring now. Each bite was an explosion of fireworks in my mouth. I savoured each morsel like there was no tomorrow. As I walked out of the pastry, I threw out all my concerns about cheating on my diet (and my pocket). Life is too short to deny yourself such pleasures. I am done feeling guilty about my love affair with chocolate. She has been beside me through thick and thin, and only always given me joy. I no longer feel guilty about spending exorbitant amounts for that tiny piece of exquisiteness.

The Sweater (A Short Story)

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The bell rang slowly as she walked into the shop. The assistant rushed forward her winning smile plastered over her face, and enquired how she might help. I want to see some balls of wool please. The lady smiled and led her through the many aisles to the furthest corner of the shop, beside the window, where they kept all sorts of sewing materials. She would get everything she wanted here, the assistant assured her.

Sarah looked at the different colour threads hanging as samples on the window, glittering in the winter sunlight. She stared at the various colours, mesmerized. It seemed to her as if someone had collected all the colours of the world and arranged them here for her perusal. And why not? Her Teddy deserved only the best. Again, she remembered his last letter. She had read it so many times, that she could by now recite it word to word. It is so cold here, darling. At night, when the snow falls, we feel as if we would freeze to death.

It was at that very moment that she had decided to knit a sweater for him. Now, again she glanced at the rainbow in front of her – the reds, the blues and the greens. All of them were so beautiful, which one should she buy. The dark red one, like the roses he used to give her everyday; the light blue one, which reminded her of the colour of the sky of the day when he proposed to her, the light yellow like the honeysuckles under which he had first kissed her, the dark emerald of her eyes in whose depths she could see the reflection of her face; the choices were endless like her memories, each a treasured jewel within her chest. Three months, was all that they had spent together. Three months of infinite joy, of tender love and wild passion. Three months before this infernal war started, before he left her. Her lips still tingled from his last kiss; his parting words echoed in her ear, Wait for me, my dear. I will come back soon.

In the end, she chose the white wool. White like the fluffy clouds they used to watch together, and imagine shapes in; white like her wedding dress; white like the rose he wore in his buttonhole on their wedding; white like his teeth, when he smiled; and white like the snow-flakes which fell around her, the day he left.

She knitted the sweater every day, patiently weaving all her love and care with the wool. If she made any blunder, she would go back, undo it and knit again, until the pattern was perfect. She would accept nothing but the best for him. At each stitch, she would imagine his face, his delight when he would see the sweater. He would swing her in his arms, so fast that the wind would race by her hair, and then they would fall down together on the lawn, laughing so loudly, that the sound would carry to the seven heavens.

Finally, after a fortnight, the sweater was ready. Only the last few stitches remained. In her enthusiasm, she pricked her hand with the knitting needle, and watched with growing dismay, as her blood seeped on the sweater, staining it a bright ugly red. Oh, she cried to herself aghast, Teddy’s sweater is spoiled. Unspeakable grief overwhelmed her heart. She could not help the tears running down her face, and she cried, burying her face in the sweater.

The doorbell rang, harshly, discordantly. Hastily, she wiped her face, and dusted down her skirt. She walked with composed steps to the door, and opened it. Two soldiers in uniform stood outside. Her heart fluttered wildly, like a trapped bird and even before they spoke, she knew, and the terrible knowledge, made her knees go weak. She collapsed on the floor, even as the soldier started to speak, We are sorry to inform you………….

My Iconic Bureau

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The theme of this week’s writing challenge was iconic, and it set me thinking. Which object was that one icon that embodied me and all what I stand for, my journey in life up till now, and something that will probably play just as important a part in my future. The answer is my bureau. My father had it made for me the very year I joined nursery school – April 1999 –  and I have been studying on it ever since. It is just four years younger than me, and in many ways we have grown up together. It is kinda messy I admit, but still very dear to my heart, which is why I wrote this poem for it:

My desk stands old and bruised,                                                                                                        Ages have passed – or so it seems,                                                                                                     Since our first encounter. Indeed, I am                                                                                    Much changed; No more the tiny lass,                                                                                                Who needed two cushions on her chair                                                                                                    To reach the desk, where I now sit proudly.                                                                                         Only the glittering princess sticker on the side reminisces                                                                  Of those times, when I lisped through the alphabets – here, on my desk,                                Where I now recite Blake and Keats, and memorize Shakespeare.                                    Much has it endured the brunt of time – fifteen long years;                                               Much has it been moistened by many, many tears and,                                                                  Dried by the warmth of smiles and care.                                                                                            Was it not only yesterday, that I tore my hair out over number tables,                                       And fractions that gave me nightmares – now I muse over polynomials!

The stains and marks tell their own story – I beg you to listen,                                                  They are all a-clamouring to tell you their story, my story:                                                            The paint splatters are testimony to many an artwork,                                                               The canvas of my childhood has had held many masterpieces, the pride of a child’s heart! That there, the cream splotch, my mother over-worked her hands on that,                                   To remove the squiggles of a permanent marker.

The locker has in its time stored many secrets, and treasures,                                               Birthday gifts, love letters, old valentines and party-invites.                                                         Only the adhesive marks remain from my movie posters,                                                      Blackened with time; From Enid Blyton to JK Rowling,                                                                From Cinderella to Eragon, from Famous Five to Sherlock Holmes,                                                  My learned desk has read it all. It has written too,                                                                        Diaries and letters, essays and lab journals.                                                                                          The line of books replaced the parade of Barbies,                                                                     The pierre-cardin pens, my worn out crayons.                                                                                 Dull volumes succeeded the picture books, the book of rhymes by the book of poems.

My desk has been my dearest companion,                                                                                   Together we would sit and daydream, me and my darling confider.                                          Together we have traveled down the vista of years,                                                                Faced the storms and zephyrs alike; hiked over mountains and moors.                                       This wooden desk is my memoir, the legacy of my childhood,                                                        The comrade of my youth and the foundation of my future.

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This is my first attempt at writing a poem, but the subject I think is fitting. This is an ode to me desk.