Monday, August 31, 2009

Big Read's Top 100

Saw this on Shr1k's blog. Made me realize how many books I have NOT read.

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed.

  • Look at the list and bold those you have read.
  • Italicize those you intend to read.
  • Mark in RED the books you LOVE. (Slight change: I've marked the ones I loved right after reading them, but not necessarily any more. This is not a list of my favourite books, though 3-4 of the red ones would make it.)
  • (Added by me) Mark in BLUE the books you started, but couldn't quite get into.
  • Reprint this list in your own blog.
  • According to Shrik, having seen the movie/cartoon/TV series is not the same as having read the book.

The List

   1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
   3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
   4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
   5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
   6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

   7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
   8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
   9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

  12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
  14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
  16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
  20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
  23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
  24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling

  25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
  26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  28. Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
  29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
  32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
  34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
  35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

  37. Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
  38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  39. Dune, Frank Herbert
  40. Emma, Jane Austen
  41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
  42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
  44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  47. Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
  49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
  50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
  51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
  53. The Stand, Stephen King
  54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  55. Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

  56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
  58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
  59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
  60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
  62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
  63. Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
  65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
  66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
  67. The Magus, John Fowles
  68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
  70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
  71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
  72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
  73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
  74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
  75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
  76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
  78. Ulysses, James Joyce
  79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
  81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
  82. Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
  83. Holes, Louis Sachar
  84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
  85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
  87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
  90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
  91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
  92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
  93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  95. Katherine, Anya Seton
  96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
  97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
  99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
 100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

• • •

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chasing the Sun

Early afternoon. I'm out to get myself a pineapple juice, to make up for having skipped lunch. I give the counter guy the token and wait for him to make it. Just then, I catch a yellow gleam from the corner of my eye. I look up and see that it's The Sun, winking and beaming down at me.

"Why, hello Sun!" I say. "This is a pleasant surprise! Been some time since we've seen you around here!"

"What - what are you saying, girl?" says The Sun. "I've been here almost every day! It's just that I get here a little late because of the rain, so you don't quite see me when you leave for work in the morning."

"Oh right, okay. And it's late by the time I leave, so I don't catch you then either. Right, yeah," I say absent-mindedly, wondering where my fruit juice went. "So what's up? What are you up to these days?"

"Oh, same old, same old. Rise in the East, set in the West. You?"
"Oh I recently started work, ya know. So that's pretty much it," I say glumly.

"Yeah, I was just thinking the other day that it's been some time since I saw you. I remember when you were at XL, you used to sit outside almost everyday, chatting with your friends or maybe reading a book."

"Yeah, those were the days..."

"You know, I like seeing you around. You should get out more in the daytime. Look at you, your skin so pale and your hair so dull."

"I know, I know. But what can I do? Job and all, you know how it is."

"Why don't you get a job that lets you be outside? It would do you a whole lot of good. You're wasting your youth, sitting at a desk all day staring at a screen."

"I know," I say, sighing. I look at the trees waving in the wind and feel a certain longing.

"Imagine," says The Sun temptingly. "Imagine watching a sunset sitting on a cliff. Imagine tramping through the jungle. Imagine swimming in a clear pool. Imagine..."

"Okay, okay. Stop being John Lennon," I say crossly. "It's easy enough for you to say all this. But how do I pay for my expensive education and support myself? Anyway, all this is pure romantic garbage. In reality there would be mosquitoes and heat and having to pee in the bushes and... and I bet it'll all get very boring pretty soon."


"And where will it get me at the end of the day anyway? At least I'm doing something here. At least I'll get promoted in some time and reach somewhere and earn some more money. Something to look forward to."

"Oh right," says The Sun with a snicker. "I forgot about the rat race you're part of. Alright, whatever. Have it your way. I'm leaving. See you around, girl."

With that, he hides behind some convenient clouds, leaving me to my suddenly disturbed thoughts.

"Ma'am, your juice," says the counter guy.
"Thank you," I say automatically.

I make sure I leave early that day, just to prove The Sun wrong - in some obscure way. Unfortunately, it's raining and dark and he's nowhere to be seen. I shiver and hug myself and walk all alone to my bus.

• • •

Friday, August 14, 2009


Those two years of my life are not ones that I think of with any kind of nostalgia. I was lost throughout, bent on drowning in self-doubt and self-pity. The shock of the new environment didn't help either, I suppose.

But there are bits of it that I wish I'd enjoyed more. There was that one week in rural Rajasthan, for example. It was a mandatory trip for all of us, the school's way of ensuring that the sons and daughters of the rich socialites of Delhi went to an Indian village at least once in their lives. I remember at the introduction session at school, the program leader asked, "So have any of you been to a village before?" One guy raised his hand and said, in all seriousness, "Yes ma'am, to Ambala." I rest my case.

I went for that trip knowing that I would be an outcast again - and I still don't know who to blame for that. All these years, I've blamed them - those snobbish teenagers who couldn't understand me and therefore didn't accept me or include me. But as the years have passed, and I've become more and more like them, I've stopped blaming them and started accepting that I was also partly a cause for my exclusion. We were just too different, them and me. Neither of us could have been expected to fit so easily into each others' lives.

But I was talking about that week. I was so hung up on the people and the politics and the exclusion that I simply forgot to enjoy the trip - or, indeed, learn from it. The place we went to was Tilonia - the Barefoot College. I've since studied the project as a case in a course on social entrepreneurship. It was only while doing research for a presentation that I realized that I'd actually been to the place! I hadn't even known what the project was actually called.

The funny thing is that I can still remember most of the trip itself. The first two days, we stayed in Tilonia and were taken around the campus. I remember solar heaters and rainwater harvesting and women's groups producing handicrafts and something called 'Kabaad se Jugaad' - making useful things out of waste materials. The days were hot and brown. There was dust in little spirals, and sporadic short green bushes. We would wake up early in the morning and queue up before the tap, shivering in the cold of the desert. And the rainwater would gush out from the tap, warm from the solar heating.

After the first couple of days, we were divided into three groups and taken to three separate villages. The village I went to was better than I'd expected it to be - it wasn't squalid or dirty for one thing. There was some sort of drought relief work going on - the women were digging a trench in return for the wages that they would normally be earning from agricultural activities in normal years. We tried to help them a little bit with their digging - they laughed at our pathetic attempts, of course.

My clearest memory from the entire trip is of a group trek we did one night. We walked from the village to a nearby temple, all of us. If only I could describe that trip in detail. It was dark all around - not a single streetlight, no reflected glow from buildings, just the billions of stars overhead. And really, no light was necessary because the starlight was so bright. We city dwellers don't realize how accustomed we are to artificial light. Even when the electricity goes off, there's usually some sort of light - reflected light from the house next door, the street light filtering in. But total and absolute absence of any light but that of the stars overhead - that's an experience!

I don't remember much about the temple itself. Just that we sat or lay under the trees outside. We were mostly quiet, even the shallowest, because of the sheer beauty of the spectacle above us. What can you do in such cases except stare upwards in mute and open-mouthed wonder? I remember thinking, despite the loneliness and the exclusion, that this was one experience I'd never forget. And I never have.
• • •

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Neighbourhood

It's forty minutes past seven. As usual, I am late for my bus to office, and I'm hurrying along with my laptop bag flapping behind me and my long silver house key still in my hand. It's a straight road downhill to the bus stop. On the way, dignified old paatis with silver hair stare at me in wonder. Every day they see me, a strange young girl with long hair streaming backwards in the wind, fast-walking down the road.

On both sides of the road are single- and double-storeyed houses. I like them because - well, they're not flats, they're actual houses with histories and personalities. Most of these houses have at least one tree growing in their tiny front yard,  and these trees generously spread their shadow onto the road. The entire neighbourhood becomes quite dark at night  - the trees reduce the orange streetlights to tiny little pools on the dark road. And when it rains, I  never need an umbrella, except to ward off the wet leaves that float down with the wind and stick to my hair.

My house has a tall jackfruit tree that has no jackfruits. Just outside, the first sight I see in the morning after I bolt the tiny black side gate behind me, is a tree with yellow and red flowers - I don't know its name. And on the way to the bus stop, there is a jasmine plant, the whole of its foliage covered in white. It's beautiful, a dark green round canopy dotted with white stars. I always stare at it with longing, because it reminds me of home.

Mornings and evenings, there are exercise-freaks walking busily around the neighbourhood. I see them in the mornings and wish I had the time to be like them. I see them in the evenings when I'm dragging myself home uphill with the heavy laptop on my back, and wonder at their energy.

In the evenings, you can see young moms walking along with babies on strollers; kids playing badminton in the middle of the street; old gentlemen in groups walking and laughing together; dignified old couples, the lady with her pallu pulled demurely over her shoulder, the gentleman with slow steps and a walking stick.

Every time  I see them, especially the elderly people, I feel like a trespasser. They've been living their lives here in this neighbourhood for years, knowing their neighbours and their neighbours' neighbours, and I have brashly intruded into their colony and their lives. I don't know them, I don't even wish to know them. The reason I'm here is that I like the security they give me, I like the fact that I have this tiny island to remind me of home while I try to find my way in this vast ocean of adulthood.

Sometimes I can almost understand why they want to kick us out.

• • •

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Word Field

They inserted a new word into my word field today. I'd laboured over my word field for so long, planting the words just so, making sure that they followed the design, that a purple word didn't clash with a pink one. And now they had added a stupid little black the, and I was powerless to throw it back out of my precious plot.

It stood there foolishly, looking around, a stupid grin on its e of a face. All the other words tried to ignore it studiously - they were my creations, after all. But I could see them throwing curious looks at it. They had never seen a black word before. All the words in my field are colourful. I water them with nice healthy commas and full stops, just the right amount. And I never take them away from their fellows. That's how words become black, you know - when they don't quite fit in, when they know that they're unwanted.

I knew that I shouldn't dislike the black the. After all, it hadn't asked to be put into a word field where it wasn't wanted. Making friends with new words is always tough. In fact, maybe it had been a bright red before it was plucked and put here.

But now it was stuck with me and I was stuck with it. Suddenly feeling sorry for it, I asked it to stand behind a big yellow banana. I wasn't supposed to, of course. The Authorities are very strict about the order they put the words in - I'm not supposed to change it. But I did this one time - it was better for everybody.

• • •