Friday, November 29, 2013

Of Books and Bookshelves

Going through other people's bookshelves is usually a rewarding exercise. You often discover books that you wouldn't have come across otherwise - books that were popular in a particular year or a particular age, and then faded from memory. You also come across authors you might not have tried otherwise.

I was riffling through my in-laws' library recently. I've done it before of course, but this particular stash had older books, yellow with age, that had been bought at least thirty or forty years ago. My father-in-law is a scientist, so the vast majority of the books in the library are related to chemistry or other sciences. A few books on history, some slim volumes of Malayalam literature, some quiz books - these complete the collection.

And the thought struck me - this is how kids get formed. These were the books that were available to my husband when he was growing up, and they were what formed his personality and his interests. Science, history, Kerala - their library is almost a summary of my husband's interests.

And what a contrast to the kind of books I read as a kid. Both my parents are Literature graduates, and the vast majority of the books in their library are novels. There was some non-fiction, of course - but the boring academic work-related kind. So it was natural that I grew up reading more fiction than non-fiction, and still prefer it.

I now feel sorrier than ever for children who grow up without books in the house. Imagine - they grow up without knowing that there are wonderful worlds inside each book - worlds that they can create with the help of a few words, and their own imagination. These children probably know of only TV or music as entertainment - they don't know anything about books! How terrible for them. 
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Thursday, November 21, 2013


Once again, it has been a long time since I posted. The hundred posts target looks impossible now, but then I couldn't help it - it has been a crazy month. You make plans when you're free, thinking you'll have plenty of time to carry them out, but then life intervenes. I've barely even read a book in the past month or so.

It was partly my fault. I'd learnt earlier this year that planning trips on back-to-back weekends is a bad idea - not only do you fall behind on routine household chores, it also messes up your head. Unfortunately, a combination of events ensured that I couldn't avoid travelling this month. Add to that work-related travel, and it was a hectic month overall.

But don't get me wrong. The trips were all good ones, though I'm cribbing about them. Among other things, they've provided me material for a few blog posts. I'm planning a five-post travelogue; let's see if it materializes.

I was supposed to travel this weekend as well, and this was the trip I'd been looking forward to the most - a friend's wedding provided a convenient excuse to spend four days in Delhi. The plan was to visit the two-thirds of my family that is now in Delhi, shop to my heart's content, catch up with old friends, and attend a full-blown three-day Punjabi wedding.

But again, life intervened to ensure that I can't go. Strangely, the last time I planned to attend a wedding was when the horrible depressing three-week-long eye infection happened. And now this. The next wedding (this being wedding season) is two weeks from now, and I'm wondering what horrible thing will happen to stop me from attending that one. I tell you, such things could make even the most rational person become superstitious.

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Diwali Night

As I type this,whooshes and explosions surround me on all sides.The windows periodically light up with different colours. Any non-Indian would probably think I'm in a war-zone. But it's just Diwali in Bangalore.

I didn't think much of Diwali when I was a kid. Unlike today, we didn't have too many varieties of fire-crackers back then. There were the the usual sparklers in white and red and green, and there were the chakrams (wheels) and the conical thing that goes whoosh into the air with a lot of light, I can't remember the name of it. If we were lucky, there would be one or two rockets, and a big red malappadakkam, which was scary. These would be saved till the end, and only one of the grown-ups was allowed to light them.

When we became a little older, we decided that crackers were for kids, and stopped pestering our parents to buy them. I think this was also the time the Sivakasi child labour aspect gained publicity, so that may have played a part. And so Diwali became just another holiday for us - no crackers or lights or anything. It helped that we Malayalis don't celebrate Diwali in any case. We have no puja or sweets associated with Diwali.

It wasn't until we moved to Delhi that I realized how big Diwali actually is as a festival. Our first Diwali there, we went up to the roof of the house to see the fireworks. Flowers of light bloomed all around us. Rockets went up into the sky with a whoosh and exploded. Below us, our neighbours lit sparklers wished each other. And then it hit me, in a way it had never hit me before, that the ENTIRE CITY was celebrating that night. Young and old, rich and poor, everybody could see and enjoy these lights.

I didn't think much of it back then, but apparently there is a reason that Malayalis don't celebrate Diwali. Somebody told me once that it's because Diwali is associated with Rama's victory over Ravana. Apparently we Malayalis identify more with Ravana than with Rama. But that didn't make much sense to me. Why would we identify with a Sri Lankan king?

The story I heard recently makes more sense. Apparently, Vamana vanquished our beloved King Mahabali on Diwali day. For us, it's less about the victory of some North Indian king over some Sri Lankan king, and more about our own king being sent underground, poor guy.

But Diwali seems to be spreading south as well, if how Bangalore is tonight is any indication. Maybe it's the number of North Indians here, or maybe it's the fact that it's such a fun festival, but Bangalore tonight reminds me of that first Diwali night in Delhi long ago.
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