Dear friend, can I borrow you for a few moments to geek out about the magical genius that is Salman Rushdie? I just finished reading “Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights” and I am in awe of his mastery. In this version of 1001 nights, the barrier between the land of the jinn and our twenty-first century world collapses, and the dark jinn invade our world, causing havoc. But this is also the story of a battle between two philosophers—Ghazali, who believes that God is supreme, and Ibn Rushd, who tries to reconcile faith and reason. And yet, this is also a story of not-belonging, or of longing for a home or a love that no longer has a place for one. Only Rushdie can so perfectly fold these stories into each other: the novel unravels revealing stories within stories, a loss here balanced by a victory there, each new revelation sliding into place perfectly, and then, when he is finally finished, voila! there it stands, the most beautiful creation, balancing perfectly on the finest point. There’s a great pleasure in reading a book crafted by a master that opens up like Russian nesting dolls—every subsequent layer is equally beautiful, and each encloses the next just so, so you never quite forget where you began, though you may forget how you got here. Even now, I find myself grasping for the names of characters, elaborate back stories fading into the mist—when the air is filled with lightning and there is a jinn in a flying urn threating to destroy the world, does it really matter whose uncle left whom a fortune? Continue reading “On the magical genius that is Salman Rushdie”
Donna Tart’s Goldfinch is a novel that is crafted like a classic bildungsroman—a coming of age story where a young man’s life is thrown off its set path by a freak incident, and in a new and unfamiliar world filled with crime and opulence, he grows into his own. And like a classic nineteenth-century novel, the book sweeps over large portions of time, skipping several years between chapters, but suddenly zooming into the details of a necklace, the finish on an antique table, a long conversation with a returned friend. The pacing is often frustrating—these sudden jumps in time followed by long periods of languishing—and the protagonist, with his brooding amorality, is far from likeable.
I am not the most loyal reader, and I often abandon books midway to pick up others, or I read a few pages on a lazy Sunday morning and put the book back on a teetering pile to never glance at those pages again. What then was it about this book that kept bringing me back—that at the end of some other entirely different book, I would wonder what indeed had happened to Theodore Decker? And like picking up a conversation with an old friend, I would open the book again at the postcard which I used as a bookmark, and away we would go. A hundred pages later, rather predictably, I would abandon the protagonist in his latest drug haze and wander away only to return months later. Continue reading “On Reading Donna Tartt’s ‘Goldfinch’”
Why does everything have to happen
right now? Why was the report due yesterday
why is there no time better than now,
why not do things tomorrow, why do
them at all? What if I don’t want to
seize the day or eat the bigger frog,
what if I do miss the bus and opportunity
never again knocks? Let the bubble
break, I’m not going to let it go,
what does it matter I only live
once, I just don’t want to
do it — I’ll live in another moment
and make hay when the sun isn’t shining;
I’ll hold on to the past and forget to speak
in a church wedding. Who cares if this the bird in hand
or the other in the bush, I don’t want to smell
the roses or forever hold my peace; I want to bar some holds
and what if I just want to fold?
I know you are halfway through the door
and this is just a final look over the shoulder
to check that you haven’t forgotten something important
on the bedside table. Your thoughts have gone ahead of you:
eyes already seeking guiding lights through
frosted airplane windows, your body left behind,
hand resting on the door, one last smudge of warmth
in a place you used to call home before you turn off the lights.
What does goodbye mean in this world where we only travel
in circles and not in lines; that old feeling of deja vu
I leave and you stay
I stay and you leave —
a door endlessly banging open
too old and warped to properly shut now.
What can be said when everything
that had to be said has already been said —
to the ceiling, while lying on your floor,
over a weepy phone call, at 3 AM — or is now
irrelevant because of the oppressive weight of
possibilities: what if we forget to speak
each other’s languages and are reconfigured
into two people who can only talk about that one time
when that one thing happened to someone
we once knew.
But what use is a goodbye if it doesn’t feel like a goodbye,
if it’s not for forever, but only a question
of two minutes or two years or two decades,
the door banging open again, an old feeling of deja vu
as I turn on the lights — to a new
series of entrances.
There was a time when I felt other than myself. I no longer felt the need to push ahead and make something, primarily because something as nuanced as editing felt increasingly meaningless in a world that was rapidly losing all sense of nuance. In addition, the planet was about to be destroyed, the third world war was coming, AI was going to destroy all our jobs, and in the grand scheme of things, what does a misplaced comma matter really? During a conversation with a friend, when I was telling her about how pessimistic I was feeling, she pointed out (somewhat tangentially) that as long as I measure my work through numbers – hours, billing, etc. – I will never be happy. It is all about the quality, she said. I, my head still full of the data my various productivity trackers were tracking, completely misunderstood her and thought she was referring to the amount of work done in an hour and started to complain about how distracted I have been. Let’s just say the point went over my head by a few feet.
A few days later, I was editing an article on stone pelting in Kashmir. The article was essentially a collection of short interviews with “stone pelters” and captures their day-to-day lives. It was an article with a strong voice, but the pitfall it was headed toward was very apparent. Without any data, it appeared to be mere anecdotes and opinion. As I worked my way through the article, painfully smoothening it out word by word, the gears at the back of my head kept clicking: how do I make this more credible? How do I provide a context for these conversations? How do I keep this article from being so easily dismissed? I wanted the article to not just read well, but for it to be read and understood the way it was intended to be read and understood and not be dismissed as mere opinion. I do not know what form the article will finally take after the many drafts I foresee, but I do know this: I will be proud of the work I’ve done on this one when it does come out. But here in the tricky part. If my friend hadn’t spoken to me about quality, if that conversation hadn’t been rattling around at the back of my head, would I still feel this pride? Or would it be overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt – of having spent so long on something which should have taken half as long? “We really cannot afford to work this way,” a business part of my brain would have kicked in, drowning any sense of accomplishment the artisan in me felt. Continue reading “On purpose”
do not for a moment think
that you will receive a warm welcome here.
We parted on amicable terms years ago –
I thought we had an arrangement.
Life was simpler without you.
I found joy in going to bed early,
a secure income, insurance cover,
I had forgotten what a mess you are
of rage and desire; impatient
in your reminder of how swift
each contraction of the heart is;
I really want to slam the door in your face.
why did you come back?
It is my task now to
clothe you and civilise you
to not give in to your madness
to teach you to speak with words
and not claws.
It’s true that I’m not quite in form –
that I let myself go –
that it’s going to take me a while
to figure out how to tame you.
You have returned my story to me
Don’t leave just yet.
I’m Chitra, an editor and publishing news curator from India. Every fortnight, I publish a round-up of links related to publishing, editing, and writing.
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