(Almost) being inside a dystopian novel: A non-review

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   I read Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last as soon as it came out last year. This is how Goodreads describes it:

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

For someone who lives on dystopian fiction and cannot do without Atwood’s writings, this was good book. When I read it, I was confused: Why would an accomplished writer like her write about soo much sex? Don’t get me wrong, I am not being judgmental – characters in coitus is not really my thing, but I don’t mind it if the plot calls for it.

I obviously did not get the point of the novel when I read it. During the LitFest, Atwood spoke about the layers in the story – dystopia, the idea of prisons as safe-shelters in a post-apocalyptical world, the concept of depravation and love and betrayal… I’ve been meaning to re-read this book – perhaps this time in paperback (whenever it comes out); I am too dependent on my Kindle nowadays (Is that a bad thing, folks?)!

Anyhow, this past LOONG weekend, my boyfriend and I got our own taste of being Charmaine and Stan. For the past three days, we have had no water, fluctuating electricity, and barely anything to eat; also, we’ve been in the car a lot – traveling to friends’ houses for showers, for the AC and the like. You might think that Bangalore is a tech-city but clearly that’s only the view on the surface. The city administration is corrupt and has eluded financial accountability for the past five years. Bangalore proper remains untouched by corrupt harakiri. These areas are near my workplace – it’s (almost) sparsely populated, more green, very residential. You know, areas that will more likely survive if there’s an apocalypse! The area where we live is the hub of start-ups. Overpopulated and dense with Indian eateries and the over-enthusiastic student crowd. During summer (the state of Karnataka has seen drought during the last two years…) there are are a lot of power cuts, consuming full days, there’s no water and people turn on each other. This area will be one of the first to implode in a catastrophic end-of-the-world event.

Throughout the weekend, I imagined A and I in one of these catastrophic events. Bangalore at the brink of destruction. The city, fastened tight in a gridlock (this is not uncommon in Bangalore, dear Reader) and we are escaping this rundown rented apartment, stocking up on food supplies, sleeping in the car. We are united at first, mellow but happy to be alive and with each other despite all odds and then, one fine day… we begin to turn on each other… A is Stan – he keeps a watch at night, at the helm of the car, always on guard; and I, losing it day by day, always in need of protection, always pretending to be someone I am not…

… until one day, we walk into a dilapidated restaurant and find an advertisement for a prison that provides shelter every alternate month…

Reading when there’s no time for reading

I discovered the joys of reading discreetly in class in grade six during maths classes. Needless to say, I was atrocious at mathematics but I always kept myself busy. My teacher, a petite little monster, wrote on the blackboard for what seemed like eternity and I read to my heart’s content. I made sure I would never sit at the back of the classes; she would notice them a lot – instead I sat close to her and read to my heart’s content. I never took down all the vivid (mathematics) imagery from the blackboard, but I did spend a lot of time reading. And this was a time when there were no fancy apps/websites tracking your reading and reading-guilt had not been discovered and also, noone cared about the reading/not reading dichotomy because there were no activities to compare reading with (Reading vs. netflix and the like…).

In law school, too, there were ways to escape classes simply by making sure I carried a book everyday. Banking law and Investment Law classes are a blur because I have no idea whether I even attended these. I got out of law school in 2013 and despite my insane schedule during my post-grad course in Budapest thereafter, I tried my best to squeeze in some time at least for reading. When I turned in my last batch of books before leaving Budapest in 2014, the librarian told me that I was the only one in the legal department that year to have checked out books from the fiction section. I felt accomplished, very very proud of myself that someone had noticed my efforts to lead a normal life in spite of a gazillion credits, two internships, and a research tour for my 100+ pages of dissertation… and not forgetting, the hours of cooking and food-prep in a bid to live through my stipend.

Cut to now – I am in my second and this is a much much more extensive job that requires a ton of traveling and much to my chagrin, find no time to read. I stock up my Kindle when I am on the field and always carry a paperback or two but the nature of my work is so sensitive and so unsettling that I come back to hotel rooms (or home) completely unable to concentrate on reading. On some days, I listen to audiobooks on the commute just to make myself feel better. Making a schedule for reading seems as unfair as making a schedule for sex – schedules aren’t made for things you love doing.

I want to say that I have solved this problem a hundred percent, but I haven’t. I have begun to forgive myself for times when I cannot read like the older days, when finishing a book in one sitting is not possible anymore. I have started to reward myself for chores/completed tasks at work with reading time. I have started looking for less stressful plotlines in books – these look like they are easier to get through. I have a TBR but I don’t destroy myself over it. Turning into a mood-reader at times like these help; sometimes I pick just the right book off the shelf – something that is perfect for my mood at that point in time.

I watch book hauls sometimes knowing well that I might not have the opportunity to find a bookstore anywhere nearby – I’ve worked in Kashmir for over a year and women at bookstores were stared at. Sometimes I feel I might have nothing to blog about because I might not have read enough. Reading when there’s no time for reading is difficult. And sometimes, it starts with forgiving yourself… for you’re stretching yourself thin impacting people’s lives and it’s alright.

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