Of Books – Bought, Read, Abandoned.

I read Code Name Verity because my best friend from college recommended it, and I’m glad because I really loved it. If you have a friend whom you trust, adore and admire, keep her/him in mind when you read the book and I tell you – you just won’t regret picking this up. Elizabeth Wein has done justice to the characters, the backdrop of the First World War and her love for aeroplanes. There are about 440 odd pages – a little more than the average page-turner but it is an amazing read! I have no idea why this doesn’t feature in any of the bookstores I visit.

Which reminds me – I visited a bookstore twice in the past two days. Today I had a maddening day running around for my university documents and things haven’t been falling into place. I was upset, almost in tears and I went to this quaint bookshop at the mall (noone visits; a-mother-of-two came and asked if they have “colouring books” and the keeper of books (?) threw a mad fit) and touched the spines, with tenderness and stared at them and was marvelled at the prices (I didn’t have money) and mostly, just sat there and breathed in the fragrance of the pages. And I was healed! Yesterday I met a couple of friends and while they were shopping for clothes, I walked in nonchalantly into the hugeass bookstore, telling myself constantly that I shouldn’t buy any books. But I went and sat next to a girl who was reading a McEwan and I touched the spines, all the while hearing her next to me sighing heavily at On Chesil Beach and telling myself that I shouldn’t be spending anymore money on paperbacks, especially now that I have the Kindle. But I lose control when I see books. I don’t remember when I picked up the book and went to the counter and bought it but when I came out I was holding Cloud Atlas! *gasp*

Anyhow, I was reading The Interpreter of Maladies earlier today and I only have a couple of stories left. So tomorrow I will start another book. The Interpreter of Maladies was a bestseller when I was growing up – I saw the book everywhere. My friends were borrowing it from the school library, a teacher was reading it while invigilating during a biology test back in school. My Chhotomama (maternal uncle) and my Dida (maternal grandmother) discussed the nuances of  the book, I remember, one summer night while having a bowl full of mangoes for supper and I had shrugged from under my comicbook. But Lahiri’s book was a rebound book for me. I began reading it in school and I was disappointed because the first short story had not concluded the way I wanted it to. I had abandoned the book for The Third Reich. However now, eight years later, the book strikes a chord. The first story, A Temporary Matter, couldn’t have had a more apt ending. Also, the short story The Interpreter of Maladies is in itself a masterpiece. I cannot believe I waited this long to read it.

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Re-reading The Namesake

I started re-reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake last week. I realized that the first time I’d read I hadn’t appreciated it for two reasons:

Firstly, reading the book then was a fad so I read it pretty quickly without understanding its underlying narratives. Secondly, to understand what the protagonist feels, it is necessary to put oneself away from one’s “comfort-zone” – one’s home, city, country.

I do not know why I had decided to re-read it. In fact, I couldn’t even find my paperback (some idiot must have borrowed and never returned it). So I loaded it onto my Kindle and finished it in a day and half. I also downloaded and watched the film soon after. But after I read it again, I realized how I had come to understand the book through Gogol’s perspective only.  This time when I started it, I was reading it like the story was subsumed within Ashima. When I neared the end, I came to like Moushumi a lot. In many ways, I realized I was like her – fiercely independent, running away from her own identity constantly, doing things she can live without only because of her parents. I was happy to an extent that Moushumi and Gogol don’t make it – it is surreal on so many levels; two very similar (and similarly damaged) people can never *peacefully* be together.

Of course, as a reader, I had too many questions. Why would Lahiri make this her first novel? Obviously, the Bengali theme of a bhalonaam (the Indian concept of a ‘goodname’ used publicly) and a daaknaam (nickname/moniker) had been close to her heart. Perhaps Jhumpa was a Gogol. Perhaps her parents tried that she be known by her bhalonaam (Wiki tells me it is Nilanjana). Perhaps like Gogol, she preferred her daaknaam. Did she go through an identity crisis as a teenager?

Another thing that struck me how my Chhotomama has (nick) named his first-born, my cousin, Pushkin. Now was Pushkin a Gogol waiting to happen? Did Chhotomama like Pushkin’s poems to an extent that he could name his son so? Or did he have an incident similar to Ashoke Ganguli on a train to Jamshedpur?

My imagination must stop running amok.

I like how Lahiri shows the plight of two women dealing with this morass of identity in a place that is not home: Ashima Ganguli and Moushumi Mazumdar. And I respect her for doing this without judgment on either. In the beginning, when her husband leaves for work, Ashima is scared and there is a learned helplessness around her character – crying to go back home, losing her shopping bags in the train (and finding them, thereafter), running out and lighting all the lights of the house when she realizes her husband’s gone. But towards the end, we see Ashima has found peace in a place she could have never called home. She buries the hatchet with the country that took away her husband, her son and to some extend her peace of mind?

On the other hand, Moushumi wants to avoid this morass in the first place. She never does succeed, though. From India to UK to US to France to US. She often takes off because she does not want to end up like her mother. She demands to stay Mazumdar after her marriage to Gogol (as for Ashima, I don’t remember her maiden name – she takes Ashoke’s name and is known as Ashima Ganguli throughout). She reads, she studies, she drinks alcohol, she dances. She has an affair to escape her identity. She could possibly never make peace with America.

I could totally identify with Moushumi and though Lahiri paints her character without prejudice, the film adaptation seems to “judge” her. I really could not swallow that.

Also, Moushumi’s lover’s name was Dmitri. I have no idea why the lover in the movie was called Pierre. Was Mira Nair trying to convince the audience of Moushumi’s french connection?

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