The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence. 

The ‘Somebody’ That Is You

In Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.

My first reading of this book was last year. My second reading was around the mid of this year. And my third reading was a few weeks back. From what I gather, reading a book as intense, mesmerizing, and inspiring as this one, – it isn’t fulfilling to have just read it once. The book carries such intimate confessions and it’s such a stimulating read, I fell in love with it. And not just that, it’s an experience to read about a woman’s conscious and self-awakening life. Her childhood, education, friendships, the temptation of ideals, the rejection of them.

We’re told ambition is a destination, a solid rock upon which we scratch our names forever. But it’s really not. I see it as a passage to infinity. We can drop our bags, give up, resist, doubt, analyze, and hit the road again. The journey stretches itself out in myriad directions. Only that being on one of the routes gives us no choice but to assume that there aren’t others.

There’s so much that resonates with me. Despite the fact that Simone’s life in no way stacks up against mine. But underneath the exterior, what roused in me, while reading the book, was Simone’s sharp incision into the becoming an individual person. It’s one thing to see in front of you the difference between a self and reality. It’s a whole other thing to feel it and have that drive you and make you ambitious… even emotionally and intellectually abundant. And that’s the exact presence of this book. It doesn’t have boundaries the way many books do. You feel infinite while reading it. And it sort of coincides with you realizing the scope of the ‘somebody’ that is you.

If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I never give away the plot of the book; the events that transpire as you read it. I mean, you could just as easily search for the book on Google and get that for yourself. But what I love to focus on is the experience of reading a book, the numerous nuances, the telling revelations, it sort of threads a book together. Nor do I criticize or explicitly rate any book as if I’m supposed to as someone who writes and talks about books.

Now, if you’ve never read any feminist literature or a memoir about a French philosopher, especially of such a distinguished school of thought, I highly recommend this book. It’s candid, thought-provoking, and definitely grounded. There are so many passages that I’ve highlighted. Generally, we have more takeaway in non-fiction than a fiction read. But reading this book feels so rare and rewarding that it’s hard to resist not re-reading those passages every now and then. It reveals philosophy, literature, existentialism, individualism, and such grave necessities of life, it’s hard not to think about it.

One of the things that really stood out, for me, was her admiration for other people’s intelligence. The books they read, the conversations they had, the opinions they kept, basically the fidelity to have a choice and exercise that choice. It’s not enough to have a thought in your mind. But to sharpen it as unerringly as if it’s a muscle in your body. Well, our mind is a muscle but somewhere we lose the existence of it. Its physicality as much as its abstractness. So, in a way, to see it reflected in somebody else, you do feel the pulse-quickening within you to be able to do the same. Perhaps the whole point of human interaction is this. You justify your own self as having a solitary existence. And yet there’s nothing heavier that pushes us against the many selves we inhabit.

Euphoria (2019) – Sam Levinson

First off, to describe the core of this TV series as plainly as a “group of high school students who grapple with issues of drugs, sex, and violence” is not even cutting it. It definitely deserves a better introduction on all streaming sites and IMDB.

From start to finish, every second, every transition, is heavy with unimaginable confrontations. And of all kinds including mental, emotional, visceral, and carnal. This show incarnates the essence of conscience as it is best defined by the turmoil it causes in one’s psyche. Euphoria is gratifying, disturbing, and intrepid in its making.

The characters – Rue, Jules, Fezco, and Cassie being some of my favorites, build a sense of acute awareness for the world they’re living in. They’re in it, there’s no escape, and no reason why one should escape.

The show is salvaged by its brutal renderings in a way that feels as if you’re the one experiencing it. The gripping cinematography and the courageous soundtrack respond more to the inner voices of the characters. It’s the version of a story society wants you to pretend to forget. The addiction, the betrayal, the bullying, the body-shaming, the insecurities, and concocted sexuality.

It’s a fable of truths – a string of hard truths – plucked out one by one from a system too cruel, selfish, and monumental to bring to a screeching halt. The aftermath is a twisted show that defines the undefinable with its trembling honesty.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) – Alain Resnais

A mysterious film that redefines the intimacies of visual storytelling. Hiroshima Mon Amour is the first time a film has had a deep melancholic impact on my understanding of time. The film blends into its dire past, ill-fated present, and uncertain future. It instills in the viewer indescribable spontaneity to experience the unstudied moments of life.

The kind of curiosity that hesitates to step out of its shadow and play with the light. You can feel this game of shadow and light as you watch the film. Its poetic capacity lies in its execution. But its soul is in the way the director, Alain Resnais, has realized the scope of the story, its characters, and its philosophy.

Hiroshima Mon Amour remains, to this day, a reminder of the scarred footprints of time abandoned after the winds of war have passed. The cinematography is rememberable. Some scenes in the film, subtle and visceral, reveal the vulnerability of a historic phenomenon. While the others are charged with intellectual and temperamental vigor.

It’s a film that yearns, remembers, and celebrates its singularity. It stops the flow of time. Sharpens your presence through the lives of its characters. And allows its viewers complete scrutiny and soul-searching as instances of death, survival, and memorabilia are meditated upon.

Roma (2018) – Alfonso Cuaron

It’s fracturable enough to feel emotions. The tide of which unravels slowly until a deep sense of grief envelops us. Now imagine what it would be like to exteriorize that withdrawal from reality. What manifests is a colorful and enigmatic film about all forms of rejection in society and inconsolable bearings.

Roma is about women with a touch of soul-crushing humane contradictions. The kind that questions motherhood as much as it does upbringing. Lives that shoulder the weight of an uncertain and restless history wrapped in nuances that are difficult to go on with. But life goes on.

The film is deeply imaginative and characteristic. Shot in black-and-white, Alfonso Cuaron, being the film’s director, writer, cinematographer, and editor, has understood the fragility of the setting against the ruggedness of its characters.

The true mark of filmmaking is when you can glimpse and meditate on one’s depth through the most ordinary acts of the story. Like scrubbing the floor, standing under the shower, kissing a loved one goodnight, or even looking for someone in a crowd. Every filmmaker knows this but only a few are able to employ it and make it unnoticeably real. Films like Roma, Capernaum, The Lunchbox, Wong Kar-Wai’s films are some of them.

The Beauty of Italo Calvino

To possess such acute imagination and to work to elevate it to such incredible paradoxes – in such enduring and ordinary yet unexpected concepts and to be able to connect the heart of the universe to its prescient moments is what makes Calvino extraordinary.

Through his words, his characters, his reality, Calvino embeds eternities that both slow down and accelerate time. His oceanic sentences, sentimental vocabulary binds consciousness with time.

Storytelling is an experience. Its language, form, and life are stamped by the recesses of memory. It frees you from obscured visions. And a writer like Calvino, his memorable, poignant, poetic compositions ricochet you into stories quite unlike this world.

Make the time to possess some of his mesmerizing works.

A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

Buy A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro on Amazon

A rare ghost story, buoyant in nature, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro is most remedying. The book draws its courage and simplicity from its narration. How deeply it strings together the forceful stream of memory upon a person’s solemn and intriguing life. The book, in many ways, teaches you how to live and do nothing else. And in that lies the means to live wholly.

Inspiring patience in monotomy and resonance in upbringing. And the roots of a family that plant one another at unforeseen moments, unremembered but never erased. This book is beautiful but sad. It maps the distance between such self-aware relationships. The fragility of them, how they once grew toward each other, and now they seem to grow apart. Isn’t that how most things in life transpire?

We all wish to re-live a few past memories while also welcoming the forgetfulness of them. Could that be more than dwelling on the past? Like navigating the gradual weaving of time. The phenomenon we know to be inevitable and yet feels as surreal as dreaming. The book dwells on the past and present in a way that it enriches the vivid presence of Etsuko. Possessing a quaint, vibrant, and soulful quality.

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In Praise of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki

We approach darkness with a melancholic and uneasy caution. What is inferred by such an encounter is (and always will be) synonymous with ambivalence and mystery. The more you understand the depth of your’s or a whole universe’s shadow, the stronger it gets to make you feel something.

In Praise of Shadows is an ephemeral essay written with infinite affection about the manifestation of shadows in the ordinariness of living. What, if I were to ask you, are the ordinary elements of living? Those elements that express their form, awareness, and sensation intimately. And yet, they’re merely unremembered by us in the next second. How, then, does shadow define these elements better than we ever can?

In Praise of Shadows reads like a conversation consisting of profound inconsistencies. It’s eager to touch upon some of the distinct nuances between Western and Eastern mannerisms. Proving that even to meditate upon a foundation as seemingly dull and blank as a white wall can have expression.

If you were to look up from the book around you, look at the empty mug in front of you, the stack of books on the floor, or the sun peels through a crack in the window – you’d grasp the strangeness of everything. And how we carefully perceive these elements as they fill up empty spaces and wander, forever drenched in the brush strokes of light and shadows.

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Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In praise of humanity’s ability to corrupt its own morality. To reify the archaic battle between social and hedonistic conditioning. The bloodshed of which flows eternally forming pools of sorrow, isolation, and abandonment. Consider Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as the account of a trembling psychological and cerebral memory.

The effect the book has is simply profound; the sentences disquietingly vicious. An account, rather, of a man’s inner morbid, unsympathetic, and dogged monologue. Which leaves behind deeper and darker footsteps on a coarse and soggy surface. Imagine this to be the restitution of time’s most and only horrific quality: memory.

I’ve never come across a book this drenched in spilling man’s everlasting and condemnable obsession to reason. The protagonist’s own conscience sheds light on his realization of a flawed, starved, and forgotten rearing. And the readiness to retaliate to insane civic and inherited customs. The crime committed in the book has not only an external reach which points its finger at law and correction. But it also points a finger at one’s internal, contemplative, and torturous world.

The book confesses to a crime committed not by an axe but by one’s pride and crippling psyche. Reading Crime and Punishment is like wandering the streets of destitution, alone, in trembling anguish, dwelling on the meaning of life, death, the emptiness of temptation; the creature that casts its spell and crawls back in its cave, leaving behind everlasting darkness. The kind that feasts on the meek and strips away strength like ripping a bandage on a wounded victim.

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The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

A short story that endeavors or rather pokes at the genius of the impassivity of humanity. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a wild but fleeting ride. It is an introspective dive into the supposed lives of its protagonists, Algernon and John.

Both characters are handcuffed and drawn into the center of their society. It’s a fable of how unconsciously you could be pinned down by the things you surround yourself with. The understanding of false identities is grounded in as much as relevant even now. The more we’re drawn to fantasies in nature, the worse we tend to feel when they’re taken away from us.

If you ever looked into the truths that belong to you because they’re desirable. And the truths that exist undeterred by you. You’d grasp the elusive quality of life. Its illusions, ephemeral distractions, and the infallible mirror of reality. To read this book is to encourage your fascination for comedy put forth in an unfailing and intelligent light.

To buy the book and support this review, buy from this Amazon link.

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