Arundhati Roy’s Azadi

Books like Azadi, swelling with soul and spirit, can be read in a single breath. And if you happen to read it, bit by bit, musing over her choice of words and her literary coordinates that point you to this human-made “doomsday machine,” you’ll begin to view the world differently.

Arundhati Roy truly translates the untranslatable. Azadi, her book of essays, chalks up the discomforts and bearings of today’s world. Writing about the country’s caste, class, language, politics, and literary contours, Arundhati Roy has brought back the becoming and beingness of humanity only to plant it right in front of society’s inherently skeptical lens. Would it be better to say then that the horror of life is in the eyes of the beholder?

The book also cradles Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The depths of both novels, their poetic and political orchestra. Azadi will spur you to read and stitch together a present that’s quieter, perhaps less ambiguous in the world of literature. The questions that throw light on unsettling answers. The answers that overshadow the questions that were never asked.

The result is a book that is humanizing and relentless. Arundhati Roy’s Azadi is not a calling card for action. Nor is it a staple that holds the country’s vocabulary together. Just like her novels, her essays are complete in that they are alive and intimate. They don’t feel detached or alien, even to a stoic, because you don’t just read her writing, you feel it like a confession.

E. M. Cioran’s The Trouble With Being Born

There is no other writer so gifted to have diagnosed Time as Eternity’s disease and to have endured it as a means to verify Existence as Emil Cioran. Existence, according to Cioran, would be very impractical were we to discard all our illusions. For even a single illusion of time, history, or life is enough to propel the rest of humanity forward. Such a philosophy is rare because it ties up no agonizing ends. It has a language of its own that is perpetually abnormal, profound, and instinctive.

The Trouble With Being Born is a collection of morbidly gratifying aphorisms about death, religion, time, history, and self-ness. The book has a bit of everything. No utterance of thought feels out of place. There is not a single alienated sentence in the book. Not the slightest trace of dissimilarity between the passages. I can read it over and over again – it is reality and unreality itself. What is when nothingness is the norm? And what dies when nothing can?

Cioran’s “inner metamorphosis” through his soliloquies feels absurdly familiar. His nihilism is sincere and it does not nullify humanity, it resuscitates it. He would blatantly argue with somebody who believes that philosophy is optimistic. He questions normalcy as a disease of life; and life as “a disease of matter.” This is a condition we have manufactured ourselves to become everything except what we already are.

There is no “whole truth” but there are varieties of experiences that we shed like dead skin for the sake of being born. And this burden, this responsibility, Cioran believes, is something that all of us will end up regretting sooner or later. Because to commit to any one ideal, in this realm, seems like a delusion. It is as it has always been and “probably always will be until there’s nothing left anymore.”

Here’s a completely different video review of the book.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

To be human among humans one has to constantly prove one’s humanity. The value of which, in the minds of others, is somehow directly juxtaposed with the value of what the society lacks or has too much of. Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot showcases the psychological blindsided-ness of the ‘others’ and of ‘society’.

Simply put, the protagonist, Prince Myshkin, is our Holy Fool.

The book is wisely-crafted though seemingly naive. It touches upon many topics. Society, religion, free will, fanaticism, politics, love, money, and morality. It seemed to me that Dostoyevsky crafted an abnormality (i.e. the Holy Fool) whose very existence seems so conceited and unexceptional that one is driven to his defense. The tone is very ironically detached which is characteristic in a Dostoyevsky novel as it pulls you closer to what it has to offer.

At times, the characters felt completely corrupted by their own seriousness. The price they pay for never truly coming to terms with a money- and power-hungry world. The book portrays the external rather than the internal struggle of such humanity. It deals with nihilism through crisp and wry dialogue, but at the same time, it feels symbolic.

The protagonist is honest but a fool nevertheless. He is privileged but his naivete and sickness make him unfortunate. He is a grown man but his unstirred sexuality and apathy make him a bit unbelievably inane. Prince Myshkin is a man of conflicting natures. And those around him who are pegged as the “minor” characters: Aglaya, Kolya, Rogozhin, and Nastasya. Though in the book they seem to exist as Prince Myshkin’s mirrors. For me, they became more real, vulnerable, and sincere as the story met its end.

Ernest Hemingway: An Ode to Books I’ve Read

One of the things books gave me, back when I had started to read, was the ability to surrender myself to the openness of experience. The kind of experiences that did not include me in them… experiences that were never supposed to.

Reading Ernest Hemingway became synonymous with rediscovering myself, as if for the first time, out of the hibernation and dullness that was reality. From it, I took a flight out of the false identity that stranded me and found, renewed and roused, a kind of nostalgia and melancholy for the selves that I would be.

This marks the beginning of my love for literature. Everybody has a story that precedes their love for books.

My story is like any other.

A Moveable Feast is the epitome of my life as it was when I had first read it. It’s the lens through which I viewed fiction and reality side-by-side. It exists as a memory that one always evokes, not to relive it but to feel.

I can tell you why you should read Ernest Hemingway. I can also tell you why you shouldn’t.

Some people I know revere his writing, his unfiltered creativity, his world through themes that you would now perceive as outrageously cliched. Some people I know think of Hemingway as the hackneyed American with his highbrow, brawny, and grandiose literary style.

My advice to you would be to not make a fuss about it. Reading Hemingway is no different than learning a new word. You can live and experience the language without it,  undeterred by its luxury and appeal.

But if you do read Hemingway, read it not to be “well-read” but to experience and feel.

There’s joy in remembering where you started from. It’s oftentimes necessary to do so. Perhaps, for me, reading about the ordinariness of life in Hemingway’s books kindled the ordinariness of my life. His short and incisive sentences intensified the fleeting sensations of my existence. And that is why all the books I will read will always retain all the books I’ve read.

Michel de Montaigne’s How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing

“Nature drives us that way, too: ‘Leave this world,’ she says, ‘just as you entered it. That same journey from death to life, which you once made without suffering or fear, make it again from life to death.’ Your death is a part of the order of the universe, it is a part of the life of the world.”

Michel de Montaigne’s moral clarity lies in being obligated to oneself; while foregoing that obligation only so far as our living takes us. So that, in the face of death, we are not stripping ourselves of this obligation, but rather carrying it forward just as absurdly as we were carried to our own births.

‘How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing’ refers to this ambivalence and absurdity of life. When we think we’re struggling against something, some force that exists outside of us, it’s only those moments that truly illuminate the actuality of what’s inside us that we are wrestling with.

Through that, all we live, we have lived twice over – in darkness and light. All we’ve built, we have built two ways – from beginning to end and from end to beginning. And all we are, we have already been before.

We live as we carry out this unraveling of life.

This vanity of words is, as Michel de Montaigne writes, an act of deception. But by recognizing our words and what they mean, we can turn abstract to matter, melancholy of life to that which compels us to live.

His essays are enlightening and inspirational.

Certain words he uses sink deep because they are not noise but music. A tune that, in anguish and illness, makes you acutely aware of your own obscurity and disappearing of self.

Perhaps it’s in such moments that Montaigne’s soliloquies reverberate through the dense despair.

Conquering through you, and not for you, the weight that was bound to crush you.