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Year end musings…

December 29, 2016

How do you measure the length of a year other than the number of days – 365 or 366 – whatever that be?! The thought popped when attending the last book launch of the year. And the year to me was representative of a unique timescale relating to authors known and unknown!

“What is it about writers and their stories?” Asks Navtej Sarna and then tells us what he thinks. “The curiosity about the writer’s mental landscape, the yearning for a whiff of the alchemy of inspiration, has governed many of my journeys over the last three decades and more and many of the pieces in this collection are the result”.

It was a cold mid December evening when Navtej sat face to face in a Q&A with William Dalrymple at the Taj Mansingh, New Delhi. That was day one of the current year to me! Second Thoughts is a collection of columns written by him over seven years. The journey, however, commenced much earlier – from the time he began to acquire second-hand classics – when very young. These sparked his literary passion.

I sat in silent awe at the Seattle Athenaeum on April the 29th, listening to Lucia Perillo. It sounded like you were hearing straight from her soul as she read from Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones, a collection of her moving poems.

Her valiant fight with multiple sclerosis translated not only into shaky hands but perhaps heightened and tempered her poetic genius. A Pulitzer finalist, “she displayed her characteristic fearlessness and humour. Throughout  her career, Perillo’s poems have brimmed with insight and with matter-of-factness at the wonders and disappointments of nature – especially the failings of the human body”. Gripping a pen to sign my copy of her book was not easy. Yet holding it in a very determined grip, she managed to autograph it for me. It was only in December that I read about her sad demise on October the 16th. Suddenly, despite such a short timeline, the year felt much longer.

During their reading from Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War at the Seattle Public Library, just a day ahead of the Athenaeum event, Syrian-British co-authors Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami displayed a strong ray of hope for humanity. The disintegration of the state had ironically empowered the common men and women. They rallied together to ensure hygiene, food, healthcare, education of children, looking after the old and injured, power supply, newspapers and radio in the war torn nation. It is heroism of the highest order and a reminder to the world not to forget this tragedy.

An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao was my third book launch attendance the same summer – this one at the Emerald City’s Elliot Bay Book Company. Shobha herself is a brilliant representation of how the Partition continues to influence a generation removed both by time and geography. In a story titled Curfew, she for instance very sensitively captures the remote melancholia of Safia who moves from Lahore to the UK as a child. She seems to be forever running from or for something. As she says, “We leave the places we’re born, the places we’re meant to die, and we wander into the world as defenceless as children. Against such wilderness, such desert.”

The thought about a scale to measure the length of a year crossed my mind when listening to Anosh Irani during his latest gift to the city of his birth. The Parcels‘ “astonishing heart, soul and unforgettable voice is Madhu – born a boy, but made a eunuch – who has spent most of her life in a close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in Kamathipura, the notorious red light district of Bombay”.

Someone at the Mumbai book launch asked Anosh as to how long it took him to write this book. “Perhaps two to three years. However, this story was always with me. I grew up very close to the scene of action and every time I came to Bombay I would want to visit this location to continue my investigation”. The author has been a resident of Vancouver, Canada since 1998. This book launch at the suburban AntiSOCIAL seemed like a befitting end to the year that was.

However, it had to be December the 19th when I found myself at a panel discussion face-to-face with a scholar and author, at Ahmedabad Management Association. Having had the opportunity to read V. Raghunathan’s many titles and reviewed a couple, the best form of engagement, as it turned out, was to let his brilliance shine through the interpretation of contemporary events via his creations. I went for Games Indians Play; The Corruption Conundrum; Mahabharat; Duryodhana and the most recent – The Good Indian’s Guide to Queue Jumping. In the process he left the audience, and me, spellbound as well as believe with reasonable conviction – that there is no point in obsessing with a right or wrong. One must also begin to look for the grey. What a great perspective to have just in time for yet another year!

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5 Comments
  1. Alok permalink

    Lucid and rapidfire….surely an eventful year full of expereince and learning.

  2. Praveen, The breadth of your interests are most inspiring and I personally stand humbled and honoured at once, at your most gracious and indulgent words in my favour! Thank you!

    And you write so well!

  3. Navtej Sarna permalink

    So nicely written and sensitively felt. Thank you for recalling the Second Thoughts launch too…

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