Book tag by way of Alok.
Total number of books owned: No idea. Have a whole roomful in Delhi not all of which are mine of course. Many of them belong to my parents…some have been handed down. Plus there are quite a few of the earliest books I ever owned still around, including Red Riding Hood and Snow White (which my mom used to read out to me!), collections of Amar Chitra Katha, Hans Christian Anderson, the abridged version of classics like Count of Monte Cristo, Oliver Twist etc. (The unabridged versions are there too). And there are also books bought during the teenage years that I am quite ashamed about now – Jeffrey Archer, Michael Chrichton, even a couple by Sidney Sheldon and the like. No Mills & Boon or the sort – never read those. Don’t have many in my room now, only a couple of shelves, mostly because I use the library rather than buy books these days.
Last book bought: Heh. Orhan Pamuk. Other Colours.
Last book read: Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories. I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is simply one of those books that everyone should read. Please do. It is a slender volume – only about 100 pages – and would probably take only a couple of hours to read. The short story, The Land of Sad Oranges is one of the most poignant, moving (these words seem so hollow but what else can I use to get my point across?) I have read in a very long time, leaving me feeling as if I was stuck in a vacuous, pointless, senseless space with just no way out.
More on Kanafani here.
Currently reading: Other Colours, of course. Apart from that Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. I lugged it (literally – it’s a ridiculously unwieldy book) back from Delhi because it was just lying at home and I was contemplating buying it anyway. Because of its size, reading it on the train is not feasible so I have been reading it at night before going to bed and it’s been slower progress than I would have liked. (I usually fall asleep while reading table lamp on et al and wake up with a start only when my alarm goes off the next morning…sigh. This work thing is not fun; I have eye bags that could rival a raccoon.) Anyway, have been reading Guha for the last two weeks (discount weekends) and am about 60% through, and so far it has been quite good, detailed and engrossing. That is saying quite a bit given the scope and scale of the book in which it definitely transcends usual one volume introductory texts on India.
Books plan on reading next: On my bookshelf Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun; Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India (which I have heard only good things about); Maria Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Script writer (I still haven’t read Llosa – utterly shameful, I know, but this shall be rectified soon). Suggestions on which to read first?
Five books that mean a lot to me: Jeez…I really had to think hard about this.
The Black Book – Orhan Pamuk
I struggled between My Name is Red and The Black Book…and really I should have copped out and chosen both. Perhaps Kara Kitap is still fresh in my mind because I read it recently and because when I think of the stories that populate its pages – of the Istanbul mannequin maker who had no buyers when mannequins became all the fashion because his were too “Turkish”, of the back streets of Cihangir, the dark kahve shops, of dear Aladin’s shop where you could find anything under the sun – they all remind me of the city where I spent probably the happiest two weeks I can remember.
But this also made me feel that perhaps a reread of Benim Adim Kirmizi is in order. For I truly fell in love with Pamuk (I always liked him a lot but My Name is Red blew like out of proportion) while reading that book. And because it contains probably my two favourite lines in a Pamuk book:
“To God belongs the East and the West. May He protect us from the will of the pure and unadulterated.”
L’Étranger – Albert Camus
While I love Camus’ essays – The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel in particular - L’Étranger is probably my favourite book by him. Cold, indifferent Meursault who cannot even cry at his mother’s funeral…who in the end seems to us to be the internally rational and logical person. For the world, in the end, is only as sensible as we make it.
Side note: Camus over Sartre – Yes?
Discovery of India – Jawaharlal Nehru
Nehru is so often portrayed as a romantic… a dream in his eyes, rose in his button hole and the sort. (It is an apt description I guess - when he made his “Tryst with Destiny” speech he was wearing a rose the button hole of his silk kurta, and no doubt he had a dream). Some of this comes across in his writings as well. He could ramble on with metaphor after metaphor but more often than not his prose was elegant and his writings hugely expansive ion scope. This is most obvious in Discovery of India, where he seems to be almost narrating a common national heritage into being.
Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects – Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell is one of the most egotistical people I have ever read. And also the most brilliant. He had an opinion on everything and he usually put down his point for view, which is why he must be one of the most prolific writers ever. In all his books his prose is simple, logical, to the point and extremely witty. And it’s probably at its best in Why I Am Not a Christian. I also love his Marriage and Morals and History of Western Philosophy (which while biased, is still a really good read) among others.
Ramayana – Valmiki
The version I read was a ridiculously fat tome with the original Sanskrit, supplemented by Hindi, supplemented by English. It’s a great story, beautifully written and I think it’s important to read a lot of texts in their original form just to realize the grotesque misrepresentation of them by the religious fundamental asshats. Plus reading the Valmiki Ramayana is a good base to read the other versions as well – the Ramacharitamanasa (just so beautifully lyrical), the Kamban Ramayana, C.Rajagopalachari’s English version (which is probably still the best English version of the epic, and miles ahead of his English version of the Mahabharata) or even watching the TV serial (I still do when I’m in India!).
I usually avoid the Uttara Kanda because it seems like nothing more than a tacked on epilogue. It is offensive of course, but so are other parts of the Ramayana… and Rama is different from the idealized version of him we are usually fed. But he is still a most fascinating character, hugely human and very charismatic. And simple. In this he is miles apart from Krishna, who in all honesty is way beyond my comprehension. I wonder if I would ever be able to read the entire Mahabharata in a remotely original form, that text is so long, meandering and plain confusing, just the thought of it overwhelms.
Ok…this took me longer to finish than I would’ve thought possible. Needless to say I have rambled on aimlessly. I tag Falstaff, Veena, TR and Elizabeth. (It’s a nice tag – so please do do it!)