Monday, August 29, 2011

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts

I'll start by saying that Shantaram is a wonder of a book. There's nothing like a good huge book to indulge in. Absolutely nothing like it. It's so welcoming, there's an urgency that makes you read it vehemently and a satisfaction like no other.

Roughly, it's about a fugitive running away from his past, crime and heroin to the enchanting Bombay. The Bombay he falls for, where he falls in love, finds true friends, a brother and a father-figure.He begins a new life, his past always ready to haunt him. He learns so much: acceptance, forgiveness, kindness. You're amazed at the simplicity of the writing. Simple words, simple sentences and unpretentious philosophy. Yet, you're provoked by this simplicity. It's like no other. It's so effortless.

I got hooked as soon as Lin, the main character, meets Prabaker who's famous for his smile. Prabaker makes you smile, and you often catch yourself grinning at his words and goodness. I personally loved him, and started loving the book the moment he appeared. Such a genuine person. Take this quote about him for an example:
"I discovered that Prabaker believed with the whole of his heart that his smile made a difference in people's hearts and in the world. He was right, of course, but it took me a long time to understand that truth, and to accept it."
Why don't we smile readily? I know there's so much wrong with the world, and so much sadness but a smile can change a person's day. Read the quote again. Do you know such a person? A person who gives out all of his heart and soul to you in a smile? Don't think that smiling people are naive. Please don't.  There was so much about people's smiles in the book, the author is brilliant in that regard. Describing the kinds of smiles people gave you, specially the honest kind. The kind that lifts our spirits. I can honestly tell you that everytime smiling was mentioned, I was ecstatic. It was so refreshing to see the author stressing this, the simple act that doesn't get the attention it deserves.

A big book will have many characters, but there's something so unique about each of them that you can't help loving them just because Lin loves them.This is how Lin describes the woman he loves:
The clue to everything a man should love and fear in her was there, right from the start, the ironic smile that primed and swelled the archery of her full lips. There was pride in that smile, and confidence in the set of her fine nose. Without understanding why, I knew beyond question that a lot of people would mistake her pride for arrogance, and confuse her confidence with impassivity. I didn't make that mistake. My eyes were lost, swimming, floating free in the shimmering lagoon of her steady, even stare. Her eyes were large and spectacularly green. It was the green that trees are, in vivid dreams. It was the green that the sea would be, if the sea were perfect.
Apart from the fact that it's bloody perfect, the quote speaks so much about Lin, and I'll take a moment to tell you about him. I refuse to label him with words, he's a criminal but you struggle with that fact. His openness to people is just so endearing. His character, which in any other book would have been tough, dark, mysterious is the total opposite. He's open, honest, kind and he has such love for Bombay and his friends that you simply care about him so much. Too much perhaps, and he's everything I love about Shantaram. Through him, you meet so many people, through him you attend weddings, live in the slums, dance as clumsily as a foreigner in India would do, wiggle your head, smile your heart out, walk the streets of Bombay, and receive an actual bear hug. He's not an angel. He doesn't lie to himself. He's broken. He doesn't need sympathy, and he's so ready to take everything in. We're often so guarded, but he shows you that you can let your guard down, though you'll get hurt, the amount of love you're capable of will free your soul. And it's about being free isn't it? Free in every sense of the word.

I always wanted to visit India, and now I'm sort of dying to go there now. Doesn't this make you want to feel as acutely as he did about India:
The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There's nowhere else in the world where that's quite true.

There's a lot of philosophy in the book. Love, honesty, right and wrong, good and evil, religion, spirituality, wars. Details conversations discussing such topics. I was so interested in these when normally I'd have been bored. There's such truth in them, and even if you have your own notions of such concepts, or like me you're a bit on the undecided side and you can't give a ready opinion you'll agree that they offer simple wisdom that gets you thinking.

There's a truth deeper than experience. It's beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It's an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We're helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn't always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabhakar told it to me, just as I'm telling it to you now.

Of hope he says:

You can never tell what people have inside them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time.

And if you prove to a man how vain his hope is, how vain his hoping was, you kill the bright, believing part of him that wants to be loved.

We live in hope.

I'd love to elaborate on how I feel about each and every quote because to me, they're amazing. Yet, I'll leave that unsaid because you just might find beauty in them too. The simple words. Perhaps they'll talk to you like they did to me. Here are the rest:

 One of the ironies of courage, and the reason why we prize it so highly, is that we find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves alone.

But the lies we tell ourselves are the ghosts that haunt the empty house of midnight.

The end, when it comes, is always too soon.

The only power that has any real meaning is the power to better the world.

There is no man, and no place, without war.

Read it if you feel you're ready. Take your time. Enjoy every word. I feel strongly about the book. It's like 4-5 different books in one. It's life crammed into 900 pages. It's the end being too open. The beginning being too obscure. The in-betweens so rich. The feeling you get while reading. The hope you feel. It's being transported to another lifetime. It's you entertaining the thought that 'everybody at another lifetime was an Indian'. It's the heartbreak you suffer with Lin. It's me reviewing the book till 7a.m. It's... Shantaram and all the things words will never convey.

Finally, I'd like to say that I owe it all to Ruqaiya who not only shares her books so generously with me, she knows just the kind of books I'll love. I'm blessed to know you, Rux, and I can't thank you enough for this book!!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I am...

I'm often told I'm mature. I like to think I'm still a kid, and use that as an excuse. I'm a proud nerd but I don't think I sound like one. Mainly because I'm the slowest human being who ever lived on this planet. I'm very absent minded. I have problems with expressing myself. Animals scare me. I get upset out of the blue sometimes. When I'm silent people almost always think there's something wrong. I'm fairly easy-going. I can't help correcting people. I can't get by without books. Classics are a passion for me. I can read pretty much anything as long as it's fiction. I can't stop myself from buying books. I don't re-read books. My arabic's screwed though my dad teaches Arabic. I have a guilt complex. My smile is a sort of grin and I don't think people smile as readily as they should. I don't understand sarcasm. I'm allergic to all kinds of smells. My family will always see me as the kid who needs looking after. I've been to 5 countries and I've lived abroad for most of my life. I ask the silliest questions. I own a guitar, learned for 2 months and now it's abandoned. I'm boring. I sometimes live on twitter. I think it's among humanity's finest inventions and takes the concept of wasting time to a whole new different dimension. I have a complicated relationship with facebook. I absolutely adore blogs. I hate the assumptions people make about you so freely. I don't like accessories as much as I used to, no idea why. I don't have a favorite color, book, food, tv show, movie, place, shop. A Walk to Remember used to be my favorite movie as a teen. I'm a bit more self-centered than the next person. I write for my personal well-being.  Procrastination. I have a serious fear of being a hypocrite. I admire people's self-assuredness. I face a lot of expectations from those around me. I'm pro at making empty threats. Quotes. I take what you say to heart. Read my wishlist. I'm clueless and a broken-record. I'm an annoying optimist. I want so much. I don't expect that much from myself. I'm considerate. I live in my head and it's not so healthy. I'm loving people more and more, there can be so much good in them without them having the faintest idea of it. I hate those who give themselves airs for all the wrong reasons, not that it's ever ok to have airs. One thing I'm proud of; my English. Friends, the tv show, makes me laugh hysterically. I can't do anything alone. I will blabber incoherently if given the chance.

PS1: Inspired by this which was originally inspired by this.
PS2: Did I mention I'm self-centered? Well, yes. That's why I never miss a chance at writing about myself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Inspired by Life

NOTE: Check Nema's post which inspired this whole thing, beautifully written and will surely put a smile on your face:

This is a list of a few things I consider to be the best of life:

1- Reading; a really good book, finding yourself in a character, relating to a moment, finishing a book, a friend reading a book based on your recommendation, buying a new (or used) book, reading outloud (not such a reoccurring occasion mainly to my sister specially a classic with an accent), finding a quote in a book, and reading it over and over again and BLOGS! I love reading a few blogs, blogs are addictive and some people write so darn well it just takes you to another place.
2- Having a really good cake.
3- Cooking and being told it's good.
4- Talking at dawn then talking and talking some more until you have no idea what you're talking about.
5- Listening to a kid laugh his heart out.
6- People remembering you.
7- Someone trusting you for reasons you can never figure out.
8- Having something to smile to yourself about.
9- A really good hug from a friend you love.
10- That moment of peace when you feel you're free of any obligation.
11- Sharing randomness.
12- (stolen from Nema's list) A friend telling you "I understand" when they really do.
13- Giggling unstoppably over something silly.
14- Having an honest conversation.
15- Not knowing what to say because of a kindness so gracefully bestowed on you.
16- Giving and rejoicing in that.
17- Listening to dad's stories and feeling how animated he is when he's telling us of things that happened ages ago in such details.
18- Acceptance.
19- Going shopping then coming home and trying on everything again.
20- Watching people get on with their lives.

What would your list include?

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Childhood - Loose Bloggers Consortium (LBC)

Welcome to the Loose Bloggers Consortium, where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Ordinary Joe, Magpie11, Maria the Silver Fox, Nema, Padmum, Paul, Ramana Sir, Rohit, Will knot, and I write on the same topic. Please visit the other blogs to get seventeen different flavours of the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Anu.

What's a normal childhood, I often wondered. Free of worries, all play, lots of friends and no responsibilities? If those constitute a normal childhood, then I had exactly that. Thoughts of my childhood always lead me to our neighborhood in Babylon, my grandma, the kids we played with, my relatives and the places I haven't seen in ages. The stuff mom used to make for that she doesn't do anymore. Ladybirds, sugared-bread, dresses, dolls, fights, games, small green apples, sleeping on the roof.

I never learned to swim, ride a bike, skate or dance ballet. Ok I never really wanted the last one but it would have been cool. For a long time I felt deprived that I didn't get to experience those and jealous of people who knew how to do them. Why didn't we experience them? Indeed. That is the question. Now, I'm waiting for an opportunity to learn them. Specially the bike. Perhaps in a year, two or five but it will happen inshallah.
I didn't really spend a lot of time studying, though I was a good student as a kid. It was all playing, playing and more of that and watching cartoon.

My dreams as a kid. I try to convince myself that I forgot them, but perhaps I never had any. That's sad isn't it? It seemed sad to me for a long time, but right now it doesn't seem so sad. I couldn't help it. Of course I humored myself with thoughts of being a doctor, a lawyer, a model (still think I'd make a great model in my crazy moments), a TV presenter but it was always short-lived and inspired by someone on TV. Why is that, I have no idea. Perhaps my future sessions with a psychologist would put some perspective to that.

I miss that time. You spend your childhood wanting to grow up, and though growing up isn't that bad, it's not all you dream it to be. I don't know who said this but I think it's really true:
"We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public."
 So, my question to everyone reading this, why so serious?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

5 Whys

Inspired by this post:

Why the silence?
Because I'm learning it can speak louder than words.

Why don't words suffice?
I can't find the right ones to express this state of being.

Why do you need to express it?
Because I need to understand it myself.

Why can't you understand it?
Not everything's meant to be understood I suppose. We can only try.

Why do you try?
What else can I do?

Sunday, August 7, 2011


"You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget."
Cormac McCarthy

Our memory, beyond our control. Sometimes, you're sitting and you suddenly remember something, an incident that happened a long time ago, a very irrelevant one that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. A curious thing don't you think? I'd love to understand how memories work. How is it that you remember that particular thing at that moment? I always thought of that, and never got a satisfactory answer. I've accepted it but it never fails to amaze me.

I don't know if I have a good memory or not, I'm average in that aspect, I suppose. I always thought I remembered things better than the people I know. I could be gravely mistaken, because even though I remember the things they say I don't always show it. In fact, sometimes I wish I didn't remember them. They made me feel as if I cared more than they did, and that's always unsettling. I'd like people to know how much I care about them, and I try to make it as clear as possible but it's not always an easy task. To know that you care more than others, that you remember the things they tell you, that you'd like to tell them that, point it out. 'I remember you saying once...'
I'm sure they'd appreciate it, but what if they don't? What if they dismiss your remark, and never even realize that you actually remember them saying that? You can't live on 'what ifs', can you though? It's not a life. It's not fair to your friends, and not fair to yourself. I just wish our relationships with people were simpler. You say what's on your mind, they say what's on theirs and you genuinely care about each other. Simple, no?

So I ask you, why isn't it simple? Why does it have to be so complicated? Why all of those unreasonable thoughts running around your head? Are we doomed to always have complicated relationships with others? That's a scary thought, because it could be very much the case. Even if you succeeded in having a few simple relationships, there'll be a whole more that are complicated ones. So what? Are we to accept the complicated nature of relationships and try to work on them on that basis? Or should we work on simplifying them and they'll work themselves out?

I always find myself wondering about this, and I never seem to figure it out.

Dedicated to Noor.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Unforseen Circumstances - Loose Bloggers Consortium

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, Maria the Silver Fox, Padmum , Ramana Sir, Rohit, Will knot , and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get fourteen different flavours of the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by gaelikaa.

Life isn't planned. In fact, most of our plans never see the light of day and we often find ourselves happy that some of our plans failed, making way for something better or simply unexpected.

We face unforeseen circumstances everyday. We're kept waiting longer than we expect you're faced by something totally unexpected at the mercy of fate. Awaiting. You're either hesitant and very unsure or you welcome the moment, ready for it to take you to new places and meet new people. Think of it this way, getting carried away by an opportunity, how it could be a life-changing moment, how you could be meeting new people and going to new places. Or, you could get to know yourself better.

Say you're lost, your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, someone proposes a crazy idea with such enthusiasm "Let's do it", he urges, you name it, it could be any sort of unforeseen circumstance. What do you do? There it is. A chance. Right now. Be open. Accept. Don't fight it. Such moments can be dangerous of course, it's unexpected and you're taken off your guard. I suppose such moments define who you are, if you're reading for risks or not. Perhaps, it's not much of a risk if you trust fate and move forward.

Live the moment. I need to say that more to myself, because it's so easy to preach and say I'll accept such situations, but when they come you're ready with a gazillion excuse to put them off and stay in your comfort zone. I've been there so many times. My mom or sister, for a lack of a better example, asks us to join them to try a new place. I'm hesitant, there I am reading or online not wanting to leave my comfort zone. But when I think of it as an opportunity, my mentality shifts and I'm willing to try it.Writing about this topic makes me grateful for those moments in life.

So, be open. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Of she and I

- That barrier getting in the way, whatever it was, making it hard for people to understand. Why didn't they try harder? Why didn't she make more of an effort to make it clearer?

- How she wanted to talk about SO much, yet forced herself to give up the urge. She didn't need sympathy and didn't want anyone to understand if they didn't already.

- The weak will. Unsure self. Delusions. Hopes. Dreads. Emotions. Neediness. Pitiful helplessness. Expectations. And. The weak will.

- How can your mind be so decided on something then so unsure the next?

- Why let people dictate what image you're supposed to have of your self?

- And all these doubts? For what?

- Peace. With the world. With people. And with one's self. But. All of those were hard. Only attainable for sometime, then lost.