Monday, December 30, 2013


I want the blood to pump in my ears. 
My heart to jump out of my skin 
First thing every morning 
My feet to tap tap tap 
Till all my shoes wear out 
The rich brown wooden floor to welcome me 
On my 70th push up
Want the wind to push me back when I sprint uphill 
Feel my stomach growl with hunger 
Double up in excitement 
Do a somersault for no reason 
Feel my skin tingle in the warmth of the sun
I want to drown in beauty and wonder and awe 
Every second of every day 
Feel the animal in me arise 
Every moment that I am alive

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Alien Inside

The alien inside 

What is this madness 
This malady that makes you push the thorn in deeper 
To touch the unknown, to wring dry the pain 
To delve into a sea where you've already drowned 
Once? Twice? 
This hormonal rush that turns your mind to mush 
Your intelligence to freeze and your body into a raging furnace 
Making you run into the arms of a stranger 
Who can show no kindness 
Whose arms are busy hugging himself 
This fever seeking salvation but not to subside 
These waves of longing washing over good sense 
Of angst and anxiety and excitement 
Threatening to suck you into an eddy 
Of certain discontent 
This lack of empathy for oneself 
This need to run to the edge of the cliff 
When you know home is 10 steps the other way 
To self-destruct after spending years 
Reclaiming your soul piece by piece 
To be a lawyer by day, spewing logic 
And moonlight as a lunatic in a solo asylum 
To fritter away your self esteem 
Like ashes in the sea 
From an urn that took a lifetime to build 
To seek, to seek forever outside 
When the knowledge inside lays cold to reason 
To ask for the wrong thing 
At precisely the wrong time 
To bring back the agony long forgotten. 
This fear of the unknown lies defeated 
By the foolish hope of feeling alive 
The chance at another life, taking another turn 
Where your dreams appear lucid and realities blur. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

running for my life

It has been a year of discoveries. I have let go of dependencies and have discovered indulgences. I have discovered that there is no one right way of living, and that every soul needs a different kind of nurturing.

Now that I’m done with all the profoundness I’m capable of, I shall get down to the one thing that has sustained me through a year of insane driving, crazy teachers, therapists and builders. Running.

What started as a desperate attempt to lose weight rapidly, has turned into an activity (I wouldn’t call it a sport) that has made me look at myself differently. And not just in the mirror.

I started running in March 2010 to train for a 10k run, with a group called Runner’s High. All I did was wake up and show up, like the coach Santhosh Padmanabhan said. And it paid off. I surprised myself by running my 10k in 68 minutes (yes, it was great timing for someone who hadn’t run more than 200m before the training).

Spurred on by the success, I started training for a half marathon at Kaveri Trail Marathon 2010. Again, all I did was follow the schedule charted out by Santhosh. So even if I travelled, I stuck to the schedule. And I ended up training in the heat and humidity of Chennai, Tirupur etc. And also because of my crazy lifestyle, I ended up running after dropping my son at school at 10 in the morning. I would wear my running clothes to school, park my car right outside his school and start running. I’d do my stretches near the car, drive to a friend’s house nearby and shower, because I lived too far away. In Chennai, I would run very early in the morning to beat the heat, or in the night if I couldn’t wake up early enough, and if both didn’t work, I’d run in the afternoon. Basically, I ran at any time I could get, and anywhere I could run. So despite a hamstring injury during my training, I ended up clocking 2.07 for my first half marathon race, coming fourth. Like everyone, I too was shocked at this. And was aware for the first time, what training could do to any body. And I do mean any body.

Then came the Bangalore Ultra, in which I was running 25km. By now I was aware of my improvement and uncomfortably aware of my fellow runners’ expectations of me. Thankfully, there were no pros at that race and I ended up coming first even though my time was 2.40.

There was nowhere to go now but the marathon. Auroville Marathon 2011. Part of me wanted to do it to test my endurance, but the part of me that’s yellow, wanted assurance of every kind and needed to be goaded into it. It’s probably this part of me that ended up injured on the very auspicious New Year’s day of 2011. It was supposed to be a 27km run and I could run only 17km due to my injured ITB (Ilio tibial band). As I walked back demotivated, I never had any idea that this could seriously hinder my prospects of running the marathon.

As the weeks went by, I only got worse. The pain started earlier and earlier on in the run, until a point where I couldn’t run even 100m. ITB veterans know this to be true and I was asked to give the ITB respect. The good thing I did was to respect the physiotherapist instead. I followed everything she said, did a couple of soft tissue treatments, strength trained, cycled, did hot and cold therapy for over an hour and a half every night after my son went to bed. Sometimes as late as 12 in the night. To make the ordeal easier, I watched a movie everyday while doing the therapy. So I can’t complain. And i have a very pretty honeycomb pattern burnt on to one side of my leg. If it were a little prettier, i would've put a picture up.

Now, there is something to be said about this physiotherapist. Preeti Ashok (that’s her name) is also a coach with Runner’s High and has run ultra (read crazy) distances. She ran 75km at the Bangalore Ultra 2010 after having run only 42km prior to that. And I totally believe her when she says she wasn’t even sore the next day. So, she’s basically a crazy endurance runner, which makes her a great sports physiotherapist. But what I discovered about her was she was also a psychotherapist. Isn’t running a mental game after all? Braving the fact that she might actually read this, I’m going to say that she’s the single biggest reason that I even attempted the marathon. The other big reason was that I’d made a deal with my husband. That if I finished the marathon, injury and all, then he would start running. He was mean enough to take the wind out of my sail, by agreeing to run even without my having to kill myself.

I had not trained as much as the other runners. I’d run a very horrible 30km at Strides of Hope, and ended it thinking that anything more would actually physically handicap me. I’d not been training properly for about a month and a half before the race, and did absolutely NO running the last three weeks (also because I could not run), AND I had pain in my knee ALL the time, not just while running, which according to me was not a very bright sign of healing. Despite all this and my added neuroticism, which I had no qualms in sharing with her, Preeti was confident that I could finish the marathon. I found it so hard to believe that for one infinitesimal second, I even wondered if she knew what she was talking about. But I had to believe the only person who had any hopes for me.

To give myself credit, I did follow everything she asked me to. Except for the last crucial week. I completely stopped strength training, took on a very tight-deadline freelance job, fixed up a few high-stress appointments that also included lots of driving, and my son’s annual day fell on the day before the marathon. This also meant I had to leave later during the day to Pondicherry and would reach later that evening. Thankfully, I arranged to ride with friends of mine, Sushant, Rohini and their dad. The journey, while enjoyable was not very kind to my injury. We picked up ice at a restaurant on the way and I did the treatment in the car. One would’ve thought that that would help. It helped in soiling the floor mat.

We’d got accommodation at Ginger one day before because another runner had cancelled his rooms (yes, we hadn’t thought this through). And luckily enough, I’d carried a hot water bottle, which we filled with the help of the kettle in the room. After hunting for a hair band (A good practice, cuz at Bangalore Ultra, I'd borrowed a hair band from Anjana) and finding 2, courtesy Sindhu and Nayana, I retired to bed with my hot water bottle. I woke up four hours later, feeling like I’d slept too much. And when I got to the gate, I found that I’d missed the bus. Another came along before I made an unearthly call to our driver, and I set off for the race venue. Picked up my bib and chatted around neurotically with fellow runners and friends, taking comfort that we were all in this madness together. Now that I was already there, I knew that there was nowhere else to go but to the start line.

As I started, I felt the tightness I’d been feeling all those weeks in the knee, but not the pain that makes me stop running. And so I waited for it to come. I hoped it would come after 6km, or if I was lucky 9km, so I could at least run continuously for that much of the distance. I was pleasantly surprised when I crossed 9km and it didn’t come. I attributed it to the fact that it was because I’d been running at a very slow pace all along. I decided to stick to that pace. The only time I wished I’d run a little faster was when I saw a mongoose cross the trail. I thought if I’d gotten there earlier, I might’ve seen the snake. I ran with various people in small stretches. I ran alongside Chandra for a while, a couple of runners from Bangalore and Hyderabad gave me company for a while, and it was good to see fellow marathoners. I was very happy to have company during what i thought would be a long, lonely run. I’d also been running with my left foot very close to the ground at all times. Lifting my knee up was what brought the pain on, I knew from experience. In any case, I waited for the pain to come. I listened to some fantastic music that did a great job of distracting me and ran on. I just about managed to get music onto my phone before leaving home, downloading the driver late into the night. I'm so glad i persevered. I don’t know if it was the music or my father-in-law’s prayers (he’d been praying for me from 4.30 to 9.30 that morning), but I felt like it was the best run of my life.

Of course, I was still waiting for that pain to hit me. I ran on for 14km and then 16km and then 19km, and then when I reached 24km, I realized that I’d forgotten about my ITB completely. I could start feeling the rest of my leg muscles fatigue, and I realized at that point that the excruciating pain that would make me stop running, would not be paying a visit during that run. And so I waited expectantly for my dear friend Sushant to arrive on his bicycle. He had brought it along in the car so he could pace me after he finished his first half marathon. He called me at 23km and told me he’d join me in 10 minutes. I’d actually been waiting for him to overtake me during the first loop itself. The half marathoners started an hour later, but Sushant is a very fast runner and I was expecting to be more of a walker that day. I felt sorry that he didn’t overtake me. Anyway, once I knew he’d finished his half (in 1.52), I decided that I wanted to cover as much distance as possible before he joined me. I wanted him to be proud of me. And by the time he joined me, I’d finished 30km. No, I didn’t run 7km in 10 minutes. He got lost on the trail (it didn’t surprise me). I think i hit a mental wall at around 30km, the high leaving me suddenly. But at least i had a rock for support. My angel on a bicycle.

I ran on while he cycled next to me. I made for a lousy conversationalist and bit his head off more than once. In my defense, he was joking about looking for me in the ambulance on his way. He bore my ill-temper patiently, along with the Gatorade he’d brought for me. Finally at around 35km, I felt the need to take a walk break. Not because of the injury, but because my legs were sore. Thankfully for me, Sushant made me start running again. I took two more walk breaks after that, with the last one being the worst. All my life, I’d prided myself on being a great walker, but that day I realized that I was really lousy at it. All the pain in my legs came rushing to me with such force, that I knew it was a mistake to be walking. It was very difficult to start running again at that point. It was heartening to see Hiral and Vivek in their car then. They’d apparently been looking for me. And i was happy to find that Hiral had finished her first half marathon with all her various injuries. I’d reached the 40km mark then. I told Sushant to not let me walk again. He immediately said that I should not resent him for it later. I could’ve hugged him then if I’d had the energy.

I started running again and the pain slowly subsided. Soon my brother Khushi called to check on me. He and his wife Barbara had both finished their first 10km races that day. They were both happy and surprised to know i had less than 2km left. Both my knees had been hurting for a while now, but thankfully, not significant enough for me to stop running. And I ran all the way to the finish line. And finished in 5 hours and 36 minutes.

One single word rang in my mind during the last stretch. Miracle. It was no dream come true, because I’d never had ambitious dreams. But I’d always been a believer in miracles. And in my mind, what happened to me that day was nothing short of a miracle. I’m sure there might be a rationale and logic behind why I didn’t have pain, about what adrenaline does to you, about wearing my old shoes (I confounded Preeti with a theory that my injury was because of my new asics, and made her check my shoes one day before we left to the race. She gave in and let me run with my worn-out nikes, after making me promise to throw them away right after.) But no one theory can explain the connection I felt with a supreme source during that last stretch. I’ve never felt that during any run or race prior to this. A million things happened right that day. The weather was perfect. In fact, I didn’t notice the weather at all. I was surprised when people complained of heat and humidity. A learning from this is, that if you concentrate on a bigger problem, the smaller ones seem to disappear. I took my salt pills on time, stopped at every aid station, ate adequately, smiled at every volunteer, and really enjoyed the music. In fact, there were a couple of instances when I almost cried because of the memories the music brought. Then I decided I would cry after the marathon instead. It just seemed more appropriate. Which also didn’t go according to plan, by the way.

During the ride to Pondicherry, Sushant’s dad asked me why no one from my family was coming to see me run my first marathon. When I finished, so many people from Runner’s High greeted me with such pride and love. Ram was waiting at the finish line and I was glad to flop against him for a moment. Srinivas had had a fall and was being fixed by Preeti. Santhosh, Vaishali and Ajay was there with much-needed hugs. Rohini was with me through my stretches, bringing me a chair, holding my things, till I finished eating. She even suggested that I should sit on Sushant’s cycle and that they would push the cycle to the car! (Argh!) There was enough family out there for a marathoner. Besides, the people from the Auroville community exuded hospitality that I haven’t witnessed in any professionally organized race. A woman shoved a bunch of oranges into my hand while i was running. I can't tell you how useful they were. After the race, a woman named Ange called out to me when I was walking away and insisted on giving me a massage looking at my horrible limp. We ended up chatting and discovered we had common friends. The massage lasted all of five minutes, but I doubt I can forget her kind hazel eyes ever.

Yes, there’s no one right way of living, and it’s possible to keep discovering a new way to live every day. And for me, with every run.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Review of 'Faking it'.

A slightly longer version of the review that appeared in 'The New Indian Express'.

Faking it? Yes! Yes! Yes!

The pink and purple chick-lit cover deceives you into thinking you can settle down in a cozy corner with a copy of 'Faking it' for a quick read. What you’ll need is a somewhat large settee to accommodate a comprehensive dictionary for easy reference. Or there's always, but then lugging around a laptop is as clumsy. One wouldn't mind the occassional Daedalean language but there is also the other problem of finding the dictionary more involving.
That might seem very dagger-to-the-heart for a bourgeois sort of reader. But the sensitivity of the upper crust is somewhat suspect. Referring to the characters in the book, we have Tara Malhotra wed to Raj Malhotra, who from the skeletal character sketch, could as well have belonged to a Karan Johar movie. While Karan would have at least given him a song and dance as he goes globe trotting, author Amrita Chowdhury chooses not to. Which would have been just as well if Tara, the slightly antagonistic protagonist had been given her due. Considering we follow her life all the way from the Wall Streets of Washington DC to the roads of Mumbai through the streets of Baroda, New Delhi, Kolkatta and even Bareilly, one still can't put a face to her character. While one certainly knows what make-up that face wears and who designs her Kurtis, one still doesn't get under her skin, making her come across as a depthless sort of person. Not a great central character to have, if that wasn't the intention.

As an offensive move in the marital cold war, Tara decides to dig her Manolos into the art world, and start a gallery in Mumbai. The place that her husband has dragged her and her four-year-old son to, from Washington D.C, where she'd had the perfect life and career. In Mumbai, she leads the oh so imperfect five-star life of the rich NRI, having her home and son taken care of by a battalion of servants, while she herself waltzes from art gallery to spa to boutique. Her extended anger towards her husband seems rather petulant for a woman as accomplished as her. And her reaction even more so. Art gallery with surreal name is opened, but that's not where the plot is. She happens to buy an unheard of Amrita Sher-Gil from a con artist. The painting is fake, of course. She decides to make amends, not so much to get back her lifetime savings but to clear her pristine name, and starts sleuthing with a friend or two. It reminds one of a bollywood thriller from the 80s. Telecined to hollywood standards, of course. But it’s neither bollywood, nor a thriller and this is definitely not the 80s. The sleuthing, however amateurish, is hardly imaginative. And frankly, a novel, which is touted as an art crime thriller, cannot afford to have awkward plots that ramble on from one page to the next like a child's scrawl, especially when most of the world has read the likes of Archer.

The one thing that holds up 'Faking it' is (no, not your hand) the writing. Which is undoubtedly refined. Amrita Choudhury, with her elevated scholastic credentials, has proven that she is an able writer with this first novel. There is a certain easy manner to the way the sentences flow, with or without the fancy words. If it could be dissected from the plot, one might actually enjoy it.

The glitterati will relate to the flambuyoant portrait painted about their lives, and as a coffee table book of the page 3 world, it holds its frappe. One wishes it had stayed in that glossy area instead of wrestling with the grimy underworld and the art crime scene so tepidly. Amrita, however, has portrayed the dysfunctional relationship between Tara and her husband in quite a realistic manner, except for the somewhat fairytale ending. One would expect them to discuss their marital issues over a glass of sake like any normal couple. Instead, they have a baby.

At at the end of the book, the reader might struggle to hold on to something original. And there it is. The dictionary.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

thank you, god.

thank you for the sustenance

and of course, the diamonds

thank you my undying faith

that the bedbugs will have their wake

for the boy angel who sleeps at night

and the brat he turns into at light

thank you for the cozy apartment

and for someone to pay the rent

thank you for keeping the love alive

and knowing that it’ll never die

thank you for the brief separations

and superfast broadband connections

thank you for my strong mother

without her, you’d still be a stranger

for the million friends and family

who’ve always, always forgiven me

thank you for the free books

and the koftas my maid cooks

for the impromptu kisses and hugs

that make up for fat pay cheques

but most of all i thank thee

for never ever giving up on me.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Review of The toss of a lemon by Padma Viswanathan

This review appeared in The Sunday express in more or less the same fashion.

One reads the title and sighs, lemons, mangoes, poppies! Another Indian novel serving varied flora. And that too across 600 odd pages. Well, the suspicions turn out to be right with 'The toss of a lemon'. In the sense that it's about a family tree. But that's where the similarity ends. That's also where other similarities begin. Because anyone but anyone has a family tree. And if that anyone happens to be a tam-brahm, the book could very well be about her own family tree with all the usual suspects and then some.

At the head of the tree is Sivakami the teenage widow in pre-independence India, who goes through the next 60 odd years covered in pearly whites and hidden in dark shadows. Then there's her daughter Thangam, the woman who spends all of her mature life making children; Sivakami's son Vairum, the generous-to-a-fault business tycoon who's unrelentingly cruel to his mother; his wife Vani, the childless, musical genius with duly appointed eccentricities; Thangam's husband Goli, the handsome rake who contributes little to the story but tremendously to the growth of the family tree; and of course the gay servant Muchami, who also serves as an alter ego to Sivakami. Add to this melee, a friendly neighour or two, a devadasi, and a dozen or two fruits of love who make their appearances randomly.

Random is what you might think about the book too, with its no plot approach. But that in no way denies its appeal to keep the pages turning. All the way to the 619th page. Which, for fear of gushing, is an enormous feat for a first novel. Especially for Padma Viswanathan, who despite her name and brahmin origins, is a Canadian. The depth of research is commendable and the novel seems to have consumed 10 good years of her life. I, repeat, good years. In another time, it could've spawned a large family. Her own, actually, as the novel is part biography part fiction. And for that reason one is tempted to compare it with 'The God of small things'.

Interestingly, the novel is written in the present tense, except for the epilogue. It helps the reader literally walk with the characters in every stage. One wishes that the characters were etched out a little deeper. But then you could reason that in a self-abasing society, the individuals do not summon much space. There are also moments in the book that would've justified more evocation. Vairum's ousting of his aged, helpless mother from his house and her persistent longing for him for example, are goldmines that have been passed over with barely a few handfuls of earth to show for it.

Although Rushdie-like, the mix of the fantastical with the real does not gel in this novel. For instance, the seasonal shedding of gold dust by Thangam, and the waxing and waning of Vani's moods along with the lunar cycle, for no apparent reason. The chronicling, however, is precise with only the occasional burst of poetics drawing attention to it. Like an elegant silk sari with sparse gold work on it. Making the novel richer but not vulgarly so.

The descriptiveness in the novel is also limited though treated well, with some interesting allegories woven in. The description of a tamil brahmin wedding meal almost make you smell the sambar, for instance. Some images recur with reason and are duly evocative. Don't be surprised if Jagadhodharana plays in your head like a stuck record for the duration of the book, which by no means is a short time.

However, the most remarkable thing about the novel, is that you find yourself constantly replaying one scene or the other, musing about one character or the other, in the way you would think about your son playing in the park, or about the neighbour who never returns your books. Sivakami and her family might just end up traveling with you in your car, interrupt you during a phone conversation, and might even sit at the table to eat with you. Which, in my opinion, should give the Adyar Alamaram a run for its money.

Review of The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

An edited version of this review appeared in The Sunday Express.

If Houdini ever made a film about Big Brother, then how would it be? Would it be magical? Would it be a reality show? Improbable as the situation is, my guess it would be a bit of both. If it were really good, it would be like 'The Other Hand' by Chris Cleave. The high brow might call it Magical Realism, Rushdie might phrase it a development out of surrealism that expresses a genuinely Third World consciousness, but I would just say that 'The Other Hand' is all flesh and blood and callused and lined so intricately that it can only foretell an extraordinary life. And, of course, it also wields the wand.

'The Other Hand' is the story of two women who could not be farther removed from each other, racially, economically, demographically, and what have you, and how their lives come together in a dark twist of events. Little Bee is a teenaged Nigerian refugee in the United Kingdom who has seen humankind at its sordid worst, and Sarah is a high powered, white, career woman with a life that is as regular as the tea she drinks every morning. While Little Bee is running away from her country and its surreptitious barbarity, Sarah's issues are mostly moral in nature, not to mention extricating her four-year-old from his assumed Batman identity and costume. In an interplay of events, all jumbled up for intrigue, we see the seamless transformation of girl to woman, emptiness to meaning, superhero to child, darkness to light. Furthermore, the novel unfurls the glaring twin faces of a democracy, the elusiveness of freedom to a certain section, that surprisingly is also human; the reality of horror, which to most of the civilized world is a genre of cinema; the concept of suicide as a comfort blanket; moral ambiguity and its decisive consequences; and most remarkably, humour as a natural ally in the darkest of moments.

Besides the daunting task of assuming a female voice, Chris Cleave tells the story with two narratives to paint the dual worlds of the protagonists. While Little Bee's narrative weaves magic, albeit dark, Sarah's is more on solid ground and closer to the real world, if you'll pardon my civilized tongue. Little Bee's narrative is profound, sometimes unbelieveably so, coming from a third world teenager however intelligent. But the profundity is so beautifully profound, that it makes you read at the pace of a second grader. The magic in Little Bee's narrative is so bewitching, that I was tempted to skip Sarah's narrative. I mean, why would one choose to read about a life that is so soap opera, when exotica awaits you in the next chapter? This of course, is no fault of the writer, who astounds the reader with his astute writing, and some excruciatingly artistic metaphors, that made me physically close my eyes and visualise them.

The year of research Chris Cleave has done for his second novel has held him in good stead. In that he manages to portray quite accurately, even if it's for a largely unexposed audience, the variations in dialects in Jamaican, Nigerian and of course, British English, with their respective brands of humour. The dismal and deprecating conditions of the Immigration Detention Center whose roots are mottled with monetary motives, surface with suitable subtelty. The imperfect British democracy has been thrown light on, if not laid threadbare, but maybe there was no need to research that one.

You'll forgive the slight repetitiveness and teeniest bit of verbal superfluity for the brilliant ideas and the wonderful humour that show up in various forms throughout the book. You'll forgive the incongruity of the four-year-old who has a wonderfully developed imagination but the grammar of a two-year-old, for the depth and range of emotions the novel elicits. Yes, you'll also forgive the fly that sits on the page while you're reading, or most likely you just won't notice it.

Review of A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini

'There is a way to be good again' wrote Khaled Hosseini, the resounding refrain that gently suggests redemption, in the Kite Runner. Redemption, he has no need of, as thousands of readers will agree, but he sure has lived up to that statement with his second novel 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. Is it good? Yes. Is it splendid? Most definitely. It could've been a story about two struggling housewives during a war. And it is. But Hosseini has teased out the various layers that carefully make the housewives and their struggle so finely, that you cannot but feel that this is a story of valiant heroism, silent matyrdom and the infinite love the human spirit is capable of. Not that they require it, but the backdrop of the war only make them starker.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two Afghani women divided only by age and upbringing. Laila, a teenager in love with her childhood friend Tariq, loses both parents to a stray rocket launched by the Mujahideen, and loses her love Tariq when he emigrates with his family to Pakistan to escape the war, and later to a lie. Left with a broken body, and a surprisingly resilient child in her womb, she becomes the third wife of her aging neighbour, Rasheed. Whom she shares with Mariam, his second wife who failed to give him children. Mariam is the illegitimate child of a rich businessman from the far away town Herat and had been given away to Rasheed years ago to erase all signs of his indiscretions. While they share the same neighbourhood in Kabul for years, indifferent to each others' existence, war makes them share a husband, a home and children, binding them together in a relationship that is nothing short of filial. What follows is struggle for survival not just in a war ridden city, but in a home that mirrors the terror and violence outside. A failed escape, two children and one lost child later, Laila's love, Tariq comes back in person to banish the lie about his death. When Rasheed finds out, war breaks out in full fury. And as in any war, there is death, sacrifice and guilt. The aftermath, of course, consists of reform, peace and a happy ending. But by the time we get to that, more than a tear is shed. And rightly so.

Hosseini makes us see an Afghanistan that until now has only been an item of general knowledge tucked away on the third page. He introduces us to Afghanis like they could be our kith and kin. He reveals to us their womens' subhuman existence the way no saas-bahu serial can claim to. Most of all, he makes us believe how fortunate we are to have the freedom we do, to walk the streets in the clothes we wear (though if you live in Karnataka, that might not last long), to live the lives we live. And what is most splendid is the carelessly masterful way in which he does it.

A somewhat rare phenomenon in which a male author writes about female protagonists, the only other who comes to mind now is Milan Kundera, Hosseini has managed to capture with great accuracy the infamously complicated female mind and its surprisingly simple workings. Perhaps the early morning quiet during which the novel was written helped him, perhaps his profession as a doctor did it, or maybe he is just one of those intuitively talented writers. My humble guess is the third. The classic narrative that goes from point A to point B in a ramrod straight line with no unnecessary detours, helps tell the story in a lucid, simple, and because of that, reminiscent manner. This is a style he has used in the Kite Runner, and yes, it works a second time round too.

His articulation is impeccable, language devoid of erudite ramification, and is pretty much free from cliche. Every sentence in the novel leads the story forward like a breath that you never really notice but nevertheless sustains precious life. But most of all, you marvel at his easy, spontaneous storytelling, that keeps you turning page after page ignoring pangs of hunger. But what is more wondrous is the pangs of separation you feel from the book even as you near its end.

If you haven't read A Thousand Splendid Suns yet, all I can say is I envy you the pleasure of reading it for the first time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

the last tear

Pitter patter pitter patter

Rain drops plop down

A drizzle at best

With a dash of salt

On a weathered palm

That shook many a paw

Waiting for the torrent

Of a few, measured drops

From a dried up spring

That once gave freely

Is now happily barren

The gland is tired and worn out

And now sterile from overuse

The pump is losing steam

From years of upheaval

The right brain is numb

From a genocide of cells

The twin windows parched

From the imminent drought

The monsoon has ended

The typhoon has passed

A cold numb has set in

Like chill on a corpse