2

The Bare-All (B)ucket List. Or simply, “My Birthday is coming, pick a cause to sponsor”. I suggest #2 or #7

These are a few of my favourite things, some of the things I want to do, at some point, before I croak.

1. Read all seven volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time’.

I’m on the last 100 pages of Volume 3. This one is a slow train, but there’s no rush. It is oh so delightful.

2. Watch Eddie Vedder in concert.

I’ve screamed myself hoarse at The Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Eddie Baby Call me soon.

3. Learn to swim.

Okay, in my defence, scuba diving in Havelock has been accomplished. And who cares about the neighbourhood pool. But Robert De Niro swam to safety in Deer Hunter and I feel like I should know how to do it too. Just in case.

4. Finish a Marathon.

Honestly, this one is just so that I can shut the husband and his like. I’d love to throw that in his face the next time he launches the You’re-not-working-out attack. Toddler care and driving in Delhi are legitimate workouts. And fitting into college jeans post baby-pop calls for a celebration. But I think the marathon survivor tee ought to do it.

5. Roll-on-the-floor Laughing.

I have chuckled, grinned, laughed out loud yes, but a floor-roll? Reminds me of a play I was in at kindergarten. It was based on a fairy tale in a Hindi book, the story of a princess who never smiles. Her father, the King, calls people from far and wide to make her smile. Nothing works, not even a monkey dance. And then a man walks in with a pillow disguised as a big belly. The ‘belly’ falls off and the princess laughs and laughs and laughs. I played the princess and I did laugh. So come on world, drop the metaphorical belly so I can show you how I roll.

6. Write a Book.

There are demons in my head, on the road and in the grocery store. They deserve to be heard. And if it can be Wodehouse-funny I’ll kiss my knees. Because they’re saucy and that’s where the books rest on curl-up nights.

7. Visit a new place every year.

This stuff is real. It has worked in the past. May there always be enough cash and whimsy wanderlust to support this cause. Amen.

8. Shake at least some manic depressives out of their sad skins.

Not with fake belly acts but something that lasts; longer than a hookah high, shorter than a lifetime will do.

9. Sky Dive/Bike Ride Tutorials.

Not a stickler for these but if they come my way, hell why not!

10. Kick a Bucket.

Not the metaphorical death sentence. I mean place a bright, big bucket in a field and kick the damn thing. Someone has to do it.

 

P.S.: See the green badge on the right? I’m participating in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Read all about it here: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

We’re on Day 2 today with the letter ‘B’ for BucketList. Stay tuned, in April and beyond.

Advertisements
0

(Don’t) Listen to Me

Call me old-fashioned but I can’t get my ear around audio books. Truth is, until yesterday I had never really given it a chance. When I was forced to explain what I thought about it (“I just don’t like it” wasn’t enough), I thought to leave prejudice aside and give an honest listen. For all these quick experiments I am always grateful to the people at Project Gutenberg, they do make it look easy. So I picked out Jane Austen’s Emma to lose my written-word religion. Curiosity only took me past the first two minutes and my thoughts about audio books remained the same before and after the experiment.

Listening, like reading, requires active participation of your senses if you wish to assimilate the true beauty of the work. While music enhances mundane activities like driving by providing background joy, I do not expect the same to happen with background recitation of my favorite books. The most significant difference between the two is that I’m listening to Long Nights in my car because Eddie Vedder recorded his masterful voice for my listening pleasure. Marcel Proust, on the other hand, spent hours writing In Search of Lost Time so that I could spend hours (realistically half a year and counting) reading him off the translated pages. Even if Proust had recorded a reading of his work, the audio version of his books would have been a wonderful accompaniment to my copies of the seven volumes and not my sole experience of them.

Lovers of audio books vouch for the simplicity of improving their weekly average and being able to complete more books than they could imagine doing by taking the time to read. “I listen while I cook”, a lady remarked while marveling at the ease of finishing nearly two books a week. Is it just me or are speed statistics the worst way to go about devouring books. Many books I’ve loved are imprinted in my mind not only because of the worlds they held but also my memory of life around the time I was reading them. How can I ever forget that after attempting to read War and Peace for years, I finally read it from beginning to end over three months when my little girl had begun to kick around in my belly? Then she popped out two days too soon on Tolstoy’s birthday. Oh the miracles of birth and a few good words.

And yet, maybe, just maybe, I will allow certain types of writing to be read to me. I could permit Bill Bryson to accompany my daily drive with The Lost Continent, his Travels in Small Town America.  I expect his voice will carry along all the humor his written words do. I also hear that Stephen Fry’s reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a hoot. And who knows what wondrous things that can happen while Colin Firth whispers The End of the Affair in my ear.

Listening to a book may never replace the joy of finding the time and a quiet corner (or a crowded train) to pore over its pages (I have barely made peace with e-books). Audio pleasures will likely be restricted to the music people make, unless I find an audio-book gem that draws me in from the time I push play.

Do come away recitals. Surprise me.

0

Reading (and loving) Marcel Proust, one tome at a time

Hundred years ago, a manuscript of seemingly endless ramblings was rejected by esteemed publishers and forced its author to self-publish his work. This initial reception of his art would eventually be eclipsed by the depth and beauty that the world would come to recognise; but more significantly it would place him in a sphere reserved only for the greatest wordsmiths who, through unique renderings of imagined worlds and collected memories, transform the lives of those who encounter them.

In the centenary year of its publication, I found within reach the involuntary memories created by Marcel Proust, through his opus In Search of Lost Time.

The journey began with Swann’s Way, the first of seven volumes.

In Search of Lost Time: Volume 1

Proust has been accused of being tedious, lengthy and just plain difficult. The opening pages (and thirty to fifty more that follow, depending on the edition) of Swann’s Way will be reduced in meaning if described as a superfluous rendering of the act of falling asleep.

For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to tell myself: “I’m falling asleep”

To make that judgement would be an error too grave, for the appreciation of his masterful prose can only come from diving deep within. The length of his sentences that can sometimes cover half a page, if not more, is hardly the best lens through which to view his world. It is, instead, a work that will challenge a reader by expecting the same dedication and isolation from the outside world as Proust experienced while writing it. And yet we may remain only at the surface, enjoying his witticisms from a distance, never truly penetrating the inner workings of painful love, incurable jealousies or unreliable memories.

~

Swann’s Way begins in Combray, an imagined village modelled on Illiers in north-western France, which was the village of Proust’s childhood and was re-named Illiers – Combray in his honour. Through the eyes of an often self-deprecating narrator, we witness the shifting kaleidoscope of the darkness and the insolent indifference of a clock, telling time that remains forever fleeting. Alongside peeling the layers of memory one by one, Proust also conjures up before us the idiosyncrasies of the characters that inhabit and share moments of their life with his narrator. His grandmother,

…would take the opportunity to remove surreptitiously…the stakes of a rose tree, so as to make the roses look more natural.

His friend Bloch, on arriving late at dinner, behaves in a charmingly disagreeable manner by stating,

“I never allow myself to be influenced in the smallest degree either by atmospheric disturbances or by arbitrary divisions of what is known as time.”

Combray the place, as also the first part of the volume, symbolises the progression of time in the narrator’s life from childhood to maturity, providing a glimpse of his impressions and musings on love, life and relationships. He speaks of Gilberte, or Mademoiselle Swann, whom he first encounters here, in uncertain terms:

I loved her; I was sorry not to have had the time and the inspiration to insult her, to hurt her, to force her to keep some memory of me.

However, the reader is not led through a neat chronological corridor and instead finds private thoughts interspersed with others, for instance, scenes in the kitchen where the cook Francoise holds forth, and in whom the narrator recognises that

…apart from her own kinsfolk, the sufferings of humanity inspired in her a pity which increased in direct ratio to the distance separating the sufferers from herself.

~

 The second part of this volume, rather simplistically titled Swann in Love, charts the history of the jealous love that gentleman Charles Swann harbours for courtesan Odette de Crecy. In his rendering of Swann’s tumultuous affair, Proust writes with unmatched flair and the authority of one who has studied the inner workings of a tortured heart.

Swann in Love

Arriving late on one occasion at the house of the Verdurins, who never invited you to dinner; you had your “place laid” there, Swann is distraught at finding that Odette has left their home, not expecting him to visit that day.

Swann felt a sudden stab at the heart; he trembled at the thought of being deprived of a pleasure whose intensity he was able for the first time to gauge, having always, hitherto, had that certainty of finding it whenever he wished which…reduced if it did not altogether blind him to its dimensions.

This love finds expression through an imaginary violin and piano sonata by fictitious composer Vinteuil, which triggers a flurry of emotions in Swann whenever he hears it. The melody mirrors the pleasure he derives from love as much as it does the melancholy of his thoughts.

At first he had appreciated only the material quality of the sounds which those instruments secreted. And it had been a source of keen pleasure when, below the delicate line of the violin-part, slender but robust, compact and commanding, he had suddenly become aware of the mass of the piano-part beginning to emerge in a sort of liquid rippling of sound, multiform but indivisible, smooth yet restless, like the deep blue tumult of the sea, silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. But then at a certain moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he had tried to grasp the phrase or harmony…that had just been played and that had opened and expanded his soul, as the fragrance of certain roses, wafted upon the moist air of evening, has the power of dilating one’s nostrils.

All ‘respectable’ society, whom Swann has shunned during his quest for the flighty courtesan, is aghast at what he has been reduced to, as echoed by Madame des Laumes one night to her husband,

“I do feel it’s absurd that a man of his intelligence should let himself suffer for a woman of that sort, and one who isn’t even interesting, for they tell me she’s an absolute idiot.”

But Proust does not let that comment pass without appraising her as having

…the wisdom invariably shown by people who, not being in love themselves, feel that a clever man should only be unhappy about a person who is worth his while; which is rather like being astonished that anyone should condescend to die of cholera at the bidding of so insignificant a creature as the comma bacillus.

The tragedy of Swann’s love remains his inability to restrain himself from attempting every minute to make the movement that he knows will hurt him.

But when he is no longer unhappy and has returned to the self that existed before-Odette, he exclaims to himself, in the tradition of a tragic hero who has realised his folly at last,

“To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced by greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!”

~

Names are reminiscent of people, places and the moment in time that they inhabit. In the third part of Swann’s Way, titled Places-Name. The Name in the Moncreiff – Kilmartin edition, the narrator returns to visions of Florence, Venice and Pisa, with a feeling akin to the love for a person. The more real aspect of his life reminds him of the illness that would prevent a visit to these worlds and instead allows only a walk to Champs-Elysees. Here he finds himself drawn once again to Gilberte, who comes out to play there along with her governess who has a blue feather in her hat.

Her name, as that of her parents Monsieur Charles and Madame Odette Swann, when uttered around him, thrills the narrator and he longs to hear anything about them that he can link to an image or a thought.

He remains aware that the names and places of significance are a thin slice holding impressions of a particular time in his life and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

~

To search for a plot in Proust is to make a futile expedition. Memory is the prism Proust holds up to make the journey back in time. In doing so, he opens the door to a world at once enthralling and exquisite; so that moving away requires more effort than the mere act of closing the book.

And perhaps on a Sunday morning many years from now, the memories of reading Proust will reveal themselves, like those of his narrator’s childhood, brought on by taking a sip of tea made viscous with floating crumbs of a madeleine.

In search of lost time