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Are We There Yet? OR It is the Penultimate Day of the A-to-Z Challenge, Yay!)

“I must write something” she whispers to herself, sitting by the balcony trying to save the letter ‘A’ on the machine from being pulled out by the toddler.

I wonder if anyone stays in the apartment in the opposite building. Never seen anybody there but that empty clothes rack and mop in the balcony surely belong to someone.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. I wonder if “I’m hungry” is as contagious as a yawn. Really wouldn’t mind a fruit yogurt right now but who’s going to walk to the grocery. Laziness is a disease with no cure. Talking aloud about hunger helps. Husband offers…banana, apple, garlic bread…no prizes for guessing which one I’m going to eat.

I have a very tricky relationship with bananas. Mother never tires of telling me of the goodness of that (godforsaken) fruit. Maybe because I know its so good, I can hardly ever bring myself to eat it. Buy it I do. Perhaps that helps me stay comfortable with the idea of ‘healthy eating’. Maybe if someone chopped it and served it in a bowl with tangy masala on it I’d gobble it down. But you see, laziness is a disease with no cure. If banana and I were the last thing on the planet, would I eat it? Sure. Until Armageddon, pass me something else.

The sound of a basketball dribble. Don’t get me started on that either. Not basketball, but exercise. Its kind of like the banana situation. I know its good for me but I can’t get myself to do it. And the garlic bread is here. Now I type with little finger as others are smeared in butter and I’m not done eating so why get up and wash hands. But I will not wait for Armageddon to start exercise…just not today honey.

“Life is ours, we live it our way”, Metallica to the rescue of all rebellious children (and certain adults). So I saw them Live last year on my birthday. How I managed to make it happen is a helluva story. You should stick around long enough to read that when I get to it.

There is now most certainly melted butter and cheese running through my veins. Shoot me and you’ll see.

“I must end this” she whispers to herself, very aware of the ridiculousness of all the words above.

Forgive me oh unfortunate one for your eyes have witnessed this dreadful scene.

May the lord above grant you dreams of happy places and may you find no further reason to utter “Oh the horror, the horror”.

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Scribbler On The Book

I often wonder if it is quite alright to leave my mark on the pages of books written by others. Would it be so terrible to dot the margins of a beloved book with something that says I was there once? And not for the benefit of others, but just because a passage, a word, a thought moved me enough to want to carry it around forever. People have been known to copy interesting passages in their diaries. But extracting the words from where they belong may alter the true meaning and intent of the man/woman who put them at a particular spot for a reason.

A friend once said one could only get away with being a scribbler if one were Maxim Gorky (a big scribbler I’m told). I may not fit the bill according to those standards, but it is an exciting prospect indeed to imagine going back to a book devoured ages ago, only to find I left a little of myself in it.

For reading is hardly about the book or the author alone. The very act of picking out a book to read (from several others) marks the first active choice made as a reader. While the author writes with his/her belief systems and prejudices intact, you will react with your set of the same in place.

Having made that first choice of picking out a book, is it not just an extension of that choice to scribble away in it (only if it’s a personal copy of course) if your heart so desires (even if your head may scream the word ‘sacrilege’ often enough)?

Who says scribbling is only meant for textbooks. When there are other (better) books out there that you love enough to agree to spend your life with, scribbling on them must only be considered an extension of your love.

So perhaps it is quite alright to dot the margins of Marquez, Tolstoy, Proust, Woolf, Wodehouse and others. And perhaps a day will come when a closet-scribbler will be able to stand in front of a crowd and elicit thunderous applause when she states with pride: “I am a scribbler on the book” (among other things).

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Newsflash: Witty repartee is the new Butter Chicken

reparteeA new revelation casts serious doubt on all previously held theories of male psychology. Recent conversations with members of the male species have brought up startling ideas, the central one being that sarcasm is the way to a man’s heart.

Until now it was a truth universally acknowledged that if you can please a bloke’s palate, everything else would fall into place. Mothers have tried to, sometimes even struggled to, pass on kitchen knowledge to their precocious daughters. But now if food has fallen from grace in the minds of men, kitchen knives might need to be replaced by sharp wit.

However, these revelations are based on certain assumptions that must be examined before we proceed any further. It has been empirically proven that to understand and appreciate sarcasm one must possess a nimble mind. But saying that all members of the male species are intelligent would amount to making a sweeping generalization. Therefore women must approach this subject with caution.

There are certain steps experts recommend to get the best results. First, women must ensure, after thorough examination, that the male-subject is more than a half-wit. Having satisfied themselves with that result, they must proceed to master the art of raillery. It would stand women in good stead to get in touch with their satiric side. A positive step in this direction would be to make contact with Mr. Wodehouse or Mr. Wilde. For a female perspective on the subject, Miss Austen would be a great help.

While borrowed wit can hardly be appreciated, originality will only come to the fore after diligent practice. It is advisable to continue the endeavors if the response is as desired. And if wit were reciprocated, be aware that you have greatness in your midst.

Practitioners of the art, both male and female, continue to vouch for its success. There have not been any reports of the mechanism failing at any stage. So perhaps it is time to reject old notions of seduction via Butter Chicken, and instead embrace the fine art of serving up delectable wit.

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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