Archive for April, 2010

An Elegy to my Angel

I read a book called ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ a few months back. It is a memoir of the author Joan Didion and how she coped with grief when she lost her husband. The first lines of the book were : “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Didion goes on to describe the initial feeling of denial that she experienced. Didion says later in the book : “Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be…Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxyms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of “waves”. I cried when I read Didion’s memoir. Little did I know then that I would be thinking about it and crying a few months later.

On Saturday morning, Amma (my Mom) passed away. She was a little unwell for the past week, but it was nothing serious. The doctor had said that she was fine and with some medication she would be back to normal after a few days. It was not to be. She fainted in the morning, and when the ambulance came home, it was too late. The monitor which displayed her heartbeat, showed a straight line. It all happened too fast for me to believe it to be true. The initial feeling of denial set in – friends and relatives who came to pay her their last respects said that she looked as if she was sleeping. It was easy to delude myself that, that was indeed the case. I was trying to keep a normal face, like it was a normal day, throughout the wake. But after a while, the waves and paroxysms of grief came in. And they kept coming and coming…

Amma was my angel and inspiration with respect to books. She showed us the treasures between the covers of books. She also single-handedly revived the old-time tradition of telling stories around a fire or around a dinner table. She inspired us to read books by telling stories to me and my sister when we were young – some of the Shakespeare plays (‘Hamlet’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ were my favourites), books by Dickens (‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was Amma’s favourite and it was my favourite too at that time), swashbuckling adventure stories by Alexandre Dumas and R.L.Stevenson, ‘Jane Eyre‘, books by Mark Twain, tragic stories from Greek mythology, historical novels in Tamil by Kalki (we used to pester Amma to tell us the story of ‘Parthiban Kanavu’ again and again during dinner), and stories by women authors like Lakshmi, Anuradha Ramanan, Sivasankari, Vaasanthi and Ramani Chandran. Amma told her tales when we were having lunch and dinner, and she was such a wonderful storyteller that she inspired me to read my first classic when I was seven (it was Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’). I have loved books since then. Amma’s favourite stories when she was younger were classics in English and romantic, historical and social novels in Tamil. We used to read comics together too, and have discussions on James Bond stories and her favourite comic heroes – ‘Irumbukkai Mayavi’ (Louis Grandel) and Lawrence and David. Of late her interest in standard romantic Tamil novels had gone down and she had started reading more literary fiction. She also loved translated works of classics written by Premchand, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bankin Chandra Chatterjee and V.S.Khandekar.

In addition to books, Amma was a big movie fan. She took us to see many movies when we were young. We used to go and watch movies at the theatre even during examination time – some people might say that she was an irresponsible mother for doing that, but for us she was a cool mom. She inspired in us an everlasting love for movies. In addition to popular movies, Amma loved offbeat and artistic movies, which was quite interesting because none of her friends liked those movies. We enjoyed watching some of these movies together and discussing them. In addition to her literary and cinema interests, Amma took care of her family quite well and also socialized with friends and made new friends quite easily. She also loved going to temples and singing songs and doing pooja.

Amma was a role model in many ways. She spent a lifetime showering love and affection on others. Anyone who was touched by her – her family members, brothers and sister and their families, friends, neighbours – loved her. She was innocent like a baby and could see only the positive qualities of others – sometimes I got annoyed with her for trusting people too easily. When I think back I remember that I was like her till I went to work – it looked like she had passed on a little bit of her most desirable quality to me.

Amma also never got angry – I have seen her mildly annoyed only four times in her whole life – a couple of times with me, once with my dad and once with her sister. I have done so many things to make her annoyed and angry and my dad did something everyday to annoy her, but I don’t remember her getting annoyed anytime. I wish I were like that – I wish I never got angry.

Amma was also young at heart – she loved reading comics till the end and guests who visited us used to be puzzled with it.

In this moment filled with grief, I keep asking myself – why was there no time to say a farewell?ย  Why was there no time to try out her favourite things for the last time – to finish the book she was reading, to see one of her favourite movies one more time, to take one last bite of a juicy mango (her favourite fruit), to have one last boxing match with me? Why, why, why…

One part of my heart feels exactly as Auden has expressed in his poem ‘Funeral Blues’ :

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

But another part of my heart tells me that Amma’s time in the world was a celebration of life. Amma’s life is an inspiring example – of being kind to people, of never getting angry, of being innocent, of being young at heart, of treating family and friends with love and affection and of never giving up one’s passions in literature and movies. So, though I want to continue crying, I am going to think about how Amma inspired me in celebrating life, and what I can do, to do justice to that inspiration.

Farewell Amma, my Angel of Books and my inspiration! Hope you are observing us from your heavenly abode, smiling gently at us as we stumble through our imperfect lives, and hope you bless us always with that pure heart of yours.

Amma with dad and me during old times

Amma showing the glories of the Indian sari to an Ethiopian family friend


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One of my dear friends gifted ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan, as a Christmas present. I was waiting for the right time to read it. When the read-a-thon came around, I thought it was a good time to read ‘The Arrival’. I finished reading it at that time, but writing the review has taken me some more time. Here it is.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story from the publisher’s site.

In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship. He’s embarking on the most difficult journey — he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family. In this wordless graphic novel, Shaun Tan captures the immigrant experience through clear, mesmerizing images. The reader enters a strange new world, participating in the main character’s isolation – and ultimately his joy.

Here is one of the summaries of the book that I liked.

“Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ arrives just in time to take advantage of the current waves of interest in the ‘graphic novel’ and brings something new and exceptionally worthy to the form : a novel told in graphics (not cartoons), a wordless story that uses the language of silent cinema and the picture-story traditions that predate comic books. For adults, Tan’s New World offers a childlike sense of discovery; for children it offers an adult theme made eminently accessible. Tan’s lovingly laid out and masterfully rendered tale about the immigrant experience is a documentary magically told by way of Surrealism.” Art Spiegelman

What I think

‘The Arrival’ is the story of an immigrant who leaves his country to build a new future for himself and his family in a new country. It depicts the wonder of a new country and the difficulties and challenges the immigrant faces in becoming a part of it – from learning simple things like how to buy a ticket for using public transport, what are the names of the new vegetables there and how they taste to more complex things like how to navigate the new language, how to find a house for rent, how to find a job, how to get one’s family from one’s home country to one’s adopted country, how to integrate with people from different cultures who are around, how to handle new pets and how to make friends and live a good life. The book doesn’t have any words and text – the whole story is told through pictures. It reminds me of some books I have seen where the story is told through woodcut paintings. In some places Shaun Tan depicts the action beautifully by zooming into a scene or zooming out of a scene – it reminded me of Brian Selznick’s ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ where Selznick uses this technique beautifully. The artwork in the book is extremely beautiful – one of the best that I have seen in a graphic novel. It looks like a lot of care has gone into making each panel and each page. The city from which the main character comes has the shadow of a dragon’s tail hovering in the air – it seemed to indicate a Chinese city. The artwork which depicts the new city is very surrealistic.

Extracts from the book

Here are some pictures from the book which I liked. Hope you enjoy looking at them and hope they inspire you to ‘read’ the book.

Puzzling way of buying a ticket for a strange mode of transport

Trying exotic vegetables

In the old home in the old country

In the new home in the new country

Final Thoughts

Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ is a classic. Some would say that it takes us back to pre-comic days when there were picture books, without text, which told stories. But I would like to believe that Shaun Tan has taken the graphic-novel medium to a different level – by telling a story with just pictures, without names, without dialogues, without descriptions – and by doing it with really high-quality artwork. ‘The Arrival’ is one of the best graphic novels that I have ever read. It will be one of my treasured possessions (many of my friends are already jealous of me :)) and I will have to thank my dear friend for that. If you like graphic novels, you should definitely try reading ‘The Arrival’. Highly recommended.

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Hour 2 : Have been busy today and so have been able to start my read-a-thon only at the start of hour two. It is really difficult to decide which book to start first. I want to start a book, which I can quickly finish. I am tempted to start ‘The Arrival’ but I want to save it for later – I want to read it slowly and savour the pictures. So, I am starting one of the Agatha Christie books – ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’.

Hour 8 : Have got sidetracked by other things – some errands and domestic crisis situation at home and some not-to-be-missed sport on TV – and so have not been able to read as much as I wanted during the first 3rd of the read-a-thon. But managed to finish one Agatha Christie graphic novel – ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’. It was the first Christie that I ever read and I liked it very much when I read it, but unfortunately, the graphic novel version doesn’t stack up to the original. Scenes shift a bit too abruptly and I didn’t like the way Poirot was depicted. But ‘Death on the Nile’ which I am hoping to read later, seems to have better artwork. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Thanks to all cheerleaders and blogging friends for stopping by and cheering me ๐Ÿ™‚

It is late night in my place now, and so I will take a nap for a few hours and come back re-energized and try to do some serious reading during the home stretch.

Hour 20 : Back to reading during the homestretch of the read-a-thon. Have not been having a good read-a-thon till now, but hoping to remedy that a little bit during the homestretch. Starting ‘The Arrival’ now. I initially thought that it is a book which can be read quickly, because it is a graphic novel without dialogues, but when I looked at the first few pages, I felt like I was looking at pictures in an art book. The pictures need the reader’s attention, time, curiosity and affection. Maybe I will read it quickly now and slowly again a bit later to savour the pleasure better.

Thanks to all the cheerleaders and my blogging friends for dropping by and cheering me!

Hour 23 : Just finished Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’. An awesome book! It is also an awesome work of art! I thought I will read it quickly, but I couldn’t and didn’t want to. So looked at the pictures for a while and turned the pages slowly – it was such a wonderful reading (if I may call it ‘reading’) experience! Hope this book wins a few awards. I think I will read it again before writing a review of it. Now I am wondering what to do next, as probably only around an hour is left for the read-a-thon – should I start a new book or should I go around and cheer fellow read-a-thon participants? I am leaning more towards the second one ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks to all the cheerleaders and my friends and blogging friends for dropping by and cheering me!

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This weekend is Read-a-thon time ๐Ÿ™‚ The twice-a-year Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon is back in April. I participated in the Read-a-thon in October and had an awesome time! It was also wonderful to get in touch with book readers across the world and be cheered by them and also cheer them to the finish. So, I thought I will participate in the read-a-thon this year too.

One of my friends (and if I may add, philosopher and guide), who is a personal coach, says that we should explore extremes in life to discover what fits our concept of balance in life. Last year, I selected a few regular books to read during the read-a-thon, but could finish reading only one of them and half of another. So this year, taking my friend’s advice, I have decided to explore the other extreme, and will try to do my own ‘graphic novel reading fest’ during the read-a-thon. I think it will be consistent with the spirit of my graphic-novel-reading-spree recently ๐Ÿ™‚ It will also give me enough time to find out what others are doing during the read-a-thon and cheer other readers in this reading adventure.

So, here is the list of books, from which I will be reading some, during the read-a-thon.

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker (adapted by Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano) – I have many versions of ‘Dracula’ in my bookshelf – one full version, one which is part of an omnibus, one comic version, one abridged illustrated classic version and this one, the graphic novel version. The art is awesome in this book. If I were an Australian cricket commentator, I would call the art ‘sensational’ ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. The Discworld Graphic Novels (The Colour Magic and The Light Fantastic) by Terry Pratchett
  3. The Arrival by Shaun Tan One of my dear friends sent this to me as a Christmas present. Have been waiting for the right time to read it. This book is an innovation even for the graphic novel form. Will write more about it after I read it.
  4. Colossus by Mark Andrews
  5. The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (edited by Paul Gravett) – has stories by Ed McBain, Alan Moore, Will Eisner, Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, Neil Gaiman – enough to whet my appetite!
  6. The Agatha Christie classics (graphic novel versions)
    1. The Murder of Roger Ackroydmy most favourite Christie novel. Looking forward to seeing how it is in the graphic novel version
    2. And Then There Were Nonemy second most favourite Christie novel. Have read the play version and seen the movie version. Have seen a Tamil movie inspired by this book too.
    3. Murder On The Links
    4. The Man In The Brown Suit
    5. Murder in Mesopotamiathe first Christie / Hercule Poirot novel that I ever read.
    6. The Big Four
    7. Death On The Nilehaven’t read the book. But saw the movie version after my trip to Egypt. The movie is wonderful just for showing many of Egypt’s wonderful treasures – the story is a bonus.
    8. Endless Night
    9. The Mystery Of The Blue Train
    10. The Secret Of Chimneys
    11. The Secret Adversary
    12. Murder At The Vicarage
    13. Murder On The Orient Expresshaven’t read the book. But have seen the movie version which has a star cast.

Please wish me well ๐Ÿ™‚

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I found these interesting lines from a book I am reading now called ‘Art Objects : Essays on Ecstasy and Effronteryby Jeanette Winterson.

Art takes time. To spend an hour looking at a painting is difficult. The public gallery experience is one that encourages art at a trot. There are the paintings, the marvellous speaking works, definite, independent, each with a Self it would be impossible to ignore, if…if…, it were possible to see it. I do not only mean the crowds and the guards and the low lights and the ropes, which make me think of freak shows, I mean the thick curtain of irrelevancies that screens the painting from the viewer. Increasingly, galleries have a habit of saying when they acquired a painting and how much it cost…
Millions! The viewer does not see the colours on the canvas, he sees the colour of the money.
Is the painting famous? Yes! Think of all the people who have carefully spared one minute of their lives to stand in front of it.
Is the painting Authority? Does the guide-book tell us that it is part of The Canon? If Yes, then half of the viewers will admire it on principle, while the other half will dismiss it on principle.
Who painted it? What do we know about his / her sexual practices and have we seen anything about them on the television? If not, the museum will likely have a video full of schoolboy facts and tabloid gossip.
Where is the tea-room / toilet / gift shop?
Where is the painting in any of this?
We are an odd people : We make it as difficult as possible for our artists to work honestly while they are alive; either we refuse them money or we ruin them with money; either we flatter them with unhelpful praise or would them with unhelpful blame, and when they are too old, or too dead, or too beyond dispute to hinder any more, we canonise them, so that what was wild is tamed, what was objecting, becomes Authority. Canonising pictures is one way of killing them. When the sense of familiarity becomes too great, history, popularity, association, all crowd in between the viewer and the picture and block it out. Not only pictures suffer like this, all the arts suffer like this.

(Note : I found the second passage really interesting because I have been thinking about this issue for quite sometime. Why is it that artists are ignored when they creating interesting pieces when they live and they are forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence (and here I mean not just painters but also writers and others who work in the creative arena), and as soon as they die they become legends? The latest example I can think of, from this perspective, is Roberto Bolano, who was not well known when he lived (and who probably considered himself a rebellious writer and who rejected the existing writing tradition from Latin America and tried to establish a new tradition) and now that he is dead and gone for around seven years, all his books have been translated and published and are bestsellers and are sweeping literary awards – the quintessential example of canonising a rebel’s work! I liked Jeanette Winterson’s answer to this question.)

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