2019: Thirty

Today was a ridiculously cold day. I woke up at 6:45AM and felt a blast of chilly wind. It wasn’t pleasant, because I realized my torso was really warm and my legs were ridiculously hot but my face was cold – so I spent the next 15 minutes (till my roommate’s alarm rang) tossing and turning to ensure just the right amount of leg stuck out so it could feel the chilly wind. Then I covered it back because it was too cold and then ended up snuggling into my blanket because my head had no place that it could be at all. It was horribly traumatic as an experience.

But nothing came close to having to put on another layer of clothing. And make the decision to switch over to a sweater rather than a hoodie. That’s when I realized how cold the neck feels.

Obviously I’m making all this sound more dramatic that it really is because my grandmother reads this blog and it’s fun making her think it’s like the Arctic here. Or is the correct expression now that it’s like Chicago (I, of course refer to the polar vortex).

More tomorrow – the last day of the month! Wooohoo!


2019: Twenty-Nine

Today, I read a book that honestly opened up several emotional passages in my heart I did not know existed. I’ve reviewed it on my other blog (here). I’ll be honest, at first, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this book – the plot wasn’t something I thought was gripping. But boy, it took 3 hours of my day and turned them into the fastest three hours I’ve spent in a while. It’s books like these that make you sit up and think about the prejudices you hold toward books, and how although adages tell you not to judge books by covers, you do so sometimes anyways. Or rather that you judge them by the quality of the blurb on the back of the book, or on the basis of some random person’s opinion on the internet. Several of my friends received emotional messages from me describing how much I loved them after I read this book. If you would like one, do text me for compliments. Now is a good time.

The other thing that happened today was a personal failure. I wanted to do two things today. Wanted to solve my first crossword puzzle ever, and run. I missed doing both because I decided to nap in the afternoon – since there was too much wind entering my room and I wasn’t sure how else my body could respond. The sleep was great, but I woke up in the evening thinking I could have finished two goals of mine, and that felt strange. So of course, I bought myself cookies to make up for it. I’m telling you, I need a diet and some real control from sugar – I’m going to do this more strictly starting tomorrow. Let’s see how that plays out.

In other news, I’m waking up earlier than normal. Maybe that explains the afternoon napping as well. But waking up early has been good because I can make myself hot tea, drink it, read something, and go back to sleep feeling warm on the inside. That’s not a feeling I can describe too well, but it’s very, very snug.

I’m hoping I can do that crossword tomorrow. And I definitely need to run.

2019: Twenty-Eight

Off-late, I’ve been reading a lot of good fiction writing and a lot of good non-fiction longform journalism. I’ve also been fortunate to have time on my hands to watch some documentaries and docu-series that have sparked several thoughts in my head. The stand-out theme for me has been how much partisanship actually exists in the media and in literature, and in every piece of art that is created.

It’s got me thinking about whether biases that exist need to be warded off, or whether an attempt to censor using bias would create an outcome that is restrictive of speech. I’m inclined to believe the latter, especially since censoring bias would achieve the same effect that allowing for a dominant ideology to pervade would.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo | Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by Atria Books (2017)
Rating: ***** 

This is a fast book. This does not mean it’s a short read – the page count is 388 (hardcopy) and 304 (softcopy). It’s just an incredibly fast-paced book. Before reading the book, I saw a friend get consumed in it, and she described the writing as “incredibly engaging”, amongst other adjectives. 300-odd pages later, I do not disagree one bit. This is, far and away, one of the best pieces of fiction writing I have read.

The plot, at first glance, doesn’t spark any emotional reaction. It’s about an ageing former starlet, Evelyn Hugo, who, after years of being reticent with the media, decides to grant Vivant magazine an interview – specifically in the context of some dresses she’s auctioning off for charity. Her only condition is that Monique Grant, a relative unknown, is the reporter who interviews her. A few pages later, and Hugo reveals her ulterior motive in inviting Grant to her home – to give Grant the exclusive tell-all and the rights to publish an authorized biography once Hugo dies. What transpires is this narration of Hugo’s life, leading up to the present day. That, however, is barely scratching the surface of it. Through the recount, we explore all the romantic relationships Hugo has had, the headlines she dominated during her heydey, and, in bursts, Monique’s present-day life. Throughout, there’s a sense of foreshadowing that the two women are connected somehow, a reveal which marks a fitting conclusion to the book.

I’m going to review this systematically since a lot of it is very, very fresh in my memory at the moment.

First, the characters. Since a large part of the narration happens in a setting that is the late 60’s/70’s, it’s pretty amazing that Reid weaves in such large amounts of representation into the book, in terms of the communities across the sexuality spectrum that she is able to describe. What’s also phenomenal is the way she introduces and describes her characters. Every character is relevant, and Hugo, the protagonist, manages to have meaningful interactions with each of them – which plays a huge role in plot development, but also in terms of your understanding of context. Moreover, the characters are not one-dimensional. It’s very difficult to use one adjective to describe them, for example. Each character is layered, and their contribution to Hugo’s life is well-explained, in terms of how they affect her thinking, and what her emotions are.

A special paragraph is needed to talk about the two protagonists, if you will. Evelyn and Monique, the two characters whose interactions shape the entire plot are really different from each other. There is a gap both in economic stature and in confidence – a distinction Reid draws within the first 50 pages itself. It is this distinction that enables both ladies to learn from each other. While Evelyn takes on more of a mentor role, it becomes clear that at latter parts of the book, especially towards its conclusion – there are things that she’s picked up from how Monique has responded to the tell-all. Monique’s growth through the story is phenomenal. If Evelyn is the one who is being reflective and assessing her life, Monique learns how to change her life – in terms of being able to put herself and her emotions before others. That emotional growth and maturity is well-traced, and not knee-jerk. Reid’s exposition of Monique’s life is measured and does not feel out of place – which deserves special praise.

Second, the treatment of sexuality, and representation.  I’ve already spoken about how diverse the characters are. What demands more attention, however, is how well she’s able to treat sexuality in the context she sets out. There are several things about an individual’s identity and sexuality that are incredibly confusing to people today – in terms of people exploring their sexualities, or identifying a particular way. It sparks off a lot of conversation – and this is despite our generation being lucky enough to have a lot of information and lesser prejudice than earlier. Reid is able to trace what it would have been like in the late 1900’s, and she’s able to do this in two parts.

The first, is pre-Stonewall, where the story charts the sexuality of several characters and their attempts to keep it secret and conform to the heteronormative expectation that society has for them. There’s also a specific discussion in this time period about bisexuality and it’s misunderstanding – something that stood out in this book. Without spoiling too much, it’s interesting to see that members of the homosexual community themselves didn’t fully understand what being bisexual meant. This is well documented today, but the fact that Reid chooses to give a voice to a bisexual character, engage with the social conflicts the character faces is worth a lot of praise. The second time period the book engages with sexuality in is post-Stonewall, which is a little more liberal, but involves conversations that lead to definitive decisions about coming out.

Finally, Reid deserves congratulations for her construction of family and friendship. If anything, there is a lot of pain in this book. There’s a lot of love, a lot of loss, a bunch of conflict around identity, and a lot of tabloid gossip. Through the recount, Hugo builds up what her friendships did to her, and then descends into a tale of her family. Her relationship with her daughter is so profound and the reactions so natural that you’re on edge to find out how the daughter will grow up. Her narration of “family” breaks away from a lot of traditional notions, and her detailing of the platonic/romantic divide in Hugo’s life leaves you wondering how much of romance today is a socially constructed expectation. Atleast, I was. It makes you ponder about how romantic relationships are treated in society as automatically being a step-up from a platonic one, and how untrue that premise is in reality. There’s one quote about intimacy that particularly stands out to me – in terms of how, more than anything, it’s the ability to be true with someone.

What is touching is her development of Monique’s arc and Monique’s family, and I think the relationship of mother and daughter there is another highlight. Monique’s mother is inserted into the book in just the right places, something I absolutely adored.

I would only dock points for the fact that the book is not slightly longer, for I think the ending (the last 30 pages) were extremely rushed. There is a certain power to the voices, the characters, and the description that Reid is able to weave, one that will linger in my memory for a while. All in all, a fantastic read, well worth the time and investment.

The White Castle | Orhan Pamuk

The White Castle
by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Victoria Holbrook
Published by Faber and Faber (2000)
Rating: **** 

This was my first Orhan Pamuk novel. Unsurprisingly, it’s his shortest novel, so it was a great place to begin reading all of his work. Pamuk is an author I have heard several literature geeks tell me about, but not someone I have been able to sit down and read. Pamuk, therefore, topped my list of authors for the year.

This is Pamuk’s first translated work. The translation here deserves credit, for it appears as if the novel is written in English itself – with details so vivid and flow so undisturbed. One wonders what the Turkish version of the book reads like.

The story begins as a straightforward first-person narrative about the misfortunes of a young Italian scholar who, en route from his native Venice to Naples sometime in the 17th century, is captured by Turkish pirates. Brought to Istanbul, he is imprisoned. Having convinced his captors that he was trained in Italy as a doctor, he finds himself called upon to heal everyone from fellow prisoners to a pasha. A man of high intelligence and common sense, he manages in most cases to effect a cure. Slowly, he wins the admiration of the pasha, who presents him as a slave to his friend, an eccentric scientist called only Hoja, a word, he tells us, meaning “master.”

The narrator appears wholly taken by the resemblance between himself and Hoja, a resemblance Hoja appears to ignore. Hoja, as master, commands the narrator to teach him everything he knows from the West – the science, the philosophy.

After a decade, Hoja and the narrator lay bare their past by writing the stories of their lives for each other to read. This exercise leads to both characters, who are entirely identical in appearance, who adopt the mannerisms of the other.

One day the bubonic plague overwhelms Istanbul. Eager to gain further power at court, Hoja conspires with his double to think of ways of reducing the risk of plague through the exercise of Western hygiene. Cats, for instance, are brought in to get rid of the rats that infest the city, although the sultan is told that these rats are really Satan in disguise. The scheme works, and the plague is banished – Hoja is elevated to Imperial Astrologer.

One of Hoja’s enduring obsessions has been the construction of an ultimate weapon — a “war engine” to rout the sultan’s enemies. The sultan now grants Hoja the necessary funds to pursue his hobbyhorse. Some years later, when a war between the Turks and the Poles erupts, Hoja’s expensive and ridiculous cannon is called into action to help in the assault on a glittering fortress in the Carpathian Mountains, the “white castle” of the book’s title. Alas, it can only fail. Hoja knows this, and he escapes from the battle into the fog rather than risk beheading by an irate sultan. In fact, Hoja leaves the sultan’s realm altogether and goes to Venice, to resume there the life of his Italian double, and his slave takes over Hoja’s life as a Turkish sage.

It is at this juncture, that Hoja introduces plot twists and brings into question the identity of the narrator. By the end of the book, you’re left uncertain about who the narrator actually was, and whether or not there were two characters at all.

In this act, lies Pamuk’s greatest triumph. The tale is really simple, the plot development rapid, and the prose, flowing. The twist at the end, however, is sufficient to keep you awake all night. It points at a fundamental question about human nature and human identities – the struggle of understanding oneself. By questioning who the narrator actually is, Pamuk makes you wonder: Why are you who you are? What shapes you? What is your motivation? What is your desire?

These existential questions may not be for all readers. They may also not arise to everyone who reads the book. For example, an alternate interpretation of the book would allow you to ask the question: Does slavery and captivity drive one insane?

Another alternate interpretation would make question the institution of religion and the concept of a value-system.

Whatever questions Pamuk leaves you with, it appears he does so without force. His words don’t point you to definitive answers, nor to mandatory questions. The ease of his narration, and the detail of the characters and dialogue make this an enjoyable, fast-paced read.

A star was docked for the ending. To me, it felt unfinished and incomplete. If this was a deliberate measure, it is one I am yet to fully appreciate. All I know is that I’m going to be reading a lot more of Pamuk, because I’m intrigued by the manner in which he weaves his tales.

2019: Twenty-Seven

Today was Convocation. Which is an elaborate ceremony where everyone is conferred with the degrees they’ve spent five years earning, and are bestowed with gold medals and words of wisdom from esteemed guests. It’s a pretty great tradition that allows people to celebrate their academic qualifications – which is a unique journey for everybody and sees each person going through times which are turbulent, but times that are extraordinary as well.

But that’s just one aspect of the ceremony. The other thing that happens on days like this is a reunion of an entire batch of people, which is always fun for that batch.

We’re lucky enough to have had two batches come back to campus. This was because Convocation didn’t happen for one full year – so we got to see people who had graduated in 2017, and in 2018 on the same day.

So obviously lots of nostalgia happened. It was great to see everyone. It was also when I realized how familial University bonding actually is. The lack of privacy and the sheer amount of time you spend with each other means that for those 5 years, you’re pretty much siblings. And beyond those 5 years, you’re bonded by the commonality of a ridiculously unique experience.

I miss having these seniors on campus, but it was great talking to everyone and seeing where the last few months have taken them. Oddly enough, it was also an opportunity to self-reflect on where the last few months have taken me. Talking to everyone made me realize the effect ageing, and this University has had on me. My sleep cycle has shifted, a lot of enthusiasm has fallen. Rather, keeping my enthusiasm up is something that needs active effort these days. I need to now remind myself to go to class, to put in the effort class deserves.

It’s tougher, in a lot of ways.

I was also the recipient of words of wisdom from the seniors I met. And you don’t realize this when you enter, but your seniors are ridiculously important to the way your University experience pans out to be. I don’t think you realize this even after you leave.

Seeing people get their degrees made me understand how badly I want mine as well. I think I’m now hitting that phase where I’m still enjoying everyday, but I can see the finish line and see all the avenues the last five years have opened up for me.

Can’t wait to make the most of them.

2019: Twenty-Six

I slept through most of Republic Day, which I think has been a particular highlight of the day for me.

I responded to several messages that wished me on Republic Day, but as usual, was struck by whether or not our country is truly a “Republic”. I mean this seriously, and not in terms of having a news channel named after the ideology.

But, what does a Republic mean? Are we there? Were we there?

I’ve read a little, and I’m not quite sure. I hope the next one year changes that for me.

2019: Twenty-Five

There was a McDonald’s that was five minutes away from my house when I was a child. In fact, I think I lived a very privileged childhood in terms of how little I had to travel to have a wholesome childhood experience. School was right across (a fact I will elaborate on below), there was a supermarket in my building, a hypermarket right opposite my school, McDonald’s five minutes away, most of my friends from school lived in the same building as I did, and cricket coaching was a 15 minute drive.

I loved it.

First, let’s get the school story out of the way. It’s by far the dumbest I have been as a child. My grandfather visited us in Dubai a couple of times. And well, him and I were going to the hypermarket (the one opposite my school, remember?). The route to my school was one that my father drove me to and from at the time – because of how nicely his office timings coincided with my school timings. Gave us a lot of father-son bonding time – like experiencing fog in Dubai together, and afternoon sandstorms. Anyway, school was basically 2kms away (I checked Google Maps, it’s 2.4kms). I’m attaching a screenshot for your reference – this is the driving route my dad took daily.


As you can see, there was a very long road to go down, take a U-turn, go back up almost the entire length, and then take a right. So when my grandfather told me we’d go to the hypermarket, I made him walk this entire stretch, in the sweltering UAE heat – instead of cutting right across and walking 1.3km. I was a young fool.

Anyway, the McDonald’s is the main part of this story. This McDonald’s was at Al Bustan (the pink thing you see on the map there), so really, really close by. And my friends used to go there pretty often. My parents though, were really strict when I was growing up – so I didn’t really get fast food as much. This is not to say that I was denied it when I asked. It was more a case of “we can cook you great food at home, are you sure you want the fast food?” And honestly, I loved home food. I always will. So fast food was always a treat, meant for things that deserved celebration.

Something I’m super grateful for was that my parents taught me to celebrate things I had achieved and was happy with. These were usually academic achievements, so I got rewarded with fast food (and often, new stationery/sportsgear) when I did well on tests and such. Exams got bigger prizes – like a camera once. And wildly enough, a computer.

But, McDonald’s was a real treat. Even Pizza Hut. Wow.

I used to be so happy eating these things because of how nicely spaced they were in my diet. Honestly.

Today I went to McDonald’s with friends to do a Secret Santa thing – where I got and gave gifts (my Santa got me an amazing book and a wallet ninja, thank you! I know you read this blog, Santa of mine.)

I saw the Happy Meal – which they’ve called a Kids Meal now for some reason at the McDonald’s I visited. And I loved the gifts the Meal had. So of course, I converted a meal of mine to a Kids Meal to get the cute toys – a toaster and an oven.

All I could think of the entire time I was at McDonald’s was this one instance my mother took me to McDonald’s – and I’m honestly tearing up right now (no jokes). My mom is amazing. She’s done a lot for me over the years.

This one time, my dad was traveling – and I think she was a little tired in the evening, so she called me up before coming home, telling me we’d be going to visit McDonald’s in Bustan in the evening. This was a real treat for me, and I was very excited about what spurned this. It meant I had to do all my homework before going out to play, because I wouldn’t get to finish it between 7pm and 8pm – before sleeping. So I did, diligently.

And I was out playing – I think I was wearing these jeans 3/4ths, as I did, back in the day. She pulled up into the parking spot we had. Her car parked in a very convenient spot. It was right outside our block (“A”-block) gate, and oversaw the sand pit and common playing area. So every evening, I had the delight of seeing my mum see me finish up playing, and go up to the house, where I’d go back in a bit.

Basically, she parked up, and came to the sandpit, ready to take me to McDonald’s. It was pretty late in the evening, okay – like 6:45pm. And I remember, not many kids came out that day, so it was just Aahan and I. My mom came, and I felt really shy about leaving Aahan behind. I think she sensed it, because she asked him to join us, made a call to his mom and quickly, he was with us in the car too. She drove us to McDonald’s and we ate a Happy Meal. I ate this veg one, and Aahan ate a non-veg one. He got nuggets too.

I was unsure how she’d take to it, because it was the first time I had seen her pay for non-vegetarian food. I remember that night asking her if it was okay that he had come also. My memory isn’t too hazy but it feels like it was a self-invite sort of situation. She said it was, because he was my friend, and his mom would’ve taken me too.

All evening today I was thinking about this. And today, I miss eating Happy Meals with my mother. Because the worst part about narrating this story has been that I cannot remember what my mother ate that evening.

The other really sad thing is that I misplaced the Kid’s Meals toys I got today. I’ll get them again the next time I go to McDonald’s.

I’m so glad I video-called my parents today.

2019: Twenty-Four

I’ve just found out Vampire Weekend have released new music. The first person to speak to me about Vampire Weekend was actually my Vice/Co-Captain for the Venturers when I was in school. We didn’t really know each other when we were elected onto Council, and she was senior to me by one year. But one of the first things we bonded over was the fact that we liked “indie” music, and just kept sharing all the new music we came across. Around that time, they had released this fantastic song, Step, and it was absolutely all I could listen to. My love for them has grown ever since, and I’ve explored their music a fair amount. It’s moments like this, when new music comes out from an artist I have a very specific memory of, that I realize how much art is actually in the world, and how much art gets created every single day – and how close we each are to missing out on it completely.

In a span of 3.5 years, liking “indie” music has become culturally popular. Does this mean “indie” music is “pop” music? This is a real question worth pondering about.

In other news, I just finished another memorial submission for a moot court competition I’m participating in this year. That marks my fourth of Law school, and probably my last but one memorial submission. Which makes me oddly emotional. Memorial submissions and mooting brings out both the best, and the worst in people – I think. As with every team activity there is (there’s absolutely no reason to overstate this), but when you get so attached to a written submission that you feel in control of, it’s likely to spark some fire.

This submission was the first without one of my best friends. It’s weird, because the first time I met her I called her “Ma’am”. But I’ve argued two finals with her in my corner, and I’ve been fortunate to experience some of the best times in my Law school journey with her. Submitting a document I’ve poured my soul into felt a little incomplete without her – so I had to text her immediately. And she’s coming back for Convocation this weekend, which makes it a lot easier.

Literally all I can think about right now was how much people cried when we submitted our memorial last year – and the most teary-eyed photo I’ve taken with my teammates.

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded with some great people each time I have participated in this activity. This time is no different. And one of the things I’m enjoying the most is that I have two teammates who are junior to me – the first time I’m getting that experience. There’s so much enthusiasm injected into the team as a consequence. And so much free Milo.

Finishing memorial submission feels fantastic. I wonder if every Court filing feels the same way.

2019: Twenty-Three

As University’s gone by, I’ve begun to experience more days where I feel like doing absolutely nothing. Not in terms of work and the stuff I have ambitions for personally, but more in terms of anything that is University related. There are days where I don’t feel like attending meetings or contributing a lot to the environment that’s built around me. Now, a lot of what follows is premised on the assumption that on a given day, I’m contributing a little to my environment. And I know that makes it sound like I do a lot, but take it at it’s bare minimum: one interaction with someone who shares the same environment as you do still counts as contribution.

There are days where I really don’t feel up to it. On those days, I begin to question the worthiness of structures around me, in terms of Committee set ups, and things like that, and notice only the flaws in the structural mechanics of these. It’s quite disappointing – because I can see them, and I’m sure it’s not unique perspective, but more often than not, I realize that I’m not in a position to help correct any of those flaws. Or, worse, that those flaws have become so accepted, that any change will be resisted to the point where my attempts to change things will be unsuccessful.

The easy option is to quit.

But every time these thoughts come into my head, I think about all the seniors who’ve worked in these setups to get them to where they are. That’s when it hits me that if I make a small change, it’s likely to impact someone only 5 years from now, long after I’m away from University.

There’s absolutely no compulsion to contribute to the environment I live in. Except. I’ve inherited it from people, and someone will inherit it from me. The least I can do is to leave it in the same shape I got it. The best case scenario is that I make an improvement.

2019: Twenty-Two

Did I wake up at 6:45AM today? Indeed, I did. With the extra time I had on my hands, I read, and then chose to go back to sleep. It was great. I also slept through a few lectures today, which is something I’m happy about. Waking up at 6:45 didn’t really change my life in any way, but maybe individual instances don’t really do that. I guess it’s the protracted lifestyle change of continuously waking up at 6:45, or early in the morning that starts to change the way you live your life – or something of the sort. Maybe I’ll try it again tomorrow morning.

Someone who I enjoy talking to once told me that University was this long process of figuring out what your priorities are – and how you treat trade-offs. Sometimes, the more I sit in class and choose actively not to do anything, the more I realize that statement’s truth.

Time in this semester has been flying by. I’m not sure where it’s all gone and how we’re almost close to finishing an entire month at University. It’s odd – I’m grateful for the speed, but I’m quite sure I’m spending my “good old days” at University. I’d like to just conclude this post by saying how lucky I am to be surrounded by the kind of people I spend time with on a daily basis.

I’ve been lucky the last three and a half years – which I don’t think is a mean feat at all. It’s tough to figure out whether or not you like spending time with someone and whether you like someone, they’re often two different things entirely. I’ve just been fortunate to see both those things overlap for me more often than not.


2019: Twenty-One

I’ve asked a batchmate of mine to wake me up at 6:45AM tomorrow. Why? I am unsure. Will I wake up? I am uncertain. But the challenge appeals to me. I’m pretty certain I’m going to open the door and speak to him and then get back to bed. If I don’t, I’ll be surprised. We all will.

Today’s been a pretty good day for myself. Though bits and pieces of bad news my friends have received threw me off as well. I don’t know what it is about the human experience, but it seems like there’s this nature of shared emotion amongst all of us – sadness affects all of us deeply, and happiness excites us the same way.

I don’t like it when my friends are sad. That’s broadly the premise of my insight for today. Sometimes it’s beyond my control – and beyond theirs, because feelings are not measurable, or predictable. However, I do feel a duty to attempt to make them feel better. Especially where they’ve shared pieces of bad news with me.

Why? I’m not sure.

I do all of this fully knowing that only time can heal sadness, and only a persons’ own acceptance of a state of affairs will lead to “moving on”. Space also helps. Sadness is natural.

Yet, seeing people sad – it haunts me.

So what do I plan to do by waking up at 6:45AM tomorrow?

Look for memes and jokes and puns – and figure out new ways of making people happy to be alive and spending another day on Earth.

Will I succeed or will I be overbearing? I will try to find a balance where I am not overbearing.

That concludes today’s insight.