What Reading Does

Reading is the manure of a person’s growth. And meaningful reading is the best quality of manure you can get out there. But what is meaningful reading?
  • Being open to books that make you uncomfortable
  • Being open to critics of books and authors you love.
  • Being open to others loving the books you didn’t
  • Being open to listening to the thoughts of other readers about the books you collectively read
  • Being open to listening to other readers’ thoughts on books you don’t intend to pick.
And perhaps for all the reasons above, I love being on bookstagram. If reading is what makes the plants in us grow, bookstagram is the forest of well-built trees who provide us with the bounty that enables us to grow in the best possible manner. This realization has hit me most in those times when I was enabled to view the good things about the books I despised and the flaws of those I loved.
My recent read, Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig is one of the latter, thanks to the incredible thinker and observer @painted.verses_ Monika. (Please read her review of this book to understand why I say this, also her other reviews. She’s just too good).
Reasons To Stay Alive is a much-celebrated book in which Haig has bravely chronicled his experiences of dealing with anxiety and depression. The book was relatable at a lot of fronts, so much so, that I ended up weeping hard.
Reading this book by Matt Haig provided me a sense of solidarity that I hadn’t felt before. Depression is not a one size fits all thing. We all experience it in our own ways and none is smaller or insignificant than the other.
Although I could not relate to a lot of things that Haig expressed in the book, not that they are other-worldly, I found this book a meaningful and heartfelt read. The fact that Haig braved it all and then bared it all is a big plus for me. Celebrities, especially men, expressing their trauma, I feel, will go a long way in breaking the stigma around mental health.
The world is still waking up to the fact of the realness of the existence of mental illnesses. The stigma is still strong, especially among men, that hinders them to seek help. At times I wonder why is that? Do people not see those visible signs? What makes them ignore those signs? Why do they think that accepting the fact that they or their close one is a depressive so bad? I have enabled these stigmas myself for a very long time. I wanted to reach out, yet something held me back. I used to look at my family with vacant eyes, while my insides used to be screaming for help.
Read this book if you are someone who is not able to figure out why your friend is always sad and unresponsive and moody, read this book to get a glimpse into how a depressive feels. What is the cause behind the actions they effect? And if you are someone who is battling it out, read it to know that you are not alone and that your tribe is rooting for you to stay alive.

The Obscure, The Average, The Plain Jane

There are books that I love and then there are those that I love and then go on asking everyone I meet to read it. The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is the latter.

Keiko Furukura is an obscure employee in a convenience store. She has worked in the store for 18 years and yet she has stayed at the same position. The sounds and rhythm of the convenience store is what keeps her going. It is her happy place. It is the anchor of her life. And that is what Murata has described in simple yet beautiful detail in this book.

We all know this book is a #Bookstagram favourite. I picked it up because it was highly praised from so many of my favourites here. But there was something else too that drew me to the book – the fact that this was the story of an obscure, middle-aged woman who loves her dead-end job to the core. Everyone writes stories about the extraordinary – people dig the extraordinary. But rarely we get to read about ordinary lives, rather the obscure ones, the plain average ones. The Convenience Store Woman is a book that undoes this.

It resonated with me because for a large part of my life I had felt like that obscure, hazy human being. Although, things have changed, but I can never forget the days when I would go on for days without being contacted by or speaking a word to people around. I felt like a unnoticeable smidge on the world’s canvas. Those days built me, and therefore I can never undermine them.

Keiko is an odd brick in the society’s wall. Although a lot of the readers found her quirky and funny, I largely felt an empathy towards her. Throughout the book, based on her actions and reactions to various situations, I kept thinking whether Keiko is autistic. Did anyone else feel that? There surely is a mention of people around her seeking a cure for her ‘condition’ but Murata has not made it clear.

Keiko has sharp observation skills. The way she could fathom the needs of the store just by looking at its surroundings and the weather in general blew my mind away. It might seem trivial to an outsider, but the world of a convenience store is a throbbing phenomenon, especially for Keiko.

Keiko was drawn to the world of convenience store when she was just 18. She did not just work at the store, she assimilated its cogs and bearings into her muscles and blended herself into its machinery. Just this adaptability made me wonder that had she been introduced to some high level government security agency, she would have turned out to be a world class spy, even a badass assassin. The fact that she can adapt to the tones and speaking styles of people around her just by observing them tells us that she is no less than a chameleon, and I say this with high regard.

Her one handicap is that she is extremely self-conscious, low on self-esteem. Keiko will do everything to live upto the expectations of the world. Early in her life she realized that the world does not think the way she does, and since then she has bent herself in every way possible to hide her real self from the world and show them the one they expect to see. This does reminds me of my old self. Although I could never go to the lengths of changing myself the way Keiko did.

Another aspect that I was enthralled by was Keiko’s love for her work. She is well aware that she is in a dead pan job, that there’s no real scope for gathering accolades or wealth in the role she performs. Even though everyone around her is always shocked at her living situation and job status, she defends it with all the might she has. Now here’s a message that I dearly loved – in a world where everyone is talking about hustling, here we have someone who is not rushing through life. She is in love with her job and she would have it no other way.

I had a really good time meeting Keiko and getting to know her. If I ever met her, I would probably want to hug her. But I doubt she would like it so much. May be I will just look at her from a little distance, smile and move on.

A Question of Choices

We all experience moments in life when we wonder how our lives would have panned out had we not made the choices that we made. Do you ever crave to get a glimpse of that alternate life? Given a chance, would you like to witness it?

In Ramayana, Sita’s story pretty much stems from her association with Lord Rama. It’s not wrong to say that her identity is one of Rama’s consort. Unless you take an effort to delve into her story, you won’t be served with one the way Rama’s is done. Here’s a significant female character of Indian mythology, but we rarely get to hear her voice. Even Ravana has been given a better voice than her. However, things are changing now, times are changing now, and people are shifting their focus to Sita too. And just for her silent resilience to stand with her husband and uphold his wishes throughout her life, she is deserving of it all.

Retelling stories closely bound with the faith of the masses is always a double-edged sword. These stories are close to the heart of people, often forming the foundation of their values and ideals. Bhumika is Aditya Iyengar’s retelling of Sita’s story, and I am just floored by the way he has balanced the original with his. Iyengar’s Sita is Bhumika, and Bhumika, even though is Sita, but she is not.

The story…

It has been a long time since Sita left Ayodhya. She has reached the final stage of her life and is quietly spending her days in Rishi Valmiki’s ashrama. A visit from a wandering troupe of performers makes her wonder about how her life had been had she not married Rama, had she not accompanied him into exile, had she not been kidnapped by Ravana. These questions gnaw her but she has no answers, until one day Rishi Vishwamitra arrives and introduces her to Bhumika.

More thoughts

While Ramayana talks about Rama Rajya, Iyengar’s Bhumika talks about Bhumika-Rajya. Bhumika is the queen of Mithila and the bearer of the divine bow, Pinaka. She’s fierce, independent, and one with her own mind. She’s flawed too. She dreams of a land that treats everyone ¬¬– women and men – equally, but is well aware of the hurdles that lie in the path of establishing one. And in Iyengar’s Bhumika, it is Rama who goes through Agnipariksha – trial by fire.

Iyengar took Sita, who always stood behind Rama, and brought her to the fore as Bhumika. He tells a story that could have been without maligning the one that exists. And that is the beauty of this book. Sita is still the bearer of the story – Iyengar does not discard her values and choices but leaves us with a profound message about freedom of choices and respecting what each chooses for themselves.

“There are many different ways for a woman to live her life. None is superior or inferior.”

I am glad that I got to conclude this powerful book so close to International Women’s Day. The universe is resounding with the thought of empowering choices made by women, and it’s a blessing to have got the opportunity to widen my horizon with this brilliant tale.