U=US(South) from Gone With the Wind

U was a difficult letter for me. I almost gave up on writing for U because I couldn’t find a book which described such a place. But then, I realized that USA starts from “U” too, and there definitely is a book which had made me aware about US and the civil war is “Gone With the Wind”. I have talked a lot about this book already in my past posts, so I am not going to explain the virtue of the book in this post. So, with “U”, I am going to talk about US, especially Southern US.

I wasn’t aware about much of the history apart from what is told in history classes. I had known about the civil war that happened in US, but while reading history books, one is not able to imagine the pain of losing so many young men, the hunger that must have been perpetual, the fear of the women etc. These are the factors that you see in the stories only. This story brought US-South of that era alive. I could see the parties, the tiny waists, the corsets, the plantations, and even the wars.  

The South of that time felt overloaded with formalities. There is a quote in which Mammy tells Scarlett to eat before the party because “you can always tell a lady by the way she eats in front of folks like a bird”.

The setting is such an integral part of the story that it is a bit difficult to define it in a post. But it does cover the horrors of the war and one of the quotes I love is:

“All wars are sacred,” he said. “To those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn’t make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it.”

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T=Tamil Nadu of Poonachi

For T, I want to talk about Tamil Nadu from a book called Poonachi. This is state which I have seen quite closely because of various visits in different parts of the state. Most of these visits were official. Only a few personal visits have been to Tamil Nadu. Poonachi is a book which I read very recently. I got this book as a part of the Prime program and wanted to see what is so special about the book. The book did not disappoint me as it explained the life of female goat from its birth to its death.

The setting in this book is not very strong, but it is inherent in the story itself with some fantastical elements weaved in. The story starts with a pondering of rain, wherein the narrator observes that people crib when it rains too much, and they complain when it doesn’t rain as well. This is a true enough sentence, but with my travels and my friends, I have learned this is quite commonly spoken dialogue in Tamil. The story moves further and explains a sunset that the narrator sees while the goats are moving around and frolicking nearby. Then he is given the gift of a very feeble goat called Poonachi, whose story this is.

The description of setting is mostly limited to parts and pieces afterwards, but still, the story carries in it the aroma of the south India in it. The words like dhooyi, ayah etc. roots the story in southern part of India, while the people’s taunts about dark colour and puny shape are like social commentary.

As I said, the story veers in a bit of political foreplay by showing a regime which likes to number the goats and is made out to be quite oppressive. But despite the non-matching of these political situations, the story does transport you in Tamil Nadu. And for a moment, you wonder whether you want to live as a woman in one of the interior villages of Tamil Nadu or not.  

S=The Romantic Scotland

This post is the proof that I am not ready to give up. I might not be consistent, but I am determined. And I am going to finish all the alphabets

I am writing about today’s alphabets, and rest of the alphabets I will catch up slowly and steadily. Please cheer for me as I fight for my time to write.

“S” is such a common letter that it can represent millions of things. When I started thinking about the places, I thought of writing about Shire from “Lord of the Rings”. I dreamed about it, you know—peaceful expanse of land, greenery, flowing rivers, and hobbit-holes. It is like one of the dream places. But there is something else from “S” which is special for me—Scotland.

This also comes from reading a lot of romance novels. Like Ireland, I know every inch of Scotland. I know there are glens, mountains, standing stones, and their English is a bit different from ours. What else I know about Scotland? That there are times when the ground is covered with purple flowers of heather and that there are castles. I know more about the war between England and Scotland from these romance novels than from my history books. I also know that there is a falconry somewhere in Scotland.

Like Ireland, this is my dream place. Someday, I will visit the Scotland. I don’t know whether I will find the Scotland I read of or not, but I am sure it will be magical still. And, now I realize I did not mention any author here. There are many, actually. But the very first author who introduced me with Scotland is Julie Garwood. She taught me a lot of things about Scotland. Then came Diana Gabaldon with her Outlander series. There have been many more books and authors in between, but these two are the most influential authors for me.

J= J&K from Ministry of Utmost Happiness

J was a conflicting choice for me. Let me tell you first that I am going to talk about Jammu & Kashmir from Ministry of Utmost Happiness today. I have a friend who dislikes the author Arundhati Roy so much that he is not ready to give any of her books a chance. We had had a dirty shouting match about the left-right political ideologies, and since then, I have been very afraid of talking about this book. I tried to change my choice to Japan, but that didn’t feel right. I thought shifting the book to Delhi because the book covers almost all of the country, but that also didn’t feel right. So, here I am, writing about Jammu & Kashmir of the book that I know somebody hates.

What do you think of when Jammu and Kashmir comes to your mind? A paradise? Or as the book starts with the description of Kashmir—“snowy landscape and happy people in warm clothing sitting in snow sledges?” But this book shows the murkier water of Kashmir.

Next time the Jammu and Kashmir she talks of is in Delhi—sitting near Jantar Mantar, protesting. She wraps this J&K in “Association of Mothers of the Disappeared, whose suns had gone missing, in the war for freedom in Kashmir”. She explains their banner as

The Story of Kashmir

Dead= 68000

Disappeared=10000

Is it Democracy or Demon Crazy?

I ask again the question I kept on asking myself as I read the book. What do I think of when I think of J&K? The answers I had were “Pakistan”, “India”, “Wars”. But the book hinted on the mass exodus of Hindu Pandits from their houses. And I could not stop thinking of how many partitions we are going to go through?

The book further explores the concept of “freedom of Kashmir” and how absurd it is to the people from outside Kashmir. She goes deeper explaining the Kashmir from dissociative POVs—there is J&K which calls for our sympathy, where people are killed and imprisoned without any reasons, where terrorists are borne out of nowhere, where they are fighting to survive. There is J&K which is stupid in being swept away in the wind of “Jihad”, which does not understand what is good/right, which is an enemy of humanity.

I will deny the fact that the book is a chaos. There are threads crawling in the book from so many places. It is like you untangle one tragedy, there will be a next one waiting for you in the next lines. Despite that, the book made me think and wonder and worry. It made me rethink the meaning of humanity for me. There is a chapter in the book called “The Death of Miss Jebeen” which describes how a three-year-old girl ended up becoming a martyr along with her mother. Even the thought about this gives me Goosebumps.

There are many villains in the story. In fact, every character is a villain of some or the other kind. What J&K was left in my mind after reading the book? The J&K which is explained in this passage:

“In every part of the legendary Valley of Kashmir, whatever people might be doing—walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts, making love or taking a bus-ride home—they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier. And because they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier, whatever they might be doing—walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts, making love or taking a bus-ride home—they were a legitimate target.” 

Please understand this is one of the most political books I have read, and it happened to have quite a lot of vitriol in it. But then when I read, I dissociate and see from different perspectives. If your are in any way bothered by such thoughts, don’t read it.

H=Hogwarts from Harry Potter Series

Hogwarts does not need any introduction. If you have ever read Harry Potter or maybe even watched any of the movie, you would remember Hogwarts. So, this is going to be a short post.

When I first read about Hogwarts, the best thing for me about the school was the sense of discovery. There are so many rooms, so much of magic in those halls that even teachers and guardians did not know what could be uncovered. The Great Hall, the different houses and their common rooms, the moving staircases, the flying ghosts, the paintings which could talk– I could go on and on and on.

Hogwarts is a school, but not in the traditional sense. It allows you to learn and grow and most importantly, explore. There are places like Chamber of Secrets which were untouched. The exploration was so much the part of the school that there was a whole Marauder Map which could track people.

Lastly, I would like to mention Hogwarts library where so many books were available. Every time, I read about Hogwarts, I wondered if there is a letter which is going to come for me too, even during this late age.

Hogwarts is a dream-school, despite being dangerous, it is a place which I would love to explore if given a chance.

G= Guernsey of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”

I am running very late today. I missed yesterday and want to make up for that as well as today. So this is going to be a short post.

For G, I want to cover Guernsey from Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. There are a lot of things which are good in that book, but I think the place itself deserves a mention. This is not only the story of a town, but whole place recovering from occupation as explained in the introduction to Guernsey in the beginning of the book.

Ships are coming to St. Peter Port everyday to bring us things Guernsey still needs: food, clothes, seeds, ploughs, animal feeds, tools, medicines—and most important, now that we have food to eat, the shoes.

This above paragraph explains so much about the impact of the war on the society which is further elaborated by the thirst for the news in local populace. And this was the state of a place, as book explains, where it was meant to be proven that “German occupation was a modern one.” Another of the passage explains how the parents had no news of their children, whom they sent to a safe place, for six months. German Occupation is further explained in the letters in the book:

“They kept track of every gallon we milked, weighed the cream, recorded every sack of flour. They left the chickens alone for a while. But when feed and scraps become so scarce, they ordered us to kill off the older chickens, so the good layers could have enough feed to keep on laying eggs.”

Further wartime is explained when there wasn’t any salt in the town and the people had to carry seawater to salt the food. I cannot even imagine the food without salt for one or two days (I have tried, and I get serious headaches). Imagine the suffering of these people.

There is a mention of the war everywhere in the book, but beauty of Guernsey is also highlighted in the story as it is in the following passage:

My greatest pleasure has been in resuming my walks along the clifftop. The channel is no longer framed in rolls of barbed wire, the view is unbroken by large VERBOTEN signs. The mines are gone from our beaches and I can walk when, where, and for as long as I like.

But I think what touched me the most was the way the war was described for this island. This is the island which had seen death—so much so that there wasn’t even place to burn the bodies. And yet the people of this island hoped: hoped that the vines will cover the bunker walls, hoped that the world will be a better and beautiful place, hoped to live their life normally. Among all the bookish places I have read and talked about, this is one place which is very close to my heart and one which makes me feel happy and safe.

P.S. : I have seen the movie and liked it as well. But the Guernsey which stayed with me is the Guernsey of the book, although the movie has some exceptional cinematography.

F= France of Laura Florand Books

I was in a mood to not write today, but since I am challenging myself to take the control of my writing and life, here I am, writing just 40 minutes before the day is about to end.

For F, I had a choice between Florence and France. Florence is one particular place well covered in Dan Brown’s books. But then, which is closer to me? I was still deciding till the morning when I went, in my kitchen, I saw an empty jar (being reused) of chocolate jam I got from Paris. It isn’t fair to Florence, but France has my heart in this.

I am not referring to one book today but a particular set of books by an author called Laura Florand. I have read two of her series – Amour et Chocolat which is set in Paris and La vien en Roses  which is set in mostly south of France. These series show different part of France, and that was the France I visited when I went to Paris (Technically, I just visited one city. But I am going there soon to visit the South France too.)

These books are not perfect, especially the second series. They have their flaws, but they do bring to the table the beauty of France. There are the sidewalks of the Paris that are talked about. There are sinful descriptions of chocolate shops that it became my fantasy to buy artisan chocolates from Paris. (I had to hunt for vegan chocolate shops opened during summers to fulfil this fantasy of mine. Thank you, Ara chocolates.) There is a description of magical hot chocolate stirred and taken on an island in France that you just can feel the warmth of it seeping in your soul.  

I have been to Paris, and one of the reasons Paris was on the list was because of these books. Before even setting the step in Paris, I had imagined myself sitting across Seine in Paris. I had already visualized the twinkling of Eiffel Tower and how it would follow me everywhere. There is one scene in the book where the character is tired of being watched by the Eiffel Tower. I had dreams about sitting in a small café in Paris to eat my lunch/ dinner (I did that too!).

South of France is not yet covered (I haven’t figured out vegan options there yet mostly!), but I can still imagine the fields of lavenders and roses. I can imagine smaller towns, churches and fields which will take my breath away. I can imagine dining in a Michelin star restaurant in a far-off place. (And no, I am not imagining the romance.)

There are many books which talk about France and probably, in more detailed and a better way too. But Laura Florand in her books has combined the magic, romance, dreaminess, and beauty of the country, which is there but never overpowering.  This is a present-day France whose every corner I want to explore. That’s the magic of this series for me.

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