He and I have been reading ever since we began our journey together eighteen years ago. People would ridicule me for reading advanced books to an infant but he listened. By the time, he was a year old, he was completing the ends of the sentences in the books I most frequently read to him. He is my book thief. The very best of my books disappear from my shelves to reappear in his. Even the book I am currently reading, Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham, was immediately whisked away by him, only to be returned two days later once he was done reading it.
Here, I tell a half-truth. He never returned it. I retrieved it from his desk.
The questions he most often asks me are: what's for dinner? What are you reading? And how do you like it?
My baby will be leaving me soon. He has been preparing me all summer for this departure by repeatedly disappearing for camping and cottage trips with friends. I already know what it is to have food last longer in my fridge. I am growing accustomed to smaller laundry loads.
But I already also miss the sound of his voice, his presence in our home, his loving, playful interactions with Luna.
I know Luna misses him too from the way she greets him each time he returns. I wish I too, could launch myself into his arms the way she does when he walks in through the door.
"Home is collecting stories, writing them down, and retelling them. Home is writing, and it grounds, sustains, and nourishes me. Home is the page. The one place I always come back to." - Ayelet Tsabari, The Art of Leaving.
This is one of those books which people seem to either love or hate, I loved it. I love easily, but the good thing about loving a book is that it doesn't let you down, if anything it keeps you company through your lonely hours.
The Art of Leaving was good company. It's a brutally honest book. The prose is simple, straight forward, perfect. There are no pretensions in this book. Tsabari does not attempt to woo you and I like that a lot.
"I walked into the water and swam through the dark silky sheets. Floating on my back and watching the stars, I tried to undo my love for Raz, force it out, the way I was willing away the poison. Reverse the spell. Quick! But it was too late. I was in love with him." -Ayalet Tsabari, The Art of Leaving.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck knocked me out. I loved every single thing about this book; the characters, the language, the dialogue, and yes, horror of horrors, even the plot. East of Eden is magnificent.
I would trade a million lives to write the way Steinbeck does. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Alice Munro, Anita Desai, Micheal Ondaatje, M.G. Vassanji, and Arundhati Roy please make space for my latest idol.
So hands up if you like me spent a portion of your life addicted to romance novels like Mills & Boons and Harlequin.
I whiled away so many afternoons in college closeted in my room with these types of books and day dreaming about the types of men featured in these books. 🙄
I don't regret reading them or the day dreaming that followed, but I do regret not borrowing my best friend's copy of Shōgun. It was a book I wanted to read because she and my Nani loved it, but I never did because I was always otherwise engaged.
And since I am confessing, I woke up at five this morning in order to write, but this is was I am doing instead. Argh!
Knight in shining armour please come rescue me - okay fine - I will just rescue myself. Damn those chocolate heroes.
Books excite me, arouse me, depress me. They make me laugh. They make me cry. And decades back when I still read horror, the scenes would crawl into my mind, and continue to frighten me long after I had put that particular book away. Books keep me company when I feel alone. They are my solace in times of grief. I lie to my bestie when I tell her that she is my bestie, for as much as I love her, truth is that I turn more often to books than to any human.
I say that I am a romantic, but that too is a lie. No man ever stood a chance against all my books. I am in love with a man who only exists in bits and pieces scattered across the various books I have read, have yet to read, and still to write. He is a fathom figure whom I chase across bookish landscapes.
My first kiss was claimed by him. He consumed me with a passion I have never known since that encounter in a page of A Room with a View. He captured my senses when I was just fourteen and found him staring at me intently in Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek. And he has held me close to him ever since because he knows what no one else knows that my deepest fear, is of waking in the dark, alone. I fear abandonment.
He has loved me consistently, unflinchingly, and unconditionally from book to book, across the four decades of my life. He is my constant.
Books are my constant. With books, there is no fear of abandonment. I am held close and with the promise of forever. "Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands." John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
My father-in-law was a man with a tender heart enclosed in a hard shell.
My father-in-law was also my father's older brother. The brother dearest to my father. The one whose home we always ended up at no matter where we were headed.
When I was eight, we used to live in Minora. My father was the commander of the Naval Academy and every weekend, we would take the boat to Karachi, and somehow or the other end up at my Chacha's home. I hated this. I have always been proud and I did not like us dropping in for meals unannounced and uninvited. One particular evening, I announced to my father that if he takes us to our Chacha's place again, I will not touch the food. He asked me why and told me that I was too formal in my thinking. He felt I needed to loosen up. My formality still exasperates him.
That evening, he again drove us to his brother's place and that evening, we were yet again, gathered around the dining table, but just as I was about to put a nargisi kofta into my plate, the serving spoon with a kofta still in mid-air, my father announced that, "Mina says that she will not eat the food from your table." I wanted to die. But my Chacha just looked over and responded; well then, I am glad she changed her mind.
As a child, I was afraid of this gruff man. He always seemed to be in loud disagreement with someone or the other. Or if not disagreeing than loudly, questioning.
But I got to live with him for long periods of time, when I became his daughter-in- law and I got to see his tender side. I saw the way he beamed when I kissed him. He would cook up some strange concoction to help my morning sickness when I was pregnant with my first child. When Nasir and I fought, he would pull me aside and tell me not to worry, just feed him, he would say. Nasir is just hungry.
More in the comments.
"I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain of loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar-if he is financially fortunate." John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
By this definition, I am a very truthful person.
"It was harder now to hate the enemy than to pity them. At times the only difference Bobby saw between the Indians and the Japs was what grew on them: fungus on the winners, maggots on the losers. Death felt common after Kohima, and unexalted, dealt as easily by a crate of tinned peaches swinging from a snared parachute as by a hostile bullet. There was no fascination any more, no feeling, in seeing the precious red secrets of a human skull ransacked and split on the ground. It was left to distant adjutants to write citations describing the victim's valour and high purpose.". - Raghu Karnad, Farthest Field.
There is a lot of chest thumping going on both sides of the Indian/Pakistani border, so here's a reminder that all life is precious, but most especially in this circumstance, it is Kashmiri lives which need to be considered and their homeland which should be treated with respect, rather than just a means to serve political ends.
My most favourite of all poems. Michael Ondaatje at his most sensuous.
Man makes me wish I was the damn cinnamon peeler's wife.
The Cinnamon Peeler
If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.
Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.
I could hardly glance at you
never touch you --your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers... When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said
this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume
what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.
by Michael Ondaatje