The Strange Case of Billy Biswas (A Novel)

“The most futile cry of man is his wish to be understood”

First thing first- The novel has been very nicely written. The language is simple and the articulation is neat. I admired the vocabulary and sentence forms the author used in his narration.

Synopsis

The narrator meets a person called Billy and becomes friends with him instantly. Both of them were students in America when they first meet. Billy is an affable guy with an aura of charm, delighting every one with his quick wits and engaging conversations. Soon, destiny brings them back to India, and Billy slowly begins to lose his glamour as he starts brooding upon his identity in a philosophical sense. He feels dejected by the excessive materialism he sees around him-people hankering for money, unnecessary showoffs and extravagant lifestyles. I can explain his dismay in the words of Dave Ramsey — ‘We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.’

He decides to marry and expects life to become cheerful again but it does not help.(I agree with this fact) He only becomes more irritable and quarrelsome. Being an anthropologist, he often goes to expeditions to remote villages to study the lifestyle of tribal people. During one such visit, to a village in central India something remarkable happens and he disappears.

The Author

When I was reading the reviews of this book, I found many reviewers pointing out that the author has unjustly remained an obscure figure despite being such a fine writer. His caliber can be appreciated from the fact that he has already been honoured with India’s one of the most notable literary awards (Sahitya Academy Award) in 1982 for his novel The Last Labyrinth. He earned his MS degree from MIT, USA and hence his novels always carry some reminiscence from those days. His family lived in the holy city of Varanasi, which influenced his philosophical cravings.

In Quest for a Meaningful Life

What I loved in the novel was this theme, where a smart, educated guy is driven by his longing to find a meaningful life. I believe in simplicity and find verbose lifestyle quite obnoxious.Therefore, I was quite compassionate towards the character, Billy , who held a strong determination to go against the crowd, the conventional life, because he knew his inner being, his soul will not be satisfied unless he followed his heart. In course, he commits mistakes, learns his lessons when it is too late and conducts acts which only aggrandizes his perils, but it is all these imperfections which gives a more human touch to his character. The portrayal of the fact that the society suppresses such people is also an important part of the theme.

The strange case of Billy Biswal had at last been disposed of. It had been disposed of in the only manner that a human society knows of disposing its rebels, its seers, its true lovers.

I liked the mystical touch the author has given to the whole episode. Billy’s encounter with the tribe rituals, the ancient ruins and the folklores the tribal people live by, makes an intriguing read. You will like the character of the narrator, who tries his best to do everything for his friend Billy, but just one little mistake by him jeopardizes Billy’s extraordinary endeavour. The only element I felt missing was the final conclusion. There is no conclusive idea in the novel, just a narration of the state of affairs which anyways is, thought provoking.

Conclusion

This book is a quick read (240 pages). I finished it in two days in 3 sessions. I will recommend it to anyone who likes such topics as following one’s heart and also who likes philosophical themed stories.The novel is rich in imparting a feeling of adventure, suspense and curiosity. It will surely make an interesting read under the cozy winter sun.

“This is where I belong. This is what I have always dreamt of”

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Things Fall Apart

Is transformation good?

Have you experienced a transformation?

Have you been forced to endorse a transformation?

Did it make you feel better or made you regret?

****

What is a transformation? A Change; and every change has a cost attached to it. When an individual is faced with a situation which demands him/her to change, the first question is “Is it worth it?” “What is the cost attached to it?”

The fact is we are reluctant to change. The thought of a change makes us get afraid. We get attached to our conventional ways, beliefs, and practices. They become a part of our identity and foregoing those means sacrificing a part of ourselves, which is painful.

Recently I finished reading a book called “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It is a powerful story of a tribesman called Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a self-made man, living his tribe’s principles with deep conviction. His every activity abides by the customs and traditions of the clan. He follows each of the rituals with sincerity- from the simple act of breaking nuts and offering it to the guests who visits his hut, to the harsh obligation of performing a killing as ordained by an ancient custom. He has grown up to be an exemplary character in his community- a powerful fighter, and an able family man with three wives and five children, feeding them all with his farm produce and creating proper shelters for them to live at ease, together. It is a commendable achievement for a man whose childhood was lived in obscurity, where, an irresponsible father had wasted all money and put the family in great debts.

Okonkwo respects his culture, stands strongly for it and makes sure his children learn it and carry forward the teachings of his forefathers. But, “Things start falling apart”

A situation arises which is unthinkable! Okonkwo is faced with a scenario which is challenging his faith. A man of steel, with a concrete belief in his ancestors, has come to a time when he is witnessing an unforeseen change. The circumstance demands that either he changes himself or loses everything.

When I finished reading this tale, I was tongue-tied. I was talking about the story with everyone while I was reading it, but when I finished it, I was speechless. The thought this book wants to drive its readers to is quite profound. I felt tiny, unable to comment on the conclusion. The effect was such that I did not read a book for the next 2-3 days because I just wanted the feeling to stay undiluted for some time.

Chinua Achebe is a fine writer. He writes straightforward. He doesn’t write any redundant sentence. Perhaps he even avoids describing events of happiness and dread with much explanation, leaving it to the imagination of readers to comprehend the degree of the joy or horror of it.

I am thankful to Ebby, who had recommended me this book.

I wrote this in response to Wordepress’  Daily Prompt Transformation.

things fall apart

Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Three Men In a Boat

There are three young men and their dog-Montmorency.They are all idling, smoking tobacco, except the dog, of course, and discussing how bad they are- “bad” from a medical point of view.So they decide to go on a long boating trip to heal themselves.That’s the plot of this classic novel, broadly.

Jerome K Jerome, the author of this tale, referred to as “J” in the story, is quite an amusing narrator.In the opening chapter of the book,he tells about discovering in a medical journal, a liver ailment, whose one of the symptoms is, ‘a general disinclination to work of any kind’. He gets convinced he has this disease- since childhood.And he gets aggrieved to recall his old times when everyone thrashed him for being lazy while not realizing it was because of the liver!

From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness

Similarly, each of them discovers having some or the other obscure ailments and then come up with the notion of going on a weekend boating trip up the river Thames, to ‘restore their mental equilibrium’.

What we want is rest, said Harris.
Rest and a complete change, said George. The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.

Their trip starts from Kingston and continues till Oxford- from where they take a return course.The story was intended to be a travel narrative and J tells elaborately about the places they pass through, as they row their boats.

However, the more interesting aspect is the comic narrative of events. J describes the humor in their planning and preparation of the trip and subsequently how they face the hard and good times later in the journey.Additionally, Jerome shares some charming philosophical thoughts describing the life and the beauty of nature.

We are creatures of the sun, we men and women. We love light and life. That is why we crowd into the towns and cities, and the country grows more and more deserted every year. In the sunlight in the daytime, when Nature is alive and busy all around us, we like the open hill-sides and the deep woods well enough: but in the night, when our Mother Earth has gone to sleep, and left us waking, oh! the world seems so lonesome, and we get frightened, like children in a silent house. Then we sit and sob, and long for the gas-lit streets, and the sound of human voices, and the answering throb of human life. We feel so helpless and so little in the great stillness, when the dark trees rustle in the night-wind. There are so many ghosts about, and their silent sighs make us feel so sad. Let us gather together in the great cities, and light huge bonfires of a million gas-jets, and shout and sing together, and feel brave.

But his mind keeps rambling as he narrates.You must have a friend who is talkative and tells stories starting with-“You know once what happened..” And then gets everyone around him involved in his funny narrative. J is a similar kind of person.By the time you would have finished the book you would have read many amusing incidents which  J recollects from the past.

This book is delightful! A book to be savored!An absolute Classic! The book will keep you smiling all the time.I wanted to read the book since a long time because I had already read parts of the book in following ways-

1.An excerpt from this book was titled as  “Packing for a Picnic” and was included as a chapter in our English Course Book during Middle School.It was an amusing narrative of how packing made J scared because he always forgot to pack his toothbrush.

2.I found another excerpt included in  “The Greatest Literary works of All Time”, a book I had purchased some time ago.This particular excerpt was about J’s uncle Podger, who always boasted that he could do a task without anyone’s help but instead would make the whole house go mad because he will keep messing up the things.

So, I had a fairly nice impression of the book and wanted to read the full of it! Thankfully I read it the last month and was glad to have added it to my “Finished Reading” list.I am grateful to Mliae for hosting this lovely challenge which has ensured that I will be finishing at least one book every month.
If you want to be a part of it, do visit her blog and get acquainted with the challenge.

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Virtual Vacations

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

– George R.R. Martin (American novelist, Author of ‘Game of Thrones’)

***

Yesterday I read a nice post by Kim Richardson, about her visit (in 1996) to Abu Simbel, an architectural Marvel in Egypt. (Kim has written about many of her trips in Africa and Europe, with stunningly attractive pictures, she took there.Do visit her blog for more.)

Reading her describe how being at that ancient site filled her with excitement, I began to get reminiscences of my virtual memory attached with Egypt. I have not been there in real, but I had spent a considerable amount of my virtual life there , by reading a novel based on Egypt. It was a book called “Nefertiti” by Michelle Moran.

It was a summer vacation and I was looking forward to experience some new place through reading. Having a very active imagination, I often plan for such virtual vacations for myself.(When I can’t travel for real) I pick up a novel set in a particular country or locale, which I want to gain an impression of.Then I spend weeks living in that locale, as I continue to read the story.It not only exposes me to that place- their weather, their climate,their geography,their hills and the rivers, but also transports me to a different period of time, if the tale is a historical one.

I get to feel the behaviour of the people in those places-  the way they talk, the kind of humor they cherish, the things they admire, the things they despise and their attitude towards life. Additionally, I observe their manners, etiquette, their customs and their rituals. A further learning is about the social order and community life in those places and those times.

Just as I read Nefertiti to experience ancient Egypt, I have read several other books for the same reason of experiencing a particular place and time. One was “Genghis Khan” by Sam Djang, which helped me go back to 12th Century and experience life in Central Asia. I love the rain forests and the adventures that exist in their wilderness.  I experienced them when I started reading “Congo” by Michael Crichton.I confronted the dark alleys, the hidden cafes, the desolate meeting places, the strange men with powers attributed to their dark businesses in the city of Bombay,  through Gregory David Robert’s “Shantaram”.That was one quirky vacation if I can call so!

In this present phase, I am having a great time exploring space! This month, I had an exciting trip exploring the enigma of Cosmos, with Arthur C Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” Then I had a hair-raising experience of inter galactic travel through wormholes, via Carl Sagan’s “Contact”. My third venture of space exploration is going on now, and the book through which I am touring, is aptly titled “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.

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(Image Source: Link )

 

Recycled Book Reading Challenge

Writing about books is always a welcome thing to do. Mliae, a genial and lively personality, who has myriads of stories to share, is a traveller, reader and a friendly blogger. She  started this interesting concept of “Recycled Book Reading Challenge”(She announced about it at the beginning of the year during Jan itself, although I found out about it only recently!)  She describes the essence of this initiative on her introductory post

Book clubs and running out to purchase the newest hot item on the shelf has a tendency to get expensive after awhile, so I would like to focus on used or ‘recycled’ books. Remember that library book you bought for 10 cents? Or the second hand store find for 25 cents? Those are the ones about which I’m speaking. We all have them…some, like me, have a closet full just waiting to be read.

Today, I rummaged though my bookshelf and chose 12 recycled books that I will write about for this challenge.

mliae

I had read certain pages of some these books initially, but once there came a break , I never got chance to get back to them. Now I am hopeful I will complete them through this challenge.

These books are-

Chariots of Gods – Erich Von Daniken

The Winged Word – David Greene

The Greatest Show on Earth – Richard Dawkins

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? – P G Wodehouse

The Greatest Stories Never Told – Rick Beyer

A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle

The Prophet- Khalil Gibran

The Age of Innocence- Edith Wharton

Congo – Michael Chrichton

Galileo’s Daughter –  Dava Sobel

Three Men In a Boat-  Jerome K Jerome

The Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag- Jim Corbett

If you would like to be a part of it you can see the guidelines here- Recycled Book Reading Challenge
Thank you!

Have a Happy Weekend!

My Name is Red

A book with this title caught my attention while I was randomly surfing through books on amazon.com. There was almost an impulsive urge to find out what this book was all about.I clicked on the book’s thumbnail, which had the name of the author “ORHAN PAMUK” written in bold;a blurred image of a man clad in a middle eastern attire,a turban on his head,walking against the backdrop of an architectural frame which I often see in Mughal age monuments.’Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature’ was inscribed in the center.

Upon reading the crisp intro,I realized the book is a Turkish novel which is very abstract and assumes a unique style of narrative.The author not just speaks from the point of view of the humanly characters,but also from the perspectives of the ‘illustrations’,’objects’ and ‘color’. This got me pretty hooked as my fascination rose to a peak.This appeared to be a thrilling literary adventure.

I studied the publisher,the number of pages,read all the reviews down below,felt delighted reading the appreciation from people who appeared to share a flavor for philosophical fictions.

I didn’t have money in my debit card.I clicked on “Add to Wishlist” after giving a final look of admiration to this nice find.I then proceeded on to surf for more books.

But the title of the book had left a strong impression in my mind.I kept wondering what things the author might have written in it.May be I will be able to find out the next month when I get the money.

Meanwhile, anytime I look around and encounter anything colored in bright red,somewhere in my mind I can hear the words echoing-” My name is Red”

red

 

The Opening Lines

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“Long long time ago, in the land of Transylvania,where silence reigned the hours past sunset..” .. and thus the  story’s curtains open up! Every storyteller has that gift of drawing attention from the very first line or the very first paragraph of his or her narration. This thought got me curious to search how some of the best storytellers had started their stories.What was that first tint of imagery they presented to their readers that commenced that adventurous journey of experiencing their story till the end.I searched through the few books I have in my collection and  compiled this list of the opening lines of a few of them.Hope some of them will bring some good reading memories back!

 

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergy-man, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

-Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol 

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

There were four of us— George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency.   We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were— bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

-Jerome K.Jerome.Three Men in a Boat

Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria. Wait a minute. ‘Once upon a time’ is how all the best children’s stories begin and ‘prostitute’ is a word for adults. How can I start a book with this apparent contradiction? But since, at every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss, let’s keep that beginning.

Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.

Paolo Coelho.Eleven Minutes

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities

Mike Bowman whistled cheerfully as he drove the Land Rover through the Cabo Blanco Biological Reserve, on the west coast of Costa Rica. It was a beautiful morning in July, and the road before him was spectacular: hugging the edge of a cliff, overlooking the jungle and the blue Pacific.

-Michael Crichton. Jurassic Park 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

-Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice 

THE BOY’S NAME WAS SANTIAGO. DUSK WAS FALLING AS the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church. The roof had fallen in long ago, and an enormous sycamore had grown on the spot where the sacristy had once stood.

-Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist

Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.

The judge, a formidably heavy-featured man, rolled up the sleeves of his black robe as if to physically chastise the two young men standing before the bench. His face was cold with majestic contempt. But there was something false in all this that Amerigo Bonasera sensed but did not yet understand.

Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Robert Langdon awoke slowly. A telephone was ringing in the darkness—a tinny, unfamiliar ring. He fumbled for the bedside lamp and turned it on. Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed. Where the hell am I?

Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code

In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree, Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin’s son, grew up with his friend Govinda. The sun browned his slender shoulders on the river bank,while bathing at the holy ablutions, at the holy sacrifices.Shadows passed across his eyes in the mango grove during play,while his mother sang, during his father’s teachings, when with the learned men.

-Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha 

HOWARD ROARK laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone–flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.

-Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead

WHETHER I SHALL TURN OUT TO BE THE HERO OF MY own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o‘clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

Charles Dickens. David Copperfield 

High atop the steps of the Pyramid of Giza a young woman laughed and called down to him. “Robert, hurry up! I knew I should have married a younger man!” Her smile was magic. He struggled to keep up, but his legs felt like stone. “Wait,” he begged. “Please…” As he climbed, his vision began to blur. There was a thundering in his ears. I must reach her! But when he looked up again, the woman had disappeared. In her place stood an old man with rotting teeth. The man stared down, curling his lips into a lonely grimace. Then he let out a scream of anguish that resounded across the desert.

Dan Brown. Angels & Demons 

It was love at first sight.  The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Joseph Heller. Catch-22

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. It was a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous-headed, of the sort which is known as a “Penang lawyer.” Just under the head was a broad silver band nearly an inch across. “To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H.,” was engraved upon it, with the date “1884.” It was just such a stick as the old-fashioned family practitioner used to carry–dignified, solid, and reassuring. “Well, Watson, what do you make of it?” Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation. “How did you know what I was doing? I believe you have eyes in the back of your head.” “I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me,” said he.

-Doyle, Arthur Conan Sir. The Hound of Baskervilles

My suffering left me sad and gloomy.Academic study and the steady, mindful practice of religion slowly wrought me back to life. I have kept up with what some people would consider my strange religious practices. After one year of high school, I attended the University of Toronto and took a double-major Bachelor’s degree. My majors were religious studies and zoology. My fourth-year thesis for religious studies concerned certain aspects of the cosmogony theory of Isaac Luria, the great sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed. My zoology thesis was a functional analysis of the thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth. I chose the sloth because its demeanour-calm, quiet and introspective–did something to soothe my
shattered self.

Yann Martel.Life of Pie

It is a curious thing that at my age–fifty-five last birthday–I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I wonder what sort of a history it will be when I have finished it, if ever I come to the end of the trip!

H Rider Haggard.King Solomon’s Mines

When farmer Oak smiled,the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears,his eyes were reduced to chinks,and diverging wrinkles appeared round them,extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun

Thomas Hardy.Far From the Madding Crowd

 

 

(image not owned by me.Taken from-

http://www.oilpaintingfactory.com/pic/Oil%20Painting%20Masterpieces%20on%20Canvas/Grimshaw%20John%20Atkinson_England_1836-1893/4-November-Moonlight-city-scenes-landscape-John-Atkinson-Grimshaw.jpg)