A Little Life By Hanya Yanagihara: Book Review

The book opens up with a scene where four college friends, JB, a painter, Malcolm, an architect, Willem, an actor, and Jude, a litigator, are having lunch on a bright sunny afternoon in New York City. They are laughing, bantering, and eating like all other friends, but as you move up in the story, the breezy life of attending parties, finding apartments, going on dates, and gossip diminishes. The writer has very intelligently made you comfortable in your reader seat only to stir discomfort in the book’s latter pages. The prose is written in an eternal present day by scrubbing away references to any historical events. The effect is that it brings the character’s emotional lives to the foreground rendering the political and cultural Zeitgeist into vague scenery. As the pages turn, the ensemble recedes; with it, Jude comes to the fore and remains at the center. 

Jude, who’s 16 when he arrives at an affluent New England college with only a backpack of baggy clothes, parentless and horribly scarred. His legs disfigured in an incident whose details he guards as closely as everything else about his past, he’s profoundly aware of his “extreme otherness.” The book slowly discloses luridly gothic episodes from his life before college. “You were made for this, Jude,” he’s told by the only adult he loves, a monk who betrays his trust. Consequently, Jude comes to believe that his suffering is the result of his abandonment “He had been born, and left, and found, and used as he had been intended to be used.”

The book is scaled to the intensity of Jude’s inner life. The cutting becomes a leitmotif. Every fifty pages or so, we get a scene in which Jude mutilates his own flesh with a razor blade. It forces the reader to squirm with a queasy experience of the brutal world. Jude’s suffering is so extensively documented because it is the foundation of his character. His sense of self comes in waves of elaborating metaphors: he is “a scrap of bloodied, muddied cloth,” “a blank, faceless prairie under whose yellow surface earthworms and beetles wriggled,” “a scooped out husk.” His memories are “hyenas,” his fear, “a flock of flapping bats,” his self-hatred a “beast.” 

β€œA Little Life” keeps the queer suffering at the heart of the book. It uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on abandonment, horrifying physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, abduction, and the difficulties of recovery. The collective traumas like sickness and discrimination, which have deeply shaped the modern gay identity, are approached obliquely. The writer has avoided the conventional narrative of coming out or the AIDS issues. 

For Jude, the relief comes in the form of career success and friendship. In addition to his law degree, Jude pursues a master’s in pure mathematics. At one point, he explains to his friends that he is drawn to math because it offers the possibility of “a wholly provable, unshakable absolute in a constructed world with very few unshakable absolutes.” Yanagihara has balanced ruthlessness by swashing us with the warmth and sunshine of friendship. Each friend of Jude’s tries to make innumerable accommodations to his daily needs. Malcolm, by designing spaces that will accommodate his disability; JB by painting kinder portraits that the eye alone would see; Willem by being the one person to whom he can tell his entire history. Willem and Jude invent their own type of relationship, which isn’t officially recognized or immortalized through words, but is truer and less constraining than legalized ones.

Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.” The prose beautifully depicts how friendship can be the primary relationship for some people. I loved how the book portrays the lives that are rarely depicted in popular art – a life without marriage and children. How, in periods of crisis, Jude’s friends monitor him like hawks, taking turns to feed him and keep a close eye on his self-harm.

For Jude, his friends are his only refuge and savior in this toxic world. Yet the ending makes you realize that in the end, you are really left on your own. Even though so many friends come in and out of Jude’s life, nobody is really able to save him. And that part is a very accurate reflection of, lot of adult lives. 

Experiences of Lifetime

The gifts people bestow on you by introducing you to new experiences are the best gifts. Sometimes even they are unaware that they have given a gift of a lifetime to someone. Now that I think of about my choices or my favorite things in retrospect, I feel that not all items are mine, somehow they were given or lent to me to be experienced by others.

I became curious about Harry Potter when I saw my crush in school reading it, I was fascinated by the cover, but more so I was curious what exactly was he reading and when my brother’s friend lent me the series, I was blown over. I moved on from that crush long ago but never from that book.

Then in college, I met H, who is a very close friend of mine, who introduced me to music. Music didn’t mean much to me until he gifted me a CD with a vast collection of great music. Those songs are still my go-to songs.

My best friend M introduced me to great food, and she is that one person with whom I have so many firsts when it comes to food. We have explored so much from high-end restaurants in Canaught Place to the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, which smells like a heaven of food.

Another guy whom I met in a college club while doing my masters introduced me to my favorite author, Orhan Pamuk. Reading Pamuk opened a whole different world for me. Reading became more than just a hobby from then on. I can never thank him enough for this gesture.

And then I met someone who gave me, my favorite movie β€” the Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind. I have professed my love for this movie so many times, but this is one movie that introduced me to the depth of my emotions. I persuaded my brother to watch it, and then we ended up discussing it for hours. I think that is the most extended discussion we ever had about art. Yes, I am in depth of this person for all the experiences.

I have come to realize that people move in and out of your life, and you get used to their presence and absence. And somehow, life goes on. But it’s the experiences they give you that become part of your soul. The soul that’s eternal even if you leave this body of yours. So thank you, everyone, for marking my soul with a great experience.

On last note sharing my favorite quote from the movie, which is taken from the beautiful poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope.

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world, forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.”

PS: I haven’t included everything here. Today it was just about the small things.

The Last Gift

In the crowded lanes,
Of the bustling city.
He kept searching,
for something,
that would glorify,
her alluring charm.
Something that will be,
like a missing diamond on a crown.
Wandering,
On the streets of the flea market,
his eyes fell,
on the palette of earrings,
hanging on a board.

#earrings #mumbaistreetmarket

Bewildered,
by the array of choices,
he closed his eyes,
envisioned her angelic face.
Choosing carefully,
he picked the one,
lying on the muslin cloth.
Holding it up,
in the sunlight,
he saw vestige of their,
fragile relationship,
in that exquisite,
Oxidized silver pair of chandbalis.
Paying with trembling hands,
he realized that,
this is, his last token of love,
to her.

PS: The idea of this poetry struck my mind when I saw a guy buying a pair of earrings in Colaba street market on my recent trip to Mumbai. I always find it fascinating when I see a man buying jewellery for a woman πŸ™‚

Note:Chandbali Earrings were originated during the Mughal or Nizam era in Hyderabad.

The Unusual Bond

#streetphotography #lamppost #tangledwithweeds #yourstruly

I was standing tall,
spreading light,
on the dark streets,
when you smiled at me,
from down below.
A dandelion,
so bright and green,
with the hue of yellow,
in between.
Slithering up to me,
to say a quick hello,
yes, that’s what you said,
but then you never left me,
crawling deep inside me,
engulfing my whole existence.
The seasons came,
your presence changed,
from orangish-red to shades of dark brown.
But you stayed,
even when you knew you were dying,
with me.
Our union was unusual,
one living and other a non-living,
sharing things beyond this realm.
The passerby’s pitied us,
Our friends called us fools,
But that’s how we were,
Two simpletons together,
Unable to untangle themselves,
from the unknown bond.
Believing that,
in another world,
beyond the right and wrongs,
their togetherness holds,
a beautiful meaning.

Before venturing into the journey of Vipassana

vipassana

16th June 2018,
Seven days before the final day

Today, exactly a week before going for vipassana meditation, I am writing this piece to capture my emotions before venturing into something so new and different in my life. I have tried various meditative forms before, some with trained people following a discourse, some by reading multiple books on mediation, and some with the help of youtube videos and music. Though this is my first time going into extreme isolation to try mediation. It is going to be tough to follow a strict regime, but the toughest part would be observing total silence, as you all know I am a very loquacious person. There are days when I feel very anxious about the whole process, but then the eternal optimist inside me comes to fore-front and eases my uneasiness. When I first told my parents that I would be going for this program, my mother’s reaction was why don’t you come home instead of going for the program. And I had to explain to her that I need this program to get closer to my inner self. My husband is pleased that I have finally decided to go because it’s been more than four years that I have been thinking about doing it. I am not sure what I am trying to get through it, but I am hoping that it will bring something to my personality not immediately but in a longer time span. I love the different reactions that people give when I share my plan with them. Most people think I won’t be able to do it because they think I can’t curb my desire to speak. But then they don’t know about my willpower. My brother keeps poking and saying that I will come running back within first three days and I keep reminding him that I am not someone who runs away from situations and that I never leave things in the middle. I think this is making me more determined to try my best for those ten days. I think I will do fine there.

22nd June 2018,
A day before the D-Day.

I am feeling a bit nervous right now because of all the traveling and packing. But I am feeling much calmer inside regarding my stay for the program. I somewhat feel exactly same as I thought 2-3 days before my wedding day. In India, Wedding functions start 2-3 days before the wedding, so the only time you get for your self is before all the hullabaloo begin. I am ready to go with the flow, and I am not assuming or expecting anything out of my stay. I am not thinking or visualizing my visit there. I am a planner by nature and try to imagine my things in my head before I plunge in for anything. But there are instances in my life, or I must say the most significant events of my life are the ones where I didn’t plan anything. I must say I have enjoyed those moments when I haven’t prepared much or when I have gone with the flow. Broadly I am happy to get away from the chaos of life, especially on the work front. I haven’t taken any break from work since December, so this is going to be a change. I am looking forward to whatever the program has to offer me. I and my husband, frequently discuss his experience in 2016 for the same program. He keeps telling me that it might happen that I don’t feel anything at all in the program or I might struggle a lot during the process, the primary thing is not to get frustrated by the circumstances and the struggle. The only note in my head is “Don’t Quit.” And for the rest, time will tell πŸ™‚

23rd June 2018,
D-Day

I am late as per my set standard time for the new journey. I am in total anxiety, and I fret all way long that whether I will be able to reach on time. If you don’t know by now, that let me tell you that I am genetically clocked to be punctual. It’s in my blood. Hence I reach every single place before time, and I dislike being late for an appointment or journey. Looking out of the window, I think of the voyage within that I have taken so far in search of my inner self and then my thoughts wander on to the upcoming Odyssey of next days. Will I able to reach my spiritual home, whether this time I will find what I am looking for through this mediation program. I am sleepy also because at this hour on the weekend I am sprawling on the bed with my books, but here I was traveling miles for the wisdom of words taught by a man 2500 years ago. We get stuck in some traffic, and I realize that maybe this time I am going to arrive late for this new venture. But we get out of it in time, and we are again on the highway, I realize I haven’t spoken a word since we left home, and it hit me, that after all keeping noble silence for ten days won’t be a problem. There will be much more significant challenges than that in this journey. After I a while I hold my husband’s hand and drowse off on his shoulder, realizing that I will be missing this warmness in the upcoming days. And when I woke up, he informs me that we are almost there and in few minutes we enter the premise of Vipassana Center in Markal, Pune. When I got out, I realized, I am finally at peace.

To be Continued ……

PS: I will be sharing some more blogs about my recent Vipassana meditation experience. Keep reading all the blogs I would be sharing in next few days regarding my whole experience. Your comments are appreciated, feel free to leave your feedback.

 

AT NIGHT

blog-2

When the darkness lurks around you, wearing its black satin cloak.
Don’t avoid it, don’t ignore it, instead talk to it.
As I do, on the lonely nights when I am afraid of its entry into my white world.

I timidly take steps towards it, offer it a seat, sometimes, only sometimes, I do suggest it a cup of black tea/coffee.
Not because I have to but because I like to calm it down before I start talking about us.As I know our conversation is going to be a long one.
I don’t want it to be snoozing out when I am speaking about my concerns.

While I am thinking all of this, I hear a tap on my window, and I check the giant clock on my wall. It is few minutes late then our appointed time.
I get up and open the window, it jumps in, yes that’s the way it like’s to enter, through the window column.

Before I could ask it to sit down, it bounces on my spread sofa cum bed.
I offer it the cup of black tea, that I have already prepared, this time I want it to like me, hence the black tea, not the coffee.

Holding the teacups, we share a momentarily gaze as if challenging each other to break the awkward silence.
It takes a long sip and pretends to notice the changes in my room from the last visit.
I certainly know that trick, I clear my throat as if I plan to speak but then it looks up and smile.

Ahh…A quizzical smile, sucking up all my thoughts and all that else in my mind.
I force a smile too and try again to concentrate and recollect my thoughts so that I can tell it what I expect it to do.

I am trying hard to recall every single thread that was in my mind before that smile fell upon my face.
While I am still cracking my knuckles, it walks towards the kitchen slab.
Put’s down the teacup in the basin and comes down again to where it belonged, anticipating my next move.

I have lost track of time, and I feel like those blank pages in my diary which I need to fill with my thoughts.
And then a warm hand touches my palm, and my reverie gets broken.
I look up in those dark round black eyes, and they look back in my dark brown ones as if sending some message through rays.

We keep that eye contact for few minutes, but then it removes its hand from my sweating grasp and stands up.
It moves towards the window sill, I too stand up and walk behind it.

It looks down, below the grille, its pitch dark down there.I wait for it to say something but then I remember, few of my lost thoughts.
While I am collecting them to form a sentence, it turns back and looks at me.

This time we both smile simultaneously and I open my mouth to say something…..
But before I could, thud…. it jumps off into the darkness of the alley. I murmur GOODBYE till I see you again.

 

Remembering The Mind Benders – I

β€œThe dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you”

teacher-student

A journey towards knowledge start from the day you are born. I realized this while watching my five-day old nephew, who was born six weeks ago. How, step by step you unfold the mystery of life, peel its hidden layers and try to live your own version of it.

The first step of this odyssey is about finding the right hand to hold your finger, who can help you understand the marvels of this mortal world.

Now imagine 25 years back, a two and half-year old kid with a worn out old school bag, standing at the door, waiting for the chance to enter in the universe of the insightful elite people.

Yes, that’s me πŸ™‚ and this is how my curiosity for learning, took me, to my educational Mecca.

Today out of all days, I have chosen as a day to write about people who have been my teachers, till now:) I won’t be writing it in a chronological order, as that would become too predictable for you to understand my life and also because some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Ambiguity is delicious,isn’t it?

So right here, I am serving this flavourful platter of my learning’s to you.

I was never an intelligent student, just an average one, neither too much noticed nor ignored. Still out of cream loving teachers, there are few who notice your strengths and pushes you towards the next plateau. Apparently, I too found, few such teachers, whose leap of faith in me, gave me better opportunities πŸ™‚

First and foremost for the teacher who introduced me to the charms of English. He was 5’3” tall, blazer wearing teacher, which was so uncommon in those days. He never taught us from book, instead he use to draw the story on the board. I was never his favourite student, nor do I think he ever noticed my existence in his class. But his passion towards language, made me passionate about it. Thursday, was a no lecture day, he use to pick up random novels and use to illustrate the stories on board. He is the best narrator I ever known. So thank you sir πŸ™‚ it’s because of those beautiful literary classes I am a voracious reader now.

So behind every writer there is one wonderful English teacher who tugs and pushes,them in bringing out the best words. This is about my literature teacher who brought back the lost faith in my writings . She taught me only for a year or so. I remember writing since I was kid, but as I wasn’t a brilliant one, my articles were never published, instead I was told to improve. Until she walked down into my life. I vividly remember that day, she was distributing our unit test papers , she announced my name and came to my seat, handing me my paper, she said β€œthat was an amazing article”, I looked down at my sheet, where Excellent was written, just above my article. I don’t remember what I wrote or what topic it was but what I remember is her words. For the first time in my life, the teacher of the subject I adored, adored me back. That’s what restored my faith back in my writing skills, after umpteen rejected articles for schools,college and various other sites, I am still writing, so thank you mam for that strong and wonderful comment πŸ™‚

We had four houses in our school, mine was RED house. This one is for my house in-charge. This was my first in year in this school, I was 11-year-old, shy and uncertain kid. When one day while going back home, she randomly picked me out of student’s line, asked me to read few lines from my English book. Yes, that’s how I landed up with my first stage performance as Alexander-The Great . And from there on, started the series of participation in vocal extra-curricular activities.Thank you mam for giving me first stage appearance.

This one is for the teacher who not just helped me in winning the challenge my dad threw at me but gave me my national level participation in an event when I was just thirteen. Total Quality Circle(TQC) is society where group of people be student or working, pick up a problem from their workplace or daily life and present a presentation about how they dealt with it, what solutions they have now etc. Speaking in front of 2000 adults with your learned and practised lines, isn’t easy. Because the catch was Q&A session after the presentation where big company VP’s and CEO’s sitting in the jury could ask you any question. Thank you mam for giving me this opportunity which helped in understanding that nothing could be fully planned, uncertainty is life and its OK to be not good or perform bad at times. The most important one, how a team works.

I bow to my dance teacher for taking me under her wings. It was you who made me realize that I could dance like a pro. You took me through the wondrous lanes of classical and folk dances, it was because of you I feel free while dancing, like no one is watching. It has become my way of achieving catharsis.

A big hug for my maths teacher who irrespective of having 100% scoring students in her class, which was enough to get her best appraisal, worked on and with me, because of which I could across the hurdle of being on the side of 50% towards on another better greener side of distinction.

And a mammoth of gratitude towards my PT teacher for introducing me to yoga and meditation. It was your early morning, serenity surrounding, OM chanting classes that made me fall in love with mediation. I can recall that day fairly well when you asked all of us to do scale pose and except me no one could do it, well. So you called me in-front and asked me to show it to all πŸ™‚ This made me realize that my being petite is not awful instead it’s a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to think beyond what people could see. So thank you for showing me the power of mediation and yoga.

As life is not always roses you do tend to find thorns hidden in the bushes,but they too tend to teach you lessons. After all we can either complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses. Now I will talk about teachers who did right in doing some wrong to me.

Like I remember there was this teacher of mine, who, two times knowingly or unknowingly handed my trophy to someone else. This incident taught me that no matter what, no matter who, you should always fight and stand for your own-self, even against the highest of authorities.So thank you dear mam πŸ™‚

The one who always ignored me in my cooking class. Thanks to you mam I turned out to be a good cook not as per your expectations.

A certain gratitude towards my drawing teacher for constantly reminding me that my fingers aren’t cut off to draw. I finally completed my school with biology majors which is the subject with hardest, most detailed intricate art in sketching human body. I promise I drew every bit of it on my own, as matter of fact, my biology teacher was quite impressed with the colorful Palaemon (prawn), I drew on the first page of my biology laboratory file.

And last but not the least a big heart-felt thank you to my biology teacher(she is not the one I just talked above), who was unapologetic about calling me a failure ahead of whole class when in reality I was a second topper in your subject, in that unit test. Because of you I learned how much I hate lies and hypocrisy.

PS: While writing this post I realized that I should thank people from all spheres of my life, so this PART 1 was dedicated to my school teachers πŸ™‚ I would be writing in future about friends, college professors, bosses and office colleagues, relatives and family πŸ™‚