Category Archives: Memoir

Read 43 of 2022. Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Title: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays Author: Lauren Hough
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781529382525
Genre: Essays, Memoir, LGBTQIA
Pages: 314
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was most curious about this book, well, because of the title, and who wouldn’t be right? I mean we have all been there, when it comes to leaving and being left, in whatever form and manner. And rightly so this collection of essays from Hough’s life and observations, brought me to tears, a couple of essays in.

This book is about so many things – about growing up in a cult, about coming of age, about realising you are lesbian and in the military, about being ousted from service because of your identity, about being taught to please men sexually in the cult since you were twelve years old, and struggling with insomnia, PTSD, and mental health issues.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a brutal collection of essays. At times it is real, cringe, heartbreaking even, defining so many points in Hough’s life and in relation to the world, it is funny, making all meaning from the trauma and suffering, and above all relatable.

I found so many pieces that I could emotionally connect with – the time she is gaslighted by her superiors at work, or her first time encountering a gaybourhood (though I found that comfort with friends), and a lot also about hope really.

Hough’s writing is as real as it gets. The reader is not spared the details. There are no solutions, neither Hough asks for them. She tells about her life the way it was, and the way it is. You just cannot turn away from it.

Read 35 of 2022. Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir by Farah Bashir

Rumours of Spring by Farah Bashir

Title: Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir
Author: Farah Bashir
Publisher: Fourth Estate India, Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-9354224218
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Farah Bashir’s book “Rumours of Spring” is an extremely poignant account of life as an adolescent in Kashmir of the 1990s, the Kashmir that was full of conflict and uncertainty. Nothing has changed for Kashmiris as of today, but we shall not go there.

I was gutted. As I was reading the book and when I finished reading it as well. I am still reeling from Bashir’s experiences as young girl in the valley – what her family and friends had to go through, and the trauma that will never go away. Some wounds never heal. Maybe that’s how it is meant to be.

The book starts with the death of Farah’s grandmother, Bobeh. The chapters follow the day of her funeral, compartmentalized into Evening, Night, Early Hours, Dawn, Morning, and Afterlife. Each chapter reveals more about Farah’s life and that of her family, amidst the turmoil – life that has changed completely, leaving only memories of the days gone by.

A young girl grows up under constant curfew, sudden raids, gunfire, and talk of death all around. A young girl grows up waiting to go to school, checking when the phone works – whether the school is open, and the buses are plying – checking whether she can go to school – dependent on whether where she stays is a sensitive area or not. A young girl has to constantly hear of deaths of loved ones, of cousins, of how you have to be careful – cannot go here and must go there with someone, and then to imagine what life must be like in places that are not Kashmir.

Bashir’s writing is devoid of sentiment but full of emotional heft. It doesn’t want to make you cry, as much as it wants you as a reader to empathize and understand the way things were. At the same time, she is trying very hard not to judge – the government, the Indian army, and even the militants for that matter. She is only stating her truth – the one that she experienced, the one that her family faced, the truth where everything we take for granted is full of terror and crackdown.

Time plays such an important role throughout the book and yet not. Bobeh’s body has to be kept at home for a day, because of curfew. Time passes then – slowly for Farah and her family, as somehow relatives and friends come to console, memories rise. When you could freely listen to music, when freshly baked bread could be bought without fear, and when you could go to one room from another in your house without the fear of wood creaking, leading to the army asking questions and perhaps even shooting a stray bullet.

Farah interweaves the history of a state and a country – including its politics with her personal spaces. From her friends who are Kashmiri Pandits and have to leave without a word in 1990 to the siege of the Hazratbal shrine in 1993, when she loses all will to study and do better. Everything is acknowledged, everything is remembered with the intention of it being forgotten.

Rumours of Spring speaks of what is lost, what remains, and hopefully what will not be lost. It is a chronicle of a girlhood, but also negotiating spaces of beauty, grace, hope, and identity in the midst of chaos, terror, and death.

Read 34 of 2022. Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty

Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi

Title: Our Santiniketan
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857429018
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 124
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think Bedanabala was my introduction to Mahasweta Devi’s works. That was way back in 2006, and since then I haven’t stopped reading whatever she had to offer. I think my extreme fan boy moment happened when I got to meet her briefly at Jaipur Literature Festival in 2013. As a writer, if there’s anyone that has made an impact on me, it would be her.

Our Santiniketan is a short memoir of her days spent at Santiniketan of course and how what she learned there and unlearned shaped her entire life – her thoughts, ideologies, and even her writing to a large extent.

This book is also about ageing and what you choose to remember in the form of a memoir. Mahasweta Devi brings that up in so many places in the book – subtly, and sometimes not so. It hovers throughout. But as a reader you believe it all, because that’s her writing and conviction of what she recalls.

You know as a reader that your childhood was not like the one Mahasweta Devi spent at Santiniketan and will never be. Yet, you relate when she speaks of nature and trees, the food eaten there, the friendships forged, the lessons taught, and idyllic evenings which one wouldn’t think of as the case, given the place.

Mahasweta Devi’s writing goes back and forth in time – there is the past and the present, in which she speaks to the reader as well about time being what it is and doing what it does to the nature of memory. Radha Chakravarty’s translation serves the original the way it is (you can tell a little by the tone adopted), but also adds her own element to it – I think when it comes to dialogue and some descriptions to make it easier for the reader.

Our Santiniketan is a book that must be read slowly, to be savoured really, to know more about Mahasweta Devi, her writing that came later, more importantly her family and her relationship with them, and the place that came to be second-home to her.

Read 226 of 2021. Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie by Charlie Gilmour

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour

Title: Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie
Author: Charlie Gilmour
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501198502
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I first heard of this book by going through the Wainwright Prize 2021 shortlist in the Nature Writing category. I was taken in by what the synopsis said and couldn’t wait to read it. Also, I didn’t realize till much later that Charlie Gilmour is the adoptive son of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame and all that.  

Featherhood, however is not about David Gilmour and his relationship with Charlie. It is about Charlie, his biological father Heathcote Williams and of Charlie being a parent to a magpie named Benzene. This is why Featherhood. This book of course reminded me of H is for Hawk as it should, but only at the beginning. When Charlie’s voice took over, I forgot everything else. 

Why do people abandon people? Why do biological fathers leave? What happens when you do not love enough? Charlie attempts to answer these questions and more by also taking care of Benzene and also somehow figuring his biological father. Charlie is left to figure Heathcote after his death – through papers, by meeting people, and his memories of him. And there are no closures. That is the beauty of the writing. 

Charlie doesn’t focus much on his relationship with David. So fans of Floyd might be a bit disappointed there. However, my favourite parts are the ones with Benzene. How does one take care of a magpie? How does it become a part of your world, almost becoming your world? As Benzene grows up, we also see a change in Charlie’s perspective to life and he finds humour in things than being pensive. Benzene provides Charlie with love, care, empathy, and more than anything confidence and self-esteem.

Having lost a parent, I know what it is like. I could sense Charlie’s confusion to some extent, since he wasn’t close to Heathcote and hadn’t known him at all. At the same time, the way he raises Benzene is so reflective of what he has with David.

Featherhood is beautiful. I read it slowly and took time with it, page by page. It is one of those books that left me with a smile at the end of it.

Read 225 of 2021. Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family by Tash Aw

Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw

Title: Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family Author: Tash Aw
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins 
ISBN: 978-0008421274
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I will now read more of Tash Aw. There is something about reading another’s family, their lives, their experiences in a new country, of how it was, and maybe it is still the same for people who aspire to move, to find roots elsewhere.

When you read about generations of a family and how they live, you relate. Families all over are just the same. Sure, we are different in our own way, but the intersections matter. Whether it is the Malaysian and Chinese heritage of Tash Aw or an Indian Pakistani heritage, somehow it all merges into one big identity.

Strangers on a Pier manages to fit so much in its mere ninety-one pages. From birth to death, Tash Aw tackles it all. These are stories of a family that range from the villages to night clubs to cities and traverse various dialects, customs, and traditions that won’t let go.

The writing is flawless. Every sentence, emotion, and every word are in place. When he speaks of rain, or of exams that have to be given, or explaining the differences between the East and the West, all you want to do is read and when the book ends so soon, you wish it were longer. Through other cultures, Tash Aw bares his culture. Through other ways of being, he speaks of his – dating back generations, and about futures that are so intertwined to the past.