Tag Archives: michael ondaatje

Interview with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Last year I read a book called The Rabbit and the Squirrel by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and was deeply touched and moved by it, as most readers who read it were. It is a short book about love, friendship, and loss, told with great brevity, given it is only about sixty pages long.  I wish it were longer. I wish we had more illustrations by Stina Wirsén, as the book moved along and became larger than what it is. But, I am glad it is out there in the world for all to read, love, and appreciate. Siddharth is a friend and I am only extremely happy to have this short interview published on my blog. I wish him more such books, for readers such as I. Thank you, Siddharth.

SDS

Why the long hiatus between The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Rabbit and the Squirrel? 

I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I make things – photographs, drawings, books. So I don’t measure a gap between books but try and look at what I had done with my time. Between the book, there were photographs, shows I curated, houses I designed – it was all a way of being. But I am also very interested by nonsense things, such as swimming at sea, and I can spend hours, even days looking at cat videos and drinking Goa’s Greater Than gin.

Rabbit

The theme of The Rabbit and the Squirrel to my mind is more than friendship. There are so many emotions that take over this small book, almost everything packed into one. What was the writing experience like? How was it collaborating with the illustrator, Stina?

You know, I have almost no recollection of writing this little fable. I’d made it for someone I cared for deeply; I see now that tenderness for my friend eclipses all recollection of the writing process. Perhaps the story had always been there, a memento of shared, private time. The process of bringing the fable to book form was urged on by my astonishing publisher, Hemali Sodhi; and it was edited with such grace by Niyati Dhuldhoya that it became something else – a rarer, leaner thing – under her attentions.

Stina, the book’s illustrator, is also its co-parent – her sublime, frisky, careful illustrations give this book soul and energy. She is a close personal friend, and instinctively suggested to me to publish this fable – the book exists not only because of her sterling drawings but quite simply because she had been the one to suggest that I publish it.

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How important is the writer’s role in the scheme of things today? When the world is literally falling to pieces, what part do writers play in providing some semblance of hope? I say this because The Rabbit and the Squirrel is full of hope, even though fleetingly. 

Writing, and language, holds steady all that is intangible in our lives. In the articulation of our existence – the articulation of prejudice or heartbreak, of dissent, of rage – we are also able to repair. Language is both a measure as well as the meaning of our time. The writer’s job is to hover a lamp over what is, with language, she must illuminate, show and reveal. Reading is a form of civilising the most private self. It is a way of recognising that a part of this world is falling apart – and then of marshalling language to undo this damage.

Do you ever think one can write without reading? 

No, firmly, absolutely no: you cannot write without reading widely, promiscuously. Your writing will only be as good as your reading.

Your favourite books?

Beloved – Toni Morrison.
Light Years – James Salter.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

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Is there another book that we could look forward to? A novel, perhaps? 

I would be so lucky to serve another book. (And thank you for your support over the years, Vivek).

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The Rabbit and the Squirrel moved me to tears. I know several people who have had the same emotions evoked while or after reading the book. What was your intent when you started writing this universal tale? 

I had no intention except to make a gift for a friend. That is what I think of it, still and always, a private little thing made for, and with, love. But yes, I know what you mean – other friends have said that, which has always reminded me that all of us going about our lives with so many broken pieces in our pockets. All of us are suffering. All of us are enduring.

You can buy the book here

Please do buy the book. Please do read it. Please weep and laugh as you read it. Please repeat the process all over again. Gift the books to loved ones. You will be gifting them joy.

2000 Books You Must Read: 1. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The idea just happened to me. Out of nowhere. List making is something I love. It is something I cannot live without and no better list/s to make than that of books. Books you have loved and cherished over the years. Books that take you to a different land and transport you to places that you begin to call your own. Characters who make you laugh, cry and live a lot more than you would have thought of. Life in almost 2000 books and more.

So here is my first recommendation, which I think you will love. I hope you do. Every day, I will try introducing you to new writers and books I have loved over the years. Happy Reading!

The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-0747572596
Pages: 336
Genre: Literary Fiction, Love, War, WWII
Rating: 10/10

The English Patient - 1

The English Patient - 2

The English Patient - 3

I have three copies of this book. In almost all possible covers. There are more I am sure, which I might own at some time. There is something about “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje that makes me want to talk about it and tell the whole world to read it. It is that good. Let me rephrase that. It is that brilliant. I cry every time I read it. Not because it is tragic (well that too) but the way it tells you about love and life. It almost will make you believe in love, all over again. Very few books are able to do that and this to me is on the top of the list. (This list is not by grade or rank though. It is very random).

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is about three fractured souls, lost in a villa towards the last days of WWII and how they find themselves through an unknown mysterious patient, who is assumed to be English. Hana, a grieving Canadian nurse with a past of her own, the one which is closely linked to Caravaggio, the thief. There is also a Sikh sapper, Kip, who becomes a pillar for Hana and midst all this is the life of the patient, which he once shared with the love of his life.

Everything is fluid in this book. It is almost dream-like and guilt and anger that seethe beneath the story of love and war. Ondaatje uncovers every single emotion and dissects it like an expert – he makes it possible for the reader to feel. It is almost as if he is a writer, with the soul of a poet. The sentences are magnificent. The words are like none other – something you cannot let go of. The book will demand that you reread it and perhaps you will. This is my fourth time by the way.

Here are some wonderful quotes from it:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead.”

“A postcard. Neat handwriting fills the rectangle.

Half my days I cannot bear to touch you.

The rest of my time I feel like it doesn’t matter if I will ever see you again. It isn’t the morality, it’s how much you can bear.

No date. No name attached.”

“I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant who reminisces or remembers a meeting when the other has passed by innocently…but all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur.”

“From this point on, she whispered, we will either find or lose our souls.”

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Top 20 Favourite Books of Nadeem Aslam

I have loved and enjoyed reading Nadeem Aslam’s books. I have always been curious as to what authors read and what compels them to perhaps classify what they read as their favourite reads over time. With this, I start this series with Nadeem Aslam’s favourite 20 books published within his lifetime, each of which he has read at least twice.

The list is amazing and might I add extremely compelling. You would want to pick up each book and read it at least once. Here goes the list. From here on, every word and emotion is that of Nadeem Aslam’s. Thank you Nadeem for this list.

1982 – Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In just over 100 pages Marquez tells us everything about men, women, love, hatred, corruption and fate. It includes the great line: ‘Life resembles bad literature.’ After Jude the Obscure it is quite possibly the most despairing novel I know. And it is brilliant.

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1986 – An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World

An old man looks back over his life – and Ishiguro builds up an indelible picture of his fears and anxieties through everyday conversations with his daughters, grandson, people in the neighbourhood. There is very little description and yet you imagine each scene vividly.

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1987 – The Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival

A book full of long rich sentences that recall Proust, and anticipate Sebald. It made me look deeply at the English countryside I live in. I believe mercy is greater than justice; and so I do not agree with Naipaul’s political outlook, but having read everything he has ever published I think this is one of his enduring works.

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1987 – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

A story about love and other diseases of the flesh. A book full of nouns – river, parrot, ship, almonds… This is the master at the height of his powers, naming the world into being. Everything Marquez touches becomes magical: if he were to remove the frame from around a mirror, the mirror would most certainly flow down the wall like water.

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1987 – Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved

There are subjects on which the world maintains a silence closely resembling sin. Beloved speaks about one such sin. It is a terrifying book, and yet it makes rapturous eloquent use of the sky and land and tree and food and clothing. Beyond everything else it’s a book about how people talk: the dialogue is musical, elastic, by turns funny and serious. Dazzling.

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1988 – The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

In any crisis I turn to Milosz. What to do when you have to accept a savage emotional wound? Where to find the courage to trust another human being after betrayal? When you want to know how you deserve such a fate? Milosz’s verses address something that remains mysteriously inconsolable within me.

Buy New and Collected Poems

1990 – Omeros by Derek Walcott

Omeros

Walcott – one of the greatest poets in the English language – relocates Homer to the Caribbean, because the past belongs not just to those who created it – it belongs to everyone, everywhere. So the Greek heroes become poor fishermen and Helen is a servant girl. It is profound, beautiful and endlessly inventive. It’ll even break your heart.

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1992 – The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

The first 120 pages of this book are the holiest pages I know – prose whose beauty eases the poverty of the world; startling images; and characters you care about like your family. The book speaks of love and lovelessness, about the acceptance of loss, and how compared with love almost everything in life is easy.

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1993 – All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
1994 – The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

The Border Trilogy

Most people behave badly because they ask too little of themselves. In these books McCarthy – who is one of my great loves – writes about very young men hurled into unknown landscapes, a world frequently absent of radiance. They survive or they die – but they hold onto their integrity, because only the gentle are ever really strong. And McCarthy’s prose is the closest thing I know to an electric shock. It is energy made visible; what Saul Bellow called ‘life giving and death dealing sentences.’

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1995 – Sabbath’s Theatre by Philip Roth

Sabbath's Theater

From the first sentence on this is a funny, serious, and frightening book – the story of a man at the end of his tether. Dirty, ugly, fearing the loss of his sexual prowess, Sabbath wanders around New England and New York like Shakespeare ranting at street corners, screaming the song of the land.

1997 – American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral

A book about a man whose daughter is a terrorist, and how he tries to hold onto the ideas of justice and dignity when the smell of blood is in the air and it’s the age of prominent madmen. I disagree strongly with the political stance of this book, but as a novel it contains some of the most intense dramatic scenes in recent years.

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1997 – Taoos Chaman ki Mynah by Naiyer Masud

Taoos Chaman Ki Myna

A novella from the Urdu master of Lukhnow. A man steals a bird from his employer’s menagerie for his little daughter. This is a hear-quickening tale. I don’t think I understand all of its mysteries but perhaps that is how it should be; if you see a statue of a veiled maiden, you mustn’t try to chisel off the veil in the hope of uncovering the face underneath.

1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

The key text about all of India’s yesterdays and todays. It is almost elemental. There are a 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a human body, and every drop of blood in mine is grateful to Arundhati Roy for having written this. By turns sorrowing and ecstatic, it possesses a touch that has a sting of starlight to it.

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1997 – Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain

Not only a painful love story, but also a fierce attack on the economic disparities within the USA. From its astonishing and brilliant first paragraph onwards, Proulx tells us that the two lovers are foredoomed not solely because they are homosexual in an unforgiving landscape, but because that they are poor, men who cannot really afford luxuries like love. The need to make a living and support their families is also what keeps the two men from coming together.

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2001 – My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red

The greatest book by the one of the very greatest novelists of our time. A murder mystery, a monograph on miniature painting, a love story, a rich and subversive inquiry into the past. Its heroine, Shekure, is one of the best portraits of a woman from the Islamic word that I know.

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2004 – Gilead by Marilynne Ronbinson

Gilead

The letter an old priest writes to his very young son, who will not read it until long after the priest is dead. Every single paragraph of this book is full of quiet wisdom – as though a form of music has been found to express silence.

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2004 – An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra

An End to Suffering

Pankaj Mishra’s writing is what I turn to first when I need to make sense of the world. And this book is one of the loveliest and most serious meditations on what Buddha brought into the world.

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2007 – The Collected Stories of Intizar Hussein

Exactly 50 years’ worth of stories from the Pakistani master. Read sequentially, these stories chart every single social, historical and cultural event Pakistan has been through in the last half century. Magnificent.

2008 – 2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666

The third world novel as it should be written today – post Naipaul, post Marquez. Part 4 of this book alone should ensure Bolano’s place among the immortals. Please read it.

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Book Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje Title: The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0679745204
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 305
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are books that one reads and remembers a little of and then forgets. There are books that one reads and instantly forgets. There are then those books that one reads and can never forget. Those are the kind of books that I want to read and talk about. Because may be somewhere down the line in life, there is no place for bad or mediocre books. These days reading the first chapter is enough to tell you that and for me that is the deciding factor most of the time. However, there are those books which have been parts of your life throughout and you just invariably go back to them again and again. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book in my life.

“The English Patient” takes place when the World War II has just about ended. The troops are returning home – broken or fixed or just as a consequence of the end of the war. This story is of four people – damaged and broken, living in an Italian villa as the war ends and the world changes around them. They ruminate on the past, links are drawn, relationships are renewed and they all somehow are just looking for redemption. At the heart of the book’s title, is literally, a patient, unknown to the three others, whose face is disfigured and he lays all day on the bed. Hana, the emotionally wounded army nurse who will not leave the patient alone and therefore has decided to stay in the villa. There is Caravaggio – the thief and spy, a friend of Hana’s father, who is drawn to Hana in many ways and has a past with the patient as well. Last but not the least is Kip – the brooding and detached Indian sapper, who loves Hana with all his heart and struggles to make sense of it.

All three of them are united to each other by the patient. Who is he? Where is he from? What is his history? Such questions and many intricate plots make this book what it is – a masterpiece at that. The sub-plot of the patient is my most favourite part in the entire book. His love affair with a married woman (cliché as it may sound) and its doom breaks the reader’s heart all over again. There is more to his story which I will not giveaway here. You obviously have to read it to know.

There is a lot of angst in the book and I can only trust Ondaatje with his superlative writing skills to display it with precision and great skill. The lines are almost poetic in nature. The setting is almost surreal. With every page you turn, you can only anticipate what is to come next and when it does, it takes your breath away. Of course the movie is different from the book and that is why I recommend that your reading and viewing pleasure should not be compared. I also love the way the movie has been made. Reading this book is almost like a dream-like experience. It is almost a feeling of déjà vu and yet you want to keep carrying on. The passages string together a tale of love, sadness, madness and as I said redemption. Each of Ondaatje’s character is searching for something or seeking forgiveness. The force of his writing lies in the lyrical quality of the narrative. The writing at most levels is spare, which I wish could have been longer.

The book will capture your heart and soul and not let go. This was the fifth read for me and every time I read this book, I cry. May be also because this copy was gifted to me by someone who once loved. I come out of a trance-like experience and I am only sad that the experience has ended. I cannot recommend this enough. And yes, there is only this much life left. Go on and read good books while you are at it. And while I am at it, here are some of my favourite parts of the book:

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”

“I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant who reminisces or remembers a meeting when the other has passed by innocently…but all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur.”

“She had grown older. And he loved her more now than he had loved her when he understood her better, when she was the product of her parents. What she was now was what she herself had decided to become.”

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Book Review: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Title: The Cat’s Table
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0224093613
Pages: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Ondaatje’s latest novel is, perhaps, his most “approachable” yet. It lacks the (somewhat) “foreign-ness” of Anil’s Ghost and the “intellectual-ness” of Divisadero. (It’s been too long since I read The English Patient to adequately come up with a comparison.) But most importantly, it has the same almost lyrically beautiful prose of other novels. It also reads faster. It is a page turner – not so much because the story is riveting, but because the prose flows so easily.

The Cat’s Table takes place, mostly, on a ship as an 11-year-old boy sails from Sri Lanka to England. (Approximately 100 pp into the novel, we learn the boy – who narrates – is named Michael, but an author’s note at the end tells us, explicitly, that this is a novel and not a memoir.) The novel itself, in some ways, is a series of vignettes, more than a narrative with a full arc.

On the ship, Michael meets two other boys his age, and they proceed to cause mischief of various kinds – stealing food from first class and hiding in life boats to eat; tossing deck chairs into the pool; creating a fort in the turbine room. They also cross paths with a diverse cast of characters at the table where they dine – The Cat’s Table: a botanist who is transporting a garden in the ship’s cargo hold; a pianist who plays with the ship band; a tailor who doesn’t speak; and a woman whose demeanor is able to arise the budding sexual fantasies of the boys.

The Cat’s Table is not a “coming of age” story in the traditional sense. In my opinion, it takes place over too short a period of time to be that; the bulk of the action takes place only over the three week journey from East to West. But the story on the ship does include brief “pauses” that take us into Michael’s future (the general present/recent past) and show the way in which the short period of time really did inform and shape his life. In some ways, these realizations for him seem to happen only as a result of writing about and reliving his time on the ship. Thus, we are sharing in his self-discovery; he is not telling us about it after the fact.

Some readers may feel frustrated as recollections and anecdotes jump back and forth, but this is what happens in life – there rarely a complete picture but only fragments that increase understanding and appreciation.

Portrayed here is an education indeed – growing sexual awareness, first-hand experience of the power of the elements (not to mention tragedy), realization that outward appearances do not tell the whole story. There was far more to the people encountered than at the time ever thought possible.

I found this finely crafted, multi-faceted novel a richly rewarding read – crammed with insight, humour and memorable images. It’s a yearning tribute with an almost fairytale-like aura to the memories of awe that pervade our dreams (and nightmares and fears), and the memories of sometimes unlikely affiliation and love and what we mistake as love that pervade and haunt our hearts, guide us or sometimes lead us astray.