Tag Archives: the english patient

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.

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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.

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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

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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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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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