Now that Yosso
marked me to write about books, I have been trying to round up quite a bit of my dishevelled and disordered memory of books, having read and wanting to read. The result is the following jumble of thoughts and I own up the good and bad books and time gained and wasted. After all it is still the chaotic me and the books.
Books have always brought a host of allusions and images for me, foremost of them would probably be Journeys. other times, it would be a bygone moment with the personal coordinates of my life or juvenile discoveries in the attic or faces in close up or even a byline of a dead writer among other news...and yet other times they were the monikers of those days of rendezvous among friends who burnt down words, ideas and dreams together and now to be seen trudging the labyrinths of time, among strangers.
Yeah, Books were about the journeys. I used to wait beside my mother until midnight for my father's arrival after his short trips from lesser duties of a part-time politician. I was looking forward to the color and characters of Amar Chithra Katha he brought then. That was my first memory of anticipation and reading any book. It invariably related to homecoming. A decade later, I would go to Aunt's house for a long summer vacation, who after her husband retired from Labour department in the city retreated to this sultry hilly expanse. He died the year I went to stay with them. In those old oak furniture, I found the books he collected for a lifetime and I found that the original collecter was his younger brother who died an untimely death. Some of the books were already ravaged by termites. The hardcover of Greek tales had pale yellow pages and I remember illustrations of Pandora, Helen, Eurydice, Persephone, Hera and countless other goddesses. I found uncle's unfinished poems, bad and decent tries in one of the chests, beside Treasure Island and other assorted poetry of shelley, Byron and Browning. I also found a lot of children's books in malayalam.
For the next few years I travelled every summer vacations with a bag full of books and its amazing to think that every year the sets of books were getting radicalized and reflected more of external validations and less of the exhileration of discoveries. I read Maxim Gorky's Mother and I let Pavel Vlasov to put the entire world around me on trial. I read The Germinal of Emile Zola and I didn't know it was supposed to be naturalism. I tried to read George Elliot's Silas Marner, hardly follwed the dialects and slangs thrown all over the book, valiantly trod the winding passages of Tolstoy's War and Peace and Pasternack's Dr. Zhivago. I remember those walks in the country roads after reading passages in Zhivago ruminating over the torments of Lara and then the monstrosity of revolution consuming its own children in The Tale of Two Cities. I imagined and suffered hardships of David Copperfield and every simple human beings in Chekhov's short stories.
My Mother's house was another favourite destination which overlooked an estuary and the billowing Arabian Sea behind. I read about Santiago in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and I could see his seemingly resigned but determined countenance on the those fishermen, or may be I just placed them in the backdrop of my imagination. Another journey I associate with reading a book was Doestoyevsky's Crime and Punishment when I travelled by train to Bangalore. I was unemployed and felt an inexplicable helplessness and seething anger inside me: I shared it with Raskolnikov although I smiled when I had seen a pawn shop on my way to K.R. Market.
My major source for books for a long time had been malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi and Hindu Sunday supplement. Once in a while Times Literary Review, Granta and Illustrated weekly at Ernakulam public library. That basically unfolded an entire world infront of me, constantly contradicted the best and the right and I learned the politically incorrect and use of media to celeberate and destroy icons and sycophants of power and ideology. My readings turned political, even of it was shakespeare's sonnet. But then I read a lot of malayalam writers: O.V.Viajayan (the Guru), V.K.N (the grandiloquent jester), Vaikom Muhammad Bhashir(the modern fabler) led the riot. I still keep going back to all of their books. There were a few poets who caught my attention like Balachandran Chullikkad, Idasseri Govindan Nair and Vailoppilli to name a few.
College introduced me to Albert Camus, Sartre, Herman Hesse and T.S.Eliot. I graduated from Camus to Samuel Becket and a whole lot of absurdists including Luigi Pirandello and Edward Albee. T.S.Eliot was a stand out and the images from his book Waste Land and other Poems still a bench mark of a swansong for me. I found Nietzche from Will Durant's Story of Philosophy and the fascination lingered ever since. The library of my College had a decent collection of plays by Bertolt Brecht, Henrik Ibsen and Eugene Oneil. Notably, Oneil's long day's Journey into night held the spirit of mankind among the ruins of dysfunctional families for me. Besides the juvenile fascination for Robert Pirsig (I thought Lila was a better existential american novel) and Somerset Maugham, friends amongst us found Fritjof Capra and his books The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point and Uncommon Wisdom. He seemed to offer a middle path and a reason to think that everything in the universe and the traditional wisdom of human race after all but a spark in the path of the blinding light. But then, what do you expect from a fidgety science student?
I have an old cupboard at home In India, filled with books I bought with the pocket money I've got. I am hoping to bring them from India sometime. Here is a list, hope you won't find it too overbearing: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (almost all major works), Milan Kundera (Immortality and Life is else where), Octavia Paz (Sunstone and Collected poems), Elias Canetti (Auto DaFe), Italo Calvino(Invisible Cities, If On a winter's night a traveller, Castle of Crossed destinies), George Perec(Life, a user's manual), Primo Levi (The Wrench, The periodic table), Borges (Short Stories), Franz Kafka (The Trial, Metamorphosis, Amerika), Mario Varga Llosa, Nikos Kazantzakis (Last Temptation of Christ, Zorba the Greek), James Joyce(Portrait of an artist as a young man), Kawabata, Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon), Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrel(Alexandria Quartet)....
The books that I began but never finished were Ulysses(James Jayce), Remembrance of things past(Marcel Proust), Man without qualities(Robert Musil) and Sound and Fury(William Faulkner). Swann and Benjy are very much in my mind. Someday I will!
The reading followed metareading on Michel Foucoult, Derrida, Barthes and Wittgenstein: mostly excerpts of their books and articles from magazines. Although I was wallowing in their wordy worlds, I could see the written word being deconstructed to a more discreet set of ideas. Another area of interest has been books on movies and those by movie folks. Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time, Bergman's Magic Lantern, Chaplin's My Autobiography were no less than a consummate book on life. I am looking forward to buy Gilles Delueze' Cinema: Time and Movement -Images (1 & 2). He is fast becoming my favourite.
There are atleast a hundred obvious names I either forgot or missed at this point in time and a million I wish to read or in the least feel the dust jacket and read the blurb. They can probably wait and the love affair with the printed word is still on although the youthful abandon and degree of excitement varied a lot when glanced from this far, I am glad that I am still smitten and thankfull for a lifetime of memories and insights.
Now that it is done, let me pass on the malady to Booky
or anyone else who wants to record their retreats to the world of books.