Book of the Week #34: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

Led by this dauntless young lady, we continue this month of literary heavyweights with what is probably the very first Pulitzer Prize winner of our list.

Let us all strap in, shall we?


Shruti:

Interpreter of Maladies,

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Interpreter of Maladies is one of the most recognised works of its London-born American author of Indian descent, Jhumpa Lahiri.

A collection of nine short stories, the book is heralded as an impeccable narrative of the immigrant experience. After having read a short story from the same book—that goes by the same name—for an English course, I was not entirely sure how I felt about it. But I was eager to read more from the book. I recently did, and let’s say, I am not disappointed! Continue reading Book of the Week #34: [Guest Post]

Book of the Week #33: [Guest Post]

Shruti:

Siddhartha,

by Hermann Hesse
Translated by Hilda Rosner

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

Siddhartha, written by the German writer and painter Hermann Hesse, was written in 1922. Originally written in German, it was first published in English in the United States in 1951.

The book remains, till date, one of the most influential novels, based in India, by a Western author. I came to know of the book a few years ago. Having a deep interest in spirituality and philosophy, it was only natural that I was drawn to this book.

If you know nothing about this book, it is easy to assume, just by looking at the book cover, that it is about the life of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha. But, surprise! It’s not. Although that does become clear in the first few paragraphs itself, I think this note is quite essential so that a few among you readers don’t get over-enthusiastic about this book just going by the title!

However, I do believe that this book is worth getting enthusiastic about…

SPOILER: The book does feature Buddha, albeit for a small, yet important, part.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else… Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

The story is based in India in the same era as of the Buddha, about a young Brahmin named Siddhartha who, dissatisfied with his existence, sets out to seek enlightenment. How, you ask? Well, he can think. He can wait. He can fast. Over the course of his life journey, he comes across myriad kinds of people and has different kinds of experiences.

SPOILER: He meets the Buddha, moves on and meets a beautiful courtesan, learns the art of lust from her. In the meanwhile, he also works for a merchant. Yes, kind of stuff you’d not expect to see a man on a spiritual journey to indulge in. Later on, he drinks, gambles and meets and lives with a ferryman.  The story does not end there. But well, read the book for more.

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”

Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment goes on to demonstrate the importance of every kind of experience and every person one comes across in their lifetime. It was through each of those experiences that Siddhartha is able to achieve enlightenment at the end.

“What you search is not necessarily the same as what you find. When you let go of the searching, you start finding.”

It is heartening to know that a book set in the East, written in the 1920s, talking about spirituality and enlightenment, has amassed such a huge popularity across the world. It’s quite evident that even Western audience is able to identify with it. We all are humans, after all.

Hermann Hesse did not preach us to give up material possessions and go to the woods to meditate and seek truth, but if a narrative talking about something similar is able to connect to people across the world, even today, or especially today, it most probably does offer something of value.

Siddhartha is a short novella, spanning around 150 pages. It has a simple language—or say, the translated version that I read, by Hilda Rosner—although I should be honest and say that I found some of the repetitive phrases uttered by the main character and his friend towards the beginning, a little irritating.

Speaking of personal experience, I would not put this book in the ‘unputdownable’ category. It is possible to find it boring at times, but the message and philosophy of the book makes me glad that I stuck to it till the end.


Yashas:

So, she has basically taken over, at this point, and I could not be more glad to let go of the reins…

Now, you can start reading the book right here:

Of course, there are other translations available, and the readers are encouraged to seek them out and let us know what you think.

Well, that is all for tonight. We will be back, next week.

Thank you.

Book of the Week #32: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

She is back, Ladies and Gentlemen, and quite frankly, we could not be more glad!

And this week, she picks out a book that falls directly into her own backyard.

She says she hadn’t written this post with my blog in her mind; she just wanted to share her love for the book with the entire world, and isn’t that the very purpose of our blog?

Needless to say, I managed to badger her into sharing her words here. Such avaricious, you know.

For the uninitiated, might I elaborate just a little on the significance of the phrase “Pale Blue Dot”. It is actually a reference to the photograph of the Earth taken on 14th February, 1990, by Voyager 1 from a distance of roughly 6 billion kilometres.

pale_blue_dot
Pale Blue Dot

Really puts things in perspective, does it not?

So, here we go…


Shruti:

Pale Blue Dot,

by Carl Sagan

Literally the best book I have ever read!

You might think I am enlisting the book in that category because I am an Astrophysics student. I won’t deny that I might be ‘biased’ that way, but in all honesty, I feel that this is one book that every person should give a read.

Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Cosmos series by Carl Sagan, I couldn’t wait to read his books; although, I did wait. I watched that series more than three years ago! Insightful, inspiring and refreshing.

Was the Pale Blue Dot just what I had expected? No, it was much more.

This is one of the richest books I have read, in terms of content, style and language. Sagan has the ability to capture the imagination of even those people who are least interested in space science. His words are arresting, his style intelligent; what else could you expect from a world-renowned astrophysicist and science communicator?

Continue reading Book of the Week #32: [Guest Post]

Book of the Week #31: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

So, after a gap of 30 long weeks, we are back!

Of course, as we promised yesterday, I am still insanely busy with Book Two… Either that or I just am insane…

Thankfully, we have our dear friend Shruti, who is coming back with a much needed series of guest posts.

Okay, to be honest, she says she cannot promise anything at the moment. She does not want a long-term commitment, she says. However, we do hope she sticks around for a while.

Anyway, Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for Shruti!


Shruti:

Malgudi Days,

by R. K. Narayan

“We are a flawed, weak species, he gently reminds us in these pages, focusing his attention, clearly and without sentiment, on those who will stoop low, those who will stop at nothing. What makes us care for such frequently pathetic characters is that they, like most of the rest of us, are strivers, driven by hopes for a slightly better life.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, on Malgudi Days

The discussion about Indian literature is certainly incomplete without talking about one of the most celebrated writers of India, the late R. K. Narayan.

If you have grown up in India, you have most probably heard of the name Malgudi Days. Set in the fictional town of Malgudi in the south of India, Malgudi Days chronicles the lives of the simple folks of the town through more than 30 short stories.

My first encounter with Malgudi Days was when I was little, when the TV series based on the book was televised on Doordarshan. I still remember the enchanting tune of the theme music, and I won’t be surprised if every single person who ever watched the series or even a few episodes remembers it too. Something about the series struck a chord, and I was drawn to it.

Years later, a short story from the book happened to appear in our school English curriculum and having loved it so much, I decided to lay my hands on the book at last!

As mentioned earlier, Malgudi Days is a collection of over more than 30 short stories. Check any list of the best works from Indian literature and you are sure to find Malgudi Days in it!

There is something very endearing about R K Narayan’s language; it’s simple, yet so powerful. The elements in the stories and the lives of the characters seem fascinatingly relatable.

Maybe it’s because I spent the first 11 years of my life in a town and I used to be a very frequent visitor of the village that is my native place. But I doubt if anyone who has always been a city-dweller would not find the stories appealing.

Malgudi Days features a plethora of colourful characters. You have an astrologer, a school boy and his friends, who actually go out and play and not stick to their smartphones, a large-hearted postman who knows every single person in the town. You have rich folks, and also poor people trying to make ends meet.

The simplicity and the refreshing innocence of the town is one of the main reasons behind the enormous popularity and success of the book.

Even though it was written in the first half of the 20th century, Malgudi Days has proven to be a timeless classic. Through the enchanting narrative, R,K, Narayan wove a tale of this simplistic town so well that it has captured the imaginations of people across the country. And I am sure it will continue to do so for many more generations to come.


Yashas:

Well, I have not read the book, nor can I remember that short story from our curriculum…

And isn’t that the reason why we have a team?

 You can start reading Malgudi Days here.

We do hope Shruti comes back, next week, and really for a few more weeks hereafter.

Anyway, that is all for today.

Thank you…

Word of the Week #18:

Entropy

Yes, most of us have encountered this term, in the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

And yes, most of us probably did not quite understand the entire concept. I, for one, can admit that my understanding of Entropy, and, by extension, of Thermodynamics, is unexpectedly inadequate. Continue reading Word of the Week #18:

Book of the Week #13: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

Yes, this week, we share the first guest post on our blog. And considering this wonderful, young lady gave me the final push I needed to start this blog, it is only fair that for her to be our first collaborator.

And I believe a short introduction is in order…

She is an old classmate of mine, and one of the few people who are so nice that I cannot even make fun of them… Well, at least not in public…

She is currently studying Astronomy from University of Sussex, and intends to pursue a Doctorate in Astrophysics.

Some observational area, though, she tells me, not theoretical… And I just nod along…

So, yeah, she is a smart one…


Shruti:

Pride and Prejudice,

by Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Thus begins one of the most acclaimed classics of English literature. Set in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice is probably Jane Austen’s most recognized work.

The first time I came across Pride and Prejudice was when I was 13. My eyes fixated on the dark blue cover of an abridged copy; a part of the stack of our grade 8 books given to us by school. It was neither a part of our curriculum, nor were we ever taught it in school. Continue reading Book of the Week #13: [Guest Post]