What are you reading these days, apart from types of plants, festivals of India, common nouns and shapes and patterns? And how exactly did this come about? At exactly which juncture, did you take up the homework portfolio? You were changing diapers. Dad did too at times. You played with him and dad recorded videos of his adorable little tantrums. You fed him. Dad maybe played a rhyme or two. You shopped for his clothes. Dad was browsing his phone. You bought him the cars and guns. Dad played with them. Dad and mom dropped him for his first day of school. You lingered on. Dad didn’t see the point. You waited for him to return from school to pamper the poor little boy. You quizzed him about school, his teacher, his friends. You got nothing. You sat him down and made him write his first letters. Dad felt it was too early. You felt dad wasn’t taking this seriously. You had to take charge. You made him study every day. Dad continued to be nonchalant. You couldn’t. You were being bombarded by other moms’ messages, elaborate discussions on the daily lessons, their kids’ class notes, their drawings, the prizes they were winning and their performances. You couldn’t let your child lag behind. But you aren’t as obsessed either. Study times are getting more arduous. You want help. You turn. Dad is not around. Dad has left long ago. Roles have been set. Once the homework manager, always the homework manager. Precedents are very very important.
What are you reading?
I won’t be surprised if you don’t remember the last real book you read or if you haven’t completed your last book. There was a time I slept with multiple unfinished books around my pillow as if I feared that I may not finish them if I put them back on my shelves. I didn’t finish them anyway.
Things improved a little as Hasini and Yuvi grew a little older. And then Jagan gifted me a kindle. I still didn’t read a book a week. But I scrambled back into reading. I realized that my tastes have changed now. I’ve gravitated away from novels towards memoirs, epics and history.
I wanted to share what I’ve been reading these days. I hope you’ll share what you are reading and we could do a reading club kind of thing. Sometimes I am so moved, inspired by what I am reading I have to share.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
I just finished reading “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy. Let me tell you that I am a big fan of her non-fiction work. I read “The God of small things” when I was in college. I didn’t get it. But then I read “Algebra of Infinite justice” later, a collection of her essays on dams & nuclear power and I was enthralled by her cogent arguments. These were backed by solid research and hard data and her prose was magnificent as always.
I read her second novel “The Ministry of utmost Happiness” recently. This is the kind of novel that does not end with a wedding, a death, or a conclusion. It is like life – brutal, beautiful, unfair, imperfect, unrequited and uncanny. The big turning points in the narrative are also punctuated with the most acute observations and the little details. Just like how you notice in slow motion your two scooter skidding, the “Sound Horn” lettering, the “back of the lorry” art as you hit the road. With Arundhati Roy’s novels, I don’t get closure. I don’t get a message or a learning. I get naked truth instead. It makes me uncomfortable. At times, it made me cry.
If you read the book, let me know what you think.
An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor
The other book that I am in the middle of is “An Era of Darkness” by Shashi Tharoor. I know I am late to it. I’ve been off the reading circuit for a long long time. So please pardon me if I am talking about the book you read long ago. I happened to hear Shashi Tharoor’s Oxford Union speech on Britain owing reparations to its former colonies. Like so many others, I was hooked. I wanted to know more. There was nothing in my history books about India’s share of the world economy before and after British Raj, nothing about the destruction of Indian handloom and shipping industries, nothing about the biggest scam also called the Indian railways.
All our history books told us was that the British came over to trade, fought battles, won them and took over our kingdoms and went on to rule the country for 200 years. That unfortunately doesn’t tell me about the deliberate and systematic de-industrialization of India, “theft labelled as taxation” at a minimum of 50% of income that squeezed the livelihoods of the people and the most blatant, despicable practice of racism in every walk of life.
This is history that every Indian should know. Our schools, curriculum designers and textbook writers have failed us. Our rich history isn’t common knowledge. It should be. What grieves me the most is the obliteration of centuries old wisdom and inherently inclusive ways of life by 200 years of British rule.
This book is an eye-opener. I believe it should be on every Indian’s reading list simply for the staggeringly insightful education it gives you about the colonial rule in India in just 360 pages. Shashi Tharoor’s eloquence needs no mention. It is fitting that this scathing, incisive denunciation of the British raj is in Tharoor’s british English. There are some really wise, quote-worthy sentences in there that I am sure I am going to quote in many many conversations. My favourite is this one:
“The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but it does partly help explain the present. One cannot take revenge upon history; history is its own revenge.”
What are you reading these days? I’d love to hear. You have a book suggestion? Please share in the comments below.