‘Room’ By Emma Donoghue

Not a book I would have picked up and getting through the first couple of pages did make me question whether this was something I wanted to finish.But as I persevered, it just drew me in.

The story unravels through the eyes of a 5 year old child, Jack. Its about a woman who’s kidnapped by a pervert and kept in a locked shed for 7 long years. She conceives a child and the child’s whole world is the
room. The ‘Room’ and its constituents like the ‘Bed’, ‘Rug’ become a central part in the child’s life. Each thing in the room assumes a unique individuality.

Though the backdrop is sickening, interestingly its not a depressing story. Their life inside the room is the story of survival and the determination of a mother to protect her child against all odds.
They both plan and manage to escape from their incarceration and the reader would be led to assume a happy ending, were it not for the fact that there was still half the book remaining.

So,as it was, I was curious to see what else the author had in store.

After the escape, they both are suddenly thrown into the outside world where things are not within their control , a world where everything familiar disappears within a void. The mother ; a college going youngster before the episode happens, is trying to absorb the essence of freedom in every way but cant come to terms with the changes which have happened to the world she knew 7 years before. The child, who has never witnessed anything outside the room and his Ma, is struggling to comprehend the vastness of the existence beyond his room and coping with losing his grip on everything familiar. The child, for whom even the falling of a leaf holds wonder, begins the arduous task of unlearning and learning things anew.

To think that freedom could be more chaotic than incarceration wouldn’t have crossed my mind. ‘Normal’ and ‘Abnormal’ just become complimentary sides depending on the boundaries defined by our perception.

The innocence of the narrator seeps through in every line you read in the book.

Having a child nearly the same age, did make me relate much better to the workings and the thoughts of a 5 year old.
Not a book probably everyone would like to read, but for those who can, it definitely, is an enriching experience.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

A brilliant, bold and yet sensitive depiction about life in the ‘darkness’. I found this book very thought provoking but strangely disturbing.The ever present rift between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ manifests in the pressing need of the central character Balram Halwai to ‘break out of the coop’.

The story of Balram Halwai is portrayed in his own words very interestingly, as a letter to the Chinese Premier. Born in a small village on the banks of  the Ganga, Balram describes feudal, hinterland India at its best.Determined to change his lot, he awaits opportunities as they present themselves and finally secures a foothold.As he struggles not to drown in the same rut which ate up his ancestors, all sense of right or wrong withers before his strong instinct to survive. Strangely innocent yet corrupt, the character of Balram Halwai is a study in gray.The author’s stark portrayal, bereft of any pretensions, of the complexities of the character is impressive.

As the story of his life unfolds, the reader who fully empathizes with the character within the context of feudal India with its unforgiving ways suddenly gets sucked into a disturbing whirlpool of Balram’s thoughts. It is an almost maniacal urge to ‘break out of the coop’ as he likens millions living in the same conditions as chickens for slaughter. The lengths to which a man can go, to avoid getting sucked into the rut. Its existentialism at its best as Balram murders for gain, sacrifices his own family all of which he defends in his bid to move to the ‘light’.The character is not depicted as an individual with an inherently criminal bent of mind albeit when the time comes, he displays no compunction or remorse. A chore to be dispensed with. A hurdle to be traversed.Call it Jungle law or Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest ; shocked or disgusted you can be, but you definitely cant ignore.

Do you dismiss him as an opportunist & a criminal or do you admire his tenaciousness to survive ?
Do we take the high moral ground and cast him as a villain or do we castigate the system which made him ?
Does a ‘white tiger’ lurk in each one of us ?

Recommended reading !

Romancing the Books

Have you ever smelt the books you’ve read ? And if you have, then reading can never be perfunctorily dismissed as simply reading, it is always a romance.Book shops and old libraries can never lose their charm despite the ever-increasing onslaught of the ‘e-‘ brigade.

I flipped open a book with roughened yellow pages, which had probably been thumbed by hundreds of readers. The print was still good and I buried my nose in the book  to smell that delightful smell of warmth and vacations…

The first day of summer vacations; the beginning of idyllic days ahead , hot and dry and with the wings of freedom to do what we chose. Let loose from the drudgery of school, my brother and I would make a beeline to ‘Apna Pustakalaya’, a rusty lending library in the small township of Bhilai. The proprietor, a rustic guy of around 40 with a bushy moustache would be perched atop his usual stool behind the front counter. The library was, by no means something to rave about and was no more than a roughly patched up tin shed. But to our eyes , it was nothing short of a heaven for our vacation starved hearts. Rows and rows of books lined neatly in shelves would be grouped under different sections. The books were mostly old, but well maintained in their bound jackets. The moment we entered, we would get lost in the mad frenzy of hunting for the Sydney Sheldons, Agatha Christies, Robert Ludlums and the like. And when we managed to unearth an unread one, we would hold on it to like a treasure. There were shelves lined with Cowboy stories, which mostly gathered dust , and the ones with Mills n Boons that would see girls surreptitiously snatching a book or two.
But the real cherries on the cake were the occasional Archie Digests, the Tintins and the Asterix we chanced upon. Knowing their prized status, the owner would normally keep them under the counter and would give them out only to favored and loyal customers. We would stand in line and murmur in our best endearing voices and would often be rewarded when he brought out an old Asterix from underneath the counter. We were allowed to take 10-12 books on one trip and could make as many trips as we wanted for a measly charge of 30 Rs a month

We would stagger under the weight of the books but our steps were buoyant on the way home.The bookstore was a witness to our growing up as we graduated from St Claires, Famous Fives and Secret Sevens to Perry Masons, Alistair McLeans and Alfred Hitchcock.
Its been several years since I left the town forever but I am sure that ‘Apna Pustakalaya’ still stands as it was and it continues to bring the joy of reading and of vacations to hundreds of children there.