Of Smells And Secondhand Books

I’ve constantly marvelled at how everything in life (situations, routine, people, objects) can take on a new meaning when you look at things from a different perspective. Or atleast it makes you consider them in a whole new light, and realise that they might not be what you thought them to be. I had a moment like that, recently.

A few weeks ago, before putting down a book that I had been reading, I felt like smelling it. I don’t know if that sounds weird but it’s quite normal for me. So much so that my sister’s grown used to the sight of me sniffing a book at random moments. Anyway, just as I was savouring the ‘scent’, a thought struck me. What did that smell contain?

I’ve always loved the smell of books, and have a special fascination for that of old and secondhand ones (the book in question was a secondhand copy). But I had never thought of why, or what the smell might be made up of. Until this particular instance, of course. So, there I was, wondering what made a pre-owned book smell so otherworldly.

Perhaps, it’s all the hands that have touched the pages, the thoughts of previous owners and readers…a captivating blend of all the minds that have pored over it. Think of the memories and experiences a book could talk of, but can only exude through its touch and smell! Crazy as it sounds, the idea made books and their smells seem all the more charming to me. I realise I might be letting my imagination run a little too wild, but then, that’s just how I am (if you’re done with my rambling and want an actual, scientific explanation, check this out).

Almost every time I pick up a secondhand book, I wonder about the last person who had/read the book, what they thought about it and why they let go of it. Even bookstores selling used books evoke the same feeling in me. The cramped spaces and shelves overflowing with books make me wonder about the stories hidden under layers of dust. With all those tales, characters and the sheer magic of adventures (all waiting to be read) floating in the air, is it any surprise these places smell so special? Sometimes I fantasise that, maybe, if I listen carefully, I might even hear the soft rustling of books vying for attention — “pick me, hold me, read me”.

This post was partly inspired by the line ‘Try me. Test Me. Taste Me.’ from Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and partly by the secondhand bookstores I so loved and frequented (and now miss like hell!) in Bangalore.  

Back to an Empty House

I must admit, I absolutely enjoyed writing the previous post. For one thing, I love writing letters. And when it’s to oneself, there’s quite a lot of introspection that goes into it, so much that it feels like an experience in itself. But then, working on a great post (if I may say so myself) has a downside. The thought of writing another one that matches up to it or even gives you the same level of satisfaction is pretty pressurising. Pair that up with the sense of laziness that constantly hits me (especially when it comes to facing a blank page!) and you’ve got one sad blog-space.

However, that’s not all. There is another reason behind my reluctance (or slackness, whatever you’d like to call it) to blog more regularly. To put it simply, it’s not the same anymore. The bloggers I used to interact with don’t write much anymore (or they have abandoned me since this place has been gathering dust for quite a while), same goes for the ones I used to ‘follow’ and truly loved. It’s a bit like coming back to an empty house.

What’s more, even the Freshly Pressed (FP) page on WordPress (WP) has changed. And truth be told, I don’t like it! Freshly Pressed was where I used to come across some of the best pieces across the WP-world. From posts that made me laugh (and click the Follow button instantly) to ones that gave me a much-needed dose of inspiration, I’ve found it all in the FP section. Not to mention the secret, vain dream of someday getting featured there. But then, its replacement — the Discover page — doesn’t seem as ‘personal’ as the older version. In fact, the collection seems too carefully curated. Apart from posts from popular blogs, the seemingly random picks are all too eloquently written and rather impersonal. Or atleast there were hardly any that I could connect with, let alone be inspired by.

In short, adding to what I said earlier, it’s a bit like coming back to an empty house in a completely transformed neighbourhood. Which is basically what pulls me back or confuses me every time I fight lethargy and open up the ‘Add New Post’ page.

Nevertheless, sometimes the urge to write just wins (as it should) and a rambling like this is what comes out of it. Hopefully, it won’t take as long next time around.

A Letter to my 15-year-old Self

Dear 15-year-old me,

I promise I’ll try to avoid spoilers which could ruin the fun of future for you.

You’re probably busy juggling reading, writing, studies and what you’ll later consider to be your first meaningful relationship. Trust me, you’re doing a great job.

I know you aren’t too nervous about the exams, but in case you’re wondering, you’re going to do just fine this time. You won’t really get what you were hoping for, but that’s not going to bother you much. You’re going to work when it counts (which is in your last year of school) and that’s good enough. Have fun while you can, girl; you’re not going to be a teenager forever! On that note, I strongly suggest you stop dreaming of being all grown-up. Even at 25 (which is an acceptable age for your standard grown-ups), you aren’t going to be too sure what “being grown-up” really means. Also, it’s not as fun as you think it is.

I’d have loved to give you a peek into my present life, just to dispel the foolish thought that you have your future all planned out. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that, by this time, next year, you’ll have decided to completely change the career path you’ve chosen for yourself? Or that it will shift again, by the time you’re in college, and then again when you’re out of college? You won’t regret most of these decisions, except the ones which you were forced into. But then, life has this strange but incredible way of somehow getting you where you’re supposed to be. So, maybe those weren’t necessarily bad situations even though they weren’t of your choice.

You are going to have fun with your career (atleast until 25, for sure)! You’ll get to dabble with a couple of jobs before you decide what you want. While every profession will have its ups and downs, you’re going to be relatively happy with most of it. Enjoy while it lasts, and if you’re ever confused, just go with the flow and follow your heart (yes, I know that sounds cliché and cheesy, although you won’t realise it at 15). One serious piece of advice for your work life: no job is worth killing yourself over.

That relationship you’re so crazy about in school? Well, you’re going to fall out of love in another year or so. You will learn to love again, in ways more than one (including an all-consuming relationship that’s going to change you to a great extent). Which also means you will go through heartbreaks (yes, you’ll have more than one. Or two.) and have dawn-nature-sunset-womansome really fucked up experiences (half of which will take years to make sense to you). I know what you’ve been through and I truly wish I could say it gets better. But it doesn’t. Unless you do something about it, of course. The single most powerful advice I can give you, which could possibly change your life, would be – learn to say NO when you have to. Don’t keep blaming yourself, kid. Not everything that happens is your fault. I couldn’t stress this enough, but it’s going to take another ten years before someone gets that drilled into your head.

Don’t be afraid of falling or making mistakes. Because there will be a lot of it. But you’ll have people to help you up, most important of them being your family and your best friend from school (oh yes, that bitch is going to stick around for longer than you thought). Meanwhile, keep reading, be open to new authors and different genres. Almost half of who you are and your perceptions will be because of the books you1321e-stipula_fountain_pen read. I still don’t know how you began writing but it’s going to stay with you for life from the looks of it. Find your voice, experiment and explore, but whatever you do, keep at it. While I have nothing to substantiate this claim yet, I’m sure your dream of becoming a writer will come true. Also, you’re going to start a blog soon. Please try not to abandon it every now and then.

Have faith in yourself. You are and will continue to be stronger than you think, overcoming life’s nasty (and not-so-nasty) twists bravely. Don’t worry so much about the meaning of life, try to figure out who you are and want to be, because you shouldn’t get lost in the crowd when you have to face the world in a couple of years. I could go on and on with this, but then what’s the fun in life, right? So, I’ll let you discover the rest of it for yourself. 🙂 Oh, and by the way, you don’t stay skinny all your life.

Lots of love,

Your wiser and awesomer 25-year-old self.

PS: As much as I wish I could somehow get this to you for real, that’s not happening, unfortunately. Even though a decade sounds like a long enough time span, time travel is still pretty much a fantasy. You’re going to have to wait till you’re 25 to know all this for yourself and write this letter. Sorry about that. And, no, post-scripts aren’t supposed to be so long. I just tend to rant. But I’ll stop. Now. This was fun.

Long Time, No See

I’ve been meaning to get back to blogging for ages now. A passing thought, a meaningful conversation, an interesting person or, as usual, a great book or a movie – there’s been so much to write about. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to actually sit down and write out what I had in mind. Why, you ask? Well, I wasn’t sure about it, in simple words. I had been writing in another ‘voice’ for so long (as part of my job) that I was worried I’d realise I had lost touch with mine. I was scared I’d just make a fool of myself. And, at other times, I was just plain lazy.

Thankfully, I have a bunch of friends who keep pestering me about asking me when I’m going to blog, so much that I decided to finally get down to it! Now that I’ve begun, the words seem to be coming a little more easily, this feels a tiny bit more familiar. Although, I have to admit, inspite of being over a 100 words into this post, I still don’t know what it is going to be about.

I left a place I called home for nearly three years (actually, it’s still home of sorts), to a city that has always been home but feels a little less so right now. While it has been nice running into all the familiar faces here, there’s also a strangeness that I keep sensing every now and then. More often than not, I find myself taking another look at these seemingly recognisable people, and I realise they aren’t who I thought them to be. Not anymore atleast. Or maybe, they never were.

It almost feels like I’m talking to them for the first time, getting to know them from scratch! Perhaps, it doesn’t sound all that bad. But I don’t think I enjoy the sense of detachment that comes with it. In fact, it’s also slightly scary. Kind of makes you look back at everyone you have ever known. And then, when you look at yourself, you see how much you have changed along the way, how little these ‘familiar faces’ know about you, how you are a whole new person yourself. So, maybe it’s alright for them to seem like strangers…and for you (me, that is) to rediscover anew a place you used to consider home for so long.

Long pause.

I’m sort of surprised at what I just wrote typed out, simply because it was nothing but a doubtful, half-formed notepad-926046_960_720thought until a few minutes ago! I don’t know if any of it makes sense, but this is precisely why I love blogging/writing (one of the reasons, atleast) – it has a way of unlocking something deep within that even I might not be aware of. Well, all I can say at this point is, it definitely feels good to be back here!

Ever had an epiphany brought about by your writing? Tell me more. 🙂  

Just Out of The Coma

*treads lightly*

*trying to find my footing*

*stumbles, gets up*

*starts over again*

Clearly, I’m feeling a little lost. Like I’m trying to relearn something that was familiar but feels so strange now. Which isn’t far from the truth, of course. Anyway, here goes.

Sometime when I was in high school, I read about Alex Garland’s The Coma in a magazine.  And, immediately added it to my mental to-read list. The basic plot goes something like this: it starts with the protagonist being attacked by a group of men, one night, following which he falls into a coma. The rest of the book is just him and his consciousness talking, trying to make sense of reality and dreams. I’m sure the magazine must have put it in a much more interesting way, but, well, you get the idea.

It took almost ten years for me to get hold of that book but I finally read it a few days ago. And absolutely loved it, by the way. But then, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I can’t seem to take up another book because I’m still sort of stuck in The Coma. And I felt compelled to write about it, atleast as a way of closure if nothing else (I love books that do that to me!).

When I started off with the book, I remember wondering why it wasn’t made into a movie, considering it deals with a gripping subject. You know, with all the talk about conscious and subconscious, it could neatly fit into the same category as Stay, for instance. However, as I read on, I realized why it couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be a movie.

From the start till the end, all you know about the character is his name (Carl). You don’t know where he is from, what his profession is, what he looks like or even what the other people in the book look like! Much like in a dream, the places and situations just keep shifting constantly, leaving you feeling disoriented. And intrigued. This vague, hazy plot definitely couldn’t be a movie. And, even if it were made into one, it would make absolutely no sense (I’m still trying to understand the ending, in fact).

And. yet, I loved the book. Why? I really don’t know. The first thing that struck me as interesting was that the pages weren’t numbered. It may not seem like a big deal but then, it takes off the sense of order that page numbers could give (and that works perfectly for the dream-like sequences), adding to the confusion. Maybe I loved it because it’s so unconventional. Or, perhaps, because it makes sense and yet doesn’t. Because there’s no right or wrong by which you can judge what Carl goes through. And, because, in a lot of ways, it made me question my own perceptions of reality, consciousness and life. So much so that, at a certain point, I looked up from the book, glanced around and wondered if the place and situation I was in were real or a dream (not kidding!).

If I had to pick out a favourite part (like I always do at the end of a book-rant), it would be this one, where Carl sums up how we’re all basically consciousnesses in a void:

“..if I were to lose an arm in an accident, I’d still be me. They wouldn’t say, he used to be Carl, then he lost an arm, now he’s John.

And, if, in another accident, I lost the other arm, the same would be true. Likewise with my legs, my sight, my hearing, my speech, my sense of touch. You could keep going, keep stripping me down, until I was only a consciousness, suspended in a void.

But, take away the consciousness, and suddenly I’m gone. Carl is no more. And take away the consciousness but leave the body, leave the full complement of arms and legs, and I’m still gone.”

PS: I found this interestingly similar review online – Consciousness in the void – Business Standard

Happy. Thank you. More Please!

I’m home (read: RAK) for two weeks! I have been reading, talking to my bratty sister, devouring mom’s awesome food and, well, having a good time! In short, I am happy. It sounds almost surreal to say that. But I actually am happy. For now, atleast. Anyway, so, I have also been watching quite a lot of movies. Last day, I happened to watch one that I really, badly wanted to blog about. So, here I am. Sometimes, amidst the flurry of superhero, horror, thriller, comedy, drama and romance movies, you come across something refreshing. Predictable yet different. Happythankyoumoreplease (2010) was one such movie for me. It’s a romance-comedy-drama film that I stumbled upon while checking out some other flick in IMDB. The synopsis seemed interesting and I added it to my to-watch list. For the past 3-4 months, it had been gathering virtual dust in my laptop, until I decided to watch it yesterday. And I’m glad I did! There are three parallel stories in the film, told seamlessly, delving into the lives, relationships and problems of a handful of characters. Sam (Josh Radnor, who is also the director-writer) is a struggling writer who develops a complicated friendship with a lost child. His best friend, Annie (Malin Akerman), an Alopecia patient, tries to fix her messed up self-image and, in turn, her love life. Sam’s cousin, Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and her boyfriend face certain problems in their relationship. Also in the picture is Mississippi (Kate Mara) – a charming, young waitress with issues of her own – who Sam falls for. OK, so, I know it sounds completely cliché. I agree, it is. And yet, I absolutely loved it. It felt like a breath of fresh air to me with its simple premise and extremely likeable, not to mention relatable, characters. I really don’t know why I found it so good. Maybe it just happened at the right time, like, I probably needed something light after the bout of “heavy” movies I had been watching. Perhaps, it’s because I found a genuinely feel-good movie after a long time. Or, maybe, it’s truly as awesome as I think it is! Whatever be the reason, it doesn’t really matter. Because the bottom line is: I loved the movie! It’s refreshing, light, happy, warm and…(the best part) even uplifting, in some ways. I think I could see bits and pieces of myself in the characters and their difficulties. The dialogues are another aspect I really liked. Sample this: “I realized the problem. You write short stories… and I think you like living short stories, but I’m kinda ready for the novel.” I was also quite taken by the music; some of the songs had really interesting lyrics. By the time the end credits were rolling, I was feeling quite happy in a way I can’t seem to explain. Probably because  it’s not usual for me to feel that way after a movie. This one, inspite of being predictable, had a lot more sense and warmth than many other rom-com-dramas. It’s not even about that, to be honest. You don’t always come across a light-hearted movie which actually lifts your mood, even makes you feel…inspired-happy, for lack of a better word. That’s the effect Happythankyoumoreplease had on me. And I can’t remember the last time a movie made me feel so good! So there! I think I’m done with the gushing. Your turn! Oh, that reminds me. I hate the “like” option WordPress has enabled for comments. Maybe I am overreacting, but I suppose I can still have my say. Earlier, the only way to respond to a comment was by, well, replying to it. The plain old reply in words thing. Now, you have the option of merely “liking” the comment, offering the gesture as a possible response. I hate that! It cuts off conversation! I suppose it might be Facebook-inspired. But then, it’s fine in FB, because you can conveniently end an unnecessary comment thread by just clicking the ‘like’ button (I do that all the time!). I don’t think it is required on a platform like WordPress where bloggers actually intend to communicate. And, that marks the end of my rant. For now!

Have you seen the movie? Let me know what you think. And, while you’re at it, I’d love to know what you think about the “like” option for comments, as well. 🙂

5 Things I Love about Bengaluru

Having been in the city for over a year now, I’ve come to understand that the IT industry is not the only thing Bengaluru (still Bangalore for many) is popular for. For those who might not be aware of it, Bengaluru was once known as the Garden City. Probably because it used to be all beautiful, clean and everything else you’d expect a garden to be. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about that phase of the city. The Bengaluru I’ve seen since last year is one that’s infamous for being overcrowded and highly polluted with traffic jams congesting its pothole-ridden roads.

I constantly hear many of my friends complaining about these aspects. Even though I always lend a patient ear to them all, I am quite defensive about Bengaluru. Inspite of the fact that I’m an outsider here, I feel a sense of belonging. I fell in love with it right from the first day! Of course, I do get irritated with the seemingly endless traffic blocks, the teeming buses and the garbage-strewn corners. But at the end of the day, I love the city, just the same.

Just as you would love a best friend with all his/her quirks, I love Bengaluru with all its flaws. I think I’ve grown used to the crowd that I have to wade through in busy market areas…and the hours of travel it takes to go from one place to another, sometimes barely few kilometers apart! I have begun to refer to my PG (Paying Guest accommodation) as ‘home’, which itself reveals how attached I already am!

So, I thought I’d put together a list of five things I love about Bengaluru. I suppose this is one way of celebrating my first year here and showing my love for this awesome city! Well, here goes!

Disclaimer: The opinions below are based on my experience in Bengaluru and not a generalized view. 

1) The crowd – Yes, that’s right. I actually love the crowd here. It’s (mostly) young, multicultural and varied beyond words. You get to meet people from all walks of life, holding different perceptions, pursuing different interests. I’ve often felt this place is very much a melting pot of cultures, ideas and aspirations. While there maybe quite a few who are from Bengaluru or other parts of Karnataka, a major chunk of the crowd would be from other states/countries. Perhaps, this is why the city has a very special vibe. Or, maybe, it’s just me and my fascination with this place!

2) Welcoming newbies – I know this is purely based on my personal experience. I don’t know how it has been for others but I felt very warmly welcomed right from my first day here. The locals are quite accommodating; I never felt alienated. From my one-year-old perspective, I found them friendly and ready to help. Most people are able to communicate in Hindi or basic English, so, it’s not mandatory to know Kannada, the local language.

3)  The restaurants/cafes – I love (read: love love love) the myriad restaurants and cafes that dot the city! From quaint coffee shops to elaborate restaurants, there’s every kind and cuisine to choose from. Being someone who enjoys restaurant-hopping, I take pleasure in the fact that I could stay here for years and still not run out of options!

4) The climate – I know this is a commonly quoted positive aspect about Bengaluru. But then, this list really wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention about the pleasant and favourable climate the city enjoys throughout the year. Yes, it can get hot in the summer but not as much as in some of the neighbouring states. Guess what? This summer has been pretty much a mixture of rainy, cool days and bearable, hot days! I don’t always enjoy rain (unless I’m in..uhh..a mood for it). Cloudy, dull days and messy, dirty streets just aren’t my thing. On the contrary, I completely love the rain in Bengaluru. The sky clears up almost instantly after a downpour,  even the cloudy instances are kinda nice. Although the rain can be a nuisance sometimes, I can’t help feeling a sort of liking for it.

5) Kannada – This might sound slightly weird. But I’ve grown to love the language. And, trust me, that’s not usual. I’m actually very eager, not to mention determined, to learn Kannada. I love the way it sounds. I have noticed that the locals have a sense of pride when it comes to their language and customs. But then, it’s a not a pride that imposes itself on or looks down upon others. They love their land, language and traditions but are open enough to let others follow their own. Which is really mature and broad-minded, I feel.

So, that’s just a few things I love about Bengaluru. To be honest, I could really ramble on. But I’m sure I’ve said enough for one super-long post!

If you’re at Bengaluru, do let me know what you think! Or you could just tell me what you love about your current city. 🙂