Felt Nothing


Their tongues lashed out, those memories
Those city lanes and the vapid, rapid transformation
Of a square into a circle-
It was gone in a crisp second
As if the strands of my life decided
To weave themselves and all around me
A plane descended- straightened, stiffened, deadened

I grazed my thigh, becoming a stranger to myself
The touch felt alien, disconnected
Like I was vibrating with uncertainty
Getting ready to scatter my atoms through the air
It was not a question of existing anymore
It was not a question at all

And that was when I knew
I felt nothing.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


*Spoiler Alert: I let my thoughts free-flow down below*

There was something about this book that brought me back to it, after all these years. I thought about how long this book had been on the top of my favourites and yet, the reasons why that was true were fading from my mind. So I picked up my tattered copy again and read. And when I finished I knew that this time, with the consciousness of a full grown adult, this book would stay etched inside me forever. There is something so powerful about Gone With the Wind that no other book can compete with it in my mind.

It is only in retrospection, that you realize that Gone With the Wind is, in essence, a love story. Until you’re done turning the very last page, all you can appreciate is the perfection with which the novel captures every complex emotion that can ever exist. Love, loss, hatred, death, pain, hunger, hatred, jealousy, selflessness, ruthlessness, dedication, honor, hopelessness, despair, longing- I cannot think of a single emotion that I ever felt that is not covered within these 1000-odd pages. To even try and summarize something so rich and complex, is akin to pulling at the threads of humanity’s entire existence.

The beautiful country belle Scarlett O’Hara has one thing on her mind: the heiress to acres of cotton fields of one of Georgia’s best plantations, she has been raised to capture men with a host of fine airs and graces which men seem to like. She can have anyone she wants but like a child, her eyes are set on one dreamy-eyed young man she can never hope to understand. Even as the worst she could then imagine starts to take shape, something far worse rears its ugly head across the horizon- the Civil War. Caught between death, illness, destruction and fear, she fights to fight against the few things she can discern with every fibre of her being. Her constant contradiction within herself is a fight between her distinct maternal and paternal inheritance. And soon, everything she had ever known starts to crumble around her, leaving the reins in her hand.

The ruthless Rhett Butler is a self-made man but not the kind Southern hospitability would ever allow into their drawing rooms. In Scarlett he finds something he never thought to see in a charming, well-bred young lady: a fight for life, childish desires breaking her apart from the inside. And so he adds gently to the storm brewing around her, lifting her on the crest of a wave she doesn’t even see.

Their never-ending tussle and their presence in each other’s lives is at the heart of this breathtaking piece but surrounding it are questions of morality, of vitality, freedom, peace, love, humanity- questions of existence itself. What would you do if your whole world is torn apart and you are left to rebuild from scratch? If every little thing you hold so dear is shown to be worthless by your conquerors and your way of life challenged with a brutality that puzzles you? Would you throw back your head and fight fearlessly and unscrupulously like Rhett and Scarlett or fall back, knowing you do not belong in this new world like Ashley or be a shield for your loved ones, acting as a bulwark against everything they love, without questioning their motives, like Melanie?

And yet, by the time I turned over the last page, what stayed with me the most was not the horrifying sunlit scene of Melanie’s torturous childbirth at the inexperienced hands of Scarlett O’Hara, nor the long and hard months of hunger-struck toil with which Scarlett rebuilds her plantation into a modest farm, nor her months of work at the lumbermill while pregnancy bloats her figure, nor her widowhoods or her marriage to Rhett or the miscarriage or the loss of her favourite child. What hits the most is in the end- how beautifully the loose ends of her life come together, woven into a picture she can finally read. How much sense it all makes, the wrongs that seem right: the light in Rhett’s eyes, her long and hazy thoughts about Ashley and her hatred for Melanie- they’re pointing her home! That is when you hope with her and you forgive her her long list of errors because she was driven by the horrors that swept through her. She was a child put into a terrible world and left to fend for so many people. She who had been trained for balls and men-baiting and eye-batting and wearing silk gowns and having stays keep her waist at eighteen inches! You see how her defenses had sprung up and you forgive her yet in the end all that is left for her is her adage, ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day’.

Rather than a review, this post became a sort of musing. I cannot explain why this book has such a hold on my body and soul. I think it is because every paragraph paints such a picture and the pieces of Scarlett’s life are so complex, so real and solid. The scenes stay with me, the characters stay with me, their stories fill my heart with love and sadness, their struggles become my reality and the excuses they gave, the way of life they supported becomes a helpless blotch on history’s page.

I shall return to Gone With the Wind over and over again, as long as I live, this I know.

My Eyes Are So Open


My eyes are so open now
I put the midnight blues to shame
And blowing in the wind I turn
Out that fiery flame

My eyes are so open now
I twist rotten lies around
Until in the books I read it seems
Are the only conflicts I found

My eyes are so open now
I can look right at the sun
And tell it to find another skin
For mine is hard to burn

My eyes are so open now
I feel emotions fly by
And I don’t question their existence
Just snap away at the ties

My eyes are so open
And yet I forget
Amidst the rising waves of dust
That twilight turns to night
I’m still whispering at the cosmos
Hoping vibrations in the dusk
Will carry through the expansive space
And make the stars twinkle bright.

Someplace New


Take me to someplace new
Where the roaring ocean mixes
White and grey within itself
And the sky is silent like the poem
I’ll write under it’s sullen gaze

Take me to someplace new
Where my tame heart can breathe out
Wild fumes of flaming smoke
And I can watch the world raise itself
To the edge of a promise

Take me to someplace new
Where cotton flower turns gently
Into the whispers of the wind
And ever so often the country breaks
Into a melody freshly churned

Take me to someplace new
Fuse darkness into something magical
Let our sorrows enchant the gods themselves
Until tears of madness rain down
And drench us we’re clean again.

A

Lens of Lies


My thoughts were born in tangents
They were pools of reflections
And darkened in the mirrors
I knew I didn’t beget them

I was whispering to the wind
A fool
Cowardly to scream my fears aloud
I stitched them in a bag and stuffed
My lungs until it blocked the sound

I writhed in my dreams
I turned my body inside out to show
The world the bloody stream
That twisted knots within my soul

I snapped the wires of peace and controlled
The strands with just my mind
I strangled every little detail grown
In the danger of that vile fight

I strode outside, a calm without
A screaming woman within
And from the centre of that sound
I began to rebuild my dreams

The hazier the world the more
I longed to hold it in my arms
And cradle like a little babe
The haunting cries of people long gone

I simmered on the surface
I broke upon my life
And with wondrous eyes, inspected
The world beyond that lens of lies

Horizon Ends


If i were stuck
In the spaces between your fingers
Digging in too deep
Raving on about the pine trees
I grew between

If I were mobile like a shooting star
On the crossroads between your life
Spitting out fire
Showing off the tiny sparks
That made us

If I were perfect
An evening wind for your summer
Whispering beautiful truths
Caressing the burnt skin
That hurt your shoulder

If I were all that
Would you follow my buzzing thoughts
And meet me where the horizon ends?

Unfrozen


The first time I opened my eyes
And  you were standing there
I saw a mirror whisper back
A face of scarlet fear

I didn’t know that one hello
Would strike me like a sword
And strings of silvery emotions
Would stir a lovely chord

And I knew I would forget you
In the haze of buzzing life
As the world was flaming, tearing through
My stomach like a knife

The men I saw, songs I sang
Echoed on the brink of night
Like twinkling stars, the stories I heard
Just lent a little warm light

The taste of coppery blood in my mouth
And I forgot why I was stranded here
A wave of pulsating memories gone
And it was hard to shed a single tear

On the crest of a new day
I met you in a dream
There was a vague anticipation emptying from the sky
And like a winter river I froze, prepared to say goodbye

The summer sun shines down upon
This flat and long city again
And somehow as my skin turns brown
I simply stock away the pain

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


“Little solace comes
to those who grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.”

By far one of the oddest books I’ve read, House of Leaves was full of stories wrapped within one another. It transformed from horror to thriller to romance to drama with astonishing speed- growing, diminishing and distorting itself. Its text was unusually placed- a fact that sometimes annoyed me, sometimes made me indignant about all that lost paper. But then, when pages upon pages of text at one point required me to spin the book in all directions, I realized how ingenious the book was at that point; by making me turn it all around, it made me unsure about which way was UP, to begin with. And that aligned perfectly with its purpose.

House of Leaves began by giving me two sleepless nights. As I delved into the initial pages, a growing horror began to fill me. This is the story of a couple who, along with their two children, move into a house that expands from the inside, told through the analysis of a film that does not seem to exist, written by a blind man who would not be able to watch it even if it did, edited by another man who is fighting strong demons inside his own head.

I spent most of the book contemplating the story of the Navidsons- the couple in the house. They begin by measuring a small anomaly, that seems fixable: the difference of one-fourth of an inch in the measurements of their house taken from the inside and the outside. But soon the house has expanded into corridors and hallways on the inside, followed by winding staircases, rooms and even more hallways and corridors. The catch is that these insides absorb everything that is fed into them. Devoid of light and completely unconquerable by any object, animate or inanimate.And permeated by the ever-present deep growl running through its length and breadth.

It is strange how frightening the absence of everything really can be. We long for peace and love and freedom from tumult but the alternative is so much more frightening. Having to live monotonously with the guarantee of tomorrow cannot be a tempting prospect. The horror of House of Leaves lies in that. The endlessness of the corridors in Navidson’s house is compounded by the absolute lack of an objective or any sort of…conclusion.There was nothing to attach identity to. Not the way we humans have a tendency to lend personality to everything we see around us. The closure we seek through life’s constant struggles proves our need to be delivered from anarchy, our need to find order in the chaos and ignore everything that does not point to a culmination.  And that was the reality of this book, the very fact that made me feel temporarily disoriented, caught up within layers of my own thoughts and squeezed until I was unsure of everything, including myself.

And yet, a comical element overtook my fear when men with ropes descended into the growing darkness of the house. It was then that my fear finally dissipated and I progressed with the book more naturally, judging its flaws and absorbing its essence.

After a while I began to see how House of Leaves was just another book, open to my interpretations. The alleged writers- whether it was the blind old man or the troubled young one were dicey. One was plagued by his need to sound academic and officious whilst he quoted sources that did not exist and documented items picked up randomly. The other was haunted by a childhood brutally seized and a heredity illness coursing through his veins. These authors through whose eyes we saw the Navidsons, were ill-equipped to lay bare the whole truth. And that added another layer of uncertainty to the story.

As the story progressed, however, the comical angles lost themselves in its folds once again. There was a perversity in this book that halted my progress. I was forced to give it up for a while. I was rooting for Navidson as he traversed endless hallways with his diminishing resources. Did he take the blank identity of the house into himself or did the house adopt his blackness to create hollow spaces? And when his flickering flame finally dies, having eaten up everything he had, I hoped that was the end. But he emerged and persisted, which perhaps, means something of hope for humanity. But it was finally towards the end that I saw how this book’s heart did lie in a love story, because above and beyond the standard plot was the story of how a woman’s love refused to let her draw away into safety and a man’s love brought him out of the folds of adventure, allowing him to embrace the monotony of life, even if it came at a prize.

But some of the nuggets of the story lie at the very end. If you break through the collection of poems (which are quite interesting, by the way), one of the appendices will leave you with a bunch of letters written from a slowly spiraling mother to her son, whom she longs to hold and love and be with. Yet her insanity drives her further away from him, she sees his beauty adrift in a world of horror. As she gasps for air, clutches at straws and tries to make sense of things that make no sense, she recalls her attempts to put an end to the life she once beget, just because the horrors of life seem too much for her to let him face. And once you turn those last pages, your heart is left with a sense of despondency. The essence of those letters are still echoing inside me

The horror of House of Leaves will only stay with you as long as you let it. This is the sort of horror that scares me the most: nameless and faceless, fighting void is the hardest thing to do because there is nothing solid for your hands to close against and squeeze.

Create


I want to grow cities and birds
And art and music
And rumbling thunder
And tumbling boulders

I want to raise citadels on mountaintops
And topsy-turvy rattling windows
On tiny walls
Where ivy and centipedes crawl across

I want to build towers
Watch sunrises from their isolated heights
I want to make the world
Like putty for a child

I want to make something
Out of nothing
And watch possibilities yawn open

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing


I’ve read a number of books this year, but I haven’t been tempted into reviewing any of them as much as I have The Golden Notebook. The reason, I believe, is that this book has been driving me crazy for the past week- and that is how long it took me to slowly process it in its entirety. I am still so sure I did not get it but if somebody were to order me to read it again, I would perceive that as a nightmare.

And the reason I am saying this, is not because the book is not good enough to read- once, that is. There are a lot of different layers to it and as Doris Lessing says in her preface, when she receives letters from readers they each interpret the theme differently- some talk about the bitter relationship between men and women the world over, others mention the communism along with its good and bad and still others discern the pattern of slowly spiraling madness. She argues how we narrow down our interpretation of a piece we read- as both, readers and writers, we have a certain idea of what we are looking at when we behold a creation and we understand it best as something structured, with a theme running through it.

It is possible to recognize now, how this book tries to defy that structure- it is neither here, nor there but a collection of bits and pieces that come together to make something readable. How to draw conclusions from this mess is left to the imagination of the reader. The pattern of this book (and I only went back to the preface after I was done with the entire story) is in the form of a novella which is scattered through segments. You can easily read this novella, skipping the diaries in between and know what Anna’s life story is supposed to be. But between each bit of the novella, lies fragments of Anna’s life, told through her diaries. She has color-coded these diaries, perhaps in order to find some pattern in her drifting life. She maintains different colors to talk about different things- politics, writing, emotions and day-to-day occurrences. I think, like most of us, she is trying really hard to give order to the chaos.

And so she writes about the years of the second world war, which she spent in Central Africa as a budding white communist trying to fight the injustices of slavery by clinging to the idealism of a passionate political ideology. These were the parts I enjoyed the most. The description of a group of young white people in a world which is not entirely their own, struggling to work on the fringes. There is a beautiful laziness in this part of Anna’s diaries and I find myself caught up in the humid, bug-infested climate of Anna’s past.

When she writes about her writing, she creates another character- Ella, and delves into her story. To a great extent, Ella is like Anna, the protagonist. And this connection makes it easier, at first, to go into the fiction within fiction- Ella’s world runs parallel to Anna’s and her love life, which is the center of that plot, reflects five years from Anna’s own life.

But as you read deeper, the pieces start mixing up and when you are left with the last fifty pages, everything is so befuddling, you start to feel as though the book has crawled under your own skin. If this was its purpose, it succeeded with flying colors. The words are so crowded together that every time I put the book away and attempted to sleep, I found words and plots floating in my head- things that had nothing to do with the book or with me, but were entirely new ideas, most of which flitted past like they already do. But this was driving me crazy, more so than it was Anna, and for that reason, I was so glad when I turned the last page of the book and sighed with relief.

Doris’s writing style was a little crammed- words were nearly toppling over one another. I felt as though the publisher either wanted to save all the paper they could and so instructed her to put words as close together as they could go, or that she decided that since she wanted to defy the pattern of the conventional novel, this cramming was the best way to assist her readers in spotting the patterns. Whichever it was, the book gave me an eyesore.

At numerous places I found myself thinking, ‘Who talks like that?’, about Anna and a dozen other characters in the narrative. It is easy to let images form in your head when you’re reading descriptions, but for The Golden Notebook, every image I conjured seemed to give me a headache, imagined or otherwise.

There are gems of words and thoughts hidden within the folds of the endless paragraphs of this book. Reading the synopsis of The Golden Notebook is so tempting, one cannot wait to get one’s hands on the original. But if you really let the book get to you, and by that I mean, that you read every word and wait for it to sink in, you cannot come out of it without at least an angry gash across your soul.

So I would recommend reading this book at your own peril. I know that any reader is likely to hate or love this book. Or perhaps, like me you’d find yourself hating a book that taught you quite a lot, made you go, ‘oh how well she has understood everything I am likely to feel at that age’, when you read the bitter woman saga and filled you with a despondency that seems to have no basis whatsoever.

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