29 Years
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Book Nook

Monday, December 15, 2014

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Web of Murakami Magic
Haruki Murakami’s last book 1Q84 was such an astounding achievement in fantasy fiction, his millions of fans must have wondered what he would next. The writer of such contemporary masterpieces as Kafka On The Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle has never failed to awe and delight.

The Japanese writer’s books have been translated into dozens of languages, and for a while now, his name pops up every year as a possible candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Perhaps his huge popularity and relative ‘youth’ (he is just 65) comes in the way.

His latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, has all the elements familiar to Murakami readers (including bits of erotica), but it is also simpler in structure and more accessible than some of the earlier books. Maybe that will get him readers in even larger numbers— there have been grumbles about his plots being too complicated and his mysteries unresolved.

Colourless sold sold a million copies in a week in Japan—a record many writers would kill for—and rave reviews too. Philip Gabriel’s English translation has kept the book on the bestseller list for months.

It is about the kind of adolescent trauma that many must have gone through and grown out of. But the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is unable to forget a slight, and his life comes to a halt.  At school, Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends, who, oddly enough, had names that had a colour in them—the two boys were called Akamatsu (red pine) and Oumi (blue sea), and the girls were were Shirane (white root) and Kurono (black field). Tazaki was the only one who lacked a colour and was the odd one out—if it weren’t for him, the group would have kind of symmetry, but they think of themselves as the five fingers of a hand.

One day his friends decide never to talk to him or see him ever again. Without giving any reason or explanation, they cut him out of their lives.

Tsukuru, whose name means ‘to make’ is obsessed with train stations and after completing his education finds his dream job, building and refurbishing stations. He has no other ambition in life and just one as yet unexpressed desire—to find out why his friends threw him out of their circle. The trauma caused him such crippling despair that he nearly committed suicide.

With great difficulty he befriends another young man, Haida, whose name means ‘gray field’, also a name with a colour. Haida and he swim together and the new buddy introduces him classical music. The strains of Le Mal du Pays, reminds him of the past, since Shiro used to play this piece on the piano. Then Haida vanishes too, leaving Tsukuru alone with his pain and bafflement.

Finally, it is girlfriend Sara who prods him to go on and connect with his old friends again and ask them why they banished him. To push him off the wall of self-pity that he has built around himself, the practical and efficient Sara traces the friends using the internet and gives him the nudge he needed to embark on his ‘pilgrimage’ to search for the truth. She realises that till he finds out the reason for his abandonment, he won’t be healed and their relationship will be doomed.

This time Murakami does not take the surreal or ambiguous route and actually lets Tsukuru find out what happened. Over the pages the reader comes to care for ‘colourless’ Tsukuru Tazaki, even if his self-inflicted misery would have been exasperating, were it not for Murakami’s gentle treatment of his conflicted protagonist.

Still, Tsukuru with his ordinariness and humility is one of Murakami’s most endearing characters, and this book compulsively readable. If a reader is entering the world of Murakami for the first time, then maybe Tsukuru’s story makes for a good introduction.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 386

Extract from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage
“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying. He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed – becoming an adult – meant nothing. Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step. Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death. But method was beside the point. If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life. For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby.

I really should have died then, Tsukuru often told himself. Then this world, the one in the here and now, wouldn’t exist. It was a captivating, bewitching thought. The present world wouldn’t exist, and reality would no longer be real. As far as this world was concerned, he would simply no longer exist – just as this world would no longer exist for him.

At the same time, Tsukuru couldn’t fathom why he had reached this point, where he was teetering over the precipice. There was an actual event that had led him to this place – this he knew all too well – but why should death have such a hold over him, enveloping him in its embrace for nearly half a year? Envelop – the word expressed it precisely. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowels of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant void.

It was as if he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it. When the sun rose, so would Tsukuru – he’d brush his teeth, throw on whatever clothes were at hand, ride the train to college, and take notes in class. Like a person in a storm desperately grasping at a lamppost, he clung to this daily routine. He only spoke to people when necessary, and after school, he would return to his solitary apartment, sit on the floor, lean back against the wall, and ponder death and the failures of his life. Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core. All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.

When he wasn’t thinking about death, his mind was blank. It wasn’t hard to keep from thinking. He didn’t read any newspapers, didn’t listen to music, and had no sexual desire to speak of. Events occurring in the outside world were, to him, inconsequential. When he grew tired of his room, he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood or went to the station, where he sat on a bench and watched the trains arriving and departing, over and over again.

He took a shower every morning, shampooed his hair well, and did the laundry twice a week. Cleanliness was another one of his pillars: laundry, bathing, and teeth brushing. He barely noticed what he ate. He had lunch at the college cafeteria, but other than that, he hardly consumed a decent meal.
When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables. Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton. When it was time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine. Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep. He never dreamed. But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the void.

Readers Recommendation
By Vidya Sridhar

Never Give Up
A wonderful book, Courage Beyond Compare, on the struggles and accomplishments of differently- abled sportspersons was launched recently.

Co-authored by accomplished national badminton coach Sanjay Sharma and his daughter Medini Sharma,  it chronicles the inspiring journeys of ten differently-abled sporting champs who overcame their handicap with single-minded determination, discipline and focus on their goals.

The book has a chapter on the indomitable Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who was blind in one eye and who ably captained India in international cricket, giving India some of its most glorious sporting moments in history, in spite of his handicap.

This book also assumes special significance because it highlights quite emphatically the ugly side of para sport.  Paraplegic players, for example,  lament the absence of attendants at international venues. With no one to help them reach the toilets or sporting venues, it adversely affects their performance, while the sports officials conveniently get their own family members on board these foreign trips through underhand methods so that they can enjoy an all expenses paid vacaction!

What do you make of the logic of the authorities that wouldn’t fund even air-plane tickets or other expenses to these participants? The disparity is as striking in the cash awards to medal-winning ‘normal’ sportspersons and the differently- abled ones who are unjustly awarded far less prize monies and oftentimes none at all!

And these are not just any sportspeople. Some have won silver, gold and bronze at the International Paralympic competitions, no less. Yet, many among them are not even acknowledged nationally or at the state level even after achieving international accolades. Promises are made but rarely kept.  

Accounts of the brave soldier Nir Bahadur Gurung of the Gurkha Regiment, post spinal injury , is a case in point. Gurung, who is ready to shed his blood for the country even today and whose patriotism shines like a beacon, is humiliatingly questioned about his domicile and Statehood.

Surprisingly, the underlying motif of this book still remains the spirit of indefatigable hope in the face of terrifying adversity and these are stories that must be told and shared.

Their feats assume even greater proportions when one learns that many of them insisted on competing with their able-bodied competitors and came out tops.

These are ordinary mortals, with human fears and failings but they could achieve the extra-ordinary, because,  unlike the majority of us, they decided to discover their strengths and develop them, making their disabilities seem insignificant in comparison. It was not easy. They had to train harder, factor-in their handicaps and rein in their emotions in the face of the insensitivity and the lack of encouragement and emerge triumphant in spite of them.

The book is replete with amazing albeit heart-rending anecdotes in the life of each player. Take for instance, the episode of the fire-brand wheelchair bound Malathi Holla, who had to make an arduous train journey from her hometown down south to the Capital and thereafter on being confronted by a doubting ex Prime-Minister Manmohan Singh, she gaves him an earful. It makes you wonder at her fearlessness.

Holla’s bitter experiences with the spineless and non-committal do not, however, mar her sunshine view of life. She runs a care home for unfortunate children and is well loved and respected.

Or take the heart-warming story of how love blossomed between Farman Basha and his wife. Love is a wonderful gift, a mystery even and Basha’s story epitomises this. The selfless sacrifices of his wife, so that he can keep up with his sport are unmatched. Then, there is the story of  Rajaram Ghag, the paraplegic champion  who swam The Strait of Gibralter as well as the English Channel and  was never given a State or National award or even a house as promised. He and his brothers had to struggle for funds, for his swimming gear and his travel expenses at every stage.

The story of Murlikant Petkar is a gem, replete with the high adrenaline of the incredible incidents in his life, like that of his losing his memory and regaining it in true filmy style.  The amazing episode of Petkar winning a lottery on the morning of his failed suicide attempt, could give a Milkha or a Mary Kom cinematic representation, a thorough run for its money.

A blurb by Salman Khan on the back cover and an emotional foreword by Prakash Padukone  make for powerful arguments in favour of these magnificent men and women. In addition, the book highlights the daily humiliations the disabled face for want of simple infrastructure like ramps, for example, the provision of which can make their lives a little easier. This book also doubles as a forceful plea to the authorities to award the long overdue recognition to these wonderful sportsmen who have been overlooked for far too long.

 This book should be made compulsory reading in schools. Each of these heart-rending stories take the meaning of human endurance to a level never imagined before. Each one of these gems would make a fine well-received film and would likely inspire a wider audience and hopefully stir the conscience of the law makers.

Courage Beyond Compare
by Sanjay Sharma and Medini Sharma
Published by Rupa & Co.
Pages: 280

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