Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Alchemy of Desire – Tarun J. Tejpal

I found this book in a bookshop selling used books. There were 2 copies left on a big table, among other books. The name and the author were completely unknown to me but the first and the last sentence convinced me to buy it and I’ve never regretted. The pic of the book I got from the internet, as the book in itself is no longer in my possession.

If I were to make an analogy I would say this book is like a circle. It starts and ends in perfect symmetry. It is a mix of passion, desire, philosophy, mystery and love, seasoned with a pinch of politics and a peak into the Indian culture – a love story set in an exotic land, a house with a mysterious past and a secret that will tear through the almost perfect bohemian life of the two characters like a sharp knife.
The main character is a young Indian writer caught between two worlds, one filled with desire for his beautiful wife and the other with attempts at writing a book. As the story gradually unfolds it becomes a struggle to balance the two and in the end, it takes a heartbreaking decision to finally find the much needed inspiration and to discover that in order to create, he must sacrifice everything else.

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 6 Comments

Thou shall be tempted, many times over

Apart from going to the gym, the next golden rule that worked for me was no sweets. That means staying away from chocolate (oh, that’s tough!) cakes, candies and the like. I’m not a fan of soft drinks and rarely drink any, so they are not a problem.

What to do then, when somebody gives them to you? Do you refuse politely or do you take it and silently decide to get rid of them at the earliest opportunity? I can tell you what I did: I took them, a glass filled with assorted candies, placed them on my desk and stared at them for a while, until a “brilliant” idea crossed my mind. Before I knew it, I was sorting them out to see which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. There were a few chocolate candies (of course!) and those I placed on top of the others, thinking I shall give them away at the earliest opportunity. Alas, my hand was faster than my brain and soon enough I was eating the first one, then looking for another that was the same and so on, until there were no more chocolate candies. I had eaten half a tall glass worth of candies.


Later edit: My landlady dropped by and she brought a present. Can you guess what it was? Pretty obvious by now, but in case you have any doubts, the pic should help.

It’s not fair.

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Thou shall be punished for thy eagerness

Every plan to lose weight invariably starts with a trip at the gym. There is no other way. The word diet makes me cringe and the prospect of having only toast and fruit for breakfast is unappealing to me. I’m the kind of person who would rather eat a regular sized portion and compensate by working out more, than trying to eat less.

I found a gym close to the place I live and so, a few times a week I was planning to devote about 2 hours at a time to getting back into shape. My plan was to lose a few kilos, not more, as I have learned my lesson this time and try to fix the “damage” before it becomes too difficult. Getting rid of 3-4 kilos is infinitely easier than trying to lose 12.

And so my journey begins.

The first day at the gym I familiarized myself with the machines and got advice from the trainers. How to start, how many sets to do on the weight lifting machines, and so on. The next day I was back for more and everything seemed to go as planned. On the morning of the third day I could barely get out of bed. Every muscle in my legs seemed to cry out in pain. Was it the aerobic class or the ab routine that brought such torture? It must have been the combination, and for an out of shape body like mine, it was simply too much.

A few days later and feeling considerably better, I went again. I did some cardio exercises, trying out the elliptical machine, then went to yoga. Now, I have been to yoga more or less regularly for the past few months at another place, but this was totally another level. For starters it was in an air-conditioned room and trying to bend and twist with the cold air blowing at you is not an easy task. It was actually painful. The yoga classes I had taken before were always at room temperature and this helped greatly with the level of flexibility.

The next day I was in pain again. The muscles in my lower legs seemed so tightly stretched that going down the stairs was quite an adventure. Time for a break.

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A Face in The Crowd

The other cars went by faster and faster. Her hair was being whipped back and forth across her face and no matter how hard she tried, securing it into place looked like a futile task. She glanced over at the other cars passing by, with people inside, wondering where they all go and if it’s somewhere nice and cozy like a home or a gathering of friends or some unpleasant meeting with the new boss or an overdue visit at the mother in law. Once or twice she spied a strange face staring at her intently from the window of a passing car. It appeared and disappeared before she could take a good look at it, and she felt pricked by the needle of curiosity. When the traffic slowed down for a short while, she was able to notice the woman’s round face with the hair pulled back so severely it almost looked like a second skin, revealing a large forehead.

She was a little annoyed by that look and stared back, but before she got to see the reaction of the woman, the car moved along taking the woman’s face with it. The noise of the street distracted her for a while, the motorcycles speeding by, one almost colliding with a tuk-tuk that had decided to stop just then on the side of the road, without warning. Her eyes wandered and the face of that strange woman appeared again, on the passenger window of a black Mercedes crawling along in the traffic. This time she could just make out the big eyes and full mouth before the car moved along. Was it anger in the woman’s eyes, or just a questioning look, she couldn’t be sure. All she knew was that nobody had stared at her like that and she didn’t like it, not one bit. It was almost like the guy across from her, stealing a glance every now and then when he thought she wouldn’t notice. She caught his eyes once and stared at him defiantly and he blinked rapidly and looked away.

Her phone rang and she fumbled with the purse before she found it and pushed the answering button. Whoever it was, had already hung up – wrong number probably.

Her eyes went back to watch the spectacle of the street: a motorcycle carrying a whole family, the father driving and a little boy in front of him, mother at the back with a baby in her arms, sandwiched between her and the driver. Only the man was wearing a helmet, a bright blue one, with the visor pushed back, like a knight getting ready for the tournament. Right behind came a woman pushing a food cart, a big rope of sausages swinging with the movement. Who would want to buy that, she always wondered and as usual, there was no answer. She tried to think back, to remember if she had actually seen anybody buying that kind of food from the street and couldn’t remember a single time.

A gray van approached, its windows tinted black, the face of the woman painted on its windows. This time she tried to take a good look and she found the woman frowning at her, then the face melted into sadness. Who are you and why are you sad, she wanted to ask but before she could think of anything else, her stop had come and she was getting off, not resisting one last look at the face in the window, maybe to say good-bye. She smiled, and the woman smiled too and before she knew it, the grey van had disappeared into the rushing madness.

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The Mango Tree

The best way to look at the mango tree was from the bedroom balcony.  From that spot she could see the leaves and the yellow moss-like flowers that seemed to adorn it almost like Christmas decorations, hanging down here and there at irregular intervals.

That was also her favorite reading spot, with the red canvas chair that could be lowered so that her back nestled comfortably and she could put her feet up on the concrete railing. In the evenings, when the leaves whispered invitingly, she used to sit there with a good book and let the breeze caress her tired body.

Late one night a big storm shook the mango tree, making it weep and bend until the branches got dangerously close to the window and she was afraid the rain would break it or lightning would strike it down but it never did and the tree always came through. Sometimes she touched the leaves, wanting to feel their smooth, thin surface under her fingers, to feel their texture. It felt good to do that, and the tree didn’t seem to mind.

In the cold season the tree started to drip, an invisible essence that made the front yard dales sticky and difficult to sweep. That was when the mangoes started to ripen and she would look up expectantly, hoping to see the tiny fruit that would grow to hang, plump and heavy and green and later on yellow, on the thin branches, making them beg under the weight. There weren’t that many fruits, and every year she hoped the tree would let her taste one and every year they fell before their time. She would find them, tiny and shriveled, in the high grass that grew at the tree’s feet, little hard pebbles just starting to curl in the shape of the mango they were supposed to grow into later. But they never did. Then Christmas would come and she would look up at the tree and at the other mango tree across the street who was bearing fruit, the green turning to yellow, ripe and ready, and she would sigh with sadness and say, maybe next year. Then one more year would pass, and then another and the mango tree did not bear one single fruit to ripeness.

One cool day, when the mango tree was all pretty with the tiny yellow flowers, the landlady came to cut the tree. She wanted to bury the small green island with the mango tree in the middle under a grave of concrete, that all-encompassing tomb which covers all trace of life. The woman pleaded, saying the house would not be the same without the tree and its shadow, and the landlady decided it was too much of a hassle anyway and gave in. And so the tree continued to live and breathe in the heavy air of the day and give a nice breeze in the evenings.

That year there seemed to be more birds in the mornings and a cooler breeze in the evenings. The tiny mangoes did not fall and she watched them with great expectation and joy. Not one fell before its time and there came one morning when the tree was heavy with fruit and she hoped to taste the rich sweet heavy flesh.

That night she dreamed she was in the mango tree and was picking the fruits one by one. There was nowhere to put them but none fell from her hands. It seemed like there were so many, as if an inexhaustible row of sweet smelling fruit was being pushed under her hands, just for her. She took one and bit into its soft flesh, her teeth sinking into the sweet, buttery fruit, the juice dripping on her right hand and down to her elbow. She felt somehow elated, like tasting a new and exotic fruit for the first time, and she kept eating until there wasn’t a single yellow fruit left. She woke up suddenly, the taste of anticipation in her mouth, and went to the doors leading to the balcony. Daylight was painting the sky a soft pink glow, and in the first few rays of the sun, she saw it nestled in the dry leaves on the ground, plump and big and yellow and she could feel the sweet taste in her mouth, left over from her feast the night before.

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