Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

What would you do when the family who you cannot be with anymore, comes back to you? What will you do when their ghosts join you in the garden for a conversation? Will you flee them, or will you think that you need medical attention? The ghosts of Thomas Eapen’s family came to him, and he sat down to have a chat. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob has an interesting premise to say the least.

sleepwalkersguidetodancing

When Amina’s mother tells her of her father’s conversations with his dead mother, she flies home to Albuquerque to check on him. Life at home is not easy. It’s difficult to convince Thomas, a brain surgeon, that his hallucinations are enough cause to not put the lives of patients in his hands. Her mother Kamala however has better things on her mind, like the long pending marriage of her daughter. However when Thomas begins to become consumed with visions of their dead son Akhil in their garden, even Kamala is forced to make decisions.

Life has not always been easy for the Eapens. When Thomas brought Kamala and Akhil to America for a better future, his polarized his mother and brother. A family visit to India for a vacation leaves sour taste as the differences between them only seem to grow larger with the amount of time spent away from each other. A violent outburst leads to early departure for the Eapens, but comes back to haunt Thomas when a fire razes down the house with the family in it. His last memory of the family is the fight that made him leave mid-vacation.

Akhil is a headstrong teen who cannot come to terms with how things are. He continues to grow emotionally detached from the family, and finds comfort in his girlfriend, who sees the caring heart in him. Good times however are not long lived as an accident takes Akhil away from the family. His death becomes the start of the transformation of the family members.

The story jumps between three different times, with Amina being the constant point of view through them all, a reference through which we can see how the family members change. Amina is however not without demons of her own. A professional photographer, her claim to fame was a perfectly timed picture of a man jumping to his death. Her dealing with this brings back memories of her dealing with Akhil’s death when she had started to learn photography.

The story interweaves the three times intricately. Which is why when the story moves from Thomas and his brother Sunil’s fights in 1970’s to present day hallucinations of Thomas in the 90’s, and back to Akhil’s death because of Narcolepsy in the 80’s; it seems like a natural interweaving of story arcs. A river breaking into different branches, which along its length continue to meet and move away on their paths.

The book is an emotional telling about family. One of the key emotions in the book is that of regret. The regret of not being able to be a brother or son’s keeper, of not being able to pursue something of passion, and even the regret of not being understood. The reader goes through the same emotional turmoil as the characters in the book. A turmoil that takes seed and slowly grows till it begins to throttle them slowly.

The slow descent of Thomas into rejecting medical cure and accepting his hallucinations as a cure to his personal demons is moving. Within itself it is a moving tale of what a straight thinking person is willing to give up, but to look at how his decisions affect those of his family, and peel away the layers to their core, is nothing short of brilliant.

I will leave you with some select quotes from the book:

“We are all we have here. Do you understand? That is it. And we can all talk about old times and Campa Cola and wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back, but none of us ever want to go back. To what? To who? Our own families can’t even stand us for longer than a few days! No, we are home already, like it or not,”

“Weddings are about fantasies—you understand? Your job is to photograph the fantasy, not the reality. Never the reality. If I ever see another picture like that, you’re fired.”

“He’s fine,” Kamala said. “It’s not like that. You’re not listening.” “I am listening! You just told me he’s delusional, and I’m asking—” “I DID NOT SAY HE IS DELUSIONAL. I SAID HE WAS TALKING TO HIS MOTHER.” “Who is dead,” Amina said gently. “Obvious.” “And that’s not delusional?”

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Dear Carrot Tyrant

I came across Shail Mohan in my early days of blogging around 2005 or 2006. Back then we used to blog on Yahoo! 360 (which was sadly shut down by the folks at Yahoo!). One of my early memories is that of her coming in my dream as a lecturer in college, who proceeded to order me to eat carrots as they are good for eyes. You may call her the Carrot Tyrant for that, but be prepared for any red bricks that come flying your way.

Dear Shail Di,

When I first saw you on 360, you came across as a person who was generous in the use of virtual red bricks. Soon my curiosity got the better of me, and I started frequenting your blog more. One thing lead to another, and a friend request later you were my adopted blog sister. And what fun times we’ve had since then.

I guess I was lucky that your (formerly) bald sister was in Baroda, which mean we could meet when you made your trips to the city. I loved the dosas you made for me. Having someone cook for you is such a delight, which is why those dosas were extra yum. Come think of it, it was my first trip to Baroda when I came to meet you.

Meeting her in person for the first time
Meeting her in person for the first time

 

What was even better that when you came back again, I had a job. This meant that if I couldn’t host you in my kitchen, I could at least take you out for food. I remember that you didn’t have ice cream, I should probably have had your share instead 😛 .

shailsev

But apart from the meeting in person, what we’ve really bonded over has been our conversations. I think you’re responsible for a chunk of my views changing when it comes to feminism. Reading your blog in the early days, made me see things that were so obvious but were either hiding in plain sight, or what I was choosing to be conveniently blind to.

I love your devotion to photography. I now know the names and identification of some birds because of the pictures you take. It is actually refreshing to see someone put in time and effort like this out of choice and not because they have to do it. You’re so lovely that you even brave out to take pictures of chameleons for me, in spite of the fact that you think that they’re icky at best.

When people say that family is not just blood, they are right. We’re example of the family we choose. I have always felt a form of kinship with you in a manner that you’re one of the few select people that I feel strongly about. Which is why I write this letter to you, the closest someone I have to a sibling.

With Love,

Count Santulan.

PS: I am not going to stop with sharing spiders on your wall any time soon. You’re going to have to put up with that for longer 😛

 

Written for 30 days 30 letters prompt: A letter to your sibling (or closest relative).

Other bloggers can share the links to their posts in the linky below:

Dear Mom and Dad

Dad died in an accident when I was about 6 years of age. I have been brought up by mom ever since, juggling job and raising me up. I am writing a letter to both of them.

 

Dear Mom,

This is a letter that you are not going to get to read, at least not for a long time. This is because I am not yet ready to discuss the contents with you in person. It’s not that we’ve not tried before, it’s specifically we’ve tried talking about it before. We feel so strongly about our own stances, which are mutually exclusive that things end up getting heated.

You’ve put in a lot of efforts, many of which are beyond what I would normally expect a parent to. In your defense, I can be a difficult  person to deal with at times. Add to that I come from an entirely different school of thought. I am highly liberal and open about what and who I want. I have always wanted to be defined by my choices, choices which usually lead me to be away from where I am born. Your choices have always been to stick to where you are. I have always been about what I want and you about what you have to.

You do things which you think that are in the long run good for me. Quite a bit of your life has been focused on to shape a future for me, and look out for me. Having done it for so long, it has been your default programming. Which is why I think that no matter how old I get, you will always want to have a protective watch out for me. Remember in an entirely different situation of our life; someone had once said that no matter how much good you want to do for someone, you cannot force good upon them. It has been nearly 15 years since I had heard that, and the idea of it has seeped into me. I cannot write over here the details of the circumstances in which they were said, and I apologize because in doing so I am withholding all that you had to go through with.

What I want to tell you is that I am headstrong about my choices. As much as I like to think that I am gifted in terms of my intellect, I tend to make correspondingly huger mistakes. Some mistakes which on account of repeated occurrences, may take me months to recover fully from. But what good is my own life, if I do not pave for it myself? Even if it means making it difficult. I understand your concern for me, but our opposing manners of thinking have contributed to making you a little bitter. I just hope that in the near future we come to a better understanding of each other, and better acceptance.

Love,
Hrishi.

 

Dear Dad,

Most of my memories with you have been pleasant. The times you got me chocolates, or took me to the park to play on the slides or let me choose the cookies that a spot of jam on them. Since the hospital you worked at was kilometers away from home, I could only get to spend weekends with you. When it came to parenting, you were always the easy parent while mother did most of the disciplining. I guess this is why I would want to more spend time with you. I know realize that as much as it was fun spending time with you, I needed to be guided in the manner mom did. Especially if it required strict parenting.

 

I remember that there were times when I took your easy attitude for granted, and was very unruly with you. Given that we did spend so little time together, I am sorry for that. Just before you died, you had quit your job to setup your own clinic near home. However that would not come to be, and the accident happened. To be honest, for quite a lot of time mom never let me feel that I had a parent short. She cared and provided in a manner that all my needs and quite a number of my wants were taken for.

Given that I was never overly attached to you, I didn’t miss you much. Mom did, for you were her husband. While her job and savings ensured that we didn’t miss a providing family member, your absence lead to other problems. Now that we were ‘alone’, your brothers continued to treat us in the second hand manner that they did. They graduated from that to taking a large amount of what was rightfully mom’s and belonged to us. You could have had the sense to warn her about the kind of dogs your family is.

Some time ago, when I was going through a difficult time I ended up staring at your picture in the house and a line from Harry Potter came to mind to me: “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” The fact that a lot of this could have been different had you not died, makes me feel a little bitter. Sometimes I think how things could have different had mom had someone else in the family apart from me. If there would have been someone else to be there for her, would I have been able to feel freer? I guess it does sound incredibly selfish, but it is my manner of feeling pity on the living.

Love,

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

The irony of this letter doesn’t escape me. I choose not to share what I have written with mom because of my belief that we have tried too much of it already, and failed. I cannot share it dad, because quite simply he isn’t there anymore. When I speak to friends about their parents, their feelings are so much different than mine. D tells me how she feels happiest and safest with her head in her mum’s lap, while another friend tells me how he looks up to the advice his dad gives him. It is not that I don’t remember my happy times with you. I remember how we used play carom on the weekends, and dad would nudge one of my discs into the holes so that I would win. I remember how mum would make ice cream and slush for me when summers would come, so that I wouldn’t fall sick from eating some of the road side stuff. I remember dad holding me down, when I was kicking another doctor, dad had taken me to when I had had jaundice, and he had brought out the injection. The two of you would buy me a toy gun that made rattling noises to cheer me up. I even remember the hours mom would put in to make sweaters for me, or how she took care of me during the vacations I got sick.

But more than that, I do remember the times either of you got angry at me. The times when I was mad with either of you, and as I grew up the times, I get frustrated with mom. Kids like to cuddle up and sleep with parents, finding comfort in their presence. I have always found solace in being away instead. Mom remembers how I would roll away to the side of the bed when I would get sleepy, while other kids would roll to their parents embrace.

I guess this is how we are.

 

 

Written for Day 3 of the 30 Days 30 letters prompt: A letter to your parent(s).

Other bloggers can add the links to your posts in the linky below:

 

Remembrance

Which is the earliest memory that you have? Which is the clearest memory that you have? Which is the memory that moves you to tears, or manages to bring happiness? While you may or may not agree that these questions are important, you will agree that you can answer them. All of us have memories. Memory is the act of storing and retrieving information. This information can be what we have read, heard, seen, or gone through. It could something emotional like the time spent with a loved one, or something like the process of riding a bike. In each case, memory is important.

No matter how old you grow, certain aspects of your life get etched in your memory. The highs and the lows, the moments of joy and sorrow. The more intensely you feel something, the more likely you’re going to remember it down the line. I remember most of the lows, and some of the highs.

I remember clearly when either of my parents have been angry at me, or scolded me. I remember when I first fiddled with my dad’s shaving blade and bled after I cut my finger. I remember an accident I was in as a kid, when I had a collision with a scooter after I let go of dad’s hand to run across the road. I remember the color the scooter, and how I was bleeding with blood running from head onto my shoulders. I was scared that mom might freak out, and had to be cajoled by dad to come with him. He was a doctor and wanted to take care. I remember getting jaundice and when my parents took me another doctor, I kicked him and they had to hold me down because I was scared of injections. I remember the toy gun they got me after I got well. These are just the memories of before I was even 6 years old.

There are clear memories of other times which were not joyful or sad, but made me feel a strong reaction. I was at my uncle’s and was to change into my pyjamas. Instead of have mom change me (I was less than 4), I tried to do it myself and ended up with both feet in one leg sleeve of the PJ and the other as a tail. I had to hop my way into another room to get mom to free me. I remember playing and dancing in the class with a girl while the class teacher had been called down, and the punishment that followed. A particularly strong and clear memory is that of a class in which we were taught about honesty, and how it is the best policy. Someone passed a joke at another and a bunch of us laughed. The teacher, who had been writing something on the board turned around and asked who cracked the joke. Then when she asked who laughed along, I found myself raising my hand. I was promptly sent to stand out of class. I remember clearly how I felt, and what I had learnt.

Which is why I like to associate memory with experiences. I am a big Harry Potter fan. I started reading the books however after Azkaban had come out, and my class mates were raving about it. Curiosity got the better of me, and I read the book. Yes, the third book was read first, and then the second and finally the first. It was such a wonderful experience. I remember taking up my entire weekend reading them in order of release then. While mom later purchased books 1-4 (4th I had read after issuing from the school library, there is a story for that sometime later), I started to pre-book my copy of books 5-7. I still remember how I left at 6 in the morning on the day of Half-Blood Prince came out, so that I could catch the first bus. I reached the bookstore (Crossword at Mithakali, Ahmedabad) and found a small bunch of other fans like me. We spent the time discussing our favorite moments from the previous books, and speculating what would happen in this book.

I have left out some of my most memorable moments, and could go at lengths about more memories but I would like to sum up with this quite apropos quote by Subject 16 from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

“What is a man but the sum of his memories? We are the stories we live! The tales we tell ourselves!”

Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words – 2. Day 1 prompt: Memory/Memories

We respect husbands more than wives

The term ‘you’ is a universal term in the English language in the sense that you can use it independently of the person’s sex, age, position, etc. You may be calling out a boy or a girl, your boss or your subordinate; it is still ‘you’. This however, is not the case when it comes to Hindi. In Hindi there are two different terms, namely ‘Tu’ and ‘Aap’. ‘Tu’ is used when addressing some one of the same age/position as yourself or lower while ‘Aap’ is used for someone who is older and/or commands respect.

Long time ago I was watching a movie with mom when the lead character while talking to his mother, addressed her as ‘Tu’. I began to take notice of this and observed that in many cases the father would be addressed as ‘Aap’ while the mother was addressed as ‘Tu’. This had me totally miffed, and I asked mom why it was acceptable to address the father with more respect than the mother as both are equally parents to a child and cheekily asked if I should be calling her ‘Tu’ now. She thought over it a bit and said that because kids bond over more with their mom while they are bring brought up instead of dad, they think of mom as a friend and confidante and hence address her as ‘Tu’.

 

I raised a brow in apprehension and asked her what about the families where kids bond with their dads too, and consider him as friends. To that we don’t have an answer. In fact kids don’t bond with dad so much (because the dad is away due to work or other reasons such as resting after  being back from Over time , social activities, etc.) he is more of a distant character. As one never gets to have as free a hand with him as mom, and must behave in his presence to not disturb him, he commands more respect and gets addressed as ‘Aap’. Which is also why you will have many people who refer to their moms as Ma, mom, etc, but refer to their dad as Pitaji, Babuji, and so on with the ji being added to convey respect.

 

This however is not just the matter of kids addressing their parents but a matter of the dynamics of a man and woman in a relationship. I have seen couples call each other ‘Tu’ before marriage and have the girl shift to calling the guy ‘Aap’ post marriage. Many a times he doesn’t have to ask to be called so, but the wife calls him so by default. In the event that she calls him ‘Tu’ as an equal (because horror of horrors, a wife and husband are to be equal in their relationship), someone from the family or friends will take her aside and go “HAAAWWW!! You should call your husband Aap, show some respect.”

 

You get many people who tell the wife to show the husband respect. Show some respect, yes, but why should she not be respected as well? 

 

For those of you who are wondering, I still call address mom with an ‘Aap’