Envy

How does one process the feeling of envy? Within itself, envy is very simple. Typically envy is the emotion one feels when somebody has something that they desire. There have been times that I have been envious of people, and typically those are times that make more sense. Sense in the manner that I can work the means out about. Things like people having a better phone, a car, a lovely set of jeans, a lovely spacious home, and such are easy.

I mean all things come for a price. If one is envious of people having things, one works out the price and the effort that goes into obtaining them. If you can, you make a transaction. If you can’t, you work a little extra for ‘x’ amount of days and then make the transaction. Those in want of instant gratification can utilize a loan, or credit and work it off later. The point I am trying to make is that if you’re envious for something you usually know what you’re going to have to do.

Of course there are things that one can’t work out the price of. When I am envious of someone being in the company of someone else, when the sense of longing for someone mutates into a feeling of envy on their being with someone else, how does one know what the ‘x’ is? How does one know what to do? How does one process that?

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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.

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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?”

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami has three characters at its core. Sumire is a young Japanese woman who is in her early twenties. She is an aspiring writer, and holds part time jobs along with the stipend she receives from her family to sustain her livelihood till she finishes her novel. Miu is a Korean woman whom Sumire is attracted towards. Among other things Miu imports wines in to Japan, and asks Sumire to work for her. K is the narrator and lead central character. He is her friend and few years older than her. An elementary school teacher, he has passionate feelings for Sumire.

While K is the narrator of the novel, the story effortlessly moves between the characters like a football team passing the ball. Sumire is an anti-social woman who doesn’t get along well with many people because she is a motor mouth. She dresses in clothes too large for herself, and often goes without matching her socks. Sumire can write beautifully but cannot complete her novel. Her works have an ending or a beginning, but never both. She feels that her writing lacks a soul that will connect the two.

K is two years older than Sumire, and they initially bond over their love for reading. K develops intense feelings of passion for her, but knows that she cannot reciprocate the same for him. There are moments when this passion flares up in him, and he takes to having a relationship on the side to deal with his urges. K even talks to Sumire when she calls him up in the middle of the night. K serves as the only person to which Sumire can vent out, or open up to.

Miu is a successful businesswoman, who gave up her training as a pianist to look after the family business after her dad died. She meets Sumire at one of her former student’s wedding. The two of them talk about the author Jack Kerouac, whom Miu mistakenly calls of the Sputnik style instead of the Beatnik style (having mixed up the two words). Sumire who thought herself to be asexual, feels an attraction towards her. Miu asks Sumire to work for her, first three days a week and as a full time personal secretary later. Due to the nature of work, they have to travel much. The word ‘Sputnik’ means a travelling companion, which is why the book is title ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’.

Sumire is an aspiring writer, and K is her friend who loves her. Sumire falls in love with Miu, who offers her a job and is 17 years older to her. The two are off to Europe for a business trip and decide to spend some time at a Greek island to relax. One day K receives a call from Miu, and she asks him to come at once. Sumire has disappeared. When K reaches the island, he learns from Miu and some of the Sumire’s writings as to what had happened before her disappearance.

The book is full of angst and loneliness. Sumire is full of angst about her not being able to write the novel she wants, and her nonconformance with society. Sumire has intense feelings for Miu, but doesn’t know how to talk to her about it. K pains about his unrequited love towards Sumire, and tries to sleep with other women. He ends up still thinking about Sumire all the time, and it makes things worse for him for her to be so close to him, and yet not with him. Miu has a secret in her past, and doesn’t know how to react when Sumire disappears.

Murakami has a wonderful way with words. His choice of words make you feel the stuffiness that the characters feel, and he can paint a vivid picture with ease. His play of metaphors is brilliant. When we learn of Sumire’s inability to finish a novel, he uses the metaphor of ancient Chinese gates. These were sealed with bones of soldiers, and their souls would revive only when fresh blood was mixed with them. There is another instance Sumire is going through changes in her life on account of her new job under Miu, when K explains how in life one uses the gears of a transmission to adjust to the realities of life. He tells her how she has taken off one transmission, but not yet bolted another while the all the engine keeps generating all the raw power. Another recurring theme is of duality or ‘the other side’. For most counts, the two sides are polar opposites. What one lives in, and what dreams; what one wants to be, and what one is; what is in the past and what lives today.

The story is well layered. Miu has a secret of something that happened 14 years in the past that made her hair turn white overnight. The story behind that is told in the Sumire’s story, which comes as a part of K’s own story in his search of Sumire. There are fantastical elements in Miu’s story, in Sumire’s dreams and K’s experiences.

Overall this makes for a gripping read with its layers of stories, character back stories and the intense longing for something that one cannot have.

Some wonderful quotes from this book:

“In the world we live in, what we know and what we don’t know are like Siamese twins, inseparable, existing in a state of confusion.” 

“We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life, like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it’s gone forever.” 

“I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again. No words passing between them. No promises to keep.” 

“I’ve written an incredible amount up till now. Nearly every day. It’s like I was standing in a huge pasture, cutting the grass all by myself, and the grass grows back almost as fast as I can cut it. Today I’d cut over here, tomorrow over there… By the time I make one complete round of the pasture the grass in the first spot is as tall as it was in the beginning.”

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A bunch of us friends got together over the idea of having a reading group to discuss books and authors (as most reading groups do). As part of this month’s activity, we had polled to start reading Haruki Murakami. Sputnik Sweetheart was part of that push to read his work.