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Three Daughters of Eve

image.jpg-largeSometimes a book comes along that speaks boldly to our times. As it chips away at the brick and mortar, the ideas contained in it overwhelms and perhaps unsettles, forcing readers to sit back and confront truths that plague modern society. ‘Three Daughters of Eve’, Elif Shafak’s novel, is that kind of book. My 5th read since the summer began and undoubtedly, my favorite.

It is scary how polarized humanity is in our time; where every faction boasts of the certainty of its own ideas and beliefs and religion continues to be at the center of all the raging debates be it cow vigilantism or equal rights. The novel, constructed in elegant and poignant prose makes complicated theological and political questions readable and relevant. It does not matter where you are or what the political climate of your nation, the ideas transcend boundaries of several kinds and they do so, unapologetically. The things the book has to say and the way it says them are extraordinary.

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ is an intense, discursive and absorbing novel about three middle-eastern women, each studying at Oxford, with dramatically contrasting views on faith and personal identity. A spiritually ambiguous female lead character guides us through parallel stories set in Istanbul and Oxford till at least the two come together seamlessly through her soul-searching and persistent questioning.

I will not give away the plot as I am hoping that some of you will pick this book off a shelf or download it onto your devices to read it when you can, but the central character ‘Peri’, is so well fleshed out and wonderfully presented, I could not help bonding with her from the first time our paths crossed. Peri defies the stereotype that Muslim characters are sometimes relegated to and her own quest for answers to questions around her conflicting ideas of faith and identity is the arterial idea of the novel.

 “God was a maze without map, a circle without a center; the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never seemed to fit together. If only she could solve this mystery, she could bring meaning to senselessness, reason to madness, order to chaos, and perhaps, too, she could learn to be happy.” 

Having spent time in both Istanbul and Oxford I welcomed the chance to immerse myself in their sturdy presence in the story. They are as much central characters in this novel as the people are and Shafak writes about them in beautifully vivid prose all the time her love for the complexities of her homeland strikingly evident.

By the time I got to the end, the novel had pushed me to consider so many ideas – life, love, friendship, faith, God, humanity, forgiveness and revenge but instead of closure and answers, it left me with more questions than I had when I began reading.

How well do we know ourselves?

How perfect do we think we are?

How would I respond in a moral crisis like the one Peri is faced with?

How exact is our self image?

How hard is it to say sorry?

I’m certainly going to raid Shafak’s back catalogue after this fantastic introduction to her beautiful writing. If you happen to read the novel I would love to her your views.

Ever since I turned the last page, I have been experiencing that familiar sensation you get after reading a fantastic book. That intuitive feeling that something within you has moved, been affected, changed perhaps? How wonderful is the power of 366 pages of parchment paper and some spectrum ink.

 

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No Words

Somewhere across the miles, a funeral pyre is burning. Within the altar of logs, sticks and sandalwood kindling lies the mortal remains of a senior colleague. A few weeks ago, we wished each other ‘happy holidays’, little did we know…

I am conscious that as the clock advances the day towards what is yet to be, a family stands beside their loved one – father, husband, grand-dad, friend – watching a part of their lives end as it drifts into and mixes with the ether. In a few hours, all that will remain are ashes, the dust from which we are all fashioned and ancient rituals will send-off a beloved teacher to his eternal hermitage in the clouds.

Nothing helps one understand and appreciate the fleeting beauty of life, more than death does. The moments you spend with people, the conversations you have, the laughter you share – all of them gifts that death teaches us to grab onto and hold dear. As I sit here thinking of the animated Mr. Gupta this morning, words evade me, only memories remain.

RIP Sanjay Sir, you will live on in our memories.

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Coldplay by the Lake

Lucerne , Switzerland 
Behind Kapelle St. Peter in a little cobble stone courtyard by the fountain of Fritschi, stands an enthusiastic young busker. With his guitar he plays the riff notes of popular tunes. The words he sings echoes in the neighboring alleys and soon, people come in waves, drawn-in by his effortless, full-throated crooning. 

The young man takes his time, he’s clearly enjoying all the attention. Swiftly and expertly he gauges the crowd. They’re young. Without a moment’s hesitation he begins to belt out lyrics from a well known Coldplay anthem. Instantly, bystanders are transformed into willing participants in his impromptu concert. They sing along gleefully as they keep time to the infectious rhythm. 
Gradually the music fades and the feet tapping comes to an end. The musical moment they all just shared is now a travel memory. People move forward and instinctively reach into their bags and pockets, filling his guitar cease with Euros, loose change and billet-doux scribbled on the backs of paper napkins.

Scant conversation ensues. Staccato phrases, well done, amazing, a nod of appreciation, endless thank yous. Then, the multicultural crowd disappears as quickly as it had assembled. 

When you travel, language can be such a barrier sometimes but it is so wonderful the way in which music connects us all.
busk1

bʌsk/

verb

gerund or present participle: busking

1.

play music in the street or other public place for voluntary donations.

“the group began by busking on London sidewalks”

2.

informal

improvise.

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Home is a Feeling 

1st July, 201

Somewhere in France, heading through Germany towards Switzerland

Travel allows for sitting meditation. The mind luxuriates in the kind of tranquility that only an open road can bring. The soul too finds its opportunity to breathe. It inhales deeply and exhales slowly, as it releases months, sometimes years of bottled feelings. Some are simple emotions, others complex, with jagged edges.

As the countryside swooshes by in swirls of green, the mind relaxes. There are no thoughts today, no worries, no plans, no tasks to be completed, no words to be spoken, nothing. Clear. Like the highway itself. There’s only a sense of profound appreciation for the moment.

It’s a funny paradox, every minute advances you further towards journey’s end and yet, the feeling is that of calm and stillness. Almost like an out of body experience, the real you floats above in the ether watching the physical you make your way from point to point on a map, stopping intermittently for little bursts of reality before you retreat again.

I wonder why we need a periodic escape to feel alive like this. Why does it take a visa to a strange city or verdant wilderness to rediscover sides of you that you don’t see enough. Why does one feel more at home exploring these places, than when at home itself? The company of friends though valuable sometimes pales in comparison to the company of strangers. There are no expectations here, no masks, just you and them enjoying the intimacy of a fleeting moment shared. It’s kind of incredible how potent an encounter can be. Words spoken, experiences shared, all of them live on with you. Like keepsakes they remind you of something special, you feel alive again, you imagine that moment over and sometimes you break into smile. When you least expect it, the sounds of a familiar tune or the mention of a city will brighten up your day.

Everything you experience becomes a part of who you are. Like a patchwork quilt you begin to add bits and pieces till you’re left with a fabric of mismatched colors. There’s no uniform patter in the stitches, it looks ragged and lacking the finesse that comes from the hands of an expert. But the stitches are special to you, each one carefully done, holding together the myriad memories. There is love in the details, nuances that  catch only your eye.

You think your patchwork is a thing of beauty, so you display it proudly like a fine tapestry. While everyone else examines, speculates and conjectures, you listen, amused. You chuckle sometimes, you smile even when a random comment touches a nerve. You know what the quilt represents. Only you know.

Travel experiences are beautiful, spiritual even, they entertain, nourish and heal. Plans are great, but sometimes not knowing can be exhilarating too. You miss the ones you love but you carry them with you wherever you go. Home, afterall is no longer a physical space. Home is a feeling. When you travel you leave parts of you in all the places you go but you carry with you so much more than you realize. All of it becomes part of who you are, it stays with you and suddenly everywhere begins to feel like home.

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Dear Pa..

Dear Pa,

I remember sitting on the windowsill in Elliot road, after masi had finished getting me ready for the evening – hair slicked back in my signature style, dowsed in talcum powder and ready to greet you and ma at the door in my weekday best. I usually spent those evenings watching airplanes fly overhead, waiting for your Vespa to come gurgling through the gate. Then there were times I would play in the shadows of passing planes wondering what you were doing in whichever part of the world you were in.

You pa, taught me the love of travel. You taught me that spending money on experiences always beats spending money on material things and that the world is full of so many different destinations with so many cultures to learn from and appreciate. Without leaving home, you showed me more than you will ever know. You took my imagination and led me all over the world just through your stories, the photographs you brought back and the passion with which you recounted every detail.

I am thankful every day that I have a dad who understands that, while an education is a priceless gift, you learn so much more experiencing the world than you ever could from a textbook. Cultures, traditions, food, manners, and languages are all things that must be experienced to be fully understood. Thank you for always encouraging me to get up and go, because when I did, I started to learn who I was.

Happy Father’s Day Pa, I’ll see you soon!

Love, Syd.

 

 

 

 

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A Season for Everything 

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. -Ecclesiastes 3:1

Some people love summertime, others love the cold of winter months. Me? More than anything, I love the changing of seasons. It really doesn’t matter from what season to another, I love the fact that there’s a certainty, a progress to the year that you can count on – summer will end and respite will come. Monsoon clouds will drift away, the sun will shine again. Seasons will change no matter what happens in our lives.

The Bible says there is a season for everything in life. If only we could embrace the seasons of our lives as willingly as we embrace the seasons of the year. It’s been said that the only thing that is constant is change; but unfortunately that’s what we tend to resist most.

Seasons put my life into perspective. I gaze out onto the trees that line the streets in my home city and know that not only are some of them older than me, but they will be here for many generations after I’m gone. I look at trees in the city I currently live in, they’re here today, could be gone tomorrow. 

Seasons kind of just put things about life into perspective, don’t they?

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Simple Things 

There is a certain coffee mug I own. It’s not too tall, not too short or wide and when I hold it, it nestles itself snugly in my palms. It has a wide mouth with a subtle taper and it’s oversized enough to hold just the right amount of coffee for me. It edoesn’t shine anymore and there’s a tiny chip on the rim – but to me, it’s perfect.

Do you find that in all parts of life, the greatest joys are in the simplest of things? The ones that come your way unexpectedly or disappear quickly but leave you basking in an afterglow? 

My coffee mug may seem like an eyesore to some people but both with my mug and with life, I think it’s important to know a good thing when you find it. You treasure it, don’t let it go. 

Jumped out of bed to put a thought into words but I think I’ll have a coffee in my favourite mug, now that I’m up. 

Simple things, I tell you! 

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