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La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust Trilogy)

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In this last year, I have been turning back to the genre of fantasy, one of the few genres that lets me truly escape this world. It is true, however, that in fantasy, very few books can go on to completely encompass you in its world. While I found Philip Pullman later than most people – in my mid-twenties – his is one such world. I read His Dark Materials a couple of years ago and absolutely fell in love with the story. It has complex villains, lots of greys where you aren’t sure which side you are on, a compelling and flawed protagonist, and a setting that is so otherworldly and also quite plausible in the larger scheme of things. So, of course, when I got my hands on La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust trilogy), I was excited. This book is set in the same world, so it had to be good.

To cut to the chase – it was. The book gave me what I was looking for, a nostalgic visit to Lyra’s world. But it is also very different from His Dark Materials in terms of storytelling and even setting. While we hardly see much of Jordan (the college where Lyra grew up), we are still pulled in by the picturesque and domestic life that Malcolm, our protagonist, leads in Lyra’s Oxford.

Pullman sticks to the idea of having two main characters as the story progresses, and he does it beautifully here as well. Both the characters (not naming them for those who are yet to read the book) are again quite a contrast and have enough depth to make it quite easy on the reader’s imagination. The setting, while monotonous in comparison to the earlier trilogy, does justice to the story he is trying to tell. It is not a vast adventure of worlds here, but an incident in a young boy’s life. To that, it is pleasing to read. From instances of Malcolm’s carpentry (which is quite satisfying to me as a reader) to obstacles that they face later, it is the small details that make this story what it is. There is also the subtle hint of a mystery (Malcolm’s headaches) that make me intrigued enough to pick up the second part of this trilogy. Of course, Lyra being a part of that story is a great pull for those of us who have read His Dark Materials.

To sum up, whether or not you have read the previous trilogy, La Belle Sauvage is a great find. I do however recommend that you read His Dark Materials before picking up The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust Part 2) – if only for the pleasure of Pullman’s master storytelling.



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Hippie – A Review

This books seems to be finding itself just as much as the protagonist. It starts off with some promise to a story but until halfway through the book all we find are declarations and a very slow character development. While it is interesting to learn more about the author (Paulo Coelho), and despite being an autobiography of sorts, I did not feel as connected to this book as a reader the way I have to his other work (for instance, The Zahir). The crux of the story comes to light during one scene which is an interview between the french father, Jacques and a journalist who wants to know more about the ‘hippie’ culture. I think what Paulo intended to say for this matter, he did so most truly in that one chapter. I read another review that describes this book as flat, and honestly I think that’s the best way to put it. I finished it because I couldn’t not finish a book, but was it worth the read? Eh…while it’s not entirely bad, one could give it a pass.

Em and the big Hoom – A Review

When you notice the ebb and flow of your own thoughts, you realise that they are a constant tumble of ideas and observations that are shoving for space to stay that one moment longer in your head before you are distracted by the next thought. In the space of your mind, you are unafraid of judgment or repercussions. On some days, you may even allow yourself to wade into the darker corners of your head, thinking of scenarios that would otherwise horrify you with their atrocious nature.

Jerry Pinto captures the casual tone of our minds and puts that voice on paper, showing us the truest version of a middle-class family in Mumbai, with no filter or even judgment on the good and bad. Things just are. He discusses topics like a famous sweet shop at the corner and the killing of one’s mother in the same tone. It is almost like the writing is unable to shy away from the underbelly of the protagonist’s life, quite like when we cannot always push away the thoughts that we “shouldn’t” be having.

Thus, the story is both intimate and funny, dark and sometimes as nonchalant as the four of them sitting around with nothing much going on. The language flows so easily, the writing seeming effortless even in its most significant or chaotic moments. This book is an act of such vulnerability that it was impossible for me not to be there, completely transported into the smoke-filled one-bedroom apartment listening to fragments of a story over the lifetime of the storyteller.

If there were any criticism that I had to afford, it would be with the characters on the sidelines. I would love to know more about Susan and Mae, and maybe even a little more about the mystery that was the Big Hoom. Overall, this is a book that I read in a matter of a few sittings and it was one that stuck with me long enough to avoid picking up a different book just to be able to mull this over a little longer.

Inverted Guilt: My Pandemic Revelation

Ever since I was a child, I have dwelt more in the world of fiction than in the one before me. During the times that I do emerge, I feel restless. It is as though the definitions of real-life confuse me. As a reader, I am supposed to have read certain types of books, acquired and retained knowledge that I may have actually forgotten. I am either supposed to have a rebellious edge or compliant contentment. My opinions have to be strong and stubborn or they are deemed complacent or lacking. 

Where is the room to be human? For confusion or not knowing? 

“So you have read all the Potter books, did you like them? Oh, a fan then! So you must remember every dialogue and plot twist that took place in that world? Oh…so you didn’t like it then…” 

“Do you like rock music?”  “Huh! Just the one song? That doesn’t count then, really.” 

“What about politics then? Surely, you aren’t truly literate if you don’t understand, or at the very least, offer your fierce opinions on the matter! Of course, joining protests give you additional gold stars, especially when it helps cancel out that thickly buttered privilege of yours.”

It is this need for definitive characters, to convert our self-image into a brand that both inspires and defines success with aesthetic ease, that fuel today’s social media, and blurs into our everyday lives. This practice of ‘brand aesthetics’ is what nurtures our innate guilt for being alive. For we all have a store of ‘original guilt’ within us, stemming from our knowledge of the damage caused by our mere existence. More and more has this feeling become a collective thought, leading to a collective restlessness (In 2018, U.K launched more vegan products than any nation). We try to alleviate this by doing conscious good, trying not to do harm, or merely by shrouding ourselves in denial. Since none of that works, we then turn to channel this guilt into other rivers of thought. Thus spring the thoughts of productivity, accomplishments, success, and of building a brand aesthetic that fits within the image of a two-dimension character.   

The more we compress, the more we spill. The idea of finding oneself, or detangling ourselves from our social media account is then our attempt to detach from that brand aesthetic and revisit the artist that created it in the first place. Understand the guilt and know of its truth and origin. Equal and opposite reactions are law, and with guilt, the law dictates hope. 

As of this evening, I am both confused and in the unknown. The world around me mimics the novels I read, the dystopia feeling all too real. Thus stripped off our normalcy, the feeling of guilt is bare of its various diversions. Guilt is no longer focusing on my body fat, work ethics, lifestyle choices, relationship worries, or unacceptable personality traits.

Having always mourned the loss of our universe at our hands, we are now grieving our personal loss while our planet heals. Even as we grieve, we find the beauty in the little things, in the experience that is life. Because for once, we are not the ones doing the damage.  

It is at this paradox that our guilt inverts to meet hope. 

And despite the oddity, this makes sense to me.

Rest in Peace

is — was.

The first and toughest

change you can’t avoid.

Is

Is

Is


Was.








Waves of emotion

Tumbling, stumbling, stalling. 

Halt and rewind

Or tear a hole in time

To revive what’s rightfully yours

No one else’s.

Not the trees 

Not the rivers

Where go dust to dust 

And ashes to ashes.

What about the memories?

Now sheathed by the

Fierce quills of a porcupine’s coat

Memories with no one 

To say, “That’s not how it happened!”

Memories that are

Rightfully yours

Only yours. 

As you remember how it once 

Was.  

The Memories of Yesterday

Flashes and then some light
I see a lamp
I see a shard
the hint of a beard
A new face of yours.
And I look back to wonder
At our times
When we were us
And the love it had 
And the memories of our fights.
We grew it all out,
A stage of love puberty,
To find our own ways.
I found the paths you didn’t take
And there ventured hence,
I found your breaks
The ones you never got
And some that I never gave
I wonder what I would say to you
Did we ever meet
Maybe I would want to smile
Maybe we would still just hate
I don’t know for sure
Whether to ask for or to give
Forgiveness that has been long due.
So I shall wait for the day
When we bump into a moment
Of ours again
To find out what it contains
Hoping to be done away
And put it all in a box so pretty;
the memories of yesterday.

Dear Survivor, Your Pain Isn’t ‘Trending’ Anymore.

For months now, or maybe even longer, I have used every excuse possible, not to write. “I am thinking of a story”, “I want to write when it means something”, “it has to be right thing” or “the topic that is currently trending.” I considered the possibility that I was putting it off by a fear of failure. It possibly was true to a certain level. Although there was never an instance where I could truly understand what it was that had me run away from writing, even from myself. 

Today it feels like I can push it off no longer. The urge came over me as suddenly as thirst for a glass of water. I was in the middle of reading a sentence, of authors on voyages and quests of soul searching when I just couldn’t focus anymore. As though the only thing I could do for the moment was write. I tried ignoring the urge as has become my norm but it stuck on like an itch I couldn’t scratch away. So here I am. 

I don’t know what it is that I intend to write and it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m typing away on the keyboard, my breath gets a little easier.

I have had many ideas for stories recently; a woman who can travel time through memories, a romance for young adults that didn’t include vampires or witches, a novel for adults that did include magic and symbols, the sex life of a girl after a manipulative, violent past relationship. 

I recently read in a book of the game ‘Big Liar’. It goes like this: you tell the gathering two stories, one of which is true and the other which isn’t. If they guess the story that is true, you drink and if they are wrong, they drink. It probably makes for a fun party game. My ideas seem to me a bit like that very game. Some of these stories were just that: stories, while some of them reeked of the truth.

The world has suddenly grown an appetite for the truth. Movements are underway ensuring massive changes in the lives of celebrities and people in power just by the truth spoken by a survivor. And yet, even today it seems too heavy for me to carry. I believe that the truth is pure, it sets you free if you have the courage to both accept it and be it at all times. But that courage is rare, and the acceptance even more so. Lies seem small, white and light in comparison. Comforting and less hurtful. Anyway, my point was that my stories were a game I was playing with myself: do I tell people the same old repeated truth that they probably would rather not hear anymore or give them a fantastical new story that will captivate them?

The ‘MeToo’ movement was an outrage of voices speaking up together, finally letting their anger out. Closure and change were round the corner for so many of them. People who deserved it. People who needed it more than anything else. And yet every story I read filled me with a sense of anger and aggressiveness that I thought I had left behind. There were no panic attacks, no memories that raced through my mind like triggering movie flashbacks. I was even okay on the outside, speaking of the justice or injustice of every new account of ‘MeToo’, and smiling at both the appropriate and inappropriate jokes made by people around me, for whom this was a trending topic.

Opinions flew like autumn leaves and some people took sides while others refused to be attacked. Inside me though, a certain restlessness grew slowly, spreading to every thought of mine, reminding me of everything wrong with life.

“My relationship wasn’t right – we didn’t have as much romance as I had dreamed of; my best friend posted photos kissing her boyfriend while my sex life had problems and needed fixing; I didn’t know who I was anymore, maybe I needed some soul searching?” or “I had to have more friends, I didn’t like being an introvert anymore, I had to stop overthinking, I had to lose weight and my personality needed some serious improving.” All of this needed attending to and immediately.

There was a sudden sense of urgency, too much time had been lost, my whole life had already slipped away and I was slowly getting buried under a series of confused, muddled complexes with anger sheltering them all under its roof. Every morning, there was a new story online and my determination to change increased. I’m not sure if these two were related but coincidently, they happened at the same time.

I had gone to two different counsellors, both times never more than two sessions. Each time, I told them about my past, as though it was an introduction that went along with my name and occupation. “Hi, I’m So and So and recently started working. Oh, and I was sexually abused by my ex-boyfriend.” 

We usually ended up talking about other things after that, beginning at a place that I didn’t expect or talking of things I didn’t think were relevant to the issue at hand. The first time, I ended up talking about my parents fights and learning some meditative technique for my anxiety and the second counsellor convinced me to quit smoking weed. Both times, I ended up not going back after two sessions. Now, I’m considered going back for a third time, in order to be able to express this restless anger.

There was a time when the anger furled me on, I loved it and encouraged it. It made me bold and flirtatious. It made me outrageous and plucky. Four years later, it comes out in the form of repressed dreams and frightening thoughts. I shouldn’t be angry anymore, enough time has passed to have healed it away.

Today, if I talk to the guy I have been dating since two years, it might seem odd, he would ask me to think less about such negativity and focus on the good things in life. “You are okay now, things are good, I am here. Try not to think of these things because it will eventually become a habit and the negativity will get worse.” His heart is in the right place, and he is a gentle being who has been through equal instances of trauma in his own life. Dealing with it in this way has helped him stay contented.

But I was someone who embraced every feeling. It was my way of being alive every moment possible. I loved with a passion and wanted to live with a passion. With him too, I fell in love with a certainty that defied me. My gut told me that this was the man I was to marry and I didn’t question it. Today I say I was this person. At some point, I must have been. There is no place in my life for it anymore. Uncertainty, and the fear of seeming childish has taken over me and I now live in subdued maturity. These feelings of passionate anger are not acceptable after so long. Even as I write, my typing has started feeling tinged with guilt. Guilt that I am wrong to feel this way. Guilt that maybe I am right to feel angry, but the world is wrong to expect me not to still be affected, and tainted because I blame even my partner for something that I am too cowardly to express because the truth is, I actually don’t know if he thinks it is wrong. Finally, I feel myself going back to the place where I refuse to question any of this, questioning my life may mean uprooting it and I refuse to do that.

So I go back to the thought that maybe it’s time to see a counsellor again. Because everyone is talking of rape and taking names and giving explicit details but the world is hushed and unsure of what happens with the survivors’ lives after. How do you move forward and live with this label that you can’t stop giving yourself, even when the world has forgotten? How do the people close to you, especially your partner deal with this and know how to support you? Of course, we all manage. We learn along the way. But a little support from the world never hurts. In a place where survivors have no idea how to go back to ‘normal’, a little less guilt and shame heaped upon them for not being okay because “it happened so long ago!” is never a bad thing.

Instead of being so conscientious about saying the ‘correct’ thing, couldn’t we just offer the space to be ourselves? I am not asking you to be angry for me or to fix me; just be okay with the fact that there are times when I may not be. Time heals yes, but we humans are weird that way and don’t always work like clockwork.

-the positivity of black

A Prisoner to Time

I look for a bottle, a small one.

After a lot of thought and quite some searching,

a pretty glass jar with a cork was found.

Tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand, unseen

Delicate and strong, or fragile and young,

it depends on how you see it, really.

I go to the cabinet now – holding the secrets of life

in small tiny pills, some colourful and some white.

With all my raw materials I shall now sit,

creating a potpourri of pills.

I soon hold the jar, transformed and full

Each tablet unique and with purpose.

And as I finish my project, I’m calm, finally calm

My anxieties kept busy and distracted.

It’s so easy to trick the human mind

into believing a future (the irony),

with our present actions.

I close my eyes and savour

The blank emptiness that could be mine

Before I get up and walk away,

Stepping on glass, still a prisoner to time.  

-the positivity of black

From the Journal of a Person with Depression

April 2, 2019

My bedroom

Depression is contagious. I feel like I have the flu. I sneeze because of my allergies. Or something. I have a heavy head and blank mind. Thoughts are tough. And more importantly, thoughts are scary. What if the love of my life and I weren’t meant to be?

How am I supposed to face the fact that the one person who seems to be my anchor may also be contributing to my mood?

He doesn’t seem to understand, which is okay. But he doesn’t seem to try. I’m not saying that he doesn’t want to. He cares, he’s concerned. But I would appreciate if he went a few steps further. Maybe do some research, try to see what he could do, or understand what it is I am going through. No matter how much I explain, it’s not the same. 

I’m so so tired. Tired enough to feel unwell. I keep thinking of how good it would be to not be. To not exist. So that I’m not so fatigued. And I’m not being dramatic. It is not just sadness, or being upset. It isn’t. I feel like I’m being dismissed like it is. I know, because I did that to myself too. But I was wrong. It is more.

Body Memory

I fight through the amnesia, 

my body trying to remember 

the touch of passion on its skin

that would spread a flame, lightening fast.

Fast…

Fast.

Fast.

It reminds me of rough.

Fast and rough, 

So familiar a tone from the past,

Almost like a favourite song that I forgot.

The kind that you listen to so often,

you almost hate it now.

And yet, that soft corner;

I hum along.

Scars last longer than hickeys after all.

Fists clenched, 

Halfway between a roar and a sigh,

I fall back once again.

Unable to remember what it feels like 

to be making love tender.

Out of grasp, it is a crumbling memory

and my hands only drawing blood. 

But I remember that first day.

Our cigarette between the sheets.

And a dateless day burned to memory

When with haste your lips found mine.

My body knows yours, 

its best friend. 

It is also guilty, though, 

of hiding secrets.

Both butterflies and blunted fears,

Hard knots and soft tears.

It even keeps from you, the way to pleasure it better,

going still when you find the sweet spots.

It’s habit, I say. 

I think the excuse has grown stale,

Drawing blood has become cliche.

And my head spins when I go too fast 

Hold me, slow me down 

It’s hard to let go of familiar chaos.

In the blink of an eye, it’s a blur.

Fast. Slow. Breathe in. Now out. 

I’m trying, it almost worked.

Darling, I’m sorry for hiding my flaws 

It’s not that I don’t want to show 

But that I don’t know how.

On a good day, I blink; a blur. 

How do I explain the self loathe, 

the sudden flash of hate and hurt? 

I do miss the look in your eyes 

when our bodies converse 

but what I want more 

and never got to miss, (you can’t miss that which you never knew)

is to show you my demons 

in the mirror. 

-the positivity of black