Book Review – Monsoon Minds by Ravi Nambiar

I usually avoid posting book reviews. Not only am I incapable of judging a book on its literary merit, I feel reviewing a book is like going to parents who are out with their kid and saying, “Do you want to know what I think about your child? No, no, don’t shake your head. You brought him out here, so now you will stand here and listen to me criticise him” – it serves no purpose, expect, maybe, offending a few people.

But, I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and etiquette dictates that I post a review. If you read on, be well advised that my understanding of literature is quite elementary.

Now that I have berated myself enough, on to the book.

Monsoon Minds is a collection of eighteen short stories, most of them being set in a fictional – I think – village of Bhavli. The stories deal with a wide variety of subjects such as child marriage, separation of a mother from her son, domestic violence, to quote a few. Each subject has been admirably dealt with, and makes a lasting impression on the reader. The stories are thought provoking, and paint very clear and distinctive pictures of the residents of Bhavli. You feel what they feel, you see their world through their eyes, and they end up being a part of you.

By the time you finish this book, you would long to visit Bhavli, to sip a cup at Gafoor’s tea shop, and to take a stroll by the Bhavli River.

Kudos to Ravi Nambiar for penning this sublime piece.

The Confined Mind, By the Waves, and An Unbearable Retirement were my favourites stories.

You can order the book here:
https://goo.gl/mbMXLU

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The Condition – A Short Story

Now where’s the soap? Oh there, right. Yuck! What’s this on it? Slime? But well, a soap can’t be dirty, right? It cleans things. Yes? Yes. Yes.

The water is hot! God! Face first. Now the chest.

Did I follow the pattern? Hmmm….Face first, then the chest, then the arms, then the legs, and finally the feet. Yes? Yes. Yes.

Now for the drying, yes, I must follow the same pattern. Oh! Nearly dropped the towel. Did it touch the ground? No. Maybe it did. But I caught it. God! Look, it was here when I caught it. That’s what, like a feet from the ground. Yes. A feet. It couldn’t have touched the ground. And besides, will I die even if it did? No, no, I won’t. Anyway, I can use the upper half.

Now, how am I supposed to get out of this messy bathroom without touching the door? I can use my dirty vest. There we are, nice and firm around the door handle. This should be enough to squeeze out of here. Yes. Finally, phew! Why couldn’t Dadi build a new bathroom? It is in such a bad condition. And so far away from home. Now I have to walk with all my stuff in hand. Look at this. gobar everywhere…yuck! How can people live like this?

###

“Hi, Mom. Yes, the bath was OK. Yes, I did not wash myself too much. What? You want to look at my hands? No, they are not too dried up. Go away, Ma.”

###

I am going crazy….it’s just the floor. So what if my phone touched it? I can’t brick another phone. I can’t deal with this today. Maybe I can leave it here and see to this problem when I get back. No, I will need it. I have to clean it. Damn! I am out of Dettol. Where did all go? Oh, right, I used it to clean the bed-headstand yesterday. Where do I find some Dettol? Maybe I can buy some at the shop nearby. Or Ma has it.

“Ma! Ma! Do you have any Dettol on you? What does it matter what I have to clean? No, I don’t want you to clean it for me. No, Ma! Just tell me, do you or don’t you have Dettol or some hand-sanitiser with you. Oh, you have a hand sanitiser?”

They’re not useful against some viruses, though, especially the one I am worried about.

“It’s fine, give it to me. Na, Ma, I don’t need any help. Go, please!”

###

Finally, we’re on the way. Never thought this time would come. I hate going to new places.

“What? This way? Through those bushes?”

Why can’t they cut them? Ouch! Did something prick me? I am sure it did. What was it? Can’t see any animals around. What was it? Probably a thorn. No one’s looking. I might as well check. Nothing on my leg. Well, my last tetanus shot was when – six months. So that’s fine.

“What, Papa? Nothing, I am not looking at anything.”

Well he looks concerned. They both are, Ma and Pa. Why won’t they be? They know about my craziness, well condition. But, they have to understand that I will be fine. I can control this. I can. Yes, all the literature I read said I could.

“I am coming, I am coming.”

How far is this Panchayat Bhawan, anyway? Why can’t they put these things online? I can’t believe I had to drive all the way to this village to get a simple piece of paper.

###

Look at this. Just a typical government office. This is so depressing. A wooden table with a transparent glass on top – why do they keep newspaper cuttings under it? Are they reading these old cuttings everyday? And well, of course, a knitted chair adorned with embroidered cloth. How majestic, how obviously sarkaari!

What a withered old man this Patwari is! Well, at least he looks like a government employee – apathetic and inefficient; and the look he has in his eyes, I know that look – he’s eager to go home the minute the clock strikes five. I can bet he will even try to leave at ten minutes before five. “Come back tomorrow, eh?” he will say to anyone who dares to approach this office after four. That is when the working hours unofficially end. Four to five is leisure time in government institutions, a time to say your goodbyes, to tie your shoe laces.

What a sight!

Thank God, Papa is here with me. I would have hated to talk to him myself. Look at him. Nodding carelessly as my father explains the reason for our visit. What is that sigh supposed to me? Does he not want to help me?

“Come tomorrow?”

Well, what else did I expect? Yes, you tell him Papa. Yes! No, don’t be gentle. Call him an idiot, like he is. Well, that’s my father. Always gentle with people. What does it matter, anyway? Harsh or not, this old man, Mr Verma is going to give me my document today, after all.

What is he looking at me for?

“What? You’re a human as well and you understand my problem?”

You were not understanding it a few seconds ago. Were you not a human then? These people want everyone to humble themselves before them. To recognise that they are the place of authority. The decider of fates, if you will. What a pathetic way to live.

Yes, old man, get up and get that proforma out. Look at this Godrej almirah where they keep their documents. They could give me a million years and I still won’t figure out the organisational structure of it. How can they find anything in this place?

“I have to fill it right now?”

Damn. This looks dirty and I am a cent per cent sure that there are rats frolicking in that almirah. But what other choice do I have? Say out loud that I am insane. I can ask for their pen. That way I don’t have to touch anything that belongs to me.

“Name…address…what? Address of my ancestral home. OK. ”

There we are. All filled up.

“Here’s your pen Mr Verma.”

That’s it? A stamp and a signature and we’re done? This is what we drove six hours for?

###

How nice is sound of crackling fire; how it soothes me! I wish I could enjoy it with a calm mind. But, this gnawing feeling…this concern of dying because I touched the ground – ground outside the safety of the house! Where all the animals strut about, urinate. Yuck! If only I hadn’t tripped. No! Not this chain of thought again. I tripped a bit and I touched the ground outside the Panchayat Bhawan. The freaking ground, for God’s sake. I washed my hands afterwards; nothing could have happened. But then, my hands are cracked because of the repeated washing. Open wounds…they could have been contaminated….No! It happens. People touch the ground outside their homes all the time. I used to sit down anywhere I wanted when I a kid. Anywhere! And I am still alive. I’m sure no one in the history of our planet would have died because of touching the ground. Nothing will happen. Yes? Yes. Yes.

What is happening to me? I am descending into madness. No, I am already there. A few more years and I would be in a nut house. I have to calm down, have to compose myself. I can beat this.

Look at CHACHAJI sitting calmly on the wooden floor, his dirty feet near the fire. What would I not give to have his state of mind right now. Not caring about being covered with dirt, after a long day of working at the fields and strutting about the village in just his chappals. I could never think of doing that. What if a dog licks my feet or something…I would like to be in his place, to worry about things that actually mattered.

So funny that I am here to collect a document to continue my study of Physics and I am debating whether touching the ground would kill me or not! Meet your future scientist, ladies and gentlemen…

There are people in the world who work to fight Ebola, and here I am….so afraid of death. Death, my ultimate fate. It is going to come one day for certain anyhow. What does it matter if it is today?

What would I do if my parents were not this well off? I can afford to indulge in my crazy routine because I needn’t be concerned with a job, or work. I can afford to throw so many things out just because I saw a speck of dust on them, never having to worry about their price. I know everyone who knows about this wants me to get better. I am trying. I am trying; but this is so frustrating, so tormenting. Control yourself. Don’t burst out sobbing like you do when you’re alone. It’s funny how many times I have cried myself to sleep when my parents aren’t around. It’s amazing how much this condition has changed me. Never had I cried in my life. Well, as far as I can remember.

Don’t give so much power to this. This cannot be the only thing on my mind. Yes, there are certain thoughts I would never be able to control, but I have to contain some of them. Think about something else.

God, I love this place! This kitchen brings back so many memories. I loved coming here when I was a kid. Back then I never cared about the bathroom, or the lack of a stable supply of electricity. I still remember the taste of food laden with DESI-GHEE and the smell of the smoke filled kitchen. Many-a-times there would be more GHEE than DAL in the plate. I wonder how come these people don’t die of heart diseases by the time they turn thirty. I would have, if I ate that food everyday.

“What, Chahchi? No I am not lost in my thoughts. I am listening to what you people are talking about.”

Sigh..that stone…why was it there!

###

What a lovely morning! The sun is so bright. I love it. The blue sky’s partially covered with clouds, although I doubt they have any intention of raining down. It is winter, after all. Look at that sole bus, plying on that battered road, slowly. I think this is the one of the two buses that come through here. Imagine, only two buses a day! If you wanted to go somewhere, you have only one option. You leave at a fixed time and you must return at a fixed time.

“Yes, I am ready, Ma. Let’s go.”

I love the serenity this village has. People wandering about, going about doing their chores. I wonder why the smelly ditches don’t even bother them. And the water, they drink from the stream that comes out of the ground. I love these houses with freestone walls, and the slanting slate roofs, although I don’t know how well these would they fare against an earthquake. Well, they are not worried about it, why should I?

It is a long way to Shiv temple in Shayama. A really long way. Well, I can’t really remember. I was very young, and of course, small, when I went there once. When you’re small everything seems grand…Yes. I used to feel that the walk from the place where we park our car to Badi Ma‘s house was so long…now I am all grown up, it looks so close. Anyway, when we went to that fair at the Shiv Temple the last time, I bought a small pair of goggles from the vendor for what? Twenty Rupees…yeah I think it was twenty. That was some day!

Why could we have not taken the car? This walk is so tiring, I was right, Shayama is a long way off….what am I thinking? Back home, I am cooped up in the house all day. I remember when I would take long walks, now I am afraid of everything that has ever existed. Ugh…well, this is a nice change. I like it. I must try to enjoy it, as much as I can.

Another stray dog, great! I hate those. Why is it coming close to me? Shoo away, you filthy animal.

“What, uncle? You know this dog?”

Doggie, what a stupid name. I highly doubt that he is vaccinated.

“Stay away, Doggie. Oh, so you are just going to walk with us, for how long? All the way, I guess.”

Why is it looking at me like that?

“No, Uncle, I don’t want to pet him. Keep it away from me! Why is it following me?”

Oh, God! It is over me…damn it! I can’t believe it touched me! Did it bite? No, I don’t think so. I would have felt something if it had. But, what about its nails? It must have scratched me. Damn it, I have to look at it. Not here. I have to go back.

“What, Ma? I am going back. I have to do something important.”

###

God! This is too much. Never have I felt so anxious in my life. I will explode today, I am sure.

Why won’t these jeans come off? Finally…Let me see, where’s that torch? No scratches. If there were any, I would see them, at least under the light of this torch. Right? Yes? Yes. Yes.

Wait, I think I missed the place near my left ankle. Nope; nothing here, as well. Oh, thank god. I think I should get a shower.

###

Sigh! All done. Look at my chapped hands. I have gone completely insane. I can claim to have control over this all I want, but I don’t actually do.

I should check my legs again, just in case I missed something before.

“Oh! You two startled me. What? Nothing. No, I am not looking at my legs. No, Ma, I am not lying to you. No, I don’t have to see a doctor. I told you I read all that literature and it said that ERP is the best treatment for it. I am trying, OK? I will be OK. No, I will be. Don’t worry. No, I am not over reacting. I don’t care what everyone thought after I rushed back home. You care too much about what people think. What? You want to see my hands? Nothing’s wrong them. They’re chapped because it’s too cold here, and the water’s not helping either, so hard it is. I said I am fine. OK? Well, maybe for you a dog touching you might be nothing, but for me it is a big deal. Why? What the hell do you mean, why? It is, OK? Let me go now.”

I need a new pair of pants…

###

Who am I lying to; them or myself? I need help. Am I ashamed of this? Of the fact that I would have to visit a psychiatrist? I am an educated man. How pathetic would it be for me to be ashamed of this. Anyway, doesn’t matter whether I am ashamed or not, I can’t control this myself. I need to speak to someone who understands this better than me.

How bad can the medicine be? Even if it fries my brain, anything’s better than what I am going through right now. My head’s my enemy; how I can expect to win against it? I am powerless. I have to surrender. There is no shame in losing to yourself, I guess.

My life will change. I don’t know how exactly, but it will. I would have to go to some stranger, and explain my troubles, while putting my welfare at their behest. I will beg for happiness. I don’t know if they will ask me to attend therapy sessions, or I could just do with the medication. I don’t know how this will fit into my already planned life, but I have no choice. This condition is my companion now, probably for the rest of my life. It is a part of me.

And here Ma and Pa come…following me all the way out here. They just care about my future, and my happiness…

“Wait, Ma. Before you say anything, I will consult a doctor, OK? Let’s just go to that temple. I really want to see that place.”

That smile on their faces, I wonder how long it will last as I fight through this…this condition.

#

PC: https://pixabay.com/en/mental-health-depression-anxiety-2211184/

Giveaway of my book – Quarter Life Crisis!

As a part of promotion before official release, I am organising a giveaway at Goodreads from April 22 to May 06.

I’m giving away 15 copies(Paperback edition). The giveaway is open to people in India.

What to do to enter the giveaway:

1. Go to this link
https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/233065-quarter-life-crisis

2. Register for a Goodreads account if you don’t have one. You can use your FB account, as well

3. Key in your mailing address

The winners are selected randomly. You will be informed by email if you win a free copy.