Listening My Way Into  Jungle Nama and its Whereabouts: How audiobooks capture the creative brilliance of Ghosh and Lahiri

By Shubha Bhatt

While subscribing to the Audible membership, I recalled how nervous I’d be while appearing for “listening tests” up until middle school, anxious about getting the details wrong. Venturing my way into the world of listening has, indeed, not been a smooth ride. Picking your first audiobook can be daunting. My concern was, “what if the narration of one of my favourites isn’t like anything I expected.” But, isn’t that the point?

Amitav Ghosh, in a recent interview, highlighted how writing and reading can be very individualistic processes. We write in our personal spaces, in spaces “where we are our truest, barest selves” (says Janice Pariat) and we read in the silence of our heads. However, there’s something more in listening, we involve ourselves in multiplicity. There is the author, the characters as read by the narrator, the setting backed up by the sounds of everyday things, and you, the reader. This drew me to audiobooks. Soon after, a friend recommended listening to ‘Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sunderban’ by Amitav Ghosh. Being an admirer of how Ghosh builds upon complex plots and presents them so effortlessly, I was immediately drawn in to listen to his first book in verse. 

 Jungle Nama presents an episode of a folklore, popular in the marshy lands of the Sundarbans, that revolves around the supreme protector of the forests, Bon Bibi and her brother, Shah Jongoli. The tale unfolds when Dhona, a merchant, gathers a fleet to raid for forest goods into the southern part of the forests which is ruled by Dokkhin Rai, a mystic spirit who preys down humans in the form of a tiger. The repercussions of the ultimate settlement drawn between the two falls upon Dukhey, a poor chap who accompanied Dhona, and his mother. Ghosh’s adaptation entails the legend in a meter similar to the original verse composed in Bengali. Reading the book and listening to it accounted for two distinct experiences for me.

While the verse in the book is accompanied and “illuminated” by striking illustrations from Pakistani-American artist Salman Toor, the audiobook is rather musical with Ali Sethi drawing “melodic and percussive strategies” that are all the more native and non-English. A verse that rhymes lifts me up in ways like no other form has been able to. Sethi’s eloquent storytelling gives the rhyming scheme a lyrical elevation. At first, the recitation seemed a little fabricated but as we moved deep into the plot, the voice-overs created the Sundarbans up front. I could feel myself accompanying Dhona and responding to his instructions. A good narration can help you capture details you might miss while reading, but a great narration stays with you, you find yourself humming to the dialogues. That is what Sethi’s narration did to me. I could see beyond what was said; often finding a glimpse of myself in Dukhey’s yearnings. 

As a child, I remember listening to certain stories more often than the rest from my elder cousin. Why? Because he narrated them with so much passion or maybe he just put his best foot forward so that my sister and I slept already. Good audiobooks do the same. Alongside the diction and modulation, the narrator not only reads but reads with emotions, taking the listeners closest to what’s being penned down. Audiobooks, being a newer version of storytelling, holds a potential to provide for an experimental reading experience. Ghosh’s Jungle Nama, in its audio format, goes beyond narration and feels much like a performance. While this was an intentional attempt to boost multimedia reading practices, I have been lucky to find audiobooks that bring out the best from the best.

One such audiobook is Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2021 novel ‘Whereabouts’, read by Susan Vinciotti Bonito. Aptly titled and originally written in Italian, it captures the movements of a nameless narrator in a nameless place. My fascination for its audio listening was rooted in its format wherein the setting switches with each chapter, majorly taking place “By the Sea”, “In My Head”, “At the Coffee Bar” and more simple, everyday places. Ever since I moved to Delhi, I have developed a thing for places, any and every. I handle them with care, with poise. With a glance over the contents of Whereabouts, I knew I wanted to listen to it mainly because these everyday places have their own aroma, best captured through their sounds. 

The Guardian, in its review for the novel, calls each of its chapters as “a postcard from an everyday landmark.” The phrase sums up the novel entirely. The landmarks, as penned down by Lahiri, are universal and can be applied to any city around the world. Although some of the references of the trattoria and the piazza indicate an Italian setting, the details captured by the narrator’s movements and ways of life exceed boundaries of confinement. To observe how Jhumpa Lahiri goes about familiarising the readers with the setting, is a delight. She releases minute details with tenderness. In Whereabouts, her ability to reconstruct the backdrop with each passing chapter speaks loads about her skills and techniques, not to forget that many a times, the places were mere ideas. 

The novel captures what personal reflections feel like on a regular basis. Most of the chapters in the audiobook last for around five minutes; each entailing a new sphere of the narrator’s life and her encounters with people who walk beside her, just for a little while, in her journey of solitude

Whereabouts is also Lahiri’s way of putting forth small acts of defiance. The manner in which Bonito reads the opening lines of the chapters elevates the text. Something very similar to what Sethi does while reading Jungle Nama. Lahiri’s opening sentences act as gateways, all set to share a new tale with an intruder. They range from “Never married, but like all women, I’ve had my share of married men” to “In spring, I suffer.” One can always trust Lahiri for bringing out tales of longing, loss and lovelessness in the most poignant ways.  

I feel silence is perhaps more virtual, how does one define it? It cannot be a complete absence of sound, maybe what we aim to imply is rather, an absence of voice. And yet, the closest an audiobook can get in capturing a moment in time is through this silence which can be only brought upon by the narrator who knows when to pause and rest, thus allowing the listeners to reflect. Susan does exactly the same while reading Whereabouts. She knows her way through Lahiri’s novel and her writing style. Likewise, the prose finds home in her voice. 

The novel is translated from Italian to English by Jhumpa Lahiri herself. While listening to the audiobook, I bumped into an episode of The Writer’s Voice, a podcast series produced by The New Yorker and WNYC, wherein Jhumpa Lahiri read one of her stories. To my amazement, she was narrating a set of chapters from Whereabouts. I approached the plot differently when narrated by the two. Lahiri’s narration was raw and at ease and also, very distinct from Susan’s. 

Listening works as a source of discovery for those who truly listen. Much like Ali Sethi’s recent Coke Studio release Pasoori, Ghosh’s Jungle Nama taps into multiculturalism without presenting an indigenous legend from an English perspective. Similarly, in view of Whereabouts, Tangil Rashid points out that perhaps in Italian, Lahiri saw the possibility of writing the everywoman English denied her. Reading is reading as long as you read. Listening makes for some brilliant reading experience. And if given a chance, I would want to listen to some chapters from Whereabouts, particularly “At the Museum” and “In Spring”, while being rowed into the Sundarbans, blindfolded. 

In Defence of Sad Endings

By Lucía Pereira

It is a widely shared experience to see a book described as ‘devastating’ and think, “I need to read this immediately”. As moths are drawn to light, humans are drawn to sorrow. But why? And what, if any, are the moral implications of this?

Tragic stories, especially those that develop a reputation for being tearjerkers, are often taken as a challenge. But there is a responsibility to be borne when stories that tackle heavy themes reach an audience that is, perhaps, not their target.

Where are the limits when trauma and literature congregate? Contemporary works like A Little Life, My Dark Vanessa or The Kite Runner are not what you would call uplifting reads, and, oftentimes, this aspect has been criticised. But sad endings are not exclusive to contemporary literature. Depictions of graphic death, addiction, sexual assault and wars are rampant in English classics. 

What does this say about the reader?

There is a cyclical discourse in online spaces about the validity of such stories, but a now-deleted tweet caught my attention and essentially inspired this essay. The person who tweeted took issue with the consumption of ‘tragic’ media, and directly called into question the morality of those who can enjoy such sad books. This is not new; several authors who write fiction weaving in elements from their own trauma get told that their depictions are disgusting, unrealistic or that they should not exist at all. To this, I counter: does such silencing fix the problems, or does it create taboos around them? Readers who have encountered novels depicting trauma that is the same as, or similar to, their own, and have found some sort of solace in the stories might internalise such comments and let the comfort they once felt turn into shame. 

Now, delving into a book with certain expectations and then being slapped by an unconventional twist – like a gruesome death in a romance that seemed to be all fluff and sunshine – is a rightful cause for uproar. But, as stated before, most of us either look specifically for books with darker themes, or start reading a work with the knowledge that it made everyone and their mother cry. This is usually made clear on the cover, in the blurb or online (where we pass trigger warning lists like they’re notes in class). So, it is, I believe, unfair to call authors cruel or readers ‘sickos’ for seeking such media – the kind that does not appeal to everyone but that everyone seems to be drawn to. It is like wanting to ban horror because it is just mean to make people read about murders! (This, of course, is an exaggeration, but it gets the point across). Human beings are morbidly curious; the fact that books on terminal illnesses and the tragedies of war are bestsellers attests to this.

Much like in horror, humans take pleasure in tragedies – a twist that leaves those last pages with the ink running. But why? Aristotle, who wrote about this centuries ago, said something along these lines: the value we attribute to tragedies is tied to the pleasure we derive from them, and both of these are contingent on mimesis and catharsis. 

Mimesis is a basic principle in the creation of art, understood as a representation of nature. ‘Art imitates life’ and so on. This is key when dealing with themes of trauma or grief, because it brings to light a painful aspect of life that most people have suffered through. Even in ancient times, people bonded over pain. Perhaps they had never watched a king get stabbed, but they understood a mother’s agonising cry. Pain is a universal language.

Catharsis, said Aristotle, is the purgation and/or purification of emotions through art. Literature that takes us on a journey where a character processes their trauma (without even arriving at a “healed” place) seeps into us, holds up a mirror and says, “this struck a chord; think about why”. It is also a way to deal with your experiences from a safe, distant space, with the reassurance that you can put the book down at any time. The emotional release that catharsis brings, be it through real tears or any other manifestation of the emotion, can be therapeutic for the reader. Even in the absence of a happy ending. Maybe, by the end of the book, the character doesn’t magically walk again. Maybe grandma really is gone. Maybe the depression is here to stay. 

Yes, this is pessimistic. But there is a peculiar pocket of comfort in knowing this. It does not say, at the first sign of trouble, lie there to die! What it does say is: it’s okay to not be okay, to stack mistakes upon mistakes like they’re Jenga blocks. It is an uncomfortable truth for us to reckon with, especially if we are used to stories that end with a bow and a clear resolution. But the muddiness in these stories is drenched with realism and holds heaps of value, especially for those who can relate – those who do not often see their wounds represented.

Art has always been used as a medium for processing conflicting emotions that we perhaps tend to suppress in our daily lives. (Like ostensibly sobbing while watching Dumbo, but because you’re actually mourning your own relationship with your mother). And the on-page illustrations of these devastating stories make us feel understood. We are not a forlorn figure gazing into the horizon, feeling loss for the first time in history. People have been here before; there are footprints on this ground, fingerprints on this page. To understand this does not erase the pain that has been suffered; but it does, perhaps, help us in bearing it.  

We need these stories for the cathartic journey they take us on, and the message they leave us with: that it is okay to be hurt, or to simply not know what lies ahead.

Author’s bio:

Lucía Pereira (Montevideo, Uruguay) studies English Literature and Culture in Spain, where she moved when she was five. There, her poems have been published in literary journals such as Página Salmón. She reads and writes because she craves to merge with another.

Wordle Watching

By Neeraja Srinivasan

If there is one thing I love doing, endlessly, incessantly, ceaselessly, it is observing. However borderline creepy this sounds, I’m a watcher. Not in a ‘Joe Goldberg; I will hunt you down and stab you to death’ way but in a ‘Your Instagram story about Chocos from two weeks ago made me write a poem’ way. The little gestures, conversations and scenes I surround myself with shape my personality, and as a result of that, the art I create. In a post-pandemic world, a large chunk of my ‘artistic lurking’ exists in online spaces – namely Twitter. I like to think of Twitter as a cesspool of the world’s deepest, darkest, most random thoughts. My timeline is usually full to the brim with the perils of emotionally unavailable teenagers, extensive dissections of Taylor Swift’s songs, naive hopes of college campuses reopening in India and everything in between. However, recently, it seems like all of this collectively comes to a pause at midnight – for a good ten minutes, my timeline is taken over by little squares coloured in green, yellow and black. ‘Wordle’ is an online, once-a-day game that invites players to guess a five-letter word within six tries. After each attempt, the game tells you whether any of your letters are in the secret word and if they are in the correct place. The recent buyout of Wordle by The New York Times facilitated even more buzz around its sudden success. 

One reason I find the Wordle phenomenon intriguing is the lesser-known history of crossword puzzles, which is what inspired its birth. The first-ever crossword was created by Arthur Wynne, an editor at the New York World to serve as a source of solace during the First World War. When the news began to be dominated by bleak headlines as the war progressed, he saw a need to give readers refuge in the form of puzzles that they had control over, as opposed to the fragmented world around them that spiralled out of control. Moreover, every puzzle had to pass the Sunday Breakfast Test; that is, clues and answers needed to be appropriate for all ages. Although the objective behind crosswords transitioned from relief to ritual, one thing remains constant – they bring diverse people together. We might speak different languages, belong to various cultures and lead contrasting lives but as long as we come together to solve the Wordle, something so microscopic yet so monumental, we’re all essentially the same right? This is precisely why I play and love watching others play Wordle, this habitual activity is so much more than a game. It’s a reminder that day-to-day rituals, laced with warmth and comfort will never change. 

The utterly charming origin story behind the invention of Wordle is also what accelerated its fast-paced popularity. Josh Wardle conjured it up for his word-game loving partner. Now, along with 300,000 others around the world, they’ve built a little tradition of their own. In ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, Jake realizes that he wants to propose to Amy while watching her solve a crossword. He looks over at her as if he could watch her do just that, for the rest of eternity. When you think of someone solving a word puzzle, you instantly think of solitary enjoyment; a head bent over the morning newspaper, faces scrunched up in concentration on buses to school, scribbles of clues on bits of paper. Still, I think we’d all like someone to solve the daily Wordle with. Someone to share our results with. Someone waiting to hear our thoughts on today’s answer. Someone to indulge in domestic sweetness with. I really do believe that the oldest of human needs is wanting someone to share our teeny, tiny redemptions with. There is hidden intimacy in basic tasks; buying orange juice, baking a cake, washing vessels, picking up laundry.

I’ve also been thinking about pandemic induced urban loneliness and how it has washed over us. How all our hearts could use some stitching back together. This is a genre of loneliness specific to overcrowded cities that never sleep. Of course the market’s bustling, movies are running and street lights, ever-shining. But that’s not what I’m referring to. Despite access to the internet, the promise of physical touch if I need it and close proximity to modern civilization, I’m often overcome with a post-leaving-your-best-friends house kind of daze. I’m convinced we try to interrogate this sadness by relishing in the ordinary, like playing a game of Wordle. In holding on to the knowledge that there are thousands of us who make it our mini-mission to finish the Wordle every day, and that there are other mini-missions we share, I find consolation. 

Why Bojack Horseman could’ve been written by Murakami

By Neeraja Srinivasan

“Dear Diane,

It’s me, your old pen pal Leo. It definitely isn’t Bojack Horseman writing this. You’re a good person, Diane, and that’s the most important thing. Even if no one appreciates you, it’s important that you don’t stop being good. I like how you always bring your own bag to the grocery stores and how you’re always organized to go places. I like how you always chew gum on the airplane so your ears will pop. A lot of people might not appreciate that about you, but I do.”

To say I’m always thinking about this quote from Bojack Horseman is a little bit of an understatement. I’m never not thinking about it. There, that’s a better way to put it. I started this show back in 2019 and still haven’t finished it – I simply can’t get myself to. Similarly, every time I close the last page of a book by Haruki Murakami, I’m left with a lingering unease. The kind that settles in the bottom of your stomach, entangled with feelings of loneliness, unworthiness, and grief. Power dynamics, drug abuse, mental health, and childhood trauma are all addressed in the show. Throughout its 6 seasons, we see characters’ behaviours and self-destructive tendencies being deeply scrutinised under a microscopic lens. By watching them attempt to overcome trauma responses and break cycles of their own toxicity, one thing is clear – these characters were not written to be loved and cherished by the audience. They were written to portray the inner battles of the human mind; how we’re always our own harshest critics.

When I say that this show could’ve been written by Murakami, I mean that he has a way of not just getting under the skin of his characters, but also getting into their minds, their psyche, what makes them who they are, why they think the way they do, and how their past, imperfect as it is, shapes them and their future – indefinite and uncertain. For example, I can’t help but think about the way Toru Watanabe, the protagonist of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, was written. In some ways, he is eerily similar to Bojack. On the outside, Toru is quite ordinary. But, as the novel progresses, we learn that he is practically a loner, riddled with self-doubt. His complicated relationship with death as a result of his best friend’s suicide is explored and used as reasoning for his commitment issues; how he avoids getting close to anyone so as to not get hurt.

Bojack is a severely depressed, retired actor from a former hit sitcom. He longs for a simple, loving life (like the one depicted in his show) but never really takes the steps to create it for himself. His untreated mental illness absorbs him like quicksand every time he tries to break himself away from the shackles of his own damaging, problematic instincts. Both Bojack and Toru sleep with many women, rarely seeking to form any sort of real emotional connection. Numbing their way through life, it’s almost like they find solace in loneliness. Like they fear being known or loved. 

Despite their inhibitions, one can’t help but feel bad for them. I was recently reading a book called ‘Maybe You Should Talk To Someone’ by Lori Gottlieb. In one section of her book, she explains how individuals often unknowingly sabotage a troubled person’s (in this case, Toru and Bojack’s) recovery. She goes on to explain how someone has to fill the role of the troubled person in order to maintain the status quo and ensure the homeostasis of society. Someone who blurs the lines between what is objectively moral and what isn’t, someone to feel sympathy for, someone to look at and think ‘I will not end up like this. I will be better.’ Which is why I’m left wondering if Toru and Bojack continue to be the way they are because society unconsciously resists positive change from people like them.

“Am I just doomed to be the person that I am? Diane, I need you to tell me that I’m a good person. I know that I can be selfish and narcissistic and self-destructive, but underneath all that, deep down, I’m a good person…tell me that I’m good, Diane.” At this moment in the show, it’s almost like we’re the ones Bojack is talking to. In a strikingly alike scene, Toru says to Midori,

“I don’t want our relationship to end like this. You’re one of the very few friends I have, and it hurts not being able to see you. When am I going to be able to talk to you? I want you to tell me that much, at least. “It’s an undressing of emotions coming from two immature men who pride themselves in not talking about their feelings. They’re begging for love, but can’t explicitly convey that because they were never taught how to. Both of them expect forgiveness and seek validation from women whom they know do not have the heart to cut them off, despite their dangerous behavior. So, how do we forgive people who’ve caused so much pain? Are you a bad person for the ways you’ve tried to kill your sadness? Is anyone really capable of change?

Shireen Qadri coined the term ‘Murakami Bingo’, referring to the usual tropes that Murakami consistently resorts to in his novels. While many accuse him of being repetitive, it is undeniable that the fictitious worlds he crafts in his novels exist elegantly in a time warp between reality and fantasy. In these worlds, little things do not matter. You are instead allowed the space to introspect and ponder deeper questions, like the meaning of life and death. This genre of magical realism is one that Murakami has successfully mastered, which is another similarity between his work and the show. The creative team behind the show creates a dimension filled with goofy antics and animal puns, but also one where characters’ existential crises, caused by manifestations of their trivial worries, are addressed.

This is all to say that, at the end of the day, the media and literature we consume are all interwoven. Stories are meant to be consumed in relation to other stories, the people around us, and the world we live in. After an emotionally draining day of critically analysing Murakmi and re-watching some episodes of Bojack Horseman, I’m thinking about how we function normally and go about our day, eating breakfast, attending class, whilst casually carrying frightening feelings about ourselves in the pocket of our hearts. These feelings are hard to bear. How do they not wash over us completely, drowning us? How do any of us ever get out of bed? Maybe that’s why we read Murakami and watch Bojack; because they teach us how to go on living with these feelings without being suffocated by them.

An Ode to The Last Chapters of Textbooks That I Never Read

By Rushali Thacker

Recognizing Perfectionist Traits

The earliest signs of perfectionism that I recall take me back to my school days. For me, diving into a subject meant starting from scratch, and that might otherwise be considered a good thing if I was researching or something, but maybe not so much when preparing for exams. It meant I had to start from the Introduction chapter, which usually had the lowest weightage for any exam. Doesn’t seem crazy enough? Well, I had to do it even when I was picking up the book for the first time just a day before the exam. And it goes without saying that if I was reading the Introduction, I had never have gone through the other chapters. With this stringent reading habit added to my slow reading speed, I’d barely make it to the last chapter of any academic textbook.

All I did with it was depriving myself of the satisfaction of having done my best. It always, always felt like I could have done more. Which should not, in any way, seem like an inspiration to anyone, let alone a perfectionist like me. I have been utterly dissatisfied with my efforts over the years because of the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. And to have had the satisfaction that I did my best for the two decades of my life, I probably would need one more to give my very best efforts to feel that I didn’t in any way get more than I deserved. But this video by The School of Life tells why this is just a pretty illusion by putting forth an important question, “What is so imperfect about perfectionism?”. To which they say that perfectionism isn’t driven by the desire to do the perfect work, but to feel less awful about oneself.

For most of my life, my mind has attempted to work ideally in the real world. Even though I obviously believe that an ideal way of existence is not possible, in reality, I find my efforts directed towards it. So, all I have been doing is building a house of disappointments for myself and hoping to find shelter underneath it.

The two things that I love doing the most—reading and writing—are burdened with this perfectionism. When I read a book, I have to read it from the top left corner of the front cover to the bottom right corner of the back cover. Every word or non-word has to be registered in my mind. I’d go through the publication details, the ISBN and other such things which normally would be skipped by a reader. Only then did I feel I had read the book completely.

With writing, sometimes before beginning a piece, I have a near-perfect impression of it in my mind. I fantasize about the idea of it so much that when it’s finally on paper; it feels like a failure. Then I’d keep postponing working on it until I knew I could make it perfect, which is never. And that’s the reason I have more unfinished pieces than finished ones. Even though I put no effort each day of my life to get to those pieces, I keep telling myself this pretty lie that someday I will. Reading anything I wrote a few months back makes me cringe. If I would ever get myself to work on an old piece, I’d probably discard it.

The Non-Perfectionist Side 

There are most certainly parts of me where I do not fixate on perfectionism. I’ll tell you about the one that first comes to mind—cooking. I am a haphazard and unsophisticated cook. I guess it’s not tainted with perfectionist traits because I am simply amazed, that I can cook something. I expect nothing more from that.

Discouraging the Perfectionist

I’ve been tweeting a lot these days, for two apparent reasons—I know I cannot edit it once it’s out there (no, deleting and tweeting it again is not an option) and that it’s nothing but a lie when I say those one-liners could have found a home in a perfect essay or poem someday. Because guess what? I haven’t used a single one of those here. And again, I do not want to burden my essay on perfectionism to be perfect!

Perfectionists often tend to feel that if they cannot give their best to something, they’d rather not rather do it. I battle with that thought daily. It is unrealistic and almost disturbing to expect only the best from myself, always. The best does not translate to flawless. And that doing my best isn’t supposed to come in my way of DOING IT.

One quote that I hold on for dear life from Roy’s, The God of Small Things, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” My desire to not be careless with my words has somehow turned into an unhealthy projection of this desire on the people around me. I absolutely adore this quote, but I need to tell myself what this line does not mean…

  1. to put undue pressure on me (or others) to never even mistakenly let out a careless word.
  2. that a careless word can never be remedied. (Depending on the circumstances, careful words can sometimes remedy careless words.)
  3. people cannot love once careless words are spoken. (Despite these careless words, I will love people and people will love me.)

It has never been about not making a mistake, but about how we deal with it.

Now, I have arranged the books on my bookshelf in a colour-coded manner. I am not very good at it (as you can see), but in my mind, the Agatha Christie (first from the right) doesn’t at least go after the pink Jane Austen (second from the right). My sister, blessedly devoid of these whims of perfectionism, placed it here and, obviously, I noticed it. But I do not feel the urge to replace it. I guess that’s some progress?

Let’s hope I read the last chapters first, from academic texts someday and give up on reading ISBNs of books.

Bio: Rushali Thacker (she/her) claims to have her unwavering love for sunsets, ice cream, and mountains. She is paving her way through the uncertainties of life by listening intently and, well, trying not to be a perfectionist.


Illumination – A review of an ode

Collaborative efforts of Yashika Doshi and Neeraja Srinivasan

Illumination’ is a 20-minute film shot in the style of a personal documentary. The movie revolves around the life of a notable Indian English poet, Kiriti Sengupta. The prominent themes of the movie as a whole are those of spirituality, philosophy, and contemplation which leave you with a sense of tranquillity. After my first watch, the short film reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing as a result of its simple, homely nature and focus on a strong Bengali narrative.  When I finished watching this ode, my initial thoughts were to step back for a minute and think about this line towards the end, “I speak when I write prose, and I read when I write poems.” This is one of those rare times where I felt that I’ll have a new perspective each time I read it again.

And such is the work of Mr. Sengupta – make one pause, step back and introspect. His written work seems to be a reflection of his own characteristics. Both he and his poetry have a peaceful presence. A poet, editor, publisher, translator, curator of a literary festival, he dons many hats and is as skilled as any lover of words can get. To think that a dentist by profession, and with no formal training in writing neither prose nor poetry, his story is inspiring to all. A lesson that I took away from the video is the idea that poetry is subjective. It is a comforting thought since poetry is often perceived as good or bad. Poetry is a language, one that is unique to each individual and molded according to their emotions and experiences. It is a tool that leaves its imprints on people, always leaving us craving for more.

Some of my personal favorite lines from his books are – “The tiny particles scattered in the air absorb the sunlight; they seem to be delighted and drone the song of liberation”; “India meditates across the map, guided or otherwise, sometimes endorsing a pair of faded jeans”; “How many hues have you envisaged so far? I ask about the hues but not your bizarre way of depicting them.” His poetry can be described as Ruskin Bond-esque, the kind that is best accompanied with a cup of hot chai on a rainy day. This film is the perfect watch when you’re looking to relax a bit and take a step back from a mundane, daily routine. It encourages one to keep pursuing their passion because things will always work out if you work hard and stay humble. It could also serve as the perfect classroom film for students studying creative writing or regional literature as it provides them with an insight into the artistic process and headspace of a writer.  

The documentary, in itself, is beautifully made, as it takes the audience on a calming journey through Mr. Sengupta’s inspirations, published work, and literary associations. His son and wife provide personal tributes as the former narrates his poem and his wife shares titbits about the couple’s pre-poetry days. Personally, I also found it quite peculiar that Mr. Sengupta’s entire life was encapsulated within a mere 20 minutes. It helped me gain some perspective and taught me that focusing on the grander scheme of things, rather than brooding over the little details is essential to stay level-headed.  I could not help but wonder if there are certain decisions that Mr. Sengupta looked back on and wished he did something differently or if he’s thankful that a culmination of these decisions, good or bad, brought him to where he is now. 

The use of natural elements like fading trees, the charming evening sky, the usage of warm, calming tones such as yellow and green, and the soothing Indian classical tunes in the background only add on the alluring effect of Mr. Sengupta recites his pieces of work and once again, leaves the viewer wanting for more.

India’s poets are often sidelined in history since our society treats the arts as an unworthy occupation. This tribute is not only a lovely gesture but also a step towards helping understand the fact that poetry isn’t just an occupation to writers such as Mr. Sengupta, it is survival. As his wife mentions, even when it seemed like their life was crumbling around them, he continued to scribble pieces of poetry on his computer. It most certainly seems like poetry to him, is salvation.

On Reading Kafka’s Diaries Before and After Pandemic

By Aashna Nagpal

I remember this exact moment. I was on the terrace, lying down to soak the winter sun on a mattress. I was reading Franz Kafka’s Diaries: 1910-1923 while a Ray LaMontagne song played in the background. One of my little quirks is that I need to listen to a song playing on a loop while I am reading a book or I get distracted by my own thoughts. Both the book by Kafka and the song playing had so much to do with the emptiness of life, yet in that moment I felt so full. Full of calm. Full of hope. It sounds Romantic but it wasn’t. I felt so full because of the simplicity of that moment, realising how little I needed to feel that way. It was an uncomplicated feeling and yet it evades language.

Only a few weeks later, the sun became too much, a deadly riot took place in my city and my college was shut down because of the pandemic. That feeling stopped feeling simple anymore. It felt distant, a thick veil of fog kept it out of my reach. Unable to read anything new because I felt so overwhelmed, I searched for comfort in the familiar. I decided to read Kafka’s diaries on my phone again. Unexpectedly, it felt like I was reading a completely different book. The bleakness of a single month transformed the way in which I perceived Kafka’s diaries. Kafka’s iterations of his loneliness, his frustrations, his anxieties and his oddities came across in a completely different way. Sentences that I didn’t even register in my first reading stood out now, louder than any song playing in the background.

If I was asked to tell a single thematic concern of all of Kafka’s writings, I have to say estrangement. Several months after 2020 has ended, several of us are still trying to process the events of the year. The estrangement is multidimensional- estrangement from the people we used to meet everyday, from the world which we used to experience and the worst of all, estrangement from ourselves. Kafka writes, “ A segment has been cut out of the back of his head. The sun looks in and the whole world with it. It makes him nervous, it distracts him from his work, and moreover it irritates him that he should be the very one excluded from the spectacle.” Shut within four walls and stewing in our thoughts, having no option but to confront things we successfully evaded before the pandemic. I feel these words scratch and gnaw my insides as I attempt to digest them.

After having been in the pandemic for more than a year and a half now, having gone through the traumatic second wave where I and my family got infected, I am sure that if I read Kafka’s Diaries again for the third time — it will be unlike either of my previous readings. I will hold off on that though, I am carrying enough scratchy words under my skin for now.

A Note on Distorted Perceptions

By Aashna Nagpal

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way water distorts everything when we look through it. Pristine, clear water scrambles straight lines into deep curves and breaks the continuity of an object into unaligned fragments. This got me thinking how much do we distort when we perceive the world, even with a supposedly clear state of mind.

We also know that color isn’t inherent to an object, that it absorbs some part of the light and reflects the rest. What it reflects is then translated into what we perceive as a certain color depending on how it interacts with our eyes and brain. We don’t even perceive the colors in the same way- what appears red to me could appear orange to someone else. Neither of them is wrong when they argue that the object is definitively red and orange. 

Perception changes from person to person, even from time to time. To someone, clouds can seem like explosions happening in slow motion in the atmosphere and flowers can be seeds bursting at snail’s pace. I once read somewhere that since our perception of reality is constructed through the five senses, there could be so much around us that we are incapable of perceiving because we lack the sense to perceive it.

In the Ptolemaic system, the Medieval man would look at the farthest stars in the sky and believe that he was looking at the edge of the universe. Before Galileo, just because it seemed like the sun travels across the sky, the Church was insistent on believing that the sun revolves around the earth. The Little Prince believed the flower on his planet was one of a kind in the universe. What represents Hamlet’s father’s ghost will differ from reader to reader. 

In the times we live in, when most people state their opinions as if they were facts, it’s worth reflecting on the ignorance of people who fail to notice how much gets distorted when we perceive things. We are limited most by our own perceptions and confusing them for the truth. We often believe with all our hearts that our inner and outer turmoils are unique to us, that no one before us has felt a particular emotion with that intensity; that our predicament, our ennui, our thoughts begin and end with us. Our ego fools us and we can spend all our lives in this illusion. While we all may perceive things differently, we’re all the same in essence, with essentially the same restlessness. Past our differing perceptions, we all just want to feel heard- which is why I think people shout their perceptions at the top of their voices these days. This similar loneliness in all of us might make us a little less lonely if we perceive it differently: if everyone is lonely at the end of the day, maybe no one really is, maybe we’re just supposed to feel this way, maybe this is the cost we pay for being able to think and feel and love.

Reclaiming my orgasm?

by Shubhangi Thakur

I think I was really young when I first saw a man masturbating in broad daylight. Young enough to not know what he was doing. The visuals were disturbing just like every unsolicited dick picture that slides into my DMs but I moved on. However, I can’t put my finger on a moment when I actually learned about it or when someone sat down to tell me about it. But I do recall the feelings of guilt I associated with the act of masturbation initially. It stemmed from this really big sense that it was maybe something I wasn’t allowed to do or definitely something people shouldn’t know about me. 

I think I’ve been a late bloomer in terms of masturbating, thanks to zero sex education and poor sexual curiosity. (I also very strongly feel that sex education is more than just using condoms for sex)

It was when one of my female friends casually brought it up in conversation and “I was too shy to admit I had never done it” that got me thinking down the spiral of owning my self-pleasure. 

I wish the idea of masturbating wasn’t so taboo for us women and I had explored my self-pleasure earlier. Oddly enough, it took a boy to tell me that women could masturbate, and then Google to tell me how. 

Why are we so coy about self-pleasure? Why is self-pleasure relegated to an innate sense of shame and embarrassment, or horror?

 I never had an open conversation about masturbation in school and it kind of bothers me in retrospect about the conversational limit that we women put on ourselves and our sexuality. It was largely and liberally related to corny jokes among boys.  No wonder there is still a glaring discrepancy in the way male and female masturbation is cited in mainstream conversation today. 

Even to this day, it’s uncanny how my female friends would be open to confessing about masturbating in one on one conversations with me but somehow the openness of talking about it in a group seemed uncouth or simply not worthy enough. The secrecy around masturbating and female pleasure is something that revolves around a lot of female friend groups. It’s the sanctimonious characteristics that we attach to being a “girl” that associate female pleasure to moral transgression. It sets the tone for the character assassination of a woman who’s self-assured of her sexuality and is able to talk about it without any apprehensions.

Masturbation is always critiqued with an air of deep-rooted misogyny in which a woman who plucks up the courage to touch and pleasure herself is deemed and labelled as very unladylike and inviting labels to be called ‘ slut or a whore’ 

Breaking the cultural conditioning and the stigma attached to female masturbation is exactly what we need to do to help the young girls stumbling out of their puberty who are mortified of touching themselves because of futile societal threats.

There is always an extreme abashment attributed to something as natural as sexual desire and pleasure, which for us Indian women is just limited to a social obligation of procreation. We are persistently taught to think of ourselves as objects of sexual pleasure rather than delegates of it.

I fail to understand how female masturbation can arouse any moral panic in our society — It isn’t shameful to want to learn and explore our own bodies. The moral panic very well delineates the patriarchal roots that frame the need to curb female desire. Is taming us into sexual austerity just another way to control us?

 I feel the most intimate relationship is the one you have with your body and it’s very important to know what you like and how you like it otherwise you’ll be dependent on your partner to figure it out, which isn’t fair, to be honest. 

Taking control of my sexual pleasure makes me feel empowered.  Gaining control makes me feel complete — I don’t depend on anyone else to achieve an orgasm. Whether or not you have a sexual partner, your orgasms are always important for your sense of self. 

Trust me, ladies, you have to take your pleasure into your own hands. 

I’m not here to tell you how healthy masturbation is, google can do that. I’m here to tell you it makes me feel empowered and it is something you can and you should talk about in a room full of people.