Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts

"The traffic grew worse by the day. There seemed to more cars every evening. As the jams grew worse, so did Pinky Madam's temper. One evening, when we were just crawling down M.G. Road into Gurgaon, she lost it completely. She began screaming.

'Why can't we go back, Ashoky? Look at this fucking traffic jam. It's like this every other day now.'

'Please, don't begin that again. Please. '
'Why not? You promised me, Ashoky, we'll be in Delhi just three months and get some paperwork and go back. But I'm starting to think that... that bastard today who overtook me... Jesus, I can't believe the way some people drive! At first I thought "All right, all right, he's got a kid in the back, maybe he's running late for school, you know, the usual, I can sympathise, I also do the school run, but the way he cut in in front of me... Man, I would have skinned the little bugger if I'd laid my hands on him!

The mind wanders sometimes. My mind, I mean. It's a funny process how my eyes wander off the page and my subsconscious takes over. I imagine my brain as a hunter, sitting down, waiting patiently, stalking and waiting some more. Until the precise moment when my guard is down and it can send all kinds of unrelated thoughts and images into my head. Usually, when I'm reading a book.

I'm not one of those readers who get distracted easily. Having been born and raised in Cuba, I'm almost totally inured to external influences. Try preparing for a dissertations whilst waiting for route 98, destination La Lisa, or reading Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest on board of an M1 (that's a camel, by the way, not a real one, c'mon, Cuba, tropical island, you know, but a bus that resembles one). Pressed against someone else's armpit or smelling someone's foul breath after they've just had a cigarette, that was me, book in hand, and the other hand in my pocket. Wallets and purses had a habit of going walkies in those days. I could tell you stories that would make you laugh... or cry.

But, no, I don't get distracted easily. Why, then, does my mind occasionally wander off the page, leaving me with images and words that are completely unrelated to the text I'm reading? It's not that the picture in my head and the subsequent narrative are non-sequiturs; they're indeed a follow-through to the previous idea. But still, they're neither part of the plot, nor conducive to the enactment of a situation belonging to the book in which I'm immersed.

An explanation beckons, of course, and I think that there are a few elements to consider. First of all, this phenomenon doesn't occur with just any book, but with special ones. The fragment with which I opened this post belongs to The White Tiger, a novel that had me under its spell from the word go. Aravind Adiga's story about Balram Halwai and his unorthodox approach to business  is raw. His voice is original and his vision unique. The plot is strong and well-constructed and the characters believable. Therefore my short mental "excursions" were not caused by tedium but by the rich narrative to which I unconsciously added my own intricate stream of quotidianness. Which leads me to the second factor. By linking, unintentionally, recent or past experiences of my existence to passages in books, that text (whether it be a novel, poem or short story) is contributing to my own personal development. This is probably the sine qua non of literature: not just a pastime, but also, a pathway down which we commence our very own journey in life. A journey that will take us through a landscape of emotional peaks and troughs. And along the way, this literary see-saw helps us form our own identity. My mental escapades are part of that process and may they continue.

© 2012

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 22nd January at 10am (GMT)


  1. Sounds really intriguing -- thanks for another great review!

  2. "...I could tell you stories that would make you laugh... or cry."

    I wish you would write a book's worth of them and then I could review it.

  3. "We read to know we are not alone."

    I heard that somewhere...a film...

  4. Well said; we do, and should, read to grow.

    I devoured The White Tiger between Carlisle and Euston. Very good book, and not too many halitosis sufferers on the train.

  5. Many thanks for your comments.

    That day will come, Judith, it will come.

    That was a good quote, vicomtesse, I like it.

    Titus, I read The White Tiger in two or three days. In fact, it's such a page-turner that I didn't realise it was still showing on my shelfari page online when I'd already moved onto the next book.

    Greetings from London.

  6. I find it can be very useful to have external input when I'm thinking. The classic example for me is academic conferences: when I'm sitting and listening to someone talking about their work, that's the time I get a lot of my most productive thinking done, in terms of new directions for my own research.

  7. "Whilst racist violence is more lethal, in the long term polite racism hurts deeper and its effects are longer-lasting. It erodes our confidence, it creates an unreal image of black and Asian people and it triggers off conflicts between generations."

    Beautiful arrangement of words, ugly sentiment. Honest truth.

  8. Many thanks for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.



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