Monday, February 28, 2011

She loves me, she loves me not

I arrived at the spot and looked at the bench. It was empty as usual. For past several weeks now it was thus. Empty.

This bench, our only rendezvous, had been a witness to some of the most wonderful moments of our lives. We would chat here unaware of the hours passing by and each time, when finally bidding goodbyes, unspoken promises of returning the next weekend would get exchanged in our eyes. Her eyes! Such beautiful eyes sitting in that pretty face that one would want to lose one’s heart in their depths. Enchanting as she was, she looked like an angel when small curls of her hair would kiss her cheeks and with a shy yet striking smile she would keep brushing those mischievous curls aside. Her honeyed voice would keep me hooked onto the sundry discussions we would have and the sweetness getting registered in my heart would help keep the moments alive till the next time we would meet.

But all seemed to have ended abruptly and quite mysteriously. She wouldn’t come anymore to meet me. Where did we lose each other? Lost in my thoughts I sat on the bench and plucked a flower and started working on that avowed method of finding the truth of my love – she loves me, she loves me not. One by one I removed the petals calling alternately the agreement and the denial. I soon reached the last petal. She loves me not. It can’t be. It just can’t be. Horrified, I recalled from memory the many ways she used to look at me. Those mesmerizing eyes spoke what she never would have needed to say. In utter desolation I looked down at the petals that had fallen on my lap. Eight amber colored petals had sealed my fate. Harmless looking eight petals had struck misery in my heart. I wanted to hate them. But I wouldn’t have gained anything. I kept staring at the eight broken pieces of my heart.

Eight…hmm. I figured if I had started the exercise not by the agreement but by the denial then the result would have been in my favor. Eight is an even number, so in the iteration if the agreement first fell on an even number it will recur on all the subsequent even numbers. To confirm I plucked another flower and this time I started by the denial – she loves me not. And sure enough, I ended up immensely satisfied with the proclamation of the agreement - she loves me! Treacherous, as it seemed, this botanical experiment with the application of a little logic could fool the heart. I dusted the petals off my lap and decided to wait for some more time - a routine since past many disappointing weeks.

May be she didn’t love me and that was indeed the truth. May be I had been a fool beguiled by her charms. May be that was the truth and I needed to accept and move on. Else, what could explain her continued absence?

While I was busy searching for answers, a whiff of perfume wafted towards me from across my left. I turned and saw that a girl had planted herself on the vacant seat beside me. I looked at her and we exchanged smiles. Something fluttered within me and I couldn’t check myself from basking in her smile. She had picked up a book and evidently looked alone. May be it wouldn’t be a bad idea to strike a conversation with her. Hardly had this thought occurred when my memory served up a picture, from not too distant past, of a couple on the same bench where the guy looked remarkably similar to me and the girl very familiar. Arrested for a moment by guilt, I checked myself in pursuing my desire to speak to my neighbor.

But why shouldn’t I speak to her? Shouldn’t I allow myself a fresh start when the certainty of an unrequited love is staring at my face?

I looked at my left from the corner of my eyes. What a pretty sight she was! Every now and then she would give a jerk to her head in an effort to put away strands of hair from her eyes. And catching this movement would be her dainty earrings that fetched attention to her beautiful neck the nape of which she would occasionally caress with her long slender fingers. A sigh escaped my lips and I shifted in my seat to prepare to form an introductory remark when suddenly from behind appeared a pair of small arms that stretched ahead to go round the neck of the girl. My neighbor, startled at first, gave into a giggle and pulled a small mass over her shoulder and brought it over to front and looking at me said, “My daughter.”

I politely smiled and regained my earlier posture. In a moment I bent ahead and plucked a flower, affirmed the number of petals – odd – and started, “she loves me … she loves me not …”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A thousand splendid suns...

…that’s the name of the novel I just finished reading. Written by Khaled Hosseini, it’s his second work after The Kite Runner.

The experience has left me with sorrow mixed with vexation and a little disappointment too. Sorrow, understandably, because of the misery that befalls the characters in the story. But it is at the other two emotional investments, which I am myself surprised at (surprised I say because the novel pummels the expectations, entirely justifiable, I had of it), a note is warranted.

A thousand…almost reads like a continuation of his previous work – The Kite Runner. The characters have changed but the plight, owing to the backdrop of a crumbling Afghanistan, seems to be a continuing narrative from his previous work. So what is lacking is a freshness that one would have expected after reading Khaled earlier. It did turn out to be a page turner, but not because I got sucked into the story but more so for a hope that the story would somewhere rise above the predictability it had surrendered to.

The story begins by sketching the childhood of two girls living at a time when Afghanistan’s decline had just begun. Vivid as it unfolds, the initial part of the story becomes a victim of this slow unraveling and threatens to reduce to a drag. As if the author himself realized this, the subsequent events of the story occur at a rapid pace. The author explores the brutality of those times in Afghanistan and the helplessness of those stuck in the crossfire of destiny and rocket shells of the mujahedeen. But it’s here where one would find the author slip off the path of reason. The muteness of Laila, one of the characters, is puzzling. She is shown to be an intelligent girl and gives ample examples of her reasoned approach towards life. But at times when one would expect her to rise to occasion, her deflating and frustrating response befuddles the reader. The author successfully manages to arrest the attention of the reader by delving deep into the pathos of the time; his juxtaposition of a hitherto progressive and peaceful Afghanistan with that of a now unrecognizable, broken, brutal entity that it had become is stark and hits you with the force it intended to begin with, but one can’t miss a deliberate attempt to prolong the misery of the characters in the story.

The story pales in comparison with The Kite Runner.

Both the stories are telling the troubled times of Afghanistan but The Kite Runner is refreshingly subtle. To be fair, the approach of the stories cannot be held as a reason for critique – one chooses subtleness over candor while the other chooses to pull the motif to forefront and is more direct. But it’s the déjà vu that disappoints as one starts to flip through the pages hoping each time something different to show up from the author.

This second novel makes Khaled look so formulaic. The narrative of both of his works follows the same cadence – a slow, descriptive start, which revisits the good old times and lays the foundation for the cruel contrast that is to come later, a rapid declension into the pit of sorrow, and a hopeful, reconciliatory resurface towards the end. But despite this predictable approach, the author walks away with credit for the eloquence in describing the sadness he builds about his characters. So persuasive is he that one waxes and wanes along with the characters.

A thousand…suffers under the weight of a very successful work coming previously from the same author. Also, there is an attendant predicament here, which is that if one was to read A thousand… first and then pick The Kite Runner, one might run the risk of under appreciating a fine work like The Kite Runner. The criticism offered could be same as presented above - that of repetitiveness. Though one does appreciate A thousand… for painting a picture of the utter loss that humanity has suffered in Afghanistan, as a work of literature it would not find a place alongside The Kite Runner.