Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Vanishing Act

A friend’s girlfriend gifted him Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Elephant Vanishes’. What was she thinking? Maybe she did not mean to do ‘the act’ at the time. Maybe it was just a ‘good’ book being carefully selected for the guy of the moment. In any case, intentionally or not, planned or not, the vanishing act happened.

Personally, when it comes to ‘judging’ a book, when required to ‘comment’ on a book, I have got a very limited skill set. Qualifying a book as good or bad is hard task for me, providing a literary and critical review is still something that I can only do in my head. Whether the book is worth the time and effort of a person, in simple terms of yes or no, I can say with some certainty. But then again that will be my take on the book and generally the trend has been that there aren’t many takers of my takes (digressing to avoid the unavoidable thought that popped up just now and referring to the Supreme Court verdict – there will always be enough keepers for any ‘keep’ no matter whose ‘keep’, plus what about all the men who are kept? anyways…).

Coming back to books, let’s take, for example, Chetan Bhagat. He made himself ‘someone’ with five points. Infact got more than five points for the effort, which he deserved to an extent. So, I would say the book is worth the time and effort. Now, from there it all goes downhill (not that downhill is a bad direction all the time but for the Holy Ganges and Chetan Bhagat it seems to be the case). ‘One night’ was certainly not worth the night of effort I put. ‘3 mistakes of his life’ was my second mistake. However, the title of the second book seemed prophetic when I read his third mistake ‘2 states’. Did you notice these numbers in the titles of his books? I just did! Something to do with being an engineer? Maybe. In any case, what my ‘opinion’ on my senior’s oeuvre (to use the fancy word) would be – first book worth your time, other three – let them be his mistakes only.

And yet, to emphasise again, this would be my take. Your take, opinion, view, perspective, thoughts, whatever we may call that may be different.

But we are moving away from the vanishing act. Before Chetan takes another para (all my sympathies are with him in regards to the ‘3 Idiots’ fiasco) let me get back. The object here was not to discuss any particular author or a book, it was to look behind the object of gifting a book and the vanishing act that is not foreseen, forethought, foreplanned (if that is a word!), etc. etc.

I know a guy who gifted two books to this girl he saw, went around, was friends with for a while. Let’s just say that it was me. That way we can look at it more closely. It was to be their (our, I should say) first meet and there was quite a build-up to the meeting. Not knowing what to buy (for some reason I was sure that one needed to get a gift) I opted for a safe option - get her a book (it would be a gift as well as some sort of statement that I am into books, if you know what I mean). But picking a book was not easy. It can’t be the ‘Love Story’, too obvious and the poor girl dies as well. It can’t be a thriller – it’s a gift for a girl. It can’t be a classic – too much of propriety involved there. It can’t be Wodehouse- no propriety there. It can’t be ‘Gone with the wind’ or ‘A Suitable Boy’ – come on who gifts someone they want to say they like or love or something of the sorts, over a 1000pages of such small font!! So after racking my brains for a long time I decided that the book has to be one that I have not read. The ones that I have read will always have something against them. So, out of the few books that I could recognize and had not read ‘Love in the time of cholera’ stood out. Haven’t you seen Serendipity? And Garcia was supposedly a ‘good’ writer.

Big Mistake. Never ever gift a book if you haven’t read it. Plus, if you think about it, even in Serendipity the-girl-who-gets-the-guy is not the one who gifts this book to him, it is the-girl-who-does-not-get-the-guy who gifts that book. But we don’t really pay that much thought when the things are going alright. It’s afterwards that we sometimes focus on our blind spots. The last word of book is something that I should have seen. ‘Forever’ is a tough promise to keep.

After spending half an hour on the treadmill thinking about this whole gift-a-book thing I am still not sure what book can make an ideal gift. At least if one is not sure where that particular relation is heading. There are many harmless ‘good’ books around. I know for sure many girls give many a harmless sort of gifts to keep the advances in a check and also not giving the poor fella a firm negative. Maybe guys do something similar as well but I am not sure their minds are that developed yet.

The second gift (book that my friend gifted) was the kind of book that makes for quite a harmless gift. Infact it works as a proper gift even if it is a meeting gift or parting gift. The title was something like “In the midst of a winter”. Story of some young boys playing baseball and there was a lot of snow involved in the story. I have long forgotten the story. But this was a book I had read before. It was a book about keeping faith. Now that is the kind of theme that’s OK. But how we can say that we want a harmless gift at the time, it’s the benefit of hindsight that isn’t such-much benefit after all.

Some library went bankrupt across the seas in some country. They auctioned the books. One container full of the books found its way on a ship bound for India. At the auction in Bombay a bookstore from Pune got the container load and these books were found one day on a Pune roadside. I remember three books that I bought (there may have been more). One of these was “In the midst of a winter”. Where is it now? Somewhere ‘in the midst of a winter’!

I read “Love in the Time of Cholera” long after life had moved on in more than one way. I think The Elephant Vanishes would have been a much suitable gift.

I sit on the top of the hill and look down into the elephant house where they have chained the elephant of hope. Its keeper is present there next to it, reality they call the keeper. As I sit there I see strange happenings that the town will hear about in the morning but not know how it happened. The thing that I will not share with anyone, afraid I won’t be believed. Till of course I find a reason to do so (maybe write a story about it). The elephant of hope is tied with a steel chain to the concrete post (as usual). Reality the keeper brings water for hope, puts some leaves on its side, the last rituals before its time to rest for the day. But as the elephant of hope drinks the water ‘the thing’ starts happening. I was thinking about her for some reason when I am brought out of the trance with what is happening down in the elephant house to hope. As if in a continuation of my thoughts of her, the elephant of hope starts diminishing in size. As hope shrinks the keeper of reality stands there adjusting the leaves as if nothing is out of the ordinary. And then it is done. Only the reality and the chain that had held hope was all that remained.

It was the vanishing act I could tell no one about.

PS: The Elephant Vanishes is a ‘good’ book and worth one’s time (in my opinion).

1 comment:

jamesanderson said...

And what about, "Love in Time of Cholera"...I know the comments are availabale on internet...but what do you say ?


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....