Literature

An old bookstore in Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia, once under the iron curtain of Russia is now the most connected country in the world. Its capital city Tallinn indeed feels like a city straight from a fairy tale. From the cloudy skies, cobbled pathways, canopied passages to the orange rooftops, each has direct connection to a dream woven story.

The ochre and other pastel colors in the old town remind me of Gamla Stan in Stockholm and large hanging drapery of sky is a splitting image of the Prussian blue water of Baltic Sea.

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Pastel passages of Tallinn

The city has cool neighborhood, Kalamaja, famous for its wooden architecture. The bohemian and hipster hood akin to certain parts of Brooklyn where I like to hang out. If I were a Finn living in Helsinki I would take a ferry most of the weekends to eat at F-Hoone(May be it means F-building) in the Tellskivi center. The market nearby – Depoo, runs from an old locomotive depot. One side of the market reminds one of the Soviet past of the country. Tchotchke from the yesteryear era find home in the market while the other end is as modern as any other city market.

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F-Hoone, The hipsters paradise

Such medieval city has to have a rich reading culture and I did end up in Raamatukoi opposite the tourist info center in the old town. The Estonian word Raamatukoi means bookcase in English and it indeed is apt given the bookstore is brimming with books – new and old.  The reading skill foundation laid by the Children’s book trust and National book trust acquaints one with Russian literature very early; Seeing the familiar Mir publisher logo on various titles made me smile and was surprised to see a few statements written here and there in Hindi.

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The bookstore sells chiefly old and used books, postcards, old vinyl records and is a pit stop of the history. It holds in itself a historical account of what the country has gone through and has been an eye witness to various churns of time without getting stuck in a time warp.

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Inside Raamatukoi

Rahva Raamat is another bookstore that was well equipped but when I learned that it is a chain bookstore present in entire Estonia, I kept it in the same bucket as Barnes and Nobel. There is something charming about the old, independent bookstores and coffee shops that is comforting.

I wish I had more time to uncover the other parts of the city but the impromptu ship journey from Helsinki turned out to be fruitful and gratifying indeed.

The silver-lining  of Estonia is instead of being held back by its past and playing the blame game as has happened in many post disintegration countries, it chose to start from scratch and build. The strategy has paid really well and Estonians can enjoy the view of their capital city from either Patkuli or Kohtuotsa and breathe the fresh air with pride.

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The orange rooftops of Tallinn from Kohtuotsa

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St. Catherine’s passage (Katariina Käik)

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A quiet place to sit

Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles. IMG_20180609_185244

A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.

The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.

 

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

If only !

Mahadevi Verma was one of the pillar of the romanticism/chhayawaad era in Hindi literature. It was marked by a rejuvenating and renewed sense of the self and personal expression, visible in the writings of that time. I read one of her poem as prescribed in the school text book – Swati ( which means first drop from the sky that falls into the sea and turns into a pearl) in grade 10.

जो तुम आ जाते एक बार
कितनी करुणा कितने सन्देश
पथ में बिछ जाते बन पराग
गाता प्राणों का तार तार
अनुराग भरा उन्माद राग
आंसूं लेते वे पग पखार
जो तुम आ जाते एक बारहंस उठते मन में आर्द्र नयन
घुल जाता ओठों से विषाद
छा जाता जीवन में वसंत
लुट जाता चिर संचित विराग
आँखें देतीं सर्वस्व वार
जो तुम आ जाते एक बार

I cannot think that it can get any more romantic, anticipatory, and unconditional than what she has described. In the poem she is describing what her feelings would have been if her beloved were to come and see her only once.
I might not do justice with the translation but I can present a crude one here.
Inordinate compassion, inordinate communiques and messages
would have bestrewed the path as flowers.
Every chord of my soul would have sung a melody full of intoxicating passion.
The tears would have washed the feet.
If you would have come once; if
The moist and tear drenched eyes would have gleamed.
Would have washed away the megrim and sepulchral from the lips.
The spring would have canopied my life.
The eternal hoarded despondency would have been lost.
I would have submitted everything that I have.
If you would have come once; if
———————–***************———————-
I have heard that many people associate romanticism especially in Hindi literature with God but I am open ended to this discussion as the feelings could have been directed towards a lover too for which a poet/poetess or the protagonist in the poems is longing for.

Tolstoy

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! In the Wild !

Leo Tolstoy is one of my favorite Russian writer. I do not like to those people who plan each and every single thing in their lives. Sometimes few things need to be left on your impulsive instincts. Into the wild is a great movie and my favorite quote from the movie is

“If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.”

 

The English Teacher

Many times we fall into the vicious circle of monotony of life engaging ourselves into morose frivolity. The circle has exits in form of tangents but we fail to notice them. Past few months were tough and I couldn’t squeeze out time to read anything new except few blogs. I have civilizations and its discontents’ digital edition but Mr. Freud loves to write in encrypted language. It takes time to read and understand each and every sentence and I am sure that my 20 min subway ride to office doesn’t offer solace to read and reflect. But there is a one author who always hits the bull’s eye for me. None other than R K Narayan. What a wonderful writer! Whatever he writes seems so real that I can actually see it happening in front of my eyes.I am a slow reader and I sometimes unsettle when people finish tomes in couple of days.If I am enjoying a text then I read sentences and get lost in the thoughts, paint the picture and relate whatever was said to my own life’s experiences.

Today, I tried to break the circle by picking up The English Teacher by R K Narayan. Written in the pre-independence era in India, the book generates such vivid GIF files of the time that I am unable to put it down. I already skipped breakfast and lunch but bookhe pet bhajan na hove gopala( Not possible to pray empty stomach).

What amazes me is that human brain functions approximately the same as a function of age irrespective of the era we are talking about. The main character of the book has all those problems which a present day 27-28 year old might face. The same procrastination , the same apathetic panorama has been transcended and passed on from one generation to other like the Olympic baton.

Few months ago, Thanks to accurate timings of subway, I got late for an appointment and while coming back in ‘anachronistic vintage’  R train I found a small diary on the steel seat. The diary had cuttings from old newspapers and from other diaries as it seemed to me. It was a mosaic of diaries of other people- people who lived between 100 to 125 years ago in NY, mainly Manhattan. People had noted down their daily lives, observations etc in beautiful cursive that would be legible for calligraphy. Comparing to today the world was primitive at least in terms of technology, science but human emotions are in time warp. Agony, anger, love, ambition have always been there and were reflected in the diary events of the numerous people from that scribing venture. I time traveled that day. At my stop I submitted the diary to the Bermuda triangle (lost and found dept.) of MTA. Hope it has reached its owner by now.

Wikipedia link : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_English_Teacher

Amazon : http://www.amazon.com/The-English-Teacher-R-Narayan/dp/8185986037

Goodreads : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/196743.The_English_Teacher