reading

Small Places

I like small places. Places with low ceilings, faded rugs, round coffee tables, colored cushions and early morning rays of sun through open windows. Where you could sit at a corner, detached from the world and yet feel connected to everyone in the crowded room who is here to have breakfast, drink coffee, or read a book. Where you could meet your friends or the person you love and show them the secrets this world holds through that window from where the sun shines. Where you could listen to everyone’s voices and whispers and could tell the language they speak—of love, goodness and beauty—but not be able to tell what they might be thinking. Where you could marvel at the people and the life that exists outside that small coffee shop, like a silent movie, without judging their motives unlike those of big places and high ceilings.

Big places with high ceilings and glass floors and high tables make me anxious. They hold mysteries and secrets people are not sure to reveal. Big places give refuge to high pitched laughter which doesn’t reach the eye and to people who are more concerned about what purpose you bring them than whether you would like to have tea or coffee—they wouldn’t care if you like to have both. It’s difficult to gauge their feelings. So I choose small places with big hearts. Small places with memories of seeing each other the first time. Small places and dog-eared books. And paragraphs you’ve read a hundred times and still cannot get over them.

Small places and Sunday mornings and Friday nights, when you have all the time in the world to discuss with them, how time flies and why days change.

Small places where no one cares whether the wooden table is newly polished or why the rug still has coffee stains.

I choose small places because they make me realize of the connection I have with the things that are still alive, and with people who still believe in the magic of faith, truth, love and beauty.

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The Wish Maker By Ali Sethi (Book Review)

The Wish Maker is a tale of an upper middle class Pakistani family run by strong willed women from the point of view of young Zaki who is observant and silent, trying to search for a place in his family and fit in.

What I absolutely loved about the book was the fact that it was not only a coming of age story of a young Pakistani (read Lahori) boy but also a road down the memory lane of 60s and 70s—when liberalism was at its peak, partying and alcohol was not a problem, to when Bhutto was tried in the courts and people were showing their reactions—and late 80s, when there was strong censorship and Islamization (ban on alcohol and the like); change of governments in 90s and Zaki’s family reactions brought a similar wave of nostalgia (although I was very young in 90s and remember very little, mostly from the discussions of elders).

Other than his witty observance of the political scene, growing up of Zaki and Samar Apa in 90s (along with their friends) brought back sweet wistfulness of 90s when kids would regularly visit each other house, cousins would stay over nights, movies would be rented and watched on VCR, TV antennas would be fixed for channels and then Dish Satellite would replace antenna, one landline would be owned by every house and everyone house member would use only that, and later when the emergence of internet Chat rooms was supposedly the coolest thing in the crowd.

Zaki and Samar Api’s relationship throughout the book is one of the many reasons why one cannot put the book back without finishing. Samar Api is older, condescending and intimidating for Zaki but that does not lessen Zaki’s love for her. Zaki is Samar Api’s minion (no matter how harsh Samar Api could be sometimes to him). He does what she says and does not interrupt or correct her even if he knows she is making a mistake. He accompanies her in all her reckless adventures and decisions and keeps her secrets even if it means compromising the truth. The end does not end well for either of them. But for Zaki, Samar Api changes his life in one way or the other.

The Wish Maker although a work of fiction is a glaring truth of the events that were before partition (in Lahore) and that occurred right after partition (the fleeing of Sikhs and Hindus, killing of Muslims and Hindus on both sides of the borders) to the way politics impacted the life of rich and the poor in 70s, late 80s and 90s (there is a little glimpse of life in Pakistan after 9/11 as well); which makes is closer to relate—something that lacks in a lot of writings.

One thing that makes this book a little foreign for a Pakistani reader could be the that sometimes while reading, it feels like Ali Sethi has probably written this book as if his audience is non-Pakistani and foreign where he has to explain every tradition and every gesture (such as Azaan) in a simpler, comical way which takes away the desi beauty of it. Otherwise the flow of the story is simple yet magical to grip the attention of the reader till the end.

My Rating 4/5

The Book Thief (Book Review) by Markus Zusak

I think the words that would most certainly describe the book for me would be: devastatingly beautiful.

The author has narrated the story of young girl in the times of war in Germany—a child who grows up watching the death of her brother, abandonment from her mother and restarting of another life at Himmel Street, only to be torn apart again by the death of the people who she has loved more than herself.

Despite the story being narrated by Death itself, the novel is never suffocating with the fear of the inevitable—the death, unlike many of the other wartime books that constantly grip the reader with a constant, uneasy suffocating vibe. Rather, it tells a tale of small acts of happiness—of playing accordion, of rolling cigarettes, of playing soccer in muddy Himmel Street, of friendship and book-thievery, of calling Saumensch and Saukerlto your loved ones, of the wagers of getting kiss for a reward, of secrets of hiding Jews and unveiling it to your best friend on the branch of a tree; of growing up and understanding your emotions and the moment of accepting that your best friend may also be your lover.

The Book Thief is a story of veiled, unspoken expressions that Leisel has for her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubberman; her best friend, Rudy Steinner; the secret of Hubberman household, Max; and Ilsa Hermann—her savior and Frau Holtzapfel—who would listen to her reading.

It is a novel that almost had me crying when Leisel saw the corpses of her Papa and Mama. But it turned almost black when Leisel saw Rudy, lying lifeless. Leisel was late, too late to express her feelings for her best friend, her next-door neighbor, her partner-in-crime and her lover.

It’s a book that one would want to read again—at least once, in one’s life time.