A review on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

Prologue
————-

It was during the September of 2014 that I enjoyed watching Will Smith movies so much that I stumbled upon the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From then on since last week, the “purpose”, the “thing”  that I made sure I did everyday was to watch at least one episode of The Fresh Prince. I did not enjoy it as much as I did Mind Your Language, but you do know how these TV series grow on you, don’t you? Free time meant finishing off as much as I can of the series.

What a sad life.

I remember back in my 11th grade how our TV got burnt from a lightning. I got so bored back then that I took a Calvin & Hobbes comic lying around in the junk (yes, I had left it in the junk box) and read it. I got hooked onto “reading” from that moment on. However, over the past one year, reading had come down to technical documentation, random blog posts from Twitter, etc. It was when I finished The Fresh Prince and I saw I had free time in a day, that I simply picked up Neil’s Neverwhere and flipped through it.

It was amazing.

I must say the first book that I read by Neil Gaiman was Smoke & Mirrors. I was not too impressed, not to say confused, suffice to say I kept it back nicely in my stash after the first few pages. I bought and read Ocean At the End of the Lane afterwards, which I must say, I did not quite enjoy again, although I finished it. I read Sandman and I absolutely loved it, but it was a bit too expensive to keep buying and it was a comic book.

Having had that experience with Neil’s books, I came to the conclusion that his writing is not as engaging and interesting as his talks and speeches. Even then, he did inspire me. You can understand how much if you read through A Fortunate Evening. It was only last week that I found out he had endorsed the exact story that I had written, already through this cartoon of his: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEKheZs2dkg. Thanks to my brother Noufal for sharing it with me.

Why I am so motivated to write this review is because I spent 7 hours yesterday reading. 3 and 4 hours continuously. The last time I did that was with Lord of The Rings, almost 4 years back.

Review
———–

In that cartoon of his, he says that one of the few sentences that any writer loves the most to hear from their readers is, “What happens next?”. The moment that question arises in a readers mind, the writer gets that grin on his face, thinking, “Now I’ve got you in the palm of hands. BUHAHAHAH!”.

First few pages into Neverwhere, that is exactly the question that came into my mind. Even with the last two pages remaining, I could not contain my curiosity. I postponed a meeting with an institution by half an hour just to get through to the end of the book.

One of the most interesting things that struck me about the book was the way his imagination was working. If you are ‘just’ a passionate reader, you’ll zip right through the book, traversing a terrible world, experiencing things that you might have never imagined before. However, if you’ve ever flexed your creative muscles, trying to talk about the non-existent, trying to convince people of it, then you will see what I mean by saying I found it of interest to see how his imagination worked.

During several instances while going through the book, not because the writing was not engaging, but because I had tried to walk down the same road of writing fiction, I was intentionally able to disconnect, take a few steps back and look at what was happening. You could immediately feel the way Neil was having fun, taking advantage of his creative liberties. Being a reader, you will never feel the occurrences to be vague, but the moment you try to see it is a fiction story, you could seem him using the elements around him to build upon what he has. The feeling of connect was truly exhilarating.

The intertwined story telling really built up the excitement. It was almost like that Guitar solo when Joker was upto something in those Nolan Batman movies. From the reading time of switching between two story lines, you could judge how far the climax of that specific part was. This itself gives you the urge to keep going forward, if the story itself is not enough.

The story ending was not one of the best that I have read, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. A good read allows you to create a universe and characters inside it, and relate to them as if you had met them just two days back. I would read any book to get that feeling, which Neverwhere definitely imparted. You will find yourself a lovely sister in Door, two terrible menaces in Croup and Vandemar and an unassuming random-everyday Joe in Richard Mayhew. Although the book did not have any ‘extreme’ moments, so to speak, as there were in Lord of The Rings, it still gave a pleasant reading experience.

If you are a lover of fiction/fantasy, then Neverwhere is definitely recommended.

Epilogue
———–

Not particularly in relation with this specific book, but when I finished reading the story, I realized that words was one of the greatest gifts that God has given humanity. The more you learn how to understand words, and how to wield it, the stronger you become as a person.

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A short review on “Aadu Jeevidham” – A Malayalam Novel

How I came to read the book
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I closed the gate after getting out of my Mom’s home’s compound. The turn-wheel turned and the latch fell into place with a clack. It was almost 9PM and I was sure Mom would have been waiting for me to come home to dinner. I stepped into the street lane of the main road connecting the village center and surrounding places. It was dark. Fortunately, still today, night is related to darkness in my village. However, since I was quite close to an intersection which connected the lane that lead to my house, to the main road, there was one street lamp and a few shops that were still lit. Junctions sleep late. Around 11PM, it was guaranteed total and utter darkness except for the light coming from the mobile phone screens of late night drunkards.

The shops alongside the road, adjacent to the house’s compound belonged to my Grandfather. Once he passed away, the ownership was transferred to my Grandmother, who, immediately transferred them to her two male children (my uncles). These shops consisted of tailors, phone booths, groceries, textiles, photography studios and foreign goods, most of them having been there for almost 15 years now. I took a few steps and crossed the first mobile phone accessories shop, when I reached in front of the Matrix. The tailor shop was named so far before the movie came out. They had shifted shops thrice within a 500m vicinity. The owner Ismail, known to everyone as Bava, was quite a popular character in our village. Apart from his lean, really lean figure, what made him a fan favorite was his quick witted conversations. A laugh was guaranteed whenever you spoke with him.

Along with him inside the shop, I could also see Shihab. I will refer to him from now on as Shihabka, where “ka” means brother in my mother tongue. Almost all the times, that is how you address your elders. He is the poster child of social activeness. Along with a real pleasant humor sense, he has an incredible charisma and a dedicated will to help anyone in need. I have never been able to figure out what his motivation is for being so helpful. Suffice to say he was the one who helped me find my accommodation when I moved to Bangalore.

The front of the shop had a glass wall. While locking down, they had a shutter in front of it which they would pull down and lock it to the latch on the ground. I waved at them. I could not resist going in. Who wouldn’t like a hearty laugh in between this busy life? We exchanged greetings and chatted for a while. Bava was busy since he had a lot of orders come in the previous days and the customers kept on calling asking whether their dress was ready. Shihabka and I were discussing about when we were both returning to Bangalore, as both of us worked there, in the middle of which he suddenly asked,

“Have you read Aadu Jeevidham?”

“No. As a matter of fact, I have not read any Malayalam stories”

“Then you should read it. Come with me. I’ll get you the book from my home”

He seemed pretty decisive about it and I thought it would be a nice experience too. I hopped onto his motorbike and headed for his home, which was on the fields, at the bottom of a small hill. It was almost 9:30PM. His Mom made Sulaimani (black tea) for both of us. Over tea, he explained about how elegant and creative the writing was. About how it would draw you into the author’s world and make you feel like you are living it. It was a short conversation and we left his place by 9:40. He dropped me off at my home and we parted exchanging Salams.

I must say I am glad that this happened in my life.

 

About the book
——————–

Last month, I finished reading a Malayalam Novel for the first time in my life. At some point in my childhood, due to the inspiration from my Brother and Sister, I started reading comic books, short stories, kids’ novels as well as classics. However, each and every one of them were in English. The only times that I had read anything in Malayalam were the stories and poems from my school text books. Since all of them were read with a sense of tension about the teacher asking questions on it the next day, I don’t remember any joy that I had derived while I was at it.

“Aadu Jeevidham”, translated directly to “Goat Life” in English, is the story about a typical Keralite Muslim man and his journey to the Gulf in search of livelihood. I must say, the most wonderful thing about the book is the language itself. I do not deserve to talk about it from a literature perspective as neither have I read other Malayalam novels nor have I learned the language too deep. I entirely mean that the language is wonderful from the perspective of the language being in ones own mother tongue. There are certain quirks and colloquial constructs that you have in your mother tongue which expresses the meaning of a word or a context much better than any other means of communication. Hence, although I have read quite a few English novels and stories in my life, this one novel got through to me the most.

To further elaborate on that, I was able to understand the emotions and feelings of the characters much better. I was able to picture the scenes much better and most importantly, it was like a conversation between a human and I. As if someone was telling me the story rather than me reading it from the book. Of course, this could be the case with every other book written in ones mother tongue since there is nothing that I have described here which is peculiar to this novel. I will just have to read more and see whether in terms of the language constructs he had used, this novel stands out from the rest of the others.

The novel talks about the dreams that a person would have and how reality dawns upon him to crush not only the dreams, but his entire life as well. Najeeb, the main character in the novel, is a jobless husband, with his wife expecting their first kid in 6 or so months. One of his friends tells him about an opportunity in the gulf, upon which, after discussing with his wife, he decides to take it up no matter what happens. After somehow begging and borrowing enough money for the commission and airplane tickets, he spends one last night with his wife before he leaves for Mumbai to catch the plane.

The conversation during that night is bitter sweet. They talk about how he would go there and earn a lot. How he would come back in a year and bring gifts for his newborn and his wife. Purchasing a Fridge and a TV, laying foundation for their new home and all other ‘luxuries’ that they could think of.

He leaves the next day for Mumbai and stays a day or two with his friends there. However, before he left for Mumbai, his neighbor’s son had gotten a Visa to the gulf as well. Hence, both of them were traveling together. The other person was a brash young kid, full of life and full of expectations.

The actual story begins when they reach the gulf airport and don’t find anyone waiting to pick them up. After waiting for a long time, they see a torn apart mini lorry revving up the road that leads to the airport. It stops midway and an Arab jumps out from it, wearing a white Kandhuura covering him from top to bottom and with a turban on his head. He walks here and there for a while looking frustrated and finally spots our two young gentlemen standing over there. He comes over, takes their passport, looks at it and then looks at their faces. After what looks like a face analysis, he gestures them to get in the truck. Happy that someone finally paid them some attention they jump in. The Arab takes them on a long ride. A very long ride, into the heart of the desert, where they reach during midnight. Najeeb gets down at some unknown place and sharpens his hearing. He hears the slight braying of a goat.

I do not want to give away what happens then and how the story develops. The author’s depiction of the desert is off the charts and extremely gripping. Maybe someday I’ll gather enough literary skills to do a rewrite of this wonderful piece of work into English.

A million thanks to Shihabka for making me read the book.

Being a part of the Mozilla community.

It would be appropriate to start by saying that this is my baby step, the first step in trying to contribute back to the Mozilla community for all the effort that they have put in in order to connect people around the world and make amazing products. To be quite frank, I used to have an impression (as is my impression about all things amazing) that all this talk about “community” and “contribution” were only meant for the elite and masters of technology out there, two of whom I know being Sajjad and Nigel, two hardcore techies.

Now I know am wrong.

This realization came about due to two reasons, which I will come to later.

I started using Firefox almost 7 years back, when I first got my computer, about which I have written here. Chrome was not there then. As mentioned in that post, I was quite new to computers and my understanding of browsers was that they were what people referred to as the “Internet”. So I went on using “Internet”, unaware of the fact that I was using Firefox for about a year. Thinking about it now, I am not quite sure when I started understanding about browsers for what they were, but since then, till the December of 2012, I continued using the same.

I was employed by this time and the pressure of having to learn and understand technology was on me. In my journey of understanding more about computers, I used to do the online courses at Udacity and Coursera now and then. However, one day during the course, the video classes started to crash with a message, “An error occurred”. A reload used to solve that, but this kept on happening until one day, I just could not watch any of the videos.

I got irritated. Showed it to my colleague who tried opening up the same video link in his Chrome browser. It worked. I switched.

For the past 10 months I’ve been using Chromium, until recently, after I shifted my career to becoming an Engineer, when I found out my RAM was being eaten up by Chromium. I tweeted out saying this and without further delay switched to using Firefox. I would have been happy using it and simply going forward, if not for Firefox’s response. It was not too much of a big deal, but I was touched. At that instant, I felt I was a part of something bigger.

This was one of the reasons why I had the realization that I mentioned earlier. I came back home and started looking for opportunities so as to how I could get involved even further. I landed up on their contributions page. I filled up my email id, chose my area of interest as “Documentation and writing” since I was more confident in my writing skills than my coding skills at the moment, and submitted the form.

This is when the second reason for the realization hit me. My friend Haseeb. He was passionate about the Urdu language as well as about community development. Both these combined led him to take part actively in translating Mozilla to Urdu. His contributions were not at all gone unnoticed when he received an invitation to be a part of the Mozilla Summit in the U.S. a couple of months back. So have an open mind to contribute, with whatever you know and whatever you are passionate about. Hence, here I am, having reached the point where I had submitted my volunteer form.

All this was done in that adrenaline rush, which I knew had happened to me more than once before. However, nothing of the sort would continue as all would end up in a couple of automated emails that I would receive asking me to act. The same happened here as well. Though things would have continued like that, even before I had the adrenaline rush die down, I received one more email. This time from a certain human being who goes by the name of Janet Swisher.

Even though she told me that technical documentation was where they were best setup to bring in new writing contributions, she did not discourage me on what I had pointed out saying I was better off as a story teller or a biographer than a technical writer when it came to writing. With the promise of passing on my remarks to their creative team and reading my blog posts to provide her feedback, she ended the mail.

That part where it conveyed it was not just about them and what they wanted, but also it being a part of what I was and what I could do, was quite heart warming. I replied and we exchanged a couple of emails where she pointed me to a couple of links as well as read a few blog posts that I had already written, complementing me on them. It was her suggestion to take the first step by writing a personal blog on what Mozilla means to me.

At this point, more than just thinking in terms of Firefox, I was inclined to think of a bunch of nice people trying to strengthen human relationships across the globe around technology. Hence, I was inspired to write about how touched I was with their effort to actually take the time to reach out to a complete stranger and offering to help him out. And here I have written about it. May this be the first step in a journey of  a thousand miles.

The sensuously irascible guy.

Now that I sit back and take a good long look at that title, I must say, “The title says it all”. Moreover yes, “irascible” was a new word for me as well. When Aayan gave all of us our sheets of paper with a word written on it, I got that word. I know, being a writer, I should have acted like I knew what it meant and should have simply started writing about it. However, thank God I wasn’t too full of myself or I would’ve ended up writing something totally irrelevant to that word.

I put a helpless expression on my face and looked around stating, not asking, “I don’t even know what this word means”. To my surprise, everyone was as humble as me (ahem!) and Lalana was the first among them to google and find the word’s meaning for me.

“Easily made angry”, it said.

Great! I had to write a short story in 100 words about a sensuously irascible guy. What could be more awesome than that? Anyway, all of us did our parts and somehow stuck them together to make up a wonderfully senseless story about this dude called Raj/Mohan, who is completely burnt out doing assignment after assignment and exams after exams. He is so irritated that he choke slams his friend onto to the wall of their room when his friend asked him for a book.

In that state of anger and strife, he calls up Meena and asks her whether she would like to come over for a swim. She agrees, of course and they have the most sensual dip in the pool where he goes under and comes up in between her legs and what not.

He video tapes her without her noticing it and to his surprise, she suddenly disappears from the front of the camera and comes up behind him.

They both sit together and the emotions build up inside them. They don’t want to be safe and be conventional, they wanted to be decadent, and they did; succumbing to the animal instincts.

Finally they sit together reasoning about what they had done and how it was a natural thing to happen.

Well, that’s it! Irascible, Water, Moist, Decadent and Evoke were the words that our team got and that is the story we made up. However, I haven’t been able to do justice to my friends’ writings as the way they had written the short piece of 100 words was mind blowing.

Check out The Bangalore writing club. Looking forward for the next meetup!

An unanimated writer.

“Write, write, write!”, he told himself first thing in the morning. It had been almost a month now since he had written anything, but there was never a day where he hadn’t thought about writing. At times when he sat in his hostel room in front of the computer, thoughts come flowing towards him, “Hey, the silence of this room is so brilliant that I simply have to write about it”. By the time he logs into his wordpress account, the silence is no more, and so is his motivation.

Being depressed and wounded at not being able to do the one thing that he claims to love doing, he takes a stroll along the streets. He keeps his eyes open for he knows that motivation was out there somewhere in something.

He sees the beggars on the streets and thinks. “Oh my, what a lucky life I have. I seriously should write about the blessings that I have”. However, for some reason that has been eluding him, his thoughts go no further than that one sentence.

He sees a group of girls standing on the road side, all dressed up and beautified, ready to be picked up by someone. He thinks, “What miserable circumstances have brought these poor creatures to this! Or maybe they do enjoy what they do? I should go talk to one of them.” A certain shiver up his spine and sudden drying up of his tongue pulls his mind back from the idea. He is at a loss for words again.

He stops taking the bus to his office. Instead he walks half an hour each day hoping to find motivation waiting for him somewhere out there. He sees the traffic police, practicing some sort of dance moves with both his hands. He sees the man on the bike, ear on his ring, tattoo on his face and arms, sports shoe, torn jeans, a few necklaces, a few rings, shiny teeth, jeans jacket, a cigarette in his mouth, having an expression of his freedom to run down anybody on the street being denied of him.

He sees the people selling fruits and vegetables on the grocery carts. He sees their children running and playing around them. He wonders how happiness is relative and broods on what it was like when he was their age. He sees couples walking hand in hand and thinks whether it was luck or dismay that he witnessed. He sees the different cars being driven by different people roaring past him in an endless manner.

He fails to find what he looks for in all this and it hurts him more than ever to not know what it is that is holding him back. Why having so much exposure could not find him anything to write about. This was not the case when he was at college where he could find interesting things to think about and write almost every day. What has changed? Oh, what has changed!

He reaches his office and sits down to work. He wants to write. He is burning inside. Alas, all that he finds himself writing are mails. Just mails. He tries to find joy in them but try as he might, he could not. He tells to himself, “Write.” Nothing happens. He again orders, “I said write!”. Still nothing. “Write, damn you!”.

He composes himself. He knows time waits for no one. He realized he can’t wait for motivation. He logs into his wordpress account. He finishes writing a piece. A gentle smile comes over his face. He realizes that all is not lost. He has time. He will try. He has to succeed.

A few writers, a few snacks and a lot of Gyan.

One of the greatest joys in life is that of meeting people with common interests (Not on facebook, thank you!). This is the exact reason why I signed up for the writing workshop by Gaurav and Nisha. First of all, thanks to Ashwan, a man of many talents, my colleague at HasGeek, for bringing the workshop to my attention.

As much I love working and being a part of HasGeek, I was constantly wondering whether the city had something else to offer me. The last two days have been wonderful and the city assured me that there were wonderful things that it had to offer. I just had to get out, open my eyes, and look.

A few writers, 9 to be specific, including yours truly (if you can call me a writer) got together at a certain open, airy and yet shady place to share their passion for writing as well as to help each other out. Gaurav and Nisha, the ones who organized and brought together all of us.

Gaurav was this calm person with a gentle voice and a wonderful smile who sat there, listening carefully to whatever was being said and discussed, to offer advice out of his long years of experience. It was evident that he had the big picture in his mind and it would be years before I could get even somewhere close.

Nisha, on the other hand, had this very outspoken attitude which got through to all of us. A very friendly person who had almost the same amount of experience as Gaurav, she was pouring out suggestions of various books to read that none of us had even heard of before. The critiques they both gave for our works were very thought out and clean that we could identify where we were doing it wrong.

In no particular order, here comes the rest of the crew.

Azeem, a good looking, well built fellow who was an avid lover of fiction. All through the two days, he kept fictionalizing whatever was thrown to him and he did a marvelous job at that too. It is always heart warming to see motivated people who yearn to achieve something and as such, I hope he soon finds his graphic designer and gets his comic book published asap.

Deepak, the plump man with a wonderful humor sense whose writings were more directed towards the little hilarious things that happen in one’s life. We almost never tend to pay attention to those little things that brings a grin on our face. He captures those moments wonderfully with his writing, at the end, leaving all of us laughing, and making us think of those little incidents in our own lives.

Ranju, the cute lady hailing from Chennai. Words flow from her fingers so smoothly and yet so meaningfully and hilariously that you feel alive listening to her read out her writing. It is admirable to see how wonderfully she establishes her thoughts through a few quick sentences. I’m never going to forget how she merged the blog writer’s and drunk guy’s story into one!

Sam (I wonder where Frodo is. Also, her real name evades me at the moment). Maybe I am wrong describing her as nervous, but her face lights up with emotion, be it laughter or tension, when she expresses her thoughts. A writer seeking to find that perfect rhythm which would entirely convey her ideas to the world, she was a lively character through both the days.

Lalana, PrintOooooo! I don’t know why I put it like that, but I just did. Hey, it is “sosaysharis” after all. Just kidding. Well, frankly, I really enjoyed listening to her talk. She had this highly animated style of saying things that you could never feel ambiguous about the feeling that she was trying to convey with her words. A lady with a really nice smile, in her writings, I felt envious of finding the one thing that I always sought. The attention to detail and the vivid descriptions which capture the imagery of a scene so beautifully. Someday, I hope to write like that.

Last but not the least, Leanne Pais! WhooHoo! “The girl who kept turning back to assure me that she knew how to drive and her brakes were working”. Man she is going to kill me for this! Oh yeah, the only girl in the world who has had the privilege of having me on her bike. He he… I could have said that she was the first girl with whom I rode on a bike but hey, I’ve just been to a writing workshop and I should write things differently. All in all, her suicidal story (or “The story about one guy committing suicide”, as she would have me put it. Lol!) and the ghost who was enjoying his own funeral really made us all stand on our toes. I hope she finishes her work and gets them published soon.

It was a fun two days. Even though I had attended the workshop with writing just fantasy stories in mind, the way they structured the course and the feedback that they gave ended up in me writing up a small, non-fiction story from my life itself.

The idea was to pick one of those embarrassing moments of your life that had a lot of potential to be written but, you were too embarrassed to write about it. I roughly drafted one such incident that I had when I was a kid and wrote it down in about 250 words, as per their request.

They made us elaborate what we had written to double the size. That was interesting because you had to elaborate the already laid out content. Trying to do that (and in my case it was pushing the limits), I realized it was possible to breathe life into your story in more than one way. Setting the scene, including those tiny bits of information that you think has no relevance at first, etc, came out.

The critiquing of this piece was done seriously. No one held back and the thoughts we shared on each others’ pieces were really helpful for the next re-write that we did. Both Gaurav and Nisha were extremely serious in pointing out the subtle tweaks that could have made the stories better.

After this round was over, we were asked to re-write the story once more. The difference that sprouted in everyone’s writing was unbelievable! I never thought I could put more description into what I had already written, but, following the advice that all of them gave me, I really did make the scene more descriptive. I will post my piece shortly so that you can see what I mean.

It was an awesome experience and extremely fun. Thanks again to Gaurav and Nisha for putting this together. I look forward to more such gatherings in the future.

Cheers guys!