Your own small place under the sun

I’ve loved the short story “What’s your dream?” by Ruskin Bond since the first time I read it.

An old man, a beggar man, bent double, with a flowing white beard and piercing grey eyes, stopped on the road on the other side of the garden wall and looked up at me, where I perched on the branch of a litchi tree.

‘What’s your dream?’ he asked.

The boy tries not to answer but the beggar persists.

‘A dream, my boy, is what you want most in life. Isn’t there something you want more than anything else ?’

‘Yes,’ I said promptly. ‘A room of my own.’

The beggar understands.

‘I see. What you really want is freedom. Your own tree, your own room, your own small place under the sun.’

‘Yes, that’s all.’

‘That’s all? That’s everything! When you have all that, you’ll have found your dream.’

That’s my dream as well. I want a room of my own. Not a physical room – although that would be nice – but a space under the sun and in my mind that’s all my own. I want the space to be with myself – like taking myself on a date. I want to make myself feel special – make myself laugh. I want to be my own best friend.

As I grow older, this need for space becomes more important and it manifests in a thousand different ways. The precise way in which I arrange the kitchen. A locked phone and the jealousy with which I guard even forwarded WhatsApp messages. A notebook I carry around to scribble in – and I record work, new home projects and personal thoughts in the same book because they’re all equally private to me. The need to work in a corner of the office with my earphones plugged in when I’m really working (as opposed to writing status updates and doing other process stuff). I need my space all the time.

Am I on my way to becoming a recluse? I don’t think so. You see, while I do need my space, I can so easily overdose on it. A rich inner life and the space to dream are all worthwhile but without a way to connect back with the outer world they’re meaningless. This space I’m looking for has more to do with being a sensitive person than with disliking the outer world. Think of it as a tortoise’s shell. If you’re a co-introvert or a fellow sensitive, you probably understand what I’m talking about. Everything from the third hand smoke from the guy sitting three desks down to the erratic whir of the coffee machine has the potential to drive one nuts. Sometimes, the only way to deal is to escape.

There are so many ways to escape. You can escape physically by going home or going out for a walk. Sometimes you can escape into your work. Other times you dive into a book or into a world of your own creation. Sometimes the escape is another person – a spouse, a friend, a lover (or all of them rolled in one). It can’t always be the same space each time. But it’s always, always a space that’s safe. Your own place under the sun where you are free to be who you’d like to be.



ps: the story is copyrighted but I was able to find it here. Just open the pdf and search for “Bond”.

pps: I’ll just leave this quote hanging here:

“Some of us are born sensitive. And if, on top of that, we are pulled about in different directions (both emotionally and physically), we might just end up becoming writers.”
Ruskin Bond

Book Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg

Disclaimer: If a word’s in quotes, I’ve used it because the review demanded it. I know the term is/may be offensive but there’s no getting around it when writing about a book set in the past.

I’ve recently developed a fascination for books and movies set in the American South. I think it started a while ago with the sense of accomplishment I felt when I got through Gone With the Wind. Or perhaps I’m getting nostalgic about the time we lived in Texas. I’m a sucker for being called “honey” and saying y’all. Or maybe it’s not as much about the South as about books set in the good ol’ times when men were real men and women were real women* and while there were clearly classified “coloured” people and “white” people everyone just got along. (Ku Klux Klan who?) So when I was looking for a break from my Terry Pratchett marathon, I decided to read this book:


Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a lovely, light, feel-good book. The story begins in the visitors’ lounge of eighty-six year old Mrs Threadgoode’s nursing home. Ninny Threadgoode strikes up a conversation (or launches a monologue, depends on how you look at it) with forty-eight year old Evelyn whose husband is visiting his mother. Evelyn listens politely but is not very interested in the old woman’s rambling. With every passing visit, however, Evenlyn is intrigued by Ninny’s stories and the friendship between the two women deepens.

Evelyn feels she’s “too old to be young and too young to be old”. She has always been a wife and mother and now with an empty nest she feels rootless. She tries to find comfort from friends et her high school reunion

But all the other women there were just as confused as she was, and held on to their husbands and their drinks to keep themselves from disappearing.

Evenlyn’s restlessness manifests in many ways including binge eating. Ninny on the other hand, is at peace with her life (and loves her candy) and during the course of their friendship, some of this peace spills over into Evelyn’s life.

Evelyn and Ninny’s relationship reminded me a bit of the friendship I shared with Nick, my old landlord. At one point when Ninny tells Evelyn she’s got half her life ahead of her I remembered how Nick said to me, “Why, you’re a baby!” when I felt quite old and worldly wise at twenty six. Old people make the best friends and old times have the best stories.

Ninny Threadgoode sure has some great stories to tell. However, the promise of an occasional murder notwithstanding, the plot is not the primary focus of the book. It’s the characters who gently draw you in as does the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama. Whistle Stop is like the little townships we have all over India with small populations, a single source of livelihood, and a single shop of each type. It’s a tightly knit community where everyone knows everyone else.

Ruth and Idgie, as owners of the town’s lone cafe, are central figures in this community as is Dot Weems who works at the local post office and publishes regular newsletters with bits of local gossip. The town and its residents come to life with the author’s delightful prose.You can picture the railway tracks, the cafe, and the post office. You can easily visualize the little beauty shop, the grocery store, the Threadgoode house, and the “other side of the tracks”.

Through the various characters the book also highlights racial issues and how racial relations change with the times. Ninny’s stories portray “coloured” people as simple, child-like, and emotional – an attitude consistent with her time.  Evelyn realizes at one point that she has never even met a black man. However, there are also people like Idgie (and Ruth) who are able to look beyond race and develop meaningful relationships with people based on who they are. Through Idgie’s idealistic lens we view the issues of race, abuse, societal norms, and social injustice.

As the book progressed I felt there were just too many characters and too many timelines. Somewhere around the middle of the book we have the current-day timeline, Ninny’s narration as well as the author’s narration of events past. It get’s a little confusing because let’s admit it, who really reads the titles of chapters? It’s good to imagine that every character had a story but not every story needs to be told or be so neatly wrapped up. I for one would have been just as happy not knowing who committed the murder.

I’m nit-picking now and I know it. Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe is a refreshing and easy read. It has very real characters and a decent plot. It gives you something to think about but is not preachy. It’s not fashionable to make small towns seem endearing but Whistle Stop, viewed through the eyes of Ninny Threadgood could be my new happy place. If only the tomatoes weren’t fried in lard!

Overall rating: 4 stars. A recommended read.

* And we knew of no small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri

Of reading

I’ve always been a book-a-week kind of person. I used to be evangelical about this to the point where I looked at not reading as a character flaw when I was on the Marriage Market (as opposed to being, you know, an incompatibility issue). Thankfully, I’ve mellowed over time and I’m not too judgmental about those who don’t enjoy reading. My own reading habits however, resemble Amit Chaterjee’s (The character from A Suitable Boy. But you knew that)

But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch.
– Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

A sentiment better expressed by a more contemporary cultural icon:

Grumpy Cat. But you knew that.

Memes aside, I’m not very well-read by conventional standards. I score rather poorly on the “How many of these have you read” type of quizzes for two reasons.

My first reason for missing out on “must reads” is fairly simple. I tried reading some books too early and I bear the scars of many a bad pick. For instance, at the ripe old age of fourteen, I went to the library and picked up the first Stephen King novel I found. Unfortunately, it was Gerald’s Game. The plot of the novel as summarized by Wikipedia:

The story is about a woman who accidentally kills her husband while she is handcuffed to the bed as part of a bondage game, and, following the subsequent realization that she is trapped with little hope of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.

Let’s just say I wasn’t able to get beyond the first three pages. It was the early 90’s and I was a model pupil at an all-girls’ Convent school. Unlike today’s teenagers who’ve been weaned on the Fifty Shades trilogy, I only had a vague idea how even vanilla sex actually worked. Needless to say, I was never able to read Stephen King again. I have read a bit of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook but it’s not the same, is it?

Another disadvantage of reading books too early is that you don’t really grasp them completely. For instance, how much does a twelve or thirteen year old really understand Miss Havisham? How much of Ayn Rand can you understand when you’re sixteen? On second thought, sixteen is probably the latest one should read Ayn Rand.

The main reason behind my reading gap, however, is that I missed the prime time for reading and experimentation – college. All I could lay my hands on in my college hostel (located outside city limits) were the Harry Potter novels, Mills & Boon romances, and the occasional Sidney Sheldon or two. You don’t figure out what to read googling “100 books to read before you die”. You need friends who love reading for that. Looking back, that’s probably why I was so miserable and angsty throughout college.

I did start reading again once I started working and thanks to F.D. my new found love for sci-fi and fantasy keeps my Kindle warm on a lonely night. Yet the missing years continue to rankle.

Perhaps this shall be the year I get around to reading some of the classics I missed.