Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review: The Catcher In The Rye

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trust me, till I was done with three quarters of this book, I wasn't really too impressed. I would have given it 3 stars at most and not think about recommending it to anybody. I mean, I could relate to Holden's angst at the hypocrisy of adults, the painful small talk of all the "phony" people around, the failure of religion to answer his questions, his aimlessness, his feelings of not being perturbed if he were to die the next moment, his disenchantment with society or rather 'adults' in general(which I came to understand much later, when I understood how pregnant with meaning the 'museum' reference was) but it struck me as the usual identity-moral-spiritual crisis of a regular teenager. Only, I didn't expect Salinger to deal with it the way he did. This is to tell you, obviously, that the last 70 pages or so are what make this book what it is. A classic.
Alright, coming back, I have been through it all, and the part about society, hypocrisy (add to that injustice) is still there. But I have also come to see some of the brighter side of it so that going on in this world doesn't appear as worthless as it used to. So, Holden, in spite of flashes of his 'genuineness' and 'beautiful' heart and need to "like a lot" the girl he was supposed to go physical with and his 'love' for his dead brother Allie and his views on his elder brother D.B 'selling his writing talent to the hollywood' and thereby becoming a prostitute, was still not something of a hero to me. I was afraid the writer was going to offer some kind of a rosy ending that all coming-of-age movies/stories have, all the time expecting Salinger to prescribe some quick-fix solution and almost 'knowing' that Holden was going to be 'lost' to the 'society'.

Things changed the moment I came across the poignant part where Holden sneaks in to see his kid sister Phoebe in case he died of pneumonia and spends some touching moments. This was when I realised the meaning of 'The catcher in the rye' for the first time. I had to go through the paragraph quite a few times and it immensely helped that this was when the real meaning behind the 'museum' reference opened itself to me in an 'aha' moment. I felt like I had been stabbed, a painfully beautiful sensation throbbing inside me. I instantly knew this wasn't the kind of guy that would sell his dream to fit in.
I have cried innumerable times while reading romance genre, but this was different. It was such a blend of heart-wrenching and making-your-heart-swell-with-bliss kind of a moment. His desire to protect children from the of loss of innocence, from being exposed to corruption and phoniness of the adults was moving. The line "I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I would really like to be" is, I believe, going to stay with me for a long, long time to come.

Holden's relationship with his dead brother Allie and his kid sister Phoebe put a smile on my lips more often that I can now enumerate and the ending was just about perfect. What with the desire of not hurting little Phoebe making Holden not leaving his home made it touching. That Holden ended up in some kind of a mental asylum only adds to the depth of the story that 'The catcher in the rye' turned out to be.
It is an eloquent example of how most of those depressed are actually the ones who have eyes to notice and brains to think about the madness or as Holden would put it, the 'phoniness' all around. That teenage is a transition period when the big, bad 'real' world comes to clash with the idealism of our childhood gives it its tumultuous nature. Too bad that most of the teens give up their 'changing the world'/'changing the society' dreams and go for mindless conformity in the name of 'growing up'. Making peace with the world is costly that ways, and according to me, not worth it. Selling your soul to fit yourself in the society, that is.
I'm just about to step out of teenage and no, I don't intend being assigned to a mental asylum. One just needs to look hard enough to find something, in this very society, worth living for. As Victor E. Frankl would have put it, figuring out some 'meaning'. And holding fast to it. Even if that is being something as idealistic as 'The catcher in the rye.'

Holden, I swear, is now one of my favourite characters. And I really don't care how many brickbats this gets me now. The loneliness, the pathos, the grace with which he kept it all inside, the purity of his heart, the intellect, the honesty, all make him one well worth reading over and over again.

It is only the cussing that would make it difficult for me to reread it though, and also to give it 5 stars. I know it being a teenager's narrative(and an American teenager's), cussing is supposed to be a part and parcel of it, but if something made this book, at many a times "a royal pain in the a**", it was all the swearing that went around in each and every sentence. After all there is only a certain number of times u can use those words without making it leave a bad taste in the mouth.

A swell read, on the whole. Everyone disenchanted with the goings-on around must read it though I doubt if a grown up person can really like it as much as a teenager would. I would myself like to read it 20 years on and see what I feel about the book, its writer and this review.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hail Psychology

Another year has swiftly come to an end and in a month I'll be entering the 3rd and last year of my graduation. This past year has been like none other before in terms of the highs and lows I went through and I am inclined to say I would love to live out the year gone by once again just for the transformation it brought in me as a person. The highs were more career wise and the lows were more emotionally and the best part is I like it that way. In studies, I like remaining right at the very top, climbing upwards, with my competitors so far away behind that there is no question of the fear of being usurped. This way, I can still remain the savior of my closest competitors in their times of distress, guiding them, encouraging them, helping them in what they feel a 'selfless' manner LOL. This makes sure that my need to help doesn't fire back. Emotionally however, I love my extremes. I love being drunk on love and hypnotised in bliss while weeping tears of longing and leafing through Kahlil Gibran's omnibus edition on my bed stand. I love my peaks and I love my troughs. Valley? No, not for me. (Only when it becomes too much to bear that I go back to the teachings of the Brahmakumaris.)
Doesn't it sound like self perpetuated 1st stage of manic-depressive disorder btw? LOL

Trust me, having opted for psychology has been my best decision so far in life and every time I come across something in my books that makes my heart filled with joy or brim with pride, I look up and let God know this. My family here and my ex-roommates and all my close friends who didn't have the good fortune to fall for psychology and rise with it have been pissed off hearing my declaration of love time and time again; so you see God is the only one who can still take in my devotion to psychology.

These days, when my younger sister is grappling with English Hons. vs. Engineering, I know how important it is to have a clear head in times of decision making and what a whale of difference passion or the lack of it makes. She is worried about a secure job, a handsome salary blah, blah, blah but not about following her heart and when I talk of the importance of being in love with your subject, your passion driving you forward and not your pay-check etc. she tells me I am talking like a middle aged woman! I might be, I don't know but I'm sure I'll never have to work a day in my life as long as it has something to do remotely with psychology or bringing about some kind of change in the society. It will be play, even if it has to be for 15-16 hours a day.

It is amazing how much my desire to work for a change in society, to make a difference in the lives of people, blends with the very nature of psychology. Be it as a researcher or a bureaucrat, I will be 'creating' my happiness myself. Outward signs of success have never dictated my choices, so it won't matter if do not earn a 6 figure salary. Inwardly, I will be successful, and successful also in my own field. At least this one thing in my life is sorted.

But the first step of this journey wasn't all this easy.
Not opting for either of medical or engineering wasn't easy. Upsetting everyone in the family wasn't easy. Not opting for at least a 'science' subject for graduation wasn't easy. Bearing with people speculating about my reasons to leave the science stream wasn't easy.
Being hammered with questions about 'Why-not-English-hons-then' due to my known love for literature wasn't easy. Being labelled confused, reckless, mad wasn't easy.
But it turns out that I have secured life long contentment with that one courageous decision. Hail Psychology. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book Review: By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and WeptBy the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a book. Period.
The warrior of light was great, The alchemist was good and Veronica decides to die was so-so but this one is in a different league altogether.
Paulo Coelho is his usual poetic self and the messages he has conveyed are ones that will stay with me all my life. He made me smile and weep tears of joy and in the process profoundly added to my views on love. Sample this:" Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to stretch out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness. The moment we begin to seek love, love begins to seek us. And to save us.”

This book also talks about the feminine face of God, taking risks, embracing the unknown and the unexpected and embarking on a journey of inner growth. Sample this: “Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back – and at some point everyone looks back – she will hear her heart saying, “What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage; the certainty that you wasted your life.”

At times I felt like my thoughts had been given words, like “That is why I write - to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance” and “Break the glass, please, and free us from all these damned rules, from needing to find an explanation for everything, from doing only what others approve of.”

It was, however, the ending that made sure this is one book I'm going to recommend to everyone.Its too good and I'm very badly inclined to post it here. But I'm gonna resist and ask you to go read it. Please do. It could just be the book you were looking for.

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Confusion Reigns

What a stormy month it was!
*Exams(2 difficult, 3 easy but thankfully all satisfactory)
*Roommate gone(only 3 people left out of 14in the PG; no, contrary to what u may think I m nt a loner)
*Renovation in PG(thak-thak-thak-thak...ARGGHHH)
*Cook uncle gone(the landlady is as good a cook as me)
*Research proposal submission with short notice(which turned out to be appreciated by the professors)
*Interview for assignment of project(the best thing that happened to me in 2nd year)
*No ticket to come back, frantic requests to distant relatives and their friends in Delhi, journey to home with a stranger for a companion who was getting on my nerves with his incessant chatter.....
Talk about a super fast roller coaster ride!
But it was all worth it for I believe my last 3 days at home have been made all the more special by the happenings in May. And now I have time to breathe, to write and to catch up on reading.

Several things have struck my mind over the last few days and made me terribly confused:color: #181818; line-height: 18px;"> I don't know whether I should stop reading Ayn Rand and go back to watching 'Awakening with the Brahmakumaris' videos or explore Rand more. The latter seems more exciting as Rand appeals to my mind, but I know for lasting peace, I'll need to turn to the former someday. I m not a true Objectivist anyways as I believe in God and Rand says that there is no middle path. Too bad that my brand of spirituality wants color: #181818; line-height: 18px;">me to stick to the middle path.
So you get the picture. In the last few months, color: #181818; line-height: 18px;">Spirituality has had an on-and-off relationship with me. It saved me from depression and identity crisis 3 years back and Brahmakumari Sister Shivani is still my role model but Ayn Rand's 'For the new intellectual' has created a conflict in my mind which I don't think I'll b able to resolve very soon. 

 Another issue is my future. I continue to fall deeper and deeper in love with psychology as I keep coming across new vistas but my prior commitment to bring about social change keeps telling me that this is not my destiny. I know I can still make a difference remaining a full time researcher in psychology but the main reason I have always wanted to be in the IAS is that the size of the canvas will be bigger, as compared to say, a social worker in an NGO or even a psychologist doing path-breaking research and suggesting reforms and measures for betterment of society. As a bureaucrat, I would have the power to see my vision turn into reality and I would have the authority to see to it that my work is not hassled by petty social/ political forces. Hence when I took up Psychology Hons. I was very certain that right after graduation I would totally immerse myself in my preparation for UPSC. It was to be a short term affair with psychology, nothing more. But in 2nd year, I have been bowled over, time and time again. Psychology has become a part of 'me'. It scares me to think that there will come a time when psychology will no longer remain an integral part of my life. Of course, the least I can do is to continue with it in post graduation and I have let my parents know that I am going to do exactly that. Still it is a terrible dilemma I am confronting every single day: to remain a psychologist or go become a civil servant. I know I need not worry so much as I still have 3 years to decide but it is not as simple as it seems. I often wonder whether I should brush up my GS during free time or read books having to do with psychology. I have been called commitment phobic earlier, unjustly, and now it seems like I really am one.

Anyways, here's a lovely quote I came across yesterday: 
color: #181818; font-family: georgia, serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;">“The most confused we ever get is when we're trying to convince our heads of something our heart knows is a lie.”
But then Ayn Rand says follow your mind, not your heart. Sigh!

I know I need to figure it out myself. I'll eventually. For now I guess I need to enjoy the confusion.