#1. Cobalt Blue, Daisy Jones and Jeet Thayil’s Bombay

Everything is broken.

Dear Reader,

The lockdown has tricked me into thinking that occasionally I have decent-ish share worthy thoughts. Hence, this newsletter. It is named after my all time favourite sentence from Alice in Wonderland. As Alice says, “Sometimes, I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

My biggest fear, as of now, is that after this massive quarantine period, once I go back to college I will be incapable of writing the ten - thousand word story that I have proposed to write for my thesis. So think of this newsletter as my riyaz, if I may say. An exercise to ensure that I don’t completely forget the art of sentence writing and phrase making. On most days, I'll stick to writing about books and words. Apologies, however if this suddenly becomes about why Kim Kardashian chose to name her son North. I’ll  try to be a nice person and keep my opinions on the Kardashian family to myself.

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This is a peculiar time to say the least. As I write these words from an occasionally rainy Bangalore, I’m hearing of apartment blocks being sealed in my home city: Mumbai. Not that the rest of the country is any better off, but witnessing a city where 4 AM is usually Marine Drive’s ‘peak hour,’ in shutdown is particularly weird.

I always thought of Mumbai as an overwritten city. I understand that the idea that the city offers is interesting. But, if you’ve lived in that idea pretty much all your life, it gets boring and repetitive. The practical reality of the city is too jarring and in the face —  the potholes, the annoyingly annual tradition of floods, the crooked steps at railway stations and the permanently under construction metro line. 

I have to admit though, that Mumbai  is not very easy to detach from. It's a funny place, one that I have endless craving for. I spend days together in reminiscing my intimate moments with the city. But, once I'm actually back in the city, the picture starts to crumble. The heat, the humidity, the constant muddy splatters on my slippers all pop up as spoil sports. It almost feels like the local trains and the Prithvi Cafe of my memory, are far better than the actual ones. The ones in my memory have been revisited so many times, that they have been rectified to perfection. They don't have any of the bad parts. The parts that become blaringly obvious in reality.

It's a weird feeling. A friend once called it the defination of a toxic relationship. You hate it when it's there, but you spend endless hours missing it, writing about it, recovering from it, loving it, and even craving it, when it's not there. I don't know if that's true, but I know that no matter what, I always end up buying literary versions of Mumbai— versions that are beyond beautiful.

My favourite Bombay (if I may say it that way) is the Bombay of Jeet Thayil.

Jeet Thayil’s Bombay is broken. It’s one where you can run into a drug dealer at a cafe. Where everyone is high, drunk or just splintered on the inside. It seems to exist mostly in the nights, the days are either pointless or plain boring. It still curdles my heart when I think of how he described the sea in Narcopolis. He calls it “the septic, seething, kala pani.” No one has described the sea better. No one gets Bombay better. 

I promised myself in 9th grade (I think) that  I would never write about Bombay, unless I actually  had something to say about it. A promise I’ve repeatedly broken, because, somehow everything I’ve written involves the city. Even this shitty newsletter. 

(Have I become a mediocre writer selling oversold versions of a city? I hope not.)

I guess you can’t live in a place for 17+ years and then just forget about it. Whether I like it or not, most of my memories are married to the city. And while I have disliked the practical inconvenience of the city, I have always indulged in the abstract clustered idea that underpins it. To quote Thayil again, “the city and the drug, the city of opium and the drug Bombay.” He is right, Bombay is a drug. 

I can go on about the city, but I have a sinking feeling that if I do then this will most definitely turn into an ungrateful rant. Moving on might be best for all. Not the easiest thing to do, but we’ll try.

COBALT BLUE:

It has been a pretty good month for reading. Quite safe to say that I’ve been trying to actively read myself into oblivion, so that I don’t have to think of how much everything is decaying every second. One particularly deep escape was Cobalt Blue.

Written by Sachin Kundalkar in Marathi and translated by Jerry Pinto, Cobalt Blue is an extremely emotionally articulate book. The premise is simple: In small town Maharashtra, siblings Tanay and Anuya both fall in love with the same man. The person of interest here is a man who stays as a paying guest in their lower-middle class home, before vanishing mysteriously. 

The narrative is carved skilfully. The first part of the book is about Tanay —  we learn that Tanay made love to this man and was loved back by him. But things come to a standstill when the mysterious unnamed guest elopes with Anuya, leaving Tanay heartbroken. A few months later, Anuya comes back home, alone. The lover seems to have abandoned her too. The second part of the book revolves around Anuya, who is completely in the dark about her brother’s sexual history with a man who eloped with her and then decided to leave her randomly in an apartment in Pondicherry. 

Both the siblings are left heartbroken. The words are crafted to form a void in the reader’s heart. It dug deep into my heart, by the end I was craving closure for Tanay and Anuya. The void is intentional, Kundalkar wants his readers to be invested not in love, but in heartbreak, and its complex existence.

Anuya is served with much judgement for having eloped. She is working from an empty blackhole in her heart— one day she was in love, and the next day she was still in love except that her lover had vanished. Tanay’s pain is even more isolated. His mother for the longest time thinks that he is sad because Anuya had left. How does a son tell his mother that he is heartbroken because the man he loved ran away with his sister? It’s impossible. His pain is invisible to his family, just like his joy was. 

It played with my heart how little we know of this vanished lover. The mystery around him makes the struggle internal. Kundalkar is not interested in the man, he is interested in the concrete expression of heartbreak and the grief and loneliness that comes with it. He is interested in feelings so big and intense that our physical bodies seem too tiny to contain them. 

To Kundalkar’s credit, he does a phenomenal job.

I am secretly hoping for this book to be made into a Netflix series. Nothing can match the intensity of the book, but I’d still like to consume this story in a language that’s not English. Jerry Pinto does a great job of translating the book, but there are nuances that inevitably get left behind  when the story shifts from Marathi to English. A non-English series (if made well) might help with that.

DAISY JONES AND THE SIX:

From one heartbreak to another deep escape I took — Daisy Jones and The Six.

Set in the 1970’s Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the story of a fictional rock band. It covers all things sex, drugs and rock and roll. It's easily the best book I've read this year (so far).

My favourite thing about the book is Daisy Jones, the person. She’s a natural musician, we’re told. She’s spunky, sporadic, impulsive, always high and almost never wears a bra. Daisy doesn’t want to be the inspiration for some man’s great idea, she wants to write her own stuff. At one point in the book she says, “I am not going to sit around sweating my ass off just so men can feel more comfortable. It’s not my responsibility to not turn them on. It’s their responsibility to not be an asshole.” Refreshing isn’t it?

I loved how much of an open public mess Daisy was. I also loved that no matter how high or vulnerable, she refused to adapt to the idea that the world revolved around men. 

(Did I mention that I want to be Daisy’s best friend?)

It's not just Daisy, all the women in this book are gifts. And this is needed when the story revolves around a band that started off with five dudes. The general tone of books written on rock bands is very masculine. It’s all about men writing songs from deep inside of whiskey bottles about all the women who didn’t love them back, or about women they slept with. 

Staying true to the era, this book also has those men. But their flaws are not being cradled. They don’t have women around them constantly working and self-altering to ensure they’re ‘comfortable.’ Reid is celebrating the 70’s and rock and roll culture, just as much as she is calling it out.

She’s written the book  like a mockumentary, making it even more interesting. The style adds to the drama. There is no narrative voice underlining the obvious. It is a bunch of character’s speaking of broken moments they created together. 

To sum it up I’ll quote the book, “We love broken, beautiful people. And it doesn't get much more obviously broken and more classically beautiful than Daisy Jones.” 

Broken definitely seems to be a consistent mood across everything Anyway that’s it for now. That’s all the broken thoughts I have.

Thank you for reading.


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