Reading Interrupted*

Of late, I haven’t been able to finish the books that I don’t like. Usually I take the time and the energy and effort to plot through books even if they haven’t exactly excited me. And sometimes I have been rewarded for it. However, nowadays I don’t even try to push the boredom barrier.

Earlier, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I had left unfinished – exactly one. That was Gita Hariharan’s ‘When Dreams Travel.’ I love revisionist writing but this one I had to give up midway. The Post Colonial ride this book was taking me on was inducing boredom at an alarming rate. I still shudder to think of that book with its pink cover. That was of course years back.

In the past few years, I have noticed that I left countless books midway merely because I haven’t the energy or the time to push myself to do one more thing that I don’t want to do. I’d rather watch an enjoyable film or even stare out the window than look at the book which does not enthuse me.

Is this a problem that is peculiar to me or my decreasing patience levels? I wanted to find out. So I asked two reader who were close by – Rita and Obi Wan – if they faced the same problem. Rita says that she had little patience for books that don’t grab her attention and has always been unable to finish books she didn’t like. Obi Wan has left 4 books midway in the last 6 months. He believes that the value of time in terms of opportunity costs increases as we grow older and busier.

The last book that I didn't finish reading. I am on page 272.

The last book that I didn’t finish reading. I am on page 272.

That makes sense. I have a finite amount of time to give to reading. So, why should I spend this finite time on something I don’t like? Why would I do that ever? But that’s possible in an ideal world. Unfortunately, we don’t live in it. Earlier as children or even young adults and even into my 20s, time was an infinite resource and the days appeared long and also we didn’t have so many things clambering for our attention.

Today I have to fit my reading into what Umberto Eco calls ‘interstices’. (Thanks Asuph for bringing my attention to this beautiful idea! Do read his take on living the interrupted life.) I confess I cannot fit it in while say waiting for the elevator, which is the example Eco gives, but in between I do read before starting work, during lunch time and before going to bed. Perhaps as years go on, I will perfect this art as Eco did and can actually finish a blog post/poem/outline of a book while waiting for the elevator! Right now, I am writing in the middle of my work day by ignoring work completely. What’s the best part about that? I don’t have a shred of guilt.

*Perhaps I should write about Blogging Interrupted next?


The guts have been on my mind today. By that I mean this article which talks about the connection between gut bacteria and our physical and mental well-being.

I think gut bacteria is like the new holy grail of wellness. When germ theory was hot, everything was the responsibility of germs. Next, it was the genes. All problems humankind faced was related to the presence or absence of particular genes. To some extent it still is. Then came the brain: diseases, quirks, talents explained by how X/Y/Z part of the brain controls or doesn’t control A/B/C part of the body. This is yet to be completely understood when the gut bacteria age has started.

Now, I look forward to many gut bacteria theories. Let me preempt a few.

1. The gut bacteria theory of leadership. Because of the presence of a certain strain of gut bacteria, leaders are made. Literally, from the guts.

2. The gut bacteria theory of war. The presence of another strain of gut bacteria predisposes some people or groups towards violence. So some countries are more aggressive thanks to their gut bacteria. It’s not really their fault, you know. They didn’t know what was in their guts.

3. The gut bacteria theory of ageing. Youthful good looks can be attributed to the presence of yet another strain of gut bacteria. Throw away your oils, creams and lotions now!

4. The gut bacteria theory of love. Love is literally in the guts. People who claim to feel ‘love at first sight’ are actually only playing out the compatibility of their own gut bacteria.

5. The gut bacteria theory of marriage. Long-lasting marriages are possible due to the presence of compatible gut bacteria. Its corollary, failed marriages can be a sign of fundamental incompatibility of gut bacteria. And we already know gut bacteria transplants are a reality.  So basically one can medically ensure a good long-lasting marriage. (Oh, I spy a story here. Maybe, I should write it.)

Can you imagine the other possibilities? Not just theories, but ways in which these theories will be exploited by corporations and people to make more money, poorer people even more poorer and how things will soon spiral out of control. (There’s my distopian YA novel right here.)

I know I know, there is probably a grain of truth in all of this. I have the highest respect for people in the forefront of these breakthroughs. But you have to admit, it’s fun to theorise far away from the actual weight of these responsibilities.

PS: This post is in good humour. Please take it with a truckload of salt.

Getting published

So someone asked my ‘expert’ opinion on getting their poetry published. I don’t know how she came to that conclusion considering I am only three published poems old. Anyway, this is a version of what I told her. I missed out 7b.

(1) Go through the online internet poetry magazines and make a list.

(2) Find the ones that actually publish poems quite close to what you write.

(3) Check their submission guidelines. They will have dates when they accept submissions and the format in which they would prefer it. Some have ‘rolling submissions’, which means you can submit anytime.

(4) Submit poems according to the format they accept; add a covering letter, bio etc.

(5) Keep a note of when you submitted to which magazine and whether it is a ‘simultaneous submission’ (submitted same poems to many magazines).

(6) Wait. Wait. Wait.

(7a) Jump with joy when you get the acceptance email.

(7b) Slump with depression with each rejection note.

(8) Withdraw the same poem from other magazines if it has been accepted to two or more magazines.


I know I know our hearts are breaking for Nepal. But before you rush to get that flight or send over clothes and medicines, read this article. Long-term Nepal resident Claire Bennett says that unless we have specialist medical training, we should wait for the dust to settle and then try and send over people and stuff. It’s difficult but do try telling that to the school and college kids who have galvanised themselves into action. Distribution could be a nightmare. We could also contribute monetarily through a reputed non-profit such as the International Medical Corps or Oxfam.

Hello again

Apologies for being away. I am not really sure if I have any readers left over to apologise to. And if you are one, you are worth your weight in platinum (isn’t platinum more precious than gold?). I have the world’s oldest reason for being away – life got in the way of the blog. This is what happened – unbelievable work pressure, a home that is being painted, and a speaking assignment. So I have much to fill you in. This is what I have been doing.

1. Work

2. Work

3. Read and admired Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

4. Work

5. Work

6. Work

7. Watched a few plays – Anupama Chandrasekhar’s Free Outgoing, Thomas Ostermeier’s The Enemy of the People, and Aruna Ganesh Ram’s A Moment of Memory.

8. Worked a whole lot more.

9. Read That Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the middle of some work crisis.

10. More maddening work intervened.

11. Got so saturated that I watched a few films – Hysteria, Shame, Billy Elliot, Never Let Me Go and a few I don’t even remember.

12. Drowned in work.

13. Surfaced reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

14. Spoke at a reading event at the British Council.

Storytelling with Emily Parrish

The first week of February has been hectic in a good way after a long time. Story telling performances on two days and plays on the other two meant that I grabbed every excuse (oops, reason) to get away from work and land up (sometimes rather early) at the respective venues.

I like performance poetry (or spoken word) but performance storytelling is new to me. When the British Council sent me an email informing me about the ‘Art of Storytelling Workshop’, I ignored it. Much later when A asked me if I’d be interested, I went back and gave it a long second look. I had no idea what it entailed. Then I saw her performance on YouTube and I was hooked. Yep, I was interested. I don’t know if I will tell a story to anyone but it looked like fun.

On February 4th the storytelling festival was inaugurated. The British Council and the Storytelling Institute were partnering to bring the annual storytelling festival this time. Apparently they have been doing this for a while. This is the first time I was attending it. I just wanted to see Emily Parrish perform. After some perfunctory speeches, a welcome address and one very boring and long lecture about the India tradition of storytelling by someone who could make the best stories sound blah without much effort, finally we got to see Emily perform. She opened up a completely new world. What a world that was!

She told us three stories that night. The first one was about the old man and three sons. And how he puts them to the test by asking a question – what is sharp and sweet at the same time? The first two fail, the last one makes it.

The next one was about Shiva and Parvati, which is very brave of her. I mean an English person telling an Indian story to an Indian audience. She apologised for taking liberties with the story. An apology which I thought was unnecessary but it did assuage some of the silver-headed people in the audience. Telling a story is a bit like editing. One has to pick out the best bits of info and work on it. And she may have left out some details, which one member of the audience pointed out during the question and answer session. Hence, a completely unnecessary apology.

Finally, the last story was about Loki, the trickster god, from the Norse mythology. In this one he steals the goddess Freya’s apples which keep the gods and goddesses young and healthy. And in his eagerness to get out of a bind, he ends up tricking Freya to a villainous eagle. And how he gets her out of the bind forms the rest of the story.

As you can see fairly good representation of Norse and Indian mythology as well as folk tales. What enraptured me was not the content of the story though that did play a part, it was the way she told the story. For an hour that evening, as the sun set and artificial lights lit up the courtyard at the British Council, we – the storyteller and the audience – recreated one of the oldest settings for a story – a roaring fire and people sitting around it. We listened rapt in attention as Emily turned her body into an instrument to create the Himalayas, or the mountain where Freya was captured or the roadside where the brothers found the sweet and sharp things. It was the way she asked the audience to fill in some details in the story. It was the way with a flick of a wrist or a nod of a head, or a bend of her back she become Loki, Odin, an old man, a young man, Shiva or Parvati. She was not just a story teller, she was a chameleon and a shape shifter. She made the known world disappear and a new one appear in its place. How many people can claim to do that? I was in awe. And completely charmed by this young woman who was in effect a magician. I had signed up for the workshop the next day where she said she would teach us this magic.

The next day for three hours the 28 of us, sadly mostly teachers not including me, learnt in a small way how to create this magic. I say ‘sadly mostly teachers’ because they were there because they wanted to use storytelling to teach kids. While teaching is noble indeed, and teaching through storytelling fantastic in itself, (I don’t think my teachers ever felt that obliged to tell stories) I would prefer kids being told stories for the sake of being told stories. I suppose I live in an idealistic world inside my head. There is no such thing in real life. Teachers were here, schools were informed and certificates handed over. But leaving aside these practicalities, we had fun!

We listened to Emily create a story, we learnt to take apart a story and examine what she called the ‘bare bones’, we learnt how to use different points of view to bring the story alive, we learnt to use gestures and rhyme to cater to children, we learnt how to develop a 2 minute sequence of a story using sensory details and our body. We also learnt about using stock characters or archetypes in the story.  Of course, we were not going to master it in a few hours but we learnt a bit that afternoon that we will perhaps take back with us for a lifetime. I love the relaxation exercises that involved some imaginary chewing gum. (Have I intrigued you yet? I am not going to explain that. I will leave it up to your imagination. Let’s just say it was sufficiently imaginary and icky and very physical!) I loved the way I could act like I was picking my unsuspecting neighbour’s pocket when I was asked to play a thief. Everyone had a laugh at that! The poor guy had no idea why everyone was laughing.

I was a bit shy to begin with but as the session went on, I become more and more comfortable and lost any self-consciousness I had. By the end of the workshop, I was suggesting books that people could read. (For the curious, I suggested Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ as a way to understanding archetypes.) I met some filmmakers, teachers, professors and principals.

What I would be interested in carrying from this workshop are the techniques that I can apply to tell a modern and contemporary story. Emily had studied under Vayu Naidu, a storyteller herself. Emily used mythology and folk tales mostly. But I wondered if new stories could be created using these elements for a contemporary audience. I raised this question and she confessed that she didn’t like princesses who needed rescuing. I know what she meant. I prefer distressing damsels to damsels in distress too.

When I was telling my 2 minute sequence to my group, I could see how their reaction changed the story. After 4 hours of energy exchange, I felt strangely recharged, energised and raring to go. Telling stories is in a way an exchange of energy. I loved every minute of it. While I am not sure if I will practice it in the way that Emily does or the teachers will do, I know that this is yet another dimension to exploring the story. And I am always interested in that.

The refusal

Every year around December, January or February the Dastkaar Haat (crafts bazaar) makes its appearance on the grounds of Kalakshetra, the dance school started by Rukmini Devi Arundale in South Chennai. It’s an open air market which stocks handmade and artisan items from all over India. It stays for around a week and then disappears. The newspapers announce its arrival and my friends and I wait for it eagerly to get stuff that you wouldn’t normally get here. In spite of its globe-totting citizens, Chennai sometimes has the air of a village.

I usually make more than one trip. So this year too I went twice. By now I can recognise the same faces who have travelled long to get here. It must seem strange to them to set up stalls on sand and sit and wait for customers, show their wares and then from time to time make a sale. This year was like the other years well attended. So I am sure they managed a profit. Obviously, some stalls were more popular than the others. This is also the time I exercise my Hindi! After leaving my last job, I haven’t got much practice in one of the national languages.

A favourite is tiger stall (that’s what I call it; it’s not the real name). That’s the Dastkaar Ranthambore from Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. There is always a crowd in front of it. They have perfected the tiger motif on a variety of household and personal items. What sets apart the stall from the others is the finish of their products. It is very well done. Most craft items have a bit – sometimes more – of unevenness because they are made by hand. But the products of this stall are nearly as good as say Fab India or Kalpa Druma.

While I weighed this jhola against that, Smart Aunty standing next to me video called her daughter in Singapore who sounded more annoyed than happy to show her the contents of the stall. There she stood like a director panning the camera. Annoyed Daughter chose a tiger motif razai (duvet) and promptly disconnected the call saying that baby is hungry and she needs to feed him. Smart Aunty waited patiently for her daughter to call back. I moved on.

My absolute favourite this year was the Ladakhi Jewellery stall. A weather-beaten man from the mountains who I later found out had sold sweaters in Malda, a district in Bengal, was selling typical Tibetian jewellery. Written on a simple yellow chart paper with no embellishment and in uneven hand board were the words ‘Ladakh Jewelry’. All the embellishment was left for the exotic (to my eyes) jewellery. I have been making some of my jewellery the past year but this was something else. I could feel the tradition and technique that must have taken long to develop. I fell in love with some of these pieces. As my friend would testify I went a bit berserk there. Each of those turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli necklaces stole my heart.

On my second visit, the atmosphere was electric. North Eastern folk dancers, Rajasthani musicians and puppeteers filled the air with music. But what caught my attention was this woman in traditional clothing. She was in charge of a stall selling cloth bags. But the bags were not half as interesting as she was. Her ink-black hair severely parted in the middle, the dupatta over her head, tonnes of jewellery and a wrinkled face.

There was no one at her stall. And for good reason: she looked formidable. She was definitely from a tribe in the west of India but I couldn’t guess the state. She drew me to her; I immediately had this feeling that I had to take her picture. For all my loquaciousness, I am a shy person. It took some nerve for me to walk up to her and ask her in Hindi if I could take her picture. She didn’t understand me. Next I repeated my request followed by the universal sign for taking a picture – an air click. She looked at my fingers and then she understood me. For a fleeting second, I thought she would agree. But no. She refused. In her refusal was this immense sense of weariness. Like I was the hundredth person asking for her photograph. There was a huge story here. Who knows how many people would have walked by her stall and asked for her picture? Who knows how many times she accepted? Who knows how many she refused? Who knows what unpleasant experience she had with a person who took her photograph before? In that refusal, I sensed the weight – and wait – of her days. It must be lonely to be so far away from home, sitting here in the middle of perhaps nowhere, selling things to make her living. We must all seem so alien to her. This picture taking business she must find unusual and weird. These boxes that we carry around and talk to and take pictures with must seem so far away from her world. Or perhaps she sensed that I was trying to exoticise her. I will be honest, I was. It is a response I am not too proud of. She could not perhaps articulate it but I am sure she knew the feeling. I was the self and she was the other. I was exoticising the other. That was so much like the Occidental response to the Orient. In refusing to let me take her picture, she refused to be a part of this interaction, refused to engage with me because it was solely on my terms. She may look traditional but her attitude was modern. I respected her wishes and immediately left. It was a relief to be refused. She has this intensity which made me hold my breath. Some people draw you to them by their intensity. As I moved out of the radius of her presence I relaxed and also felt a bit ashamed for having troubled her.

I don’t know how photographers ask for pictures and get people to agree. This incident has left an indelible mark on my mind. It will be a long time before I will ask anyone for their picture.

Notes and documentation

I have noticed an increased traffic from students looking for spark notes or cliff notes on a particular book to my blog. While I am not surprised – I write ‘notes’ after all – I know documentation can be a pain. The MLA, APA and Chicago Manual are all constantly evolving so now we know how to cite blogs, a comment on a blog, a blog post or even an online poem on your dissertation/thesis/paper. A copy of the latest edition should be in your school/college/university library. I have a hard copy, which I rarely use. The MLA website has I notice become difficult to access, requiring a sign in and all. So here is the latest MLA style based on the 7th edition 2009 publication. (MLA is perhaps the most appropriate citation style for literature students.) There are websites that automatically arrange your entries according to the specific criteria and alphabetical order as well. That is your cheat sheet! I never had such ease when I was writing my dissertation. Students today are a lot luckier than I was.

A preview and a masterclass

On January 28th, I attended a preview of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play Free Outgoing directed by Mahesh Dattani. It is the first time in India (in three cities – Bangalore, Madras and Bombay) that this play is being performed.

The space was the Edouard Michelin auditorium at the Alliance Francaise Madras, a place that holds a lot of memories for me. Many many years before, I had worked backstage for Anushka Ravishankar’s plays Cockroach and Do You Love Me?. What an idyllic time it was! I was in charge of the music. Before you imagine me with any high-tech stuff, let me assure you all I did was press a button! Every day after work (work at that time wrapped up at 5.30) for nearly 2 months (or was it 3?), I used to go to the old Amethyst for rehearsals. In my case, it was sitting on mat and observing while people acted and created these perfect and fragile little alternate realities. Sometimes I substituted for an actor if she failed to turn up. I met some wonderful people during that time. I was happy. The final shows were at the Edouard Michelin auditorium. In one of those performance nights, I stumbled down the steps because it was too dark inside! I literally went thump thump thump in the middle of a performance. It’s to actor’s credit that she didn’t stop acting. Since then I haven’t worked in a play so know you know why I am reminiscing. I did go back to watch plays – it is probably the theatre space almost every theatre group has performed in. This time, I went back to the auditorium to see the first ever preview (of anything) that I have attended.

I’ve read Free Outgoing as a text but never seen it been performed. So this was a treat! After the show the director Mahesh Dattani wanted to know the feedback of the people who attended the preview. So we took the discussion from the auditorium upstairs to the circular space downstairs. And that is when I got my impromptu masterclass. He asked about emotional impact of the play, what worked and what didn’t. I told him. I listened as other people said many things – some of which I didn’t agree with but still which made me look at the play from a different angle. He spoke to the actors about what they were doing well and what wasn’t working. Creating something this intangible on stage – much of which relies on the unknown second party i.e. the audience – is so difficult and extraordinary. I’ve always respected the process but this was something else, a new point of view. I learnt so much just by observing him. I read Mahesh Dattani’s plays in college. I did have my quiet fangirl moment!

As you noticed, I refrained from talking about the show itself. That’s because you should watch it! Bangalore people have had the privilege already. People in Bombay will get to see it on 12 February at the NCPA. Please go if you can. If you are in Madras, the show is on today 6th February and tomorrow 7th February at the Museum Theatre, Egmore. Tickets are available here. See you there!

Notes on books: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been carrying this article in my head for a while. I edit it while travelling or watching TV or any work that does not require 100% of my attention. I have difficulty switching off sometimes so I also edit it in my head before dropping off to sleep. It’s time to put it down – literally and figuratively.

Adichie has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while but for some reason or the books didn’t come to me. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I read this book towards the end of last year. In the middle of a maddening time workwise, this book was my refuge, my sanctuary when I needed something solid to hold on to. I could get into the world of Adichie’s story and stay there protected from the real world.

Let me introduce you to it. Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her brother Jaja live strictly prescribed and compartmentalised lives in Enugu, Nigeria. Their affluent lives are chalked out into neat sections – study, eat, pray and school. They are growing up in the care of their silent and long-suffering mother Beatrice and father Eugene Achike. Eugene is a generous God-fearing man who looks after everybody in his personal and professional orbit. He is considered an elder and he takes his responsibility seriously. As an industrialist and publisher, he is a fierce protector of his employees. Kambili looks up to him as do the people in his community. There is only one chink in his armour, his fatal flaw if you will, Eugene is a strict and sadist disciplinarian who doesn’t think twice about hitting his wife or whipping his son or pouring boiling water on his daughter’s feet for what he considers the ‘devil’s work.’ The devil’s work is having an opinion different from him. But Eugene is not the hero of our story, Kambili is.

When Aunt Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister visits them, she brings with her an air of freedom and laughter. As a professor at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, she lives in the professor’s quarters on campus with her three children. Her husband, Ifediora, is no more. Aunt Ifeoma takes Kambili and Jaja away from Enugu on the pretext of visiting a Christian shrine and opens them up to the world of laughter, literature, music and ideas. They are deprived of many physical comforts but they are exposed to love, laughter, opinions, literature, music and ideas. It is far cry from the life they are accustomed to but slowly they start appreciating it. Their cousins the politically-aware Amaka, the pragmatic Obiora and the very young Chima help them settle in. Jaja is a sensitive soul who discovers his love for gardening almost immediately. Kambili takes a while to discard her darling Papa’s conditioning. Almost against her will, she discovers music and love: she begins to love the Afrobeat music of the Nigerian musician Fela and develops a crush on Aunt Ifeoma’s friend, Father Amadi. Removed from the oppressiveness of their home, they finally begin to live.

Nothing lasts forever and definitely not this idyllic pause in Kambili and Jaja’s life. Eugene has disowned his father, Papa Nnukwu, because he worships the traditional gods. He wants his father to convert to Christianity and be ‘saved’. But Papa Nnukwu sticks to his beliefs. Kambili and Jaja are allowed to visit Papa Nnukwu for 15 minutes each year when the Achike family move back to their hometown for a month in summer. They are not allowed to eat or drink anything in the ‘heathen’ home. But when they go to live with Aunt Ifeoma, they learn a bit about their grandfather and even grow to love him.

Aunt Ifeoma looks after Papa Nnukwu in his last days. When he dies, all hell breaks loose for Kambili and Jaja. They are forced back to their own homes and airtight schedules but having tasted freedom can now no longer tolerate the oppression at home. Their transgressions which were minor and accidental before (Kambili came second in class once) become more serious and deliberate (Jaja refuses to go to communion and Kambili possesses a painting of Papa Nnukwu made by Amaka). Their punishments become severe to match their transgressions. So much so that Kambili has to be admitted to the hospital. She gets better but is so scared to come home that she starts pretending that she hasn’t recovered. When she does, Jaja does the unthinkable. He walks out with Kambili to their Aunt’s home, their true home.

Aunt Ifeoma, her children, Jaja and Kambili start their second innings together. But this time their time here is short lived as there is unrest in the University of Nigeria at Nsukka which affects both students and teachers. Aunt Ifeoma decides to leave the country to America and Kambili and Jaja have to go back to their father’s home. But things come to a boil when they get back. Jaja is imprisoned for something he didn’t do and Kambili and her mother wait for his release.

The first thing that struck me was the opening line:

Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère. (Adichie, 3)

What a bold homage to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart! I get the feeling that Adichie is planning on walking on his footsteps but in her own way through her own stories.

Breaking seem to almost be the running theme of this book. Eugene breaks with tradition when he converts to Christianity. The relationship between Papa Nnukwu and Eugene is definitely broken.  Eugene breaks Beatrice’s figurines right at the beginning of the book. He also breaks Jaja’s little finger when he is a kid as punishment for disobeying him. Their mother Beatrice seems like a broken lady right from the beginning but who carries on for appearances sake. Yet she shows unbelievable strength when she makes a choice. Jaja and Kambili break several rules at different stages in the narrative. They also break Eugene’s heart by rejecting his home and preferring his sister’s. The Achike family, completely whole from the looks of it, is actually crumbling apart. The family is the smallest social unit. What happens in the family reflects on the state. On a macrocosmic level, Nigeria itself seems to be coming apart. There is unrest and riots in the University which makes Aunt Ifeoma leave the country in effect breaking a centuries old connection with the land. The young priest Father Amadi breaks Kambili’s heart. And we don’t know if Jaja will break from his experience in prison. To counter this much breakage, Kambili writes, narrates, remembers and tells her story.

In telling her story, she employs her voice. It’s the voice of a grown up woman looking back at a turning point in her childhood. There is some amount of nostalgia but nothing that takes away from the veracity of her account. An immense sadness tinges the entire first person narrative. It’s like the last summer of her childhood before she had to grow up.

Growing up involves making choices for oneself. Choices that may not concur with that of the parents. Kambili and Jaja choose Aunt Ifeoma’s emotionally and intellectually rich home over the material wealth of their own father’s. Several such oppositions play out against each other in the story – rich and poor (in all its connotations), Christian and pagan, traditional and modern, reason and emotion, oppression and freedom, fear and fearlessness, silence and speech and home and abroad.

For Kambili home becomes Nsukka, where Aunt Ifeoma stays and not Enugu, where her parents do. The first time when Kambili and Jaja come over to Nsukka, Aunt Ifeoma drives them around the city and Amaka introduces them to the landscape of Nsukka. In these descriptions of hills, professor’s quarters, university buildings, you can feel Adichie’s love for her beloved hometown. Purple Hibiscus, the novel itself, is Adichie’s love letter to Nsukka.

Adichie is the master of atmosphere. When Kambili describes her experience, there is this extreme oppressiveness weighing the narrative down. And while that becomes better in the Nsukka sections, there is this certain gravitas that stays till the end. Kambili’s quiet and calm behaviour hides intense and sensitive feelings. Something that Father Amadi senses and Aunt Ifeoma knows but Eugene is oblivious to.

Aunt Ifeoma is an amateur gardener experimenting with a rare variety of hibiscus. In the beginning of the book, Kambili compares Jaja’s defiance to Aunt’s Ifeoma’s purple hibiscus. But I think Kambili herself is the Purple Hibiscus of the book’s title. She is the rebellious one and she thrives when transplanted to another place. Her rebellion though is not like Jaja’s full of action. Her rebellion is quieter and full of reflection.

Reading this book was like being in a trance not just till the story lasted but much later too. I had to read another Adichie after this. But Purple Hibiscus is in a league of its own. I cannot imagine that Adichie wrote this when she was only 26! It’s truly an accomplishment for any writer but even more so for a first time one.