The influence of books

[Recently Facebook was full of people listing their 10 best books. Unfortunately they only listed the books and did not offer comments on why the book made it to their top 10. Here are two of mine. Of the two To Kill a Mockingbird will always, always and forever by #1. It is one book my father insisted that I read and I am glad I took his advice. There are other books that have had an impact on my life but the two mentioned here have impacted my writing.]

 

I read Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’ when I was ten years old. I have reread it a number of times over the years. Each time I am always amazed at how Lee has used simple words to tell such a beautiful and insightful story. I love how she has taken a regular family living in a regular house in a regular street and used them to weave a story about racism, growing up and about discerning right from wrong.
Another aspect of Lee’s writing that has influenced my writing is how she uses Boo Radley the neighbor through out the story. To me Lee writes like she is stitching. She uses Boo Radley as a thread. His introduction sets the foundation of Scout’s and Jim’s childhood similar to how a thread is knotted before you begin to stitch. Although the story focuses on a trial, Miss Maude and other incidents Boo is never forgotten. He weaves in and out of the story like a thread that disappears below only to emerge again to complete another stitch. At the end of the story when Scout simply says “Hi Boo” the image is complete.
Lee used simple language one that even a ten year old can understand. Through her writing she makes the reader visualize the people and the events. She uses descriptions to give depth to her story, like the single yellow light bulb in the jail house to describe the dark of night and also to describe the loneliness that surrounds Atticus as he defends Tom Robinson.
Over the course of my writing I found this book to hold examples of writing techniques that are discussed in various courses.Lee uses ‘layers’ and ‘transitions’ to move back and forth in the story smoothly and effortlessly.
One the reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird will always be my favorite is that when Lee wrote it she made sure it was a story that never tired of telling.

Another book that has influenced me is Amitav Gosh’s Hungry Tide a story set in the Island community of Sunderbans in Eastern India. In this book he has taken facts about a massacre that was swept under the carpet by the ruling party and drawn a fictional tale around it. But this book is more than a work of fiction. It is an investigative piece. Gosh views the history of the island community under a microscope. He covers the British Occupation of India, to the water ways in Eastern India and even the famed Irrawaddy dolphins that he region is famous for. His research is so exhaustive so much so that one can actually use the book as a reference. I found his work so compelling that a couple of weeks after I read the book I was in Sunderbans.
Gosh’s writing is all about the small details. He describes every aspect of life in the islands to the last detail. He takes care to explain the tides of the islands, explaining how the ‘tide changes very six hours causing islands to be reborn every time the tide recedes’. He describes everything just as they are and while I was there, there were times when I wondered if I was seeing the place through my eyes or through the words of Gosh.

Just another night at the Jemma El Fna

On reaching the intersection we quicken our steps. We cross the busy road which brings us to a long walkway. The smell of horse dung stands out distinct from the other other different smells that pounds at our olfactory senses. A sea of people walk in multiple directions, oblivious to one and other. Merchants accost us, pushing their wares in front of us.
The end of the walkway opens into an large open square. We stop abruptly, unsure on how to continue,a little intimidated by what lies ahead. Behind us in a mosque an Imam calls the faithful to prayers. Above us the light fades as the sun slowly dips lower and lower. In front of us the snake charmers pack their wares, picking up their snakes and packing them into baskets woven of palm leaves. An entertainer locks a cage with a monkey inside; the monkey submissive of his fate.
Musicians walk across the square, each group laying claim to prime real estate before anybody else. They settle down, unpack their instruments and arrange chairs in a circle around them and call out to people. Somewhere in the square the drums sound out rhythmically. Closer to us a storyteller refuses to continue until people drop money into his upturned hat.A few oblige, most preferring to to stand by watching, waiting for someone else to partake of their money. The faint sounds of cymbals and an unknown( to me) wind instrument starts off slowly and in a few minutes reach a crescendo. At the same time the distant reverberating drums refuse to be muted. They work together to add to the sounds of the night. Each maintaining their unique sound without drowning out the other.
Lights come up in the far corner of the square reserved for the food stalls. Rows of competing food stalls pop up under pitched white tents selling the same dishes. The sounds of hot oil bubbling every now and then joins the cacophony of the vendors and the customers. Trapped smoke pries free of the canopy to escape between the gaps of the tents. It rises high into the air and melts into the night that has engulfed the evening.

The seven of us, aliens to this kind of energy gape with open mouths trying to digest the fact that this was after all just another night at the Jemma El Fna.

You can make a difference. Yes, You!

Dalai Lama said ” If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.

Every traveler can make a difference no matter how big or small they are. Travelers impact the world in a big way. Their spending patterns, likes, dislikes etc influence communities in different parts of the world.
You do not need you to shell out a lot of money or have reserves of courage to make an impact. Here are a few tips to make an impact. These tips are easy and simple to follow.
1. Do not litter. This is such a simple obvious thought yet one we always forget.

2. Cut out the middle man. When you go to buy souvenirs try to find a co-op or a women’s group. In addition to being able to see the  artisans at work you can also make  sure that you are helping a family and paying the artisans the money they deserve.

3. Before you order fish at a restaurant ask around for the seasons of the different fish. It is illegal to catch certain species of fish during a particular season.The reason is that they breed during that season. So if you find an off-season fish on your menu do not order it. If you do then it starts a vicious cycle – the restaurants buys more of that fish causing the fishermen to go out and fish and soon the species nears extinction.

4.When you pass by local people stop and talk to them before you take their picture. You may not know it but some of them will know a little English but lack people to practice it with. Your short 5 minutes can do a lifetime of difference with the confidence they gain.

5. When booking hotels ( this is a tough one) try to book one run by a family. Unlike big hotels who order large supplies from vendors family run business reach out to their community.Plus you get an authentic taste of life in that community.

These are just 5 simple tips ( there are more, but baby steps ok!). They are not difficult to follow. Like how little drops of water make the mighty oceans these simple actions of yours will go a long way to create a ripple effect and eventually make a difference.

The complete seafood experience

Lei Yue Mun the fishing village in Hong Kong  was filled with tanks and basins of live fish. Signs all around proclaimed fresh seafood and excellent cooking. But not a single store was open, everything was shuttered.

“But it is only 11 in the morning” said a fisherman who was sitting by the pier. “Everybody sleeping or cleaning.”
He pointed to a nearby shack where they were selling noodles and rice. But I was adamant I wanted the complete and authentic seafood experience especially after an eventful bus ride.

I explained in as simple English as I could where I was from, what I do and that I had come all the way for fresh sea food. He sighed and felt obliged to help me. It may also be because he understood it as that I had come all the way from India to eat the seafood.
He took me through a maze of aisles to a shop at the corner of the bazaar where a pot bellied man was sleeping on a table. With two taps he woke the man and spoke to him in hushed tones.
” He my friend will help you”.
The friend handed me a net and pointed to a large cement basin a 100 yard away with a curt
“Catch fish.”

In the basin there were a lot of small fishes, prawns and some eel like fish. I got down to business.
Whoever said that catching prawns from a basin is easy is just wrong. It took me forever and I still did not catch anything.
My endeavors had created a little spectacle and a crowd had gathered to watch my fishing escapades.

The friend finally lost his patience. He brought a small plastic bucket with a little water,caught a few prawns from the basin and threw them into the bucket and repeated his previous instruction – “Catch fish.”

I am pleased to say that I made progress and three prawns were trapped in my net. The gathered crowd clapped their hands at my success.

I proudly took the prawns to the friend and said “Fry”.
“Ok, Ok” he said . He dropped the prawns in a saucepan of boiling water.

While the prawns were being cleaned( I assumed) in boiling water, the friend set a table for me and offered me a cup of tea. I took out a book to read while I waited for the prawns to be cleaned and fried.

I had barely read a page when the friend placed a plate of three boiled prawns and a bowl of sticky rice in front of me.
I looked the prawns with their eyes bulging and said ” No. no boil.Prawn fry”.

“Ok, Ok” said the friend again not moving from where he stood.

I tried again. “Oil fry..?”
Came the reply again “Ok. Ok.”

I swallowed one of the prawns with much difficulty. When I felt nauseous at the thought of having to swallow another one I decided that I had had the complete and authentic seafood experience.
I paid the bill and I left the bazaar fifty dollars lighter for all my troubles!