2014

That Was 2014

For those of you who have been following my 2014 journey, you know that a lot has happened on the personal front. Sometimes, to begin afresh, you have to go back to where it all started. That’s what 2014 has been about for me, I suppose.

pratapgadh fort
Pratapgadh Fort, Maharashtra, India [Copyright: Jenny Bhatt, 2014. All Rights Reserved]
First, there was a fair bit of travel. India, then Atlanta (Georgia, US), then Ireland, then India again. And, within India: through various new-to-me parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra (see image on the right). All of these will hold special places in my memory for different reasons. And, my one epiphany — if you can call a repeating realization that — is that, as a traveler, I’m at my best when I’m solo. There is a deeper osmosis that occurs between me and the place I’m visiting when I’m not distracted by fellow travelers. Selfish as that may sound, those of you who favor solo travel know and understand that what I’m talking about is, instead, transcending the self — something that is impossible to do when you’re traveling with others because you’re constantly thinking of your self in relation to each of your companions. And, that constant push-pull of the complex and forever-evolving equations with those who are with you 24×7 and in close quarters is not at all conducive to that deeper, richer experience of communion with a new place. OK. Enough of that. If you get it, you get it.

That said, I’ve probably spent more time with my family members in 2014 than at any other time since 1991. And, this kind of togetherness at this stage in life has brought along a new set of epiphanies — about myself and about them. The emotional journeys we take with our loved ones are, really, never-ending…. even after they may be gone forever from our lives.

2014 marked another major milestone: the closing down of Storyacious. I had been winding it down slowly these past 2-3 months anyway by reducing the number of weekly stories published. This was mostly due to a time issue as I am resolved to focus more on my own writing now-onwards. But, also, it was because the submissions were beginning to merge into a mass of homogeneity. Still, I am incredibly grateful to the 100+ contributors for the 500+ stories they shared. It has been nothing short of inspiring to get to personally know so many talented individuals. Long may they continue to create their stories.

That’s enough of personal sharing, right? Let’s switch gears to do a cultural roundup of sorts now: best reads, movies, TV, music, that sort of thing.

The best of my 2014 fiction reads were not published in 2014. I rarely read anything published the same year unless I’m reviewing it for a publication. Mostly, this is due to my ever-growing To-be-Read pile. But, also, it’s because I prefer to wait till the media hype machine has wound down a bit. So, for 2014, my favorites were Hillary Mantel’s Cromwell books: ‘Wolf Hall‘ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies‘. This is the kind of work I come across very rarely: the sort that reminds me why I, too, want to be a writer. I ought to get around to writing my reviews but courage fails me. Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger‘ is a close runner-up.

With poetry, one of my best 2014 reads was Javed Akhtar’s ‘Quiver‘ (an English translation of ‘Tarkash’, a collection of poems and ghazals published in Urdu in 1995). It covers a gamut of themes with a range of moods from deep introspection to ironical wistfulness to realistic neo-romanticism. Just beautiful, even though the English version cannot do complete justice to the intricate and complex rhyming and meter traditions that date back to medieval Persia or render the exact and multiple meanings of certain phrases and words with accuracy.

Of course, about 65% of my reading is online and, mostly, non-fiction. Hard to summarize what I enjoyed the most. But, these two works have stayed with me because of their relevance to my personal journeys in life and in my writing: James Wood’s ‘On Not Going Home‘, which I read before my own decision to return to India; Amitava Kumar’s ‘The Shiver of the Real‘ about raising the stakes for Indian writing in English (a recurring theme among the Indian literati, but Kumar makes a very insightful and persuasive case). And these three say a whole lot of things that we all need someone to tell us from time to time: ‘What You Learn in Your 40s‘; ‘Ask Polly: You Are Not Uniquely Fucked‘ and ‘The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis‘. Finally, this is an old one but newly-discovered: Gloria Steinem’s ‘If Men Could Menstruate‘ — hilarious, real and leaves bite marks.

With my own writing, I am happy to say that I’ve done more public writing in 2014 than ever before: reviews, poetry appreciation, fiction, etc. But, the thing I’m most satisfied to have done is an analysis of a particular genre of books: bibliomemoirs. It’s not that I consider it exceptionally written but that I actually managed to complete a 5-part series on a single topic/theme. That it was widely read and linked back to in a Guardian article is the icing on the cake.

Movies? Hands down: ‘Only Lovers Left Alive‘. A close runner-up is ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘. Quirky directors, both. But, those those dazzling leading actors and the equally-mesmerizing ensemble cast rotating around them, not to mention the stunning cinematography, tight screenplays….. everything just worked. And, I’m not sure if it’s just sheer coincidence that Tilda Swinton, one of the most talented actors of our times, features in both. Anyway, I might just muster up the arrogance to write reviews for these. [For those wondering about the lack of Indian picks here, see my disclaimer below.]

TV? ‘Downton Abbey‘ continues to be a guilty pleasure, predictable characters and sanitized storylines notwithstanding. It’s about the opportunity to escape into another place and time so completely. ‘Homeland‘ did not disappoint with its latest season. Glad that they underplayed Carrie’s craziness and gave us a few more complex characters to mull over. And ‘Rectify‘, though the latest season was a bit of a letdown, is still one of the most under-rated shows on TV. It’s a slowly-unwinding kind of story but every nuance and every thread is so beautifully presented that there are moments that take your breath away. I wanted to love ‘The Honourable Woman‘ and ‘Happy Valley‘, as both have strong female leads and riveting storylines. But, maybe, I need to see the next season of each to decide. [For those wondering about the lack of Indian picks here, see my disclaimer below.]

Music….. India is such a maelstrom of music and noise. Even as I sit in my Ahmedabad flat with the doors and windows shut to the early morning chill, the daily sounds of all those around me are like insistently rhythmic beats that push their way through every little nook and cranny. So, below, enjoy one of my favorite 2014 discoveries: Pratyul Joshi, an urban folk singer and New Age street performer. His ‘Patanga’ (meaning ‘moth’) kinda summarizes my 2014 as well. If you click through to Youtube with the video below, you can get a full translation of the lyrics as well.

To sum up my 2014: There comes a point in life when all of the positivity begins to outweigh all of the negativity so that you consider how, overall, you’ve just been very lucky, despite the setbacks. And how you’ve also been too single-mindedly stubborn to not savor that positivity when it was going on, instead letting the negative energy be all-consuming. That is kind of where I am right now, heading into 2015…. thinking about generating and shoring up more positivity while I still can. Gratitude. And, joy to all.

Disclaimer: Indian cinema and television continue to be disappointing in so many ways. Even when you look beyond mainstream cinema or primetime television, there is much to be desired for in terms of the quality of screenwriting, direction and acting. Still, things are headed in the right trajectory at least, so that’s something. More on this later.

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