Sunday, January 24, 2016

SAW A FOX IN FRONT OF MY HOME!

Yesterday, Saturday, January 23rd 2016, around 6.30pm, (temperature was minus 5 celcius maybe, and no snow on the ground), for the first time ever I saw a fox near where I live! I spotted this fox in East York, on a busy street, where the houses have  a ravine at the back; behind the homes and the ravine, the slope leads to the busy DVP roads, next is the Don river flowing in the middle of the Don Valley wooded areas. This fox appeared to be grey in colour with a bushy tail and I cant say much else; I saw it for about 10 seconds or less.

I had seen rabbits in my backyard around 2007 spring and then I could see them in subsequent years. I was seeing gopher families in my backyard until my neighbour plugged in all the gopher holes and  put up his deck about four years ago. My neighbour claims to have seen snakes in his and our garden but I have never seen them. I see black squirrels all year round. I think I did see chipmunks in my backyard but I am not sure if I am imagining it or if my memory's pretending it has! (I have definitely seen chipmunks in a cementary of Toronto and in Ottawa museum resturant where they come eat food from the patrons)I see families of raccoons and skunks. I see skunks  very rarely. I don't know if the cats I see roaming in my backyard (and giving fleas to my cat!) are feral or pet, but, every spring, I see about three cats,(not together) roaming around. 
 I saw a huge stag twice in 2015 and I was  thrilled to see such magnificent wildlife so close to my home! I had once seen a group of deer in the valley while walking across the Millwood bridge. I see cardinals every spring; I see woodpeckers in spring and summer. Also swallows, bluejays, blackbirds, once a hawk or eagle, on top of my neighbour's tree. I see yellow finches too, probably because of my neighbour's finch feed in the bird feeder. I see lovely butterflies in summer, sometimes, several at a time. Black AntsSpiders at home in summer, dozens of snails in the garden in spring and summer, both with and without shells, many insects in the garden whose names I dont know(my photos of them are blurred and so ...). 
Once there were about six baby rats in different parts of my house (mostly basement and ground floor)and I dont know how the hell they got in! There is not a tiny entrance to my home, my windows and doors are always shut, and this is one unsolved puzzle for me. My cat found them (on different days) and to my surprise, it dint 'kill' the rat but would either chase it a bit, hit with it's paw and sit and watch the struggling rat. As I spotted and caught, I put each of one in a paper bag and let it out in the garden; now, I believe my home is rat-free, touch wood!
This is the extent of fauna in my home. I believe in life-and-let-live. I am totally against pesticides, weed killers, etc. But, I do want my home to be rat free and cockroach free. Any other thing is welcome to live in my home(except red ants)

I am so glad that Toronto has so much space for plants, trees, birds, animals, insects and so on. 
We humans have taken over Earth and left no space for other living things. In countries like India, many species of birds, insects, animals, plants, trees are being wiped out, because people  take over all the space; we change the natural environment with  callousness and ignorance and make them unlivable for other living species. In Bangalore, where I lived the first 30 odd years of my life, we no longer have sparrows, swallows, tailor birds, paradise-fly-catcher, crows, squirrels, house geckos, lizards, snakes, frogs, many species of plants and weeds, butterflies, and so on.  I remember hearing that someone had seen a deer in GKVK campus about 20 years ago and now I am sure there is no deer, thanks to the excess of buildings there. I remember seeing a lovely paradise-flycatcher in the Hebbal campus when I was birdwatching with my husband. Now, hundreds of buildings, thousands of vehicles causing noise & air-pollution, more roads, more people, decrease in trees, plants & water bodies would have killed the birds or driven them to extinction.
I remember seeing a lovely species of water fowl called purple moorhen or purple swamphen in the Puttennhalli lake(between J.P.Nagar and Konanakunte); now this lake either no longer exists or is so polluted and where are the poor moorhens to go when there is no 'livable' waterbody? (I have gone crazy from the next para on! Sorry!)
Thanks to the corrupt, filthy, greedy, callous, politicians of Karnataka who are more than willing to do ANYTHING for money(...they will not hesitate to even will sell their wives, mothers, daughters for money) the natural environment of Karnataka is being destroyed and all living creatures except humans will slowly become extinct. Bangalore, Karnataka, the villages and cities of India will become so full of people, all other species will die out and then the people too will start dying.

Friday, January 22, 2016

BOOKS READ YEARS AGO AND REMEMBERD. BOOKS READ HOURS AGO AND FORGOTTEN

Why is it that I can remember books which I read 30 years ago and I cant remember books I read last week?
 In this article, I am thinking aloud about the possible reasons for my   memory's tricky functioning; the thoughts here are strictly my own and I have not tried to pick stuff from the internet or elsewhere

The books I have read recently and cannot remember much of are the books by Linwood Barclay, Harlen Coben, Christopher Reich, etc. I don't mean any disrespect to these authors. I derived a lot of pleasure and excitement when I read their books.
The authors whose books I read more than 20-30 years ago and can still remember the plots and characters clearly are James Hadley Chase, Enid Blyton, Georgette Heyer, Stuart M Kaminsky, Lawrence Sanders, Charles Dickens, P.G.Wodehouse, Alistair Mclean, etc.
 There are some authors who have written many but I have read only one book of theirs; These books made such an impact on me that I remember their plots and characters to this day. Some of these are Gone with the wind by Mitchell, To kill a mocking bird by Harper Lee, Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough, The far pavilions by M.M.Kaye and so on.

I have given below, my take on the reasons for remembering the characters and plots of some books so well:


Limited stimulation in my childhood and youth: I grew up without TV or the internet. I grew up with access to only a handful of magazines, no newspaper(my dad bought Kannada newspaper and I hated reading Kannada!) and a few film songs on radio. I did not feel like listening to the radio's news or weather or the government programs on agriculture! Which explains how limited my access to stimulation was! All I had was the one or two Kannada movies I saw in a month and the few books I read.
The absence of stimulation/distractions from a  wide range of resources such as TV, internet & music is  a powerful factor contributing to the  indelible memories of the books I read during childhood and youth. 

Distractions interfering with deep memory formation
:
The infinite stimulations of today, competing with books for my brain-space is definitely a strong reason, for not remembering  much of what I read these days.
Here is an example of distractions I have to avoid, in order to focus on one book, today. I am reading the novel, If the dead rise not; it is interesting and well written. Yet, my hand wanders over to the mobile next to me and I play solitaire, after reading a page; I then flip the remote to see an episode of a Norway serial. I then read a few more pages of "If the dead rise not'. Then I flip through the other novels in the same series, lying on my bedside table. I then go down to snack on some sweets. Back to book again, Then I go to the computer and check emails and Facebook, though there is nothing urgent I am expecting!
 30 years ago, I dint have TV, computer, phone, or this many exciting books lying around and for that matter, I dint have this many sweets in my fridge! In the past, thanks to my low income, I had a Spartan life, and that really helped me to 'focus' and really 'extract enjoyment' from the precious few things I had. I could read an entire novel from start to finish, without getting up at all!  These days, distractions (or my limited attention span)prevent me from being truly immersed in a book. If one is not truly immersed, then one is not really enjoying the book, ergo, the book is not memorable. Even if the book by itself is memorable, but one is not able to focus, to be immersed, then the book is functionally 'not memorable'.
For some reason, I can watch some TV shows, without getting distracted. Even if I can 'pause' the show and attend to my 'distraction', I dont. 

I had mentioned in another article about the pleasure of poverty. I want to state in this context that,  dearth of things works for me! I appreciate and enjoy what I have when I have little. When I have lots, I lose focus and don't have the patience to finish one and only then, move on to the next. These days of prosperity & plenty, I  am like a hyperactive squirrel in a fruit garden...instead of finishing one fruit, I take a nibble here and a nibble there,  tasting many fruit, without finishing even one.



Number of books read: In my childhood and youth, I had very limited access to books. Ergo, I read each book, I was lucky enough to lay my hands on with 'depth' & gratitude.  I was not finicky and accepted all the books I could get. I had access to few books and maybe I read them over and over or recalled and fantasized about them often.

However, when I moved to Canada in my late 30s, there was no dearth of books accessible to me!  I had access to literally lakhs of books and  this changed me :  I became picky and stopped reading a book if it did not hold my attention; I read books fast as I had a lot  more books to finish and return to the library; I started zipping through books; I would read three to four books at a time (one at the dinner table, one on the subway, one at lunch at work; one in bed at night)  I wonder if  all these changes in my reading pattern lead to the books not getting registered in my mind/memory.




Number of times the same book is reread: I tend to reread books I loved and enjoyed. I wonder if this rereading, contributes to the book staying in my memory longer than the ones I don't reread. Even if I dont reread, I may think about the story or fantasize about the characters, thus, making them stronger in my memory. 




My age: I read those 'well-remembered' books when I was younger and maybe a younger brain's memory holds on to things longer than an older brain's memory. But this does not fully explain why I remember the books I have read when I was in my 40s. I discovered Stuart M Kaminsky in my 40s and I remember the books of his I read at least 5-10 years ago. As one ages, one's long term memory remains strong while the short term and immediate memory deteriorates. Is this short term memory deficits of my aging brain a reason for my failure to recall books I read now?





I relate to some characters as some trait of theirs is endearing. This definitely embeds them in my memory for ever. The IQ of Lord Emsworth is so lovable and I can never forget him! I loved the goofiness of Archy Mcnally; I loved all of the traits of the character Sudden in the western series featuring him and so on. 

A character remaining 'honest' in what to me seems like an  impossible situation, gets indeliably etched in my memory.  The Rostnikov series of  Kaminsky, the Arkady Renko series of Martin Cruz Smith are unforgettable for this reason. 
 I think, the corruption of Indian politicians and government employees has had such a major impact on me that I am fascinated by  honesty, even if it's displayed by  fictional characters in corrupt countries. 

The characters: Maybe, there's something 'memorable & unforgettable' about the characters in the books. Who can forget Atticus Finch, the most universally loved characters of all time? Besides Atticus Finch, I have loved and etched in my memory characters such as Archi McNally of Lawrence Sanders books, Rhett Butler of Gone with the wind, Fredrica in the book Fredrica by Georgette Heyer, Elizebeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice, etc.
But this also does not fully explain why I remember some books better than others!  I have really liked and admired the characters in the books I cant remember for long. I really enjoyed reading Deon Meyer's books & liked the characters but the characters are not as deeply etched in my memory as other characters from other books. The same goes for characters and plots of books by authors I have enjoyed immensely such as Christopher Reich, Deon Meyer, Linwood Barclay, etc.

 3 lists of the book-characters i.e. 
1)characters who I liked and  are deeply etched in memory,
2)characters who I liked but  are not deeply etched... but I remember them even after a few years and
3)characters who I liked but have almost forgotten.
Even if I make this list, I doubt, I can figure out what makes some characters unforgettable and some characters not so memorable.
I think it is the overall Gestalt of the characters, the plot, the writing style, the other characters in the book which make the book or the character memorable or not memorable.

Unforgettable characters(a few samples) Atticus Finch, Lisbeth Salander, Sophy (the grand Sophy of Georgette Heyer), Mark Girland of James Hadley Chase, Sir Galahad of the Blandings series by P.G.Wodehouse, Archy McNally created by Lawrence Sanders,Shardlake in the C.J.Sansom series.

Characters I have liked but forgotten(and writing here after searching on in the list of books I have read): Characters in books by Linwood Barclay, Harlen Coben, Alex Dryden,etc.

If one were to compare the personality of the characters of the memorable and not so memorable, there is not much difference between them. There are characters who are unique in both memorable and forgettable lists, there are characters who are strong or funny; tragic or good or suffering or not suffering in both lists. Yet, the characters in some books are etched in memory while others are not.
 Archy McNally is such a goofy character and I  wonder why I  remember him so well! Maybe I find  his goofiness so attractive and likable! Yet, the strong characters in books by Alex Dryden have simply not found space in my memory and I cannot explain why.  

I understand that it's the fantastic writing style of some authors like P.G.Wodehouse and O.Henry which makes the books memorable.

I understand that it's the story and plot of some books which makes them so memorable. Some books with fantastic storyline and plots are  stories from Greek mythology, the Mahabharatha, Tom Rob Smith's trilogy, etc.

It is the pathos and suffering of some books that make them memorable.
Books like Tristan and Isolde, Love story, Sohrab and Rustom are unforgettable.  It is the unrequited love in these which make the books/characters so unforgettable.

Yet, there are some books which have all of this but it simply does not work to etch them in my memory. What is lacking in these books?  Why do I enjoy them during the reading but don't remember after I am done?

The setting:I wonder if the setting of some places sticks to my memory while other settings are forgotten.
I wonder if some contexts are unforgettable while some  are not.
Similarly, I wonder if the ordinariness or uniqueness of some characters and their situations sticks to my memory but the same ordinariness/uniqueness  of other characters  makes them forgettable.

It is such a mystery to me why some books & characters are so memorable while all are not.

This American need to analyze and quantify 'everything', even those which cannot be quantified and measured is not working.
 I have to simply accept that I love some books and remember them; I enjoy some books but forget them.

It's going to take a lot more work and analysis(than I am ready to put in) to understand why some books are memorable while many are not. And even if I figure it out, what then? How is it useful to me? In fact the analysis may reduce my enjoyment of books!

The moon looks beautiful even if I don't know lunar science; the jasmine smells lovely even if I don't know what makes it smell so good; the rose looks beautiful even if I can't understand why it's of such a colour or shape.
A book remains cherished  in my memory, even if I don't understand why.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

BOOKS I HAVE READ OVER AND OVER AGAIN...MY 'COMFORT' BOOKS

I don't know what is so enticing about some books that  one reads them again and again...with undiminished joy!
Some books are re-read  by lots of people while some books seem to cast such a spell on only a few.
Needless to say, books which one re-reads are definitely worth buying.
I have often reread books, such as children's books, as I was of a 'certain' age at the time; I haven't re-read those books after getting older. Enid Blyton's books and some Phantom comics by Lee Falk, TinTin comics fall in this category.
I don't remember rereading Asterix ...they were great comics but for some inexplicable reason, I didn't reread them. 


I have been addicted since childhood, to the Ladybird publications of fairy stories illustrated by Eric Winters and written by Vera Southgate   published as 'well-loved tales' around 1970.
The reason I am stating the names of the illustrator, the author, the publication & year of publication,  is because these fairy stories (by Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, folk tales from Britain and other European countries) have been retold by thousands of authors and illustrated by hundreds of artists. The ladybird publication itself has republished the same stories, but by different illustrator and different writer.  But it is this particular illustrator,  Eric Winters who enticed me to reread these tales again and again! I spent more time gazing at the lovely paintings (water colour?) on every alternate page of the book than actually reading the stories. When I sat gazing at the paintings of the forests, woods, the lovely huts and cottages, I was transported to a different world altogether!
As a teen, I have  loved and reread books set in boarding school by Frank Richards i.e. the hilarious Billy Bunter series. For some reason, the Richard Crompton's William series dint attract me. I also dint get to read more than one or two of them. I know this series is famous but ....
Here is a list of those books,( I read as an adult) which have cast such a spell over me that I read them again and again and go into a sort of trance, when reading them!
I have to admit  that  I read some books 'fully', a second or third time. There are also several books, where I read 'parts' several times and not the entire book. There is something so enjoyable about reading these parts, that I read only those pages, over and over again, experiencing the same joy as I did the first time!

 
I will add to this list as I recall them.
 
Many books by Georgette Heyer: a few I can recall now are The grand Sophy,Fredrica, The Corinthian. These are all romances.
Some books of P.G.Wodehouse, including his earlier-not-so-funny books set in boarding schools such as The Gold bat, the white feather, The pothunters  and A prefect's uncle. I loved these not-well-known books which were  based on life in boarding schools and I found them akin to O.Henry's stories.
 
The Good Earth by Pearl.S.Buck. This book was such an addiction for me at a time! I must have read this entire book at least 5 times; and parts of it countless times!)

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
The far pavilions by M.M.Kaye.I have reread the first part of the book i.e. until he leaves the Rajput kingdom as a boy at nighttime
To kill a mocking bird by Harper Lee
Gone with the wind by Margret Mitchell. I have read parts of it ...many many times
Pride and Prejudice. I have read the whole book, despite it's size a few times.
In pursuit of love by Nancy Mitford
 
Mahabharatha by C.R.Rajgopalchari

Ramayana by C.R.Rajagopalchari I read the Mahabharatha more often than Ramayana.

Bhagawan Parashurama both parts (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan publications)
Vikramaditya, (Bharitiya Vidya Bhavan  publications)..I read the stories several times as a teenager...some part of me wanted to believe that those tales were true!)

Norse legends
Greek mythology
King Arthur and the round table
I have read, reread and cried (&cried & cried)reading romantic stories such as Love story by Eric Segal, Salim-Anarkali, Sohrab-Rustom(Sohrab Rustom is not romantic in the usual sense) Tristan and Isolde in my youth.
I have reread The five findouters and the dog series by Enid Blyton and many series by this wonderful writer. May God strike with lightning, those nasty evil critics of her ! I remember rereading the book "The family at the redroofs" many many times! I also enjoyed and reread many of her series set in boarding schools and children's adventures series.
 


Little women by Lousia Alcott. I must have read this a dozen times at least!
The lost horizon abridged by E.F.Dodd ( I loved this book and I gazed mesmerized  at the woodcut prints for ages!)(Macmillan publications I think)
Kidnapped (abridged one...I don't think I would have read the full version that often)
Robinson Crusoe(abridged)
Treasure Island(abridged)
Some Sherlock Holmes books
The king's sculptor: This book,  probably written by E.F.Dodd,(the one who abridged Classics for children's school texts) was a nondetailed text in middle school for me,  and it's  impossible to find today.
Stories for children by Leo Tolstoy
Short stories by Rabindranath Tagore and O.Henry (especially Cabulliwallah and the gift of the Magi)
Tom Sawyer's adventures
Daddy Long legs
My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell
James Herriot books(but not sure if I really reread them or am I lying now?)
Sudden western series by Fredrick H Christian and Oliver Strange-I have reread all 15 books in this series more than once!
Modesty Blaise novels by Peter O Donnell I adore these books and have reread them


James Hadley Chase...many novels were reread by me, some I would read once a year at least!
 
Kaminsky's Rostnikov series
Kaminsky's Lieberman's series
Donald Lam series by A.A.Fair
I also try to reread many books by many authors but I give up and don't reread the book completely. I start rereading books of Perry Mason series but give up, as I get distracted.
There are many crime fiction books I enjoyed when I read the first time but cannot read them the second time. Books in this category are books by Michael Connelly, Linwood Barclay, Robin Cook, etc.
 I recently reread the book, 8th Commandant by Lawrence Sanders and thoroughly enjoyed  it!
I love rereading lawyers' jokes, Jewish jokes, Schoolboy howlers, many comics such as The Lockhorns, Andy Capp, Beau Peep, The wizard of Id, Calvin & Hobbes, etc.
The ONLY NON-FICTION book I  have read several times is :Reader's digest, "How to live with life?" I loved every single essay in that wonderful book!


Why did I reread some books? Is it because, I didn't have any other book to read? This is possible to some extent; I did not have access to many books in my childhood as I could not afford to buy all I wanted and the libraries of Bangalore (70s and 80s)were not well-stocked or  were inaccessible to me . Did I reread  to avoid what I disliked...such as studying for an exam or avoid boring and tedious chores? Did I reread because I wanted to live in the fantasy-world of the book? Do I reread books as I have a memory like a sieve and forget a book completely and can read with full enjoyment a second or third time!?! I do have a terrible memory and often forget who the villian is and need to reread a book to the very end to know the ending! 
I think I reread books for many reasons.
  • Enjoyment. Sense of well-being. Happiness.
  • Vicarious thrills.
  • Laughs.
  • Escape into an ideal or a nicer, more exciting world. 
  • Yielding to temptation and choosing to read something enjoyable than doing something hard, boring, tedious. Wanting to escape the current reality of life.
Making this list I discovered that I seem to enjoy books which are happy, have  idealistic characters, and books which are 'feel good'. I admire and respect many other novels and authors but cant reread them as they are too depressing. Books in this category are books by C.J.Samson, Martin Cruz Smith, Tom Rob Smith, etc.( I did reread Martin Cruz Smith books)
There are of course many books which are very good but I read them only once and didn't reread. These are books which are depressing, violent, disturbing, heart-breaking and I simply don't have the emotional strength to go through the trauma of the characters again! These books are like the TV show The wire. I bought the DVDs of the whole series as I heard it was very good (nearly $300+ ! I am not rich!) but after I saw it once, I simply cant bring myself to see the show again. I found it too traumatizing. It's the best show I have ever seen  but it's  not  a 'feel good"type of a show. Train to Pakistan by Kushwant Singh is a book in this kind of heart breaking category.
I have to add here that I have one weird fault! When people recommend a book to me and sort of emphasize how good that book is, my mind seems to go in the opposite direction! I may agree to read to be polite, but for some reason that, I can't understand, I may not read the book !
Why the $*#* am I so oppositional?  The more strongly they recommend, the less likely I am to read!
Why is my brain so damn resistant to other people's ideas?
I am yet to figure out this aspect of me.
The two movies I saw twice or thrice and loved them the second time too were:  the black and white Telugu movie Marocharitra and the silent movie Pushpaka Vimana! I am sure I don't have the patience to see these movies today as I have changed so much. But at one point in time, I was spellbound by these two movies!