The BEST CLASSICS YOU Have TO READ (or re-read) THIS SUMMER

I have always LOVED reading. I can remember being about 8 years old and hooked on the Potter books before physically moving into the world of Robert Muchamore’s spy academy. Seriously, my childhood was either spent in Hogwarts or being a CHERUB – you could not get me out. As I moved into my teen years, of course I was into young fiction. Looking back, I think that’s where I got most of my ideas about love and fantasy. As I got older though I became more fascinated in classics – particularly in contemporary dystopian novels where I’m transported into a world of misfortune and sadness. Anyway, I digress. Here is my list of my top 5 novels (new and old) that you have to read.

  1. The Body – Bill Bryson

Last year, the American author Bill Bryson came out with his latest non-fiction novel. As someone who rarely reads non-fiction books, I was blown away by the style of Bryson’s writing and how it was able to keep me engaged. It’s a good read for those who are curious about every aspect of the body. Bryson keeps you on your toes from the moment you open the book to the last page; with facts about the heart, face, brain and every bodily system you can think of. I would highly recommend this book, and to be frank, its the book that started my non-fiction journey.

2. Station 11 – Emily St John Mandel

This book was actually recommended to me at a book club I attended two years ago. It’s about a virus that takes over the world in less than 24 hours (uncanny), killing everyone it infects within a matter of hours. The story follows several characters along their lives 20 years after the virus hit. The themes and storylines that are brought up in this book haunted me for for at least a year. St John Mandel’s writing is amazing and this book was an absolute page turner. I mean, it was such a good book, that I had to write a 20 page essay on its characters and themes, definitely worth the read.

3. 1984 – George Orwell

My battered copy of Orwell’s 1984 has been passed down from my great uncle to my dad and then to me. I read it first when I was 10 and revisited the book a few years later. Only then did I realise how many important points I had missed. If you don’t know the book already; it follows the protagonist Winston Smith who represents the feelings of every human being in a twisted, dark world. Orwell writes with so much subtext, warning the world of what there will be to come.

4. The Handmaid’s tale – Margaret Atwood

Again, I have to add this dystopian classic. It was actually released a few years the hit 1984. Atwood found it so eye-opening that she decided to write her own and in my opinion, she did it better. Not only does she create an entire world where the world goes to shit and people have to deal with it, Atwood created a masterpiece that will hold relevancy not only today but for hundreds and thousands of years to come – that’s where the beauty lies. The sequel to ‘A Handmaid’s tale’ is ‘The Testaments’ which talks about the the fall of Gilead.

‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes’

Mark TWAIN

5. When breath becomes air – Paul Kalanithi

I remember reading this book on the train from London to Brighton. The first three-quarters or so of the book was written by the award-winning late Dr Kalanithi, who wrote about his time as a neurosurgeon. The book was finished by his wife after he sadly passed away from lung cancer in 2015. It’s heartbreaking but beautifully written, the majority of the time I was laughing through the tears – it’s a good read.

The BEST CLASSICS YOU Have TO READ (or re-read) THIS SUMMER

I have always LOVED reading. I can remember being about 8 years old and hooked on the Potter books before physically moving into the world of Robert Muchamore’s spy academy. Seriously, my childhood was either spent in Hogwarts or being a CHERUB – you could not get me out. As I moved into my teen […]

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DAY TRIPS AFTER LOCKDOWN

When the lockdown restrictions were lifted, my family and I were at great difficulty when picking a place to visit for a day trip. You see, for the last 12 weeks we had been reminiscing our old trips and optimistically researching and planning new ones for the near future. We had so many places on […]

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reminiscing düsseldorf

The current travel restrictions put in place due to the pandemic means that most of us have been stuck at home and can only flick through holiday albums and fantasise about about the trips we were due to take this year. For me, it’s Düsseldorf. The prominent German city which sits east of the Rhine […]

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Mirror, Mirror

Seven years ago, seven years to go

I thought my mischance was gone,

But as I opened the door, you flung off the wall and become a bundle of messy shattered shards. 

Stunned, I was, as I tiptoed around you.

Where do I start, how to pick up the pieces?

It was the seventh day of my week. It was blissful until you cracked. 

I picked you up whilst your pieces scratched and bore into my vessels.

I profusely bled all over you. Emotionless face, motionless you. 

The little one told Mama. 

You fell on me before. Seven years ago.

Mama cleaned it up without hesitation. 

They said its not good for me and they said good luck. 

It took me seven years to realise, and in seven years I will realise

that your myths aren’t true at all. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall.

You saw me at my worst yet you never spilled my secrets.

I smiled at you everyday for you to envy my perfection. 

You bow down to me on the ground even though you’re broken. 

You couldn’t take me anymore, so you gave in. 

The brightest of suicides ever seen. 

Your deafness was for the best.

Screams, thunder, lorries, hurricanes, colliding plates with floor.

Soft, hysterical crying. 

Sounds you were oblivious to. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall.

I lifted you up and you crackled some more. 

I didn’t know you during your hay days

but now I know that I am nothing without you. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Look at me once more 

while I examine myself in your shrivelled body 

and endless blindness haunts you. 

Back to my homeland.

Part 1

We were delayed in the queue for the visas as it snaked around the arrivals lounge. Why did they work so slowly? Before us stood 4 counters each with a glum looking officer sat behind it, glancing cautiously at the passports of keen tourists, then at them and back at the passport again before handing them back with an even more suspicious look. The queue grew faster but the pace of the officers did not. I looked over my shoulders to three tired children for this was the longest plane journey they had embarked and the furthest they had been from the comfort of their home.

Finally we were let free. 

We caught the eyes of dozens of men asking if we were in need of a taxi. We were warned about them. Ten of them in shirts and ties surrounded us and came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. There were about ten of them and they came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. Our only instinct being to bow our heads and to walk straight ahead without taking notice of them. As I lugged my suitcase out through the air-conditioned airport, I was soon greeted by the sticky, humid air of the capital; its pressure compressing at my throat leaving me gasping for fresh air. It was 4am. ‘Great’, I thought, it could only get worse during the day. 

We waited for what seemed like hours for our ride to arrive. We stood under a perspex shelter; a single sheet of plastic protecting us from the hundreds of mosquitos which were dotted across the early morning sky. It was hard to think through the constant interruptions of screeching tyres and the beeping of horns by frustrated taxi drivers. I couldn’t believe I was finally here after all these years. There were police officers, or traffic wardens – I couldn’t quite tell. They were wearing mud brown uniforms, exactly like you saw in the movies. They blew their whistles at regular intervals, one by one, as if it was the tune to a song. An awful song it was. 

The sun was beginning to rise and the airport grew busier. There was a sudden flurry of locals and tourists wandering in and out of the airport in unison – a sight that was once just merely a dream. We stood still in the middle of it all, mesmerised for this was the place I left all those years ago and had never expected to come back.

We were picked up just before 5 and settled down for our long ride back to my old village. We were driven through the city which was once a place for the rich, now a way of living for everyone. Skyscrapers loomed over us, absorbing in the rays of the rising sun, preparing to start the new day. Just across the road were the waves of the Laccadive sea, crashing against the boulders of the seashore. Stall vendors were situated right along the sea front, preparing their goods for the busy day to come. 

Every road we turned into we were met with an abundance of tuktuks*, motorcycles and school buses, each honking at one another at different tones, competing for their place on the road. The van swayed in and between the lanes, beeping its way passed a motorcycle on which they had managed to fit 4 people. You would think things would have changed since the war, clearly they had not.

There were still no big roads connecting the city to the villages meaning we had to drive almost three hours through towns and villages to reach our destination. It was an extensive and laborious journey. The children were now fast asleep beside me, wrapped in the arms of each other for protection in this unfamiliar environment.

My eyes strained from the sunshine which had now fully emerged and was beaming at full strength across the country. The air conditioning was blasting throughout the car but this still wasn’t enough to replace the humid air. Outside, the villagers were going about their day; elderly men in their lungis** huddled around the tea shops listening intently to the designated reader who was dictating aloud the morning paper. Women hurried around the stalls negotiating the best prices for vegetables and freshly caught fish whilst the stray dogs rummaged around searching for any piece of scrap food they could find, before being shooed off by market owners. I caught myself smiling with an overwhelming sadness. I was now a foreigner in a land where once my future was destined, nothing will change that now.

It was almost midday when we drove passed a familiar pillar. I immediately perked up from my seat, we were almost here. The same old dried Palmyra leaves were being used as fences to separate one house from the next. I opened my window and took a deep breath as the same ocean wind blew across my face, we were by the coast. Cows on the side of the road sat alongside with the stray dogs, taking shade under the looming palm trees. The driver began to pull up by a large blue gate. I was back. I was back after all these years. Back to my homeland. 

*Tuktuk – A three wheeled auto rickshaw that is a motorised development of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw.

**Lungi -The lungi is a type of sarong, that originated in the Indian subcontinent, worn around the waist as an alternative to trousers.

Helen of Troy

Let me tell you about Helen. I caught my eye upon her shadow as I strolled alongside the looming castle walls. A figure bathing within the holy waters, reserved for only a deity herself although I could not see that far along the plane. Curiosity had struck too late, as I found myself already heading towards the untouched river. 

“Unto what may you seek from these holy waters” – I exclaimed, keeping a distance from the figure for it may have been armed. I still could not clearly see the figure for the uprising steam from the hot thermal springs scattered for miles. Silence. I looked down at my riding boots which had now sunk an inch deep into the the mud. The mud always remained this way. The King claims it keeps the ungodly off the waters. It was, of course, from the humidity of the steam but one can never argue with the King. 

I exclaimed again “To what may you seek from these holy waters, show yourself”. My words remained empty, a simple echo. But then I saw a shadow approach me. I stood en garde. I may be in danger. What I saw next, though, was far from it. 

She emerged through the waters up onto the bank which was home to a multitude of lotus flowers, both open and closed. This was no time to admire the landscape for this mysterious shadow had now revealed itself. She possessed thundering beauty. Her face, sculpted so much to perfection that only the finest sculptors with much delicacy could have done the deed. Cardinal red ringlets tumbled over her shoulders and passed her bare back. She stood before, bare breasted. Even her voice was angelic as she pronounced, 

“Helen of Troy, Daughter of Zeus and wife of..” She paused, “Wife of Menelaus” 

Paralysis ran through my body. The Gods have come. The Gods have come unto our holy springs. Above all this, a celestial woman giving me a feeling that I have never before encountered. 

I abstained from telling the King about her. About the Goddess from above and her profound beauty. Instead, when he had his daily nap, I would tell the nurse not to wake him and then head down along the murky path where she would be waiting. Each time I saw her, I would be more mesmerised than the last, encapsulated by her world, fascinated by her flawless allure. I sat on the bank and her in the waters. Sometimes we would sit in silence and admire the river and its creatures. Other times, I would braid her hair whilst she sat transversal to me, speaking of her adventures of the past and the ones she’d wish would come. She never spoke of her marriage. I never spoke of mine. With her, I was in a state of infatuation. 

One day she asked me to join her in the waters.

“Come with me”, she said “Let us forget the life we lead and begin again once more”

This surprised me. I spoke, 

“A Goddess and a sovereign belong in opposite realms. We were anointed to take your messages and pass them to common folk. Such interaction with one so high up within the caste will for sure lead to my abdication.”

She lay for a few moments and collected her thoughts. Then, sat up, cupped her delicate hands around my face and spoke with such enunciation. 

“Even if his love has to be silenced, the freedom we possess will be is limitless. Embrace this lust my dear. Without such thing, what job will there be for my sister Aphrodite. How can we have escapades when we are locked up by patriotism. Embrace this love, my dear. One queen may go missing from this kingdom, but another will be dominated by two. So as a holy figure, I beseech you, to come with me. Let us begin once more.” 

And with that, I undressed and and joined my beloved. Only to never look back. 

Solitude: Collections from an amateur poet

Friends

Friends come and friends go,

All the memories leave in a flow.

Now I know how victims feel 

when the bullies push and threat to kill.

Nobody to protect them; they’re all alone.

But friends will sit and moan and moan.

Then when they move and leave you behind,

You have nothing to do and can only hide.

That lonely feeling which makes you remember,

The laughter and love that you thought would last forever.

And now I’m sitting here all alone,

Nobody to hug, to sit with or moan.

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The things unknown

Inspired by Maya Angelou’s, ‘I know why the caged bird sings’, I decided a write a short story about the backbone of the poem. I was so moved after reading such emotional piece of writing, I decided to research the history and inspiration that went behind writing the piece. The poem itself is about two birds; one caged and the held captive, symbolising slavery during the slave trade in 17th century America. 

The things unknown:

Cautiously she draws the curtains apart and gazes through the cloudy window of her modest room. Out in the fields, the early cotton workers are busily gathering the harvest before the winter sets in and sends every living creature back into dwellings awaiting the return of spring. The squirrels have long packed their granaries and the sun is showing signs of ageing. All along, the busy summer provided the living with growth and the suffering with comfort. But now, it needs a rest and plans a long break.

On her window sill, a bird perched itself half asleep, soaking his wings in the last gasps of the summer rays. Its eyes dreamy and drunk as they contemplate the vastness of the sky that it owns. In the tainted glass, she glimpses her own reflection. A lonely figure, almost invisible, yet trapped and caged between the walls of a room caving in on her. She reminisces about her life as a child growing freely in the homeland of the sun where elephants trumpeted freely across the savannahs along the tall, elegant giraffes. Her peaceful walk to school across a lush nature reserve and the gathering of smiling faces bearing their white teeth at her as she steps through the playground gates. Why did this have to end so abruptly?

The violent journey on the boat across the rough seas ripped her from her roots and planted her in a sour land where hope and opportunity no longer recognised her. Years of serving the rich and powerful have made her veins swell under her skin like rambling ivies clenching onto her, trapping her inside herself. Years of slavery aged her quickly but with her wings clipped and her feet tied, she envies the little bird on her window sill which now has noticed her frozen shadow and fluttered away to join its companions chirping contentedly across the hills far and wide. She tries to open her mouth and call the winged creature back but soon remembers the wings of her voice have long withered and died and vanished with the thousand and one nights she cried herself to sleep.

Speechless and sad, she gazes through her wet eyes out across the empty fields. The workers have turned in for the night and the birds are now roosting in total tranquillity.

How she longs to sprout invisible wings to hoist her on the last, fading rays of the departing sun if only to carry her back to the land of her childhood – to the land of living dreams where once her voice echoed gleefully across the air with other children.

The night has fallen spreading its shadows across the land and painting her walls with a tinge of rich dark blue. The moon emerges from behind the clouds painting each with a silver lining. A feeling of hope wells up inside her, flooding her very heart, soul and mind with blissful exultation.