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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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.

Barbie’s problem

A few weeks ago when I was teaching a girl no less than 10, I saw that her pencil case was covered with prints and stickers of Disney princesses. This for me brought back moments to reminisce. I picked up the case and fingered the outlines of it. How I used to look up to all these characters, creating shrines for them in my bedroom and dressing up like them for every birthday. Momentarily, I asked the girl who her favourite was. “Belle” she said. Then I asked her least favourite expecting a villain like Scar or Ursula. “Tatiana”, she said as if it were obvious enough. I asked why. Her response instantly brought me back from my reminiscent high. “Because she’s brown.”

“Brown, but you’re brown too?”. Bearing in mind that the girl, like myself originates from South Asia. “I’m not brown, I’m white” she said almost proudly. I ended the conversation right there. The last thing I wanted was to argue with a child. Her comment angered me but more importantly I was concerned to what made her think this way. What was so wrong with us Asians that made her want to deny the fact that she was brown?

This isn’t the first time that problems have arisen with diversity in fictional characters and toys for children. Take Barbie for example; the doll was first released in 1959 where is wasn’t really a problem for all dolls being identical in skin colour, hair or having the “perfect” body. It was a huge hit with young children and parents since birthday presents had just gotten easier.

The issue relies on the fact that young girls from across the globe will have been conditioned to think that beauty only lies within a woman of white skin, blonde hair and a body shape that is impossible and unhealthy to achieve. Studies show that 40% of children are dissatisfied with the way they look after having received a Barbie doll. This comes from a variety of reasons such as body image and skin colour. Although the demographic for the Barbie is well below the age of ten, the long term consequences are much more severe. Having worries about body image at a young age is more likely to lead to having disorders with eating, social anxiety and body dysmorphia. What Mattel failed to mention is that the real life size of Barbie is frankly impossible to achieve. According to calculations, the doll would have a dress size of 2, this being far below the average dress size of an adult and extremely unhealthy.

It took almost 60 years for Barbie to have a transformation. In 2016 Mattel created dolls with several skin tones and body shapes. One size certainly does not fit all and customers were given a choice of what kind of Barbie they could have. But was it 60 years too late? Barbie’s brand image will always be of a silicon plastic doll with white skin and blonde hair and not the diversity that has recently been introduced. So for the future, children will need to be brought up with the varied dolls, potentially reducing eating disorders in teenagers and a less conditioned vision of beauty.

Barbie body image

Crowd surfer. By Tallulah Stone

Crowd surfer. Me, on a swarm.

Surfing the crowd to search for you, my love. My love?

You look the same. A duplicate. Fourty hundred people. All the same as you. Peach in tone from intoxicant, eating you from the inside through out, bubbling away a new corpuscle.

Hands prodding on my back. Backwards, forwards. Forwards and backwards. Fingers stabbing into my back. Any pain will do, to get to you. My love.

     You look the same as them. Bandana, Bindi, Booze. But different, droned my conscience.

I spot you. Far away. Staring. Stinging.

I spot you. Whiskers, sculpted, hair of blondey auburn. Bern. You’re holding something, Rhine. I told you, same as everyone else. But different. Too good for me.

You see my umbrage from the prodding hands yet you stare. Staring at my beauty or gratifying at my discomfort? I can never tell. That’s why you’re different. Too good for me.

But when I’m released from the prodding hands, you’re gone. Right, Left, Up, Down. Nowhere to be seen.

Gone, but you’ve left something behind. An electrifying sting. I want more.