Literary Memories with Barathi Nakkeeran by Chakriya Phal

Hey readers! Welcome to the newest addition to the blog where I ask readers to share their favorite literary memories. I strongly believe that reading can both be fun AND transformative, informing us new ways to experience the real world. I love talking with other readers about those “aha” moments when reading that shift something in our lives. If you’re interested in being featured, head over to the contact page or send me an email at hello@chattithebrave.com

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“My name is Barathi Nakkeeran and I’m 26 years old. I was born and raised in different parts of India. I’m a law graduate and subsequent to graduation for a brief while I worked with a corporate law firm in the field of securities law. However, due to inconsistencies in my interest and the profile of work I decided to take a break. In India, not everyone has the privilege of taking the time to choose what they want to do in life. As a result, my mental health suffered greatly and I spent a year recovering. I was lucky to have a supportive family who helped me through the process. In reality, many don’t. The operation of caste, class and gender weighs heavily in what you study, where you study, what kind of work you do even what kind of books you read or write! I am currently pursuing an M.A. in Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi, India. My work has appeared in journals like the Economic and Political Weekly and the Health Research Policy and Systems. Apart from academic writing I have also tried a bit of creative writing – one of my short stories was published in a local newspaper.

I remember loving the feeling of reading and consuming a story, any story for as long as I can remember but the most vivid memory I have is of my mother and I reading stories from this giant Hans Christian Andersen omnibus collection. I was about 6 years old at the time and I remember being restless because I wanted to read the stories myself. It was the most thrilling experience to actually read the words myself even though I needed some help to understand what were ‘big’ words to me then.

I believe that books, like people, often enter your lives when it’s the perfect moment. They hold so much meaning in certain moments almost as if the book was meant for you. There have been so many such books but if I were to pick one I’d say To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I received it as a gift for my 13th birthday. Until then I always thought reading was just something I liked to do but To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that stories have great meanings beyond the written word. Stories have the capacity to show you lived experiences of people who are not like you, a window into their lives. At the same time they also show you that these lives are not unlike yours. It teaches you empathy where real life probably failed. It is for this reason that I think stories are written so that the unfairness of the world, though not extinguished, is at least understood and in that brief moment we are all less alone.

When I read it again in my first year of law school a few years ago, it helped me understand the weaknesses of structures like law, that they often fail to take account of the inherent power relations in society. That though fairness, truth and justice exist it is [naive] to believe that they are untainted by power. This thought freed me not only as a law student but also as a person. It was then that I started reading books on feminist scholarship, critical race theory and so on. Seven years hence I still have a long way to go but there was a lot that owe to that book. Sometimes, I think that I learnt much less from the book itself than from the experience of reading it – it was my first serious book and it gave me a lot to think about at the time. When I read it again recently, there were of course some parts that I found discomfort in, as one does in books you’ve read a long time ago. But, I still cling to it like an old friend.  

My favorite literary memory? Oh, definitely discovering the Potterverse. I was nine when I read my first Harry Potter – interestingly I read the Chamber of Secrets before I read The Philosopher’s Stone so I made up my own theories about a lot of things that happened pre-CoS. It is my favourite memory because it was the first time I was completely enveloped by a book. The Potterverse had a way of making you feel special and it was such a magical experience. It helped that the books were about ‘actual’ magic.

For others, I’d recommend The Color Purple by Alice Walker and When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.”

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Photos courtesy of Barathi.

You can learn more about Barathi over at @bookbarr.

Reading Habits: Audiobooks by Chakriya Phal

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The first trimester of my pregnancy saw me losing interest in activities I normally loved. I never got morning sickness but the mere thought of reading a book made me nauseous and I pretty much laid in bed binge watching Gilmore Girls. By the time the third trimester came I was feeling better but developed carpal tunnel so bad that holding a book (or my kindle) while wearing a wrist brace was near impossible. Had I known about audiobooks my reading life wouldn't have suffered so much.

I didn't start listening to audiobooks until sometime last year. My first jab at it was checking out a cd set from the library. This only allowed me to listen while I was driving so it wasn't a life changer but the book I chose, Wedding Night by Sophia Kinsella, was so ridiculous, it was entertaining. I wanted to get in the car and drive till I finished. That said, only when I found out that the library had a collection of e-audiobooks via Overdrive did audiobooks became a staple in my life.  

Audiobooks made cleaning the house more enjoyable. It made nursing a newborn easier without the need to juggle a physical book and possibly dropping it on the baby (that only happened once). It made me look forward to long distance travel and sitting in front of a computer editing images for hours. Often times, I'll have the physical book and the audiobook so that I can keep listening to the story while I work. Most often, the audiobook will enhance my reading experience (sometimes nothing can save a book). Take Lincoln in The Bardo, for example. All those dialects and accents read by different narrators really brought the book to life. Sometimes, if I can't get into a book I'll check out the audiobook and see if that makes a difference. I'll do that too if there are characters or places I have no idea how to pronounce in my head. Audiobooks also reminds me of the good times in elementary school when my teachers would read aloud while we follow along using our bookmarks as a guide. If you haven't given audiobooks a try, here are some recommendations:

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Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows: Don't let the title scare you off, this isn't Fifty Shades. Full of humor and warmth, I couldn't help but root for the women in this story. While intersperse with erotic stories written by the widows, it is much more complex digging into Sikh culture, immigration (in this case living in London), and traditional male and female gender roles.  The story was wonderfully enhanced by the narrators' performance, the Punjabi accent was done well. 

A side note: I don't like when female narrators growling the male characters' voices. This happens in nearly every audiobook and I had to look past that in this book. This is why I can't do romance novels in audio form. I find it hysterical and can't stop laughing. Luckily there’s more women than men in this novel.

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News Of The World: A recommendation from Anne of What Should I Read Next, I picked this up and quickly finished it in a day. Set after the Civil War, Captain Kidd is a  seventy-one year old vet riding around the American Southwest reading newspapers to his paid audience. Given a $50 gold piece to deliver a young girl to her family, they must travel through dangerous territories, struggle with language and cultural barriers (she was captured by Native Americans and raised in the tribe), and wrestle with a moral dilemma. The characters are developed beautifully, the male narrator sounded like the right age, and the story was mesmerizing.

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The Wicked Deep: I love an atmospheric tale with a bit of mystery. I was delighted by the island setting, the fog, the witches singing and most importantly, the story. While many complained of the narrator’s melancholy voice, I found it to be fitting for a story that has a somber undertone, almost like being entranced by a siren. If the voice makes you sleepy play it at 1.25x or 1.5x but trust me, this is a good one.

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The War That Saved My Life & The War I Finally Won: This triumphant story is so good, I want the physical copies in my personal library like yesterday. For a story written for Middle Grade readers, the characters are impressively rich. There is so much to unpack and talk about. I want to give the author a big hug for not underestimating the emotional competence and intelligence of both the children in the book and those reading it. There are some tough issues addressed in particular, the impact of war, anxiety, and child abuse. Brubaker Bradley does a magnificent job in discussing these issues gracefully while also giving us a sense of hope and perseverance. The afterwords in the second book brought me to tears.  

I am I am I am by Chakriya Phal

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When I was twelve years old, my family went on a day outing to Lake Paris. Standing in the water, my sister and I made sure our feet were always touching the sand. I haven't learned to swim yet, that would come a lot later in adulthood. I had a small fear of drowning after having read a passage in a V.C. Andrew's book in which a character drowned and the description of his bloated body was too much for me. But having also grown up in Southern California with the coast only a mile away, I also didn't have a fear of the water. I probably should, but I didn't. I was always careful. I never went into the ocean by myself and I never venture far. What I wasn't expecting that day was that while holding onto my sister's hand we'd start drifting away from shore. I don't remember the actual drifting part, what I do remember was the immense panic that set in when I realized that I couldn't feel the sand beneath. As I started to go under, I saw the lifeguard and prayed that she would see us (she didn't). My sister will tell you that she saved me, that she pulled me back to shore while I tried to dragged her underneath. It is all true. Trying to pull myself up, I inevitably pushed her down. We see-sawed like this for a bit until she started kicking her feet, propelling forward. She never lets me forget, not even today when I called to asked her how old we were when it happened. So here's an apology to my sister for making it harder for her to save me. I love you.

This is a peculiar review, I know but this is what Maggie O'Farrell's memior did for me. It made me think of my own near death experiences. This one, not as dramatic as others, but forever imprinted in my mind. Here's the thing: Maggie O'Farrell has seventeen of these near-death experiences. She's either extremely unluckily or she's lived a full and interesting life. The first story caught my attention, sending chills down my spine while the others pulled me in completely. I can't say I'd read a memoir like this before, neither in this format or this compelling. Memoirs and non-fiction short stories are typically slow reads for me. Some I haven't picked up again after putting them aside in the fifth chapter. Not even Tina Fey made it to the end, but this one was unique and gripping. A full five stars for me.

What are your thoughts on this memoir? Did you have any near death experience? Tell me below.