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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A Ramble

I think it must have started with Africa. No doubt, I had made several trips in the past. Still, this year was different. On my return to Dublin, I felt refreshed and vaguely subjected to a cleansed spirit even as a hopeful pilgrim may have encountered bathing for good health in the mud rivers near the Dead Sea, or plunging the Ganges in a desperate pursuit to meet the Gods.

However, this renewal may have stretched deeper than just another puzzled introspection or on looking back, a series of peaceful reflections.

Not only did I feel that I had crossed an abyss where there was no longer a need for a disconnected past or realize that I had returned far more resolute about my destiny than I had ever been, but that my passion for literature had raced a zebra crossing as well.

My love for books and that dream of a happy library clutter as if by magic shone animated, grinned alive and with its loud bubbly voice, now contemplated taking me into roads of the ancient past. Such a tempting thought indeed that my conscience would straightaway unfold merriment.

Having scoured the bookshops in Dubai, Tanzania and of course London with greedy hopes, I now longed for a deeper insight into world literature with such a painful tug of my heartstrings, more challenged by the universe's adventurous plots and colourful escapades, than I had ever been. Never one to be still, I knew that Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell's endearing homey tales would always sit well in my heart. I would be able to return to that warm fireplace anytime.

Once more, my passions had evolved in a dramatic fashion.

Now I was determined to visit new lands through the classics and regale in the stories of my father's and mother's homelands in Kerala, India and the Punjab. More and more, I sought for a quieter deeper recognition of the self. I smiled at the thought that I could happily read books all the way to my death and know at my last breath, that I had raked up a good life.

Looking back these 2 weeks, my soul has clearly been parched for Middle-Eastern literature especially of the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

I was lucky that contemporary Arabian writers had risen with a dramatic force and that their titles are easily available in England and also in Dublin. At the moment, how I look forward to to the usual September launch of hundreds of autumn titles. I'm going to be broke for sure.

In these last weeks, I'm sure it was Rajaa Alsanea's alluring episodes from the Girls of Riyardh, a secret scintillating tale of women friendships set in modern-day Saudi Arabia, that changed my perceptions of the Middle-East forever and set me on an upward course of new discovery.

Alsanea captured my thoughts in the exact way the late Iris Murdoch did when I first set out to read contemporary British fiction years ago and the way Pearl S. Buck had managed when I was a teen. Such moments don't often arrive. And I remember that Murdoch's daring prose of sex and scandal carved out in her excellent literary orbit, had led me to grab title after title, relishing everything from Kingsley Amis to Margaret Drabble ever so voraciously as if my days would never end. There would be no looking back. With hurried determination, words encouraged me to run like an ambitious athlete mastering a baton relay, from one tale to the next. At some point, I would emerge triumphant.

I know this for a fact because on finishing Nikita Lalwani's Gifted yesterday, I thought I'd settle for some Warhol this weekend. But this morning, the idea seemed terribly dull and the call for more Arab literature angry at my slowness, stabbed mercilessly at my heart. In desperation, I went downtown to one of my favourite bookshops, situated at College Green across the road from Trinity and aasked the owner - whom I knew from acquaintance if he had anything at all on Middle-Eastern literature. I have some in my library but badly needed to be surprised. I didn't fancy going into Dawson or O'Connell Street and Trinity College is close to my residence.

The Irish owner was proud of his expansive collection and showed me first of all, Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua which I had already devoured. I remember being consumed with shock, my head buried in the story from pure eagerness. He discussed his favourite bits with me and shovelled off other chapters with a slightly dismissive air.

It is a wonderful thing when a bookshop manager takes you around like a proud house owner and recommends strange delights. The old brown shelves sought with so much love may have commanded the same luxury as marble floors. Now lost in hazy recollections, the owner pulls out hidden treasures from unsuspecting corners where you would have never guessed lay his chest of gold.

Like a couple seeking an adopted baby, each title is inspected and talked about and its cover caressed like a shock of hair being affectionately ruffled and the little book itself as if it were a child in hushed, low tones with a tempestuous personality measured out and a temper warned of - "this part is heartbreaking, watch out for the intensity etc etc..." - as if the book would need to be cajoled so to present its reader only the required desired pleasure.

The owner also suggested his favourites and introduced me to a broad range of history (non-fiction) and also some selected fiction. In the end, I settled for Rawi Hage's DeNiro Game (an award-winning Lebanese novel) and the one you now see at my sidebar, some comedy prose made up of a diary collection called Sharon and my Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry. It is Palestinian and I am excited.

Follow your heart that wise saying, only to have change arrive like a punctual guest at your doorstep.

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