I’ve just got back from the library, stocked up for the next three weeks. I draw four books at a time, and more often than not, I don’t have enough time to finish them. I wasn’t too impressed with my selection last time; this time, as usual, after much deliberation and vacillation, I settled on four decent (or so I think) choices.
The Old Curiosity Shop– It’s been a really long while since I attempted to read Dickens, having started and dropped three of his books midway, because they used to make me quite miserable. This time, though, I’m determined to finish the book.
The God of Small Things– I have been wanting to read this for a while, but always managed to forget about it on previous trips to the library. Hurrah for me, for having remembered it this time. I began reading it on the train ride back home, and I quite like Arundhati Roy’s language. Let me see how it goes, whether I am going to draw comparisons with Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai, the last two Indian authors I read.
The Merry-Go-Round– I read some of Somerset Maugham’s short stories during the most difficult two years of my relatively easy life, and found that, though worlds removed from my life, there were certain thoughts and ideas I could very much identify with. I have been trying to get my hands on more Maugham ever since, and I’m glad I’ve finally done it.
A Book Addict’s Treasury– I stumbled upon this book by Julie Rugg and Lynda Murphy quite by accident, having wandered into a section I don’t really frequent. And there were these books about books, and I was fascinated by the blurb of this particular book, aimed at people who smell books before they read them, rearrange other people’s shelves and own more books than they can possibly ever read. Now, how on earth do Ms. Rugg and Ms. Murphy know me so well? I really want to know. I am looking forward to reading this book.
Homeward bound, I decided to take a different route for a change. Instead of going back through the crowded Bugis mall, I decided to walk through another crowded mall. I wended my way through Raffles City, all a-glitter for Christmas. Now this is a mall that you can really appreciate only if you have just come into a huge inheritance, or experienced a windfall of some sort. Swarovski, Louis Vuitton, Starbucks…oh yes, the last of these I can manage. However, I do choose my coffee with care. I remember how, not quite comprehending the composition behind the names, I ordered American-some-name-coffee, and ended up with a ‘small’ cup of pure decoction. (The hazelnut muffin was pretty good, though- I wasn’t deceived there.)
Since arriving in Singapore and making a tiny discovery at the supermarket some weeks ago, I have been branded an alcoholic. Now, any respectable person would have read enough Enid Blyton to know that her characters live to eat rather than the other way around- buttered scones, macaroons, sausages, sandwiches- often topped off by lemonade or orangeade or gingerbeer. Gingerbeer. The drink of contention. I was delighted when I discovered it at the supermarket, and since I was sure it would be mistaken for beer, the first time I brought it home, I spared the girls the sight of it to avoid scandalising them. But then I thought, what on earth, they need to learn some time that gingerbeer is not beer, and so I got another can one evening and put in the fridge, not in a very prominent position, but it was still an improvement on the secrecy.
Then, at night, when I brought the chilled can out, a voice piped up, laced with mild horror- “Jaya, is that beer?” Consternation and shock from a houseful of girls who have always stayed as far away from alcohol as possible (which is probably why we still haven’t come around to visiting Clarke Quay). Patient explanation followed (and I’ve done this quite a few times since, asking people to go back to their Enid Blyton- how can they not remember?), and thankfully, gingerbeer and rum-raisin chocolate are not treated as contraband substances at home.
Christmas cheer is all around. You can see it in the smile of the salesperson as she says cheerily, “Thank you, Miss”, in the coloured lights strung across the avenues, hear it in the chirpy, nonsensical laughter of teenagers, delighted with their newly-filled shopping bags. Walk two steps and you stumble upon a Christmas tree. This is the holiday season, tourists are flowing in, walking arm-in-arm through the aisles of the malls, eyeing the designer gowns and the diamond jewellery, the swanky yellow and red cars on display- looking for an expensive present for themselves?
And oh, I’ve just bought a cow. There it was on the tray, a black and white cow with sparkling black eyes, and though I felt rather silly buying it, I couldn’t resist it. Now all I need is a Swiss name for my China-made stuffed toy. Perhaps a little silver bell too.
I have discovered a shop selling German wooden dolls, and how marvellous they are! Angelic little dolls; pot-bellied, puffy-cheeked, smoking men; a delightful Christmas tree with snow spilling on it continuously. At the moment, I cannot think of going on a shopping spree, especially of spending extravagantly on all these tantalising trifles that are laid out so temptingly, beguiling and bewildering, despite, or owing to, their uselessness. Yet again, I wonder if it is a celebration of commercialisation with saintly voices singing Ave Maria in the background, or just a distraction from the monotony and frugality of regular life.
Basil. Rose. Rotten fruit. Fragrances and odours mingle in the closed air of the train compartment. French. Tamil. Chinese. English. Such a mixture everywhere, a hybridisation of the most curious kind. Something doesn’t make enough sense. I have been up working all night, slept three hours when I got back. Now, I am supposed to be in bed, AC on, covers drawn up to my chin. Instead, I’m sitting up alone, enjoying the peace and quiet of half-past ten at night, savouring the anticipation of four new books to read over the next three weeks. Trying to comprehend the mysteries around me. Oh well. You live only once, and it is just as well at times not to know what exactly you’re about.