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The year in review: books, music, and more

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

It feels like I haven't written in a long time. But strangely, that's all I do. I write emails—pacifying or anxious ones, depending on the day. I create my to-do list each morning and strike completed tasks with a vengeance of a woman wronged. I write post-it notes because I am forgetful beyond help. I also curate and write the weekly newsletters between laundry, cleaning, catching up with unread submissions, editing, and trying to sneak a dinner or a movie in between. I do write, you see. Yet, I don't.

I started January attending weddings (neither of them mine) and vowing to write and read more. I dressed up, bought presents, lined up to wish happy couples on their big day, and proceeded to have panic attacks in front of empty Word pages.

What became of the month were a couple of rough poems on my Notes app. And a stubbed toe. I wrote about the giving and misgivings of the month in the first dispatch of the year, where I also linked the interview of the very gentlemanly and brilliant William Dowd, the author of Areas of Fog and writer of The Lunar Dispatch.

An excerpt: Anyway. In what now feels like an inattentive haze, I spent the first two weeks of this month reading Abby Jimenez's Life's Too Short (a rom-com I recommend you read on your meh days), getting back to writing poems (I feature one in this newsletter; keep reading/scrolling), and rewatching Superstore on Netflix. On weekends, I made trips to the local bakery to fetch jaggery cakes for my Nani and dhoklas for myself. I also bitched about the early morning fog because I ran out of things to bitch about. That's right. I was mad at nature for taking its course because I didn't know what to do with myself at six in the morning. (read more)

My takeaway of the month was a line from Anne Carson's poem, O Small Sad Ecstasy of Love that I kept repeating like a prayer in my head.

'Give me a world, you have taken the world I was.'

February was me bobbing to Ali Seth's Pasoori and finding solace in spicy romance books. I read so many of them that my sense of self was skewed for a while. Gallipoli's Pick Me Up Tonight made matters worse, for it's such a beautiful, romantic song. Also, our chrysanthemums bloomed!

An excerpt from a February dispatch, where I interviewed the lovely Maneesh Madambath from Bombay Daak: We have set foot in cupid's month. People I know are either cynical, in love, or straight-up miserable. No one is sane in February. (read more)

March began with deep sunrises and sleepless nights. I couldn't put myself to bed. Books didn't help, and neither did the music. Everything kept happening at once, and I was confused, so very confused, about the significant shifts occurring at the time. But I am glad I leaned into the chaos and let life happen. Poetry helped me get there. Leaving Your City by Agha Shahid Ali more than any other. It is my favourite poem of all time—pure magic.

March was also when I interviewed Uma Shirodkar about the necessary art of translation. I wrapped the month feeling slightly at ease and drinking a lot of thandai.

Going through Amrita Sher-Gill's life and paintings, watching Ramzan plays, and diving into poetry were the flavours of April. I listed nine poetry books to look out for in the spring of 2022 and read eight. Ocean Vuong's Time Is a Mother was a standout. I also reviewed it.

An excerpt: Loss shape-shifts. To lose someone is a loss. To grieve them is loss revisited. To continue in their absence is loss colluding with routine. What is striking about Vuong’s poetry is how loss never devolves into apathy. The twenty-eight poems in Time Is A Mother dwell in the fragile spaces between absence and Vuong’s reconciliation with the void. He knits together the strained relationship between personhood and nationhood, lamenting in Beautiful Short Loser... (read more)

In my spare time, I went into a rabbit hole reading about Johanna van Gogh, the woman who brought Van Gogh's work to the world (a fascinating figure). My online snooping came to a halt the minute I got involved with Caleb Azumah Nelson's Open Water. One of my best reads of the year.

Come May, I dabbled in mediocre art and went for a week-long vacation. As a family, we had been locked in since 2021 and were eager to step out. The heat was sickening, and we needed to be near a water body. We chose Puri to lay low at the end of the month. I breezed through Emily Henry's Book Lovers on our way to the city. I recommend it if you need a break from the everyday stress of being a functional adult who has one too many trivial and important decisions to make.

As the month thinned, John Freeman's Spring stayed with me (even though it was the middle of summer in the country). One can dream.

We stroll home in soft May sunlight / our grief so small it does not require solitude or silence.

June began with a big move. Gurgaon was the last place on earth I thought I'd move to. If you have read enough of my letters, you know I am not a big Delhi NCR fan. I mistrust the city with the same heated passion with which Ursula Nordstrom detested New York. It's baffling for others to understand my deep apprehension of the great metropolis. But it is what it is. I am still warming up to it; not quite there yet. Although, it's been better than I thought it'd be. Some lovely people kept me company. So did my flowers.

I reached out for Olivia Lang's The Lonely City to subside the confusion of being new to a city. I also devoured Emily Henry's People We Meet on Vacation to distract myself. But my most cherished read of the month (and possibly this year) was Mehr Afshan Farooqi's Ghalib: A Wilderness at My Doorstep.

I followed Ghalib's critical biography in July with Gopi Chand Narang's The Hidden Garden: Mir Taqi Mir. Taking the season's optimism a stretch further, I interviewed Domagoj Šokčević, the Croatian artist who has been making waves. Again, what a humble soul. I had the best time talking to him.

I also travelled for work. Da Nang was so beautiful that I almost decided to stay back. Clear blue skies and great beaches. Food was an issue, because I am a vegetarian. But apart from nearly dying of low blood pressure and hunger, I enjoyed taking the city in. It's a gorgeous place to visit with your loved ones.

August moved at a leisurely pace. I explored a little bit of Delhi and bought questionable quantities of books. I had an intervention for myself; it was getting that bad. But my home library is grateful that I went a little broke collecting them.

I am still chipping away at Jhumpa Lahiri's Translating Myself and Others, for it's such a gorgeous book and deserves to be savored slowly. Few writers know how to be intentional with their words and mould them to spill God's honest truth on paper. Lahiri remains a maestro. If you need any proof (you shouldn't, though), listen to all her interviews on YouTube. The woman is the living embodiment of humility and genius.

I also had many brunches in August. That's right; I was a 'brunch gal' for the entirety of the month. If you can't tell by now, August was mainly rooted in indulgence and gluttony. And disappointing Bumble chats. But that's a story for another time.

I tried having a little fun in September. I tried. Work was suddenly too much at once, and it felt like there was barely any breathing room for anything else. But I made a lot of new friends. Good friends whom I can fall back on. This episode was short-lived because they moved to Bangalore the very next month. Regardless, it was also a month for great music. Maanu's Melancholic made its way to my Discover Weekly playlist, and not a day goes by that I don't listen to the song. It's addictive. It's sexy. It's also a little bit sad—just the right vibe.

I gravitated toward my mother's decades-old pearl earrings to adjust to the mounting pressure at work. It's one of my most cherished jewellery pieces, and I had packed it without a second thought when I moved to the city.

October was bittersweet. The parts of the months I earlier regretted feel like a blessing in retrospect. Even when I felt pushed into a corner, I am glad I made the right choices. I stood my ground. It was a defining month. And as defining months go, it wasn't easy. Much adjustment was afoot, and I had to summon everything to continue moving.

But then I was home for Diwali. Things were lively around. The joy in the air was contagious, and the books coming to our tables were everything the reader in me had long wanted to devour.

Not to forget, I also started the third season of my newsletter – a publication that has kept me going in the last few years.

I turned twenty-nine in November and had never been more acutely aware of what I wanted in life. It took a while. What wouldn't I have given to get my priorities straight in my early twenties. But here we are. Twenty-nine and (sort-a) sorted. A big step.

The rest of the month was spent meeting old friends, getting coffee on overcast Saturdays, buying books, and having desserts like the calories don't add up.

And although I couldn't read many books, I went through The New Yorker archive rabidly. What literature teaches us best is that whatever you are feeling and are going through has been felt by many before. And they found some reason in that chaos. It's one of the many reasons I am in this industry. I want answers. The books and the people writing them seem to have it.

So much happened in December. So much. I travelled. I met people. New people; interesting people. I lost toothings and faux well-wishers. Overall, it neatly tied the year together.

December was everything I wanted it to be in a way. Sure, I still need to get everything done. I cannot throw away my to-d0 just yet. But the month taught me that there is always a reward in letting go of what once was. Also, I interviewed the incredible Karenza Grant, author of The Piano Tuner's Song. She is a friend. She is a mentor. And one of the reliable fixtures in my life for the last couple of years.

And here I am, twenty minutes to midnight, listening to Wordbound's Nothing Feels The Same. Although I am not averse to things changing, seasons turning, etc., I like how change sometimes is looking at old things from a different perspective. And that's what I am hoping to do a lot more of in 2023.

I'll leave you with the lyrics thrumming in my ears right now.

You fill me with doubt / You tear me down you turn me inside out / I hate the pain / But I like how nothing feels the same

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