Monday, 15 September 2014

And then there were none - top 10 ways I could murder the top 10 lists

Today happens to be Agatha Christie's birthday. Well, the queen of crime in her brilliant book "And then there were none" conjured up a story about an odd mix of people stuck on an island with no room for escape and no place to hide as the killer silently chooses the victims one by one till none remain. The chilling suspense of the book and its arresting title will forever remain a testimony to her unmatched mastery over her art.

So, if you had a way to murder something till there really were none left, what would you choose? I would choose the list of top 10 ways to do, well, almost anything.

See a quick search result from buzzusmo on this topic - a website which claims to give the social buzz on any trending topic. Well, there seem to be top 10 lists for just about anything from losing weight to am sure losing your mind as well. There is even a list of 10 ten ways to stay alive. Just in case we forgot that we are not dead yet.

Quite paradoxically, if you run a search on Google Trends on the same topic, the result you get is quite contrary. It actually says the trend of top ten lists is on the wane over time; though you wouldn't believe it with all the top 10 lists you are forced to see everyday unfailingly, even if you manage to avoid reading them.

Now this article is meant for my fellow struggling writer-in-waiting souls who write content at work apart from writing fiction in their inspired moments. It is not enough that we stare at the clock, sweating beads of frustration, gulping our 5th cup of cold tea as we wait for that perfect phrase to reign sunshine on our content darkened souls?

Wait, the world tells us now. Before we hit publish, we have to do buzz check; how good really is our content? Does it have the potential to become trending content? Don't publish unless it's a top 10 list. Why not 12 or 13, you ask? It has to be 10, you see. That's what sells.

Did I hear right? Now, did they just discover a way to predict the next best-seller blockbuster content? Did Salman Khan and Chetan Bhagat just compile a joint book of top 10 dummy ways to best-seller success?

Or are we just chasing the shadow of trending content before it vanishes in the trail of its own tiny scroll bar, lost till another tweet or link claims the fantasy of the reader? Who decides permanence or success of content? Who can predict the mind of the reader through the lens of the top 10 lists?

You decide. And yes, till we do that, if anyone else talks about 10 lists on the Queen of Crimes' birthday, it is as good a day as any to get started on the top 10 ways to kill that person. Now that would be a good list, I guess. The Queen of Crime has more than 10 lessons for that.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks

At last, a social challenge for the ones who ones who would rather ignore social conventions and curl up with a book. Aha, naming top 10 books you have read when reading books has been a compulsive habit all your life! Child’s play really, you thought. That’s before you actually sat down to name the books and organize the rush of emotions and memories that accompanied the name of each favourite book.

You scan through your bookshelf. You open the first book. Remember?

  • The book you were reading when your sister called you to feel the rush of rain in the balcony on a summer evening choked with the sense of an impending wait, as if the stifled air was waiting to be released from its prison of dampness. You felt the wet wind on your face even as the first raindrop fell on your book and you ran to save your book while the relentless rain drenched happiness on your hair, your eyes, your arms, your senses.

  • The book your best friend gifted you in the library when sharing books was a hallmark of shared friendship. The book which formed your very first definition of love before you even knew what love  meant. The book you discussed and debated over steaming plates of Maggi. Much later, you thought about why your friend gave that particular book to you. Was he trying to say something? You were just friends, weren't you? You discussed every plot in every book you both shared and read but you couldn't ever discuss the reason.

  • The book you read when you were recovering from your first heartbreak; snuggled in bed with a large bar of chocolate, the treacherous tears threatening to create pools of darkness that your self-pity could easily drown in. Then you laughed, incongruously, as the character in the book cracked another insane joke and suddenly the world did not seem so dark anymore. You cracked up, rolling on the bed and despair seemed to melt faster than the melting chocolate in your hand.

  • The book you read when you felt nothing made sense, when the steps to success seemed slippery and steep and emptiness and bitterness gnawed gaping holes in your heart. The world seemed to be your enemy and no one seemed to understand your feelings. Except the author and the character in the book you were reading. Each page seemed to be a story of your struggle. And as you turned the last page, the night disappeared into the dawn and you felt, whole and inspired, all over again.

  • The book you tried to read in snatches as your child slept in her crib, her tiny hands holding on to your fist. She stirred in her sleep and you automatically reached out to soothe her nameless fears; even as you turned the page of your book. The silence of the long afternoon and the questions that the book raised emerged as answers you were looking for and could ask no one. You still found the bookmark in the book; the bookmark you had crumpled over and over again as you thought through decisions that needed to be made.

Memories. Books. Friends. You dust each cover and replace them back on the bookshelf;  the handwritten inscriptions from your friends and loved ones, now timeless imprints on the yellowed pages. Each inscription, an ageless memory of love and care.

It wasn’t just the top 10 books. In a way, for the ones whose lives have been shaped irrevocably by the books they have read, it was also the top 10 memories of their lives. For “sometimes memories sneak out from your eyes and roll down your cheeks”.