Me I and Myself

first coloured pic of the train sleepers series

Perhaps owing to the inauspicious date that marked its end, this week has been incredibly painful - my day would end at 2 in the morning and start at 8 to a mad rush of "papers" (by others and myself), bosses' queries, hospital visits and home to an equally busied J. The best parts of my day now are herefore my morning and night rides on the MRT train. There I am my own.

Once J and I had overheard a train commuter - a man in his 50s - describe animatedly to his female companion how "the worm" is digging its way through the earth towards them, how it has in its body the undigested whole bodies of men and women, and how soon they will also "be eaten". He gestured, he laughed, then he and his wife (?) were consumed.

Well, there in the worm's digestive tract, I am thankful and privileged to have the company of the following for the past 2 months ever since J stopped joining me on these daily rides. And good company deserves a larger party! So here goes...

>> 2007 Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss has been so widely reviewed, I'm going to be lazy and point you to these reviews instead in NYT , Hindustan Times, and the Guardian).

>> The next stop was Edith Wharton's House of Mirth (online Gutenberg version here), a very cheap "Bantam classics" edition so brown it looked like I had soaked its pages in coffee, so old it wore dark liver spots of age.

>> And this week, having resisted reading Henry James for years (a Korean friend at Cambridge was writing her PhD thesis on James, and she was both so enamoured and tortured by him I thought it best him to her care), I finally succumbed to thought Henry James' The Bostonians (online version here).

For me, besides the sheer pleasure of words, these works shared an acute awareness of the smallness of the societies and villages we move in - the ticks and quirks, rules and exemptions - and the largeness and span of the world possibly open to the individual. This expanse is not only the space covered by the pioneering go-west exploits or the fetishised European tours of the early American, nor is it the equally pioneering,but more tragic go-west dreams of modern India. This expanse could possibly be the individual's own narrative space. There is the romance that, whether stayers, lovers, emigres or gamblers, the individual could plot, connive and embellish our own stories.

The depressing reality, however, is that the possibility for this latter space to be limitless and free is constantly threatened by the former's encroachment - from social ambition there is competition and exploitation, and today, globalisation.

The comfort is that however small or large this space we singularly possess - the size of a page or the inside of a train - there is a chance that we need not be alone.


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