My friend Latha Anantharaman was kind enough to send me her new book “Three Seasons.” I read it in one tranquil wintry afternoon, sitting on our living room couch with a silvery Colorado sun flooding in through a window to contrast with Latha’s images of South India’s monsoons.
“Three Seasons” chronicles a year of wind, heat and rain on the farm – actually a big garden – in South India where Latha and her husband Krishnan Guruswamy, a former Associated Press reporter, moved about a decade ago. Latha and Krishnan continue to work as writers and editors from their home, while also harvesting (or overseeing the harvest of) mangoes, jackfruit and other produce from their plot. Their life is full “of wildflowers and insects and heartbreaking beauty.”
Like novelist Jamaica Kincaid’s foray into nonfiction, “My Garden (Book)”, “Three Seasons” is part memoirs, part elegant and erudite essay on flora and fauna.
“Three Seasons” also contains memorable sketches of the neighbors, including a kindly elderly woman who is a true mentor and a motley crew of workmen who help Latha and Krishnan in the Sisyphean task of taming nature. The city couple learning to live like villagers gets lots of advice, some welcome, some not so much. In that way Latha’s slim nonfiction book reminded me of the South Indian humorist RK Narayan’s stories about a fictional town he calls Malgudi.
I’m a great fan of ink-on-newsprint. So I was particularly engaged by passages in “Three Seasons” about a strike that disrupts Latha’s and Krishnan’s newspaper delivery for weeks. She writes:
“We read some papers online and that connects us at least loosely to what we consider The World but we like to start the day by carrying our tea, newspapers and pens (for sudoku) out to the verandah. We read, pause to listen to the whine of a brahminy kite, look at the army ants marching across the paved square, watch a wasp put finishing touches on its mud nest, wonder what insect it is that has smeared a sticky resin along the wall, flick a caterpillar off the op-ed page, and resume reading. Sitting at our desks instead in front of a computer screen would take the joy out of reading the news.”
In a few deft, vivid words Latha evokes the idea that while technology helps us reach out to the world, it is our personal connections and daily habits that ground us in it.
I wish I looked and listened as intently and as sympathetically as Latha does. But at least I have her book, so I can experience a bit of The World through her eyes and ears.