I was lost in first few articles as I was trying to make sense of what is the author trying to say. I was trying to find the connection between them that obviously does not exist at least not one to one. Then I let go and started taking each piece as it came. And I had a fun time reading through the rest of The Songbird on my Shoulder book. A random collection of articles written by Saaz for various publications that she worked for, actually are the pieces that you slowly put together to figure out who she is.
A boarding school girl dealing with her loneliness, a single mother for a short while, a successful stepmother to two of her three children, a mother who enjoys packing Dabbas for her children. A writer, a painter. An ISO 9000 enthusiast to the extent that she organizes her house according to it. A person so widely traveled that you will not even feel guilty envying her. A generous host who always has these amazing friends to move around with, someone somewhere related to IT. And of course, an open mind to share it all with unknown people. She is as free with her style of expression: sometimes she talks in prose and sometimes in poetry. Every woman multi-tasks and some do more than others. But Saaz would definitely be on top of that list with so many things she manages to do.
She effortlessly stitches together the sketch of a woman. Who apart from doing what she wants to do or has to do is as much in touch with small little things that we have to do every day. In her own words, this is a documentation of her life as a madam, an unrepentant and unapologetic one. Unlike most writings that ignore the mundane as mundane, she brings forth the mundane. And makes you see the humor and hence life in it.
Spread over two decades or so, the pieces take you back and forth in her life. So like a good storyteller she keeps revealing something here and something there. And keeps you guessing what is coming next. Of course, I assume that you read the book sequentially like I do. Although it may be fun to read this one in a different order and get to know her some other way. I am actually still trying to figure out how she chose the order of all those articles.
Some of the pieces that stand out for me are – The article where she goes back to her school after many years. And tries to look for her gold earring that she had lost while she was in school. She makes you feel like you are listening to a vulnerable young girl. Her poem on children not getting all their features from her and her husband is touching. Her pieces on her father in his old age are something that reminds you how your parents have changed over time. And how you feel about it. The poem about suicide on railway track had me in splits. And I thought that precisely for the same reason I would never ever choose that method if I ever have to choose one.
Her take on Simhagarh Fort near Pune had me guessing until the end what anti-climax is she going to bring. And her imagination was superb there. Her animated description of the car without a horn and all that comes along with it is hilarious, to say the least. In few pieces, in the end, she actually enters the spirit of people like Bill Bryson and tries to imitate their writing and these are amusing. You mentally try and think Bryson moving in the Mumbai streets on a rainy day and then writing all this.
A lot of writing is focused around Mumbai and Pune. Sprinkled with anecdotes from around the world. Some pieces have her take on matters very subtly like the piece on two Amits. But in most, she restricts to herself. As all the characters in the writing are real people from her family and friends, by the time you finish the book you feel you can walk into her house without feeling a stranger. In her style, I saw a resonance with Bachi Karkaria. And no wonder the two ladies are connected, and there may be an influence. I was trying to see how men have reacted to this book The Songbird on my Shoulder. But all Google searches led only to women readers of the book.
Read The Songbird on my Shoulder for a good laugh… Though I have a feeling that it may appeal more to women than to men.
You may buy this book – The Songbird on my Shoulder Confessions of an Unrepentant Madam by Saaz Aggarwal at Amazon.