Foolish child, don’t you know – A broken heart will never mend, A true love story will never end. A translated Zemenian song that captured my imagination (source: Monk S07E06)
Srijith and I have different interests in movies – an occasional chick flick or a romantic comedy are stuff I enjoy, while the not-so-better half is more of what I call a cine-snob: those artsy movies which make me snore after about ten minutes are more his cup of tea. After nearly ten years together,…
I can feel you very near It’s as if you are here Is it a mirage, is it a shadow, Or memories from long ago? Celebrating my new blog template that allows short posts, Remembering all those that have come and gone before.
I just started reading Francine Prose’s Reading like a writer. It makes me wonder why I choose to read the books that I read.
I read Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Long a Solitude, because the life of a book destroyer in Prague intrigued me, it was beyond my imagination before I read it. I read Briane Greene’s The Elegant Universe because I was in a phase in my life where string theory fascinated me, and thought perhaps that this was indeed the answer to all man’s questions about the universe. I read Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower, because I admire the woman for her grit – how many Somalian women have managed to fight every adversity that fate threw up and go on to become a famous model? I read Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shadow of the Sun, because I was on my way to Africa for the first time, I was alone and a bit scared of what awaited me in the dark continent and I mistakenly thought the book might make me feel better on the flight. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t read book after book about Bengali immigrants in America, but I devour every Jhumpa Lahiri book I can lay my hands on, because every sentence she writes is like a musical note that has been perfected through hours and hours of playing.
I might read for many reasons, but I admire writers for one quality. A rare quality that not even every one of the great ones share – honesty. It is hard to write an honest book. It is hard even to write an honest post. Yet, those are the stories that grip you and make you realize that life is not all pretty and dainty, but you are not the only one confronting the ugliness either.
I recommend Doris Lessing’s Grass is Singing, for anyone who wants an honest read. If you are in a mood for a comfort read, this is not it. But if you are ready to look life in the eye, with its ugliness right there with all the beauty that we like to see, this is one of my favorites.
“When she saw him, she stopped dead, and stared at him with fear. Then her face, from being tormented, became slowly blank and indifferent. He could not understand this sudden change. But he said, in a jocular uncomfortable voice : `There was once an empress of Russia who thought so little of her slaves, as human beings, that she used to undress naked in front of them.’ It was from this point of view that he chose to see the affair; the other was too difficult for him. `Was there?’ she said doubtfully at last, looking puzzled. `Does that native always dress and undress you?’ he asked. Mary lifted her head sharply, and her eyes became cunning. `He has so little to do,’ she said, tossing her head. `He must earn his money.’
(The Grass is Singing, 1950)
Set in Southern Rhodesia under white rule and slavery, Doris Lessing’s first novel is at once a riveting chronicle of human disintegration, a beautifully understated social critique, and a brilliant depiction of the quiet horror of one woman’s struggle against a ruthless fate, and like almost all of Lessing’s work portrays life as it is; no apologies, no excuses and no smoke curtains.
The first writer whose honesty struck me was Kamala Das or Madhavikutty or Suraiyya (I don’t know the other names she goes by). A true icon of Malayalam literature, I have read her works in English or the ones that had been translated, never quite attempting to read page after page in my mother tongue. When she passed away last month, she left a void in Malayalam literature that no one can really fill.
When I was younger, I used to wonder why a woman born to a comfortable life in Kerala would have subjected herself to so much controversy? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to write beautiful stories about pretty things and let the harder facts rest in peace? But then, now I realize, it is not the easier road that is the more fulfilling road, and a writer’s satisfaction comes from writing whatever it is that he/she feels like, the consequences be damned.
But why does honest writing have to have so many consequences? Why is it that if a woman writes:
“Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers …”
(The Looking Glass, from The Descendants, 1967).
,she is judged to be sexually provocative, not just as a writer, but also as a person. By the time I had reached a mature reading age, I think the literary press was more interested in sensationalizing Kamala Das’ personal life rather than her literary achievements. Magazines printed more of her life’s stories rather than her short stories, which was a real loss for my generation.
But then, perhaps, asking a reader to judge a book without judging the person is hypocritical too. Afterall, there are times when I read Lessing and I wonder whether she experienced any part of her stories herself? Whether it is her opinion or the character’s? How much is fact and how much is fiction? But fact in fiction, or fiction in fact – does it really matter?
I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a yellow sun a little while ago. A haunting book, it has many raw scenes and offers an honest look at the Biafran war that changed Nigeria forever. Towards the end of the book, the narrator opines that the story of a Nigerian war is best told by Nigerians. Why really? What is the point I am missing? A different perspective doesn’t make the story any less honest, it is just someone else’s view point. If we all chose to write stories about the lands we were born to, the literary world wouldn’t be half an interesting place as it is today. Should we all just be reading the story of India by Indians or the story of America by Americans? Why is Nigeria any different? Whatever be the context, aren’t we all better off reading multiple perspectives?
I want to climb on a rooftop and shout to the world I want to call you all, one by one, and talk and talk I want to just jump up and down, and down again Till I have to no more voice and no more breath. I want to keep smiling till my cheeks…
Vishu, the harvest festival, the beginning of a brand new year. Konna, the beautiful yellow flowers that adorn every garden and every house. Kani – a platter arranged with utmost care the previous night so it would be the first thing you see in the morning. Waking up to start the new year with gods…
Ben Okri, the booker prize winning author, was one of the panelists at the Oxford Lit Fest last weekend. And that’s what he autographed for me. Me like..:-) Funny thing was, he wanted the book. Apparently, he had never seen this edition of his own book. Think it was bought in South Africa, and…
James Lasdun at the Guardian has a wonderful piece on the short story as an art form and reviews some of the best collections of 2009: “…it raises the question of whether there is any special quality, aside from length, that distinguishes the short story from other literary forms, and if so to what extent…
I love traveling and spend a lot of time on the road. In every trip, no matter how short and in every city, no matter how beautiful – I visit the bookshops. Prague was no exception. People fondly recall many things after they return from a trip to Prague – after all, it is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – but I remember the bookshops the most. There were so many of them, and so many Czech authors whose books I had struggled to find elsewhere. From Jan Neruda to Josef Barák to Jaroslav Seifert and of course, the Kafka, I returned with two bag-loads more than I left with.
Today, I will write about Too Loud a Solitude. Of all the books I picked up, this one tugged at my heart strings a little bit more than the rest. For Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude is a book which is deceiving in its simplicity, scathing in its humor and uncompromising in its honesty, but most of all, it is profound in a way that makes you think about it for a long time even after you have turned its last page.
From the very first line,
“For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story.”
I was hooked. Fortunately, the book was short enough that I did not have to skip too many meals to finish it one sitting.
The book is about Hanta, an old man who has spent his entire life compacting paper, but is overflowing with ideas.
“I am jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.”
An unusual character, the book explores his world in minute detail and within the narrow perspective of his vision, which rarely expands beyond the compacting mill in the cellar, rife with mice and his home, that is so full of books that it might he collapse if he turns in his sleep.
Hanta is also an alcoholic, claiming that he has “drunk so much beer over the past thirty-five years that it could fill an Olympic pool, an entire fish hatchery”, but it is only to “muster the strength for his godly labors”. Despite his job of destroying books, he has saved quite a lot of them from the evil shredder – either giving away or selling, but mostly just stacking up in his tiny home. But Hanta, who may be a nitwit according to his boss, is also a fountain of knowledge, from which can sprout Talmud, Hegel, Kant or Lao-Tzu.
“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing through the veins to the root of each blood vessel”
In Hanta – the destroyer of the written word, yet also its perpetrator – Hrabal has found the perfect setting to examine the permanence and abstraction of ideas, the inevitable march of time which threatens the relevance of all of us, the different kinds of relationships one can have with the written word and the myopic nature of an individual’s perspectives.
“And so everything I see in this world, it all moves backward and forward at the same time, like a blacksmith’s bellows, like everything in my press, turning into its opposite at the command of red and green buttons, and that’s what makes the world go round.”
The novel might have a narrow focus, but it also covers the gruesome details of Hanta’s existence, from the mice in his cellar to the details of his mother’s and uncle’s deaths and his haranguing boss. He also talks about his unlucky love life: of Manca, “who never having known glory, will never relinquish shame” and the nameless gypsy girls who “had their pictures taken everyday, but never saw a shot of themselves”.
Despite its short length and outlandish setting, the novel is rife with symbolism. It is as much a thought-provoking satire as it is a literary treat. If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for.
Link: Buy from Amazon
Shashi Tharoor is the Congress candidate for MP from Thiruvananthapuram (TVM). I am intrigued, and excited. And for someone who think politics is best left to politicians, that is saying a lot.
Honestly, I don’t know much about him. But I don’t care. Here is a man who is capable, has seen the world and if he wants to be corrupt, has plenty of bigger opportunities elsewhere. So I am inclined to trust his motives, and his promises.
Kerala is, quite frankly, a mess. Since I started up on my entrepreneurial path a little while ago, I have been thinking of Kerala every single day. I am trying to set up some part of my business in India, and quite naturally, I had decided on Kerala. Every one who is a friend, and who decided to consider me a friend just so they can advise me – told me that would be a very stupid decision.
If you want work done, set it up in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, even if it is just a stone’s throw away from the Kerala border. You can even employ Malayalees if you like – they will work as long as they are outside of Kerala. But do not, under any circumstance, start a venture in Kerala.
I have seen time and again that you cannot have sustainable development without a healthy dose of entrepreneurship. And I wanted to do my bit in bringing it to Kerala. I have a dream. And now I am asked to throw it all away, if I want to survive. I toss and turn in bed every night, trying to choose between my business sense and my patriotism. Let’s not wonder now whether it is really patriotism or the thought of a beach-villa-cum-office that I am more unwilling to sacrifice. In any case, the point is – when it comes to running a business, setting up a venture, or sometimes, just getting things done – Kerala ranks right at the bottom. You could blame it on incompetent politicians, our communist legacy, the risk-averse culture or just the general laziness of the people.
Finally, I see a ray of hope.
I don’t know whether Shashi Tharoor will or can change anything. He is a proud Indian, as he made clear from his many writings, but as I am digging through his book (which I quite coincidentally picked up last week), I see no pride in being a Keralite. He speaks no Malayalam, and despite the occasional reference to compulsory holidays he had to endure with parents, there is not much in there about Kerala. So why did he choose TVM of all places?
It is quite an interesting city, really. Every time I visit the city, I never fail to visit the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple . I was there just this Jan, and just for the beauty and tranquillity of the temple, I fell a little in love with the city. But what else is there to talk about TVM?
There is always a random group of people protesting in front of the secretariat. That will block traffic, so there is inevitably a traffic jam. Fish is very cheap and tasty. Malayalam, as it is spoken here and nowhere else, has the same word for baby and shit – perhaps something to do with frustrated mothers? It is still an old city, losing out to cities like Kochi and Trichur, when it comes to the chic-factor. Some of the streets are impeccably clean, while others are unbelievably dirty. There is a huge monstrous piece of art, shaped like a woman, which lies on the Shankumukham beach, while it is close to impossible to find even a single local woman reclining in a relaxed fashion on any of TVM’s beautiful beaches.
I bet all these had nothing to do Tharoor’s choice of TVM, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. As long as he does something, something useful, I can live with not knowing why.
So, what exactly is Tharoor planning for our dear TVM?
1. The Vizhinjam port project. Once complete, the port will be able to handle over four million containers annually and would create 5,000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs. I believe it is essential for Thiruvananthapuram to support this idea. But we must fight for the displaced people from the Vizhinjam port trust area who must not become the victims of development.
It’s about time Kerala had a port of global standards, but as I read this, the first thing that comes to mind is protesting people. It reminds me of Smartcity where people are displaced to make room for this business park, which led to innumerable protests and discussions, and which now doesn’t seem to house that many companies or employ enough people. Good idea, bad execution. Hope we don’t go that same path again.
I wish Tharoor would elaborate more on the how, and not just the what.
2. Create a high court bench in TVM
Honestly, can someone tell me why I should care about this?
3. Development of world-class facilities
Again, should I care so much? How would a convention centre help the masses?
4. Make TVM the capital of India’s biodiversity
I am marginally excited. Good research is always great, but from what I have heard about what goes on in ISRO, may be its not just about establishing these institutes but doing something about what goes on inside them.
5. An education capital for the region – equivalent of Boston or Cambridge in America
Now he’s got me listening. This is fantastic, and if he can pull this one off, it would be worth it. This is actually something that fits in well with Kerala’s culture. Somehow the idea of a university (or centres of learning), and its campus built on the sea, with students and professors having Socratic conversations on the beach has always caught my imagination.
6 – n: Build a knowledge economy, attract and use NRI funds for the state’s development, improve civic facilities (do MPs do this?), preservation of the great heritage buildings, ..the list goes on, and it is impressive.
I particularly like this:
“Why can’t processions be obliged to march in single file on the side of the road, rather than occupying the entire carriageway? Why can’t megaphones and loudspeakers be restricted to specific areas and times? Why should agitators be allowed to paralyze the lives, work, and travel of ordinary people going about their business?”
May be it is just my cynicism, but I am inclined to reply, “Hello!? Have you been to Kerala? Have you met a Malayalee?”.
“the national legislature should take an interest in using the country’s laws to benefit the common man and woman who wishes to lead their lives in peace.”
Some of the best memories in my schooldays were of days where the classes had to be cancelled because of strikes, and we could do whatever we wanted. Well, now that its next generation’s turn, I am totally for minimal disruption!
On a more serious note, Tharoor is talking about changing the very fabric of our culture, the character of the people. Ambitious indeed, but how realistic is it?
This sounds good though:
“I will publish details regularly of my actions and initiatives, provide full and audited accounts of the expenditure of MPLADS funds, and report regularly to the people about progress or lack thereof on the issues relating to their well-being. If Thiruvananthapuram is to be a global city of the 21st century, it deserves an MP who upholds the highest global standards of today.”
Now, should I bet on this guy and start my business in Kerala? May be, may be not. But I would vote for him, if I could. There is a lot less to lose with that one.
If you could vote, I hope you would too. If nothing, Tharoor might write a good book about Kerala and its development. That’s more than some of our previous MPs have achieved for us.
Photo courtesy: ritesh3