Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Fugitive - Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This is the first book, I am reading , of this prolific novelist from Indinesia. Pitted to win the nobel prize of literature multiple times ( short listed 5 times at least), I wanted to read his books for a long time. Though this may not be the best or most popular work of this author, it is an important book in his literary career.

Written during his stay under retention in one of the Indonesian prison during 1947 to 1949 , and published in 1950, this novel is supposed to be the first novel written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. This covers a span of a night and the following day , the day on which Japanes surrendered to the allied forces. Hardo, a young platoon commander under the Occupied Japanese forces, lead a failed coup attempt with his friend. The revolt was quashed after one of their comrade in action abstained at last minute and leaked the plan. Ever since, he and his team are being hunted by the Japanese and he is on a constant run.

This novel written mostly in conversational style, takes us through the events and the aftermath of the rebellion. Hardo , disguised as a beggar, returns to his home town in Java, in an effort to meet his fiancee. Failing to meet her in her house and being recognised by her brother, he escapes from there with the group of beggars. His father-in-law-to-be meets him to lure him back to the house on an order by his son and wife. The initial pages are the conversation between the two , where Hardo comes to know the death of his mother and his fathers gambling habits. As expected the father-in-law-to-be reports his where about to the Japanese and soon the hunting soldiers lands at the village searching for him. He also meets his father later in a hut trying to escape the hunting soldiers. His father develop doubts about the begger and addresses him as his son from the voice , despite the darkness of the night. Other meeting and conversations include his co-conspirator Dipo and other friends as the day progresses. In the meanwhile, soldiers arrests the father-in-law-to-be and his gambler father and detain them until they find Hardo. The arrest and detention is lead to the town where his fiancee is working as a teacher. The leader of the police, their co-conspirator and traitor, is leading the search and arrests for the Japanese. The novel ends at the arrests of the Fugitives and the subsequent announcement of the surrender of Japanese. The jubilant crowd wants to take revenge on the Japanese Officer and the traitor, causing a minor skirmish, resulting in the death of the Japanese soldier and his fiancee in the end.

It is important to know the time of this fiction and the events lead to this. Indonesia, under the rule of Dutch for a long time, found a welcome change when Japanese soldiers defeated the Dutch force. Like Suharto , Sukarno and other prominent leaders, Pramoedya Toer also supported the Japanese initially. Soon they realised their mistake as Japanese turned out to be worse than the Dutch and the revolutionary forces now started their campaign against Japanese occupation.

Beautifully written novel with a very detached and un-sensitive narration, I found this book very good. True to a revolutionary , Hardo does not get sentimental at any point of time, beit when he hear the news of his mothers death, his fathers gambling habits, on being betrayed by his close friend or the death of his fiancee by a random fire from the gun of the Japanese Officer trying to save his own life. This book may not be a structurally elaborate and with the large scale description and characterisation, but effective in getting the strong feel across the readers.

Here is a dedicated web page for this author.

The Fugitive
Pramoedya Ananta Toer translated by Willem Samuels
Penguin Publications
171 Pages
Rs 595/-
The beggar laughed and glanced the sky. "The star is out again", he said slowly.
"What star?" the old man asked. "What star?" he repeated.
"There in the sky."
"There in the sky, nd in my heart."
"Your heart?" The old man shook his head." I dont understand."
"Go home"
"Go home? But if I go home, I should at least take some news about you, And what are you going to do ? Are you going to your father's?"
"Tell me where you are going."
"To the stars": the beggar answered shortly.
"The stars in the sky and your heart ?" the old man muttered in frustration.
"That's right."
" I dont understand at all".
"Go home".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Railway - Hamid Ismailov

One of the best novels I have read in recent times. To be frank, I haven't read many reviews about this book earlier, neither I have heard his name before. It caught my attention as I was glancing through the shelf in the bookstore, and it accompanied me home. One of the captions on the book compared the book to the great "One hundred years of solitude" and may be that would have helped my decision.

As we started the comparision with the "One hundrder years of Solitude" , let me tell you upfront that the book resembles the story telling in many ways. The period covered may not be over 100 yrs , but nearly 80 yrs ; the Macondo (did I spell it right?) is replaced by Gilas ; the Buvendia family is replaced by Obid-Kori and his extended family. This novel too is filled with lot of fables , folklore ( the translator calls it a folkloric novel), attached historical and social perspectives and a touch of magical realism ( it does appeal to me even after all these years).

This gifted Uzbeck writer takes us through the life and times of the people in the Central Asian Republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Set in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, The Railway is about the people of the small town and surrounding villages of Gilas , lies on the ancient Silk Route. There are many characters , with their funny nicknames, of various culture and language and religion , all intermixed in the small place. People of Uzbeck , Armenian, Khazakh , Georgian, Korean settlers, Tadjicks, Arabs, Persian and other communities ; people speak and communicate in various languages , Russian, Arabic, farsi , uzbeck and other local dialects ; Muslims ( shiites and sunnis and sufi practitioners) , Christians, Jews and the new religion of communism living in harmony. People endures various wars and skirmishes -first and second world wars and attackes of various rebels in the region ; are also caught by the soviet authorities and being sent to Siberia or on exile. The time after the 1917 revolution and the forced spread of communism has its own effect in the people. As Obid-Kori reacts : "One proclamation told Obid-Kori how the mullahs of Turkestan had decided to create an Islamic state free of distinction of tribe and birth; the other told him, in Russian, about sone "classless" society in which everyone would be equal. Obid-Kori pondered all this for a long time.The two documents seems to be talking one and the same thing, so what was the difference between them?"

The railway is the silent witness to all. Like a never-ending ladder with wooden rungs and iron rails and that stretched across the earth from horizon to horizon ( I quote). There is a scene where the boy, with all his contempt of the world , wanted to lift his cloth and show his insult to the all enduring, all witnessing railway. When the train arrives and passes him, all he could do was to shout "I LOVE YOU" the the girl standing near the door of the last compartment.

This book was banned in his native land Uzbeck , and he was named a persona non grata there ( unacceptably democratic tendencies), had to flee and move to London, where he works with BBC.

This paints the 20th century Central Asian population so beautifully, almost like a kaleidoscopic view. The original prose and a methodical , painstaking translation makes it a fantastic book to read. There is explanatory notes at the end of the book, without which it would be difficult to understand some of the aspects of their life and the introduction by Robert Chandler, the translator, helps to prepare for this read. The last pages also includes a part of interview with the writer by the translator.
Incidently, Robert Chandler has been named in the list of "The 50 outstanding literary translations from the last 50 years " list by The Translators Association of the Society of Authors.

The book is full of lyrical prose like this one, "He himself was now burning on the straw, along with these half open books whose pages were now being turned not by the hands but by fire, and he could see words rising from these books in the shape of flames and their ashy shadow was falling back down beneath his burning bare feet. ' Sumari yerga urdi'(his fruit fell on the earth) he whispered for the last time - and these words were the last words to burn in with him, their dazzling sweep was the last thing he sensed."

Bollywood movies are popular in many parts of Central Asia, Arab , Persia, Afghan and in Russia. There is a chapter on the effects of "shri 420" of Rajkapoor ( who is very famous in that part of the world) and I find it quite interesting. Of course, there are few mistakes with some words and some meaning, but that does not matter. "Once, on the day of Yom Kippur, after writing the film title "Shri 420" with his own urine on the wall of Huvron-Barber's little shop, Yusuf-Cobbler went to see the film itself. Why he went is unclear- he may have wanted to laugh at those who were weeping, or he may have hoped to see a size 420 shoe - but the film affected him more deeply that he expected. Stealthily weeping thousands of years worth of Jewish tears onto the floor, he saw his tears join streams of other tears flowing across the dank carpets Ortik-Picture-Reels has accquired after they had been written off by the party; these rivulets rose to the level of his clients' ankles, to the level of their calves, to the level of their bottoms - and soon Yusuf-Cobbler was thinking not only of the Great Flood and Noah's Ark but also the Mount Ararat of salt-corroded soles and heels that he would soon be required to repair. Be that as it mey, he was so shaken that he decided never again to piss against the wall of Huvron-Barber's little shop. Such is the power of Indian Films."

This is one brilliant book and I am not equipped to bring the whole beauty of this work in this small paragraph. To know more you may visit these reviews:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Training for Leadership - Brig.Parmodh Sarin(retd)

I was asked to read this book and give opinion before my dept go ahead and buy this for the employees. I had a weekend to complete the task.
My first impression was very poor. The books overall appeal was very ordinary. It's design, the printing , page layout , front cover etc very not something which makes the casual surfer to take and leaf through, if kept in a book shelf.
When you get started, you are hit with a series of pages such as , Preface , foreword , acknowledgement, definitions,prologue and introduction before you get going.
The book is written by a person who was with the Indian Army and not from our walk of life ( so called current generation of sales / IT people).
These days it is a fashion to find management and leadership wisdom from all walks of life. From FISH! market to car sales agency, Ice cream maker to classical music ( here and here) , we are offered with variety of choices from all parts of life.
However, what impressed me about this book was the way it was organised. I found this very structured and crisp. Though he covers the often talked about topic ( for a regular reader of management and leadership books) and quotes the same Jack Welch , Peter Drucker and other management gurus, it still has a style and vision in accordance with his experience.
I am still not very happy about some of the languages used such as subordinate development et all. I found them in appropriate to use for your colleague in the current business scenario ( at least the industry I work in). He also discusses the Quality Circle concept, which I though is already over the hill. There is a important discussion on the difference between Manager and Leader which is worth mentioning here. According to him "Manager works with things and numbers. Leaders work with people and their feelings".
There are no clear and final answer to leadership and team management. Here is another book in this already over crowded space.

Training for Leadership
Brig.Parmodh Sarin(retd)
Manas Publications
236 Pages