Monday, November 30, 2009

Ghatikarangal Nilaykkunna Samayam - Subhash Chandran

A devastating earthquake stuck the district of Latur and surrounding districts of Maharashtra on 30th September 1993. Images of destruction and suffering were displayed in various media, to the terror of the readers. There was one image of a watch/clock shop with all the watches stopped at 4:00am, was one of those images still recurring to my mind. Subhash Chandran, combining this image and another news story of a lost child looking for his parents into a beautiful story which carries the name of this short story collection, Ghatikarangal Nilaykkunna Samayam ( when the clocks stops ). The local thief Thukaram, spares the shop with repairs and sells clocks, where he spends his night, from his usual targets. One dreadful night he sees witnesses the fury of the nature as buildings after buildings collapsing, people leaving the towns and villages. Holding one clock which is removed from the rubble of the fallen shop, Thukaram starts his journey. Listening to a soft cry in the destruction, he manages to rescue the young infant. Towards the end of the night he realises that the life beating under his dress ( in the form of pendulam) had ceased and the clock stopped displaying 4:00am, before he along with the lives he rescued descends to the depths of the planet.

I also observed that Death is one recurring presence in every story ( except one, if I recollect correctly) appearing in the form of suicide, murder, natural disaster, dead body etc. Book consists of eight stories, apart from a forward by M T Vasudevan Nair and an excerpt from an interview with the writer.

Subhash Chandran, as observed by M.T.Vasudevan Nair in his foreward, uses the language to his best ability and outstanding effect. Some of the clever use of idioms, the symbols and the structural joining of words are highly effective. However, apart from the main story and another, the rest of the stories in this are very ordinary. Clever use of language and the structure alone does not necessarily give you a good story.

Ghatikarangal Nilaykkunna Samayam ( Malayalam )
(ഘടികാരങ്ങള്‍ നിലയ്ക്കുന്ന സമയം)
Subhash Chandran
D C Books
94 Pages

Friday, November 27, 2009

The House Gun - Nadine Gordimer

"Something terrible has happened" said the messenger on a dreadful night. For Harald ( director of Board in an Insurance Company) and Claudia ( a working doctor of repute), the world is about to change. Their son has been arrested for murdering his friend and house mate, shooting him. Importantly, he has admitted the crime to the police.

Duncan, 27, staying in a cottage of the house in which three of his friends are residing had murdered his friend. His girlfriend, whom he had rescued from committing suicide some time ago, was found making love to the deceased, the previous night. This was cited as the motivation behind the murder. Duncan is now in prison awaiting trial, and Hamilton Motsamai, a black lawyer has been hired to defend him.

As the planning and preparation begin, for the defence of the case, many unpleasant truths are out in the open. Natalia, whom Duncan have rescued and was brought back to life is now not able to bare the weight of obligation. Though she spent her night with Duncan, the relationship is far from what is being called a true love. More over, the house mates among themselves lead a gay relationship, to which Duncan was also a participant until recently. Is this the sexuality and the related jealousy the reason ? Duncan, don't seems to be bothered about the incident of witnessing his lovers love-making to his friend. Hence, it is important to know the real motive, the circumstances that made Duncan to perform the gruesome act despite his nature ( he does not exhibit any tendency towards violence) has to be extablished.

For Harald and Claudia, the trial is on them. They share the guilt along with their son. Apart from being looked at as the parents of a murderer, they also have to endure the process of trial in the court. They seek among themselves and find out incidents which could have made the behavioural changes in Duncan. Parents starts suspecting the upbringing, their love and guidance and their own relationship with their child as well as among themselves. They also have to reconcile to the fact that a black lawyer is going to take up their son's defence, despite their prejudice. There is also debate in the society against 'death penalty' and that decision will also have direct impact on the fortune of their son. As the trial begins, and the curtains of individuals life as well as the social structure opens up. Motsamai, on his part has done a commendable job and manages to reduce the sentence to the least possible in the given circumstances.

This book was written just after the end of apartheid. One should approach this book in that context. The house gun, is a symbol of the larger social issue of lawlessness and violence, prevalent in South Africa. It is also interesting to note the changing social order, with the black lawyer defending the white middle class family. Harald and Claudia have to come out of their usual white middle class background, to accommodate the need to have the black lawyer to save the life of their child, but also have a foster son (albeit for a short period) in the form of Khulu ( one of the house mate and a friend of Duncan) to give them emotional and moral support, through out the period of trial.

Nadine Gordimer's use of language and the style is very good. However, the second part of the novel with the elaborate court room drama , however important it is, was not something I liked. I found this book also testing the relationship at various level. The husband and wife, the lovers, the society and the government, the white and black ; I would say she has walked this delicate path admirably. May not be the best of books by the Nobel laureate,but an important one, nonetheless.

The House Gun
Nadine Gordimer
Penguin Classics
294 Pages
Further Read : , Salon Interview with Nadine Gordimer, NY Times

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Ape in the Corner Office - Richard Coniff

Its a jungle out there..

Workplace behavior is a topic for many a books. It is interesting to observe on how we behave in various situations in Office and what drives those behaviour. Richard Coniff , in this interesting book, tell us that most of those traits are carried to us as the part of the evolution. These traits are common in the animal kingdom. Taking us through various examples and relating these characteristics to the animal, mostly to the closest to humans, the Apes tends to exhibit similar characteristics.

The social hierarchy, the power politics, the fear of failure, the need for nurturing and cajoling all are very common in the primates. They also behave to the set patterns of responses, to the order of the society as we do. The intimidation, the need for reconciliation after a spar, the tendency to follow the herd etc., are as prevalent in the other world as it is in the office environment.

Richard Coniff, does his research in an outstanding manner. There are ample references to the business world, to the research world of animals. The references and co-relation are very good. The outcome of reading the book is that, from now on, I start looking at my colleagues and their reactions in a new light. It might also alter few of my won responses. Very easy and entertaining read, with many real life examples ( few on the organisation where I work) and comparisons make this book worth reading.
The Ape in the corner Office
Richard Coniff
Crown Business
341 Pages
Further read : HR Magazine, HBS Review

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four Plays - Gunter Grass

I havent read any works of Gunter Grass and he is not famous for his plays. Nonetheless, I have this book with me and it had been a while since I read a play. Gunter Grass started his writing career as a poet and a play write prior to his popularity as a novelist. These four plays were written during the 50s , as Germany was recovering itself from the WW II.

Flood: Noah with the help of his co-sister are trying to rescue what is the only valuable he has from the raising flood. His daughter and her boyfriend are on the floor above unconcerned about the events down frolicking and multiplying ( as Noah puts it), waiting for the flood to recede. Still above in the on the terrace are two mice, staying hungry. To this comes Noah's estranged son and his friend, for a temporary relief from rain. Against the natural disaster is where the team trying to cop up with. There is anguish, there is also hope of the stop of rain with receding of flood. 4 pairs are in act against the odds affecting their life. For Noah and his co-sister, it is recovering what they have earned over the years, for Yetta and her girlfreind, it is time to be together, waiting for the sunshine days, for the rat couple it is the survival , for Leo and his buddy, it is the temporary halt from their adventure, to start again from where it began.

Mister, Mister : Loosely based on a serial killer, who gets himself tormented by the innocence of childhood. Cunningly, constructed, moving from scene to scene with Broilin playing his acts of a murderer. It is in front of the youngsters where he is out of his wits, unable to handle the questions of two teenagers.

Ten minute to buffalo, is a short play about two engine drivers, in their stationary wagon, with the illusionary speeding across the landscape.
Wicked cooks, talks about the remedial recipe, to bring back the days of glory of the set of cooks. The Count, is supposed to have the secret. They will go to any extend to get it. They are willing to separate the lovers Sheen and the Nurse to achieve this. All the plotting and planning to get this does not yield result, even after sending the nurse to tender to The count as his lady. But the effort ends with the suicide of the count by shooting himself and the nurse ( presumably, as there were two shots heard !), with only input, that the ingredient of a good recipe, is "experience of a lifetime".

Four absurdist plays from the initial days of the writing career of a prolific author of twentieth century. Typical of plays, use of the minimum use of words, each sentences carry its own power and weight.
Four Plays ( Flood, Mister Mister, Only ten minutes to Buffalo, The wicked cooks)
Gunter Grass ( Translated from German by Ralph Manheim and Leslie Willson)
Harvest Books
289 Pages
Few reviews about the on stage adaptation of these plays ; mister,mister ; flood ; the wicked cooks

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Professional - Subroto Bagchi

Most of the management and career oriented books are originated from the US. While I agree with the ideas in general, they at times differ from the established social and moral point of view in these part of the world. The social environment, the education and upbringing , the moral standards and ethical view points are different from other places and that makes these books irrelevant in these environment.

Subrato Bagchi , co-founder of Mindtree, has brought out a good book, explaining the nuances of being a professional to the young Indian working population. Citing examples from the daily walk of life, and from the field familiar to us, he examines various aspects of a professional behaviour and conduct. Without getting into management or personality development jargons , usually found in such books, this book have a feel of one to one communication. The language is simple and straight forward, easy to understand and the examples are easy to relate to from an Indian context.
However, the book tends to be a bit preachy ( as he himself admit in the foreword ) at times. Besides, the second half of the book reads like a 'business conduct guidelines' of a company.

Very good book for every new professionals, for shaping up their career, and for the experienced peopl ein their respective field to look back and make amends wherever necessary.
The Professional
Subroto Bagchi
Penguin Books India
217 Pages
Rs 399/-
Further read : The Hindu Review