Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meerasadhu - K R Meera

Contemporary Malayalam Literature has some interesting writers. K R Meera's name had been one of the prominent young women writers for some time.  That prompted me to check out this book.

Meera Sadhu's are those women, living in the Vrindavan at Krishna Temple ,Mathura ( the place of Krishna's childhood), abandoned by their relatives. They are considered "married to Krishna" and have been living out of the meagre pension ( Rs 10 per day) given by the temple authorities as charity. Their life have been of rejection and are forced to earn their living by begging in the streets. Often molested by thugs, with no one to take care , living in dreadful rooms with many stuffed into one, many sick and almost all dirty. Adopting the name  from the legendary poet/singer Meera who spent her lifetime singing in praise of Krishna, the new age meerasadhus, flock the Lord Krishna temple chanting his name.

Tulasi, an IIT first Rank Holder, ends up in the 'galis' of Brindavan as a meerasadhu after going through some torrid times in her married life.  Tulasi, during her final years of IIT, acquaints Madhavan, an enterprising journalist , during one of his visit to write an article. The acquaintance become friendship to a level that he started influencing her decisions in life, including her own marriage. The love grew, in spite of her realisation that Madhavan boast of having an affair with 27 girlfriends, All those were not lasting, as they had been approaching him for help. Tulasi, run away from home on the eve of her wedding with old friend and another IIT-ian Vinayan, now an working in the US.

The initial days of marriage was filmy and the couple settled in Delhi where Madhavan now works, and soon she delivered her first kid. It did not take long, for the old Madhavan to come out of the shell, and the visit of one of his erstwhile girlfriend caused the initial drift in the family. Forced to lead a life of housewife, Tulasi now isolated from her family and husband ( who spent more and more time in Office), taking solace in her two kids.  The final nail in the coffin of the failed marriage came in the form of a request for divorce. Tulasi's revenge starts at this point. She poisons both her kids and the ending up in the mental asylum before her final destination of Brindavan.

This is a novel of love and revenge. The vengeance is turned against her husband, take a form of self inflicted insults, torturing herself, causing damage to her own self-morale, thus executing her revenge on her husband. While she claims moral victory over her husband, by refusing to visit him at the hospital ( while in a very filmy style he returns to her in the end), in reality she succumbs to revenge that continue to torment her. 

One of the issue of this book could be that it feels like an extended short story. Instead of attempting to write a full-fledged novel, she seems to have attempted to tell a story, into 56 pages. As a result, some of the characters that could have been interesting and possibly developed ( Vinayan for example) did not get enough attention and thus become pedestrians in the whole system. While the language is brilliant and maintains the same tone of anger and frustration ( converged in the form of revenge), that alone does not make this a good book. This short novel does not remain in the memory of the reader for too long, for its narrative sounds  forced with no depth whatsoever.

I have the second edition of the book, and I don't understand the cover. Apart from causing some curiosity,I doubt if it depicts the real character of the book.

Meerasadhu ( 2008)

K R Meera

D C Books

56 Pages

Rs 40
Other Reviews : Cutewriting

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Now That You're Back - A.L.Kennedy

A L Kennedy's ( Alison Louise Kennedy) name have been coming up in my reading circle for a while and I haven't  read any of her works. This book, one of her early writings was the one I could get hold off. A collection of short stories as the blurb say "exposing and exploring the sinuous undercurrents of violence, anguish and love" is a good introduction to this gifted writer.

The collection of 13 stories has its own draw backs. Most of the stories are of people living in isolation, trying to find their own feet within the society and within themselves. These are not the characters you feel closeness or sympathy. There is a level of detachment and possibly that could be one of the inhibition in approaching this book. The later half of the book, I somehow found to be more interesting especially stories like 'Mixing with the folks back home  ( about a serial killer), warming my hand and telling lies ( a retired writer ), and friday payday ( about a prostitute) .  She has also experimented with the form in 'Mouseboks Family Dictionary'.

She has incredible style of writing and with sly humor. The prose is very moving at places and seldom loud. I find each emotion, be it anger, love or friendship is treated tenderly with balanced approach. This alone is enough for me to hunt and buy one of her full length novel. 

Unlike James Kelman (another Scottish writer), I find her characters away from the mainstream society. Personally I find more closure to Kelman's characters than to this one.

Now That You're Back ( 1994 )


Vintage Books

248 Pages

Rs 525/-
Other Reviews : Independent 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana - Umberto Eco

The subject of memory loss has been discussed over many books and movies ( Aki Kurismaki's masterpiece 'A Man without past' is one that comes to mind).  What was interesting to me is that Umberto Eco is taking up this as the subject for the last novel he had written, thus far ( I understand a new novel is expected this year in  Italian and it will be a while before we could get it). I had the book with me for four years and it was only now,  I could take it up for reading.

Yambo ( nickname for Giambattista Bodoni) , nearly sixty , dealer of ancient books in Milan,  suffered a stroke and loses his memory. However, he manages to remember all that was words and he had read and his daily routine. He is able to quote from the books he had read with precise memory, but unable to recall his own name. He does not recognize his wife, his children and grandchildren ( he was very fond of them according to his wife). Every thing that are autobiographical and personal to him is erased. He is now educated with the fundamentals of his past by is wife. But the  wife, friends, subordinate, and children are nothing but the names for him, unable to relate emotionally with them.  He also understand about his business, and his probable affair with his assistant, Sibilia, which he says "I made an advance, and she put me in my place, kindly, gently, firmly. She stayed because I was a gentleman and behaved from that day on as if nothing had happened.''

Advised by his wife, he retreats to their ancestral home at Salora, which still has a large number of books , papers, Gramaphone records and the photographs of his family, with the hope of regrouping himself.  Now abandoned, this will be the perfect place for Yambo to bring back the memories childhood days he had spent there, in building up his own . Though the initial days haven't been of any great help, slowly the place and its abundant collection of memorabilia, takes him to the days of his upbringing.

Yambo, opens up boxes after boxes, goes through the old newspapers, magazines, writings. Slowly he gets immersed into the task of learning the past of his family and himself. Those school days, his secret infatuation for his classmate Laila, who during the schooling left Italy and migrated to Brazil with her family.. He is apparently looking for the same face in every women he meet ever since. His own involvement in the resistance movement, his guilt of witnessing something unpleasant to a child and the fragmented memories of those days are now coming back to him.

The book is filed with illustrations, posters , book covers, poems, cartoon characters. Eco takes us through the days of his childhood, Yambo, tries to find his own identity through these, while connecting the missing points in his personal recovery.  The name of the book itself is adopted from a picture book.

Umberto Eco takes us through the days of second world war, with people living out of fear. Fear of both the allied forces bombing and that of the suspicious eyes of the 'black shirts' ( Mussolini's police). His family themselves had soft corner towards the internal resistance forces and the people secretly nourished a hope of allied forces arriving and ending the war. This has some of the best writings in this book, including few poems.

Dear Papa, my hands are shaking some,
but you will understand what I am saying.
It's been so many days since you left home
and yet you haven't told me where you're staying.
As for the tears that trickle down my cheek,
you can be sure they're only tears of pride.
I still can see you smile and hear you speak,
and your Balilla waits for you, arms wide.
I am helping in the war, I am fighting, too,
with discipline, with honour, and with faith.
I want this land of mine to bear good fruit,
so I tend my little garden every day
( my own war garden!) and ask God each night
to watch you, to make sure my dad's all right.

Yambo suffers another attack and his delirious time, bring him back to the life that he lived in his young days. It is also becoming clearer to him as the 'fog' that covers the truth is now clearing.

Interestingly, the language and style changes in each of the parts. The first part, with Yambo in his present with loss of memory , Yambo through the pages at Salora and the last part with Yambo back in Coma but able to comprehend and remembers everything clearly; each written with a style suitable to the part. Typical to Eco's book, this too appeal more to your intellect, that to your emotive side. Brilliant , nonetheless.

Here is an interview with Eco where he talks about this book.


The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004)

Umberto Eco ( Translated from Italian by Geoffrey Brock)

Vintage Books

458 Pages

Rs 429/-

Further read : NY Times ReviewTimes

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Invitation to a Beheading - Vladimir Nabokov

Cincinnatus C. ( sin-sin-at-us?) has been sentenced to death by beheading , for some crime classified as "gnostical turpitude". As is the customs, the judge whispered the sentence in his ears with all smile. The smile was in the room and nobody seems to be bothered in particular. Cincinnatus has now been moved into a fortress for his confinement until his head is placed on the 'chop-block'. The wait as no time limit. It is now for the authorities to prepare and execute the order. In the solitary cell, Cincinnatus is trying to come to terms with the surroundings. All he wanted to know is how much is the time left.

However is the attempt by the prison warder, the librarian, the fellow jailer to bring him back to the reality does not yield result, he refuses to get into the routine of their life. The appearance of the 'executor' as a fellow prisoner, to acquaint with his 'victim' ( some pages of faster reading), does not make any impact on him. All he ask is for a few blank sheets and the pen. In confinement, he thus starts writing. But he is not sure if he will be able to complete all that he wanted to say. Even before he was taken to the final destination, all he ask is three more minute to complete what he writing.

Within all these, he refuses to believe the system and the existence of reality. There is nothing he wanted from the meeting of his family. He even refuses to talk to Martha, his wife, rejects her offer to perform whatever he wanted, as he has already been away from all these.Even at the moment of the axe falling on his neck, his real self has already been departed and 'with a clarity he had never experienced before".

Invitation to a beheading is a difficult novel to read. Very Kafkaesque ( though Nabokov denies in the foreword , of having any influence by him) world where the individual is not able to fit himself in the society that is being forced upon him. In his world only he is real and the rest of the cast is a parody and living false life. The attempt to mingle and be part of that is extremely difficult. Nabokov, would have written this possibly with respect to the new Soviet society in mind. State runs and controls everything, the individual has no reason to be, but a part of the society.

"when I first understood that things which to me had seemed natural were actually forbidden, impossible, that any thought of them was criminal."

On the other hand, he is the prisoner of his own fortress. The alternate world that he is building in the self imposed confinement, is the one which crumbles in the end along with the execution of his ego. The build up collapses, the surrounding looses it significance, the people becoming two-dimensional. "Every thing was coming apart, every thing was falling. Cincinnatus made his way in that direction where, to judge by the voices, stood being akin to him".

Nabokov is a master of writing, and it is obvious in his prose. Having said that, this book somehow failed to connect me with the 'hero' and the theme in general. Haven't read any other work apart from Lolita, which stands much above this one.

Invitation to a Beheading ( 1939)

Vladimir Nabokov (translated by Dimitri Nabokov 1959)

Vintage International

223 Pages

Rs 485
Reviews : Conversational Reading,