Sunday, November 28, 2010

Aatujeevitham - Benyamin

There hadn't been many novel that caught the readers attention in the recent years as this one. Many have been recommending this to me over the last one year. It is only now, that I could get hold of a copy. This book was again in news after it won the prestigious Kerala Sahitya Academy Award.

Fictional account of a real life story of Najeeb, one of the millions of Keralites in the Middle East. Like many , Najeeb was also offered a Visa to go to the Gulf by one of his friends relatives. The relatively large sum of 30000 was managed with the help of well wishers and friends, and he reach Saudi Arabia, leaving behind his anytime expecting wife and mother. Hakeem, a young boy from nearby town to his company. The wait at the airport was long, and the Arbab ( his sponsor) did not turn up at the arrival terminal. The wait was long, until they saw an old, almost into pieces, truck arrive and the driver jumps out. They were put behind the open truck, without any communication and drove out of the city and the crowd into the wilderness of sand.

In the midst of the desert with no visible places of habitat, they were dropped at two separate places. It was night and the stench coming out of the place was unbearable. The rest is one very disturbing tale of survival. Forced to look after goats and camels, with near nothing to eat and no proper accommodation, The only other human, who was at the place while when he arrived, went missing the next day ( it was much later, he discovers the bones and torn dresses buried in the desert). With one days experience of managing the herd, Najeeb starts his eventful life with the Animals to communicate. There was no other human in the vicinity and the only contact wih the outside world was limited to the weekly truck that arrive with fodder and water. Najeeb endures the place, the beating with the belt, the often uncontrollable animals. The rare hopes of escape was ruthlessly crushed by the Arbab. The servile life continued more than 3 years ( there is no count of days and months in desert) until he was rescued by travelling Arab who brought him to the city.

While the incidents are real, Benyamin asserts that he morphed himself with the real Najeeb while writing. The sequence stay to the truth, but a fiction can not be a biographical essay. To his credit, Benyamin, does this job brilliantly creating a beautiful novel.

The narration is simple and very ordinary. It does stay to the emotional and sentimental side of the readers. There is a detached style of writing, with the humour of a defeatist. He is able to look at things with such an open mind with no regret or anger. The structure, language and method is not something that of a masterly work , however the novel connects with the readers at very personal level. One of the better Malayalam novels I read in the recent past.
Aatujeevitham ( 2008)


Green Books

212 Pages

Rs 130/-
Other reviews : webmalayalee

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Conversation in the Cathedral - Mario Vargas Llosa

Month of November is for reading the newly crowned Nobel prize winner. Unlike the last couple of years, this time it wasn't some one new to me. Having read 10 odd books by Mario Vargas Llosa, I wasn't looking forward to a new revelation of an author. However, there is many of his books, I haven't put my hands on. That could be a lie, if I talk about this one. Having bought this in 1995 and started a couple of times, but never going beyond few pages ( I do not abandon books, but this book was an exception). The reason for putting it aside was not because it was not interesting or I do not like the writer, but was some stupid house moving etc. The announcement of Nobel Prize, thus became an inspiration to take this up again.

Written as conversation between two people on one afternoon in a local pub, this giant book of Mario Vargas Llosa, take us to the 50s of Peru under the dictatorship of Manuel Odria. Santiago, an editorial page journalist with La Cronica, goes in search of his missing dog on the insistence of his wife. The dog was forcefully taken from her by the dog catchers, who are paid by the authorities by the count of dogs. It was during this recovery of his dog, Santiago met with Ambrosio, an old time associate and driver of his politician cum Industrialist. Over the next few hours they discuss the period of the dictatorship and their life during those times over few bottles of beer at a shady pub known as the Cathedral.

Young Santiago, an idealistic young boy in his early twenties, move out of his house with differences with the family and their association with the power, leading a nomadic life there after. He gets into trouble with the authorities with his involvement with the Communists and APRISTAS ( members of APRA another rebel outfit who ruled Peru before Odria) and soon get disillusioned with politics, gets into the life of a journalist.. "My whole life spent doing things without believing, my whole life spent pretending""And my whole life is a lie, I don't believe in anything." His low paying job is just enough to make his ends meet , but he refuses to take any support from his super rich family.

Through Ambrosio's narrative, Santiago understand the complex and dangerous life his family is leading. At the high level of political circle, no one is safe. As he explains, his father has business interest than political. Having dependency on the Government orders for his business, he was suddenly left to nothing when these were suspended by fellow minister. The political quagmire and the unrest in the society lead to the elimination of many a powerful leaders changing the fortune of the family

This is a book on Power and Politics. This is not about dictatorship and cruelty, It examines the life of people closely associated with the power and however close you are to the power you are not any different from the people on the street. Every minister is corrupt, some of them run prostitute ring, they are low in morality and often spend evenings with their mistresses and wild parties. Political manipulations and repression is rampant and most of the close associates of the powerful men do the dual roles ( chauffeur as well as henchman ). To his surprise Santiago realise the involvement of his father in a murder and his unnatural sexual tendencies. Despite his trouble relationship with his family, especially his mother, his relationship with the father was always courteous and with respect. His father was always concerned about him, while respecting his decision to be independent, while the rest of the house consider him as a looser.

There is depth in every character and the interlink is strong and methodical. Be it the wife of Ambrosio, the cook in the family of Zavalitas or be it the mistress of the ministers. Llosa deploys a very complex structure of narrative. There are 3-4 conversations simultaneously, between different people at multiple places and different time period. Hence it is demanding on the reader. The book is long and fine printed. But this is very engaging, and never a dull moment. The secret or the story is revealed gradually and the build up is done phenomenally brilliant. Llosa's mastery in story telling is at the best. This book is considered by many as one of his best works.

Conversation in the Cathedral ( 1969)
Mario Vargas Llosa ( translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa 1975 )

Faber and Faber

601 Pages

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell

Last month, in an educational program, we were running a simulation of a sales call. My team, consists of 5 people from 5 different nationalities( Korea, Taiwan,Thailand and Indonesia), were seemingly ahead of the rest of the groups. After converting each of the so called leaders there were roars of success and high fives. The early stages were very difficult and halfway through the task seems to be easy and the conversion happened at a faster pace. The professor , peeped in to check our progress, muttered 'tipping point'; and vanished. Next day, we were given this book for being the best among the rest.

Not that I haven't heard of this book earlier. I am not a great reader of management ( or similar genre) books. Few of my collegues ( Tobby , especially) was very vocal on this book. That prompted me to read this after a heavy dose of Mario Vargas Llosa.

Malcolm Gladwell says that in the acceptance and implementation of every idea, product, decease or service, the graph follow the 'early adopters, majority and laggards curve. However, during the phase of its journey comes a stage where the 'conversion' become an avalanche ( a word of mouth epidemic). This point, where the rate of conversion become the fastest, he calls 'the tipping point'. Citing numerous examples from Hush Puppies to the Aids Epidemic, he explains his theory in detail in this book.

Connectors are those with innumerable contacts. They are sociable and can recall many names at any instance. They are extraordinarily good at making friends and acquaintances. Mavens are those with lot of information and with a mind set to help others. He reach out to others to solve their problems. Sales men are capable of negotiating and getting what they wanted. They manage to get people agree with them.

There are three rules of the tipping point : the law of the few, the stickiness Factor and the Power of context , which explains us the cause of the epidemic. Law of the few says that there are exceptional people who are capable of starting the epidemics. He catagorises them into three : The connectors , the Mavens and the Sales Man.

It is not only important to have the right people as your front end guys ( the connectors, mavens etc). The idea has to stick , it has to be compelling and should have value. The lessons of stickiness is the same. There are simple way of packaging information that, under the right circumstances , can make it irresistible.

However, the whole thing has to be looked at with "the power of content". The human behaviour is to a considerable extent influenced by the environment . The epidemics are" sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the time and place".

The concept is very good, so was the delivery. However, the book is very verbose, with too many examples, some of them wasn't connected that greatly with the subject. Probably a bit too long. Otherwise, this has been an interesting reading.
The Tipping Point ( 2000)

Malcolm Gladwell


279 Pages
More : Wiki

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tomorrow is One More Day - G Nagarajan

In line with the world literature during 60s, there had been many writings in Indian Languages with their influences. Some of the young writers who started writing during those ages weren't free from those leftist, realistic and existential influences in their writing. G Nagarajan, I understand is one of the proficient writers in Tamil during those years. Tomorrow is One more Day originally written in 1974, has been one revelation to me, thanks to the recommendation from JP.

Kandan is a simpleton, lives his normal life. This short novel takes us through one day in the life of Kandan. His day starts with a beautiful dream of the vision of Goddess. To him she had the features of his mother. Kandan is a small time pimp, an agent or a middleman. The fate hadn't been too good on him. He does not remember his father, his mother died and the small property had was taken from him . He sold it, but was cheated. But, soon he had to go work for the same person, who cheated him. . He now lives in the slums, with his wife. We understand that his son ran away from home, his girl died in the government hospital, after the local remedies and the astrologer failed to save her. However, Kandan is indifferent to his fate and his current conditions and does not carry any ambition in his life.

"What is your goal in life, anne ?", Muttuswamy asked.
"What do you mean" ?
What do you want to achieve in life ?"
Kandan laughed. "What did I want to achieve in life when I happened to be born to Sornattammal ?"

The set up is typical Tamil Nadu village. All the characters you see in the daily walk of life appear in the novel.  As the day begins, he search for few pennies to have his days first fill of Alcohol. Sending his wife on 'duty' ( he does not have any regrets, neither does she), he flirts with the local lady. Their fortune depends on the business done by his wife, and most of the days, they survive by the grace of the local shop keeper. The day progresses through various errands, but happens at an arms length, with Kandan participating with a level of self detachment.  All days are similar to him, with nothing worthwhile happens in his life.  "Wherever you looked there was development; wherever you looked there was a change. Only in his life, it seemed, nothing at all changed."

However, as the day ends, Kandan witnesses a murder, the murder of Solai Pillai, his well wisher.  The reporter/witness now was framed as the murderer. The inability to garner support or the financial difficulties to get a proper legal help gets him into prison. As Kandan tries to explain himself at the court, making himself a laughing stock to the 'educated' in the court room. He was cheated again and was duly sentenced.

The book comes with a detailed introduction by David Shulman, giving us the glimpses of the life and times of the writer. Book is translated by Abbie Ziffren, and for once I found an Indian book with amicable translation into English. Strong influences from the western existentialists and the communist belief ( Nagarajan was a member of the Communist party at the time of this writing) is evident in the writing, as he is called Tamil Camus.

A surrealistic short novel of pathos, indifference and about the marginalised section of the society, people who matters only in the ballot boxes.  Very moving and very touching..
Tomorrow Is One More Day (1974)

G,Nagarajan ( translated from Tamil by Abbie Ziffren with A Julie)

Penguin Books

99 Pages

Rs 199
More read :  Deccan Herald , Jayaprakash