Monday, December 31, 2012

കൈവര്‍ത്തകാണ്ഡം - Mahaswethadevi

Kaivarthakhand may not considered as one of the major works of Mahaswethadevi. Its a short novella , less than 100 pages. This, to my knowledge has not been translated to English, yet. The internet do not have any references to this book and hence might not have been read widely. However, Leela Sarkar has done a neat translation of this into Malayalam and this book happened to be the last book I finished in 2012.

The book is short and comprises of the fall of emperor Bhima of Kaivartha against his enemies, through a treachery and the subsequent destruction of a mighty city build by the dynasty. In a fabulous retelling of the tale, Mahaswethadevi brings out the aftermaths through some great narrative, deploying some mastery techniques and language. It is not the story that is attractive, its the process of story telling. The construct of the whole disaster that hit the Kaivartha. The King was captured and was subjected to witness the beheading of the entire family and clan, before they do the honors to him. However, the women folks decided to end their life on their own instead of allowing the captures and their pimps to kill them, by consuming poison. Emperor himself was a symbol of pride and dignity, refuse to succumb to the imminent fate. The town was deserted with the populace decided to flee instead of being ruled by the new King. The learnt Vidura, the Town Scholar, who did the last rites of the deceased, decided to succumb to the death awaits him, to join his clan. The traitor, who was pardoned by the dead King earlier, found resistance in his endeavor within his group as well as his new friends. As expected, he too fall victim to his own cruel games.

The book is not important for the tale. It is important for the treatment. I am astonished by the style, the language, the clever devices and the deeper sense of events that unfolds. Each character is depicted with clear clarity and sense of purpose. Each integrate their life to the society with such an aplomb, acting their part to perfection. There is a larger implication and interpretation of the tale which the author attempting to indicate. I am not very clear about the background and the time of its writing, but I am sure knowing Mahaswethadevi's reputation, and her stand on various social issues, there has to be a different reading of this work. In short, it was a mesmerizing journey, even though it was less than 100 pages.

Mahaswethadevi ( translated from Bengali by Leela Sarkar)
Mathrubhumi Books

95 Pages

Sunday, December 30, 2012

True History of Kelly Gang - Peter Carey

‘I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.’

Edward 'Ned' Kelly, the notorious bush ranger, is given a new life by the master work of Peter Carey, for which we won the Booker Prize in 2001. Written in an autobiographical form for most of the part and few reports by the officials and articles by press and others, the eventful life, albeit short ( he was caught and killed when he was only 26) is brilliantly given light to by Carey. This is my first book of him and is highly impressed with his style and the way he managed to bring the fictional qualities of otherwise a biographical subject.
Ned Kelly, son of an Irish Settler ( sent to Australia as a convict from Ireland) in Australia was often considered as a folk hero or equivalent to the Robinhood of southern hemisphere. The early life of Irish settlement in Australia had been a constant struggle, against the ruling English big brothers. While this aspect of Irish-English conflict wasn't discussed in this book, one could sense the constant conflicts between the two. The lands and other belongings owned by Irishmen were often confiscated and they were sent to gaols for petty crimes. As we understand the story of Ned wasn't any different. At his young age, his father was arrested and sent to prison for fabricated reasons. Despite his attempt to lead a normal life, his father could not survive the hardship and died leaving a family of 7 children to the mother. In order to survive, His mother started taking suitors ( in order to survive) to the obvious displeasure of young Ned. Ned was thus sent to the apprenticeship under a infamous bushranger Harry Power.

The Kelly family, by now acquired a decent sized property to cultivate near eleven mile creek bordering Victoria, had moved to their new place. His closeness to his mother and siblings, made him desert the mighty Harry Power and come back to his mother. However, his assistance to Harry Power already caused him trouble with his name now being reported for stealing horses from McBean. By now he was declared an outlaw. Moving in and out of gaol, he is now become famous through out the country. One incident involving the murder of 3 policemen, caused the authorities to sent forces for his capture. Now, joined by his brother Dan and two of his friends, the "Kelly Gang" escape the police and authorities travelling by night from one safe place to other. In the meanwhile, his mother was arrested and put in gaol, his brother in law was caught and killed, his family was often subjected to difficulties, all of which makes him against the state. Despite his reputation, we do not see any atrocities he committed against the common man, nor any gruesome act ( apart from the bank robbery) described in the book. He continue to maintain his willingness to surrender and go with the States, if his mother was released and reinstated.

On the request of his wife( who moved to the safer shores of US), Ned Kelly writes his life story to his yet to be born daughter. One can see a loving father, a man who is clear in his conscience, who do not glorify his deeds nor is he upset on his actions. The language used by the writer is apt and true to the style and the voice one expect. Despite the tite "True History" , this is a fictional work, however without deviating from the dates and people. Very insightful account, vibrant, witty and very touching tale of one of the great resistance of the downtrodden. I am not sure if the historians view the storyo f Ned Kelly with an Irish settlers resistance, but Peter Carey wrote a great tale here, of a young boy from the poor background to become a legend. Interestingly, instead of spending his time and effort on his feats and adventure, Carey spent a lot of time on the person behind the 'hero'. His love of his mother, his need to get the facts right ( he tries to write a letter to the Member of the Parliament) wth his daughter, a considerate leader, a gentleman to the others who deal with him, a oedipal son who can not stand the sufferings of his mother ( two of his mother's lovers faces the consequences), a shy lover who jumps to joy and celebrate on the news of the birth of his daughter.

The language is of the 19th century Australian settlers. The use of "adjectival" on every sentence. Structured and styled as a reproduction of 'discovered manuscripts' ( describing the size and condition of the documents) , he tried to create authenticity of his tale. Interestingly, I understand, History of Kelly Gang was the first ever feature film, produced way back in 1906. To use his own style , this is an "adjectival" good book.
True history of the Kelly Gang ( 2000)

Peter Carey

Faber & Faber

424 Pages

Flow - Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi

While this book was in my essential reading list for a while, the urge to take it up soon came after reading Daniel Pink's book "Drive" a couple of months ago. The question of 'what drive people' has its roots to this very book. It had come out two decades ago, and the concept 'flow' has been in discussion ever since. Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi, discusses exactly the same point from a psychological and philosophical angle. What makes people to do what they do. How did the quest for eternal happiness continued through the generations and how has it not been changed significantly over the centuries.

Men ( and women) strives to seek happiness in whatever they do. It is also evident that while they are at it, they seems to be in 'flow' with the universe, with themselves, often oblivious to external surroundings. Calling his theory as 'Optimal Experience' , he says it is "the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement".
"In our studies, we found that every flow activity.. provided a sense of discovery , a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushes the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex."
Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi, builds his concept beautifully through the book. Looking at what is happiness and what constitutes to the 'optimal experience' that we as humans observe, helps us define the concept. From the early ages of civilizations to the present day, the definition of happiness varied through the ages. The concept of community, the culture and religion shaped the early days.
Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience. Cultures prescribe norms, evolve goals, build beliefs that helps us tackle the challenges of existence.
And he also says quoting examples 'It is probable that many cultures disappeared, because they were no longer able to provide the experience of enjoyment". It is known that the population growth reduced during the war time, the spend on leisure and other activities that provide 'enjoyment' takes a back seat during crisis.

Defining 'flow' as a state of consciousness, he looks at the eastern civilisations and check at the Yoga from India and the Martial art forms of East Asian countries, as a great influencers in the lives of people seeking meaning of life.

When it comes to learning to control the body and its experiences, we are children compared to great Eastern civilizations. In many respect, what the West has accomplished in terms of harnessing material energy is matched by what India and far east have achieved in terms of direct control of consciousness. ... The perfect society would be able to strike healthy balance between the spiritual and material worlds.
The similarities between Yoga and Flow are extremely strong; in fact it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity...Their main divergence is that, whereas flow attempts to fortify the self, the goal of Yoga and other Easter techniques is to abolish it.
Dividing at the 'flow' activities as physical (bodily and through other sensory organs) , he classifies sports, yoga, martial arts, sex , music, tasting food. Continuing the discussion to mental aspects, he looks at science, mathematics, crosswords and other word games are discussed.

Work of art that I personally respond to ...have behind them a lot of conceptual, political and intellectual activity. .. What a person sees in a picture is not just a picture, but a 'thought machine' that include the painter's emotions, hopes, and ideas as well as the spirit of culture and the historical period in which he lived.
Flow is also extended to the hob and work, which is of my interest. Daniel Pinks book 'Drive' looks at this area in detail looking at the motivational aspects in detail. The family, friends and other social setting has an equal and important role in individual. Many a times, being with family or friends are described as the best 'flow' activities by lot of people. The discussion will not be complete unless you look at the derailment factors. The factors that work against the 'flow' or optimal experience. It is amazing to see people finding or seeking flow despite personal , physical tragedies.

This book indeed a result of long drawn experiment and research. While this subject of 'eternal happiness' has been a topic of varied interest and discussion, Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi brings it up all together and gives his own definition to the concept. A concept, for the past two decades have been subject to many discussion and interpretations at different psychological, spiritual and business topics. The subject is deep and engrossing, and to make it accessible to a layman's knowledge , is some task, and one should give credit to the writer. There are umpteen references, and explanations for those who need deeper understanding. He has also written sequel to this book for those who are interested.
Flow ( 1990)

Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi

Harper Perenniel

303 Pages
Flow, Ted Talk on Flow

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Bald Soprano and The Lesson - Eugene Ionesco

One of the masters of absurdist play,  Eugene Ionesco was always a playwright I wanted to read. It was thus important to start with his most celebrated plays. The new translations of his two most important plays , could possibly have been the best way to begin. I'm a great fan of the absurdist plays. Having read this book, I am still a bit hazy about the book. While the Lesson was superb and far too easy to comprehend and appreciate, The Bald Soprano was a bit of cause of concern. May be it demand another read.

The Bald Soprano, apparently the first play written and staged by Eugene Ionesco, has a connection with his learning English. Two English families, the Smiths and the Martins ( who visit the formers at their home) , evidently goes through the 'often irrelevant  conversation.  Joining by the local Fire Chief ( supposedly the lover of Mrs. Smith) joins the conversation of the group with his own stupid tales and the collective recital of some meaningless poems.  The trivial conversation turns into a group chant, post the departure of the fire chief, with the team shouting in unison "Dont say they are there. I hear they are here". The play ends with the Martins taing over the role of Smiths with an evident continuation of the same with a newer set of entrants.

The Lesson is more structured in language and flow. While the end is the beginning ( as in the case of The Bald Soprano), its fairly more straight forward. The timid Old Professor receives a new disciple for tuition. As the 'education' and 'testing of the intelligence' continue, the change of attitude and style of the professor takes gradual change, ending with the murder of the student. To me this is more of an actors play. It's the changes in the character progressively altering from timid to a angry , unhappy man  over a short span of time was brilliant., and the confident youth turning into a meek , quiet student.  The third cast , the maid of the Professor, is a silent witness to the whole thing, although she continue to warn the professor, not to take that path of discussion. As expected, the play ends with the beginning , with professor awaiting his next victim.

Both these are one act plays and have this 360 degree continuation of the plot, thus making it a never ending repetitions. Both these, part of his early stages as a playwright, uses the language and conversations as a major tool.  The Bals Soprano is a funny play ( though it comes to us as an Anti-Play) and is with often ridiculous and disconnected dialogues especially towards the end. May be its the inability with the language, the words, that causes the catastrophe. May be he was trying to imply the limitations of language in communicating to one another. They talk, talk nonsense, to themselves and to the audience. While the Lesson ( called a Comic Drama), is nothing comic about it ( except may be the mathematical lessons of counting).  The professors frustrations with his students inability to understand, the anger on his own inability to pass the knowledge turning his frustration to anger resulting in the death of the students. On the students part, the early confidence of her age and youthfulness is slowly giving way to fear as she is exposed to her own limited capabilities. 

The Lesson is brilliant, The Bald Soprano.. well, I don't know yet.
The Bald Soprano and The Lesson ( 1954)

Eugene Ionesco ( translated from French by Tina Howe 2006)

Grove Press

96 Pages
The Baldo Soprano, The Lesson

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Home - Marilynne Robinson

After 20 years of disappearance, Jack Boughton is coming back to his home. Reverend Boughton( now retired and spending his last days) is in anticipation of his arrival. The youngest daughter Glory is home to take care of the ailing father, after the death of their mother. As each of the inhabitants trying to work their solve own riddle of life, amongst each other, a beautifully woven tale of highly moving, emotional discovery of individuals unwrap. The mid 50s of Iowa, a all white town, as is expected the kids grow up and find their own ways, trying to find their own address and standing in the society. Reverend Boughton is now retired, living alone after the death of his wife. Glory, a graduate and high school English teacher, return home to take care of him. The 'prodigal son' Jack, 5 years to her senior, has dropped a letter informing of his arrival. His dubious past, his troubled childhood, the notoriety around his name in the town makes him a suspicious guest. He too, is uncertain of his welcome, and seems to have postponed his arrival couple of times. However, comes he for sure like a spoilt child wanting attention. Over the days of his stay, trying to bring himself up , loosing his way in between, the trio tries to settle to a routine. Jack find himself occupied in the back yard and with the old car needing repair, as Glory take over the house scores taking care of the elderly gentlemen and old man himself being assisted in and out of his sleep and tiredness.

Jack, the central character of the book, demands closure look. His past is bad and dangerous. He had to leave town under mysterious circumstances. He knows his reputation in the town, and is over conscious of his appearance, to the family, neighbors and the society. We also, realise later that he is now married to a 'colored women' and have a son. A possibility of returning to his home town ( an all white neighborhood) with his new wife and son, could also a potential agenda in his short visit. However, the ghost out of the closet are his own past which has to be closed and buried. The irreparable damage is done to self. Return back to your family or your surroundings for solace, to erase all the bad memories, to find peace with ones past, to surrender to your guilt . Its a trust, a belief that gets you going, but you are always unsure of yourself. Unsure of your integration to the new surrounding, to the old memories that haunts you, your dubious existence. Jack continue to struggle with this. The feeling of "Unsure" about his life. Trying to reconcile with Ames ( the neighbor), with his father and with himself. Despite his attempt, the help of his sister, and the elegant , matured approach of his father he still fails to conquer his self, succumbing to self doubt and old habits.

Glory is fighting her own battle. A recent devastation of a break-up in the relationship. The job as a teacher is non-existent and at an age of 38, she has to find new meaning to her own life. The task of tending to her ailing father was the time to regroup herself. Little did she realised that she will have to tend to two disturbed souls. The little sister/ small kid grow up to a motherly role, to take care of the men, as well as running the house.

Reverent Boughton, is nearing his last days, and have lived with the love and worries about his most notorious son. Despite his difficulties, Rev Boughton, thought this son of his needs maximum attention and care. He continue to have hopes on him, until the last moment. It's as though he was waiting for this return after 20 years, preparing himself. A son, who seek forgiveness, reconciliation and sympathy over everything else. He shares the guilt of his sone, for his own reasons.

The book is around these three characters, their inner conflict to come to terms with themselves and each other. Marilynne Robinson, on her part made these subtle nuances of internal struggle brilliantly. Each of the participants live to the fullest extend of their characters, living their bleeding life, trying to mend themselves with the world. While it is a brilliant story, emotional , absorbing , it might have carried that too long. At times, one get a feeling of deja vu, the predictable. In the end you are left with a feeling of having read a good story.

I haven't any other books of this writer. I understand the book could have links to her acclaimed Gilead. Not sure of the connection, but in itself, this book is complete. There are many moving passages, writing is impeccable. The beautiful undercurrent of Christianity, without hindering to the flow of the narration. Even the pages where Jack argues with his father and Ames ( two ministers with Church) on the pre-destiny of his life, I found she was in control of her writing. There are no short comings per se, but I did not experience anything beyond a beautifully told story.
Home ( 2008)

Marilynne Robinson


325 Pages
Guardian, NY Times

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Du Nombor - Buddhadeb Guha

Leela Sarkar is one of the prominent translators from Bengali to Malayalam,. My introduction to Bengali Literature was through the novels and stories translated by her into malayalam and published by leading literary magazines. From Tagore, to Mahashwethadevi came into my reading list through her translations. It is the name Leela Sarkar as translator, acted as a catalyst in picking up this book for reading. To add to that, the book was published in the "Great Indian Literature" series by SC Books. I am not familiar with Buddhadeb Guha, hence there was no build up of expectation apart from the deceiving "Great Indian Literature" series and Leela Sarkar.

The book, to say the least, was a big let down. It was very mediocre and pedestrian. The style and substance was not I would have spent my time and money for. This may not be the best of his works, and he not necessarily be compared with the might of Bengla Literature. That is the point. It was not worth the effort. Taking through few days of a Calcutta High Court Advocate Sivan Babu, the writer brings our attention to the world of second rate influence in our daily life. From un-accounted money ( black money for common people), the counterfeit goods and articles, the behind the curtain lives of city elite, the un-social behaviour of ladies, the duplicate market of spare parts and goods and the pressure and attraction of the common man to follow the same life is what Buddhadeb Guha is trying to portray. So far , so good. But to make a story a great literature, these ingredients are not enough. There are no elegant passages, no moments of awe , there is no characters or instances that one would recall. A cliched , ordinary narration of the bad influences of the society and a few individuals , despite the personal losses, stood by their belief. It might make a good movie for Indian audience, but even for that the novel is incomplete and with lot of gaps in narration.

I wouldn't know if we have lost anything in translation, but to me , even a good translation may not save this book from its mediocrity. As I mentioned earlier, there is no single point, that one would cherish, even if for a short while. Luckily, the book is a novella and lasted only 92 pages. Subject as this, is often seen in various forms, has to be treated and explored differently, to make an impact. If not, the result will be this.
Du Nombor

Buddhadeb Guha ( translated from Bengali by Leela Sarkar)

D C Books

92 Pages

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Lost River : On the Trail of the Sarasvati - Michel Danino

The myth about River Sarasvati, was imbibed in every Indian. Often described as the underground river, which joins Ganga and Yamuna at the 'triveni Sangam' at Prayag ( Allahabad). As is obvious that around every myth, there are some historical truth, or belief system which existed. Sarasvati, to the Hindus are beyond the river, but of larger influential existence. It is the goddess of all knowledge, its is the power of arts and music, it's the motherly incarnation of the goddess. The speculation about the identity of the river continued to torment the scholars of India for a while.

French Scholar Michel Danino's attempt to narrate the tale of Sarasvati, is thus very interesting and important. Here is an attempt to put together all the knowledge from various facets of information, from vedic to archeological, in a well researched and beautifully presented book.

Sarasvati River, according to new evidences  ran parallelly to the Sindhu ( Indus) originated from the great Himalayas, with tributaries like Yamuna and Satlej. It is now evident that the once mighty river is now dried and non-existent, leaving only traces of its past glory for experts to excavate the theory from various angle. As it was mentioned here, one of the possible reason ( and the best so far) could be the change of the geographical structure of the plains due to the tectonic plate shifts, causing diversion of one of its huge tributary, Yamuna (the geographical evidence gives us sufficient proofs to believe thus), and a shift in the Sutlej's flow , leaving Sarasvati, to be fed by few streams originated from Aravalli.

Michel Danino's research goes beyond the standard, geographical analysis of plains. He then goes through the Rigvedic text of the 'nadistuti sukta', which lists rivers from the west to east ( 19 in total) with great detail. The 'shloka' which describe the  7 rivers ( sapta sindhu) is analysed in greater detail  and try to deduce the importance of the river in discussion. From the Vedic texts, it is evident that the Saravati was flowing between Yamuna and Sutlej and the use of superlatives in describing the river as 'great among the greatest' , 'mother of all waters', and as  a river whch flows ' limitless, unbroken and swift', explains the importance of Saravati to the Vedic people.

However, when the later days, the British and French explorers visited the region for clues, they could only find the evidences of much depleted rivers like Gaggar ( or Hakka as called in Pakistan) , Sursuti and other small rivers. But, it  was observed that Gaggar  had much wider bed than the Sutlej and other existing rivers. This couple with the local folklore about a river that had vanished into the desert triggered further interest in this region. An array of Surveyors, geologists, Army Officers, Government administrators added with a flurry of data. French Scholar Vivien de Sait Martin, German Indologist Max Muller and few other scholar of Indian and Western origin started to identify the Gaggar and its tributaries to the Vedic River Sarasvati.  The progress from then on were remarkable, however according to Danino, the real quest and search had begun long log ago, 

One could argue that this quest and research there on, had its impact on discovering ancient Indian civilization sites at the basin of various rivers in the western India. Unearthing of Indus Civilization sites gave us much larger clues of the territory. Interestingly, Danino points out, that more than 35% of the identified Indian Civilization sites were on the banks of Sarasvati, and a meagre 9% on the banks of Sindhu ( which include the largest Mohanjo-Daro). He goes to the archeological information of the terrain, and the influx of information that paved way to newer insights. The exploration and finding of the Indus Valley Civilization and its various settlements, gave glimpses of the might of the river.

This discovery had caused many other questions un-answered,  According to the estimate ( largely in agreement with various stake holders) , the once mighty Sarasvati, had dried during BC 2300- BC 1900 time frame. Which means, the Vedic texts would have been written, even before the degradation of the Sarasvati's prowess. Which could put a lot of question on the origin of the Indo-European invasion theory ( supposed to be during BC1500) and the development of Sanskrit as a language. That gives a birth to other theories of Vedic Sarasvati to be the Afghan river of Harahvati ( the way its pronounced in the Zorashtrian language of Avestha). There are other theories about people who migrated from the Indus area, moved to the base of River Ganga and brought their memories of their river.

There was also theories that there are no evidence of continuity of the civilization. Danino spend a lot of time and pages on proving the continuity of the civilization into the modern India.From the agricultural techniques of western India, the mathematical geometrical practices of construction etc are discussed to conclude that the vast knowledge of Indian Civilization is not lost. May be this was a digression from the intended topic, but very interesting none the less.

Despite the density of the infornation and the subject of deep scientific nature, the book was a fascinating and absorbing read. At no point, I found it to be dragging or losing its pace. To his credit, Danino does not present this as an authority of the subject. He merely , albeit tactfully, present is case for judgement. The counter points, some of the as interesting as the association of these rivers to Afghan, are also discussed with his own justification and reasons of countering them. One can not but notice the ever debated question of Aryan Invasion. 

In this book of 357 pages, Michel Danino, quotes from various sources to narrate the tale of the River Sarasvati. The world travelers, the Western explorers of India , some of the part of British East India Company and few independent, Indian scholars in the field of History and Archeology, the maps of Satellite images, Archeological Survey reports, Vedic Texts, Historical books and publications. As a reader with little knowledge of the subject, it triggered a lot more curiosity in me about ancient history and civilization. However, I should say, it perplexed me , shaken some of my old beliefs and left me a lot more questions at the end. I think, for that reason, this book was a great read.

The Lost River : On the Trail of the Sarasvati ( 2010)

Michel Danino

Penguin Books

357 Pages
Interview in Hindu, Interview with Rediff, The DNA, VarnamDocumentary

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Old House & Other Stories - Chuah Guat Eng

There has been a surge in the English Writings from many of the commonwealth countries of late. India has a thriving publishing Industry for those who write in English. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are producing more writers who express their art form in the colonial language. Tan Twan Eng's Gift of Rain was my first introduction to the Malaysian Literature ( though he lives in South Africa these days). I was planning to buy his new book, while at a book store in Kuala Lumpur. It was the store manager who suggested I try out this writer. I had no knowledge of her , and that can be a major handicap to appreciate the context of many of the stories.

In a detailed introduction to this writer Prof Mohammad A Quayum, says despite the multi-cultural , multi ethnic and multi religious ambience in the Malay social living, "she is not a polemic writer : she refuses to write maliciously about race and religion". However, people from all religious background appear in her stories. When you look at the stories, these are all common people, living the regular middle class life. These are not those who live in periphery or outside the normal facts of life. Their issues in life are what is experienced in day to day life. Their concerns, issues, hopes and ambitions are nothing different from the rest of the world. What is interesting in this collection is in her ability, to pick moments of interest out of these ordinary lives.

As is expected in any anthology, this too have some good stories and a few very ordinary ones. The day Andy Warhol Died , The Old House, Two Pretty men were very good stories. The old house especially demand a lot more attention. Finding a piece of jewelry in an old house, the nameless protagonist find the disturbing remembrances of her childhood memories. The once hidden nightmares of the ill treatment she experienced at the hands of her step mother, has found a way out of her subconscious mind. Without sensationalizing she told a beautiful story. The day Andy Warhol dies , experiments the possibility of relating two non-connected incidents through the imagination of young kids. Sexuality or the gender relation subject are appearing in many a stories. Be it the subtle homo sexuality hints in two pretty men, Karuna's mermaid, or the infidelity issues which appear in 'Tamarind tree', almost wrong and seventh uncle, are treated with such a great care.

The narration is fairly straight forward and no great experimentation with the structural forms or linguistical ( as we see in many post-colonial writing) freedom of using local dialects. The typical middle class prejudice, greed and moral issues are the major themes of her writing. While the book may not be extra ordinary, it gives us a glimpses to the post colonial life of the Malaysian middle class. In the interview given in the last part of the book, she says : 'When I reflect on the stories I have written, I suppose the dominant theme has resolved around the issues arising from the interrelationship between truth,lies and silences'
The Old House & Other Stories ( 2008 )

Chuah Guat Eng


138 Pages
Eric Forbes

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Void - Georges Perec

One of the initial impression on this book is that it is a 'lipogram'. Near 300 page book without  the use of letter 'e'. The curiosity did not last long, as the reader seldom feel the absence of the letter in the narrative. However, Perec takes this a step beyond. Creating a void in the narrative technique, takes us through multiple riddles creating the sense of void, the incompleteness , frustration through out the book.  Shear skills in writing and mastery over the use of language, from the writer whose "Life - A User's Manual' , which is considered a master piece in the literary circle.

Anton Vowls goes missing from his flat during a turbulent 1968 in Paris. There seems to be some disturbances in his life before his disappearance. His friends and acquaintances,  search ( or ransack) his apartment to get any clue leading to his disappearance. All he left there was few pages of cryptic writing in the form of a diary. Vowl's interest in wordplay, or lipograms, evidently leave others to fill in what is cleverly left , or unsaid.  His friends work through this puzzles and start their investigations, adding to further twists and turns to the plot. Every puzzle worked out reveal more of them. As the game progresses, most of they too disappear ( or die ) mysteriously, creating further chaos and confusion. Who will remain is the question being asked as the participants gather in an old mansion, speculating ( through their long speeches and story telling), building new connections and relations among them, through these multi-generation narrative, in progress leaving one after the other perish.

The book is full of plots and sub plots, some of them are phenomenally brilliant.  People on trail and on pursuit. The definitions and equation changes constantly. One void closed opens up many more. As a reader, you experience the same sense of void in the narrative. There are missing links, elements of creative uncertainty , the clever manipulation of the theme.

The book is a triumph of literary prowess. A mastery in writing by a gifted writer. Gilber Adair ( himself a reputed writer) brings out  a brilliant translation befitting the original theme and structure. While it is too difficult to grasp being a tough read, one can not stop admiring the clever writing. The regular use of literary allusion ( Moby Dick in the initial parts) and various other references to writers and books can be found through out the book.  In the Post script, Perec says, "My ambition, as Author, my point, I would go so far as to say my fixation, my constant fixation, was primarily to concoct an artifact as original as it was illuminating, as artifact that would, or just possibly might, ast as a stimulant on notions of construction, of narration, of plotting, of action, a stimulant, in a word, on fiction-writing today."

It's an uneasy read, and often leave you puzzled and confused. A narration you never seems to be in grasp. However, it is an interesting book, despite the absence of an important letter E.
A Void  (1969 )

Georges Perec ( translated from French by Gilbert Adair 1994)

Vintage Books

287 Pages
Wiki Entry , Postmodern Mystery,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ഇടത്താവളങ്ങള്‍ - E M Hashim

'A novel with a Sufi touch' says the blurb. That prompted me to pick the book. He had also published another non-fiction book on Sufism.  The start was pretty brilliant. Following on the life of Abu, who left his home town at 14 , working and living through various parts of the country , having acquainted many faces , some closely and some at a distance. Now, returning to his homeland after many many years ( the writer does not give any hint at this), he reminisce his nomadic days at his attic.

Abu, remembers his progressive father, who for his views and thought, was an outcast in his social and religious circle, denied Abu, the typical life of a muslim boy. Being discarded from the Madrassa, from his neighborhood , forced to lead a life in isolation. His mother, spent her time in the prayer mat or blowing air to the kitchen fire, never to set foot outside. The only sister stayed back after marriage, after her husband went on work to Malaysia. Unable to handle the days of distress, Abu leaves home at the age of 14. As is the case with many of his predecessors, he found his refuge in a small town in Tamilnadu, finding a job as a helper in a sawmill. His journey to manhood and learning begins at this small town of Arumapakkam. Through various acquaintance and  encounters of people with spiritual background, mystics Abu grows in stature and learning. From Tamilnadu to Mumbai and onward to Delhi - Ajmer and other part of the country, we are witnessed to more of these meetings and friendship in Abu's life.

This is the life of almost every young Keralite, who leave the state in search of a living. goes through similar experience. Hashim , adds a flavour of Mysticism to his tale. To all, the journey continue from one place to other, at each "edathavalam' you gain a lot of friends, some  last longer and many for a short time. This continues through out your life, adding newer names and faces to the list dropping few others. Hashim , restricts his tale to 3 cities, but this can continue eternal, or until like Abu, you call it quits and return to your fold.

Hashim is a good writer, and he has some wonderful pages in the book. But that alone, does not make this a compulsive story telling. It lacks in many aspect of a good fiction. Its dependence on the aura of mystic figures appearing and disappearing lack conviction and leaves us with non-interconnected narrative. Many encounters seems forced and unnatural. The shift from one place to other lacks continuity and real reasoning. The story by itself is incomplete.
ഇടത്താവളങ്ങള്‍  ( 2012 )

E M Hashim

D C Books

119 Pages

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drive - Daniel H Pink

It is an often discussed topic. There were many theories and practices on the subject of motivation. To me, this was yet another book on the cliche'd subject, when I picked this up. However, this turned out to be pretty good book.  What drives people to perform.

In the early days of civilization, it was often the quest for survival. The single aim to be ahead or rather dont be the last one wsa the key driving force. Pink calls this Motivation 1.0. Similar to the new world computers, he says the society too has an operating system that drives the people to do things. From the early days of survival influenced motivation,  the civilization progressed leaps and bounds with the industrialization. The second phase of motivation ( which he calls Motivation 2.0) is based on the reward and punish ( carrot & stick in common language). Higher performances were rewarded and the defaulters and laziness were punished.  This method, deployed successfully over 300 years, are they capable on addressing the needs of the new economy which is beyond the industrialized world. The exponential growth of the information technology related or aided revolution makes leaders to think differently and look at the whole subject of motivation in a different light.

Carrot & Stick method is not as effective as it used to be in the early days. It has its own drawbacks. As it looks at very short term objectives and fails to retain the same level of motivation over long period of time. Money ( any monitory benefits) as many now seems to agree as a Hygiene factor and not a real driving force in a long term. Short term "if-then" type of reward program also makes people to do thinks through short cut, often violating ethical or statutory policies of the organisation.  However, he explains, certain routine based tasks , continue to use the reward program effectively. He advise the use of  'now-that' method instead of 'if-then' in such case. Instead of announcing a milestone, a target based reward, he recommend a use of reward for a good task done. Now that you have achieved this, we are pleased to recognize your contribution.

So, what will drive the new generation. He categorizes this as Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation.  As the name suggests, intrinsic is more personal and are usually associated with virtues. Extrinsic is  mostly to do with physical, tangible and often monitory needs. Since the discussion is towards the next phase ( version 3.0) of motivation, the book concentrate on the Intrinsic ( Type I) motivations in detail.

Type I motivation has 3 key elements : Autonomy , Mastery and Purpose.  Explaining each of these elements in detail, Pink says, autonomy should not be mistaken for freedom or independence to do anything. If managed appropriately, it can unleash the creativity in the team producing results that are beyond your dream. Autonomy is attributed to four areas. Time , task, team and technique. Citing examples from many successful companies, the book provide some interesting case studies to prove his point. Mastery takes to from Compliance ( in 2.0) to engagement. One of the key driving force among the top ranked sports persons ( a la Tiger Woods, Roger Federer) is the quest to master their skill, despite being on top of the world. Mastery he sys, is a mindset, it's pain and it is asymptote ( you never reach the perfection or 100%, but you will be closure to it). 

The book also gives some task based tips to improve the Type I motivation for individual, team ( group or organization) and family. He also provides a chapter-wise summary or recap which I thought a great think to do.  What is the success of this book is in getting a often chewed subject in a different perspective and very effectively. Very good read.

Drive ( 2009 )

Daniel H Pink

Canon Gate

Wall Street JournalWiki

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Scandal - Shusaku Endo

65 year old Suguro, has just been awarded one of the most celebrated literary prize in Japan.  As the contemporaries, lavish praise on him and his writing, he know something is eluding him. One book that is yet to write, which could be his masterpiece. However,  a drunk women, supposed to be an artist, approach him, during the award dinner, claiming that she knows him as a regular visitor to Tokyo's red-light district. She must surely be mistaken ? A reputed writer, as a christian believer, Suguro, has made name for himself and someone surely is trying to malign him on the night of his receiving the award. 

The rumor spread through the publishing industry and couple of his friends , informed him about the going on.  He was sighted at the Shinjuku district known for 'love hotels' and brothels. Initially, he rejected these with his usual air as some one attempting to play with his image, but the continued appearance of his  doppelgänger disturbed him.  It was thus, he decided to investigate and bring his imposter exposed. He visits the exhibition of the artist, whom he met at the dinner where he find his portrait drawn at some ill-repute place. It was at this exhibition he befriend a middle aged lady Madam Naruse, who works as a volunteer at the children's hospital.  during multiple rendezvous over next few days, they discuss the dark side of human's desires and the involvement of Madam Naruse and her friend in some of those sadomasochistic affairs she is involved, after the death of her husband .

He appoint a school girl, who brings to his notice some of the new young living,  to help his wife in doing the house scores. It was after he started dreaming this girl, that made him to explore the other side of the life.  Despite, his personal rejection, he feared that he is unable to resist the temptation to bring the truth about what is going on and possibly expose imposter. It was again Madam Naruse, came to his help here, asking him to come to a Love Hotel to meet his imposter. While there, he see the young girl who works in his home, half naked lying on the bed, and the rest of the event was beyond what he could appreciate. He watches with horror , his own image, his alter ego living out the life he always feared and lied subdued within him for a long time.

Shusaku Endo's novel, examines the darker side of human life. The duality of the public image and the hidden dark side, which comes out unnoticed to the person himself. One has no control on his on adverse side, and its actions. At many a time, one can not comprehend their own behaviour. The revelation of his own darker side was a shock to Endo, at the same time a relief.  Endo, excels in this examination of duality in human life. Its this meditation, its this abandonment to the reality, its this unknown darker side of the human existence, which one tries to downplay, at discussion here. 

His prose is clear and precise, there is constant meditative style, which is I liked. The restrictive writing, even with a subject as delicate as this. Beyond the thriller-type narrative, what was notable was the subtle exploration of human psyche.  On a not so impressive side, Endo deploys the psychological angle to the tale introducing a professor, to give some legitimacy to some of the illogical plots. The novel has the twist with a reporter trying to expose the corrupt writer to the public and a sadomasochistic encounter with a suicide by the member of the circle, to get the story in line of a thriller.

This is a good book. most of the meditative style of writing is brilliant. It is also a brave attempt to look at one's own hidden side, even at the possibility of the reputation being hampered. I havent read a great deal of Endo, but the previous book "Deep River' also explored the subtle human mind. He is one writer, one ought read more.
Scandal ( 1986 )

Shusaku Endo ( translated from Japanese by Van C Gessel 1988)

Peter Owen Classics

237 Pages

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Insects are Just Like You and me Except Some of Them have Wings - Kuzhali Manickavel

The book was recommended to me by the publisher himself.  He said, if you like some weird , non-conforming kind of writing, you will like this book. This was about a month ago, at the COMICON event at Koramangala. I did buy the 'Stupid guy' book as well. Like most of the readers, I too, got carried away with the unusual title and few diagrams that appeared through out the books with illustrations of various insects ( which I found out later, has no connection whatsoever with the stories) , in which one says "A Literary Appreciation of T.S.Eliot's The Waste Land sen as a diagram of a mutant fruit fly".

The book indeed is a bit whacky in its style and stories. They appear to you in short spurts. One paragraph at a time. Stop. Start again. Some of them are only a paragraph or half a page long. Few of them are longer. Hence many do not have a standard complete story format. It is difficult to get used to this style for a while, and once you are through with that, then the reading become easy. The voice, remain same almost through out, of a semi urban-urban low middle class modern youth. The images again are restricted to these neighborhoods of semi urban, middle class. The prevailing angst, the frustration and the need to establish themselves crops up in many a stories.

Whenever she attempt to writer a longer version of the stories, I find it has a better effect. The stories are more complete and round, the characters are formed appropriately and there is a sort of continuity and conclusion. "Suicide letter is the most common form of the letter", "The dynamics of Windows", and "The Dolphin king" are , for the same reason, are more complete and are much better.  The language is consistent, her observations are trivial at times but are spontaneous and fresh.  The constant detached behaviour of her characters, we see some one who is sort of connected to the roots. While trying to be independent and self, there is a longing for love and admiration, of wanting to get to the family ( may be a generation above like in the case of Suicide letter..) and connect to the life despite the death of the individual ( the shoe box that keep appearing despite the death of the owner, Kathis carrying the embryo of his twin-brother in a bottle, the husband who re-appear to his wife in her dream asking for his watch in Paarvai ) , apart from numerous animals and insects ( the Rat names miraculous, the dragon fly, the butterflies in the entomologist in line with the title of the book.

IVery interesting set of short stories. The conversations are abrupt and non-polished. The characters are all middle aged, just out of house/family young individuals trying to find their own meaning/foot hold of life. The stories as said earlier, comes in short spurts, a paragraph at a stretch, breaking, opening at another in a flash. In the conventional sense, these do not conform to the standards. Despite many short comings, they have a freshness in them. A very different voice in the Indian English Writing.

Insects are Just Like You and me Except Some of Them have Wings ( 2008 )

Kuzhali Manickavel

Blaft Publications

141 Pages
The Short Review, Tehelka

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How will you measure your life ? - Clayton M Christensen

In the year 2010, Clayton Christensen, a Harward Professor, gave a lecture to the students on this theme. In his introduction, he mention his own days of successful completion of MBA and his first few College re-union.  What he found out in those meetings - the 5 yr, 10yr and 15yr re-unions- is that the number of alumni attended the meeting came down as the years progressed, and despite their high earning, high profile jobs, there was certain undercurrent of unhappiness in most of them. Many of his classmates were either divorced, or living separately. Many with multiple similar relationship broken over short span of time. Many were alone. And one of his classmate was now in jail, serving term for fraudulent activities ( you all know the company). 

After he was diagnosed ( and successfully coming out of it) with a cancer, which took the life of his father few years earlier, he deliberated on this question, coming up with the lecture and the book. The book, is the result of those lectures, in which Clayton expands his theory of successful career and successful life. Citing examples from corporate experiences, his own firm and the others, he connect his theories between a successful company and a happy individual. Smartly dividing the books into 3 parts focusing on "Finding Happiness in your Career", Finding happiness in your relationships"and most importantly "Staying out of Jail".

Under a catchy and often confusing title of the book (for a self help), Clayton brings out certain important aspect of managing ones career and ones life. At the outset , these aren't ground breaking ideas and not something new to us. But in the 200 odd pages, he manages to get us into his theories with some good connection between the career and life.

A topic many books have already covered, he explains the motivational factors and the hygiene factors in an employee. While it is important to maintain the hygiene factory ( like salary, promotion) , he emphasize on identifying the right motivational factors.
"the most powerful motivator isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute, and be recognized"
Also on strategy, I liked his take on deliberate versus emerging strategies. From many example, we see, most of the successful companies, the strategy was not discussed on drawing boards, but evolved from various experiments.

 On the relationship , it is important to understand your priorities, and provide assistance to your kids in experiencing the tasks by themselves even if they fail in accomplishing the task.  With the current level of high action, one has to be imbibed with integrity to self and to the society, which has to begin at home. It is important to invest in future happiness. An investment need to be continual and through out your life.

In developing capabilities, either for an organization or for an individual, three factors are important : Resources, Processes and Priorities. Most often repeated mistakes are by providing resources without adequate processes.

He conclude:  "Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success"

A mishmash of Management and self help , Clayton Christensen uses the corporate learning to a successful personal life. Good read and a couple of interesting theories , especially the "emerging strategies" and on the "resource-process-priorities".
How will you measure your life ? ( 2012)

Clayton M Christensen

Harper Collins

221 Pags
HBR , TED Lecture, Forbes ,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Five Brothers ( Krishnavatara III ) - K M Munshi

The third book on the Krishnavatara Series focus on the Hastinapura. Krishna is now grown up in age and in stature. Married to Rukmini and Shaibya, he is now the undisputed hero of the entire Aryavarta. Kings and emperors now queue up to his goodwill, as the Yadava clan are now rich and powerful.  Sri K M Munshi continued from where he left in Book 2, taking us through the development of Krishna as a master task master and a powerful state man. We see a master manipulator and a cunning , crafty and intelligent deal maker in the making.

The book largely focus on the Pandavas with their struggle for power with Duryodhana. Taking us through the events at 'Varanavata' and their living in disguise in th e'Rakshasa' land, before magically appearing at the 'swayamvara' of Draupadi.  It starts with Drona's defeat of the King of Panchala, with the help of his disciples , the young princes of Hastinapura, to take avenge of the humiliation he received at the hand of Drupada.  Having defeated him and secured half of his kingdom,  Drona is now a changed man. From the sage who taught the princes the ways of arms, he now an owner of a small empire. It is his interest to grow his hold on the events and for which it was important that the Kauravas and Pandavas are not in unity. We see the darker side of a sage here, who tries to meddle with the affairs of the kingdom of Hastinapura. 

On the other side, Drupada is taken an oath to take revenge on Drona. At the current situation, it is not easy to attack the mightier Hastinapura. An alliance with Jarasandha of Magadh could prove disastrous. It is thus important to have an equally powerful ally. The only name that is worthy of this stature is Krishna, the hero of millions. His attempts to lure Krishna into a wedding alliance with his daughter, did not succeed, however he managed to get Krishna's support in seeking a suitable bride groom for Draupadi, who will be the best bow-man in the entire Aryavarta. A date for 'swayamvara' was thus fixed, leaving the rest to Krishna to manage.

Krishna on his part is worried about the safety of Pandavas. The rumour has it that they were burnt to death at 'Varanavata'. A visit to Hastinapura and meeting with the grand old lady , and the venerable Bhishma allayed the fears. It was now his resolve to find out the whereabout of the brothers and get them out at the appropriate time.

The real task master is now emerge. Casting his die around various empires, Krishna was busy securing many things at a time. He has to ensure that the Pandavas are safe and hidden. He has to live upto the promise he has given to the King of Panchala and his daughter, he has to ensure the relevance of Yadavas and their might is preserved,  secure the alliance of Panchala to the best of Pandavas and hinder the influence of Magadh in the aryavarta.

With awe, one see the writer crafting these events with such great skill,  His writing and the construct were apt for the right occasion. The incident with Bhanumati, the King Bhima and his life with Hidimbi, the devotion of Uddhava, the intelligence of Draupadi and many such observations were testimony to the brilliance of the writer.  The series continue to impress me with its freshness and the clarity with which K M Munshi progressing epic of Krishna.  Not as profound as the Book 2, but still a phenomenal job.

The Five Brothers ( Krishnavatara III ) 1965

Kulapathi K M Munshi

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

370 Pages

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Night of January 16th - Ayn Rand

I am not a great fan of Ayn Rand. Like most I had also gone through the phase of Atlas Shrugged and Fountain head. Hence when some one suggested this play, I was not greatly enthused. This play was a product of her early works of Ayn Rand, much before those two celebrated works.

A court room drama of a murder mystery is with all its possible twists and turns is what is the theme of this play. It cleverly deploy the concept of audience inclusion into the act.  Karen Andre is on trial accused of murdering her employer, erstwhile lover, the business tycoon Bjorn Faulkner. The entire 3 act play , while debating on her part and the judgement there of , on convicting her of murder, also goes through the other possible motives and other conspirators in the theory. Appearing as witnesses to the trial, Faulkners newly married wife ( who employ a private detective to track Bjorn's movements) , his father in law, a billionaire who provided Bjorn with much needed funds for survival, a NY based criminal gang leader and others goes through the upheaval of the cross questioning ordeal between the defence lawyer and the prosecutor.  In the end the selected members of the jury from the audience is expected to decide on the verdict. The play ends with two options depending upon the verdict.

There is all the twists and turns and the changes of fortune to the accused. While on the first read it is not evident that the crime is committed or not and if there are any real motive of murder ( see, I have decided for the jury) , the plot progression is in the very very predictable way and can provide for cheap thrill.

What is more interesting to me is some of the observations in the foreword by the author herself.One concerning the changing of the name of the play from its original name given by the writer herself
The original title of this play was 'Penthouse Legend'. This is still its best title; it gives some indication of the play's non-realistic, symbolic nature.But it was changed twise, first to 'Woman on trial' and then to 'Night of January 16th. In both cases, the producers assured me that my original title would be a serious handicap to the play......... Today, I regret it. Night of january 16th is an empty, meaningless title. It was however, the least offensive one of those suggested to me at the time. I could not change it later; the play had become famous.
and the other on her take on the film adaptation of the play.
'The movie version of this play is another horror story. I had nothing to do with its screen adaptation. There is nothing of mine in that movie,except the names of  some of the characters and the title ( which was also not mine). The only line of dialogue from my play which appears in the movie is 'The court will now adjourn till ten O'clock tomorrow morning". The cheap, trashy, vulgarity of that movie is such that no lengthier discussion is possible to me.'
In all, it was an ok read with some interesting insights about the creation itself by the author. The product wasn't all that impressive. It does not stand in comparison with the other great plays I've read.

Night of January 16th ( 1933)

Ayn Rand

Signet Books

124 Pages

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Louis Ferdinant Celine's 1932 masterpiece 'Journey to the end of the Night' is one of the nihilistic novel I've read. A semi-auto biographic account of him told through a first person narrative, he has a pessimistic view of the human nature.  Ferdinand BArdamu, his alter ego, narrates his journey through the war stricken Europe during WWI, where he participated trying escape the war in verious pretexts , faking injuries or madness. Escaping the war, sailing to colonial Africa, his fate wasn't different. All he could see was the inhuman values and general apathy of the human situation. Esacping from one of the remotest jungles of Africa, we see him re-surfacing in US, where he eventually work as an apprentice at the Ford factory in Detroit. Unable to survive the life in US, he returns to France , post the war and start his medical practice in a Paris suburb. As is his fate, he is not able ot make it big. While the rest of the doctors made fortune, had their own houses and cars, Bardamu is contemned to lead a life similar to the patients whom he attend to. Living in constant poverty, he was often delivered service with no payments.

The book is not greatly plot driven. I has a free flow of human experience, mostly on the dark side, through the turbulent period of WWI to the great depression.  The anti-hero Ferdinand Bardamu supposed to be derived from Celine's own experience ( in Africa and in Detroit) , and his shadow companion Léon Robinson epitome of all the bad qualities, which Bardamu is unable to carry himself. The extreme pessimistic view of the human conditions in its full vigour. The cruelty, the revenge, the vulgarity , its helplessness, cowardice, murder, decease , death, attack, isolation, you name it, all those negative elements are in full view. While Bardamu is the observer through out the journey, it is Robinson, that is the action man. From their initial encounter during one of the night guard work of Bardamu during his WWI days, Robinson was in his life either directly of as an influence. Appearing at various intervals of his life, Robinson seemed to be the executing all that Bardamu is incapable of doing. Robinson was in Africa before Bardamu and he escaped through the jungle, paving way for Bardamu. They met in the US, and later Robinson followed Bardamu to Paris.

The book is not an easy read. However, it is as near as possible to the human experience, albeit on a negative side. I understand the language is fluid and natural in French. May be it is no so evident in the English translation. A novel that sets the benchmark in the 20th century literature and supposed to have defied the traditional style and wisdom of writing. The initial 100 odd pages were phenomenal as I went through the pages. It started getting a bit heavy as it progressed as the continued negative emotion and the cynical humour hits you hard. You start labouring through these pages. Even though, one can not stop admiring his writing and the control over the language.

May be intended, but the protagonist is boring and very seldom you connect with him. However, most of the peripheral characters are brilliant and colorful. The journey into the night, the darkness of human existence is not an easy one to go through. The absurdity, the existentialist tendency, the loss of virtue and such heavy and intense feeling comes to one's mind as you finish the long book. Here is one writer, who influenced a whole generation of writers with his style and writing.

Journey to the End of the Night ( 1932)

Louis-Ferdinand Celine ( translated from French by Ralph Manheim 1966)

Oneworld Classics

418 Pages

Sunday, September 30, 2012

അടയാളങ്ങൾ - Sethu

In the contemporary Malayalam writers, Sethu is one one the prominent names. His books stand apart in the general melee of publishing. The latest Marupiravi, was also a good attempt. Taking up his 2005 book, which supposed to have won the prestigious 'Vayalar award' in 2006, was with a lot of hope and expectation. However, this book did not live up to the expectation one had on this writer.

Priyamvada Menon is a middle aged HR executive in a respected private firm, living with her college going daughter Neethu. The mother -daughter relationship is that of a close friendship, especially after her seperation from her US residing husband Ranjith Menon. The nasty separation, seemed to have made a lasting impression on the daughter and hence her dependancy on her mother is beyond expression. However, as expected in such a relation, it has to go through the period of distrust and disown. Everything started with a trip to Goa by {Priyamvada on an HR conference, where she presented a paper on the plight of workers at a Sugar Mill in Meenakshipuram. The story of old employees, committing suicide at the age of 59 ( few months prior to their retirement) in order to secure the job to their children, was received with a lot of enthusiasm. She had a lot of fans on her ability to portray a question of ethics and those cases beyond the known HR guidebooks. One of her idea of being at the conference is not only to present her paper, but to meet her mentor Prof.Roy Choudhury. A meeting which did not go too well with her,. She recalls later ' an idol should remain an idol, it should never appear in flesh and blood, demeaning its own values.

The rift between the mother and daughter now increased with them busy with their own life and not willing to concede their position. Adding to this Priyamvada's own struggle at her office, working around a factory modernizing scheme,trying to garner the support of the warring workers were taking her time. Bringing the fiery Meenakshipuram HR lady to her folds , as an assistant at the factory and as a sister to her own life, did not yield the desired calm in her life. However, as it is expected the issues at the official front as well as the home front.

Conflicts in a mother-daughter relationship. At the outset, a standard, cinematic, cliched plot. Except for the clever incorporation of the subplots related to her work as an HR head of a private firm, and the symbolic Meenakshipuram incident, where the employees of a sugar mill commits suicide at the age of 59, in order to get the job to their direct descendant, the book is very very ordinary. The new trends in writing, with working professional women in lead, the independent living, open discussions between parents and kids etc could be a welcome change. Notwithstanding his ability in handling the subject with a good control of language, to me this is not one of those books that stands out in Malayalam literature, irrespective of the numerous awards it is supposed to have won.
അടയാളങ്ങൾ ( 2005)


DC Books

276 Pages

Rs 125

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Woman & the Ape - Peter Høeg

This year's Nobel speculation had few names which aren't those in the running for a while. Ladbroke, the betting site in their probable list had the name of Peter Høeg at 100/1 odds. I have been carrying two of his books in my ever growing list of books pile. The woman and the Ape is the slimmer book and I thought it would be appropriate to read him now, as his name is in the list of probable. I'm not very enthusiastic about his prospects after reading this book. However, to many of his readers, this is one of his weakest book and it may be too premature to judge this writer on the experience of a single book.

The Woman and the Ape, begins well with the arrival of an ape to the shores of London. Escaping the captivity, it was rescued by an animal enthusiast, Andrea Burden and was brought to her brother Dr Adam Burden, soon to be the new president of the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens. Adam's alcoholic wife Madelene, at first intrigued and develop curiosity on the animal ( now called Erasmus). It is evident soon that the intention of her husband is not all that ethical, as the experiment on the Ape, goes to the level of causing permanent damage to the captive. She set out to find the truth behind the clandestine activities, often in disguise and away from the comfort of her rich cushy home. At a turning point, she escapes with the Ape to the woods, causing turmoil in the family. Until now, the book seems to be going ok. Now, set to teach the intelligent Ape, the language of the humans, and living with the ape for over 10 days of love fest , she wanted to make a new beginning to her dull life. The action now moves from Adam and Madelene to the Ape, who seems to be in control of himself and have a definite plan for himself , which include the kidnapping of Madelene. The next few pages of intense action with the revelation of the Apes in the influential positions of the administration and the test of various levels of human-animal conflicts

I'm not a great fan of these kind of literature. I am not sure if some one can call it science fiction or experimental fiction. One can understand the need of Madelene to escape from the current constraints of her living. Ape seems to be the possible escape route for her, and her anger and frustration is directed towards her husband. Adam is busy with his own personal life with his ambition to make it big in the field of his interest with whatever means, in which he succeeds. Ape, with his own hidden agenda, plays a step ahead of them and managed to work his way through using the vulnerability of Madelene.

Interesting book, non regular narrative, clear and stand out characterisation and easy read. However, on the whole, this books does not deliver to the promise. May be the shift of the narrative to the Ape, from Madelene caused the disruption. His attempt to satiric portray of London's society and academic community, Attempt to bring in the inter species love affair , to the level of being physical love ( I remember reading a similar instant in one of Alena Rayes novel) and Apes learning of Human Language the thriller type finish, all that was almost silly and unimpressive. The pretext is very interesting and an idea of human-humanoid interaction is interesting, but the result it delivered is not in line with the idea and structure. He may be a good writer, but this book did not live up to the expectations. May be, Smilla's Sense of Snow, the other book I have , will be much better.
The Woman & the Ape ( 1996 )

Peter Høeg ( translated from Danish by Barbara Haveland 1996)

The Harvill Press

229 Pages
NY Times

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stupid Guy Goes to India - Yukichi Yamamatsu

If you are an non-Indian and have experienced India, you are likely to rate this book high. Coming to India for job, Yamamatsu a Manga artist, lands up In Delhi. The next 200 pages are his attempt to find foot hold in India trying to publish Manga Books here in India.

Yukichi's arrival to India itself was marred with troubles. He called the Pak Embassy to start with before getting the India Embassy. The typical travellers issues awaits him as , the need of Visa , the costly ticket, unpleasant journey by Air India, general confusion and chaos at the airport, and missing bags . He has his own vested interests. The market in Japan is dull and the only job he know is to draw. India is a huge country with vast population , hence coming to India and publish a few books is a viable idea, especially Indians are not exposed to Manga style of comics. He had been warned by his friends and colleagues about various things to worry about India and the precautions to be taken. Moreover, he does not know the language, not even English.

After reaching the hotel, his initial idea was to find an accommodation. Small, cheap and a place where he can do his job. His struggle with the house, the Japanese Embassy, the schools which teaches Japanese for a translator for the Japanese books, the equipment needed to carry out his tasks ; each had its own impact. The next 6 months of his eventual living in the capital of India, trying to get his book translated, printed and distributed is what the content of this book. He goes through numerous hurdles trying to overcome each in his own way.

The book is presented in the typical 'manga' style and structure. The reading is from back to front for the normal readers and from right to left. It's a casual read. Funny & hilarious if you are a non-Indian and a bit under whelming if you are an Indian. It has all the ingredients you expect a foreigner to see in India; cows on the road, crowded market places, general confusion with the language, improper mannerisms of the locals, lack of ethics and professionalism, dirty lanes, pickpockets, prostitutes, cheaters , filthy slums etc etc. The art per se, is very good and his observation of his surrounding, to the minute detail is brilliant. His drawings of Indian Deities, Mahatma Gandhi and multiple Indian characters are very good. However, beyond some good drawings and his general experiences and 'conformation' of the general view about India, this book has nothing else to offer because there is no compelling story apart from his own confused self through out the book.
Stupid Guy Goes to India ( 2008)

Yukichi Yamamatsu ( translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian in 2011 )

Blaft Publications

230 pages
Hindustan times , DNA, The Hindu